He nodded, star-pale eyes fixed on the barrel of her pistol. He had a long face with a jaw that looked sharp enough to be a weapon on its own. Blond hair, thick with sea wind and salt, framed his forehead like a crown. One ear stuck out a little farther than the other, but the effect was endearing. She counted two guns strapped to each of his thighs, which likely meant there were at least two others she couldn't see. For the moment, she was the one in power, but she knew just how quickly that might change.
"At least if I'm to die, it'll be at the hands of someone lovely." His eyes charted a slow course across her face.
Warmth crept into Caledonia's cheeks. "Where's your crew? Your clip?"
"I—Can I point?" When Caledonia nodded, he did, back in the direction he'd come from. "Ship's anchored off the northern tip of the island. Stopped for food."
"One ship?" Caledonia asked.
"One ship," he answered. "We were headed to the Net and moored here for the night. It's a bad moon for traveling."
He could be lying—he was probably lying—but this far from the Holster it could also be the truth. One ship on the opposite side of the island was survivable. As long as she and Pisces returned to the Ghost quickly.
But something had to be done about this Bullet.
"What's your name?" she asked.
The boy seemed to grow smaller under the weight of that question. "What does it matter if you're going to kill me?"
"It doesn't." Caledonia's finger found the trigger again, and again it stuck there.
A sad smile twisted his lips. "Lir. I'm called Lir. And I expect you'll be the last to know it."
He was so ready to die, and so young. Was he young enough to be saved? They said it didn't take long for the children Aric took to succumb to the dreamy pull of Silt. Addiction made Bullets both loyal and mean. But they also said an encounter with a Bullet always, always ended in one of two ways: either you died, or he did.
'Shoot, my brave girl', she heard her mother's voice whisper.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry," she said, preparing to fire. Her fingers trembled.
Now his eyes grew wide, his hands stiff and splayed in the air. "Please," he said, "please, show me the mercy the Father never does. Take me with you. Whatever life you have, it's got to be better than the one he forces on us. Please, help me."
This was precisely why the rule was shoot first and not shoot as soon as possible or shoot when you feel ready. But she'd broken the rule and now this wasn't a Bullet, it was Lir.
Lir, who desperately wanted a way out.
Lir, who hadn't hurt her.
Lir, who might be someone's brother.
If it were Donnally on some other beach with some other girl's gun to his head, wouldn't Caledonia want that girl to help him?
"Stand up," she said, lowering her aim to his chest.
Lir complied, and his expression softened when Caledonia moved in and pulled six guns and two knives from holsters on his thighs, calves, and back. Up close, he smelled even more like the ammunition he carried, but with a pinch of something too sweet. He kept his hands up as she worked, eyes marking every place she touched him.
"Please," he repeated. "I'll never have a chance like this again. Please, help me."
The ocean rushed toward them and away, the waves quickening as the tide began to roll in. It was the same tide that would carry all the families aboard the Ghost far away from this terrible life that turned children into warriors, that made Lir plead for his life on an empty beach in the middle of a moonless night. She could help him. And she wanted to, but it went against everything her mother had taught her.
Shaking her head, she pressed the muzzle of her gun into Lir's chest.