Timekeepers.1.11.

Chapter Eleven: The bit where you had to pass qualifying exams and just left your people on a boat for forever and a day but at least they had some good IPAs while they waited so you don’t feel too bad about the whole thing

“You know, I thought I’d never be happy again. Safe, sure. Comfortable, probably. But happy? I thought it was a goner.” 

Faye smiled at the boat’s captain, who was rocking a little too much with the waves and who had, by this point, all but decided that beer had been and would always be her one true love. 

“But?” Tarin prompted, having way too much fun with the poor woman. 

“But then,” the captain began, “then…” she drifted off, a slow frown falling down her face, “then…” 

“Then you met me, and sunshine and daffodils returned to your dark, dreary world?” Faye suggested. 

“No, I don’t think that was it,” the captain mumbled. Joss chuckled daintily and Tarin guffawed like some cartoonish henchman. Faye couldn’t even be upset, though, as impressed as she was with the captain’s speech. She was four beers in and slurring almost none of her proper nouns. 

“You,” the captain managed, pointing crookedly towards Tarin. “You…” she choked, wiping a single tear from her eye, “you… brought me my happy… back. I think.” She clutched an empty can to her breast and sighed deeply. She was snoring in less than a minute, head drooping against the hull. 

It was a small sailboat, just big enough for everybody to pace around a little. Faye had once known all about sailboats, but there was about one hundred or so years between her and that knowledge. She supposed not much had changed about sailing, in theory. She was sure there were still jibsheets and halyards and that It was all still quite important and whatnot. But Tarin and the Captain knew plenty about the whole situation, and so she just did what they said, and didn’t sweat trying to re-learn anything in particular. Joss hadn’t even bothered to try, and had been doing something remarkably close to lounging for three days now. She had even located herself some waterproof-ish cushions from who-knows-where. Joss held Baby, almost lounging, and stared out at the water. She spoke to the child, every now and then. Even sang a little. Pushed soggy bread into its squishy little mouth. 

They had been sailing for four days. Tarin thought they’d reach their destination within the week. If it was still there, anyway. Faye didn’t know what they would do, if it wasn’t. She wondered if “apocalyptic flooding” was a good enough reason to void a Courier’s contract.

Faye gently slid the snoring Captain into a fully reclined position, not wanting their skipper to wake up with any gnarly cricks. Once done, she joined Joss on her commandeered cushions.

“Sun might come out this evening,” Faye said, looking up at the sky. The clouds seemed thinner, that afternoon. More “watery grey” than “roiling black.” Faye could almost sense the sun, there, above the drowning world. A slightly brighter patch of grey, moving ever so slowly, trying to keep the earth on schedule. She reckoned it was just past noon, though she supposed she didn’t really care anymore. 

“I’m sure it will,” Joss said, bouncing Baby on her knee. Baby giggled wildly, then tooted.  

“What are you thinking about?” Faye asked, crawling forward till she reached the edge of the boat. She rested her arms on the hull and her chin on her arms. The sky and the sea had converged, and she couldn’t make out any horizons. She wondered how Tarin and the Captain were keeping them on the course, with no stars and no sun and no end to this world. 

“Why?”

“Why, what?”

“Why do you want to know what I’m thinking about?” 

“Why not?”

“I can think of several reasons why not.” 

Faye grinned. She twisted around to stare at the other woman.

“Oh? Why I shouldn’t want to know or why you shouldn’t want to tell me?”

“Either. Both.” 

“Oh? What scary, strange thoughts are you hiding, Joss? Should I be concerned?” 

“Sleeping with one eye open, assuredly.” 

Faye laughed, turning back to face the sea. 

“I’ve eight different thoughts, Faye, and not the energy to work them into words, if only for the sake of lessening your boredom.” 

“Joss, I’m never bored.”

“Mmhmm.”

“I would never use you as a cheap thrill.” 

“I should think not. I billed 500 an hour, pre-apocalypse. And we’re talking about you and your desperation, not me. Focus.”

“I am never desperate. Don’t go thinking you’re some sort of ‘last choice.’”

“I am literally a last choice. We are literally in the middle of an apocalypse. There is literally no one else.” 

“No, no, no, you’re third to last, snookums. You’re third to last. Makes all the difference. And don’t go spouting off with that ‘no one else’ nonsense. We’ve seen plenty of people.” 

“Mmhmm.” Joss didn’t put much energy into that last one. Faye turned back around to face her. The woman was staring out at nothing in particular. 

“What are you looking at?’ Faye asked, watching the breeze play with Baby’s little tufts of wispy hair. 

“Nothing, I’m sure,” Joss said. She sighed. “Do you ever feel like we get caught in a loop?”

Faye looked from Baby to Joss, frowning. 

“Like… what sort of a loop? How Matrix-y are we talking?”

“No, no, not anything like that. A conversational loop.”

“Go on.” Joss didn’t laugh, which put Faye out a little. She had thought it would be a funny joke. 

“Just, back and forth, speaking, not saying anything. What are we even saying? What… what?” Joss’s eyes were stuck, staring out at nothing.

Faye sat back on her heels, that empty sort of feeling trying to settle into her bones. She breathed in, held it, and exhaled, doing her best to blow the feeling out with the breath. 

“What would you like to talk about?” Faye asked quietly. Joss blinked. She blinked again. And then a third time. Faye belatedly realized the woman was trying not to cry. 

“I don’t want to talk about anything,” Joss said, wiping a tear away. “I just want a hug.” 

Faye crawled back over to the woman, settled down beside her, and hugged her and Baby. She didn’t let go, mostly because she couldn’t remember how long “emotionally soothing” hugs were supposed to last for. She reckoned Joss would tell her when she was done. 

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