Sunday the 15th,
Lunar 3, Luka 16
Tianjin Ancillary Port 3
Onboard The Neptune’s Rhapsody
Serious question: is the vomiting the reason alcohol is banned on my planet? If so, that might be one thing I can still get behind. That and water. Yeah, water.
You take the stuff for granted when you live with so much of it everywhere you look. The other night when people kept offering it to me, I figured, why bother? Why would I drink that when I’m already drinking this other thing? How wrong I was…
Turns out, the importance of water lies in the mystical prospect of not puking your guts out the entire night after drinking. If only all of the great sages that offered me water on Saturday night had mentioned that between pumping my glass full, I might have experienced that weekend outside of my bathroom. But no. I spent the entire rest of the night and morning either asleep, or waking from a deep sleep to roll off my cot, under the plastic shower curtain that separated my toilet, and then clutching the bowl — more than a feat with broken thumbs–and those cucumber sandwiches weren’t so great in reverse…
So, yeah, Saturday was a total wash.
Whatever the crew got up to that day, I wasn’t invited. I did notice us jumping a few times in the night. Each time we did, my head slammed forward into the wall behind my bed, or I rolled sharply from one side to the other. Even though I was getting used to it by then, all the action hit a bit harder when heaved over a toilet.
I hadn’t seen Jane since that night when she poofed into the Captain’s Quarters. Since then I’d overheard a few people checking on her, but I hadn’t heard her leave once.
I didn’t talk to anyone else, either.
It was hard to imagine making small talk after hearing the lot of them delightedly talk about burning my hometown, killing Ambins, and burying people like me alive — not even getting into the bit where the Captain tried to get me to fake being a dead princess so he could murder the Queen.
Even when I did start feeling better, I couldn’t leave my room.
Running away seemed the best option.
With my debt 75% paid, it was down to a sum I could feasibly give back in my lifetime. Jail wouldn’t be that bad. Re-education might be, but torture was better than torturing someone else. And maybe I could help my family escape, or rat the pirates out to the Corps. Maybe. Maybe I really could just go home. Maybe I could wait a little longer, just to get that debt paid down a bit further and then split. Maybe.
When I could ignore the howling of my empty stomach no longer, I surfaced for lunch. Only Mwenze was hanging around, packaging up some leftover rice dish, a mop and bucket beside the table. It wasn’t quite the same spread as I remembered from before; just a few tables here and there scattered about, most of them covered in caked-on food and spills.
“Ah. The dead really do rise,” Mwenze said, looking me up and down with a light-hearted chuckle, devoid of the malice he and the others shared back at the party. “See what I said about water?”
I glanced away, embarrassed. “Yeah, rough couple of days…” I yawned, and stretched my arms high overhead. “Where is everybody?”
There were a few folks running around overhead on the bridge, but apart from that, the ship seemed deserted. I took the bowl of rice from him. It passed a sniff test, not that would’ve been picky even if it hadn’t. Instead of asking for a plate, just started eating it off the serving spoon. Mwenze looked at me funny, shaking his head.
“Well, it’s a sunday,” Mwenze said, like I was supposed to know what that meant.
The only special thing people did back home on Sunday was go pay homage to the Palace and sing praises to Her Majesty, but I doubted that was what the pirates were up to.
“We’re docked on Tianjin. Delivering food and such,” Mwenze said.
“Delivering food?” I asked, my mouth full.
“What in the Worlds, child? Are you even chewing?”
I hadn’t been. “Sorry. Hungry,” I said, between bites.
Mwenze shook his head again, disappointed, like how my dad looked at me when I ate that fast after a swim practice. He took the mop and bucket from behind the table where the food had been set out, and scooted it toward me. “Of course. That’s what we do every Sunday… and it looks like you’re the only one left to clean for today.”
“Huh?” I asked, putting the bowl down. I took the mop in hand. “What about you?”
Mwenze motioned behind him when his thumb. “The others are waiting on me,” he said, looking a little too eager to get away. “We have an odd number today; lots of folks still down or out. There… probably isn’t anyone to show you the ropes.”
It sounded fake as hell, but who was I to judge?
“Just mop up here and on the bridge. When you’re done, check the fridge. Someone’s been making plates for you.”
“Really?” I asked, but Mwenze was on his way out without going into detail. He bailed before I could even say goodbye, so I just stood there waving at his back. Was it something I said?
Or maybe I should’ve expected it.
The party was over and I was back to being the weird one out again. Figures. It wasn’t something new to me, but I guess I thought I’d at least fit in better here than at home. I wasn’t exactly expecting a hero’s welcome for saving Jane (okay, maybe I was) but I didn’t think I’d be back to the cold shoulder either. Whatever. I tried not to let it get to me and got mopping, tediously picking at stains and globs.
Cleaning was therapeutic in its own way. Quiet. Tedious. Repetitive.
Plenty of space to just clear my mind, to continue not processing all of the things I needed to not process, like that bit where a murdering pirate asked me to fake being a princess so he could assassinate the Queen of my planet, or how most of my new-found not friends were devoted anarchists who, rightfully or not, wanted to… do anarchy things… which maybe shouldn’t have been surprising because they were, you know, pirates, and it turned out my planet was bigtime evil, and…
I stopped and took a deep breath.
Okay. So they had some bad experiences with my planet and my people. Valid. Shit happens, right? So why did they have to hate my guts about it? Before they even got to know me? Like, they didn’t even give me a chance. There I was, running away from home and sleeping in a leaky closet, my whole life a hot fucking mess, and some of the anarchists I was hanging out with thought I was the suspicious one because I said the wrong thing once? O-n-c-e? No matter how bad it was, it wasn’t like any of them were so squeaky clean themselves.
Maybe I really am vanilla, I thought, as I scratched my itchy head and kept on mopping.
Maybe. Maybe it’s not me, I thought. Maybe they really are just crazy. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe.
ψ ψ ψ
When I was done cleaning, I went to the fridges. Mwenze was right. There was a whole stack of plates there for me, wrapped with plastic wrap. Whoever made them knew I mainly only ate fruit, bread and cheese. There was another set for Jane, each a plate of cup noodles topped with baked beans (good fucking lords), and notes in cute pink stationary with little drawings from someone who’s handwriting I couldn’t read. I decided to bring her a meal and check on her.
After I knocked on Jane’s door, I heard a plop inside, and a groan. Moments later the door peeled open, and in it in a daze was one wildly unkempt Jane Deux, still in the same fluffy bathrobe from when I saw her on Saturday night.
Her hair was down from the Bantu knots she usually kept it in, releasing massive, curled waves, mostly one giant pink puff halfway under a satin sleep cap. Her lips were chapped and cracked, and her eyes caked with smudged, old makeup and eye crusties. She seemed almost perplexed to see me.
“What time is it?” she asked, wearily glancing between me and the plate in my hands. “Shit…what day is it?”
“Uhm, it’s Sunday,” I said. “It’s been… more than two days.”
A few seconds later, Jane processed this information. “Sun…day?” All of the sudden, it was like the light went on in her eyes. “Shit. Shit. Shit. I’m totally late,” she said, and slammed the door behind her, leaving me out in the hall. She opened it again seconds later, having replaced her robe with a light green romper with cactus print, albeit less accessorized than her usual attire.
“Late for what?” I asked.
“Food,” Jane said. I tried to offer her the plate again. “No, not me. Tianjin. We feed people on Sunday afternoon. You should come. I should be showing you.”
“Uh, wait a second,” I said. “Should you even be out of bed?”
Jane laughed, awkwardly. “I’m completely fine. Completely. Did we land yet? We should–”
“And you’re trying to sneak off the ship before Legato notices,” I said, watching her face fall with every word. “Aren’t you?”
“I’m a big girl. I can go out whenever I want,” Jane said, furrowing a brow. “And if you rat me out I’ll kick your ass.”
Her hand was trembling in the corner of the doorway. She was barely holding herself up.
“Somehow I doubt that,” I said. “Now, do you want these awful bean noodles or not?”
Jane let me back inside, and took the plate from me. A parade of cats followed her back to her bed, though the little orange one — Moose — clung close to my leg. I picked her up and pet her, her tail curling around my arm. Jane sat down and tore into the plate immediately, with the same speed and veracity I’d seen before. She must have been starving.
Her room wasn’t as clean as before, full of litter boxes that needed servicing, empty pickle jars, and bottles of prescription pills and bubble packs strewn all over her desk. All the medicine must’ve been to stop her from turning into a tree, I thought, or from her injuries from Carthage. Maybe it was more serious than I realized.
“What’s with that face?” Jane asked, glancing up at me.
“N-nothing,” I said, looking away from the pills. I scratched the side of my head, a patch of it particularly itchy from the newly growing hairs.
“Oh, come on. Just say it,” Jane said, raising her voice a bit. “Don’t… hold it all in and make it awkward, like everybody else.”
When she was finished with her food she sat the plate down beside her. Two of the cats began to lick it, lapping up whatever was left.
“How are you feeling?” I asked, unsure of where else to begin.
“Not great,” Jane muttered, resting back against the wall behind her. She let out a deep sigh, and then a burp.
I smiled. “I’m glad you’re okay. You know, you really scared me back there, when…”
“Don’t be. It’s fine.”
“Are you mad at me?”
Jane shook her head, busying her hands by finicking with the baby hairs on her forehead, and then yanking on loose pieces of her hair that were falling out. With how textured it was, it struck me that it was even longer than I had originally thought, springing forward several inches whenever she pulled a piece straight to scrutinize it.
“Not at you,” she said, finally. “At a lot of things, but not you.”
“Is it because of…?”
“No. You really are a better fit,” Jane said, eyeing me. “It makes sense to use an Ambin and, no offense, a girl more like you. I just hate feeling useless…”
“You’re not useless. You’re amazing,” I said, so adamant to remind her that I forgot to tell her I hadn’t even agreed to what Legato asked me to begin with. I didn’t even care that she called me a girl. “You do so much cool stuff! You navigate the ship and everything… Divine Lords, whoever’s been doing it the last few days is a complete disaster.”
Jane laughed. “Probably Quail. Or Andros.”
“Andros?” I asked. “The… beaver?”
Jane nodded. “Oh yeah. He’s very smart.” Sure she must have been joking, I laughed, but she looked dead serious. “No, really. He does better than most of the crew… not sure if that’s a compliment to him or an insult to them.”
We both laughed then. I found myself glancing back to the medicine sprawled out on her desk.
“The medicine,” I whispered. “I didn’t realize you were that…I didn’t know you were so hurt.”
Jane smiled, beaming from ear to ear. “Those aren’t…” she stopped, completely cracking up. Her laughter quickly turned to pain, and she clutched her sides.
I grabbed the plate from beside her, just to make sure it didn’t topple over.
“Son of a bitch, Pietro. You really are one in a million,” Jane muttered, her voice a bit raspy and weak. “Don’t ask about… me, or about what the Boss asked you about… you ask about my hormones.”
I stared her right between the eyes, dead silent, still not really sure what she meant. I knew hormones were related to being a teenager and…stuff and, not knowing the difference, my mind immediately went back to what Legato said about the tree Jane had getting more powerful as she got older. “So they stop you from turning into a tree?”
Jane erupted into laughter again, this time rolling off the bed and hitting the floor with a thud, wheezing in laughter.
I chuckled along half-heartedly, too, still not completely clear about what was going on. She was okay, and it felt halfway not like emptiness and fear to laugh, to laugh with her. It almost seemed she had regained her senses when she started up again, clutching her sides as she laughed and wheezed.
She was still rolling around on the ground when it hit me all at once that maybe I wasn’t okay. The depths of whatever tiny speck of okayness I found laughing with her unhinged all of the other layers of emptiness and fear on top of it, and my stomach started feeling funny, wobbly, and my eyes got a bit wet.
Jane sat up all at once, and reached up for me to help her get back up, and then sat down beside me on her bed.
“What’s up?” She sounded concerned, and placed one of her hands over mine.
“Oh Gods, Jane, sorry. I’m a wreck,” I said, bluntly. “I should be making you feel better, but…”
“No. Don’t worry about me,” Jane said, with a sigh. “I’m sorry I’ve been down for the count awhile. You’ve probably had a few more hard days, huh?”
I didn’t know where to begin, and I felt terrible laying any of it on Jane given the shape she was in. I breathed through a deep sigh, my feelings welling up in me and so close to bursting out. I’d erupt into tears if I said a word of it — any of it — and she must have known it, too, the way she was looking at me so intently.
“What’s wrong?” she asked again.
There was a knock at the door, though it was still open. It was Quail and Kipley, along with Cove. Each of them were dressed much like we had been before on Carthage, in dark, unassuming clothes, obscuring most of their identifying features, though the three of them each looked quite intrigued with what they saw. Jane and I were sitting there, on her bed, her hand clasped over mine, and staring into each other’s eyes.
“Are we uh… interrupting something?” Kipley asked, looking curious, a little wry grin on her face.
Cove looked amused too, though Quail had averted his eyes.
“Man, kids these days,” Cove muttered, shaking his head. “You could at least put a sock on the door or something.”
Both of us flew apart to opposite sides of the room like magnets with reversed polarity, each laughing hysterically.
“Don’t kid yourself,” Jane barked at them, glaring. “I was just getting ready to go and Pietro checked on me, is all.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” I said, nodding along vigorously. My mind hadn’t even gone there. The tears I was brewing had another purpose now, wetting my face with sheer and utter embarrassment.
“Let’s just go,” Jane said, though Kipley stopped her in the door. “Honestly you three have the nerve just… butting into everything always anyways.”
“Oh…” Kipley breathed through her teeth, exchanging a glance with Quail. “About that.”
A palpable, weird silence filled the room. I suddenly understood what Jane meant when she said everyone else held things in and made it awkward. The air made it clear that this wasn’t the first time this conversation (or lack of one) had happened, but it didn’t make it any less difficult.
“We’re actually here for Pietro,” Quail said finally, nodding toward me. “The boss said there’s something they need to see.”
Jane’s smile faded, and sorrow filled her eyes. “Yeah. Should’ve…figured.”
“What do I need to see?” I asked.
Quail shrugged. “He said you’d know.”
I furrowed a brow. There was nothing Legato mentioned wanting me to see, was there? I couldn’t remember him mentioning anything.
“Just go,” Jane muttered. “I usually partner up with Cove on Sunday. I guess you can just… replace me.”
“It’s just for a few more days,” Kipley said, something a bit off about her usual chipper tone. “Just until you’re completely recovered.”
Jane and I shared a glance, one I expected she and I were alone in understanding. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was, that I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, that I hadn’t even accepted Legato’s offer…that I was glad she was safe, and to ask her so many questions about everything I’d seen and learned since we’d left Carthage. There wasn’t time for any of that, and it didn’t feel right with the others around. More than those things, too, I got the vibe that Jane didn’t need to hear any of that from me right now, let alone answer any more annoying questions from me, even if she said it was okay…and even if she was the only one I felt safe talking about any of it with.