"Hey, are you awake?"
"...hmmm...ah, hmmm, wha?"
"Are you awake?"
"Yes you are."
"--well, if I wasn't before, I am now. Glitch. What is it? Is something wrong?"
"No. And you're tensing up again; I can feel it. Everything's okay, so you can relax a little."
"Sorry, it's just that I...was dreaming, I think. You pulled me out of it. For a second there, I didn't know where I was."
"It's hard to forget where we are--out here, alone, and surrounded by all this..."
"All this what?"
"Ah, nothing. Forget it. It's too late to be complaining like that."
"Agreed. Go back to sleep, now. Technically, this isn't a comfortable position, and I think I was finally unconscious before you woke me up for this..."
"We're going to live through all of this. I want you to know that."
"You're not responding. Aren't you going to say anything?"
"Yeah, be careful where you put your hands. Don't let them wander when I fall asleep."
"And also...thanks. For saying what you said. I know what you were trying to do, and I appreciate that."
"Even if I woke you up to do it?"
"Yes. Even though you woke me--hey, are you hungry?"
"You could hear that?"
"No, I could feel it. Didn't you eat any food substitute?"
"That goo in the silver packages? Yuck! That j'aa eats away at your insides and shouldn't be consumed by any living thing on this planet, and that's not saying anything about how bad it all tastes. It always leaves a slick film on the inside of my mouth."
"Not all of the packages have goo in them, but you can starve yourself if you want. Be warned, I'm going to kick you every time I feel your stomach rumbling against my back."
"But wait, I didn't get a chance to tell that my favorite part of food substitute is the six hour aftertaste!"
"Dying of hunger isn't a pleasant experience. Of course, neither is being continually kicked by me. It's really simple to avoid both of these events."
"That stuff will put me in an early grave!"
"Other dangers in this world are more likely to do that. I don't think a little food substitute is going to end your life just yet."
"Okay, fine. I'll eat some of that j'aa later if it'll make you happy."
"It will make both of us happy--me right now, and you later. And you could be less difficult to deal with too. It would make things a lot easier on us in our situation. Don't you think?"
"Hmm, are you trying to change me?"
"You're right. Forget I said that. Just ignore me."
"You know, that is extremely difficult in this position. It's also hard to ignore the smell of putrid ocean on both of us, and that is just as unpleasant as it ever was."
"Sonic shower would be perfect for taking care of that."
"Hey, you shivered when you said that. You're must really want one. Well, unfortunately, I left my portable sonic shower in my other trench coat, so we're both out of luck. You're right though, would be nice."
"You have other trench coats?"
"Multiple rooms full of them. Not all are as nice as the one you're wearing, but a couple are even better. They're useful beyond belief in my line of work."
"All those pockets are useful I suppose."
"Very correct. And, as an added bonus they can make it easier to blend in with the crowd since so many people wear them. I'm just another guy in a trench coat--nothing to worry about, and certainly not somebody who's going to con, lie, or steal from you. Completely non-threatening."
"What about those weapons of yours? Those aren't non-threatening."
"Well, the trench coat covers them up."
"Hilarious. That's what you are."
"Those are sais, more defensive than offensive. Anyway, you're one to talk, you've got a sever-whip! There's nothing defensive about one of those things. Speaking of which, where is it? Those things make me a little nervous."
"Just be confident that I have it somewhere close by. A girl has to have a way to defend her honor in the world, and a purely defensive weapon doesn't do what I...need it to. It was a...recent acquisition. I've...only used it once."
"Yes. Not sure how I knew what to do with it, but I got the job done. The stains on the deck testify to that. Not trying to predict the future, but I suspect I'll have to use it again. Too many people out there that I can't trust."
"I have a rule for that. It might help you live longer."
"It's Rule #1: Never trust anyone (or anything)."
"Never trust anyone? That's ridiculous. No one can live their life that way."
"I know at least one person who can and does."
"You're not trusting me right now? I do have a sever-whip in my possession, and you admitted they make you nervous. Now, you're lying right next to me. Isn't that trust?"
"Not really. In this position, I have you at a disadvantage. If I thought you were going to try something, I'd be able to react in time."
"What if I were just waiting till you fell asleep?"
"I'm a light sleeper. It wouldn't work."
"I might surprise you. So what you're saying is that I shouldn't even be trusting you right now?"
"Well, then you'd be freezing because I'd never have let you share this blanket."
"Survival has its price."
"You do have a point, I admit. There are very few people who can be trusted."
"For me, nobody."
"Fine, so mistrust--paranoia, is your primary defense. If you called that #1, you must have other rules, don't you? What's number two?"
"Little things are most important."
"I can probably agree with that. The Bleed were pretty small, and look at the impact they had."
"Gnaw are small, and they're one of the Seven Dangers of the High Seas."
"But not all dangers are small. I've been up close with too many eoas to know differently. Big things are important too."
"The rule doesn't exclude big things from being important. The rule is there for a different reason. It's a reminder to never forget the little things, since they get overlooked most easily. Forgetting a small detail in a con or classifying a threat as small simply because of its size can be deadly. Once I...I had to learn this the hard way..."
"What happened? You want to tell me about it?"
"I understand. So, um, what's the next rule?"
"Appearances can be deceiving."
"In your case, and in your chosen occupation, that's a given--if not a mandate. It seems a little obvious--uh, is there a problem?"
"Phhpt, your hair's getting in my mouth. It's not a pleasant experience. Tastes like ocean."
"Sorry. One of the Seven Dangers of the High Seas killed my hair clips. Remember Rule #2. These things matter."
"Yeah--hey! They're my rules, of course I remember them! You don't have to remind me!"
"Hey, are you smiling?"
"Just great, you're laughing at me. But now that I think about it, the little thing that matters most right now is for me to go back to sleep."
"Good idea. Maybe I can finish what you interrupted."
"What, the dream you were having?"
"You want to tell me what about?"
"That's okay. I'm too tired to listen anyway. I'm gonna close my eyes and just listen to the sound of the ocean till I fall asleep. And if you put your cold feet on me again, I'm going to throw you overboard."
"I don't know what the glitch you're talking about. Hey, you have more rules don't you?"
"Perfect. You're asleep aren't you?"
"Hey, are you awake?"
"Wake up. I want to talk to you."
"...what? What's going on? Are we--"
"I want to talk to you."
"Why are you whispering?"
"I'm not whispering. I'm just talking softly. Didn't want to startle you. Now you're the one that's tensing up. You can calm yourself down 'cause things are quiet."
"Ah, I see. Actually, I don't see. It's still dark. What time is it?"
"Do you feel a timekeeper on me?"
"No. Okay, I'm changing the question now. How long have I been asleep? It feels like I just closed my eyes a few seconds ago."
"Glitch! You're getting back at me for some--wait, you're joking aren't you?"
"Aren't you?! I have been asleep for awhile haven't I?"
"I think you smiled when you said that. I can't see your face, but you shifted your body, and your tone of voice--"
"Guilty. I hope you can tell that I'm not a cruel person. You've been asleep for a few hours. Look to the sky, take a look at the moon's position--how it's sunk from where it was before. Only a few more hours and the sun will be here."
"Yeah, another day of drifting on this ocean of glitch."
"We'll get your boat fixed, somehow. Maybe Lady Luck will be more friendly to us tomorrow, than she has been recently. I told you we're going to live through this. I'll do whatever I can to make sure that happens."
"You're not pulling a con when you say that?"
"That's the problem with admitting that you lie for a living. It makes it harder for people to believe what you're saying--even when they want to."
"Hey, enough about me. You woke me up because--"
"Because I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to tell you what I was dreaming about."
"What made you change your mind?"
"I don't know exactly. I was lying here while you slept, thinking, listening, not sleeping, and remembering...or trying to remember my dream. The more I thought about it, the more I was able to recall. Before, when you asked so nicely, I wasn't ready to tell you. I hadn't worked through a few things in my mind--I still don't have them worked out, but at least I've had some time. I wanted to tell you what it was all about--at least as much as I can still remember. Because you asked."
"In my dream, I was in a desolate place. I felt such despair there, as if I were being forced to breathe sadness instead of air. It was the middle of a desert I think, nothing around but burned-out rock and scorched wildlife. There was a horrible smell in the air--something burning, but more that just that--more like everything was burning. The smell was the odor of death and sadness mated, and it was everywhere! It burned my nose and my lungs till it hurt deep inside me to take each breath. I could feel each breath doing some irreversible damage to my body, but I couldn't stop."
"You would think with a dream that intense, you would have been flailing around."
"Maybe I'm a calm sleeper. Anyway, I was just standing there, in the middle of that place, wherever it was. Even with the pain I was in, and the apparent level of devastation around me, I felt a growing sense of relief. Something momentous had just happened, and I was still alive and breathing. I had survived. Not without some scars though. There were cuts and wounds all over my body. I had an object in each hand. One was a wirewitch's severed hairstalk and the other was a trench coat, shredded beyond recognition. I could feel both disintegrating between my fingers. Whatever molecular bonds that held them together had been severed. That's when I realized that there were two other people with me."
"Who were they?"
"They were both standing beside me--one on either side--but I couldn't make out their forms that well. One seemed to be a robot of sorts, but it wasn't working any more. Pieces kept falling off of it, and it was smoldering, glowing with a sick, greenish hue. I could tell it was radiating radioactivity, as if it had been at the core of a nuclear reaction--only a matter of time before it crumbled into dust. The other was a human, but I'm not sure if it was male or female. Its hands and feet were on on fire, burning bright enough that I had to shield my eyes. I could see the fire begin to burn along the rest of its body, but it wasn't consumed, nor did it seem to feel any pain. When it was completely engulfed in fire, the flame turned as red as fresh blood. Only then did I realize that it actually was blood, dancing and spurting from its body, staining the charred rock beneath its feet."
"That's a beautiful image. Thanks."
"Shut the glitch up and listen until I'm done. All three of us were standing there, alone. I looked around and at the very center of myself I discovered a truth: We were the only ones left."
"You mean the only people left alive? On the planet?"
"I--I think so. Yes. That's how it felt. That's how it was in my dream. And then you woke me up."
"I'm impressed you remembered that as vividly as you described. Not everybody can extract that much detail from a dream they had."
"It wasn't easy, but after thinking about it, I was able to choose the words I needed to describe what I remembered."
"You were effective. I don't have a clue as to what your dream could mean, but I'll let you know if an interpretation comes to me in a dream."
"Thanks. I wanted to tell somebody. You're a captive audience, and anyway, you asked. It probably violated Rule #1, but I'll live with that."
"So, I guess, will I. What's the matter?"
"That...tickles. Stop it."
"I wasn't doing anything, so how can I stop it?"
"Right. Just be careful from now on."
"I always am around people with tattoos."
"Glitch you! You don't know what the glitch you're talking about."
"You haven't talked about that tattoo on your back yet. I've been curious ever since that encounter with Sahris--"
"Was that a shiver?"
"It's cold. That's all."
"Whatever you say."
"Glitch. I've never seen anything like that design before. It's nasty."
"And you never should have. If it weren't for Sahris--"
"Hey, that's over and in the past. He's gone. You probably won't see him again."
"You don't know that for--"
"Are you going to let me know where you got that tattoo or not?"
"The truth...I don't know. As far as I know, it's been there all along. I found out about it only a couple weeks ago. Only three people have seen it and recognized what it might mean, one of those being Sahris. And of the other two, I hope I only meet up with one of them ever again. Maybe I'll have time to talk with her about it then."
"It's not important. You don't know her."
"I know a lot of people. A whole glitch of a lot. How do you know--"
"I do know one thing though--about what's on my back."
"What, you wish you had a matching one on your chest?"
"No, glitch it, I know that it's not a tattoo."
"What do you mean? You're saying that's a birthmark?"
"It's a mark of some sort. The mark is actually a function of my skin. It wasn't tattooed on or even arc etched on."
"I don't know everything, but I haven't heard of anything like that! It would be different if it were a random pattern, but from what I remember, it's a very organized design, too complicated to be a chance of nature. I think I--"
"Will have to rely on your memory. No second looks."
"But that's not what--"
"Ah, go back to sleep. I think we're both too tired to continue this."
"But now I'm not sleepy. I think we should continue our discussion, because it was getting more and more interesting. In fact, now that we're talking about you and not me, I'm able to act like I'm interested without coming off like I'm conceited. Now about the mark on your back..."
"You're a little scared of it. Aren't you? Because you don't know."
"Great. You're asleep. That was pretty fast."
"It's all right to be scared of something like that you know. Something dark and unknown. It's your right to be a little afraid. You're only human."
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