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01 September 2013 @ 09:23 am
Port of Call - part 1  
Title: Port of Call
Groups/Pairings: Yokoyama You/Murakami Shingo, Kanjani8
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Swearing
Summary: The vessel H.I.J.M.S Eito is home to the last humans remaining in the world. Sailing from port to port in search of survivors following a devastating worldwide disease epidemic, Captain Yokoyama You has almost lost hope until one day they chance upon an island containing a single inhabitant, a barbarian filled with curiosity and wonder.
Notes: With thanks to my beta, K.
It was difficult to distinguish between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea; they seemed to blur together right on the horizon, stretched out before him as the ship sailed on through the calm waters. To some it might have seemed counterproductive that Captain Yokoyama You might be more interested in potential survivors out on the deserted lands than the three thousand souls aboard the H.I.J.M.S. Eito, but with each empty port they visited, each untouched rally site they came across, the more difficult it was to maintain hope, whatever that meant. It seemed he would never meet another new human being. It was just them now. Three thousand, six hundred and eleven people left in the entire world and just a lonely ship to show for it.

"Captain?" His second officer, a slight figure who seemed to wear his decorations for aesthetic purposes rather than actual identification, slouched at the entrance to the bridge with a worn clipboard resting lightly in hand.

"Tell me good news, Subaru."

One of Subaru's star traits was his ability to mask panic with indifference. "Food rations at four percent. Energy consumption down fifteen percent compared to the last quarter but still riding high overall compared to previous years. Clean water usage sixteen thousand tonnes, with three thousand cubic tonnes remaining."

"I wanted good news. That's terrible news." Yoko moved away from the glass window at the bow of the ship to glance at the figures on the clipboard, his thumb rubbing at the pencilled numbers as though it might help them magically grow. Fresh water was the most precious commodity aboard a ship. "Luckily with this current bringing us portside, we'll be able to make the shore within the next few hours. Have the crew prepare for re-supplying."

"Aye aye, Captain." The second officer nodded at him, having long abandoned the formalities of rank (hell, Subaru had saved him from enough near misses anyway) and quietly moved off from the bridge.

Apart from the occasional glimpse of a speckled albatross soaring high in the mellow sunshine in futile search of sustenance, the only sounds remaining were the sluicing wash of the sea against the side of the ship and the low purr from the engines churning rhythmically beneath the surface. Eight years of drifting had slowly clipped away at the shell of hope that once encased him. There was nothing remaining under the vast sky; even the clouds were thin and scarce.

At times, usually in the rocking quiet of the endless night, Yoko wondered if it was right for him to lead these people on towards infinity in search of something that remained elusive to all. The Disease had caught the entire world unaware forty years ago, and within months all living souls on land had perished in necrotising pain, leaving behind cities stained with infected blood to be uninhabitable forever. Yoko's mother, who had been captaining a luxury cruise ship at the time of the Impact, had escaped the destruction by virtue of sheer luck. While other cruise liners had succumbed under the crushing pressure from their passengers to return to port for one last goodbye, Yoko's mother remained self-serving and staunchly refused.

Forty years on and the people still hated the Yokoyama family. You should have let us die. Anything is better than floating around without purpose.

And yet the overboard suicides dropped off after the first year, the engineers restructured the entertainment decks for utilitarian purposes and the boffins redesigned the internal processing plants to run more efficiently. With a growth rate of 0.02%, they could eventually have a little colony on their hands given another century or so.

When the sliver of land emerged upon the horizon, Yoko took over steering the ship and pulled them alongside the shore. "Release the row-boats," he ordered, and the little boats full of passengers steadily descended into the water and began their journey to shore. Everyone helped out on supply day because everybody was crew. Freeloading was not an option.

Yoko's boots hit the embankment the moment his rowboat wedged into the sandy beach, splashing cold water onto his breeches. He led the party of two hundred able bodies out onto the foreshore, his eyes scanning for the best routes into the thickets that lay ahead.

"The usual: fresh water and food are our priorities. Let's not waste time. We need to get going again before the tide moves too far out."

The crew divided themselves into functional sections to begin their forage for supplies. Fresh water could sometimes be found further inland, uncontaminated by sulphurous deep-sea ruptures from when earthquakes had shredded the planet. Yoko blinked against the sun, holding his hand up to shield his eyes, and noted the abrupt change of types of vegetation towards the centre of the island. Closer to the shore grew primarily mangroves adapted to the harsher chemicals in sea water. After a fashion the foliage changed to varieties Yoko knew could only thrive in fresh water. And if it was good enough for the trees, it was good enough for humans.

Yoko himself began his usual routine; he trekked along the shore in search of life.

Unsurprisingly, there was nothing remarkable to report. Dropping to his haunches, he gathered a handful of sand and rubbed it between his fingers. Not too coarse. Fine enough to filter the majority of pollutants from the sea. He licked it delicately without knowing why; it was just something he'd seen his mother doing before she passed away. The beauty of the island was self-evident, but its location directly upon a fault line rendered it unsuitable for long-term colonisation. While the disease had wiped out the human race, the series of earthquakes that followed had devastated the planet. The earth's molten core released hot energy, raising the temperature of the sea and subsequently killing all aquatic life except the few crustaceans and plankton that could survive in boiling temperatures close to the fissure lines.

If only he could find footprints or discarded clothing. Hell, even half-eaten food would be a victory. Anything that could suggest there was life out there, life beyond the ship.

The pristine beach gave him nothing and the horrendous beauty of it terrified him.

* * *


It appeared that the islands drifted past them and not the other way around, for the world felt like a stagnant place and time was merely routine.

That was how it felt, until one day someone saw a moving figure on the sandy foreshore.

* * *


The rowboat drew level with the decking. Before the security guards had readied themselves for disembarking, the cargo had already leapt into action and scrambled over the lip of the rowboat. The cargo – a man - tumbled out of the rowboat, righted himself in a single fluid movement to land on crouched haunches, then rested back onto his heels to peer at the assembly of people, his eyes glittering black behind the thick, matted tangle of knotted hair.

The security guards exited the rowboat and stood in two neat rows flanking the barbarian. Only a few deckhands worked quickly on the side to secure the rowboat; otherwise, all else was silent.

Yoko drew in a deep breath and stepped forward while the rest of the crew watched.

The barbarian honed his attention towards Yoko and openly peered at him while slowly rising to his full height. He was a little shorter than Yoko but broad in the shoulders, well built with defined muscles underneath a stretch of bronzed skin. Naked also, with a thin layer of sweat. Not malodorous and surprisingly clean, except his feet which were bare and covered in dirt. His eyes were wide and curious, and he wore the expression of a child. Wonder.

Feeling the weight of expectation crushing against his shoulders, Yoko cleared his throat. "Welcome aboard the H.I.J.M.S. Eito. I am Yokoyama You and I am the captain of this vessel."

But the barbarian simply continued to gawp at him, grinning toothily at times.

Yoko turned to the security guards. "Give him something with which to cover himself, please."

A woollen blanket was produced and drawn over the barbarian's shoulders, who rubbed the edge of it between his fingers, feeling the coarse texture of the material. The barbarian grabbed hold of it for a second longer before letting it fall back onto the deck and returning his attention back onto Yoko. In spite of the cool sea breeze and the occasional spray of the ocean, the barbarian did not shiver nor appear affected by the elements. Instead he took a resolute step forward.

The security guards immediately closed in around him, their weapons drawn and ready to fire, causing the barbarian to startle back in alarm. There was no fear in his eyes, however, as he settled down just as quickly and began to peer curiously at the rifles, reaching out in an attempt to touch the barrel.

"Take him to the medical bay," ordered Yoko, sensing that the spectacle needed to be contained to preserve the dignity of the barbarian, if nothing else. "All passengers must be dressed appropriately when appearing in public."

Immediately the security guards led the barbarian below deck and away from the hungry eyes. The crowd that had gathered gradually dispersed and slipped back to their ordinary lives, although not without a great deal of excited whispering and pointing. Yoko turned to Subaru, nodded for him to take command of the ship momentarily, and followed the entourage to the medical bay.

* * *


The barbarian was sitting up on a medical trolley, his weathered and scarred hands roaming over the light, coarse fabric of the oversized patient gown that draped off him in stiff white folds. His skin glowed faintly red from where the team had scrubbed him down during their contamination process and his feet were no longer black with dirt, but his hair remained in thick clumps that dangled down his back and across his beaming face.

Yoko snapped on a pair of latex gloves as he entered the medical bay. The double doors slid shut behind him as he approached, while the medical team pulled back to give him room.

"He tolerated part of the contamination process and refused some of the more invasive procedures," announced the doctor as he handed Yoko a clipboard with the barbarian's information. Yoko glanced at it briefly then passed it back. "Vital signs within normal ranges. Based on preliminary findings I'd estimate that he's thirty years in age. Blood work is still being done but I'd imagine they'd come back normal too. He's perfectly fit and healthy, Captain. Congratulations, we've found our first survivor."

"Thank you, doctor." He nodded at the rest of the medical team, who politely bowed and exited the room leaving only himself, the barbarian and the head doctor.

The air was heavy, condensed with a buzz that seemed to penetrate right through him and leave him lightheaded. With every step closer to the barbarian, a surge of emotions mounted within him. Something akin to pride flared inside his body, red hot and tingling. He could barely feel his toes anymore as his feet worked of their own accord, drawing him nearer to the strange man with his filthy matted hair and openly inquisitive expression.

This was the moment he'd been waiting for his entire life, Yoko thought, and the realisation of it pounded against his consciousness so hard he had to fight to remain in the moment. This man was the survivor he'd been looking for in all the years of desperately drifting from port to port. Perhaps the first of many survivors. Fit, healthy, not too mad although quite possibly a little simple. It'd take hard work to integrate him back into society, but not impossible. Yoko locked his hands behind his back to keep them from trembling.

"Hello," said Yoko, fighting to keep his voice as steady as possible. "Do you have a name?"

After a few blank seconds, the barbarian opened his mouth cautiously. Far from the reticence he'd displayed earlier on the deck, the barbarian appeared interested in engaging with him. "Name," uttered the barbarian, with a curious inflection. He stared at Yoko with urgency, as though trying to force the entire meaning of the word into Yoko using the power of his will. "Name!" he called again, in a loud voice that reverberated off the walls of the medical bay.

Yoko startled, resisting the urge to draw back instinctively, but the barbarian didn't seem to be growing agitated.

"Yes, name," repeated Yoko, slowly as though speaking to a child.

But instead a frown overcame the barbarian's face, tugging his lips down exaggeratedly as he scratched at his thickets of hair. He tugged at the collar of the patient gown with his other hand and made a face briefly, a parody of disappointment.

"I suppose not," Yoko said reluctantly, drawing up a chair and sitting down next to the trolley as he reassessed the management plan for the barbarian. There had been a manual written long ago outlining guidelines in the event they came across a survivor but that had been in the early years, left over from the first generation. A sigh passed through Yoko's lips as he folded his arms. "Probably no point having a name when you're out in the wilderness, right?" he muttered.

"Hi-na."

Yoko arched an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

The barbarian leaned forward eagerly, making the trolley creak as it tipped precariously to one side, and slapped his hand against his chest so hard it resonated. "Hi-na!" He paused, his head tilted to one side as he screwed up his face, thinking hard. "Uhhhh," he grunted in frustration, then his expression brightened. "Name is my Hina. Ahh. Name my … Hina."

Astonishment burst through Yoko's body. "Hina?" Yoko said wonderingly as the barbarian nodded at him eagerly. "Your name is Hina?"

The barbarian laughed delightedly. "Your name is Hina! Uhhh. My name is Hina." Clearly satisfied with himself, the barbarian sat back and beamed.

"So you do talk," Yoko murmured, more to himself than to the barbarian. He exchanged a look with the doctor, who was practically squirming with excitement. The barbarian's speech was marred with imperfect tones and inflections, slurred in some places and jerky in others, but understandable with some concentration. Yoko placed his hand upon his own chest and said, slowly and clearly, "My name is Yokoyama You."

"Yoko-yomo," parroted the barbarian haltingly, making a puzzled expression as he carefully sounded out the syllables. "Yoko. Yoma. Yo-ko-ma."

"Yoko is good," Yoko cut in hurriedly. "My name is Yoko. Okay?"

The barbarian - Hina - smiled back at him. "Okay. Yoko. Hello."

* * *


"He speaks," Yoko announced as he stepped back into the bridge of the vessel, to where Subaru hurriedly rose upon seeing Yoko return. Yoko gestured for him to remain seated. "His name is 'Hina' and he speaks our language. Not very well but that's to be expected, I suppose, having lived on his own for so long."

Subaru snorted. He seemed to be taking the news of their survivor well within his stride. In fact, he acted as though they'd simply come across a new variety of edible fruit -- pleased but distantly unconcerned with anything beyond its practical implication. "Are we certain he was the only person on the island?"

"He said he was alone." Yoko settled into the seat beside Subaru and let his gaze drift to the open seas before them, now seeing the waters in a different light. Everything appeared brighter than before. The clouds no longer felt as though they were bearing down upon him and the emptiness of the ocean had filled with promise, hope. "At least, that's what I think he said. At any rate, he didn't appear concerned about anyone else."

Nodding absently, Subaru pulled the touchscreen towards Yoko. It displayed the passenger information list, with a new entry marked Unknown #1. "I've allocated him to one of the upper residential cabins, DX302. He might not be accustomed to living below the water line. The tailor has already begun making clothes for him."

"Excellent," murmured Yoko as he began to enter new data into the screen, replacing the generic Unknown #1 with </i>Hina</i>. He saw that information from the medical assessment had already been uploaded into the system, outlining Hina's physical details and a brief psychological report.

Height 175cm. Weight 70kg. BP 110/70. HR 80. SaO2 99%. RR 16. Temperature 36.3oC. Cardiac sinus rhythm S1 S2 present, NAD. Lungs clear, bilateral air entry. Patient alert and responding to all sensory stimuli without apparent impediment. Nil attempts at verbal communication, however voiced utterances of surprise and displeasure during the decontamination process. Also noted to be gesticulating (pointing, pulling at clothing, etc.) upon staff's approach. Primary emotions expressed throughout the assessment were curiosity, confusion and frustration - identified through facial expression and body language - which were congruent with the rigors of assessment. Physical assessment terminated prematurely due to poor patient co-operation and signs of increasing agitation.

"I wonder if the doctor attempted to get a temperature reading the old-fashioned way," Subaru huffed in laughter, when he craned his head to see which part of the report Yoko was scrolling through. "I'd do more than show signs of increasing agitation."

"Still brawling with the petty officers?" Yoko asked archly, his fingers skimming across the touchscreen. Occupation: unavailable.

"Not my style, you know that," Subaru replied just as easily. "Nil deviations from the chartered course?"

"For now. Results from the latest resupply?"

"Three tons of raw materials, translating to six tons of food. Four cubic tonnes of drinkable water."

"Excellent," said Yoko as he clicked out of the passenger list and into the navigation system. "We'll keep short the next three port calls - search for signs of life only. Then start the Pacific stretch into warmer waters. With winter approaching earlier and earlier these days we'll need to rechart the bulk of the latter months to avoid the icy conditions." He paused, hesitating just long enough for Subaru to give him an inquisitive glance. "It'll be cold this year. Preparations ought to have been made in advance."

"If we'd changed course, we might not have chanced upon your wild man."

But Yoko simply hummed noncommittally and continued to flick through the meteorology reports.

Pounding earthquakes post-impact had shattered the planet, affecting the earth's rotation. The days were now shorter and the seasons cycled through more quickly. He'd known of this phenomenon for over a decade and yet failed to adjust for current circumstances. Blame it on sentimentality, blame it on a yearning for the past. His mother had plotted out this course forty years ago and Yoko was loath to deviate from it, as though doing so might eradicate the legacy of the woman.

Perhaps guessing that Yoko had lapsed back into the past, Subaru cleared his throat. "Changing course could bring us to previously unknown islands. Inhabitable ones. Instead of waiting for the chemical compositions on the known islands to equilibrate to life-sustaining levels."

"Considering the sophistication of our current technology in geographical mapping, it seems unlikely that we've overlooked any potentially suitable islands. Even with only two satellites remaining functional."

"I'm just saying."

Yoko pushed away the touchscreen and gazed out at the endless sea of blue, wondering how long it would take before he was desperate enough to gamble the lives of others for the sake of progress.

Hina had survived on the island for thirty years with no apparent damage. Perhaps it was foolish of Yoko to continue sailing in search of the perfect inhabitable island. Perhaps he ought to risk it and dock for the final time, even if it meant eminent destruction at the hands of nature.

"I know," he replied quietly.

Humans were a resilient lot, he reflected, with an infinite capacity for growth.

And hope. Maybe that was their most admirable trait; the one that would eventually lead to their downfall.

* * *


Less than twenty-four hours after successfully rescuing Hina from a wretched life of solitude, the head of security, a balding, stout man more suited to a life behind a desk than galumphing along endless corridors, knocked apprehensively on the door to Yoko's residential cabin.

Blinking blearily into the murky darkness and fumbling for the switch to the side-lamp, Yoko peered at the digital clock next to his bed and groaned. Two o'clock in the fucking morning. The perma-ache in Yoko's back was still throbbing. The ship had better be on fucking fire.

"Yes?" he called roughly, lurching over the side of the bed to clumsily pull on the starchy uniform over his pyjamas.

The thin, reedy voice of the head of security announced, rather sheepishly from the relative safety of the other side of the door, that they had lost their survivor.

"Lost?" Yoko echoed, dumbfounded, stumbling as he flung open the door. "What?"

The head of security flinched, grimacing when Yoko threw him an incredulous glare. "Well. He's fast. And silent. I've sent forces out to find it, so it's only a matter of time before his position is located," replied the head of security in a rush.

"How long has it been since he was first discovered to be missing?"

"An hour, Captain."

Knowing it would be counterproductive and a blow to morale for Yoko to curse, despite that being his first and foremost instinctive response to the situation, Yoko gave a curt nod and slipped on his shoes. He looked ridiculous, for sure, dressed in striped flannelette pyjamas underneath a decorated uniform jacket, but every second he wasted preening over his appearance was time that Hina could be ignorantly pinned underneath a two tonne silo container of grains or foolishly slipping up on deck and tumbling over the railing into the midnight water. Nonetheless, he hurriedly patted down his hair to maintain a semblance of respectability.

"Which areas have been searched?" he demanded, exiting his quarters and marching down the maze of corridors toward the security centre.

"The entire D deck and the surrounding outside environment, the communal floor and part of the utility deck," replied the head of security, who shuffled awkwardly alongside him in a bid to keep pace. They rounded the corner sharply. A dozen horrific scenarios played through Yoko's mind as to the fate of their only survivor.

He opened the unassuming door to the security centre, in which two security officers were frantically sifting through video footage from the CCTV cameras installed shipwide. LED monitors lined the walls, stacked atop the other, each flickering through the myriad of live camera leads and displaying the main passageways through the entire vessel. Life stood still for slumber in the majority of them. No lone Hina in sight. Every now and then, a security guard would bustle across the screen, ducking and peering behind benches and into cupboards, as though expecting Hina to suddenly spring out from behind a potted plant.

Willing himself to stay calm, Yoko drew a deep, steadying breath.

"Search the top and bottommost decks, and the outdoors," Yoko said, and the head of security relayed the information to the guards via transistor radio. "He's used to nature. He wouldn't want to be stuck in the belly of a massive machine. How was he before the escape?"

"Remarkably unremarkable. Settled. The sustenance department reports that he did not eat much of the meal, however. I guess he's not used to the food."

Behind them, Subaru appeared at the doorway, having clearly also just been roused from bed. "Shall we switch on the main lights to aid the search?"

Yoko nodded. "We need to find him before he does something foolish. This is his first time on a ship and he probably has no idea what anything is. Be gentle when you find him; he's most likely frightened and confused."

Regretting having failed to grab something warmer to wear, Yoko turned back down the hallway to begin his own search. "Notify me immediately when you find him," he said curtly as he rushed to the flight of stairs leading to the upper decks. Not for the first time, Yoko cursed the fact that he had moved away from the traditional captain's cabin near the bridge to the residential cabin deep below the waterline, away from the prying eyes of the general public. His legs ached as he flew up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, but he paid them no heed and continued.

The barbarian - Hina - might have gotten lost in the boiler room, or fallen down part of the rigging, or slipped on deck and tumbled overboard. Yoko ought to have made safety instructions a much higher priority when welcoming Hina onboard, not simply left him to his own devices for the evening. And with only two security guards patrolling D deck!

He finally climbed above deck and pushed against the incoming wind to open the hatched door to the outside. The inky grey night sky greeted him with thick clouds and a heavy wind that propelled him across the slippery deck. He wrapped his uniform tightly around himself, acutely aware that underneath he was only dressed in pyjamas.

Although he'd walked up and down this stretch of deck several hundred - possibly thousand - times, the scenery was different this time around. All he could see were dangerous spots: parts of the railing that were loosening, a piece of the decking that was raised, equipment that had been left out, and so on. Fuck, he thought desperately. What the hell kind of ship was he running here anyway? The paint was beginning to peel and a nail was jutting out from the wall. His ship was now a far cry from the luxurious H.M.S. Eito that had departed from the dock forty years ago, in all its magnificent gleaming steel and glass beauty. It was now just a vessel sagging under the weight of a thousand desperate humans, slowly rusting from the inside, unable to keep anyone safe.

Barely had he made half a circuit along the deck when he suddenly fell into awareness of the moment: his body was freezing cold from the bitter wind, so cold that he had to gasp to force it deep into his lungs. And then he realised that it was all madness. The logical jumps he thought he'd made were simply desperation, adrenaline bewitching his senses.

Hina wasn't an idiot. He wouldn't venture out into the icy conditions when there was warmth to be had, barbarian or not.

No sooner had he stumbled back inside did a security officer run up to him, eagerly waving his arms about as though he'd won the jackpot. There was a bright smile of relief on the officer as he excitedly told Yoko, "He was in the cargo hold. We caught him eating bananas."

Hina had been taken to the brig, a lifeless, dull grey concrete area that was containing its first occupant in the entire existence of the ship. Yoko shuddered to see someone crouched behind the steels bars, locked like an animal with the barrels of rifles pointed towards him. Yoko waved the security guards aside and they set down their weapons.

"Hina," Yoko started sternly, pleased when Hina turned to look at him with recognition in his eyes.

"Yoko," said Hina. One of the security guards gasped at the audacity of the informality but Yoko signalled that it was permissible.

"You worried us. We thought you were lost."

At this, Hina tilted his head to one side and furrowed his brow with deep concentration at Yoko's words, but either could not formulate a response or failed to understand their meaning altogether, for he remained silent.

Looking around the various security guards and crew present, Yoko noted that the expressions of relief had drained away to reveal fatigue and half-baked slumber. And while he was not certain that if an incident were to occur, Yoko could single-handed contain Hina, he recognised that it was selfish to keep the others awake when there were full shifts to be worked in the morning. "Go back to bed everyone; I will take care of this."

"Captain, are you certain?" the head of security simpered, even though his feet were already pointing towards the exit.

"Yes, yes," Yoko replied easily, nodding more to convince himself of the impending endeavour than the others. Silently, the guards withdrew from the prison cell and filed out of the brig. The head of security saluted and tailed behind them, leaving just Yoko and Hina in the quiet space. Suddenly, the room seemed much too large and impersonal for just the two of them.

Without the need to maintain professionalism, Yoko walked to the cell door and opened it. "You were gone," he said, struggling to keep his sentences as short and simple as possible. "I was worried. Sad."

But Hina seemed to understand that far from being angry, Yoko was instead concerned or perhaps disappointed, for he broke eye contact and hung his head. "Hungry," he muttered.

"The food is for everybody. We must share the food," Yoko chided gently as his mind churned with the new problem.

The artificial, processed food served on board was clearly not to Hina's tastes, however fresh food was too precious a commodity. One single piece of banana would normally be pulverised into easily digestible mulch, combined with additional fibres and nutrients and padded out with artificial carbohydrates to create enough meal bars to feed four people. It was not sustainable to have Hina ingest only raw materials but he needed to eat to survive. Frustrated at his own lack of forethought, Yoko rubbed at the corner of his eyes and became acutely aware of the way his body sagged from lack of rest.

"Let's just deal with this tomorrow," he muttered. "Come. I'll show you back to your room. Hina? Bed-time. Sleeping."

Hina slowly rose to his feet but remained rooted to the spot, unconvinced. "Trees?"

"Pardon?"

Having clearly identified the stance of the security guards as one of intimidation, Hina crossed his arms. "Where are trees?"

"You want to sleep in a tree," Yoko repeated, huffing a little in amused disbelief. The man wanted to nest in a tree when there was a perfectly serviceable mattress that cushioned the body from all sides. The manual of what to do with survivors had some glaring omissions, starting from the very basics. Psychological stability and physiological adaption would have to wait.

"All right," said Yoko, after a long pause. "I have an idea."

* * *


"The biodome," Yoko announced as they entered the glass dome at the heart of the ship, his voice devoid of any fanfare or real enthusiasm for the kitsch extravagance dreamed up by a tree-loving hippie.

Thankfully, the experts on board had transformed the monstrosity into a carefully cultivated forest of saltwater vegetation. Running in a giant ring around the perimeter of the dome was a steadily trickling stream of seawater pumped directly from the ocean; it seeped onto the artificial embankment studded with flexed cordgrasses and reeds. Dense forest crowded the glass dome as the gnarled tree trunks twisted towards the sky, forming a canopy that hung from above.

"It filters the air," he explained, somewhat unnecessarily considering Hina had long abandoned Yoko's side and bolted into the thickets, whooping in delight. Gigantic ducts jutting out from various points along the glass wall allowed fresh air to circulate throughout the ship, and there were drains at the bottom of the wall to collect any fresh water produced through condensation. For this reason alone, Yoko begrudgingly tolerated the grating ten-minute looped soundtrack of trilling birdsong and droning insects cleverly market as nature music that cycled endlessly, churned out in surround sound from speaks concealed in the hollows of tree trunks.

He stuck his numb fingers into his pockets, trudging into the centre of the dome, which opened into a small, private clearing. It was cold and damp inside the biodome but Hina didn't seem to mind, darting nimbly from between the tree trunks and grabbing fistfuls of leaves to sniff. When he looked up, he could see the cross-section of the ship along ten entire decks - all gloomy hallways with the lights switched off to preserve electricity. As he glanced down again, he saw Hina had returned to the clearing and had dived into the long grassy thickets, rolling onto his back and pressing his cheek into the soil.

"You'll get your clothes dirty," Yoko mumbled with annoyance, the corner of his mouth turned down. His head was spinning from being awake for too long. "And that's two litres of water that could otherwise be used for food production."

But Hina either didn't understand or didn't care, and continued to brush his hands across the grasses, humming a little under his breath. "Come," he said to Yoko suddenly, turning an imperious gaze upon him.

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Come." For a man stained with green grassy streaks and adorned with bits of stray flower pollen and wispy leaves, Hina could emanate a commanding air.

Perhaps Yoko was simply too exhausted to protest. He gingerly knelt down upon the lawn, allowing the richness of the soil to fill his lungs with the scent of the earth. When he let his head drop back, he saw the glimmering night sky high above them.

It looked deceptively calm; it was almost tempting to call it relaxing.

* * *


"Heard a rumour you've gone native."

"Keep her steady at forty knots. I'm already late for the executive meeting," Yoko muttered, his hair still dripping wet from having leapt out of the shower and straight into his uniform. The last thing he wished to admit to was having fallen asleep inside the biodome and bolting to his cabin at the first rays of morning sun, especially when Subaru delighted in Yoko's apparent discomfort. "See if we can make the Solomon Islands by nightfall."

The boardroom members were already assembled in the wooden panelled conference room when he entered. It had once served as a presidential office over fifty years ago when the vessel hosted the great leader of their nation for a two day cruise from Honshu to Hokkaido as part of a publicity stunt for the government and advertising campaign for the cruise company. Now it hosted executive meetings for two hours per week. Yoko associated it with years of dogged training to perfect the art of feigning interest.

Items on the agenda were predictable. Energy consumption. Food levels. Matters of security. Matters of law enforcement. Whether the meetings should provide additional sustenance when they ran overtime.

Yoko allowed these to wash over him, barely pausing to scrutinise the crisp documents set before him and gliding the nib of his pen across the dotted line. Voices from the board members flew from one end of the table to the other like birdsong in fierce competition for favour, Yoko's favour or their own, for an additional slice of power.

"If we allow anyone to sleep inside the biodome, the original purpose of the biodome would be rendered obsolete and we'll have a hippie commune gathered before you know it!"

A murmur of agreement rose from around the table, propelling Yoko back into the present.

"We can't be seen to treat anyone differently when our society is founded primarily on equality!"

Regardless of how it was disguised, it was nonetheless a dig at Yoko's leadership, riding the growing wave of discontent among the passengers. The bitterness lingered, the purposeless. Pretending to debate was one of the few ways to distract themselves from the horror of living an empty life. Yet Yoko knew he had to swiftly cut it down before its roots took hold.

"We'll begin a gradual transition," he announced sharply. The smattering of voices died down, cowed by his tone. "Two days a week in the cabin, five days in the biodome and then slowly reduce the number of days he sleeps in the biodome until he has successfully adapted to civilised living conditions. I assure you that residing in the biodome is a temporary measure and all efforts will be made to ensure that this transition occurs as efficiently and as safely as possible to preserve our new guest's psychological stability."

One by one, the board members looked away.

"Excellent. If there are no more issues on the agenda, perhaps we should leave it there."

* * *


On the first night isolated in his cabin Hina wailed, shrieking like a man possessed by a vengeful spirit. Upon surveying the damage in the morning, the security found the furniture upturned and shelves ripped clean off the walls. There were streaks of blood found in odd corners and the pungent smell of urine in the confined space. Yoko ordered the engineers and maintenance crew to restore it back to its original state after a cursory glance, and spent two hours with the senior doctor formulating a plan for successful elimination education.

"This is called the toilet. This where you … do your business."

"What is business?"

By his sixth night sleeping in the cabin, Hina had grown accustomed to the spongy seats and the scratchy feel of carpet underfoot. He continued to use his hands to eat, finding cutlery cumbersome and often spilling the majority of his meal on the floor rather than in his mouth, but hunger often won out over the search for divine taste and Hina developed a fondness for bean paste cakes. Regardless, the kitchen staff continued to supply him with a fresh piece of fruit every day. For a moment, Yoko wondered who had given that order but decided that ignorance was a safer bet, less the supply chain be halted.

Yoko also found that on the nights where he allowed Hina to lounge at the end of Yoko's study, watching as Yoko rewrote entire chapters of the Manual for Rehabilitating Survivors until the early hours of the morning, Hina no longer protested as vehemently about returning to his own cabin.

Sometimes Yoko even preferred to write in Hina's cabin, even if it meant he was crushed up against the fold-down table that doubled as a desk, as Hina slowly drifted off to sleep.

"Are you enjoying the book?" Stifling a yawn, Yoko looked up from his writing (Chapter 3: Appropriate Clothing and Accessories) to see Hina leafing through a children's flipbook.

Hina merely tilted his head at Yoko's words, his eyes too busy feasting on the assortment of photographs of exotic animals to care much about replying. Yoko had learnt not to give Hina books about food after the latter had once licked and chewed up every photograph contained within, then heaved the book away in frustration.

It was quieter down that end of the ship, now that they'd vacated everyone else on the deck due to the early days of Hina's violent outbursts. At least that was what Yoko told himself.

It had little to do with him enjoying the company.

* * *


Another long stretch of days to plough through. The thrum of the ship's engines beneath him was reassuringly steady as he navigated through the icy waters of the Pacific, with the southerly breeze brushing up against the starboard side. Yoko corrected the course with a few light taps on the control screen to account for the incoming wind resistance then leaned back into the command seat as the vessel obeyed without hesitation. Cutting across the current would lead to a choppier ride for the next half hour but shredded a day from their journey; they could reach the east coast of the Americas faster.

Off to the side, Subaru was going through the course charts once more and calculating their distance from the nearest shore in case of an emergency.

The other officers visibly relaxed with Yoko at the helm of the ship in spite of the increased turbulence across the water, and fell into pockets of idle chatter.

Amongst the background dim, Subaru leaned over and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "Things are stirring beneath the surface." Even though his eyes were still trained on the course charts, his hands had stilled. It was said in a casual way, almost careless, but the concern was evident in his voice. "There's talk about your role with the assimilation of the barbarian and whether it … affects your position as captain."

"He's the first survivor we've found -- we've ever found -- of course I'm going to have an active interest--" Yoko hissed back, immediately feeling anger flaring up inside of him.

"I know," Subaru replied softly, shooting him a quick reassuring glance. "I know, but to the outsider that's not what it looks like. They think you're too invested in the whole project."

"He's a human being, Subaru, not an experiment."

Subaru lapsed into momentary silence and when he spoke again, it was slow and deliberate. Careful, but laden with warning. "Just ease off a little. Show a bit more presence as a Captain. The passengers enjoy shows of authority; it helps them to focus. I'm not saying don't spend time speaking to the barbarian but you need to consider the other three thousand people aboard this ship."

* * *


Funny how quickly Yoko slipped into his new routine. Manning the bridge for the majority of the day and once every few days, he'd drop by Hina's cabin with a new book. Hina would regale Yoko with the events of his day, which always sounded far more exciting on account of his enthusiasm for anything new, and then settle into his basic studies of elementary education. Literacy was not one of his strengths but Hina enjoyed listening to Yoko read out passages from the old geography textbooks.

"What is brick?"

"It's a type of clay that has been cooked until it's hard. It's used to build houses. What sort of house would you like to have?"

"Dry house," Hina replied immediately, breaking into a smile.

Yoko returned the smile. "I'm with you on that one."

Reaching up to push the book out of Yoko's hands, Hina leaned forward and continued excitedly. "House with big space. Trees. Many trees. River. Lake. Flowers. Birds with many colours. Look!" He looked around at the small collection of books that had accumulated in his bedroom and grabbed a slim hardcover, flipping open the pages. "This!"

On the page was a picturesque island, not unlike the one upon which they'd found Hina. It was girded by a glittering beach front that sunk slowly into dark blue waters. In the middle of the island was a lagoon, bright blue in colour and shaped like a figure eight. Hina dropped the book onto the desk at which Yoko was seated, and peered from over Yoko's shoulder. "This one," he said, stretching out his arm and pointing to another island with crystal-like sand. "This one. This one. This one … no."

The smell of crushed dried flowers and berries coming from Hina caught Yoko off-guard. It was a sweet smell, fresh but not sickly. Having once braced himself for potential resistance, Yoko had been pleasantly surprised to discover that Hina loved the wonders of showering and often had to have his hot water supply manually cut off to prevent excessive usage. Hina presented clean and well-groomed the vast majority of the time. It was only now that he was so close did Yoko notice the scent and temporarily forget why he was perusing an old photobook that had once adorned some wealthy patron's coffee table.

"Yoko?"

Up close, Yoko could see that the tan on Hina's skin was gradually fading and the neatly trimmed crescents of his fingernails that were tidier and cleaner than Yoko's own. The hair on the back of Hina's arms had been thick before but now they were fine, unnecessary in a temperature controlled environment, and visibly raised blood vessels coursed along the inside of his cleanly-scrubbed elbow and arched to the back of his hands.

The flower smell was getting to him.

"It's probably time for bed," Yoko muttered, edging out from underneath Hina's arm and hastily collecting his belongings, before bolting out the door.

That wasn't the only time such a scenario played out in its various forms, although they always inevitably ended with Yoko stuttering a poor excuse and making a swift exit. He often wondered if the devil had possessed him and turned him into a fool, for he felt foolish when Hina asked him simple questions about the composition of metals and why humans wore socks as well as shoes. Before he realised it, the days between each evening visit stretched out longer and longer until Subaru nodded at him during a lunch break and said, "That's better. Now don't forget that Takahashi-san is turning 100 so you should make an appearance."

Yet the lack of any real interaction with Hina was promptly substituted with thoughts that snuck into Yoko's mind at all hours.

As they descended upon islands on their way to the Americas, he found himself comparing them to the images that Hina had pointed out to him and wondering if any of them were going to be the one. The most appropriate island for habitation was no longer judged by their environmental viability and resource availability but instead on whether the water glistened bright aqua as it lapped against a shimmering shore. Every time they reached the shore of another empty island, Hina danced along the sand whooping and laughing, cartwheeling as though he'd rediscovered himself.

After a fashion, Yoko decided not to join the foraging party and instead remained on deck with his hands clasped tightly behind his back as he watched.

He found that he missed the feel of sand crunching beneath his feet and the breeze twirling through palm fronds, the answering calls of the birds and the low hum of insects burrowed deep into the undergrowth, long before they'd even left.

* * *


"Are you sure that variety has had adequate time to adapt to the salinity of the water? The last time I attempted introducing such a drastic change the entire section of reeds died overnight."

It wasn't immediately apparent what compelled Yoko to swing a left turn instead of a right when departing the bridge after the end of his morning watch. His stomach grumbled every few paces, a constant reminder of its pitifully empty state. Yet his legs had continued towards the source of the laughter, the delight, until he found himself at the great entrance of the biodome. The last time he'd visited was weeks ago, long before Hina had already become accustomed to sleeping in his own cabin.

Here, covered up to his elbows in dirt and with a comically oversized hat secured to his head with cord, Hina was busy replanting one of the shrubs to be closer to the embankment. Alongside him crouched the main caretaker for the biodome, a cheerful fellow named Maru who was already streaked with earth across his ruddy cheeks.

"These plants survived already," Hina said, using his fingers to gingerly scrape up some of the dirt from around the roots. "These plants can live closer to water."

"All right, if you're sure," grinned Maru, digging into the base of a similar looking shrub. The two worked peacefully side by side with the midday sun filtering through the leafy canopy from above, dappling the earth. Around them the air was thickening with the rise of humidity; the glass sides of the dome began to gather miniscule beads of freshwater condensation.

Hina did not possess a formal occupation but his time was gladly spent volunteering in the biodome with Maru. The pair had struck a fast friendship, and Maru's light-hearted chatter combined with Hina's voracious appetite for new words and ideas had led to a drastic improvement in Hina's speech. Glad that Hina had fallen into something of a routine where he visited the biodome a couple of hours per day and was no longer simply wandering the decks in a permanent state of bewilderment, Yoko turned to leave them be.

His stomach grumbled again, louder than ever.

"Yoko!"

"Captain!"

Waving awkwardly, Yoko entered the biodome and noticed the fresh assortment of plants. The precise name or species of new plants was not information he possessed but he could at least recognise that something had changed. The inside of the biodome looked brighter, more colourful, and less utilitarian.

"Hungry?" Hina asked, dipping his hands into a small pail of fresh water collected from the glass. He crouched down at the side of a flat leafed shrub that had grown thick around the embankment. Plucking one of the leaves, Hina sniffed it briefly before cramming it into his mouth. "Delicious," he said with a delighted chuckle. "Eat some."

"Ah, no thank you," Yoko replied quickly, backing away from the proffered plant.

Hina furrowed his brow in thought then ran to another section of the biodome where he bent to pluck at another variety of leaf with deft fingers and tasted them with the air of a connoisseur. At this species of plant Hina brightened, hastily picked a bundle and scurried back to where Yoko stood, unconvinced.

"Eat some," demanded Hina, holding out a bunch of sea spinach.

"No, that's really not necessary--"

But Hina was insistent. "Yes," he said crossly, shoving a few stalks into Yoko's mouth when the latter began to protest.

It was salty and acrid, and it felt sharp and furry against his teeth and tongue. It tasted of earth and water, and almost overwhelmingly bittersweet. "This is disgusting," Yoko said flatly, swallowing it with difficulty. "And really ought to be processed by the decontamination department before it's fit for human consumption."

"It's delicious," Hina countered simply, grinning as he easily tossed another leaf into his mouth and munching as though it were a snack. "It's natural and healthy. You will like it."

Maru chuckled, accepting a stalk of spinach and popping it into his mouth, crunching with juicy satisfaction. "It's not bad, really. Takes some getting used to but Hina's been showing me the good ones. We could even potentially harvest some as crops to use in sustenance, food preparation and maybe even medicine."

Shaking his head, Yoko broke into a content smile. "That's excellent news. It would help towards our goal of becoming fully self-sustainable."

"Right? Hina's been great at teaching me new methods of cultivation," enthused Maru. "He knows so much about identifying different species and how they link together. You know, my dad was a bodybuilder. He didn't exactly pass down gems of wisdom about horticulture or agriculture or ecosystems so this is definitely helpful. I'm really lucky to have his help."

"We're all lucky," Yoko replied.

He'd known of Maru, much in the same way he knew of all his passengers in some capacity -- his function on the ship. However as he watched the pair carefully move the growth of shrubs he realised that there was more to his passengers than simply their role, or how many cubic metres of water they were allocated per month, or their food rations per family. There was passion behind it all, needs and wants. There were good men aboard this ship who toiled under the hot sun for the sake of beauty and providing a soothing place to rest weary minds.

If it weren't for Hina, who at that moment was busy pretending not to notice that they were talking about him, Yoko might never have really spoken to Maru about anything other than Good morning, Captain - Good morning, Maruyama-san.

Speaking to someone outside of the command centre was not as daunting as Yoko had previously imagined.