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13 September 2013 @ 10:34 am
Port of Call - part 2  
"Are you ready?"

"Yes, of course. What will you show me?"

It was past suppertime, when all the passengers were retiring to their cabins for the night. The biodome area closed in less than half an hour but Yoko was determined not to delay, as it was his turn to take night duty steering the ship through midnight waters. He had found Hina down below at the lowest viewing deck, watching the murky waters as the ship sailed steadily across the Pacific. The light at dusk had cast blue shadows across Hina's face as he peered, rapturous, at the bits of driftwood tumbling past the small window. "Come," Yoko had said, and without hesitation, Hina abandoned the view.

"Well, you'll have to wait a little," Yoko said, making his way onto the lawn, which was beginning to resemble more a cultivated garden than an abandoned piece of marshland.

"The surprise is hidden?" Hina asked, peering through the gnarled trees as though it might leap out at him.

"In a way."

Yoko ambled to the far edge of the biodome where a giant black pine rose from the earth, its solid knotted trunk impenetrable after decades of reigning over the other vegetation. Its branches arched high over Yoko's head dangling glossy green leaves that swayed gently in the circulating breeze. It was the first plant to be cautiously brought aboard the ship, already so large the glass dome had to be constructed over the top of it. Now it stood over them all, watching as humanity cycled through the generations.

He willingly became lost in the density of the forest -- a collection of closely packed trees, really. If he allowed his eyes to unfocus and simply listened to the rolling soundtrack and felt with his whole body, he could almost imagine it: he was in a real forest, heavy and teeming with life. All around him was nature, untouched by human hands for decades, perhaps even a century. Everything pulsed with energy and vibrancy until Yoko too was part of them, just a fragment of the world that continued to thrum with life's rhythm.

Then the nature music soundtrack hit the ten-minute mark and there was a lull in the sounds as the chirping crickets fell away to be replaced by something else. It was staticky to begin with and then brightened, became sharper and more bold. It was nature music, sure, but it was something other than the rubbish that once churned out of a digitally remastered CD.

It was a live recording, streamed directly from the last island they'd visited.

Hina recognised it within a second.

"It's real nature!" he screamed, crashing out from behind a pair of salt cedars.

And suddenly Hina had leapt right in front of him, his eyes manic with a giddy buzz as he pressed right up against Yoko and beamed, flashing those wild little fangs that made Yoko feel uncomfortable and excited at the same time. "How?" he demanded breathlessly, his face too close to Yoko's. "How is it real sound?"

"Uh, just a remote microphone I picked up from the engineering department," Yoko mumbled, flushing red and awkwardly trying to squirm away, but Hina held onto him steadfastly, curling his fingers around Yoko's arms. "It's not really that sophisticated."

"It's brilliant!"

At this distance Yoko could smell it again, the flowers and the berries and the hint of something else, earthy like sandalwood, as Hina leaned forward with his lips parting for a second. Yoko swallowed shakily but found himself unable to move away. He was stuck, fixed to the spot, frozen in the moment of Hina's dark eyes staring straight into his own and the look of hunger within them.

"This isn't…" Yoko protested weakly but Hina silenced him with a firm, warm kiss that sent Yoko's world spiralling far away from him.

It wasn't his first kiss (aged 9, in the cargo hold during a game of hide and seek as payment for silence) nor was it the desperate, frenzied passion that came after surviving through a 48 hour tumultuous storm that had threatened to smash them against a jutting razor-sharp shore. It was something else entirely, like he'd been plucked from his ordinary life and deposited elsewhere in the middle of an exotic locale with only Hina to hang on to while they explored. Hina, who was sloppy with his kisses but eager enough to make up for it, who tasted like a bittersweet tale.

"It's brilliant," Hina said after they'd broken apart, softer this time as he gazed with unashamed determination. "You're brilliant."

"No, I just," Yoko stammered. "I don't know. Thanks. I mean, how?"

A grin spread across his face as he shrugged, a gesture he'd no doubt picked up since joining their ship. "My parents made kisses when they were happy. Long ago, of course," Hina laughed. "And Maru has a television and I watched many, many stories."

"Attention all passengers: All public areas will be closing in five minutes and will open again at seven AM tomorrow morning. Please return to your cabins and we wish you have a good night."

At the announcement on the PA system, Hina loosened his grasp of Yoko and let his hands fall to his side. "Thank you for the surprise. Are you writing tonight, Yoko?"

"No, I'm working nights now for two weeks." Never before had Yoko hated the idea of working the graveyard shift so intensely, but the need to reach the American coast was more imperative than ever; the energy consumption from additional heating was costing them every day they lagged behind the seasonal change. "Maybe I'll see you at breakfast."

Along with unique gestures and a taste for khaki clothing, Hina had also developed the ability to cover up his disappointment, albeit clumsily as his smile faltered into a grimace. "Okay. Breakfast. Good night, Yoko."

"Good night, Hina."

* * *


In spite of his good intentions, by night three of the fortnight Yoko already found himself too fatigued immediately after work to consider a detour via the breakfast hall in the mornings and chose instead to crash on his bed. Hina occasionally sought him out right before his shift, just before the curfew bell sounded, to tell him about the new species of plants that Maru was introducing but those conversations were rushed, heavy with the knowledge that their time was short and it would be another day or two before their next snippet of conversation.

Over time, as the days blurred together like liquid, Yoko barely recognised what he said to Hina and thought about apologising but had more pressing matters to which to attend, such as the executive board meetings after having only three hours or sleep, or being called to an engine fault crisis twenty minutes after his head hit the pillow.

These things lost their significance as he slept, as he drifted through the silent night with only another officer, Yasuda, to keep him company. Sometimes they chatted about the mundane, such as scuba-diving and the countless other activities Yasuda liked, which truthfully made Yoko feel somewhat inadequate. But mostly they just sat, glassy-eyed, staring out into the black sea and counting down the hours until the first red-golden streaks of dawn broke on the horizon.

When it seemed like the state of being not-quite-alive would never end, there came a knock on his cabin door after 10 o'clock in the morning, waking him from his slumber.

"Captain, there's an incident on G deck."

"Get Subaru to handle it," Yoko mumbled, readjusting the blankets.

"First Officer Shibutani has specifically requested your presence, sir. He says it's urgent."

Tumbling out of bed and hastily cobbling together some clothing to look half-respectable, Yoko felt more exhausted than he'd been prior to falling asleep. He followed the young officer down to the G deck, which housed the cargo hold and equipment storage. Even before they reached the entrance, Yoko could hear the commotion of at least two-dozen people hollering over the top of one another.

Yoko quickened his pace.

As he entered, he saw fifteen security guards struggling to hold back the crowd of passengers, who were shouting angrily and demanding justice. When they saw Yoko, they immediately ran over and started screaming into his face.

"This has gone on long enough!" shrieked one of the woman. "Captain, you must see that that … that savage is brought to justice!"

He looked over the top of the crowd and saw Hina huddled in the corner, glaring defiantly back at him.

"What's been going on?" he asked the junior officer.

Subaru, who at that point had been directing the security guards, hurried over when he saw Yoko had arrived.

"The barbarian's been caught stealing fresh food from the communal supplies," said Subaru. "We don't know for how long it's been going on but it's safe to assume that this isn't an isolated incident. The passengers are angry."

One of the passengers pushed his way to the front. "Eating our food and not contributing!" he shouted, spittle flying onto Yoko's face. "He should have been left to rot on that island. It was a mistake to pick him up in the first place."

Yoko glanced over at Hina, who had now started to channel the bulk of his glare towards the floor. "All right. I will first hear from both sides of the story before making a judgement."

"I did it," Hina growled.

"Pardon?"

Hina raised his head, climbing to his feet and matching Yoko's gaze. "I did it," he repeated again, slowly but no less subdued.

"You see!"

Hesitating, Yoko pulled Subaru aside but the latter was not forthcoming with any sort of additional advice.

"The consequences for stealing are severe," Yoko said, addressing the crowd. Even in his sleep-deprived mind, he knew that he had to tread carefully and that no answer would placate everyone. There were two options available to him: either he could resolve the matter himself by meting out some appropriate form of punishment and bypass the bureaucratic channels, or he could defer to the decisions of the many. He might be the Captain of the ship but the floating society still functioned as a democracy with its own laws and justice system.

"The matter will therefore be brought before the Board and a decision will be made henceforth."

He felt uneasy, having already been warned regarding this preferential treatment of the barbarian by the Board but one single look at the nodding faces of the crowd before him led Yoko to believe he'd made the right decision. After all, it was not for him to rule.

All things considered, the sentence brought down was not nearly as harsh as it could have been. A more stringent curfew, reduced hours in the biodome and eighty hours of hard labour in the waste disposal unit.

“The honey locust will soon be blooming," was all that Hina said after the Board dissembled following the ruling. Then he returned to his cabin and remained there for the rest of the evening.

* * *


Nightfall. It was freezing cold out on the bow. Yoko wrapped his coat around himself tighter; his jaw ached from clenching together in a bid to suppress the shivering. The wind had died down some hours ago and the current was calm and quiet. An hour ago, Yoko had lounged in the captain's seat and left his mind to wander through the labyrinth that was the future. An hour later, he had bundled on his warmest clothes and slipped out on deck, picking his way around the cables and winches to sit on an oversized hatch door. It provided neither comfort nor warmth. In fact, the undeniable difficulty with which he perched on the edge reminded him that he ought to be back in command of the vessel, which was paradoxically what he wished for. Not the thoughts that were inching their way to the forefront of his mind.

"Yoko?"

He would've startled if it weren't for the almost unbearable cold. "Hina."

Lolling on the tip of his tongue was the inevitable question what are you doing out here? but it seemed pertinent not to make mention of it, lest Hina simply reciprocate the curiosity. Instead, he returned his attention to the stretch of midnight blue before them as the ship readied to plough a great rivet through the deathly stillness, while Hina folded onto the hatch door beside him, jerkily rubbing his hands together.

"It's cold," Hina gasped after a fashion, his teeth chattering. "More cold than I know, like I will turn into the wind."

"You must've had methods of dealing with the weather, back on the island." Truthfully, being out in the air was putting Yoko in a foul mood.

"No, it was never like this." Hina paused. Yoko could see Hina gazing at him from the corner of his eye but resolutely stared ahead. "This does not appear to be real."

"That's because it's not," Yoko replied flatly, a little too quickly perhaps. "Events that happen during the night don't exist so you should go back to bed and wake up in the real world tomorrow."

"You do not make any sense to me. Maybe all humans are too difficult to understand and that is why we can live together and apart at the same time."

Yoko mumbled under his breath, "Are they, really?"

"Yes." After another heavy pause, Hina cleared his throat. His teeth chattered in the cold and his hands were already bone white, practically glowing under the night sky. "I made trouble for you. It was not intentional."

"You don't need to explain yourself to me. That's not how this works."

"What is this?"

Before he could hold it back, Yoko shot Hina a sad look and found the words dying on the tip of his tongue. When he saw Hina gazing back at him steadily, it was all Yoko could do to refrain from simply marching back into his bridge and forgetting everything until tomorrow. The sea slushed against the hull of the ship as they rocked. Yoko shook his head and laughed softly to himself. "Nothing. It's nothing."

"I am not a fool, Yoko. I know when I am not wanted, but I thought maybe there was more than simply one man and one barbarian. But clearly you are as tired as I am."

"That's not what I mean at all,” Yoko replied, suddenly more exhausted than he’d ever been. He slid off his perch and winced as the blood on his legs jolted into action once more, stinging away the numbness. “Just go back to sleep. Nobody should be awake at this hour, especially if there is no need for it."

"No need for me, you mean."

Yoko shot him a brief, irritable glare and wrapped his overcoat tighter around himself against the oncoming wind. "I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer," he snapped, making for the door.

"I'm saying I'm sorry."

"I know!" Yoko shouted suddenly, hunching his shoulders and pulling away from Hina's outstretched hand. "Shut up, I don't want to hear your apologies."

"It is difficult adjusting to this new life--"

Yoko whirled around, his cheeks flushed with red. "It doesn't matter. I don't care that you fucking took the food, Hina."

"Then why are you so angry?"

"Because I hesitated!"

Breathing hard but barely seeing the wisps of mist that formed in the air, Yoko ran his gloved fingers through his hair. His body shook from the effort of not running away, of remaining calm, but the anger inside of him churned and boiled over. "Because I let myself be swayed by you. Any other passenger and I would've sentenced you myself; it's a simple case. Black and white. Hell, you even confessed! And yet I … I couldn't. So fuck you, Hina."

And just like that, he found himself wrapped in Hina’s embrace. He trembled under the heat of it, of Hina's hot breath against his own frozen cheek. Hina pulled him closer with an unrelenting grip, their two bundled bodies colliding against one another out on the empty deck. The force of it slammed Yoko against the hatchdoor; the icy pane was unyielding under his back and the fine frost crystals melted against his skin, and all the while Hina was above him with that hot, dark stare that said more than Yoko could ever articulate. Everything about that look said that Hina simply wanted him.

“I can’t,” Yoko said hoarsely. “I’ll only mess this up.”

But Hina ignored him and kissed him anyway with cold, soft lips. Yoko moaned and weakened and hated himself for kissing Hina back and wanting it too. He reached out and clutched at the front of Hina’s jacket, needing, crushing the two of them together like it would be the last time he’d ever give in to himself. Everything inside of him was at war, screaming for him to listen, stop listening, just do, until nothing made sense anymore except Hina’s lips and his tongue and the heat between them that was as intoxicating as the promise of a better future. The vision burst into his mind of a warm sunset on a beach and the water lapping against a shore, of sweetened dates dangling from palm trees and Hina feeding him ripened fruit from between his fingers, and Yoko glutting on it all. And there would be nobody else. Nobody else in the entire world.

“I can’t,” he whispered again, desperately, as Hina kissed him along the exposed curve of his neck. “Please, don't.”

Just as quickly as he began, Hina stopped and pulled back, panting hard.

“I need to get back to work,” Yoko said quietly, wiping at his mouth with a trembling hand. Not trusting himself to look at Hina, Yoko edged around him with his gaze averted and hastily made his way inside.

Even when he was back in the captain’s seat, his lips continued to burn.

* * *


The sun was bearing hard upon them that day; they'd sailed beyond Winter's reach and had steadily coursed into warmer waters where the heat from above had driven them to open the windows for a good airing, and giant slate hot plates were left out on the top deck to soak up the sun's energy. The crew had disembarked the vessel and were dancing along the beachfront, the cuffs of their trousers rolled up past their knees and wet sand clinging to their calves as they delighted in the hour of leisure time afforded by the easy, careful abundance of raw materials on the island that had stuffed the cargo hold at full capacity.

"All right guys," called Subaru, picking up his clipboard. "Time to pack up, we're leaving in five. Roll call."

Reluctantly, the crew slowly starting moving toward the rowboats, pausing only to have their names marked off by the officers. Yoko helped to secure the last of the freshwater tanks to the small motorised boat and went over to Subaru's side, where the latter was cross-matching the passenger names. The last few dawdlers finally climbed into the boats and pushed off from the beach.

"We still have one missing," Subaru murmured, flashing the clipboard.

"Shit," Yoko muttered, his gaze scrolling down the list. His heart stopped for a second when he saw the box next to HINA left unchecked. "Are you certain he hasn't gone back with the others."

"Positive," Subaru affirmed. "I've been watching everyone return and the reports are in. The figures tell us we're still one short."

"All right. Get these boys back to the ship, they've worked hard enough. Organise a search party; he could be injured."

After double checking that his communication device was working, Yoko headed inland toward the dense jungle that formed a barrier between the sea and the vast mountain that sprouted from the centre of the island. He trod into the gloomy humidity where the air was thick with moisture and flying insects that dipped in and out of his gaze before circling him with curiosity. His shoes were unsuitable for this terrain, cracking and slipping underfoot and making him grab hold of the tree trunks for support, but they were slick with dew and sticky with resin. He'd barely begun his trek into the jungle when his muscles started to protest, unused to the uneven terrain and the mulchy, mossy, unstable jungle floor.

He glanced back the way from which he'd come and saw only a small opening of light that signalled the way to the beach. The smartest thing would be to wait until the search party arrived and they could set off together, cover more ground and provide integrated recovery once they located Hina, but as hard as he tried, Yoko's legs continued to work under him and took him deeper and deeper in, and would not stop for something as trivial as personal safety. The conversation he'd had with Hina from that frozen night echoed in his mind; the things that he could remember with any clarity seemed like minor details, inconsequential, like how Hina smelled like a tropical beach or the faint scars across Hina's cheeks, or the intensity and determination set defiantly in Hina's gaze right before they’d kissed. Little things that failed to touch on any of the words that had come before. The words themselves he could barely recall.

Perhaps it was just his imagination but time seemed to have moved far too quickly. By now he could no longer see the shore, just dense jungle behind him and an endless stretch of green before him. His trousers snagged on the thorned vines that lurched from around giant buttresses, already damp from sweat and moisture.

Yoko wiped at his brow in annoyance and pressed on. He slowed his pace, taking slow steps as he came to a steep incline. Below was simply a mess of trees, leaves of different colours and branches that jutted out like spikes. His communicator told him that Subaru had reached the vessel.

"Fuck's sake!" he growled when his sleeve snagged on a branch, whipping his arm back to free it, but it had been caught completely, the cuff twisted around the razor-edged vines protruding from the branch.

Yoko yanked his arm and tugged; a sharp ripping sound later and he stumbled from the recoil as his shirt tore. His legs collapsed underneath him and his body tumbled after it, rolling sideways along the incline and dragging a layer of the forest floor with him. Semi-decomposed mulch smeared across his face. Gravity pulled him further down the slope until Yoko could see that it fell away, sharply, into an unknown space below.

He snarled, frustrated, and scrambled to his feet but the slippery ground made it difficult to gain any purchase as he continued to slide down towards the drop. Crouching and panting hard, he noted for a second that his hands were now scratched with blood that trickled steadily down his wrists and dripped on the earth, and saw a stub from a raised root not far above him.

Pushing off from his haunches, Yoko leapt up to grab hold of it but the root slipped from between his fingers -- all he felt were the fibres from the tree root digging underneath his fingernails and the curious sensation of weightlessness as he plunged off the drop and into the emptiness below.

* * *


Idiot.

His head hurt. Every pulse of his heartbeat thumped loudly in his skull but that was the only word he could think of to adequately sum up his situation.

"Idiot."

Then he realised that it wasn't his mind speaking to him but someone else. He opened his eyes and found himself at the bottom of a ravine with someone crouched over him, blocking out what little sun there was. Yoko scrambled to sit up but his head started spinning from the effort. He groaned. "I came to rescue you, Hina."

Hina snorted. "The other way around, I think."

"Well, nevertheless I found you. The others should get here soon. Just … let me get the communicator--"

"It smashed." Hina stood up and moved a short distance away to pick up the remnants of the communication device. He tossed it in the air a couple of times to emphasise the dangling cable and broken casing before throwing it to Yoko.

Yoko watched it land next to him. "We're not that far from the shore anyway. We should get back before the others start to worry."

At this, Hina shrugged. "You need to get back. I do not."

"Pardon?"

"I am not returning to the ship. I do not … fit. I 'disrupt the equilibrium of resources versus labour'." Hina laughed a little under his breath, looking away.

Braving himself against the inevitable headache, Yoko pulled himself up again and gingerly climbed to his feet. He swayed, sticking his hand out to right himself on a branch and furiously blinked away the spots before his eyes. "That's bullshit. Stop being petty and give me a hand, I'm too tired to deal with this."

"I prefer this island. Bullshit is having to live how you want me to live."

“That’s not a good enough excuse!” Yoko snapped, crawling onto his hands and knees to gain better purchase then steadying himself before gingerly standing up. Hina remained rooted to the spot, watching Yoko with guarded eyes. “We all have to deal with things that we don’t want to. It’s called life. You can’t just decide that you’re going to run off because someone called you out for fucking up, not when there are people counting on you. We all need to make this work. You included.”

“I am making this work. Goodbye Yoko.”

The last thing he saw was Hina coming at him with a fist and a remorseful expression on his face.

* * *


His head hurt but that was not so unexpected. He'd already had plenty of experience in such things. When Yoko roused to consciousness for the second time, he no longer felt the damp jungle floor beneath him but firm, starched white sheets and soft atmospheric lighting dimmed to a pleasant yellow glow that seemed to come from nowhere. Cuffed to his arm were cables of various sizes and there was a drip hanging above his head slowly feeding clear liquid into the back of his hand.

"Hina?" he asked wonderingly.

"I'm afraid not," answered the junior doctor who abandoned the thick sheaves of documents set on the desk to come by Yoko's bedside, his stethoscope in hand. "You're in the medical bay. Welcome back on board, Yokoyama-san."

"Nishikido, isn't it?" Yoko wheezed, easing himself to a sitting position. The doctor nodded. "How…"

"Shibutani-san found you unconscious on the beach and brought you back." Pre-empting Yoko's next question, Nishikido added, "Without the barbarian. Perhaps Shibutani-san can explain it better."

"Where is he?"

Nishikido hesitated for a moment. "He's in the brig." Yoko stared at him. "The Board overruled his order for a search party. He said that it was your command. They directly disobeyed it."

It suddenly struck him as odd that the doctor had referred to him with his name, rather than simply 'Captain' like the rest of the crew. Yoko swallowed hard and ventured carefully, "Mutiny?"

Nishikido slowly nodded. "For what it's worth, I--"

"Don't," Yoko cut in hurriedly. "It's fine, doctor. Best not to implicate yourself in anything."

"I'm sorry, sir."

Yoko fell back onto his pillows and stared at the light panels above his head without really looking. His thoughts were all over the place; it was hard to focus on one thing at a time. In the background of the logistics flooding his mind was the realisation that he'd lost what was most precious to him. The people had spoken and they'd taken away his greatest love, the H.I.J.M.S. Eito.

Yet she sailed on without him.

And she sailed further and further away from the island.

"Thank you doctor," Yoko said quietly.

Sensing that Yoko needed a moment to digest the information, Nishikido bowed and exited the room.

The ship sailed on silently beneath him.

When it came time for him to be discharged from the medical bay, Yoko found himself without a place to go except his cabin. Bathed in blue light from the glass panels that lined the walls, the room felt cold and empty. It was simply functional, a room containing some furniture that told nothing of its inhabitant. The board had allowed him to retain his cabin, citing that it would be too much trouble to move everything now, and gave him forty-eight hours to assign himself to a new position aboard the ship. Perhaps because he couldn't think of anything else to do, Yoko created a position for himself as Maruyama's assistant in the biodome, but the place reminded him too much of Hina, so he mostly sat nestled amongst the roots of the trees and watched as Maru planted new varieties of edible plants.

Having been released from the brig shortly after Yoko woke up, Subaru dropped by the biodome from time to time but never said very much. Yoko didn't know what to say either, except that he wanted to thank Subaru for standing up for him and Hina, but a single offhand glance from Subaru was enough to keep his lips sealed. Yoko wasn't even sure what Subaru was up to these days -- he wasn't permitted to view the passenger information lists anymore.

"-- what do you think, sir?"

"I've told you, Maru. You don't need to call me sir. Just Yokoyama is fine."

"Habit, I guess." It was nowhere near curfew but the sun was already swamped by the evening sky. They'd spent the day clearing out the river algae with limited success; it seemed with every bundle he skimmed off the surface of the water, another slick ooze floated down to replace it. The air stank of stale mould and half-fermented slime. Yoko was starting to think it would've been easier if they'd simply left it alone.

"I think we should leave it for tomorrow," Yoko replied, pulling off his gloves and settling down on the short embankment. "At the moment it doesn't feel as though we're accomplishing much other than giving the algae a free massage."

Maru chortled and came to sit near Yoko. His expression became solemn. "It feels that way even without the algae."

Yoko hummed noncommittally and busied himself with loosening his gumboots. There had been other murmurings of discontent among the crew regarding the current captaincy of the vessel but not enough to result in any changes being made. Mostly they were Yoko's old friends who would praise him for having done a fine job and sighed wistfully at the way things used to be. Mostly Yoko just kept his head down, focused on his work inside the biodome, and busied his hands so they would not miss the feel of the rudder.

"What are we going to do, Yokoyama-san? It's been almost a month and the captain still hasn't decided on a clear course. I overheard the officers talking about it yesterday."

"That's not for us to decide," Yoko replied automatically. He knew exactly where they needed to go to avoid the cold and still remain within a safe distance to the nearest resources, but no-one had approached him to ask for his advice, and Yoko did not think his input would be appreciated at this time.

Maru scoffed, throwing down his own utility gloves. "What's the point in sailing around the world if we're not even looking for survivors anymore?" he muttered. "And I liked Hina. He was one of the few decent people around this place."

"I liked Hina too," said Yoko quietly, more to himself than anything. I think I liked him a lot.

It took another three months of drifting through the ice and the dawn of a worker's strike from the mess hall before a security guard approached Yoko in the biodome and requested his presence before the Board.

They set a lengthy document in front of him and handed him a pen.

"The conditions of your reinstatement to Captaincy are as follows: you are forbidden from returning to that island and you are forbidden from searching for any more survivors…"

"My terms are that Shibutani-san is also reinstated to the position of first officer."

"Very well."

That afternoon they handed him the revised contract and Yoko signed without hesitation.

He commanded the ship to alter course to avoid the cold and start towards the west coast of the Americas, made a short announcement to the passengers on board about the importance of keeping strong and rationing food, gave Maru a day off to watch the icebergs on the top deck as they sailed by, then settled into his seat on the bridge with Subaru by his side and tried not to think about that tropical island.

* * *


A year passed quietly without anyone really noticing. The technicians had installed mechanised floorboards that stored up energy whenever someone walked over them and the hot stone plates left in the sun were able to heat up the cabins during winter. The leftover energy was poured into the biodome, which had grown to become a dense jungle with its own cultivation of herbs and medicines. More leisure time for the passengers meant there were no more strikes and the birth count was slowly increasing due to the abundance of food on board and provisions available for new mothers.

Yoko personally visited each happy couple and blessed them well. And when he returned to his cabin at night, he couldn’t help but hope that Hina was also happy alone on the island.

He remembered the look of joy on Hina’s face whenever they docked in a new port, and wondered if he could ever feel that happy.

* * *


Funny how his entire life could be summarised by the contents of a single crate. Yoko folded up his pyjamas and placed them at the top of the pile of clothes before lowering them into the crate and replacing the lid. He wordlessly accepted the iron nails that Maru passed to him and hammered them into place, sealing up his fate.

"All ready to go?" asked Maru brightly, handing Yoko a few more water purification tablets.

"All ready," Yoko confirmed, wiping his brow in the bleak stuffiness of the cargo hold. He picked up the receiver to the telephone attached to the wall and dialled the direct line to the bridge, asking for Subaru.

"Captain?"

"Alter course thirty-six degrees south-east and increase speed to forty knots," commanded Yoko.

There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line. "Sir?"

"Thank you, Subaru." And he hung up the phone.

Before he even made it to the bridge, Subaru was already slouching at the door and thrust a clipboard at him outlining the expected conditions for their new course.

"I don't mean to tell you your job but the conditions of your captaincy are--"

"Well-known to me, thank you. Full speed ahead."

"You're mad."

"And you're more than capable." Yoko turned to face Subaru, who was studying him apprehensively. "Don't think I'm not aware of the fact that you've been bitching about how you've had to step up to the plate more than once, how you've been almost single-handedly running this ship while I squirrel away doing God-knows-what."

"You sneaky piece of shit."

"It may be premature but please, indulge me. I want to be the first to say it: Take care of her, Captain Shibutani. You're going to do a fine job. The passengers and crew of the H.I.J.M.S. Eito are in good hands."

"Yoko…"

Turning his attention back to the data in front of him, Yoko smiled. "We don't need to pull up too close. Maruyama has kindly offered to row me to shore."

Ignoring all further protests from Subaru, Yoko hummed as they approached the island. It didn't look much different from the first time Yoko had set eyes upon it: pristine white beach, a sparkling foreshore, tropical fruit trees blanketing the mainland, the burst of green mountain that soared toward the sky. Yet the trepidation that Yoko had been so desperate to smother built up with every wave that crashed against the side of the ship, every ripple in the water that signalled their arrival towards the shore.

The door to the bridge burst open. Security guards flanked the head administrator as he walked in, pointing his finger accusingly at Yoko. "We made a deal."

"We did, and I rather agree with the terms. Thank you administrator. A send off will not be necessary."

Maru was already waiting for him by the rowboat, carefully securing the crate with Yoko's belongings. He was dressed in his finest clothes that were completely impractical for labour but nonetheless Yoko appreciated the gesture. As the ship shuddered to a halt and drifted languidly in the calm waters, Yoko climbed into the rowboat and the crew on deck lowered them down, saluting them. Yoko saluted them back then waved, grinning with the sun bright on his face.

"Watch out for the man-eating plants," Maru said when they pulled up on the sandy embankment. "And the giant fireants."

"Watch out for Doctor Nishikido," Yoko countered, dragging his crate onto the shore and away from the water. "He might request more medicinal herbs."

But Maru just laughed, already floating back into the sea and drifting further and further away, until Yoko could no longer make out the individual words and just saw a speck bobbing in the water towards the vessel. He turned away from it and took off his shoes and socks, allowing the fine slick sand to squish between his toes and dust up his ankles. The rally point was empty as ever; the same posters requesting all inhabitants of the island to remain calm and wait patiently for help had curled up under the heat from the sun, its ink faded, the salty sea chewed through the paper fibres.

From the distance he could hear the vessel moving off but he didn't turn around to see it one last time. Instead he looked at the colossal mountain waiting to be trekked and thought about all of nature’s treasures that he knew rested above it all, thought about the wildlife that he would meet and the plants that would provide for him; letting go of his responsibilities and gaining new ones as easily as changing into a fresh set of linen clothes.

* * *


The sun was warm that day. It didn't pierce into his eyes, nor did it beat down upon his skin. It glittered in the crystal clear water beneath him, lapping against him, as he floated lazily in the middle of the lagoon. A white-gold beach cradled the lagoon from all sides, ringed by cheerful green palms that rested, stilly. Their leaves sprung out at all angles, a bit like Hina's hair at the best of times. But right now, Hina's hair drifted languidly in the water like a spongey black halo around his head. There was only the gentle sound of ripples against the shore and the occasional flutter of birds' wings swooping from above. And insects, too, but Hina had grown accustomed to the ebb and flow of insect calls and buzzes as the days cycled past.

That would pretty much be his entire day.

When his skin wrinkled up and the fish no longer feared his presence, he sluiced through the water to the lagoon's rim. There was a faint, chattering sound far in the distance, like his stomach rumbling when empty. He trekked to the cliffside and looked down below, then grinned.

Low, down low, on the beachfront was a giant crate and another human being. And even though it was too far away for him to see, Hina knew that Yoko was also smiling, and so he waved.

Yoko waved back.