I ate for a while in the darkness then set my plate on the floor and stretched out on the top bunk. My cell smelled heavily of fermented cabbage and garlic, but somewhere underneath that was a hint of bleach and shoe polish. I could hear footsteps all around, the hum of the ship’s engines, and the occasional groan of the vessel as we headed out to open water.
I laid in bed trying to pick out shapes in the darkness, until the noises around me morphed into less sensible things, as they often do when I’m falling asleep.
I found myself in an old, bustling marketplace, teeming with shoppers haggling for colorful, handmade things swinging on crooked, iron hooks. To my right, the boy Wayne stood at my side, his hand firmly gripping mine. The boy Wayne was younger than I remembered, but bright-eyed, and ready for adventure. It was a big day for us. We were searching for a way into the giant maze that led to a dark, stony castle on distant hilltop. No one had ever made it through the maze, or so we had heard, those who’d dared try, were never seen in the town again. But the boy Wayne and I were determined to conquer the maze, and dead-set on unraveling the mysteries of the dark castle. We only needed to find the way in.
We followed the flagstone path, past cloaked hawkers and swarms of excited shoppers, seeking out the elusive door to the maze, but every turn seemed to take us further and further away from our goal. We took a right and it became a left. We asked a vendor for directions and he couldn’t speak. We tried to get to higher ground but the clouds rolled in and obscured our view. I tried to think but I got distracted. What were we looking for again? At long last, I realized what was happening. I stopped and turned to the boy Wayne.
“I know what’s going on,” I told him. “I know why nothing makes sense.”
The boy Wayne looked at me, perplexed.
I bent down and whispered so no one else could hear. “We’re in a dream.”
The boy Wayne nodded his head slowly.
I rubbed my hands together. “And now that we know this, we can do whatever we want. We don’t need to conquer the maze.”
“What do you mean?” the boy Wayne asked.
“We can just fly over it,” I said. “Like this.” I imagined us taking flight, floating over the maze, and landing in front of the castle doors. And suddenly we were there, high atop the hill, far above the sprawling maze and the distant marketplace.
“I like this,” the boy Wayne said, spinning around. “I like this a lot. What should we do now?”
“Well, I kind of don’t care about some dirty castle anymore,” I said. “Let’s go into space.”
The boy nodded excitedly, and we were suddenly screaming past Saturn, and off to distant worlds, rocketing through black holes and peeking in on quasars with big radio telescopes for ears. The boy Wayne was cold, so I imagined us a couple of big, comfy sweaters to ward off the chill of space.
When we were tired of that, I decided to take the boy to Antarctica. We flew through a crackling rift in space-time and exploded out of the sky above Alexander Island. But when we’d landed we found my old stomping grounds in ruin. The Array was mangled. The warehouse was burned to the ground. The station was dilapidated, having succumbed to the harsh Antarctic weather. We approached the station slowly, and I opened the door. It creaked and snapped off its hinges and collapsed in a drift of snow.
“What happened here?” the boy Wayne asked.
“I don’t know, boy Wayne.”
“Well can’t you imagine it right as rain?”
I squinted and tried to focus. “I try but nothing works.”
The boy Wayne frowned. “Are we still in a dream?”
“I’m not sure anymore.”
Suddenly the door slammed behind us. I spun around to find that it had jumped back on its hinges and was securely in place.
“Did you do that?” I asked boy Wayne.
“No,” he said, pointing. “They did.”
I turned. We were standing in an elegant ballroom. Everyone was there. Telders, and Dr. Alfieri were sharing a toast. Captain Moriyama, Yumi, Takeshi, Kenichi were seated at one of the big, round tables sharing tapas. Yumi speared one with her katana. The rest of the Nisshin Maru crew, all healthy and fit, stared on and smiled. Even Kenji Ashida, the yokozuna ranked zombie sumo wrestler (and his head!) was there, spinning platters. He smiled and knocked on his skull to prove I hadn’t really sliced it off, then dropped the needle on Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”
“We thought you’d never make it, Chikushou.”
I turned to find Spegg dressed in a tuxedo and tails, grinning ear to ear. Einstein was at his side. The transgenic seal hooted with joy. Buzz trotted in and barked and twirled around, wagging his tail.
My husky leapt into my arms and licked my face. “Who’s a good Buzz?” I said, laughing.
Spegg started clapping. He started slowly, then everyone joined in. The sound of applause grew louder and louder until the entire ballroom roared.
“Good job, Chikushou,” Spegg said, popping a maraschino cherry into his mouth. “You’re finally home.”
My chin trembled and I felt the tears coming on. Boy Wayne took my hand. “Those are good tears, right big Wayne?”
“That’s right, boy. Good tears. Great tears.” I set Buzz down and wiped my eyes. I stared out at all my friends and raised my fist as high as I could. “God bless you all!”
“It’s time for your interview,” the boy Wayne said.
“It’s time for your interview.”
I looked at the boy. “What interview?”
“Wake up, asshole,” he said. “You’re sobbing like a little girl.”
I frowned at him. “Boy Wayne, what has gotten into you?”
“Wake up, mother fucker,” he said. Suddenly the boy Wayne vanished I was jerked awake by a splash of cold water.
I sat up in my bunk to find Michael Telders and large, shirtless man standing outside my cell.
“This is Ivan,” Michael said, gesturing with his thumb. “He’ll be conducting your interview.”
Ivan grinned and twirled a pair of silver pliers around his fingers. “We make friends, yes?”