I was going to post a scene from AFTER, but I’m tying myself in knots over every imperfect word. So, instead, here’s some rough-as-guts pirate playtime.
This logic works in my head.
The ship sat, squat, in the mouth between two rocky islands. The tide sucked and swiped at Northward from both sides, and the little boat in her shadow whipped on its rope like a wagging tail.
Sailor hated it here. Last year, they’d waited almost three weeks before an Imperial ship had passed. All the chickens had died and rats had got into the flour, and they’d lived on the oily, salty little fish that schooled in the swirling shallows. Sailor’s lips and knuckles had cracked and bled, and the whites of Tarq’s eyes had turned yellow.
When they’d finally run down a ship, Sailor and Tarq had been sent to Sailor’s room as usual — but when they’d emerged there weren’t any passengers bobbing off in a boat, just a strange deck lined with shapes under sails.
It had dawned on Sailor that night, while the crew licked goat grease off their fingers and spilled rum on cards lifted from sail-draped corpses, what they did. What her father did. What Sailor did. Beautiful, regal Sinjin, with his gold-toothed smirk. Old Fig. Stone-faced Gert and sharp-mouthed Jamon. Fat Sal, sharing a leg-bone with dark, fierce Aniqua.
“Why did you have to kill them?” she’d asked her father as he sat down beside her.
He’d chucked her under the chin, teeth flashing through the tangle of his beard. “Dog eat dog, my girl.”
Later, Sailor had lain in her bunk, Folly curled in the bowl of her knees, and thought, most dogs don’t eat other dogs.
Something wet hit her face, startling her upright. An oily little fish sat flapping at her feet. “Are you ever actually here?” Tarq asked her, another fish poised in his hand.
Sailor shrugged. “What’s to be here for?” She took her stiletto from the side of her boot and slit into the fish, putting it out of its misery. “We’re like this fish, you know. Flopping around in the bottom of a boat, waiting for someone to kill us.”
“You’re so cheerful these days,” Tarq said. “I’m so glad we get to chat.” He pulled in his line, coiling it around his fist. “It could be worse, you know.”
Sailor looked at him, capable brown hands and bright white teeth, baby fat slipping slowly away to reveal the bones of a man’s face underneath. “Do you ever think about where you came from?” she asked him, suddenly brave. “Where your home is?”
“My home is here,” Tarq said, easily. “Same as you.”
“But this is just… this. A boat and some cliffs and a thousand stupid, screaming gulls. What about everything else?”
Tarq looked at her. “Like what?”
“Like… everything. Houses. Farms. Shops. Love. Sex. Family.”
“Slavery. Poverty. Hatred. War.”
Sailor threw the dead fish back at him, but it didn’t make her feel better.
Later, they sat on the polished wooden floors of the Captain’s cabin as Fig tapped his way around them — boot, peg, boot, peg — one of Patch’s precious charts spread out in front of them, ink bleeding into every much-folded crease.
“Where are we now?” Fig asked.
“Hell,” Sailor muttered, but Tarq didn’t even laugh.
They ate oily fish for dinner, dunking hard tack in watered beer, and no ships appeared beyond the cliffs. Sailor couldn’t stop thinking about how the hold was filled with rocks, each one carried in by the crew, only to be dropped overboard once they found cargo to steal.
Rocks. She was on a ship filled with rocks, waiting for people to die.