Sketching the Spirits

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Joshua slipped out of bed, quietly leaving Rina sleeping with three quarters of the covers wrapped around her. He smiled as he looked down on her, so peaceful. He envied her ability to tune out the world like that. He hadn’t been able to sleep, which was not really surprising. He knew, in his head, that someday he would be able to sleep regularly again ... peacefully. But that moment seemed a lifetime away. In the meantime, rather than tossing and turning, he might as well put the hours to use.

His old clothes from earlier in the day went back on. He grabbed a pencil from his pile. And with only a quick look back, Joshua went out the door and down the hallway to the hydroponics bay. There, tucked away inside a cabinet, away from the general moisture of the plant feeding setup, were the two notebooks. One, the ledger with the green cover, had started all this whole mess. The second, his new notebook, was the one he had come to get. And if the green ledger had been the launching point of discovery, then his former sketching pad with the blue cover would hopefully help bring it all to an end someday.

After pulling the notebook out and tucking it under his arm, he headed back down the hallway, walking past their quarters into the crew lounge, where he took the steps up to the hangar deck. Joshua could have gone the other direction; chosen to go up to the bridge. But the bridge meant keeping company with the person on shift and he wasn’t ready for that right now.

The Lagniappe sat in the hangar bay, the last remaining reminder of the Gift. And more importantly, he thought as he walked under the tail, it was the only place on the Equinox that wasn’t the Equinox. He opened up the Lagniappe’s airlock and climbed in. Once inside, he made his way up to the bridge and its lone seat. He didn’t need or want a lot of room. Besides, he found comfort in the tighter, less wide open space.

Settled in the leather chair, looking out the windshield at the inside of the hangar bay, Joshua took a minute or two to just breathe, to quietly sit and try and reach calm. He hadn’t been able to successfully reach meditative calm since…well, since Meadow. It didn’t take a genius to draw a line between those two points. His unease with the new ship had not made matters any easier. He had thought it was just nerves. Or discomfort with a ship that wasn’t the Gift. But the list of names in the green ledger and the subsequent discovery of their meaning had made it very clear his feeling had a foundation in dark acts performed on the Equinox. My handlers would’ve been so disappointed in me, not being aware of the possibility. Guess it is easier to be unaware when you don’t want it to be true.

And he had so wanted it not to be true, not wanted Rina’s suppositions about the nature of that list to be right. But as usual, the ‘Verse was not a bright and shiny place, no matter how much he ached for it to be that way. And so he was left with the ghosts of the girls, he thought, as he opened up his notebook to the third page in, to his sketch of Emily Ross, the girl taken from Fort Jackson.

Joshua had done his best to be as accurate as possible. But a sketch made from years old memories and images from the mind’s eye of people close to Emily were bound to result in a picture not completely right. Too much beauty, not enough flaw. And how much of that idealization was from you, Joshua?

But she was pretty. Long dark hair, worn over one shoulder the townsfolk had said. Her face was narrow, narrower than most, but it fit her. The eyes and mouth narrow, making her look like a little pixie who had lost its way from the faerielands, rather than the poor girl who had been ripped away from her life.

Below her picture was her name in carefully hand lettered capitals and the name of the planet and town in smaller non-caps. On the next page was June from Alkali Flats. And the page after that listed Kelsey from Trojan Horse, without a picture. There would be no finding her. Joshua had seen her grave. But she deserved a page anyway. They all deserved more than a solitary page in a random do-gooder’s notebook, he thought. But what they deserved and what the Verse provided were two different things.

He turned back to the second page and pulled out the pencil. In very fine writing, he had been listing out the names on the list in his head and he had gotten about halfway through. He needed a way to keep track of what had happened. And, he came to the realization, a way to keep track of who he had found and who he hadn’t. You’ve embarked on your own personal little quest, haven’t you? The voice inside his head was accusatory, but he didn’t care. If they even managed to put one girl back in touch with her family, it would be worth any amount of effort that he could put in. And maybe, he thought selfishly, just maybe Beggar is right and it can purge the ship. Because Joshua couldn’t bear to live on this ship, constantly on edge, constantly haunted by the spirits created by the destruction of children’s innocence.

New Canaan – Kylie – Reubenville . . .
New Canaan – Roseline – Salem . . .
Athens – Midge – Coriopolis . . .

With careful strokes of his pencil, he continued writing down onto the paper the pattern that had been haunting his dreams since seeing that stark gravestone on that Copperhead hillside.


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