Year 354 A.E., Rotation 6: Enough Time

It was getting late on the second day of Vincent, Shelby and Toaster’s outing. They’d camped on a crystal-covered island the night before where even after the daylight faded to darkness, the huge outcroppings of quarts around them caught the starlight. They’d stayed up too late talking and playing music, and the stress that had driven Vincent away from his apartment and into the void had started to melt away. He’d never, in his adult life, had a month off before, and as they traveled through the rosy skies of evening, sometimes flying through large swaths of space with Shelby’s jetpacks and other times conserving fuel crawling between nearby islands with her Perfectorate-crafted legs and claws, he was starting to feel almost giddy with freedom.

Then it came over the radio–a weak distress call playing on repeat through the void. It was delivered on Perfectorate frequencies, but the coordinates it was repeating over and over were from an island not far from them, and from how much static cut across the words, it wouldn’t reach much past them.

Without asking, Shelby changed course, and Vincent put his harmonica back in his pocket and hunched back over the steering wheel as if that was helping in some way. With how remote this sector of the void was, it was a long shot that there was anyone left to save at whatever shoddy beacon was transmitting this signal, but there was one value the Perfectorate had distilled in both him and Shelby that was worth keeping–you didn’t leave an SOS signal unanswered in the void.

It wasn’t far. There was still a little blue and purple light left in the sky when they came in view of the island. Sure enough, there was a ship there. A small one–an emergency craft of some sort. Its design looked vaguely familiar, though Vincent couldn’t place it. Its lights were off, and plantlife was starting to grow up its side.

“This has been here for a while,” said Vincent. “I don’t suppose there’s anyone left to save, but we might as well check.”

“IT WOULD BE CARELESS NOT TO.” Shelby scanned the island before they made the last bridge, and briefly stopped in her tracks. “THERE IS HIGHER ORDER LIFE ON THAT PLANET. TWO SIGNATURES.”

“What are they?” said Vincent.


“Well shit, this just got interesting,” said Vincent. He peered through the windscreen as they began the approach, trying to catch any sign of movement. Before long, he watched a small fire spark to life, smoke trailing up into the sky like a dim, whispy version of the temple’s beacon. “There’s definitely someone there.”

As Shelby neared the halfway point across her cables, Vincent watched as a shadowy figure knelt next to the fire, little more than a silhouette. A moment later, they jumped up, a burning stick in hand, and ran to the edge, swinging it back and forth in a desperate signal. Vincent and Shelby were clearly on track directly to the island, but whoever this was had been stuck here long enough for vines to grow over their ship, and clearly weren’t taking any chances about being noticed. Vincent tried not to think of his mother somewhere out there, desperately waving torches at ships that might never come, but he couldn’t focus on that now. There was someone in need and he had the means to help.

Then, as the Shelby’s headlights got close enough to illuminate the man’s features and he stopped waving the torch, instead holding it next to him to play out over his wild chestnut hair and untrimmed beard, Vincent put a hand to his mouth. The figure stared back at him, his features working toward realization. As soon as Vincent could force his body to do something but stare, he dashed to the side door, opened the window, and stuck his head out of it in a way that his mother would have screamed at him for suggesting when he was sixteen and in safety training. He waved wildly at the figure on the coast.

“Michael! Michael it’s me! It’s you! I can’t believe it’s you!”

“WE HAVE A SPEAKER SYSTEM,” said Shelby, but Vincent didn’t care. Michael was alive. He was here. He was going to be alright. Even the glass of the windshield felt like too much to be between them.


Shelby hadn’t even come to a full stop on the destination island when Vincent opened the door and jumped out, ignoring the stairs. His ankles protested that he wasn’t as young as he used to be, but he didn’t care. He steadied himself, then sprinted toward Michael. Michael caught him in a tight hug. He smelled awful, but Vincent didn’t care. He ran a hand through Michael’s shaggy hair and kissed him on the lips.

“I was sure you were dead,” he said.

“I nearly was.” Michael kissed him again, then pulled back, just staring at Vincent’s face in disbelief. “What year is it?”

“Three fifty four A.E.,” said Vincent. “Rotation 6.”

Michael shook his head. “Three years. Three years since the damn dragon.”

“The dragon?” said Vincent.

“It attacked the Rim ship. Nothing worked. Not the armaments. Not the escape pods. I only escaped because I’m…like we are.” He gestured briefly to the escape pod. Vincent recognized it now, the same model that he and his co-worker–voids, what was her name?–had realized were just play toys back during their contract with Rimward Inc.

“You animated it?” said Vincent.

Michael nodded. “I had no choice.”

“Relax. I’m the last one who’s going to judge you.”

“How did you find me?”

“I heard your distress signal,” said Vincent.

“See?” Michael called to the ship next to him. “Told you it wasn’t a waste of time!”

Green light washed over the ship’s hull. “You’re not the one shouting it all day!”

“But we’re saved!”

“You’re the one who’s sick of fish,” said the ship.

Michael shook his head. “Vincent, I’m so sick of fish.” He grabbed Vincent’s arm and dragged him several yards inland. He gestured at a pond fed from some hidden spring that took up the majority of the island. “Fish and the purple berries that grow in the bushes there. That’s all there is to eat in this place. It’s kept me alive, but it hasn’t kept me sane. Take me home. I don’t care what Emanuel says, as long as we can get some bacon cheese fries first.”

Vincent took a deep breath. “I can’t take you back to the Perfectorate.”


“I’m a traitor,” said Vincent. “Or so the papers say. It’s a long story, but I live somewhere else now.”

“Fine, take me there.”

“I’ve gotta figure out how,” said Vincent. He sat down cross-legged in front of the pond. “It would be against protocol. I think you’re a traitor too, maybe. I don’t know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Rim Ship program isn’t real,” said Vincent. “It’s just a sham the government instituted to get rid of overpopulation and undesirables because the Perfectorate is actually a prison colony controlled by religious zealot aliens who won a war. They like aeo creations, but they don’t love us.”

Michael sat down next to him and stared at him hard. “Are you sane?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Well, you’re not making any sense.”

“I know,” said Vincent. “Do you want to say ‘Hi’ to Toaster?”

Before Michael could answer, they heard the chiming of Toaster’s bell as he bounded toward them. He leaped into Michael’s lap and nuzzled in.

Michael squeezed him close, the corners of his eyes glistening with tears. A few moments later, he spoke, his voice raspy. “I never thought I’d see anyone else again, much less any of you.”

“The Giver works in mysterious ways,” said Vincent.

“The who?” said Michael.

“Never mind,” said Vincent. There was so much he wanted to say, and so little of it seemed to matter right now. He scooted an inch closer to Michael’s knee.

“Hey,” said Michael.

“Hey what?” Vincent rocked to brush his knee against Michael’s.

“Do you have any food? Or shampoo?”

Vincent chuckled, amazed at how stupid he was being. “Yeah. You can even use my toothbrush.” He stood and helped Michael to his feet, leading him back to Shelby with Toaster trailing at their heels.


One shower later–Vincent had hovered in the bathroom handing bites of toasted sandwiches and shots of Shelby’s long-hoarded coconut rum to Michael through the shower door–Michael and Vincent lay side by side in the old bunk they’d shared intermittently so long ago.

“So this is real?” said Michael.

“As far as I’m aware,” said Vincent.

They were silent for a few minutes. Michael stared at the ceiling while Vincent traced the freckles on his chest.

“Did Emanuel know? About the Rim Ships? When he sent me away?” Michael finally asked.

Vincent bit his lip, his finger lingering just above Michael’s nipple. “Probably.”

“So sending me to a death sentence was better than divorce.”

“He doesn’t matter, anymore,” said Vincent. “He’s just a sad little man playing dictator in a dollhouse.”

“It still feels like it matters.” Michael shifted, rolling away to stare out the little skylight above them.

Not knowing what to say, Vincent rested a hand on his shoulder.

“The stars really are beautiful though, aren’t they?” Michael said.

“They really are,” said Vincent.


Michael and Vincent woke up to an abundance of toast left for them in the kitchen. 

“So what now?” said Michael after his fifth piece.

“Well, as I see it we’ve got some options,” said Vincent. “I can try to figure out how to get you assylum in Etelu. I’ve got some connections.”

“Is it nice there?”

“It’s great as long as you don’t read between the lines,” said Vincent.

“Isn’t everywhere?” said Michael.

Vincent raised his glass of orange juice in a mock toast. “I also know how to thrive in places like this,” he said. “I settled a colony once. It was a paradise until the inquisition came to shut us down.”

“Is that why you’re a traitor?” said Michael.

“I told you it was a longer story than that,” said Vincent. “But the point is, I have enough know-how to help us thrive out here. And I know the Rim Ship routes. I could even recruit us extra colonists with a little help.”

Michael took a sip of his own orange juice and pursed his lips. “You promise there’d be more than fish and berries?”

“Eventually, at least.” Vincent swallowed the last bit of a piece of toast that had had “M&V4EVER” burned into it. “I mean, I used to have these fantasies that we’d end up together, just like this… But Shelby’s got her own life, and I’m not going to ask her to give that up to play house with us.”


“Could you check up on regulation for us, though?” said Vincent. “See if we can sneak Michael into my apartment without causing a diplomatic stir?”


“So, what do you think?” said Vincent. “Let Shelby leave us with some supplies and the rest of the bottle of rum and check back in a week?”

Michael looked at the ceiling. “Promise you’ll come back?”


“I guess that’s as good as I’m going to get,” said Michael. “Mind if I take one more hot shower before you go?”


Michael and Vincent sat on the edge of the coast, their legs dangling into the void, Shelby disappearing into the vast distance before them.

“What if it was never fate,” Michael said, as Shelby’s tail lights disappeared behind a far island. “What if we were never meant to be? What if we were just two strangers who ran into each other while we were running away from somewhere we didn’t belong?”

Vincent took a long swig of the bottle of coconut rum Shelby had saved for them. “Well,” he said, staring off into the swiftly rising stars. “I guess we finally have enough time to figure it out.”


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