Aboard the Maximum, Justin sat on the lounge seat, staring at the fog-shrouded shape of the Twylight, looming over them as it loomed over all other legends of ghost ships and phantom ports of call.
Bandit perched next to him, paws resting on the back of the seat, his gaze every bit as intense as his human companion’s. After Shades crossed over aboard the derelict, he came back into the cabin to find Bandit had come back up from below, as if he already know something big had happened while he was hiding down there, and Justin made certain the cabin door was shut securely. He was pretty sure Shades was Max’s best hope of escape from that derelict of the damned, but he figured the least he could do for his friend was make sure he wouldn’t need to worry about his pet, as well.
Just as he didn’t sit at the helm, in spite of years of instinct and experience fairly screaming at him that he should be prepared to beat a hasty retreat from these haunted waters. Or rather, because of them, as he just didn’t trust himself not to bolt if things got to be too much for him.
So instead he sat there, absently petting and trying to reassure an overgrown kitten as he awaited the next twist in this convoluted chain of events, not quite sure what he feared more, something, or nothing.
The longer he sat there, the more Shades’ sense of “running out of time” rubbed off on Justin, and the fact that he still had no idea what even happened the first time things got weird left him at a total loss for what to expect next time. If Max returned without Shades? Or if neither of them came back? It was like standing out in front of the Harken Building all over again, only without any survivors to wait with or offer hope for the rest. After all, if Shades couldn’t find Max, it offered little hope of himself being able to find either of them, despite his own logic telling him that he should be able to just march right over there and drag their asses back aboard flying in the face of mounting experience attesting that things weren’t going to be that simple here.
…And then there were none.
He couldn’t remember exactly what it was Shades was blabbing about when he said those words, but the phrase stuck with him. What he imagined happening to himself if he challenged this derelict blindly. It was probably about the last thing he should be thinking about under the circumstances, but on the heels of that last ominous thought trailed a stray memory for his early days on Benton Island, from overhearing an argument with a TSA guard.
Justin was skulking around the harbor, searching for his supper and dreaming of stowing away on any one of those ships, when he happened to catch wind of an argument with a ship’s captain that he would find rather less than reassuring years later as found himself facing the same grim fate. Most of the backstory was lost to him now, something about the crew of a merchant ship towing a derelict to port with them and trying to sell it or some such, and the Authority, of course, having more than a few questions for the crew. Justin no longer even remembered whether the crew even got to keep the derelict as salvage or not, only the captain insisting the other ship was deserted when they found her.
His memory might have chalked the whole incident up as the TSA being a greedy bunch of dicks as usual, if it wasn’t for the fact that the man kept waving a ship’s log in the guard’s face, claiming that the derelict’s missing crew had a run-in with the Twylight, the journal entries apparently detailing an attempt to salvage the infamous vessel. Ending with one last, desperate search party refusing to leave without their own captain.
Once upon a time, he would have considered that kind of loyalty preposterous, the stuff of seafaring tales, and proof in and of itself that the logbook was a forgery. But now that he found himself confronted with the same scenario, he felt a strong compulsion to grab that Rose Marine Queen log that Shades occasionally made entries in and make one of his own. To leave the rest of the world some record of what happened to them.
At least until those words drifted back to him, along with the image of the last people he had met whose fates were recorded for future generations. That to sit down and write “last words” was to give up. And as he sat back down next to Bandit, he found he simply wasn’t that ready to give up on his friends just yet.
Though unsure exactly how long he could hold out before that impassive ghost ship finally broke him, he would wait. Not being able to talk to either of them made him feel very alone in spite of Bandit sitting next to him. Made him wonder exactly when he stopped being used to feeling alone.
Bandit turned to him, and Justin put an arm around the big cat, putting on his best face and telling him, “Don’t worry, boy, they’ll be back soon.”