It had been arranged that she would take a stroll through the engine room before supper. Captain Venkman had assured her that they would hold a place at the captain’s table for her if she were detained. Not for his command were the martinet’s peevish demands. He prided himself on, not only an “untight” ship, but a downright anarchic one. “I have found over the years of our voyage, Randi,” the captain had confided on their first interview, “that a rudderless, aimless, and frankly lost ship is no place for unnecessary rules.”

“Some might differ,” Randi protested gently. She sensed a game of some kind that she wished to negotiate in a properly playful spirit. “In the absence of external order, internal discipline is said to be the only refuge of the survivor, don’t you think?”

Captain Venkman laughed long and heartily at Randi’s words. “That might apply to the usual kind of lost, where there is still hope of finding one’s way, but you see, the Sundstrum is not merely lost to land or destination. Within we are truly lost to the world.”

“I don’t understand,” Randi said. “There are plentiful provisions, and the crew and passengers all seem filled with hope and expectation.” She found her breath caught in her throat. “I myself have someone waiting. To be told there is no hope…” She regained her composure and rebuffed his warm eyes with a sharper tone. “You said that anarchy reigns here, Captain. I see no evidence of this. Everyone seems perfectly well behaved, and the ship and crew are smartly appointed. There is lights out at nine bells, and stewards fluff our pillows with alacrity and cheer.” Her voice faltered and tears clouded her eyes. She was furious and distraught.

Captain Venkman gave Randi a monogrammed handkerchief stitched with HMSS in the queen’s blue and gold. “I’m sorry, Randi. Of course there is order and regulation. Up here there is hope and steady compass, sextant and GPS and the stars. There will always be steady progress marked, and made. I only meant to suggest that if you are a little late for dinner we will understand, and accommodate.”

“But Captain, why invoke this vision of chaos?”

“Randi,” and here Captain Venkman’s eyes darkened and his voice grew low and rough, “it’s the engine room. Down there, we are lost. There is no governor. There is no way.”

“Do you forbid me to go, then? Why not declare it off limits?”

Captain Venkman stood then, the cabin suddenly shrinking with his girth. “No, Randi. I don’t forbid your stroll through the engine room.” He pushed open the cabin door roughly and stabbed a shaking finger into the passageway. “I command it. Go.”

Gregg Williard's fiction, essays, poetry and visual art have appeared in Diagram, The Collagist, Your Impossible Voice, decomP, All The Sins and Sein und Werden, among others. He teaches ESL to refugees in Madison, Wisconsin and produces the spoken word radio show Fiction Jones/Under the Radar for WORT community radio (wortfm.org). His novel with graphics, The People in Tubes Motif  is forthcoming in 2019.

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