Avril check the road toward Taral again. Unconvinced by Zin’s reassurance she’d turned to dust to hide from the passing vehicles, he decided it was time to leave and asked, “Do you need to go somewhere?”
Zin shook her head. “I’m right where I need to be. Right here, waiting for you, Avril Ethanson.”
“How do you know my name?” Avril asked.
“The same way you knew mine,” Zin said.
“You told me your name.”
“Wait, I did?”
“And I don’t know your surname,” Avril said.
“I don’t have one,” Zin said and sat up straighter. “See, you do know. If you stopped trying to think so hard, you’d know that you know.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Avril said and looked along the empty road in both directions for traffic.
“Of course not, nothing makes sense when you think about it too much,” Zin said. Her eyes widened, and she sat up even straighter, “Oh! You don’t know that. Have you ever even thought about thinking? It’s obvious you haven’t been trained to think.”
Avril wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. “It’s not safe out here. I’m not staying. Anybody could come along, and—”
“Anybody will come along, sooner or later,” Zin said.
“Let me give you a lift somewhere,” Avril said.
Zin’s smile was instant, disarming, and infectious.
“Yay! You’re not thinking anymore.” Zin clapped her hands together and giggled. “Where are we going?”
Avril’s bemused smile disappeared, and he said, “Is there somewhere I can drop you? Do you live with anybody?”
“Oh, you’re trying to get rid of me.” Zin turned away from him and crossed her arms. “Well, what if I don’t want to go with you? You think too loud. I don’t think I can stand it much longer. All I need is sleep, and all that thinking will keep me awake.”
“I think too loud?” Avril asked.
“Yeah, you never stop. That monkey brain chattering away to itself like things don’t exist unless it labels them or forms opinions about them. I bet if I turned to dust and looked inside your mind, I’d find a fat, naked monkey sitting in the middle of your brain talking to itself at a thousand klicks an hour.”
“Nice,” Avril said at the image her words conjured and stepped back toward the car. “Are you coming?”
“If I don’t like that fat chattering monkey, I’ll turn it to dust too, and it won’t know how to turn itself back into a monkey.” She studied him for a moment, then said, “No. Perhaps the monkey is useful. You’d be even more of a cog without him.”
“A cog?” Avril asked.
Zin grinned at him. “Yeah. I’m fairy dust. You’re a cog. A solid, dependable cog. Not too bright, not too fancy, not a lot of fun, but solid. Turning and turning, doing your bit in the machine to keep everything in place. Cogs were useful once, but not anymore. The machine is broken, but you can’t see because you’re a cog, and cogs aren’t free to wander around and look at things that don’t concern them. Cogs make a deal; I’ll do my bit, I’ll stay in one place forever turning and turning and turning and—”
“I get it.”
“No, you don’t. Cogs don’t get anything except turning. You don’t even turn in different directions, just forward, the speed doesn’t even change. All the other cogs went away. There’s supposed to be tension when you turn as you push the other cogs, but there’s nothing there. They’re all gone.”
Avril walked backward away from Zin toward his car. “Are you coming?”
She pushed herself up and stepped over the seat. When she let go of the table, she stumbled and almost fell. Avril walked back toward her, but she righted herself and said, “Whoops, just tired. Do you have somewhere to sleep?”
“Yeah. This way.” He led her to the car where he’d parked behind the small shop.
Avril had seen people with heat stroke before, and he thought that could explain Zin’s exhaustion and confusion.
“How did you get here?” Avril asked.
Zin shrugged and shook her head.
“Were you out in the heat today?” Avril asked.
Zin mumbled an answer, but Avril didn’t ask her to repeat herself, certain she was just delirious from too much heat.
When they reached the car, Avril tried to help her up into the cab, but Zin dismissed his offer and clambered in and across the driver’s seat to the passenger seat and flopped back. By the time Avril climbed up next to her, she looked like she was already asleep.
Zin said, “So tired.”
With her head resting against the seat behind her, she turned to look at him. “I’m glad I found you.” She studied him for an instant then said, “You’re tired too. Do you know why people stop sleeping when they’re not kids anymore? They didn’t always. Back on Earth, people slept their entire lives. Well, not their entire lives, but every night.”
“Earth’s a fairy tale,” Avril said.
Zin smiled. “Maybe. But I think people grow out of sleep because they’re scared of the Abyss, and they know that’s where they go when they sleep.”
“Maybe,” Avril agreed, expecting this strange woman to close her eyes and sleep.
He tried to remember if there was a cooling blanket with the medical supplies.
“People shouldn’t be scared though. There aren’t any gods waiting for them in the Abyss. They could just drift.” Zin stirred then settled again and said, “This will do. Now, I just need you to stop thinking so much, and I’ll be able to get some sleep.”
“I’ll try,” Avril lied.
“No need to try,” Zin said and raised a hand toward Avril’s head.
Avril leaned back to avoid her touch. Her hand fell to her lap and her head nodded forward as she fell asleep.