Avril looked along the road toward Taral. 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.
“What? I meant we shouldn’t stay here,” Avril said. “I’ll give you a lift.”
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?”
“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?”
“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.
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 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.
“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 and told the AI, “Take us out onto the road. Let’s take it nice and slow to Edge, keep scanning, no more surprises.”
“No need to try,” Zin said and tapped the side of Avril’s head with the tip of a finger.
Avril felt a tingle where she touched him.
He turned to see what she was doing, but he fell back against the soft leather of the driver’s seat and yawned. Zin was examining the tip of her finger, she said something, but his eyes closed, and he slipped down into sleep before he understood her words.