A Light Upon the Sea

… continued from Escape

🚀

Grey waves rolled under grey skies, and the small boat rolled northward with them. The human crew learned their Kwakitl stowaway’s name, Ca-Tren, and Ca-Tren seemed eager to prove her usefulness aboard. Despite her youth, it quickly became clear that Ca-Tren knew the boat’s systems well, and she proved to be quite a good sailor. Growing up in a seafaring community would do that, Anna surmised.

Ca-Tren also impressed the humans with how quickly she seemed to pick up on their verbal instructions, not waiting for the tablet’s translation before carrying out a task. Jaci ascribed it to being a fast learner of languages, while Anna thought it more likely due to Ca-Tren’s knowledge of the boat, knowing what’s needed before being told.

“A bit of both, probably,” Laxmi concluded.

The hours rolled on toward mid-morning, and the southeast trade freshened, quartering around more southerly as the gusts grew stronger. Fragments of cloud, torn from the overcast above, whipped from west to east high overhead, while the southward skies turned ominously dark. The prevailing southeast swell gained a southwest component, taller and steeper, and the small boat surfed down the northeastern faces of the waves as they caught up and rolled under them.

Anna and Ca-Tren went forward together, and wordlessly they reefed the sail, lowering the gaff to reduce its height and lashing the lower quarters to the boom, while Jaci struggled with the tiller to keep the waves to the aft port quarter.

“What is it with these storms always finding us?” Laxmi complained once all were back in the cockpit. She turned and looked aft at the oncoming rollers and blackening sky.

Though he remained silent, Jaci had gone pale, grimly holding onto the tiller. Anna caught his gaze, and then Laxmi’s when she looked forward again.

“Jaci, Ca-Tren, the two of you go below and make yourselves secure. Laxmi and I will take it from here.”

“But Anna…”

“Go. We’ll call you up if we need you, but for now it’s safest to have fewer people in the cockpit. We can handle it. Don’t worry. We’ve weathered far worse storms than this, and in far worse of a boat.”

Ca-Tren took Jaci’s hand and with a gentle tug, pulled him down into the cabin. He looked back at them from inside the hatch, worry lines etched on his face.

“Jaci, seriously, it’ll be fine. The storm is passing to the south of us. It’s not even coming this way. We’re just catching the edge of it. It probably won’t even get any stronger than this.”

He looked doubtful, but he nodded and disappeared into the darkened cabin.

“Is that true?” Laxmi looked into Anna’s eyes.

Anna shrugged. “Maybe.” She looked south herself, then up at the scudding clouds. “Probably.”

“Probably?”

“Well, if it’s another cyclone to the south of us, its most dangerous quadrant is on its far side, away from us, where the clockwise winds line up with a westerly or southwesterly track.”

“So it’s tracking away from us?”

“Not directly, but yes. Probably. Besides, this is a good thing.”

“Really? A good thing? How?”

“We’re just on the fringe of it. The full force of it is hitting where we came from. Where the Orta are. So this should be hindering any efforts on their part to search for us, or to further harass the Kwakitl.”

“And if it’s not a cyclone? If it’s just a really big storm?”

“Then all bets are off.” Anna grinned. “But don’t worry. All storms are cyclones to some degree. It’s just a matter of scale.”

“Your matter of scale could get us killed.”

“Perhaps. But if I’m wrong, what does it change about what we need to do?”

Laxmi looked doubtful. She gazed aft again, holding on as yet another wave approached.

“At least it’s not raining. Though I’m sure we could use the fresh water.”

The wave rolled under the boat, lifting them stern first, accelerating the craft faster across its face until they were practically foiling on the outriggers. Laxmi’s grip on the gunwale tightened, white-knuckled, until inevitably the overtaking wave lifted them out of the trough, exposing them to the full force of the gale. For a moment it seemed they would keep up with it, but then the crest rolled under them, lifted the bow to the sky, then down into the next trough they sank, briefly sheltered from wind by the wave behind this one.

A retching sound reached their ears from the cabin below. Laxmi looked forward again, concerned, then caught Anna’s eye.

“You know, maybe he would be better off up here after all.”

Anna sighed. “Yeah, maybe so. At least he won’t be puking all over our hammocks if he’s up here.”

“Hey, don’t be unkind. Not everyone is a toughened ocean sailor like you. Besides, I thought…”

“What?”

“I thought you two… well, never mind.” Laxmi stuck her head in the hatchway. “Jaci! Come on back up here. Ca-Tren too, if she wants. Oh, and…” She winked back at Anna. “Anna says if you puke on her hammock you’ll have to stand the next three watches in a row.”

Anna stifled her laugh as a miserable Jaci appeared in the hatch.

The hours rolled on through mid-day and into the afternoon, and the waves rolled up, under, and away from the boat, but Anna was right. The winds grew no stronger, and as the late afternoon stretched toward the early evening they died away, though the large rolling swell continued. The black smudge of cloud to the south shifted southeastwards, grew smaller and fainter, and faded away into the overall dark grey overcast. Anna and Ca-Tren undid the reef, letting the sail out to full again to keep their speed up, but the passing storm seemed to have taken the trade winds away with it, leaving just enough to maintain steerage way.

It was then the rains came, and Laxmi had everyone not on tiller duty scrambling for buckets and basins to catch it in.

Ca-Tren squawked, which surprised Anna, as the young Kwakitl had mostly kept quiet while going about her business on the boat with everyone else. She looked at the avian, who seemed intent on something astern.

The next wave rolled up to them, lifting them to its crest, and at the peak Ca-Tren squawked again, pointing with her wing. Anna followed her direction, peering across the tops of the dark waves.

In the midst of the rain and gathering night, she saw it. Far away, on the horizon, and visible for just a moment when they were both on a wave crest, there was a light. It persisted for a few seconds, then it winked out, and a few seconds after that they too had sunk down into the next trough, unable to see anything else.

An oil lantern? A Kwakitl fishing vessel?

On the next crest, she saw it again, and her heart sank. Though small, far, and brief, the light was definitely red, not yellow, and not white. It was almost certainly a navigation light, and not an oil lantern, and in Anna’s experience, Kwakitl vessels did not bother with nav lights.

“Is that…?”

“The Orta, yes.”

“How did they find us in the storm?”

“We don’t know yet that they have, but if they haven’t, they will soon enough.”

Anna kept watching for several more minutes, wishing she still had the inertial compass. Every time the light came into view, she made a note of its bearing relative to the stern of their own boat.

“What should we do?”

“Just keep the boat on a steady course, and keep watching the light.”

Fifteen minutes later, she heaved a sigh of relief.

“Ok, I don’t think they’ve found us yet. The light is moving westwards, and not toward us. So we have a little time. Still, they’re probably doing a search pattern, and eventually they will spot us. Certainly by daybreak I think they will.”

“And then?”

“Then… we negotiate, I suppose. What else do you suggest? That’s where you really earn your keep, Jaci.” She grinned at him. “Be the great communicator, and talk our way out of this.”

Dusk turned to full dark of night, and over the next few hours the waves gradually subsided to a flat sea, the storm but a distant memory. A weakened but recognizable southeast trade filled in, and once again the sail tautened and pulled the craft northward. Patches of starlight let them know the cloud cover was breaking up, and to Anna’s dismay the larger of this world’s two moons rose full above the eastern horizon. The moonlight was dim, yet enough to see by, and if Anna could see, she knew the Orta with their sensitive instruments could as well.

They took turns at the helm and turns asleep, as well as turns keeping watch on the distant navigation light. Anna’s spirits lifted when it passed out of sight to the southwest, but as she had known it would, a few hours later, in the early pre-dawn darkness, it reappeared, now closer to due west, or west-southwest. This was the return leg of the search pattern.

Ca-Tren studied the light as well, then turned to face everyone else. She looked at Anna, then Jaci, then tugged on Jaci’s hand.

“Come,” she squawked in perfectly understandable Englese.

She tugged Jaci toward the hatch and down into the cabin. Laxmi and Anna looked at each other, and Anna shrugged. A few minutes later, their backpacks and the two e-suits appeared up out of the hatch, followed by Jaci pushing them into the cockpit.

“Jaci, what’s going on?”

“I think Ca-Tren has an idea. Let’s just roll with it.”

Ca-Tren clambered out of the cabin after Jaci, pointed at the packs and suits, and again said, “Come.” She scrambled over the gunwale onto the spar leading to the starboard outrigger. Deftly she then crawled out to the outrigger itself. She turned back to face the humans, made a gesture with her wing, once again squawking. “Come! Bring!”

Then to Anna’s surprise Ca-Tren opened a small hatch on the top of the outrigger.

Laxmi looked at Anna and Jaci. “Did you know that was there?”

Anna shook her head. “I did not. But I think I see what her plan is.”

“Well, I don’t think we’re going to walk across like she did without getting wet. But at least the water’s warm. Give me one of those packs.”

Laxmi slipped over the side into the water, then took the pack handed her and balanced it atop the spar. Pulling herself with one hand, and dragging the pack across the two-meter spar with the other, she made her way to the outrigger, where Ca-Tren deftly grabbed the pack with a foot and lifted it up and into the opened hatch. Laxmi repeated the trip a couple more times until all the human gear was stowed in the apparently hollow outrigger.

“You.”

Ca-Tren pointed at Laxmi and into the hatch. Laxmi looked back at Jaci and Anna, briefly showing her doubt, then she shrugged and pulled herself up onto the outrigger. Carefully, she wormed her way feet first through the narrow hatch until she was fully inside. Ca-Tren closed the hatch and secured it. Only now that Anna knew what to look for was it obvious to her the hatch was there.

Ca-Tren scrambled back over to the main hull, then made a come hither gesture and prepared to clamber over to the port outrigger.

“Wait!”

Ca-Tren stopped and look at Anna.

“I have an idea. Um… Jaci, got your tablet on you?”

“Sure, yeah.”

“Ok, I just want to make sure Ca-Tren understands.” Anna waited for Jaci to be ready, then continued. “We need to turn the boat around.”

“What!”

“Just translate it please, Jaci. We need to turn back south, as if we’re heading toward Ar-Danel, and not away from it.”

Anna pointed at the boat, gestured a circle with her hand, then pointed south. Ca-Tren whistled and nodded, and without waiting for further instruction readied herself at the mainsheet to control the sail. Anna took the helm, called “Ready about,” and pushed the tiller over. As the boat turned right toward the east, Ca-Tren pulled in the mainsheet, tightening up the sail. When they turned farther, past southeast, and toward the south, the boom crossed over their heads, and then Ca-Tren eased the sail back out, though not nearly so much this time as they were sailing nearly due upwind. The boat heeled over slightly, putting the starboard outrigger into the water.

“Um, Anna, do you think we should have told Laxmi first what we were going to do? Given she’s now in that thing that’s rushing through the water?”

“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, we probably should have done that.”

Anna looked at Jaci with a guilty expression, then shrugged. Then she took one last look around the boat, satisfying herself that the course and sail were well set.

“Ok, now it’s our turn.”

With that she jumped into the water and pulled herself over to the port outrigger, now upwind. When she got there, she realized another flaw in her plan, as the outrigger was now lifted fully out of the water and it took her considerably more effort to pull herself up to it. Still, with some effort, she climbed up onto it, and knowing what to look for, she found the hatch matching the one on the starboard side. A moment later she had the hatch open, and she peered into the dark interior.

A wet, musty smell greeted her, and Anna realized this compartment probably hadn’t been opened in some time. She swung her feet into it, then crouched down and slithered her way in. It felt a bit like climbing into a kayak, except that she was able to get fully inside the outrigger hull. The interior was damp, but she couldn’t be sure how much of that was seawater running off her own clothes from the brief swim over. She had just enough room to sit up almost halfway.

She heard a bump against the wooden hull, then a dark shape blotted out the small patch of sky she could see through the hatch. Jaci stuck his head inside.

“You ok in there?”

“Yes. Come on. Plenty of room.”

He pulled his head back out and swung his feet in, repeating Anna’s move. She scrambled herself feet first farther forward, deeper into the compartment, to make room for him.

“What is that smell?” Jaci made a soft gagging sound.

“I think this was a fish storage compartment. This is a fishing boat, after all.”

“Oh, hell.”

“You’re just going to have to deal with it.”

“Yeah, ok. I’m… I’m fine. Um, there’s no handle on the inside of the hatch.”

“Just pull it closed. It’ll have to do.”

“Oh! Never mind, Ca-Tren’s here. She must have lashed the tiller.”

Ca-Tren poked her head into the hatch, a dark beaked shape looking at Jaci and Anna. Moonlight reflected off her eyes. She squawked once, then pulled herself out, and the hatch thumped shut, the latch engaging.

They were locked in.

🚀

… continued with Interrogated by the Orta


header image credit: user:Artie_Navarre / pixabay.com under Pixabay License


© Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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