Castaway Resolution – Chapter 12
“Huh,” Tavana said, a questioning air about him, as he lowered himself heavily onto a stump at the side of the path.
Sakura glanced at him; she had a momentary flash of annoyance that he’d stopped, but she suppressed it. Tav was still not fully recovered, and was just starting to get back to regular activity. “What’s ‘huh’?”
“The sun, I could swear that just the prior dawn, it was rising between those two trees, but now it is on the far side of the one,” Tavana answered.
“Well, yeah,” she said, after a moment. “Think about it, Tav.”
The broad Polynesian face wrinkled for a moment, then Tavana smacked his head. “Stupid. The floating continent, it also spins. There is no really stable orientation here.”
“You got it. I guess Caroline’s having a ball gathering data on the planet with your satellite network. We didn’t know hardly anything about Lincoln before we landed, and, well, until you guys got here we still didn’t know much. ‘Cept about the specific things here, anyways.”
“Well, those were the things that mattered, yes? Aside from anything needed for survival, planetography would have not just taken the backseat, it would have been in a trailer behind you.”
She heard her own laughter echo through the trees. “Yeah, exactly.” She saw him glance up into the sky again, his brow furrow, then relax. “What is it this time?”
“Oh, that.” He pointed into the sky a fair arc away from the sun.
Sakura could see a point of light, dimmed by the sky’s brightness but easily visible. Concentrating, she could make out a faint mist trailing out to one side. “Oh, yeah, a comet. There’s a lot of them here. I think there’s only been a few weeks since we’ve been here that there wasn’t a pretty bright one visible.”
“Oui, I remember we saw two very large comets when we entered the system. Meteors are common too.”
“Oh, you bet.” She grinned, remembering. “When we were out building that dock for you, we hit a meteor shower that Caroline said outdid anything she’d ever heard of on Earth; it was like fireworks. And if you stay out at night and look up at any reasonable patch of sky you’ll see a meteor pretty quick.”
“Any actually fall around here?”
“We haven’t found any meteorites, but there’s bound to be some. But Caroline said that finding them would be tough; on Earth they used to go to places like Antarctica where there was nothing but flat ice and figure that if they came across an isolated rock, it pretty much had to be a meteorite, but here in a jungle? Not working so well.”
“I guess so.” Tav stood up. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“It’s okay,” she said, even more annoyed at herself for her prior impatience. “You guys nearly died, I can’t get mad at you for taking it slow sometimes. But this trip was your idea.”
“Well, yes. I want to see how you do things here, and even if I am not up to helping much, it will be good to know how for when I am better.”
Sakura couldn’t argue that. “We’re almost there, so if you can keep moving for about five minutes you’ll be able to sit down and rest while I get to work.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes; Sakura found herself very aware of Tavana being close, even though he wasn’t really much closer than he was in a lot of other situations. Does he feel the same way? I mean. . . What do I mean? Do I, well, like him?
Tavana spoke suddenly, and his voice sounded unusually. . . tense? Nervous? It had a slightly higher, faintly strained pitch to it. “Um, Sakura, I was wondering, why here? That is, why is this the good place for your driftseed?”
The question relaxed her — to a startling degree. Boy, I am nervous! “Oh, well, that? It’ll be easier to explain when we get there.”
In a few moments they emerged into a semi-clearing along a narrow streambed. Across the stream, Sakura could see a strip of brilliant white, as though someone had taken a two-meter-wide paintbrush and drawn it across the jungle in front of them.
“What is that?”
Sakura studied the clearing and trees and stream for a moment to make sure everything was safe, then moved forward. “That,” she said as she hopped across the stream, “is what we’re here for.”
As they got closer, the white streak resolved itself into what looked like a massive snowbank, a literal drift of white fluff. There were small animals, something like green-brown guinea pigs, moving in and around the fluff, but they scattered at the humans’ approach.
Tavana surveyed the mound, eyebrows high. “Impressed, yes, I am impressed. So we use these rake-things to compress and scoop the driftseed into our bags, then carry it back?”
“Right. You can do as much as you feel up to, but don’t push yourself.”
She saw Tavana squint down the stream, then hold up his hand in the air for a moment. “Ah! I believe I understand.”
“Thought you would!” Tav was smart, which was one of the things she really liked about him — that, and him being kind of quiet a lot of the time. “Prevailing winds get funneled up here from farther down, where it spreads out, so a lot of driftseed comes in here, and then it runs straight into this area where there’s heavy growth because of the way the sunlight gets into the clearing.”
“Vraiment, yes, but what about the turning of the island? We just mentioned that, yes? Will that not change the winds?”
“Some, yes, but so far it looks like our island continent doesn’t just spin around like a top; it sort of wobbles back and forth but stays pointing in the same general direction.”
Tavana scratched his head, then took the scoop-rake off his back and started trying to gather driftseed. “How is that? I mean, why does it not spin completely around?”
“We don’t know,” she answered candidly, dragging her scoop in what had become a practiced motion. “Might be the way the island’s shaped that makes it stay in one general orientation, especially since it must dip way down to keep us all above water, or maybe there’s some kind of active orientation guidance from one of its symbiote species.”
Tavana was having difficulty getting the driftseed into the bag. “No, look, Tav, you have to scoop more first. Until it compresses enough it’ll just puff right back up and fall apart. You have to tell by the resistance and the look. Here, let me.” She took his arm and guided it through the scooping motion. He resisted at first, trying to anticipate her movements and failing, but by the second time through he had relaxed and just let her guide. “See?” she said finally. “Four, five good long scoops and it’s squished itself down and if you turn it like this,” she gave the scoop a sort of shaking half-turn, “It loosens in the grooves just enough. Now try putting it in the bag.”
Most of the driftseed slid into the bag, with just a little of it fluffing and flying away at the edges. “Oh! Oui, c’est facile,” Tav said; his voice had that same strange, tense edge. She was suddenly aware of the warmth of Tav’s arm, the hard-soft feel of muscle under skin.
She stepped back, letting go maybe a little faster than she’d originally planned. “So, um, you think you can do that yourself?”
“Yes, it is easy, yes? I said that.” He laughed suddenly. “So, Saki, can I ask you another question?”
Another question would be good, she thought. “Sure!”
He hesitated, and she suddenly wondered if she did want another question. Or if she really did want another question. “So,” he said again, and licked his lips nervously, then managed a smile. “The neighborhood, I did not see an immertainment complex or a performance hall or even restaurant around. So I was wondering, um, where would you go if you were dating?”
She couldn’t help herself; the release of tension sent her into a gale of laughter. Seeing his wince-and-cringe helped get it back under control. “No, it’s okay, Tav, jeez, I was trying to decide how I might ask you, and that was a pretty cute approach you tried, so the answer’s yes but I don’t know where!”
“Yes? Vraiment? Really?” He grinned, teeth flashing as bright as the driftseed. “Well, then we will think about the ‘where’ later!” The relief was as clear on his face as it had been in her gut, and then he went on, “Maybe the practice range? It is not so classically part of romance, but I had fun with our little contest before.”
“Ha! That’s not a terrible idea at all, but maybe we can come up with a better one. I’ll have to talk to Mom and Dad, of course.”
“Oui, and I with the Sergeant. At least we have already met each others’ family here.”
She heard a giggle escape her. “Yeah, I guess we have. So, anyway, think you can help finish gathering the driftseed?”
“Now?” Tavana grinned again. “Now I could finish this whole clearing.”