Castaway Resolution – Chapter 26

Chapter 26.

The problem, Whips thought, wasn’t that he had to send out one of the kids; it was that he had to do that and accept that if something went wrong he could not do anything about it. Sky and Earth knew that there were dangers to going out on a rocking ocean vessel — especially in this ocean. After the tsunami there would almost have to be a huge number of dead bodies, animals that hadn’t been able to escape in time, and that meant that the water for many kilometers around, maybe hundreds of kilometers, would be filled with more predators and scavengers looking for an easy meal. Maybe even an island-eater, checking to see if the damage was enough to make the area hit worth tasting.

He looked over at Hitomi, who was carefully laying out a meal on the floor for him, and two more — one for her and one for Franky — on the seats. Francisco was working with his omni, but as Whips watched he shook his head. “I cannot get a connection, Whips! No satellite, no one answers!”

Bite the bullet, as the Sergeant would say. “No, Francisco, I can’t get one either. I’m pretty sure that the exterior antennas — which are what let us talk from inside the ship to outside — are gone.”

Francisco thought about that for a moment, then noticed the food and came over to help Hitomi finish putting the meals together. “Then we have to go outside. ¿Si?”

“Right,” he agreed. “Or rather. . . one of you has to. I can’t go out. Honestly, I can barely move. Yes, in the water I could probably move better than I can out of it, but I would be so injured any predator would sense it.”

Hitomi and Francisco exchanged glances, and Whips could see Hitomi go pale; Francisco’s olive-dark skin didn’t show the change so obviously, but he could tell both of them had suddenly realized the truth: it was up to them.

Slowly, Hitomi put down the sandwich and stepped closer to Whips. “Whips. . . Harratrer. . . you’re not. . . dying, are you?”

The fear and fright in her voice was so intense that Whips wanted very much to lie, to make her feel better. . . but in these circumstances, he couldn’t. “I might be, Hitomi. Even if I’m not. . . I’m not going to be much help for a long time. I might be able to tell you what to do, or how to do it. But actually doing things, that’s going to be up to you two.”

The tiny golden-haired girl stayed bent over for a moment, and he saw a shiver go through her. But then her back straightened and he saw her jaw tighten; for just an instant, despite all the difference of coloring, he could see that she was a Kimei. “Like Saki when we landed. She wasn’t ready. She was scared like me.”

“Just like you.”

“Like Tavana. And the rest of us. We did not know how, but we had to,” Francisco said. “Your parents, the Sergeant, Xander, they are not here.” For a moment his expression was touched, not just with fear and uncertainty, but wonder. “We have to be the grown-ups, Hitomi.”

She nodded. “‘kay. So one of us has to go out.”

“That will be me,” Francisco said at once.

“Why you? I can go outside just like you!”

Whips almost intervened, but stopped himself. Better to see if they could resolve it reasonably themselves; if they couldn’t. . .

“I’m taller,” Francisco said. That fact was inarguable, as he’d grown three centimeters in the year since the accident, which made him thirty centimeters taller than Hitomi — despite Hitomi having grown twice as much in the same time. “If I have to jump or climb on things, I can reach things better.”

“I can swim better than you,” Hitomi said. That, also, was inarguable; Francisco could now manage something better than a dog paddle but not much, while Hitomi could swim about as well as any human her age could ever expect to manage.

Instead of immediately arguing, Francisco looked thoughtful. “Hm. But the idea is just go out and try to make sure our omnis talk, right?”

“Right, but what if we fall off?”

“That would be bad, and yes, swimming would be important. But if you are not tall, maybe you could not reach the right part of Emerald Maui to climb back up and you would be stuck in the water.”

Hitomi blinked, clearly not having thought about that. And Franky was right, Whips thought. Climbing back on Emerald Maui from the water would not be easy even for the taller boy; he wasn’t sure that Hitomi could do it at all.

“Well. . . a rope! Then you can’t fall!”

“But if I can’t fall, it doesn’t matter who swims better!”

Hitomi opened her mouth, looked offended, then stomped her foot. Then she laughed. “Okay, you go out. If we can find a rope. If we can’t, I go out.”

“It is a deal!”

Whips grinned — a rippling color pattern that probably wasn’t visible to the two kids. Smart. Of course, they’ve been living with everyone in survival mode for all this time; they’ve seen a lot of these kind of arguments. They’ve learned to stop and think. Even through the aches and dizziness that was trying to assail him, that was a warming thought. They can work together. Without me pinging in their direction every ten seconds.

It didn’t take too long for Hitomi to locate a rope in the rear storage area. The two of them tied off the rope to the base of one of the crash seats, then Hitomi looped it back and around one of the armrests before giving the end to Francisco.

“Why did you do that?”

“Saki showed me that this gives me leverage,” Hitomi answered, pronouncing the last word very carefully. “Means I can pull harder.”

“Oh. Yes, I see that.” Francisco wrapped the rope around his waist, tied it off, then had Whips check the knot. Then, without being told, he took one of his belt loops, opened the clip, and then clipped it onto the rope.

Very good, Francisco. Never trust one way of fastening a lifeline,” Whips said, forcing his voice to sound as normal as possible; it hurt to talk. “Now, if it starts to come loose, which way will the rope be going?”

Francisco studied the rope, and then pointed.

“Right. So put another knot in the rope before the belt loop clip, so that the rope can’t go through it if the main knot comes undone.”

Francisco frowned. “But that means I have to untie it now!”

“Yes. But it will be much safer that way. Otherwise the belt loop won’t do much to hold it.”

After a momentary hesitation, Francisco nodded and, with difficulty, unknotted the rope, tied a simple stop-knot into the rope near the belt-loop, and then re-tied the rope together. “Is this good?”

“Perfect! Now, let’s test how hard Hitomi can pull.”

With the leverage, braced feet, and a look of grim determination, Hitomi showed she could drag Francisco backward all by herself.

Whips gave a sigh of relief. “All right. Good. Time to go out. Francisco, before you go, listen to me. The outrigger is below the airlock on that side, but with luck you shouldn’t have to get on it. The farther out you go on the outrigger, the more things will move and the harder it will be to walk, so try to just go out on the ladder and make the call.” His last sentence trailed off in a sort of hiss.

“Whips, are you all right?” Hitomi asked.

“No. But I’m not feeling much worse yet. Let’s get this done.” He looked back at Francisco. “Franky — Francisco — look out carefully before you actually step out of the airlock.”

Francisco suddenly looked less eager. “Oh. Si. The raylamps.”

“Or other things.” The boy’s grim expression reminded Whips that he’d seen Xander almost dragged down and torn apart by the creatures, so his associations with the black stingray-shaped things were about as bad as Whips’ memories of them.

Francisco went back into the storage area and came back with a long bush knife, almost a miniature machete. “If one comes at me when the door opens, I will be ready.”

All that said, Whips thought there wasn’t too much chance of danger in this case.

He was wrong.

Francisco was only starting to lean forward to look out the lock when he jerked back; a black tendril had whipped around the doorframe, and with a wet plop a meter-wide raylamp flopped onto the floor of the airlock.

The little boy didn’t hesitate; instantly his long knife plunged into the thing and ripped back, tearing most of the creature in half. It gave a thin whine, but Francisco danced back out of the way of its thrashing tentacles and then kicked it hard, shoving the slick creature’s body out the door. With quieter, damp sliding sounds, two other raylamps dropped from the top hull of Emerald Maui and began to feed on their fallen comrade, which was still struggling.

Whips was speechless; he had not expected that. By her expression, neither had Hitomi — and Francisco had now clearly risen in her estimation. “Well. . . well done, Francisco. Is everything clear now?”

Francisco’s hand was shaking with obvious adrenalin reaction, but his voice was almost steady. “It looks so. Si, it is, nothing else on the hull I can see.” He looked around, at areas none of them could see from inside. “Nothing anywhere near me now, except in the water. Which I am not going into.”

“No, not time for a swim.”

Francisco nodded, then raised his omni to his mouth. “Sergeant? Xander? This is Francisco, on Emerald Maui!