Unless the Great And Glorious Writer (Ryk Spoor) changes his mind, this is the last snippet.
Castaway Resolution – Chapter 30
“We’re going to start moving out of here now,” Campbell said. “Just shot up one of those stinging-worm things, and the air here’s gone way beyond foul, it’s getting’ toxic.”
“But we can’t just stop work on getting Emerald Maui home!” Sakura said sharply.
“Calm down, Saki, ain’t no one saying anything like that. But we gotta start packin’ and get out of here. It’s not safe in any way. Move on down the coast, this side where it’s nearer them anyway, while we keep givin’ them support.”
“The Sergeant is right,” Laura said. “It’s not like any of us are physically able to do anything for those kids.” He could see her pain-filled wince at having, once more, to admit that Francisco and Hitomi were, in the end, on their own on Lincoln’s seas. “All we can do is advise them, and we can do most of that while we’re still working.”
“I think the idea of rafting everything makes sense,” Pearce Haley said. “The way the continent’s moving and the water currents work, they’ll help us move in the direction we want to go.”
“Agreed, and like we noticed, lots of downed trees.” Campbell surveyed the area, making sure there weren’t any more opportunistic predators lurking about. “Xander, any progress?”
“It’s a column shard, Sergeant. Got jammed right in there, probably during the tumbling.”
“Can the kids get it out?” That was, of course, the only question that mattered. If they couldn’t remove the shard, Emerald Maui was dead in the water — at least, unless they could figure out some new jury-rig trick. But at some point, you ran out of tricks.
“I think so. I hope so. There’s no sign that it’s seriously damaged the jet, so that should mean it’s jammed but not held in by, say, splinters of the fans or anything. If they can get a line around it and hook the block-and tackle on, I’d bet that it could be pulled out, especially if the pull’s pretty straight.”
“Block and tackle?” Pearce asked, eyebrows high. “Why not just use the winch connection?”
“External connectors are totally fouled, maybe just scoured off like the antennas. And they can’t open the cargo doors while they’re floating, so the internal connector won’t work unless they set up the tackle to relay through the ship — way too many ways for that to go bad.” Xander gagged as a particularly foul gust of wind blew by. “Jesus.”
“Even with nanosuppression, this stuff is rich. We’ll be burning our clothes after we move, you bet.” Campbell nodded. “All right, sounds like we have a plan for the blockage. How long to get it set up?”
“Figure it all out and get Hitomi and Franky on the job? A day. Worst part’s going to be getting the cable on the fragment; we’ll try doing it without anyone going in the water, but I have a bad feeling that it just won’t work.”
Campbell saw Xander’s face three shades paler than normal, and knew he was reliving his own near-death experiences. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said after a moment. “Get everything arranged. Tavana, you said you had Franky and Hitomi working outside already?”
“Yes, Sergeant. Once we saw that the comm channel connections looked to be clean, I thought maybe we could make new antennas. They would maybe not be efficient, but all we need is a nice long strip of conductor that is connected to the radios.”
“And so Hitomi, she found a roll of repair cable which has the all-weather tape built in. Models show it should work as a good dipole antenna. Hitomi just finished taping it down, and now she’s painting it over with goop.”
“Goop”, in this context, meant a radio-transparent, hard-drying aerospace epoxy-like substance that was a standard across known space. Every ship carried some for general repairs, smoothing of nicks and dents, and so on. It hadn’t changed much in anything but detail since the twenty-first century.
“Well, then it’d darn well better work, ’cause you ain’t getting that goop off again.”
“Pretty sure it will. Once it dries — about twenty minutes — Franky’s going to go out and do the connections. Probably have to do soldering, there’s no actual connectors left.”
“Drop some goop on the connections to keep them safe from sea spray and such, and then we should be good to go. We’ll know once he does the hook-up whether it works; Emerald Maui’s onboard systems will automatically try to connect to the network.”
“Here’s hoping. We’ll all feel one hell of a lot better once we know they can always talk to us, even when the doors are closed.”
“God, yes,” Laura said.
“All right, then. I’ll need all the strongest people here to move stuff — that means me, Xander, Tav, and Laura. The rest of you, start packing up everything we can bring. Making a raft shouldn’t take too long, even with the tools we’ve got left; at least both groups kept a bunch of the smaller stuff above water level, and your long-suffering winch is still with us.” He grinned. “Got more work out of that than the manufacturer ever guessed, I’ll bet.”
“That is for sure,” Akira’s voice said, transmitted from inside Sherwood Tower. The temporary stairs and platform over the nigh-endless pit below allowed them to go in and out, but Campbell had agreed with the engineer’s evaluation. Eventually that tower was coming down, even if the kids hadn’t wanted to admit it. Moving now was just getting a jump ahead of disaster.
“And everyone stay in their groups if you are not in one of the towers in a defensible position,” he said. “Just takes one second for something hungry to get the drop on you.”
“Got it, Sergeant,” said Maddox.
“Pearce, you’ll be in charge of the packing,” Laura said. “Everyone else clear on that?”
There was a chorus of yeses from Sakura, Melody, Caroline, and Maddox. “Yes,” Akira added with good humor.
“Good. We’ll all leave our omnis on. First, let’s get all the tools and stuff we’ll need — rope’s top of the list, but we’ll want hammers, things like that.”
It didn’t take long to fill a pack for everyone — both with the tools and materials Campbell thought they’d need, and with food and water for the day. Turning away from the clearing, Campbell began to lead the way towards the shore. Here at ground level the going was incredibly hard, with still-soft mud, tumbled obstacles, most things still a uniform grey-brown of mud which made it difficult to tell where one thing left off and another began. It was particularly bad when you thought something was a rock and it turned out to be a partially-decayed corpse of some unfortunate animal. What I wouldn’t give for my Pathfinder boots now, a whole case of ’em.
“So. . . uck. . . Sergeant, we’re making a raft. You’ve done that before?”
“Oh, sure. Survival training’s got that as one of the basics. There’s all sorts of rafts you can make, but for this we’ll want one that’s pretty sturdy, carries a lot of weight. Several logs across, pretty long. Have to lay some kind of deck on it — think we might have some pieces left in storage that might do, we’ll get those once we have the main raft assembled — then rig up a simple mast, sail, rudder — maybe just a steering board or steering oar — an’ some poles for near-shore work.”
“Sounds like it could be a little complicated.”
Campbell grinned, remembering. “Nah. Hard work, that I’ll grant, and some of it gets a little fiddly if you want everything just right, but it’s mostly getting it right the first time that matters. Don’t want to have to go back and try to re-do part of your raft; gets messy.” He slipped and barely caught himself before taking a full faceplant into the muck. “Not that anyone here will notice ‘messy’.”
Laura snickered, turning it into a cough. “No, I don’t suppose we will. The logs will still float covered in this. . . stuff?”
“We’ll roll ’em in the water, get ’em cleaned off first, but sure, they will. Takes time to get waterlogged. Dependin’ on how the decay works here, we might end up with ’em stripping their bark as we roll ’em, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Tavana came to a half-fallen tree blocking the way; rather than go around, he shoved it up and over, sending it down with a resounding thud-splat that sent mud all over the party. “Whoops.”
“Watch it, Tav. This stuff’s bad enough to smell, ain’t none of us want to eat it.” That boy is strong, though. Not sure I could’ve tossed that tree like that, and I’ve got thirty centimeters on the kid. He started out a little round, but he’s turning into a regular brick.
“Sorry, Sergeant, everyone.”
“It’s okay, Tav. Not like I’m really noticing another spot of this crud,” Xander said. “I’d be more worried about people getting hurt, though. If that log turned out to be heavier than you thought, or fell the wrong way. . .”
“Yes, I know, it was stupid. I will not do that again.” Tavana’s voice was serious. Good, he’s taking it the right way. With teenagers you were never sure whether they’d take a lesson to heart, or just take it badly instead.
The air was slightly less foul now as they approached the coast. Their floating continent was drifting through the ocean, leaving some of the wreckage behind and replacing it with cleaner water. The four of them stood on the shore for a moment, just taking the time to breath less-tainted air.
“All right, that’ll do. Let’s get this going.” He looked around. “We’ll want. . . eight, ten logs that size,” he said, pointing at one tree about thirty to forty centimeters in diameter. “Keep ’em as close to the same width as possible. At the same time, keep an eye out for smaller logs, maybe around ten centimeters; we’ll use those for the crossmembers to secure ’em together.”
“How long should the logs be?”
“Four meters or so. We’ll trim the ends a bit to make a prow when we’re done, so maybe go for five meters.”
“You sure this thing will fit all of us and our gear?”
“This’ll be a cargo carrier. A few of us on board at any time, the rest’ll swim or walk and be ready to help pull her in if something goes wrong. It’ll carry all the stuff we’ve got left in one, maybe two trips at most.”
He paired with Laura, Tav with Xander. Between the four of them, it only took a few hours to locate and drag ten good-sized logs to the water’s edge. Xander collapsed onto a cleaner section of shore. “Whoosh! Time for a break.”
“Sure is. Everyone take ten. Maybe twenty. Eat something, get some water in you. This stuff takes it out of you quick.”
“Sergeant? Sergeant Campbell, do you hear me?”
“Francisco? Sure, I hear you, son.”
A whoop of triumph almost pierced his eardrums from one side to the other. “Â¡Funciona! It works!”
“Ow! Down about ten notches, son. Wait, you mean you’re calling from Emerald Maui?”
“Si! Yes! We are inside with the lock shut tight!”
He felt a broad grin on his face. “Well, that’s just great! You kids did fantastic! Xander, can you confirm a connection straight through to Emerald Maui?”
“Got it! Signal quality’s so-so, but well within our ability to work with. If we can get any kind of decent eyes to work with there, and get that engine working, we can bring her home now!”
“That took longer than I thought it was going to,” Laura said. “Did you have any problems?”
“Oh, you did not hear me talking to him on the private channel?” Tavana asked. “The solder, it would not stick at first, kept coming off. I did not know that Francisco knew words like those. Finally we figured out how to clean and prep the surface right, though, and the solder flowed on fine.”
“So long as it worked, that’s what matters. Now you kids can sleep safe inside and still reach us if you have to. Makes us all feel better. And we can run parts of things from here direct. Good work, you two.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sergeant,” Hitomi said with a giggle.
“I’ll ‘Mister Sergeant’ you, young lady.” He laughed with her. “Well, take it easy for a bit. Next big thing won’t be ’till tomorrow. Meanwhile, we’ve still got work to do here.”
“Be kind of ironic if we end up getting Emerald Maui back like right after we finish this raft,” Xander said.
“Yeah, but I prefer that kind of irony to the kind where we end up without raft or shuttle.”
“True enough. Now what, Sergeant?
He looked around the shoreline. “Well, first what we do is see if we can drive some shorter poles into the seabed here, just to keep the logs in a sort of corral. Make it easier than trying to herd ’em all the time. Then we get all the big logs lined up, tie ’em together so they keep pretty much in position.”
Laura nodded. “After that?”
“That’s where the smaller ones come in. Lay those crosswise, top an’ bottom, and tie ’em together, rope between each gap, so they clamp the logs in between ’em. Then we tie the front and back tight, wind a little rope around each gap, too. Then we’ll put on our deck, mast and sail, and steering, and we’ll be set. Figure we can finish the first part today, then come back in the morning with the deck plating and get her ready to go. First trip, maybe as early as tomorrow evening, but we won’t move out with cargo until day after.”
“Then tonight we pick out the spot to move to,” Laura said. “Akira, hon?”
“You and Caroline are probably the best to pick out our next home — I want you looking over all the satellite imagery of the coast and let us know where we’ll be going.”
“We will certainly do that,” Akira answered. “I’ve already noted some promising spots nearby; as long as we’ve cleared the area of the impact flood by more than a kilometer or so we should be fine, but I’m recommending we move to a distance past the mountain ridge. It won’t be a long distance by water, although obviously those walking or wading will have a harder time of it.”
“That’s quite a few kilometers of harder time, Akira,” Campbell said after a moment. “What are you not telling us?”
A pause. “Let us say that I am not sanguine about the chances that this portion of our continent will be entirely intact. While there was no immediate obvious damage on the level of the impact damage we saw on your prior island, the inundation severely impacted a vast majority of the trees and, I believe, columns on this portion of the island. All the debris may also be choking off the living coral-like organisms that underlie much of the land we walk on.
“And while it was only at the very tip of this continent, we had sustained another impact in the not too distant past; that’s where our circular harbor came from. So there may be lingering effects from that damage that would be exacerbated by the tsunami.”
“You’re saying that in your view it’s possible that a large part of our continent might become terra non grata to the rest.”
“It is possible. And we know what happens to those parts of our floating landmasses.”
“That’s. . . just peachy. When’d you come up with this theory? ‘Cause I think we should’ve started moving earlier, if that was the case.”
“Not much earlier than now; the more immediate survival issues rather outweighed it. I started thinking on this in detail at the point you started talking about us having to move, in fact.”
“All right. In that case, just makes it even more imperative we complete the move. So we’ll press on and you’ll finish choosing our new home. Looking forward to seeing what you pick out. You know everything to look for.”
“Sound columns, nearby water supply, signs of game, possibly higher ridges to serve as wave breaks just in case there is another occurrence, flat areas for farming, and so on, yes.”
“Carry on then, Doctor.” He rose up and futilely slapped away some of the omnipresent mud. “Well, then, let’s get back to it; we have a raft to finish!”