Darkship Revenge – Snippet 21

In their heyday they had housed thousands of people who worked shift on and shift off on turning the aquatic plants into semblances of other plants and animals, generally speaking more appetizing to humans.  I’d had algie-steak once.  For a steak it had tasted an awful lot like a marine plant, and that was about the best I could say for it.  However, at one time, after the “improvements” the Good Men had made to agriculture, which had rendered vast portions of the continents uninhabitable, algae had been the food of the world.

And they’d come almost exclusively from these platforms.

This one, as we neared looked… almost mystical.  Years ago, when Father had to make a visit near them, I’d seen the ruins of Petra.  They’re in the Middle Eastern protectorate, and they’re these great big, reddish-stone buildings and cliffs, some of the cliffs carved into entrances to… I suppose cave dwellings, though that’s not what they looked like.

Seen in pictures they look like just red rocks and red buildings, but looking at them in person one gets the feeling they’re the forgotten remains of something greater than us.

Oddly the abandoned station looked the same.  It was reddish, possibly because it had been made with more metal than most, or maybe because someone had poured dimatough in an interesting color.  Its molded forms rose and fell, like cliffs on an island, but all the surfaces looked rounded as if the wind and the sea had been working at it for millennia.  And it was vast.  I mean vast.  Not as vast as a seacity, but I suspected that was because, like many other such installations, most of its space was under water.

I looked at the buildings that must, at one time, have housed thousands of workers.  We were now close enough to see seagulls fly around and to hear their calls.

“How are we going to find Kit or Julien in this?” I asked.  I was making an effort.  As hard as it was, I meant to remember to call my old friend by his new name.  I suspected, among other things, that it was a matter of safety. His surely, and possibly mine.  It had been my experience, growing up as the daughter of a Good Man, perforce close to secrets of state, that letting others know what you knew was rarely safe.

Luce made a sound.  It wasn’t a word, or a sigh, but a sort of click of the tongue behind the teeth.  It had a tone of annoyance as well as of worry.  “They were supposed to answer,” he said. “I’ve tried everything including Si — Julien’s private com ring.”

My gut tightened.  “Uh,” I said.  “Is it possible — I mean, if Kit took a hostage, and someone had captured him before, is it possible that his captors followed him?  I mean, is it?”

Lucius waved his hand.  “That or that someone else saw Julien leave and followed him, or ambushed him or otherwise captured him.”  He made the clicking sound again. “This is not a good place, or a good thing.  Julien is too… He’s always been too careless.  And he has enemies.  Some of them I even sympathize with.”

“Yes,” I said.  “But his Machiavellic plans have a tendency to turn out all right,” I said.

“Only if you assume that what they result in is what he wants.  I mean, the man is so sharp he cuts himself, and he often doesn’t know how his own plans are supposed to go.”

I didn’t say anything.  It was often very hard to know what Simon had planned, and whether he’d just rolled with the punches and adapted and made the best of a bad thing.  In a way he was rather like a cat, by which I don’t mean the pilots from Eden, but the real cats from earth.  He could fall and roll and end up on his feet, appearing dignified and giving a good impression of “I meant to do that.” Even when I knew things had gone completely out of control.

“The problem is,” Lucius said.  “I’m not sure what to do now.  They arrived by submarine so I’m not sure that we can spot it from the air.  And I really don’t know where to look.  If they’re in trouble in there, it could take us days of searching before we find them and help them.  It seems we ought to return to Olympus and resign ourselves to wait for a call, if they come out of this all right.”

“No,” I said.  “The birds.”

This piece of eloquence merited me a look from Lucius over his shoulder, a look that said as clearly as words, What? Only perhaps with more emphasis and implied swearing than any words he could use.

I shook my head and disciplined myself to explain.  Sometimes when I have a flash of insight it is really difficult to moderate my impatience and take people through it word by word, till they get it.  The fact that I could communicate with Kit with near-instantaneous thought-images which carried their own emotions had done nothing to make me better at explaining things in logical steps.  “No.  Is it possible to arrange this hologram thing so we see better, without needing to go nearer?”

“You mean for size?” he asked.  “Sure.”  He did something on a touch screen and not only did the images size increase but the tank they were in increased too, which was startling, as I’d been assuming it was some sort of glass.  I had to get me one of these.

“How does this help?” Lucius asked.  “I mean we can overfly the island, but I don’t think we can see them.  Not if they’re in one of the buildings.  Or even in the part of the buildings that’s underwater. We’d have to get very lucky.”

“The seagulls,” I said, and before he could turn around and look at me again as though I’d sprouted a second head, I said, “You see, there is a certain number of them in the air at any time, but you can see there are a lot of them also on the buildings, on land, everywhere on the station.  My guess is that in the absence of visitors or inhabitants, they’ve colonized the entire station and are used to having it to themselves.”

“Probably, but it’s not like we can interrogate seagulls.”

Is it my lack of ability at explaining, or are people, even smart people, unusually dull when I try to communicate my ideas?  Or do they do it to upset me?  So many suicidal people, so little time.

“No,” I said, and only added stupid mentally. Mostly because I wasn’t seventeen anymore.  Also because though I don’t think he would, the man could break me in two with one arm behind his back. “You know birds, right?” I remembered he was rumored to have spent fourteen years in solitary confinement and realized he might very well not know birds, so I hurried on, as fast as I could, before he could say anything, “You see, they startle easily.  If they’re used to the station without people and suddenly there are a bunch of men tromping around, possibly fighting, they’re going to fly up, alarmed.”

Lucius tilted his head sideways, looking at the tank and at the white and black dots of the seagulls on the screen, “I suppose –” he said.

He never told me what he supposed because at that moment, at about ten o’clock on the station’s circular plant, a flock of seagulls flew up suddenly, in great numbers, screaming.

“As good as we’re going to get,” he said.

And I stumbled to my seat with some difficulty, almost falling to my knees, as he made the flyer dive down towards the spot from which the seagulls had flown up.