The Spark – Snippet 24

I looked at the list again. Nothing stood out, but I didn’t have to depend on my own eyes any more.

“Boat,” I said, “rank your missing elements in order of limiting factors.”

The list in front of me shook itself into a different arrangement. It was like water spilling out of a basin the way it changed. The top of the list now was sodium.

“I didn’t know boats could talk,” I muttered. It was a dumb thing to say and it wasn’t a question, so the boat didn’t respond.

“Baga told me that he’d been adding sand to the supply hoppers,” I said, “and that was how he got you working again. There’s no sodium in sand, so what was happening?”

Baga was ignorant, but he wasn’t dumb. Though he hadn’t understood anything about the boat’s insides, he did know what had worked.

I have been based on Holheim for the three thousand years,” the boat said. “The sand I was given there comes from the sea shore and is contaminated by salt. The most recent sand was brought aboard me on Marielles and had been mined from an ancient desert. It contained very little sodium.”

“We’ve got salt here,” I said. I guess I was talking to the boat.

There was a lot yet to do, but first things first. I came up from my trance. I needed to talk about things with Guntram–and maybe with Lady Frances too.

Baga was sitting on the cockpit chair, looking back at me. That was kind of a surprise, but I guess he was just as glad to be free of Frances’ presence.

I sat up and waited a moment for my head to clear. As I climbed out of the compartment I said, “We can get you going, I promise. I want to talk with my friend about how we do it, though.”

When I came out of the hatch at least half the crowd had drifted away, so I wondered just how long I’d been in the boat’s structure. It hadn’t seemed that long, but I guess it must’ve been. Gervaise was one of the people still hanging around, though, so I said, “Where’d Guntram go off to, Gervaise?”

“Up to your shed,” he replied. “He took the lady there, Pal. He said they wouldn’t be disturbed.”

A few fellows wanted to chat with me–one of them I didn’t even know by name; he lived in the far north–but I brushed past them with a smile and muttering, “I’ve got business, I’m afraid.”

It made me think about being famous. I’d wanted that, I guess. Anyway, I’d known that being a Champion would make me famous and I really wanted to be a Champion.

Now I was famous–in Beune, but that was where I live–for having been asked aboard a boat that’d landed here. That was just an empty thing, but the guys who were trying to cozy up to me didn’t think that. It struck me that maybe being a Champion wouldn’t have been such a great deal either.

I grinned at myself. I guess I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about that any more.

Buck picked me up from the house and rubbed close to my leg as I trotted on to the shed. All the fuss bothered him. I reached down and rubbed behind his ears. It made me feel better to know that it wasn’t just me.

Guntram and Frances were sitting on heavy baskets that I used for storing the bits I’d found. There was a trestle table set up between them with a couple wooden mugs on it. They looked up as Buck and me came in.

“Guntram, I found the menu,” I said. “The boat needed sodium, not silicon, and the sand it took aboard on Marielles didn’t have sea salt in it.”

I turned to Frances and said, “Ma’am? It wasn’t sabotage on Marielles, it was just a different kind of sand. Nobody’s fault, just the way things go.”

She stood up. The dim light of the shed made her look prettier, but I think her hopeful expression did even more for them. When I came to think about it, I could see that she must’ve been scared to death about breaking down in the sticks–which Beune is, no question about that. That doesn’t help anybody’s looks, or their temper.

“This is something you can fix?” Frances said. She wore a necklace of beads that shaded from white to violet; she reached up and caught the strand with both hands now. “You have the right kind of sand here?”

“Well, we’ve got salt,” I said. “We can take care of that, sure. But ma’am? There’s a lot else wrong with the boat that I’d like to fix before you leave.”

“What?” said Frances, flying hot again. “Do you think I want to stay around here any longer than I have to? Of course not! If there are problems, they can be fixed on Dun Add! I have business there.”

Guntram drew in his lips. He said, “Lady Frances, you might consider the risk of journeying in a vessel which needs repairs.”

“They all need repairs!” Frances said. Her head snapped back to glare straight at me. “You, Pal! Will the salt fix the boat well enough to reach Dun Add?”

“Yes, I think so,” I said. I was twisting up inside with what was about to happen.

“Well, do that and I’ll leave,” she said. “And get on with it! Do you want money after all? Just tell me how much.”

“No, ma’am,” I said. I was standing straight and my eyes weren’t focused on her. “I won’t do that. I talked to the boat and I want to help it.”

“Why in the name of God do you think I’d care about a boat?” Frances shouted, taking a step toward me.

“Ma’am, I don’t guess you would,” I said. “But I do. I told you I wouldn’t take pay for getting you back on your way and I won’t. But I want to do what’s right for the boat. If you want to think of that as paying me, then fine, I’ll take that for my pay.”

I didn’t speak loud, but I guess Frances heard me. Instead shouting again, she stepped back and took a deep breath. She said, “Master Guntram? Can you fix the boat?”

“Pal,” said Guntram. “How long do you think we’d need for repairs?”

I shrugged. “About a day to get things organized,” I said. “That’s with both of us working, sir, learning what we need. After that, anything from three days to a week to make the repairs. Some of the materials may be hard to find, so maybe longer for them. Or we’ll have to leave some things undone.”

Guntram nodded. He looked up at the woman and said, “Lady Frances, I agree with my host. We’ll get your boat working as quickly–”

“It’s not my boat, I’ve hired it!” Frances said. “And been cheated, I can see!”

“We’ll get the boat working as quickly as possible,” Guntram continued mildly. He was still seated on the basket. “For the moment, why don’t you explain your situation to Pal as you’ve been doing to me. I think that will be useful in the longer term.”

Frances opened her mouth, then closed it again. She sat down and closed her eyes for a moment.

“I don’t see what possible difference it can make,” she muttered; but then she began to talk.