What Distant Deeps — Snippet 41

Half of the surface below glittered in the sunlight — standing water in which reeds grew, not grass on dry land. In the flat angle of the bow camera, Diamond Cay would have looked much more dangerously solid.

Adele smiled a little more broadly than she usually did. She would still rather be viewing this as an image; ideally from a considerable distance away.

“Adele!” said Daniel. His back was toward her, but she had no difficulty understanding him. “When I tell you to, jump!”

“But — ” Adele said. Her instinct was to stay with the hard-shelled vehicle, but that meant she would be slammed into that hard shell when it hit the ground. Whereas the surface —


As Daniel shouted, he lifted himself on his hands, threw his legs forward over the side of the aircar, and flung himself clear. Adele could appreciate the grace of the movement, but it would have been a joke to imagine she could duplicate it. She tried to roll herself out, hoping to belly flop in the water.

The right side of the car began lifting again as soon as Daniel’s weight no longer forced it down. The toe of Adele’s left boot caught the edge and threw her into a flailing somersault.

Her right hand clamped over the data unit, though the press/seal pocket flap should hold it; she thrust her left arm out with the fingers spread. It made as much sense as anything else she could do. This wasn’t the sort of thing librarians trained for.

Adele was upside down when the aircar slapped the wet ground like a huge fish sounding after a leap. Water, reeds, and viscous mud billowed up around it.

Things flew out. One of them was Tovera.

Adele hit in a sitting position with her legs splayed. The shock knocked all the breath out of her; her vision blurred. She bounced forward, limp as a rag doll.

She hit again. The turgid wave from the aircar’s first impact picked her up and threw her a third time. She saw a bright light and didn’t move for a time.

“Adele?” someone called from a distance. “Adele, can you hear me?”

Her vision cleared. She was lying on her back in water. Why am I floating?

She opened her mouth to answer. Her tongue moved, but there was barely enough air in her lungs to wheeze. She flailed her arms and found mud just below the surface. Closing her eyes for an instant to focus, Adele lifted herself into a sitting position and opened them again.

Daniel stood fifty feet away in knee-deep vegetation. His utilities dripped brown-black mud, but he must have found a pond of cleaner water to wash his arms to the elbows.

“Adele!” he repeated and began stumbling forward. He seemed to gain strength and equilibrium with each step.

Either a sitting posture or the effort of rising into it allowed Adele to breathe again. Her lungs felt fiery, but there was nothing sharp that might have meant broken ribs.

She could feel her personal data unit through the fabric, but she didn’t take it out yet. The case was sealed against the environment, but that didn’t mean Adele was going to bathe it in clinging mud to no purpose. There would be time enough to check it after she’d cleaned herself off to a degree.

Adele took a deep breath. She stuck her hands into the muck and tilted her body forward, then hunched to her feet. She had been fairly certain that her legs weren’t strong enough yet to manage it alone.

Even so it was a near thing not to pitch onto her face again. Still, she was standing upright and fairly steady when Daniel — who had broken into a shambling trot — was able to put a hand on her shoulder.

“That was too close,” he said. He smiled, but for an instant the expression reminded her of a skull. “Let’s find the others. I don’t see — no, there’s Tovera.”

Adele turned. The aircar was more than a hundred yards away, its crumpled bow sticking straight up. From the disturbed terrain between Adele and the vehicle, it had skipped twice more before it stopped. Mud-rimmed craters of brown water quivered in the green of marsh grass.

Tovera limped around the side of the wreck. Her arms were before her, each hand grasping the opposite wrist as though she were cradling something. Her face had no expression, but the skin was drawn over her cheekbones.

A seadragon called. The beasts always sounded angry. Of course it was likely enough that they were angry at the invasion of their territory.

Adele tapped her tunic pocket. The pistol was still where it belonged. She bent carefully — and even then paused to gasp with pain — and splashed her hands in the shallow water. She was likely to need the pistol before she needed the data unit.

“Tovera?” Daniel said. He tried to put the usual cheery lilt into his voice, but he wasn’t completely successful. “Have you seen Hogg?”

“I’m here, Master Daniel,” Hogg called as he too came out from behind the vehicle. His clothing was mud-splashed, but unlike the rest of them he hadn’t been completely doused in muck. “Just seeing what I could salvage, which is bloody zip, it is. Every bloody thing went flying but me, and that was a near one too.”

Adele looked at Hogg as he massaged a lump on his forehead. The blow hadn’t broken the skin, but he would have a bruise there shortly.

“How did you manage to stay in the car?” she asked.

Adele’s memories of the crash were like pictures painted on glass and then smashed. One vivid fragment was of seeing the aircar shortly before the second impact: upside down as it flipped endwise.

Hogg shrugged. “Don’t rightly know, mistress,” he said, and from the frown as he concentrated that was probably true. “Hung on like I’d hooked a pot of gold, I remember that. Braced a foot whichever direction it looked like we were going to hit the next time — which meant the frame of the windscreen the oncE, and it held but I sure wouldn’t have bet on that.”

“Glad to have you back with us, Hogg,” Daniel said, clasping hands with his servant. “Or I suppose I should put it the other way around, since it was me that left.”

Hogg’s grimace was probably meant for a smile. He said, “If she’d landed flat on her back, I’d a’ been screwed and no mistake. But the way she was hopping around, I don’t guess there was much risk of landing flat any which way?”

“No chance at all!” lied Daniel heartily. “Well, I guess we’re none the worse for wear. The next thing to do is to decide how to get off this island.”

“I’ve sprained my wrists,” Tovera said simply. Everyone looked at her. “Or broken them, I suppose. I wasn’t able to hold on.”

She turned to Hogg and made a tiny bow.

“I’ll splint them with a few stems and my shirttails,” said Hogg gruffly. “I checked the panel in the cab where the first-aide kit was supposed to be, but I guess it’s been empty since the gods know when.”

He trotted toward the starbursts of feathery leaves growing nearer the crystal ruins. As he moved, he snicked open the blade of his knife.

Adele eyed the structure musingly. If the car had been flying toward rather than beside it when the motors failed, they would surely have been killed. Except perhaps Hogg, who had really remarkable reflexes in a crash. Though how could even he survive driving into a large mass of rock?

“I’ve got a satellite communicator in my attaché case,” Tovera said. She must be in a great deal of pain — the redness and swelling in her thin wrists was startlingly obvious — but her voice was grimly whimsical as usual. “Which unlike the impellers will float. But where it may be floating is another matter.”

They surveyed the undulating green landscape. It was a mile or more to open sea in the direction the aircar had been travelling when it hit the ground, but a rectangular case could have bounced in almost any direction. It depended on which corner touched down as the case spun.

“Oh, it won’t be hard to find!” said Daniel; this time the enthusiasm sounded real. “We’ve got a fine vantage point on the tower of the castle there, fifty feet at least, wouldn’t you say? We’ll find the case and call the Sissie to come pick us up. And then –”

His voice changed.

“– we’ll deal with the person who sabotaged the car. Commander Gibbs, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Yes,” said Adele, suddenly brighter herself. “And learn why he did it, which is more important. Though perhaps not as satisfying.”

She looked at the castle. The head of a seadragon lifted from the top of the tower and stretched toward Hogg. The creature shrieked like a stone-saw. It was by far the largest they had seen on the island, easily the thirty feet long which Adele’s records gave as the maximum length.

Nearby was a puddle which was at least translucent if not clear. Adele stepped to it and rinsed her hands again.

Then she took the pistol from her tunic pocket.