Sunday, September 11, 2011
The water wasn’t brown any more. Johnny thought that was weird, and then he thought how weird it was to think that all water that wasn’t brown was weird. He’d been here too long. At least he thought he had ... of course, really, he had no clue how long he’d been here at all. He should ask Larissa.
Larissa was looking out over the water as well. The straggly mist kept you from making out too many details far away, but you could see the water directly below the boat well enough, and it was blue. A deep, clear blue, cool and inviting. Johnny felt like he could see straight to the bottom, although he couldn’t actually make out any bottom. Which only made him feel like the water must be very, very deep. There was no sign of fish or any other aquatic life; all the floating plants were long gone and the “shore” they had crossed to get here was lost in the mist. Larissa’s eyes seemed fixed on a rocky crag half hidden by the haze, ahead and to their left. From the look in her eye, Johnny guessed she wasn’t really ready to talk about the passage of time (or lack thereof) in this strange place he had brought her. It was a calculating, cataloguing look that seemed to be enumerating impossibilities and filing them away for later consideration.
Roger was back at the wheel. She was guiding the ship slowly, partially because of the mist, Johnny supposed, but probably also because of the waves. There had been no waves in the swamp, of course. And Johnny wondered if an airboat, regardless of its impressive size and unusual qualities, was really the best craft for this particular journey. He supposed it would have been impossible to get to this point in a ship with a large draft, but, if those waves got much bigger ...
Aidan was sitting in the bow of the ship, staff across his knees, head bowed. He seemed exhausted by what he’d done to get them here. Johnny squatted down beside him. “That was very impressive,” Johnny said.
Aidan raised his head a bit and smiled a weak smile at Johnny. “Thank you,” he replied. “But I’m just a vessel. Shallédanu lei shonta.”
Johnny nodded. “So ... where are we now?”
Roger’s voice came out of nowhere, startling him. “Breen Lagoon. The place between places.”
Johnny looked up; Roger had come up behind him and stood over him, looking out over the misty water. He noticed that the ship was now drifting on the waves, since no one was manning the wheel. “The place between places?” he asked.
“A place between places,” Aidan corrected.
“Well, it’s the only one me da’ ever told me about,” Roger said.
Aidan tried on his weak grin again. “Your da’ was a well-traveled man, Captain, but there are a few places left that he’s never seen.”
Roger snorted. “If ye say so. Well, whether it’s the only one there is or not, it’s the only one we could get to, I’m pretty sure o’ that.” She waited for Aidan to correct her, and seemed satisfied when he made no attempt to do so. “So here we are. About to ram right into that there hunk o’ rock, unless our Guide here can get these waves under control.” She looked at Aidan with some challenge in her eyes, but she offered her gloved hand to help him up.
Aidan accepted her offer and let her pull him forcibly to his feet. He put out his staff to lean against; he still looked unsteady and weak. Johnny rose as well; Larissa had sidled down the railing to join them at the front of the boat, where they could all see that The Slyph was indeed drifting straight for the jagged spur of rock that thrust above the still fairly gentle waves. The rock was too small to be considered an island; it was probably no bigger around than a small house, although it towered perhaps fifty feet above the surface of the water. Now that they could see it more clearly, they could tell that nothing grew on it, although it had a collection of seabirds perched in its various clefts. Most prominent were huge, shaggy brown pelicans, which looked more like caricatures of pelicans than actual birds. They were each as heavy as a person, easily, and their throat sacs hung as low as the bottoms of their broad chests. There were black and white birds that Johnny thought looked like gigantic seagulls, but Larissa murmured “no, more like an albatross.” And, in the very highest reaches, some of the soft gray birds with the feathered batwings, which were so far the only evidence Johnny had seen that there was any living species shared between swamp and lagoon.
Aidan took all this in, then looked right and left to see if there were any other upcoming crises he needed to be aware of. Nothing but mist as far as the eye could see. Turning back to the rock, he raised his staff once again, and began chanting in his strange liquid language. His voice cracked a bit; suddenly Bones was there, uncharacteristically quiet, and upended a pitcher of water over Aidan’s head. Instead of spluttering angrily, though, Aidan seemed to gain strength from being drenched, and his voice grew a bit stronger. Suddenly the ship seemed to settle down into the water somehow, as if it had suddenly gained weight, or grown a significant portion of hull below the waterline. It slowed its pace, and the waves now seemed to be breaking against the sides of the craft instead of carrying it along. Roger turned around and hauled ass back to the stern, where Johnny heard the great fan start up. Instead of moving the ship forward, she turned it, hard, and it spun slowly, until it was broadside to the rocky outcropping. Gently it bumped up against the rough stone, which Johnny could now see was pitted and twisted so much it looked like coral. Several of the birds fluttered in an ungainly fashion as the ship touched their perch, and two or three of the closer pelicans positively glared at them.
Roger reappeared, her hands on her hips and her pervasive smile returned. “Just had to make sure we didn’t snap the sylph off The Sylph,” she said. Johnny understood: if she hadn’t turned the ship, the figurehead might have gone into a hole or crevisse in the rocks and gotten severely damaged.
Bones was handing another pitcher to Aidan, who took a long draught before returning it. “Thankee, Bones, you were very helpful there,” Aidan said. Bones bobbed his head and clicked his beak, then scampered away.
Roger stepped up to the Water Guide. “Good job, Aidan,” she said in a low voice. “I thought ye weren’t up to the task for a mite.”
He didn’t return her smile. “This isn’t an ordinary job,” he said.
She let her face grow serious for a moment. “I know that, matey. I appreciate ye takin’ it on. ‘Specially not knowin’ where we’ll be fetchin’ up.”
“Oh, I think we both know where we’ll end up.” Aidan looked directly into her eyes.
Roger’s smile broke back out. “Well, we’ll just see about that, won’t we?” Weirdly, she clapped Aidan on the butt. Aidan just shook his head at this and said nothing.
“Let me skin this tub around this here rockpile and we’ll see if we can see a bit better,” Roger said as she headed back to the wheelhouse. Ever so slowly the ship pulled away from its position, scraping its side against the rough promontory. After she got it disengaged, Roger gunned the throttle and swung the ship around the outcrop. The birds watched them impassively, their heads turning in a weird synchrony. The ship paralleled the rocks for a few moments, then suddenly swung out of the mist.
It was like they had gone from swamp to sea. The air was hot, but not the sticky, oppressive heat they had left behind. This was equatorial, open-ocean heat, with a sea breeze carrying the tang of salt. The blue, blue water stretched all around them, as far as anyone could see. There was still no sun, but the quality of the light had changed from fading daylight to just a few hours off high noon. Still, pockets of mist were everywhere, and off in the middle distance was a small patch of sand with a single palm tree—a cartoon version of a desert island. Johnny breathed in the sea air and stared around in wonder. Larissa looked with her wide eyes but said nothing.