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4: Icarus

Normally Paige Bailey kept a careful watch on vimanas' orbits and steered her boat, the Rosetta, out of the path of any oncoming floating islands. But a force eight storm had sent them scuttling into the relative safety of Fenrir's Archipelagoes. The shoals and barrier islands acted as breakwater for the towering waves. In the seething grayness, where sometimes the sky was the next wave crashing down on them, they'd dropped anchor, huddled down, drank burn, and played poker.

Then the storm lumbered on, like a great gray beast. In its wake, the clouds tattered and then parted, revealing the vimana bearing down on them. She and her crew gathered at the railing to gape at it in surprised dismay. The vimana was still far enough off that it looked like a black pebble hung in the sky.

Their voyage had already been ill-omened. This went beyond bad luck.

"Okay," Paige finally broke the silence. "I don't know who racked up all the negative karma but I think two minutes of asking for atonement might be time well spent."

Her brother Orin laughed but backed her up like the good second in command that he was. He clapped his hands and then bent his head in prayer. The rest followed suit, although in truth her crew was more superstitious than devout. Even the teenage lovers paused in their glassy-eyed devotion of each other—although just for a minute—to be penitent.

Paige checked her own personal backlog. Nope. Nothing that rated their heinously bad luck; unless one counted wanting to drown all her crew members on various occasions. She apologized to the forces of balance anyhow. On the sea, you needed all the advantages you could get. If this was some kind of punishment, it wasn't against members of her family that were on her crew. Not that they were saints, but they had lacked opportunity to put them in such karmic debt. It was the members of the crew that weren't family that worried her. And her estranged older brother, Ethan. They'd been on their way to meet him when Fenrir's Rock went silent. Not that she could blame him for taxes, red tape, bad weather, engine troubles, electrical failure, the mass destruction of a human port, and the oncoming vimana—but it was tempting.

The two minutes silent atonement ended and she firmly put superstition behind her.

"Okay, everyone, let's get to work. Orin, try and find out which vimana that is."

"You think it's charted?" Orin stayed at the railing, staring.

"Probably. It crosses most of the shipping lines for Fenrir's Rock."

Orin nodded and headed back to the bridge. Paige set the others to work repairing all the minor damage that the storm inflicted on them. Their situation could be even worse than it looked, but she wanted to pick the best course of action before breaking the news. The problem with having siblings was they tended to debate any orders that weren't cut and dried. Once she had her crew well distracted, she joined Orin on the Rosetta's dim bridge.

Orin had out all their indexes, trying to match their location with charted floating vimanas. His sun goggles were pushed up high on his head, making his sun-bleached hair stick up like sand grass.

"Almost have it," Orin said as she pushed up her own goggles to read the radar's screen.

While still a black speck visually, the vimana appeared on radar as a massive wall. From what she could tell, they were directly in the middle of the vimana's path. Fenrir's Archipelagoes had shielded them from the worst of the storm. It would offer no protection, however, when the oncoming vimana was overhead. Worse, the islets, shoals and barrier reefs created a maze that the Rosetta would have to slowly pick its way through. Their safe harbor was now a trap.

In the direction of the Sargasso's spin lay Fenrir's Rock. At one time that would have been the safest place to ride out an eclipse. Before the radio gave out, though, passing boats warned that Fenrir's harbor was fouled beyond use. Fenrir was also over two hundred miles away.

Counterspin, it was only twenty miles to open ocean, and then they could head up or down the axis at full speed. They'd be fighting wind and current, more so once they hit deep water, and until they could turn to run on the axis, they only worsened their position.

She needed the speed and true size of the vimana before she could decide which direction to head.

"Orin, have you figured out which vimana it is?"

"It's—Icarus—I think." He pushed his work toward her to confirm. "This is where we are." He tapped the glass covering their chart, their position marked in grease pencil. "There are twenty vimanas on this orbit band. Only one crosses zero around this time: Icarus."

She turned the book so she could read the detailed listing. Like most vimanas, Icarus was roughly boat shaped with the tapered bow cutting the wind. It was the stern of the landmass that they needed to worry about. Icarus was sixty miles wide and a hundred miles long—one giant-size rain collector. The overflow poured down off the backend of the vimana in a mile high waterfall. If they were hit by it, nothing on the Rosetta would survive.

Like most low orbit vimanas, Icarus was traveling fast. It would be on top of them within hours. Neither Fenrir's Rock nor open water was a viable choice. The only thing they could do was make sure they weren't in path of the vimana's fall, which was the most dangerous part of the eclipse. They would still have to cope with drop nuts and other hazards, but those were survivable.

"Icarus has a center fall, so we need to get off to one side." Paige pointed at their location among the uncharted reefs. "We're going to head up the axis—towards Ya-ya."

"Ya-ya?" Orin pulled down his sun-goggles to look Spinward. She knew he was looking toward Fenrir's Rock, but as always, the archipelago blocked any chance of seeing distant port. "We're not going on to Fenrir?"

He'd said it without censure in his voice, but she knew it was there. Their older brother wasn't the only family member at Fenrir when it went silent. The Lilianna radioed saying that they'd made harbor just hours before the explosion. They'd heard nothing since. On the Lilianna there been fifteen Baileys: uncles, aunts, and cousins.

She wanted to know what happened to them. But she had the lives of her nine crewmembers to consider, six of which were family.

"They're saying that survivors are heading to Ya-ya," Paige said. "We'll go there, do repairs, and find out if there's any news on them. We're not going to be any help to anyone if we get ourselves killed."

Paige pulled her goggles down and studied the blinding dazzle of sunlight off water. The ocean was still choppy from the passing storm, but the sky was turning so blue that you would see distant landmasses. In the time they'd talked, Icarus had grown twice in size. She could make out the frosting of green from the thick forests growing on its crown.

"You can see it, if you look." Orin pointed at something in the water.

"See what?" Paige tore her gaze from Icarus to study their impromptu harbor, a lucky deep pool tucked among the countless barrier reefs.

"Where the fall has hit before." Orin said. "It's shifted over time. But look—it's cut groves through coral."

She saw it then, straight wide lines moving from counterspin to spin, where Icarus' fall had drilled through rock and living coral sometime in the past. Their 'harbor' was nothing more than one such cut. "We've got to get out of here."

When she tried to start up the engines, though, nothing happened.

* * *

The storm had taken out much of their electrical systems, including their radio and ship's intercom, so as Paige ran from the bridge to the engine room, she broke the news. Her little sister, Hillary, and their cousin Avery were the first people she came across, setting up to arc weld a piece of rail that snapped.

"We're going to need to ride out the eclipse in open water." Paige hopscotched through the collection of hoses, toolboxes and welding equipment that the two had scattered haphazardly in Paige's path.

"Oh joy," was all Avery said. He flipped down his visor and focused at the task at hand.

Hillary, on the other hand, gave Paige a sullen look that only a sixteen year old could produce. "Does this mean we're not going to Fenrir's Rock? You said that after the storm we were going to Fenrir's Rock."

Sometime in the last month—shortly after Charlene met Mitch while on shore leave at Ya-Ya—Hillary left the "boys are weird" stage, bypassed "boys might be fun" and dropped immediately into "I want one for myself." All disasters were unimportant when compared to her nonexistent love life. Whatever they might find at Fenrir's Rock, Hillary was sure that they would also find boys.

"It means that we're in a state of emergency," Paige said. "When that emergency is over, we'll resume life as scheduled."

"That's what you said about the storm," Hillary said.

Paige controlled the urge to back up and smack the girl in the back of the head—she didn't have time for this self-centered pettiness. "I am not god! I can't create storms and flying masses of rock to prevent you having a social life."

"You can't keep me a prisoner on this boat."

What made sweet little kids into drama queens when puberty hit? "That I can do! Go tell the others about the eclipse and then come back and help Avery store all this."

Out in the Counterspin direction, the vimana had grown from a dark speck to massive black wall. It was disorienting just to look at, as her brain translated its relative size and movement into the sense that they were rushing toward it. In truth, it was bearing down on them.

"First time out in the open for an eclipse?" Kenya Jones called down to Paige from her shaded sniper's platform. The black woman blended into the shadows so well that she was just a voice out of the darkness. "I would have thought someone like you, born and bred here, would have been through this dozens of times."

It was hard to Captain for the ex-space marine. The woman was taller, older, and in terms of book-learning, better educated. That Jones came from the universe beyond the Sargasso gave Paige a slight edge on the Rosetta, but barely; those that didn't learn fast on open water generally died.

"It's something we generally avoid." Paige called back. "Have you done it before?"

"Well, us newcomers do all the stupid things. It only took once to realize it's not a good idea, but it took us a while to figure out how to avoid it."

Paige had hired Jones last time they were in their home port of Georgetown Landing. While not exactly unfriendly, the woman tended to be close-mouthed about herself. Paige knew little more than she was from the Dakota. The quip matched up to what Paige did know about the Dakota's crew. Their spaceship was one of the unfortunate ones that sunk after arriving at the Sargasso, and the crew had been through a harrowing time, adrift on an open raft made of anything that would float. It was an experience that could form tight bonds between people. Or run screaming in the opposite directions, once they were safe. Obviously, it had been the latter for Kenya Jones.

"Any advice?" Paige asked.

"Pray." Kenya shrugged. "You'll see: it's all dumb luck and a hard shell that gets you through."

Paige had expected something more reassuring from Jones. "Aren't you supposed to say 'everything will be fine?'"

"I don't see any reason to lie to you. After the edge passes, don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. Some people let it drive them nutty. If does get to you, come see me."

"Thinking about what?"

Jones laughed. "I'll tell you later."

Paige cut through the galley to warn her younger cousin, Manny. He was up to his elbows in flour, kneading dough.

He grunted at the news, "Yell if you need me for something."

In the next room, she caught Charlene and Mitch messing around on one of the tables. "Hey! I told you: not on your duty hours! You can snog your brains out on your own time, but when you're on duty, you pull your own weight."

"Bitch." Charlene snapped.

"Yes! I'm a bitch, and that's why I'm in charge. Now get to work." Paige stopped at the door to add. "And no more screwing around where any of the rest of us have to eat!"

* * *

Piage's heart sank when she opened the hatch to the engine room and found all the various access panels open, the floor strewn with tools and grease-covered parts, and no sign of her Obnao mechanic.

"Rannatan!" Paige picked her way through the tools. "Ran!"

The little alien poked up from the guts of the engine, his brown fur spotted with black grease. He worked his black triangular nose and gave a long querying whistle. "Capt'n?"

"We need to move." Paige was never sure how much Standard that Rannatan understood, so she added. "Fisista!"

"No, no, no, no, no." Rannatan's whiskers bristled, showing his agitation. "We no move!"

"Vimana!" She pointed in the direction of Icarus and then glided her hand sideways, mimicking the landmass coming closer.

He showed his teeth in anger and dove back into the engine. Echoing up from the metal caverns came, "No miracles! No pockets! No converter!"

She frowned trying to understand what he was saying. "What?"

"No miracles in pockets. No pockets even."

"I told you I would get you new coveralls." If they made it to a port. "What about the converter?"

He made a raspberry noise. "Converter kaput." He lapsed into muttering in his language. Spoken slow and clearly, Paige could understand a good bit of Obnaoian but she only caught snatches of his rant. Apparently lightning had struck the ship during the storm, and while much of their ancient engine had been protected from such massive electrical discharges, somehow the converter had fried to a crisp.

"We don't have a spare?" Paige asked.

Ranantan's all black eyes widen and his tiny ears twitched in Obnaoian surprise. "Spare? You have spare?"

Obviously not. "I'll see what I can do."

* * *

"What's going on?" Orin asked worriedly as she banged the bridge door behind her.

"We don't have a motor. Break out the dories. We're going to have to use them to tow."

Orin cursed and went.

Paige glanced out the window to check on Icarus. Alarmingly, the sense of movement was now gone. The vimana filled up the sky to the far edges of her peripheral vision. It looked like a black cliff with roots buried deep in the water. She had to peer closely to see the slice of ocean dazzle under the floating vimana. Only its leading wake—air disturbance from the vimana's passage forming a white roll of water running out ahead of it—continued to report movement. The rill of whiteness swept across open water, and over sand bars and reefs, fifty miles out and closing rapidly.

Paige could barely breathe while she watched it come. Its shadow raced under the vimana, like a great sea beast. She didn't want the monstrous hunk of land to pass overhead, but they weren't going to get of out its path in time.

* * *

Orin had drafted Avery into piloting the second dory. He signaled when they were ready to start towing the Rosetta out of harm's way.

"Take up anchor!" She shouted to Charlene as she took her place at the wheel.

The vimana loomed as it approached them, nearly a mile above the surface of the water, its palisade a mile of sheer rock, and then the tangle of vegetation spilling over the lip, obscuring the vimana's true height. Running slightly before the vimana, pushed by the displaced air, was the vimana's wake.

"We have to turn and take the wake straight on!" She shouted to Orin as the anchors ran up with a loud rattle of chain.

He nodded his understanding and the two dories started to gently pull the Rosetta around to meet the wave straight on, instead of sideways, which could overturn the boat.

"Brace for the wake!" Paige shouted as the dories climbed the first wave. The leading wake hit them, and the Rosetta canted hard to stern and then to bow, riding the wave. They climbed the smaller waves behind the first, slowly turning.

In the last minutes of full light, they came about to set a straight heading for Ya-ya and started to creep forward. Then the vimana slid overhead and instantly they were in darkness. The very air seemed heavy, pressing down on them. Sounds echoed weirdly, and the ocean growled like a beast around them.

Orin had thought to dig out their rarely used spotlight, proving why he was her second in command. The narrow beam of light played over the coral reefs ahead of them and found a break big enough for the Rosetta. Orin eased into the passage with Avery keeping pace on his starboard side. Gripping the steering wheel tightly, Paige focused on keeping the Rosetta steady as the dories towed it forward.

The pace seemed maddeningly slow. Cloaked in the darkness of full eclipse, there was no way of telling how far they'd traveled. Paige knew they had an hour before the fall could hit them, but it seemed like only minutes before she could heard the deep rumbling noise, like-neverending-thunder.

Kenya ducked into the bridge, seeking the harder shelter. "It's the Fall."

"I know." Paige risked looking to her right, out of her starboard windows. The trailing edge was nearly to them. The Fall pounded down in a column of white froth, landing in a boil that grew closer. The spray kicked up by the Fall blurred the air, making it impossible to judge how close it was going to pass.

"Is it going to hit us?" Jones's voice was tense with controlled fear.

Paige studied the oncoming blur of mist and falling water. Through the smear of spray raining down, she could see the drop nuts hitting the ocean like small boulders, throwing up geysers of water where they struck. "No, it will miss us. We still have to worry about drop nuts though."

The trailing edge rushed toward them. The space between water and land overhead seemed to grow as the sky rolled back open. When the trailing edge was directly overhead, there was a deep loud bang and the ship shuddered.

"We're hit!" Almost everyone still on board called.

"Find out where, you ninnies!" Paige snapped.

And then the trailing edge was beyond them. Clear sky overhead. The vimana rushing away. They made it—well—they might be sinking—but they were otherwise intact. She reached out to ring the ship's bell and found her hand was shaking.

"Please, I don't ever want to do that again." She whispered to the powers that be and rang the bell. "All clear! Orin! Avery! Bring them back in! Drop anchor!"

Dead fish littered the vimana's wake with flecks of silver. The bodies of strange fresh water fish from the vimana mixed in among the familiar salt-water ones killed by the pounding Fall. For some strange reason, she felt like crying for the fish, killed by a force that they couldn't understand.

She blinked away the promise of tears and went to help Orin bring the dories back on board. Becky showed up just as they were hoisting the first dory into place.

"The drop nut went through the deck plating in the stern," Becky reported. "It took out the fresh water tank and punched a hole in the crew's quarters. But it stopped there. It didn't breech the hull."

"Oh piss." Paige managed not to swear anything ruder in front of the eight-year old. It meant they were out of fresh water. They were days from any human landing. And their engine was shot.

Someone had done something horrible to earn this luck.

Hopefully it wouldn't get worse.

Almost as if summoned by her thoughts, something came streaking across the sky, moving toward the Spin. Not an vimana. It was gleaming, all angles and smooth lines. It was heading straight for them.

"It's a ship!" Paige cried in surprise and dismay.

"What?" Orin looked at her instead of upwards.

"It's a spaceship!" Paige pointed at the ship as it grew larger and larger. A frigate at least. Maybe a destroyer. No. Frigate. "There's a spaceship coming . . ."

The rest of the words stuck in her throat as the spaceship roared over them and struck Icarus. A massive plume of dust, fire and smoke bloomed at the point of impact, obscuring everything.

"Oh my god! Oh my god!" Orin cried. "It's coming down! Icarus is coming down!"

It's going to hit us, Paige thought, but then that white space with all the answers in her mind denied it. The vectors were wrong. Neither the vimana or the ship could hit them. Smoke and dust still obscured most of what was happening, but Icarus appeared to be shattering as it crashed. Large, raw boulders of the vimana rock floated upwards, out of the dark roiling clouds, drifting upwards. Paige closed her eyes and let the white space work. What was happening?

If the vimana shattered, then centuries of topsoil under the rainforest was being dumped into the ocean, all at once. It was rock thrown into a pool of water. Waves.

"Tsunami!" Paige shouted, opening her eyes. "Charlene, Mitch, take up the anchor. Avery, swing up around and then get on board! Everyone else take cover! Anyone topside will get swept away. Go! Go!"

"We haven't lowered the anchor yet." Charlene said.

Well, for once Charlene's laziness paid off. "Then get below. Go!"

"Here it comes!" Orin called. "Twenty miles and closing!"

Paige looked Spinward again as Avery pulled the Rosetta around with the single dory tied to the bow. A massive wave was coming across the other wise calm ocean.

"Oh god. Avery, get on board! Get on board!"

He straightened them out, locked the tiller straight, and then dived overboard.

"Get him up here." Paige ran to the bridge to lash down the steering wheel. There was no guarantee that the wave wouldn't sheer off the bridge. She snatched up the charts, the waveguides, the vimana indexes. What else couldn't they afford to lose?

Orin threw Avery a line and then all but hauled him up over the railing. "Paige! Paige! Get below deck!"

She had to go or they'd come after her. She knew her family too well. She could hear the wave as she hurried down into the darkness of the mess, pulling off her sungoggles to see in the dim light. Orin slammed the flood door behind her and wheeled the locking mechanism.

"Brace for impact!" Manny said, peering out one of the portholes.

Paige stumbled to a support bar and grabbed hold. Moments later, the boat dipped into the trough in front of the wall, and then the wave hit with a force that nearly jerked Paige off the bar. Something in the galley had been left unsecured and crashed with a thin metal sound. The ship shuddered as it pitched sharply to the stern, groaning as it climbed. All the portholes that should have been out of water were covered with dark green water. And then pitching downwards as the boat slid over top of the wave.

The next wave wasn't as steep and minutes later, they were back to gentle ocean. They'd made it. The question was: did they have any hope of getting safely to a port?

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