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ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


Chapter Three

 

March, Year 1 A.E.

 

"Closer. Slow, slow."

Lieutenant Walker squatted in the prow of the longboat and broke open the harpoon gun. It was shaped like an outsized shotgun. He slid the long steel harpoon down the barrel, cushioned in its wooden sabot. Its mechanism gave a smooth oiled snick as he closed it and swung the simple post-and-groove sights onto the side of the whale, aiming six feet behind the eye. His helper leaned forward and clipped the end of the line to a ring welded onto the shaft just behind the folding barbs and the bulge that held a charge of bursting powder.

Whoever ran this up knew his way around a machine shop, Walker thought. He'd always liked hunting, and a good weapon doubled the pleasure.

Spray lapped into his face like the tongue of a salty dog. Behind him the crew of sailors and cadets stroked at their oars again. The day was an enormous bowl of blue, only the tiny dot of the Eagle to break the watery horizon, and scarcely a cloud in the sky. It was hot enough to make him sweat, despite the droplets of seawater striking cold on his T-shirt. Ahead the whale lay basking like a flexible black reef; a right whale, with a huge head that made up a third of its sixty feet. Blackfish, the type that had been the staple of inshore whaling in New England before they were hunted out and the big whalers began to sail to Hawaii and Kamchatka. A white patch of barnacles marked its snout; when it raised a flipper he could see white skin beneath, vivid in contrast to the dark-blue water and the coal color of the animal. Close enough to see the eyes, like golf balls set into the sides of a submarine. It blew, a tall double plume that turned into a mist of spray falling across them.

Whales were spouting all around, hundreds of them, pod after pod.

"Feels like murder," one of the cadets muttered. The whales had never been hunted, evidently not even by Indians in canoes. You could get within touching distance sometimes.

"Looks like dinner," Walker said cheerfully. "Ready for it… now." He squeezed the trigger.

Tump. The harpoon blasted out of the barrel, blurring through the air. Line whipped out from the improvised tub beside the harpoon gun. It began to smoke with friction, and Cadet Simpson tossed seawater from her bucket on it. Whack. A flat, wet sound as the steel hit the whale's side.

"Hang on!" Walker yelled.

The whale dove with a smash of its tail that left Walker drenched and dripping, grinning as he clung to the harpoon gun's mount. The longboat lurched forward, and the crew fell over one another in a tangle of oars punctuated by yells. Water fountained up from either side of the bows as the line jerked forward and down, pulling them along like an outboard motor gone berserk. The Nantucket sleigh ride, they'd called it in the old days. The Coast Guard officer counted the seconds:

five… six… hope the fucking fuse works this time… seven … He wouldn't be able to hear the blast underwater, but the, whale would surely feel it.

The line went slack as the whale broached, half its length out of the water. Blood streamed from the hole gouged by the grenade, but the four barbs held fast. The great animal lay on the surface and threshed in its death agony, nearly swamping the boat that had killed it. All around, other whales were fleeing the sound of its distress, blowing and diving. At last it slumped into stillness, floating quietly as the crew of the longboat bailed out the water.

"Thank God this type floats when it's dead," Walker said. "Let's make her fast."

The Eagle was making sail in their direction; there were lookouts up at the mastheads with binoculars. Cadet Simpson slipped out of her pants and jacket and went overboard with a line to make fast around the whale's flukes. Walker watched with interest; someday they'd have to admit that the old fraternization rules didn't make much sense. Or maybe there would be opportunities when they went east, next week…

The ship was looming larger, moving fairly quickly despite the four whales secured to her sides. This one towed astern, and they'd have enough for starters.

He looked east. Who knew what waited there? Upon a peak in Darien

"We'll take hundreds of these," Ian Arnstein said.

The spearhead was seven inches long, and three wide at the broadest, cut and ground out of a straightened section of automobile leaf spring. The edge was razor-sharp, tapering to a murderous point. The tang was socketed onto a smooth eight-foot wooden shaft; the whole ensemblage felt heavy and solid and well balanced. Deadly. Ian hefted it and tried to imagine using it. Damn. I'd rather have read about this than had to do it, he thought.

Seahaven Engineering had moved into a big former boat-house, out east of town near the head of the harbor. The machine shop was noisy, clangs and thumps and shrill screaming sounds as somebody pushed a piece of metal against a grindstone; it smelled of iron and ozone.

Ronald Leaton nodded; he was looking as tired as everyone else, and was dressed in a grease-stained baseball cap and overalls that looked like they'd been on for days. "Here's some of the other stuff you ordered."

Big knives ground out of bar stock, and short Roman-style swords. Those had smoothed wooden hilts, brass pommels, and an S-shaped guard made of rebar and welded on. Ian picked one up and hefted it, prodding the point into the battered wooden table it rested on.

"These are probably better steel than the originals," he said.

"Yup. That long fancy one you wanted will take another day or two. Got a book from one of the stores, The Complete Bladesmith, had a lot of useful hints. John Martins is setting up a forge—he's that blacksmith who was here visiting Barbara Allis. He made things like that for hobbyists. And here's our masterpiece."

This time Ronald had used a whole leaf from a spring for the crossbow. It was set at the front of a rifle-type stock.

"How does it cock?" Ian asked. There was a steel claw arrangement hooked to the center of the wire string stretched across the shallow cord of the bow. He pulled at the string with a tentative hand. It was like a solid bar, immovable.

"That's a stiff draw," he said.

"Over three hundred and fifty pounds," the machinist said. "Brace the stock against your hip and hold the grip. Now put your other hand on the forestock, through that oval metal loop that sticks out beyond the wood. Feel that catch under your thumb? Press it down."

Ian obeyed. A steel lever came out of its slot in the forestock, hinged at the rear a few inches ahead of the trigger guard.

"Pump it back and forth, like the lever on a car jack."

There was a soft heavy resistance with every stroke, and the crossbow's string inched backward. At the sixth it clicked home near the trigger action and the rear sight, the heavy steel bow bent and ready.

Ian whistled. Not even the windlass-wound monsters the crossbowmen of medieval Genoa and Venice used were more powerful, and it had taken far less time to cock, barely ten seconds, probably less with practice. Almost as fast as a bow, he thought. And it took years to make a good archer; this you could learn to use in a couple of days. Well, we understand mechanical advantage better than they did back then in medieval times… in the future. The confusion of tenses made it difficult even to talk about time travel.

"We'd better go out back to test this," Ronald said. The paved space was full of people sorting car parts, putting aside ones to keep in stock for the limited number of vehicles that were being kept running; a crew of car mechanics and enthusiastic amateurs were working on a four-wheeled horse cart made out of tubing and two-by-fours and the wheels and axles from a Saab. A hundred paces away a wooden target was propped up against the wall of an unoccupied summer cottage.

"Just a front and back sight on the bow," Ronald said. "Here's something to shoot."

He handed Ian a bolt, eighteen inches of heavy wooden dowel with a three-bladed steel head at one end and a trio of plastic flight feathers at the other. Ian dropped it into the slot and snuggled the butt against his shoulder. Squeeze the trigger…

Whunnng. The cord whipped forward, and the bolt flashed in a snapping blurr. Whunk! It struck in one corner of the target, sunk half its length and quivering like a malignant bee. Ian pushed his glasses up his nose and whistled.

"Not bad," he said. "Not bad at all."

He looked at how the bolt had plowed itself a foot deep through solid wood. Logical. These things used to pierce armor.

They certainly weren't going to be making smokeless powder and metal cartridges anytime soon. They might be able to make black powder and muskets in a few years. In the meantime these would save a lot of utterly irreplaceable ammunition.

"Lunch," Ronald said, as someone hammered on a triangle back at Seahaven Engineering. "If you don't mind fish."

"Fortunately, I don't," Ian said. People on the island who were allergic to it were in deep trouble.

"Or there's steak," Ronald went on, grinning.

"What?"

"Whale steak. Sort of like beef, only fishy. We made the harpoon gun, so we get dibs."

"Morning, Chief."

"Morning, Fred."

Fred Roberts was up the frame of the wind generator, head and hands inside the opened housing. "You wouldn't believe how things corrode in this sea air."

"Oh, I guess I would," Cofflin said dryly, leaning his bicycle against the steel of the support. "Always thought these eggbeaters were a boondoggle. Your tax dollars at waste."

More of the Nantucket Electric Company people and teams from the general population were running up sheds around the base. He recognized four or five men who'd worked as house carpenters before the Event, with dozens of the unskilled doing fetch-and-carry. Cofflin looked inside the long shed; electricians were setting up row after row of car batteries in parallel, on bookshelf-style supports that filled the inside. He nodded at their greetings. The batteries would help even out the flow of power from the windmills, taking up the slack when the air was calm or giving extra at peak demand. Luckily, it was a rare day on the island without a breeze. He ducked back out; Fred was answering his last remark:

"They were a boondoggle, but we're lucky to have them… There." He pulled his head out of the machine and wiped his face on the sleeve of his overall. "Got it, I think. We should be able to get most of these things running, for a while at least. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it'll get harder and harder to replace lost parts. I suppose we could rewind the coils by hand with telephone wire…"

His voice died off into a preoccupied mumble, an expert talking with himself. Cofflin nodded and looked out over the landscape of the island that had been his ancestors' home for fifteen generations. More, if you counted the very faint trace of Indian blood.

Not far away, one of Brand's tractors was dragging an improvised harrow over half-cleared land. People were walking behind it in long rows stretched across the turned gray-brown soil. The first row were making holes with shovels, hoes, billhooks, and sticks. The second row had sacks slung from their shoulders, and they were dropping in quartered potatoes, each piece with two eyes for sprouting. The third were carrying buckets, dropping in a dollop of fertilizer—better not to ask where it came from—and filling in the holes, tamping them down with their hands. It came to him that he'd never seen that many people working in a field, not even when he spent a few summers picking tobacco in the Connecticut Valley. Not that many… not in America, at least. In Asia, yes. Though most of his traveling there had been behind the splinter shield of a 20mm.

Fred was climbing down the ladder built into the support leg. "It's amazing," he said. "Here we're doing just a few things, and everyone on the island is working dawn to dusk."

Cofflin took a Tupperware container of fish sticks from the carryall at the rear of the bike. He opened the top and offered some to the other man. Fred sighed, then brightened slightly at the taste. ,

"S'good," he said.

"Ayup. Martha made 'em up. Not looking forward to the day the spices run out," he said. "Reason I came was we need more ice. Until we can salt down the fish, that is. Loads are coming in pretty fast."

"Well, I suppose we could switch on the A&P again, and put buckets of water in the freezers…"

Marian Alston strolled toward the point where the streets met, hands in her pockets. It was very dark without the streetlights, but heaven was frosted with stars and the moon was full. She walked quietly; nobody was about at this hour, and the houses around were dark and shuttered, waiting for summer dwellers who would never arrive. Trees overarched brick sidewalks crumpled into unevenness by thrusting roots; she took the middle of the road, where a little cool white light filtered through the leaves of the elms. The night was quiet enough that an occasional voice from the distant center of town sounded clear. The crickets in the small marsh up the street were louder. Both seemed to enhance the silence.

Tempting to leave it all. Sail away from the problem, go see the strangeness she'd been landed in, lose herself in wandering and adventure. Not really an option, of course. Yet it was Eagle she loved, and the sea. This island was too new to her to hold her heart.

Different, she thought. She'd liked to walk out at night sometimes when she was a girl in her father's house. The sky looked cooler here; life was colored in shades of blue and fog-gray, without the yeasty aliveness of the Low Country. She wondered what it would be like to visit there now, so long and long before the first small wooden ships dropped anchor before rivers not yet named Ashley or Cooper. No crumbled tabby ruins to find among the trees, overgrown remains of Great House and slave quarters. No weathered wooden shacks; no clipped green golf courses amid the palmettos either. Just water, reeds, stars… her lips quirked. Indians, of course. The mosquitoes would be there too.

She shook her head ruefully and returned to the present. The monument in the center of the crossroads was small and unassuming. No statue, just a round millstone base and above a granite plinth with the names of the island's Union dead. Very many names, for so small a town; men who could have stayed home in comfort, and the way the war turned out wouldn't have affected their lives one bit. Men who ended lying on bloodstained tables down from Cemetery Ridge, with their bones shattered into splinters by minie balls and the surgeon's saw ready; men shivering and puking out their lives with yellow fever in the swamps along the Chickahominy; men drowned in the blackness of Farragut's ironclad in Mobile Bay; men down in the red clay while ants marched over their tongues toward sightless eyes. They had gone a long way from home, to die among angry strangers.

The captain of the Eagle took two steps backward and came to attention. Her salute was slow, with a precise quivering snap at the end. Then she turned and walked homeward.

"Still working, Ms. Rosenthal?" Ian Arnstein asked.

Doreen Rosenthal started and looked up from her books.

The Eagle had electric light still, which was one reason why she'd moved aboard a little early. He didn't intend to move his bag of essentials and crates of references into the little cubbyhole they'd assigned him until tomorrow, the day of their departure. He sat down across from her; the officers' wardroom was empty, although there was coffee in the corner for the night watch.

"Studying, not working," she said, holding up the cover of the book. It was a physics text; the title made very little sense to him. "Trying to figure out what happened to us. That's Doreen, by the way. No sense in being formal if we're going on a cruise." She smiled shyly.

He smiled back. "Well, it beats bush-clearing detail, Doreen." Everyone on the Council was supposed to put in at least a few hours. It made sense in a political sort of way, he supposed, but his back hurt. "Most people call me Ian."

"Funny, you don't look Scottish."

They shared a laugh. "My parents were extremely assimilated. Any luck with the search for the causes of the Event?"

He went over to the urn and poured them both a cup; no more coffee soon, so make the best of it. No more cream or sugar, either—the output of the few dozen cows on the island was reserved for the sick and children. Cows could breed, but he didn't even know if sugarcane had been domesticated yet, and they certainly weren't going to be sending any expeditions to India to find out for a while. I wonder if we could get honeybees in England? he thought.

One more thing to look up. He remembered that there hadn't been any in the Americas when the settlers arrived, but not whether anyone was raising them at this early date in the Old World. Or there might be some hives on Nantucket.

"No luck," Doreen said, sticking a piece of paper in the book and closing it.

"How do you take it?"

"Black."

Paper… Ian shoved the thought into the enormous to-do file. "Do you favor the Act of God hypothesis, or the Saucer People theory?" he asked with a grin, setting down the cups. "Those are the two main schools of thought on the island, and apart from food and blisters, people don't talk about much else. Then there are the dissenting minority churches; the Satan-did-it, and the Government Secret Project slash Conspiracy. And a new eclectic faith, the Saucer People Are Part of the Conspiracy."

"I'm in the minority," she said ruefully. "I comprehend the vastness of my own ignorance. I'm morally certain that whatever caused the Event was deliberate, at least in the sense that a chemical plant blowing up is deliberate. The whole thing was too… too artificial not to be the result of intent, even if it was an accident, some machine some-when going off half cocked, or whatever, somewhere and somewhen. The precise ellipse around the island, for instance. But apart from that I've got no earthly inkling what happened. I did have a wild idea…"

"What?" he said eagerly. "Tell me."

She rubbed a hand across the cover of the book. "I thought… well, how do we know this is the same universe, exactly, as the one we left? I decided to try to remeasure the physical constants, to see if anything had changed."

"And?"

"And everything's exactly the same, as far as I can determine—I don't have much in the way of equipment, you understand. Gravity, electrical resistance, they're all the same. For that matter, solid-state electronics wouldn't work here if the constants were very different." She sighed. "As I said, I'm beginning to comprehend how much I don't know."

"Socrates thought that was the beginning of wisdom," Ian said.

Doreen's mouth twisted wryly. "It's the beginning of uselessness," she said. "I mean, you know a lot of things that are useful. History's your specialty. What earthly use is my degree here?" She propped her head on a palm. "I suppose I could teach school, or something of that nature. Maybe a self-defense course, if I can get back in the swing—I used to do that sort of thing. The only really useful thing I've done since the Event is figure out exactly when we were."

"You've come up with a number of good ideas," Ian said' stoutly, patting her hand. "Which is more than most of the selectmen. The only thing they did was manage to acquire some popularity before the Event, totally irrelevant now. You helped with the navigation tables and saved invaluable time."

"What is relevant?" Doreen said moodily, sipping at her coffee. "Certainly not my plans for an academic career. Did you know, I wanted to be a ballet dancer once?" She looked down at herself and sighed. "When I was six. But even then it was obvious I'd never have legs up to my armpits."

Ian shrugged. "I've had an academic career," he said. "Not the same field, of course. At least you don't have to worry about cutbacks now."

She looked up at him. "You don't seem as… disoriented as most of us."

"Cofflin and the captain aren't, much," Ian said. "Which is fortunate, because it's keeping us alive. As for me, well, I'm a historian, and here we are in capital-H History. I didn't have any close ties at home, so…"

He stirred the coffee and looked at the rear of the spoon. Made in Japan. Nothing much made in Japan right now except pots… Jomon? No, that was thousands of years before this. He shivered slightly. It could awe you, the sense of years before years, lives before lives, the sheer depth of history, even at the best of times. Right now…

He cast off the feeling. "I wanted to be a science fiction writer myself," he said. "I even wrote a few books—fantasy really, under a pen name. Then there was this car accident, my wife was killed…"

"I'm sorry," Doreen said. It seemed to be genuine. She patted his hand.

"Frankly, we were about to get divorced. Then I got a teaching position, which was an incredible stroke of luck when you consider the market for classical-era historians, and never had time for the writing. Not fiction, at least. But I always kept up reading it. Time travel's a fairly common theme in science fiction, and some of it's surprisingly well thought out." He shrugged. "Could have been worse; at one point, I was thinking of specializing in the Byzantine period, and there's something recondite for you."

"Ian…" she paused. "What do you think's going to happen to us?"

He spread his hands, palms out. "How should I know? We might all be turned into turnips tomorrow or carried off to Alpha Centauri, or thrown back into the Jurassic and eaten by velociraptors, or… hell, my sense of the orderly and predictable course of nature has taken a severe knock! If we're left here? We might make it. I'm more hopeful than I was right after the Event. But it'll be close. This voyage is important."

Doreen nodded thoughtfully, one hand touching the smooth oak staff beside her. "I'll do my best."

"If you don't mind me saying so, you're doing better than a lot of people too. Adjusting, that is," Arnstein said.

"My father's dead, I'm an only child, and my mother… well, we're not close," she said. "I could almost wish to see her face when she gets the news. No husband, no kids, no time for it yet. There are friends I'm going to miss, but it's not like they're dead. They're just not here."

Of course, we could have wiped them all out by landing here, Ian thought. He kept that firmly to himself. Nobody wanted to think about that hypothesis. Better to believe the more comforting one, that they had simply started another branch on the tree of time.

"It's fortunate that it's Nantucket, in a way," he said. "Most of the islanders were born here, and they're pretty clannish anyway."

"Yeah, I get the idea some of them have hardly noticed the outside world vanishing," Doreen laughed.

"Why don't we take a turn on deck?" he said. "The stars may be different, but they're pretty."

The shy smile returned. "Don't mind if I do."

"There's a certain irony involved here," Captain Alston said next morning, looking over the bales and boxes that her ship would be taking east.

Most of the cargo was from the boutiques and souvenir shops of the town—costume jewelry and colored beads, packed in green plastic garbage bags. Ditto for the cloth, the more colorful the better. There was a fair sampling of liquor, some tools, knives, the spears…

Booze, beads, and trinkets for the bare-arsed spear-chuckers of England, she thought.

Her father would have loved this. For a moment she smiled at the memory of a big soft-spoken figure with a workingman's hard hands, swinging her up toward the ceiling. Later he'd encouraged the reading habit in a girl, and that in a dirt-poor rural setting where it was unusual for anyone. The only time he'd ever really lost his temper with her was when her marks fell off. White man wants a dumb nigger, he'd shouted. Smart black folk scare 'em. You scare 'em, girl, you scare the shit out of every one, or you'll feel my hand.

The smile died. Her family had been farmers on Prince Island since slavery days. After emancipation that had meant owning their own land, not sharecropping; her great-great-grandfather had used his back pay to buy the farm when he mustered out of the Union Army's black regiments in 1865. Not much of a farm, but it had fed them and paid their tax for generations, and they'd hung on to it through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Depression. Through times when being too prosperous or too independent could get a black man hung from a tree, doused in kerosene, and burned alive while he was still kicking. When the real-estate taxes went through the roof, her father had lost the land to a consortium building a resort. Nothing much had gone right for him after that, until the cancer came and ended it.

But he would have enjoyed seeing this.

Ian Arnstein nodded. "I wish we had a specialist in the European Bronze Age," he said, rubbing at his reddish-brown beard. "I wish anyone knew anything useful about the European Bronze Age."

"You've been doing a lot of research," Alston said. She liked seeing someone who took their work seriously. "You and Ms. Rosenthal and the librarian."

"Ms. Stoddard, yes. And not finding out much. I can tell you that Stonehenge has been up for a long time, and I can tell you that the Wessex Culture buried its chieftains with gold and amber and worked bronze. I can't tell you what language they spoke, or how they were organized, or whether they were peaceful or the equivalent of Comanches."

"You're a hell of a lot better than nothing," Alston said.

They were standing on the docks, as townsfolk-turned-stevedores carried bundles up the gangways and nets full of bales and boxes swung by on pulleys rigged from a cargo boom pivoting on the mainmast. The captain of the Eagle looked eastward and smiled.

"We'll go see."

Words welled up, from a poet who'd touched something in her; she stood looking out to sea and let them roll through her mind:

What shall we tell you? Tales, marvelous tales

Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,

Where nevermore the rose of sunset pales,

And winds and shadows fall towards the West…

Martha Stoddard stood and watched the departure. Last night's fog had lifted, leaving only a few patches drifting silver-gray against the darker wolf-gray of the ocean. Engines throbbed, sacrificing precious fuel to take the ship through the narrow channel, around Brant Point and its lighthouse, past the breakwaters and into the open sea. She supposed that next time it would be boats with human beings sweating at the oars…

Orders rang out, faint across the waters. The figures of the crew were ant-tiny on the yards, their feet resting on the rope rests below. Canvas dropped, fluttered, filled out in graceful curves. The yards braced around, and slowly, slowly, the great ship moved; water rippled smoothly back from either side of her sharp cutwater. Then she seemed to bow, rose again in a burst of spray, gathered speed toward the rising sun, and left a wake creamy white across the long blue swells. The crowd on the docks cheered themselves hoarse, then gradually fell silent and began to disperse, off to the work that awaited. A few lingered until the hull of the ship disappeared behind the curve of the world.

That's that, she thought.

Oh, the ship would be in radio contact, but she was getting a new appreciation of what distance meant. Martha Stoddard had lived on Nantucket most of her life, nearly all of it except for her university days. You could feel very isolated here, especially in the winter when a storm closed down the ferry and airport and sent waves crashing up to the base of Main Street. Loneliness had never been a problem with her; she was content enough with her books and music—and oh, how she missed the music, there at a touch—and unwilling to tolerate much of the compromise that having other people in your life meant. It was only now that she realized what isolated really meant.

Jared Cofflin was among the last to turn away from the dock. Martha had a nodding acquaintance with him for many years, but they'd never really talked much before the… Event. He looked a little lost in civilian clothes, but he'd insisted that if they wanted to call him chief executive officer of the island instead of police chief, he wasn't going to wear a badge and gun. Another facet of the man revealed by the Event.

Odd that we're calling it that, she thought. Although she supposed they had to have some name for whatever it was that had happened. And don't think too much about it, don't wonder how or why or who as you lie waiting for sleep, or it will drive you mad and Doc Coleman will have to come with the needle and the soothing words

"Wish you were off with them, then, Jared?" she said.

He started, taken out of his brown study. A rueful smile lit his bony middle-aged face, and he smoothed a hand over the thinning blond hair on his scalp. "Ayup. Looks to be interesting over there."

"You're working too hard," she said suddenly.

"Everyone's working too hard," he answered. "We have to."

"You're doing the type that keeps you from sleeping, too. Not a good thing. What did you have planned?"

"Spending the morning doing paperwork, and the afternoon going 'round and seeing how things are developing."

"Going to and fro in the world, eh?"

He smiled, a chuckle of genuine humor this time. "Well, Pastor Deubel has been hinting that I'm inspired from that direction," he said.

"Man's a fool," she snorted. And attracting more attention than is healthy.

"A natural-born damned fool," he said, nodding agreement.

"Well, if you're going to be inspecting this afternoon, come inspect my Girl Scout troop. They're doing good work—"

"They are at that."

"—and they deserve to get a word for it."

He nodded, relaxing a little. "I think I'll do that, Martha."

"They're also making a picnic lunch of the edible greens," she said. "You're welcome to share it."

He smiled. "Bribery?" Fresh vegetables were already running out, the frozen were tightly rationed, and the canned were being saved for winter.

"Consider it research."

They stood on the dock, acknowledging the greetings of the crews of the fishing boats; the first loads would be coming in soon, to add to the malodorous vats of fish offal that stood waiting to be dragged out to the fields.

"Be seeing you, then," Jared said, hitching at his belt and settling his shoulders like a man contemplating a hard day's work.

She stood for a moment more, looking eastward. History and archaeology were her hobby; one thing that had always impressed her was how thin the record of the past was, a thing assembled out of rubbish and broken pots and the chance survival of a few words. Whatever they found east over the sea, it would be surprising.

Martha smiled to herself. Life had ceased to be dull, at any rate. On the other hand, there was that old Chinese saying…

"Interesting times," she murmured to herself, drawing the jacket closer around herself against the chill spring morning. "Extremely interesting."

 

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Copyright © 1998 by S.M. Stirling <joatsimeon@aol.com>


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