Waves— Part II
A silence settled into the cockpit and our gazes floated upward. The system’s nebula reached across the dark like a rainbow of coral. My eyes traced the edges of the color and eventually settled back on HP-1345. We lost our conversation in the little orb of dusty yellow.
A faint whistle broke the silence. It breathed a slow, haunting tune up the ladder and filled the air around us. Evert moved like a ghost and made less noise. The first year of the voyage almost killed me. I scare easily and without grace. After we both grew tired of me throwing whatever was in my hands at him, we made a deal. He would announce himself with a whistle. I had hoped he would choose a happier song, but I was content with him not scaring me to death.
‘Ho, Evert!’ I called when the whistling was near. Etan and I turned our chairs to greet our crewmember.
‘Good afternoon, Delmar,’ he rumbled.
‘What’s got you down, Ev?’ Etan asked.
The bear of a man crawled into the room. He slowly unfolded as much as he could. His hair pressed against the ceiling. He ran his hand along his white beard and looked at Etan for a long minute.
‘Down? I don’t understand. In space, there is no down.’
‘Well played, mate,’ Etan said with a grin. ‘Why are you whistling the sad tune?’
‘Is not sad. This is a song of great joy and celebration in my country.’
‘What does it celebrate?’ I asked.
‘Surviving the winter,’ Evert said and folded himself into one of the vacant chairs. His knees cracked as he lowered himself. After he was settled, he let out a deep sigh.
‘I itch to go there,’ Evert gestured at Islamorada.
‘What would you call it if you were the first one there?’ I asked.
‘HP-1345 is nice name. It is descriptive and strong. Why would anyone want to change it?’ Evert said.
‘Well you know. People only get off the couch for the chance they’ll get to name something,’ Etan said.
‘Yes. There is a power in names,’ Evert said. ‘Yet this planet already has a name: HP-1345.’
‘I think that was just the name some scientist gave it to when it was first discovered,’ I said.
‘He gave it name. No one can change that.’
‘Ev, you have a point,’ Etan said. ‘But, I still like the ring of New Perth.’
‘Islamorada. It just makes sense,’ I shot back.
‘Quit talking about your islands, Del,’ Etan said.
‘I am from islands too,’ Evert said. ‘I was shaped by the water. It made me strong.’
My mind drifted to the gentle rocking of the waves: warm sun on my chest and cheeks and the refreshing chill of the Atlantic pushing against my back. One could truly let themself go and become a part of something greater. Carried to oneness on the crest of a wave.
My brother and I were floating once when something else decided to join us. I had my eyes closed and my ears under water when I heard him start thrashing. I sat up and saw the field of little balloons floating toward us on the water. My brother slipped under the water. I was there in a second: bubbles of white floated upward past a forest of purple arms. Hands around his chest, I slowly pulled him to shore. The sand had been so warm, baked all day in the sun. His skin was chilled and pale when we crawled ashore. Deep stains covered his chest and back. In the end, he was fine. But we sat on the sand and didn’t venture into the surf for months.
The deep rumble of Evert’s voice filled the cabin:
Out here, in the chill of the vacuum, it is warmer than my home. We are only islands in the summer. During winters, ice freezes us to shore. It’s the water giving us a chance to survive.
Evert paused and his gaze brushed across the brilliant colors of the nebula. My eyes followed his and landed on Islamorada. This little pin of light in the darkness would never feel like home.
The rumble continued:
'It is in winter where we are closest with the water. We build roads across it. We build fishing huts on it. We swim in it to stay strong.'
I shivered involuntarily. ‘You do what now?’
Evert lowered his eyes and his deeply gray irises drank me in. I shifted in my seat.
‘We swim under the ice. Winter comes to test us. The water keeps us strong.’
‘If it’s frozen how do you swim?’ I asked.
‘You build little house on ice. Once house is built, you build fire. Once fire roars, you cut hole in ice. Then you jump in.’
Etan was sitting forward engaged in the story completely. His hands made a bridge over his nose. The field of lights from the control panels created stark shadows and colors across his face. How did I ever think he was British? He was a purebred Australian pirate. I was revising my oil painting of him captaining his clipper when he spoke:
‘What do you do when you are in the water?’
‘Feel the waves. They carry away your weakness and make you strong,’ Evert replied.
‘And after the waves?’ Etan asked.
‘Does everyone do this?’ I asked.
‘No, it is ah,’ Evert paused while he searched for the word. His bear claws of hands worked in the air as if they could pull the word from nothingness. ‘It is how you say a club. We call it Club of Polar Bear.’
There was a clanking on the stairs behind us. The whole crew was about to be here. We were flying a supply vessel with a contract to set up an oxygen mine on HP-1345. The deal was that we move here and the company would cover the cost of everything and we’d own anything we established. Somewhere in the sea of grey hulls was the official company ship, with some anal pencil-pusher who would catalogue and record all of our assets when we landed and every 6 months thereafter. After taking a test, the three of us were paired together. None of us had any particular set of skills or much in common. Besides a discontent for our current lives and a habit of looking at the stars. I guess that was all it took.
Etan would not being staying with us. If there were tides in space, he would catch the quickest one back out to sea. He had found his home, but I had left mine. Why did I ever leave the sand, surf, and sky of the Keys? My gaze drifted back to Islamorada. At least it was the color of a beach.
Shadi finished the climb and stepped into the cockpit. She moved as quietly as Evert but her fragrance gave her away every time. The smell of flowers and sand would waft around the corners and announce her as loudly as a trumpet. She had wavy brown hair and a quick smile.
‘Just the folks I was looking for,’ she said. ‘What’re we doing?’
I tore my gaze from the planet and turned my chair. She stood in the entrance with her hands behind her back. The volume of her hair gave her more size than her tiny figure. Although she still looked like a doll next to Evert. But who didn’t?
‘We’re talking about the ocean and missing the water,’ Etan said. ‘Tell us your story of water.’
She bit her lip and squinted her eyes for a second. There was a long, dramatic pause before she spoke. Her eyes suddenly gleamed, and the music of her voice brightened the room:
‘Well, I’m not like you coast rats. I’m from the desert. So water is more special to me than it is to you all.’
No one tells me that my spirit animal doesn’t like me the best. I opened my mouth. The full force of her gaze shifted to me and the words died in my throat.
‘When the rains come, the land blooms. You see the desert isn’t the barren wasteland that it seems to be. It is just waiting for the right moment,’ Shadi said. ‘It is like a dancer who is just waiting for the right partner. For the person who can keep up and help it make something beautiful.’
She let our a little sigh at the thought of dancing. I could almost hear the music playing in her head. She smiled conspiratorially.
‘But the rainy season is short. And the year is long. We spend our dusty evenings with a different kind of water.’
Shadi pulled a bottle from behind her back. The caramel color of the whiskey caught the light of the control panel. Evert let out a low whistle.
‘Shadi, where did you get that?’ Etan asked.
‘Oh, you know. The liquor store around the block from my old apartment,’ Shadi said.
‘You’ve had a bottle of whiskey this whole time and never told us?’ I asked.
‘Delmar, I brought it for this exact moment,’ Shadi said. Her eyes drifted up toward the planet. ‘I’m a Girl Scout. Of course I brought some brown water.’
Etan struck like a snake. He slammed a hand against the side of the life support panel. He frowned and slapped it again. Nothing happened. He kicked it. The lights flickered for a moment. He hit it again. Panic gripped my chest.
‘Etan! What the hell are you doing?’ I said, alarmed.
He looked at me with a rakish smile before hitting the panel again. It popped open to reveal a strand of colored Christmas lights and a secret compartment. Inside rested a bottle of whiskey and a small tower of glasses.
‘Mate, when I said it was the life support, you had no idea how serious I was.’