Robert Appleton

Adventures in Science Fiction

The Elemental Crossing Excerpt


(From) Chapter Nine

The Big Pour

A chevron formation of birds streaked across the sky. Kate counted twenty-six, shuddered at the memory of being clamped in the huge beak during her eleven hour fall, awaiting the crunch, with no way to defend herself or the man in her arms. How quickly horror had turned to hope.

Clouds parted overhead in a stratospheric Rorschach, morphing the heavens into a shape she’d only ever seen rendered by Computer Generated Imagery. She lost her bearings for a moment, forgetting the direction of the Elemental’s drift.

Yeah, east to west, but which is which?

She couldn’t summon the impetus to get up and check. Though bone dry bodily, her resolve remained damp. Two days of lying on her back in a floating limbo had atrophied her every motivation. Eating, exercising, planning ahead, making even the tiniest decision now felt beyond her. At the nadir of existence, it was theoretically the peak test of a survivalist’s aptitude. But she couldn’t get over how cruelly fate had played its hand against her. Remorseless. Sadistic. From the bottom of the deck.

Just before midday, the Elemental turned slowly through forty-five degrees. The sensation wasn’t severe, but Kate felt it.

No wind. Some kind of current?

She instantly forgot her maudlin marathon and shot across to the port side. The water was on the move; as she dipped her hand, it rushed through her fingers.

“A strong current, too.”

No signs of life below the surface, submarine-sized or otherwise, only a full-depth, concerted gush toward the northwest. Toward the precipice...

The entire ocean?

“Okay, think. What could be causing this? Something on the sea bed? Yes, but it’s not the sea bed, it’s the roof of the craft. Giant craft, roof, precipice…water…emptying?”

Her throat tightened.

“It’s like Jason said—this is through the looking glass the other way, quantitatively off the charts. Think scale. Think water in a metal bowl. Why would it gush toward the rim? If the bowl was tilted, or the rim was lower at that point. Yes, that storm must’ve raised the water level to an overflow. If there’s a dip in this side of the craft, voila! A big pour. A bloody big pour.”

Something walked over her grave. Any trace of the purple Pyrofluvium behind her had long since dissipated. And with it, Jason. Now on her toes, thinking of the best way to secure herself to the Elemental, Kate’s brain clicked into gear.

“If it’s not a sheer drop, if the waterfall isn’t vertical, you might get to see the valley yet, Katie girl.”

She realised her best chance to avoid capsizing was to cut down the mast. With no wind, it served no purpose anyway. Without it, the vessel would resemble a lifeboat, albeit an improvised one.

The operation took over an hour. She sliced through the stay ropes with her splinter. It proved taxing, and the wing itself almost collapsed on top of her as the last line snapped. She watched the sail float alongside in the water for a moment, before it upended and fell behind.

Two hours later, the rumble was as loud as a Harley Davidson’s engine ticking over. The throttle hadn’t yet been turned, but her ears felt the grip. White mist boasted a full rainbow and reached high over the precipice. She tested the lines securing her belt one more time. One fastened to each of the four cleats—more than enough.

“It might be for nothing,” she whispered, “but nothing could mean anything…”

She shook her head.

“A bit late for optimism, Katie girl.”

Her muscles clenched as the noise increased. The sea’s current now seemed rapid, incontestable. Still no view of the precipice through the mist. Only the non-stop fall of thunder. Billions of tonnes of water pouring into oblivion.

The depth of the ocean did not appear to lessen. She could still see a fair way down. The entire body of water was moving this way. On Earth and other planets, she’d seen waterfalls fed by either a river or a lake; here, a sea at least the size of a continent overflowed. She could barely hold her hand steady enough to scratch an itch on her neck. As the first specks of spray peppered the Elemental, the cascade roared with the power of a rocket launch.

She screamed at the top of her voice, but no sound escaped.

Oh, Christ, this is it. Here we go.

The veil of no return. A film of cool moisture covered her hair, face and neck. Visibility was now that of a white, backward balaclava. She felt the boat move quicker and quicker through the water, and the dread welled up as hot oil in her gut. Her eardrums rang. She fought giant, panic breaths with all of her pride.

The Elemental now hurtled faster than it had ever surfed as a sand yacht. Kate’s hair flapped wildly, and the spray drenched her eyes shut. Still louder, still faster, then suddenly…