Though the nights at sea were cold, the days became progressively hotter as we sailed south-west from California. The arrival of Miss Campbell, Professor Lindmann and Peter on the Trelawney had made for a livelier voyage, and we found ourselves talking at the captain's table until late almost every night. Forbuoy had brought a crate of tequila in San Francisco, and much of it had been consumed in the best of spirit. Though I suspect Captain Mercer saw us as foolish and perhaps even idle, we must have been a far cry from his usual cargo of stuffy politicians; Lindmann especially proved popular with the captain, and the two spent much time exchanging sea-stories, and tales of storms and whales that I found fascinating. The crew seemed to view Miss Campbell with a mixture of fear and absolute wonder: she was erudite, educated and clean, nothing at all like the dockside ladies with whom these men would normally associate. I watched them as she sat knitting in the afternoons, their curious deference drawing attention to her unique beauty. I imagined her as Cleopatra, beautiful and powerful beyond belief, her servants unable to look directly at her and equally unable to look away.
The morning of the day we were due at Forbuoy's co-ordinates, Miss Campbell asked me to set some time aside after our arrival so that she might interview me. I confess that the attraction I felt toward Miss Campbell had not diminished in the eight days we had spent together: in fact it had strengthened. She had taken to wearing patent boots and trousers on the ship, a style that displayed her practicality as well as her daring and only endeared her further in my eyes. Yet I could barely muster a coherent thought in her presence, and the prospect of an entire conversation with her seemed to be a challenge worthy of Hercules himself. I was sitting alone in my cabin attempting to plan responses to any possible questions that she might pose when Peter knocked and told me that Lindmann had something to show me. I followed the svelte youth above deck to find Forbuoy, Fetherley and Miss Campbell inspecting a number of diving suits which I recognised as modified versions of the one that I had worn when I studied anemones among the volcanic ridges undersea in the Aegean with Lindmann years before.
"It's important that you understand this equipment before we all use it in the coming weeks. Let me explain exactly how it works." Lindmann acknowledged my arrival with a smile before continuing. "These suits are worn over an insulated inner outfit that I will give to you all. It is very cold so deep undersea, and this will help to protect you. The outer suit is airtight, and the air inbetween the two will help to keep you warm also. The outer suits are heavy weave canvas that has been treated with a resin to keep water out, and there are weights in the soles of the shoe to keep you from floating away. A helmet screws onto the neck of the outer suit, and an air tube connects you to Marta." He bent over and picked up one of the helmets, which had a large hemisphere of thick glass and a canvas back that matched the rest of the outer suit. "They have a fixture that lets air in here," he indicated the rear of the helmet, "and you must breathe out through your mouth down this tube." Inside was a rubber mouthpiece which connected to an aperture in the roof of the helmet. "This old air is released through a valve, so you cannot accidentally suck water in."
As Lindmann spoke, there seemed to be a commotion along the deck, and the six of us slowly became aware of the crew crowding to the bow of the Trelawney. I quickly turned to my companions to find Forbuoy returning my gaze, his brow furrowed. I began to walk toward the bow, but broke into a run when I heard one terrible cry from one of the hands:
Captain Mercer stood at the railings with a telescope, and handed it to me when I reached him. "A wreck, Captain?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think so, Doctor. But there is something there, made of wood."
I took the glass and aligned it to where Mercer pointed, only a few degrees from our heading. I could discern, upon the surface of the gentle sea, a definite structure. But what? I could see a flag, and it was fluttering gently from a vertical pole. "Are we still moving, Captain?" Mercer replied in the affirmative. "Have a look, Fetherley."
Fetherley's precise, sportsman's eye scanned the horizon through Mercer's spyglass. "It's not a wreck, Grange, that's a hut. A floating hut."
Forbuoy tugged at my arm. "Grange, do you-"
"Hang on!" The excitement was clear in Fetherley's voice. "There are lots of them! Twenty, maybe thirty huts, floating on the sea! I've never seen anything like it!"
"Nonsense, we're more than four-hundred miles from anywhere!" Mercer was incredulous.
A tug upon my sleeve: "Shi Ken-zhin's flotilla of rafts, Grange!" Forbuoy whispered.
I took the telescope back and looked once more, and I found I could detect many small structures, connected with planks, ladders, bridges and ropes. As we approached, I could see that Fetherley's estimate was conservative. There was a civilisation here, living on the sea in a hundred floating cabins, waiting for the same cataclysm that we had come to investigate for two millennia, and perhaps more.
At the very least, we were in the right place.
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