The sky was all ready darkening by the time Rylam reached the spot on the shore where he had left the skimmer. Hefting the rucksack a little higher onto his aching shoulders…he stumbled the last few feet before collapsing in a heap with little puff’s of dust being raised with every rasping gasp… eventually the coming onset of night forced him to his feet…pulling the nitrogen dewar from the back pack he waded out to the floating skimmer and opened the latch over the drive compartment. The large hollow recess accepted the liquid nitrogen cartidge perfectly and with a practised push and twist the cartridge locked and the thin seal broke and the nitrogen flowed and began to cool the coils surrounding the magnets.
Leaving the skimmer to bob in the swells Rylam wade ashore for the last time ,collecting his boots, and the parts from town for the evaporator, holding the rucksack high in one hand he slid the canopy back and tossed the bag on the passenger seat. With both hands now free he levered himself out of the water…resting briefly on the edge of the cockpit before slipping with a sigh into the seat. Flipping the lone switch on the raised console brought up a virtual gauge cluster projected on to the curved windscreen.
Pushing slightly forward on the joystick the gurgling of the water against the hull slowly became a steady thump and slap and finally a hiss of spray carried by the wind as the skimmer reached 35 knots the wings silently unfolded and with out any input on Rylam’s part was bourne aloft. As the skimmer climbed and the temperature began to fall Rylam tugged the canopy closed and adjusted the heat, the computer would control the flight from here to Elsat and with little else to do Rylam pulled a blanket from behind the seat and slept.
When Rylam awoke the sun was streaming into the cockpit and the Skimmer was all ready well into the descent phase he could see the coastal mountain rising from the ocean directly ahead, with a gentle arcing turn the skimmer descened until it was just skipping over the wave tops…gently decelarating with a 1/4 mile to go the wings slowly folded and with a hiss of spray the skimmer became a creature of the water once again. Gliding through the water to the dock…Rylam was conscious of what he needed to say to Mera…and just as certain she would not understand.
Sliding the canopy back…he stretched and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on his shoulders. Leaving the skimmer loosely tied to dock he took the twisting path up the rocky outcrop that ran behind the house to the dock.
The house looked quiet and for minute Rylam wondered if he had come too late…placing his palm breifly on the pad beside the door ,the house accepted his identity and opened the door and then adjusted the lights and opened the windows.
Mera was gone the house said, left at 730am, well that will make this easier or harder or both he thought…sometimes when you have to be the bearer of bad news its easier to just get it out of the way early…he considered calling her and then rejected it…no sense ruining her day he thought…it was just 10am.
The house warmed the floor for him circulating the water from the Solar panels on the roof. With little to constrain him he slipped out of his clothes in the hallway and walked naked through the house stopping briefly in the kitchen to grab a beer . Feeling drained he stepped into the shower and placed his forehead on the warm tiles and for 30 merciful minutes he thought about and felt nothing other than the pulsing water pounding his aching legs and back.Elsat is a tiny speck of land in the vastness of the great southern ocean, settled millenia ago by Mera’s ancestors . Elsat itself was perched on the remains of an ancient volacano connected deep within to the planets convulsing core . The remains of many eruptions had brought forth a treasure trove of minerals from deep within and when Rafat Geologist made a sample and survey mission on
Elsat 5 years earlier the wheels of change had been set in motion.
Mera’s family owned Elsat…not that anyone else had ever wanted it before now that is…
70 years ago Rafat had made the claim that Elsat fell within their jurisdiction Only Eliat objected but in the end the Rafaat claim was codified and all of the island residents became defacto Citizens of Rafaat Mera’s father and grandfather had thought it best to engage with rather than avoid the intrusion of the outside world. Sending Mera to School on the mainland had been part of his plan. Mera was the island’s only Dr and ran a small clinic which also doubled as the only hospital within 6000 miles. For anything serious a Vlift to the mainland was a 4 hour flight and in the years since Mera had returned only a few instances requiring emergency transport had occured. She set broken bones and made delicate stitches ,prescribed medication and on occaision delivered children with the same quiet determination and humor as her grandfather had tended the nets and sailed the ocean before her.
It was nearly 5 before Rylam heard the grumbling of the crawler making the turn at the bottom of the driveway
Mera sat high above the windshield and revelling in the afternoon sunshine ,red hair loosely knotted in a ponytail being whipped back and forth in the breeze…She waved when she saw him standing on the porch and mimed LOOK I HAVE MY HARNESS ON…She was always riding the crawler with the seat extended high above the windshield a bad habit…but made worse by not being securely fastened to the seat…the bucking and lurching ride seemed to please her like a giddy child and more than once Rylam had to remind her that if she got hurt there was going to be either a long flight to Maersine City or a short walk to the family cemetery in the hills.
Mera was a bit of a tom boy growing up,always exploring the island at first on foot and then later by kayak and sailboat. Her Grandfather had taken great delight in her love of the sea and the land and had taught her to navigate using the stars and the compass by time she turned 12 she was a better skipper than many twice her age able to read the waters and the charts with a unerring accuracy and with little corrections to the rudder and throttle place her grandfathers boat alongside the dock with out scuffing the paint.
When she was told that it was time for her to go to the mainland school in spite of the fact she loved to learn she rebelled and tossing a bag into a 20 ft sloop…took to the water without saying a word to anyone. For 3 anxious weeks refusing all entreaty’s she sailed to a hidden cove on the far eastern tip of Elsat a place where no one would willingly sail…a narrow channel like a slot…that opened into a quiet lagoon beyond…hidden by shear cliffs above and a rocky outcroppings on either side she brooded until the sound of skimmers…criss crossing the island were finally drawing closer…unwilling to give up her secret Kayak hiding spot she pushed the sloop through the swells and unfurled her sails…so she would be ” found” away from her hiding spot.
School on the mainland was a difficult adjustment at first and more than once upon her end of term holidays she would swear to her grandfather she was never going back… Her red hair and gangly frame made her a bit of a target for teasing at first but her basic natural happiness overwhelmed all but the most determined attempts to upset her. Not popular…but not unpopular it wasn’t until her 16th year until all that began to change.
Her naturally red hair began to lighten to a shade of coppery blonde and the gangly frame blossomed into a tall confident and serious young woman with a prodigious memory and aptitude for chemistry math and science. With marks that allowed her to choose just about any field she chose medicine and applied herself with an intensity that left little room for anything else…surrounded by books…and constantly learning she plowed through her exams and then her residency and finally when she was able returned to her Island Elsat…becoming the first and only Doctor on the Island.
With a final lurch the crawler gained the crest of the driveway and without bothering to retract the seat Mera leapt to the ground and flung herself bodily into his arms…she smelled of sandalwood and antiseptic and after a flurry of studious kisses they retreated to the wide flat porch that overlooked the sloping garden and the northern interior of the island.
How was the big city?
Same as ever too loud too hot and too expensive he said
I got the evaporator coils and the skimmer tank serviced and topped off, I also met with the Rafaat minister and his staff along with our advocate …its really looking like we are going to have leave they want to move us and although they would like us to leave voluntarily if we don’t accept their terms they made it clear they will move us by force…
Mera’s sunny face instantly darkened with a bitter twist in her voice she asked how long have we got?
Six month’s tops…they want to start moving machinery and levelling the harbour right away though…
Christ what a disaster!! What are we going to do?
Mera…what can you do…? As far as they are concerned Elsat is part of Rafaat’s territory…the fact that its privately owned just means that they can’t take it without compensating the owner. This was always going to happen the minute your grandfather accepted the Raffaat claim 70 years ago and made all residents de-facto citizens we became liable to their dictates. The fact that we were left alone as long as we were is a blessing this can only end one way…we can’t afford to fight and they know it.
Mera’s shoulders slumped and without saying a word she draped herself across his lap and stared out across the valley slowly twisting and untwisting her hair…it was a while before he noticed but eventually he felt the wetness of her silent angry tears.
Sitting together on the porch they watched as the sky overhead slowly changed colour from a deep teal to an indigo blue and finally a velvet inky blackness. A freshening breeze buffeted the house, rattling the stalks of dried grass and bringing with it the scent of the sea.
Dinner was a restrained affair Mera cooked the Aubergine and peppers with onions from the garden, the fish she had caught herself on their last weekend outing to Baler. He remembered her squeal of delight as the Mahi had taken the bait and run for bottom as she reeled from the stern of the boat.
They ate at the front of the house with the windows open overlooking the sea…the darkness made it impossible to tell where the sea ended and the sky began only the sound of the waves echoing and pounding on the rocks below gave any indication of the boundary between earth and sky and sea.
We need to fight Mera finally said…even for just a little while…We can’t just give this place up to them without even a token struggle…I was born here…I always somehow thought that I would live and die here…like my father and his father and his father before him. We can’t just let them grind this place to dust for the minerals int he soil…what about all of the birds…and the animals…whats going to be left for them? What about the people where are we supposed to go? The settlement? Miles from the sea? What about us? This house this place its all I have ever wanted and worked for…am I supposed to just turn it over to them without even a token struggle?
She paused and studied Ryalm, he sat impassive arms crossed on his chest watching her, his dark hair cropped to the scalp and hazel green eyes set in tanned rouguish face…a days growth on his cheeks and chin, the small gold band on his ear the only clue that he had at one time been a man of the sea. He still retained the strong back and shoulders from a youth spent hauling the nets and fixing the gear on the trawlers that sailed the waters off the transoceanic shelf that passed Elsat some 100miles out, the shelf attracted a wide variety of sea life which thrived in the narrow band that delineated an almost vertical drop to the sea floor thousands of feet below.
She had seen him before she left for school of course Elsat’s small 3 room schoolhouse had little room for secrets all of the Island’s children attended at one time or another…some more sporadically than others. Rylam had been a year ahead of her and inspite of the teasing of the others they had always been friends spending hours traversing the rocky hills of Elsat exploring the caves and pools of fresh water left behind in hollows.
When she left to go to school in the city Rylam had stayed and learned to captain his fathers boat, his natural mechanical aptitude meant he was in high demand fixing generators,and engines,boilers or even kids bicycles…island thrift meant that very little was allowed to go to waste. She could remember the first time she had seen him after so many years away…she had walked down to Elsat’s small harbour a walking along the small stone wharf lost in thought…looking at the fishing boats that had been such a part of her youth. She never would admit it of course but part of her knew…she had been looking for him.
A dark head was bent over an engine in the bowels of a familiar green trawler…the grease covered arms and dirty hands rested on the edge of the hatch looking for all intensive purposes like a headless corpse waving its arms aloft… feeling all of a sudden very self conscious for watching she had turned to leave and promptly fallen flat on her back…tripping over a coil of rope. The head popped out of the hatch and turned to look, a broad toothy smile warmed his face he wiped his dirty hands on a rag and the hazel flecks of his eyes sparkled and without any hesitation at all he said one word…Mera !! The years that had passed seemed to mean very little to them and in a series of weekend jaunts…they had revisited the secret hiding spots of youth sailed and fished and talked over their views on the world. Not too too long after on a tumultuous windswept hilltop they had become lovers and with that washed away all of the memories of their youth. The comfort of a common history ad Island ancestry was something that had always been missing in her previous relationships the same lexicon of sunshine, sky and sea seemed to be innate within him. Without looking up at her he spoke a flat unvarnished truth the sadness in his voice conveying the depth of his understanding.
What will we accomplish Mera? I feel as badly about this as you do…but what we have had here is no longer possible for us to have…they want this place levelled to follow the veins of anthricite from the volcano, the harbour this house will no longer exist…if we try and stop them then we too risk becoming casualties.
I don’t own this place…you do…but part of Elsat is inside of me in a way that no mainlander can ever understand…my father taught me many years ago…as no doubt your grandfather did too…when its time to leave the ship…when all is lost…leave the ship dont look back or you will lose your life.
I am not saying that you should not fight if thats what you feel is right…I am just asking you to look at what the fight is going to bring you…will it bring you the victory you want…no… they will still come…and still force you to move…This place…this ship was lost 70 years ago with the stroke of a pen…and all of our love and wishing it was not so is never going to change that… My father said when its time to go…you go…and dont’ look back…
I am not saying its time to go yet Mera…but the day is coming when we will have no choice…we will leave…or go do down with this ship.
She knew of course he was right but not in possession of all the facts and perhaps now was as a good a time as any…without any sort of preamble or warning Mera blurted out Rylam I am pregnant and without waiting for his response ran from the living room to the bedroom the sound of he feet echoing down the hall as she ran.
Rylam sat there stunned for a minute and then he was up and running down the hallway after her…
The bedroom door was open but the bathroom door was closed…without bothering to knock he slid the door open and found her curled up by the bathtub on the floor…legs tucked underneath her like a cat…back firmly planted against the wall…without trying to move her he placed his back against the wall and slid down the wall beside her legs straight out in front pushing the bath mat to the wall under the sink…and without saying a word took Mera’s hand into his own and kissed and held it until at last she was able to speak…
I am late - really late she said…I took a test yesterday and its positive…near as I can calculate 6 weeks…we are going to have a baby she said.
Thats fantastic …I can’t wait have you told anyone else?
Lizzie at the clinic knows…she was there when I asked for the test…
So everyone on the Island knows in other words…
Pretty much…she smiled brightly…if we can just hang on here for just a little bit…our baby could be born right here…like I was…like we were…
Suddenly it all made sense for Rylam her reluctance to give this place up…and without saying a word he knew she was right…and that he would fight along with her to give his child the birthright of this Island home .
The sound s of Elsat whispered through the windows that night rocking them both to sleep the wind and the sea called out promises a world beyond could never hear.