Authors: Mackey Chandler
A Depth of Understanding
Fifth of the "April" series
Special thanks for your help to:
Mario 'Asimov' Albanese for editing
James Davis for cover creation
The sun baked all the way through, to the warm deck beneath her. April felt she might melt, like a pat of butter on a hot roll, and slide off the arch of the bow into the sea. She was in serious danger of fully relaxing, physically and mentally. The latter being far more difficult of course. She'd been sleeping that deep dreamless sleep, from which she'd eased so subtly, she wasn't aware of waking up. Nothing jolted her awake. Perhaps the steady breeze had shifted bearing a bit, or the rigging had whispered against the mast.
The tightly woven hat over her face had a pleasant scent when hot. She had never smelled a field of straw being cut, to know its richer form. The drift of fine salt spray, from the breakers outside the atoll, added a sharp note to the earthy odor. But the wind wasn't blowing enough to make the ship roll, sheltered inside the ring of coral.
"Dummmm, dumm…dumm, dumm…dumm, dumm," sounded low and ominously to her left. She should never have shown Jeff that stupid old movie. She refused to reward him by responding, but he must have sensed she was awake. When the strike came it was just above her hip on the left. Teeth far less savage than a Great White nipping her, right where he knew it tickled.
The first time he'd done it, yesterday, she'd shrieked so loudly the man on deck watch had run from the cockpit to see what was wrong. She wouldn't give Jeff the satisfaction today.
"That's a one-time funny joke, Jaws," she said from under the hat. "Go away and find some other prey."
"Heather got hungry and went below for a bite. I think I'll have mine right here," Jeff teased.
"I'm hungry too. Let's go down and see what's on the cold buffet."
"You're always hungry," Which was pretty nearly true. He wasn't gene mod, at least not the basic stuff like April, just tweaks and didn't eat near as much as April. "I'll go the long way," he declared. By the time April took her hat off and sat up, she just saw his feet disappearing over the edge of the deck, followed by a >sploosh < and a few drops of spray that managed to climb back this high. She got up, considered diving in herself and just wasn't in the mood. She just sauntered back along the rail of the ketch, on the narrow deck beside the cabin, to the rear deck and sunken cockpit. Stepping down onto a bench that ran along the side behind the wheel.
Jeff's wet footprints said he'd beat her to the cockpit and companion way below, despite having to climb up from the platform lowered off the transom for swimmers. She went in their stateroom and rinsed off with fresh water, stowed her hat and put on a pair of shorts. Her mom had always been a bit formal about behavior at the table and April just couldn't bring herself to sit and eat totally naked, French boat rules or no. Jeff had no such problem, he had just splashed his face and hair with fresh water and was drying it with a towel when she caught up to him.
April got to the food first, lifting the clear cover on the chill table and taking a cold plate. There were some cold salads, bean salad and potato salad, a pea salad with diced tomatoes and nuts, egg salad and ham salad, a beef roast and a block of white cheddar. Jeff caught up with her and started making a cold beef sandwich with horseradish and a pile of sweet pickles. April got a plate full of chilled prawns, with a cup of creamy hot sauce to dip them, a big dip of the pea salad and a glass of the iced coffee.
Heather was already at the table, with the ship's owner and one of the crew, eating a sandwich of some sort of fish salad. Not of canned tuna, rather leftover from the grilled fish that had been supper last night, pleasantly smoky. April hadn't caught it, so she wasn't sure what it was, except tasty. Heather was looking at the big flat screen, turned around to face the small upper galley from the main lounge. The atoll was a crooked circle in the middle of the screen, with white trim a couple places where surf broke on it. The
was a white comma, off center inside. So small it was hard to tell bow from stern. The water varied from pale blue to green turquoise from above and fell off into deep dark water outside the atoll.
"I've been sitting, watching the waves," Heather told them. "They aren't simple. They especially aren't just parallel, driven by the wind. There are interference patterns, just like you see with a laser in different modes. I had the drone open up the angle of view and you could see there is a pattern of waves from the northwest and a weaker one from the south that mix with the main pattern of wind driven ridges from the west. I wonder why? Can there be wind on different bearings, off pretty far away and the waves from that reach way beyond the wind?"
The owner, Lin, looked at Heather surprised. "The old Polynesians, so long ago we're talking open canoes, used to read the waves to navigate. The islands both interfere with waves coming from behind them and reflect waves striking the side near to you. A big storm far over the horizon can also send big rollers through the whole pattern, just as you thought. But the interpretation of them is complex. I'm shocked you'd see the patterns so quickly, with no experience as a sailor."
"Oh, I don't
them," Heather quickly explained. "And I have the advantage of a viewpoint from above they didn't have. But I can see there
patterns. I've looked at quite a bit of ocean from an orbital perspective, looking for ships and the patterns disappear when you back off the view that high. You'd have to look closely at a bunch of different locations to start to understand it at the level you're talking about. Those old sailors were pretty smart."
"They had incentive," Lin agreed, "The ocean is big and the islands they were looking for pretty small. They couldn't move against wind or current as easily as we can and if they missed their landfall they might starve in the open ocean, or at least never make it back to where they were hoping for, driven to a strange land."
"A fate we seem to be avoiding, happily," Jeff noted. He took a bite of roast beef, piled so high on his sandwich he had difficulty fitting it in his mouth. "This is so good," he said after chewing awhile. "I've had vat grown beef. They try to pass it off as better than beef on the hoof. It has good flavor, I admit, but there is something about the texture that is too uniform. It's weird to say, but might be better if they actually made it a little
," he decided.
"If we grow our own beef at Central it will have to be vat raised," Heather reminded him. "I can't imagine having enough cubic to raise cattle. With grass, like wheat, you can stack trays on conveyer racks, five or six layers deep, with lighting on the bottom of the trays above, high carbon dioxide levels and grow it pretty efficiently. A cow is just too tall to layer. It isn't the volume of rock you have to remove and seal, it's the volume of air to fill it that would be extravagant."
"When restaurants advertise beefsteak down here, they always stress it is tender," April reminded them. "I bet they used the tenderest tissue, from the very best kind of cattle for that quality, to seed the vat. It has to be grown as a muscle. If you just grow loose cells and filter them it doesn't have any structure or fat. Maybe you should look into acquiring an inferior line, to give it a little more bite, for when you don't eat it as a steak. My grandpa said he had some Argentine beef way back, when he was in the USNA military, that had to be cooked to death and was still pretty chewy. I bet it's cheaper too."
"That's a chuck roast," the crewman Able said. "It runs around thirty dollars a kilo out of Australia. The same thing out of Japan costs four times as much. The filet mignon off the same animal tastes just like vat raised, but costs twice as much as the chuck, Australian or Japanese either one. The off the hoof filet is so much pricier than vat raised, just for the snob appeal. Rich people like to think they are gourmands and know wine too, even if they abuse their palate with hard liquor and smoke. They might be hard put to tell something is from grapes, but they will pay for prestige."
"Well, I appreciate your cooking," April told him. "I don't know enough to critique it, but if I had something I didn't like, I wouldn't choke it down to avoid hurting your feelings. So far everything you've sat in front of me has been good, even a few things I had my doubts about, until I tried them." That visibly pleased Abe. Lin had added him to his crew from their new base in the Aci Castello marina on Sicily. He'd been chef at a nearby hotel, but the long hours in the kitchen, away from the sun, had turned something he enjoyed doing into a burden.
April and her friends had never seen the
new home port. They might never, if the political climate stayed tense. Their space habitat nation, Home, recently removed itself from Earth orbit and took up station in a halo orbit, between the moon and the far Lagrange point, L2. They'd been attacked repeatedly since independence, by both the Earth Super Powers and removed themselves from being a close easy target. Once relocated, they had announced no Earth power would be permitted to lift armed ships past L1 on the Earth side of the moon. The Earth powers were still sorting out their reactions to that announcement. April wondered how long it would be until one of them tried to test their resolve and ability.
They'd made a water landing in the shuttle
to meet the ketch
waiting three days to do so, because their shuttle was heavily loaded and they wanted very calm seas to unload and transfer expensive cargo to the ketch. In the ship's hold, down below right now, was a great deal of electronic chips, some specialized crystals that needed microgravity to form properly and a number of drugs that benefited from the same environment. Those same products could have come down on returning supply shuttles from Home. However there were markets for these items, at well above normal prices, in several countries that embargoed trade with Home, including the two largest markets in the world, China and the USNA. Jeff and some of his associates, were happy to sell the items at a hefty markup, added for their skill in avoiding customs seizures.
Gunny and Barak finally crawled out of their cabin. They had been up very late stargazing. It was funny that it was easier to view the heavens directly here, than Home. On Home they could see better, but it would be on a screen, remotely controlling a telescope outside in vacuum. There was a huge element of enjoyment that was missing, if you didn't point the telescope at what you wanted to see and focus it, peering in an eyepiece. Something near impossible to do in a pressure suit.
If you were going to view it remotely on a video screen, you might as well just take a feed off a professional telescope, that could see much more. There was more of those sort of fantastic images on the 'net than anyone could sit and view. Looking at a speck of light in the sky and then aligning a scope on it and seeing Saturn's rings and the moons chasing around it real time, had a completely different immediacy and enjoyment, unrelated to image perfection.
Gunny made a face at the cold buffet for breakfast and went to the tiny main deck galley. He waved Abe back to finish his own lunch when he started to get up. "I can scramble a couple eggs just fine, Abe." But he actually scrambled half a dozen and dumped a couple spoonfuls of salsa in them too. Barack made do with cold beef and hard boiled eggs, on a bed of pea salad. Good thing, because Gunny wasn't sharing.
The cabin was cooled, but not too deep a chill. They wanted to be able to go in and out without too great a shock, from cabin to deck and back. It was maybe twenty-nine degrees. The boat had a generous surplus of power available, since it carried a fusion generator, designed and made by Jeff, but promised for past service by April. The fusion power package gave them a competitive edge on other boats that relied on diesel for propulsion when there was no wind and every other sort of auxiliary power.