By Throat and Void
Join us this week for Tobias S. Buckell’s breathtaking escape aboard the catamaran Lacy Dancer, as the ship prepares to sail between worlds. ~ Julian and Fran, November 19, 2023
By Throat and Void
by Tobias S. Buckell
A Brelian patrol junk latched onto us as we made slow progress against the westerlies. As the word spread among our ragged people crammed on the deck, the concern grew that our escape plan might have failed already on just the second day.
The junk’s ability to beat almost twenty points off the wind upset me, as our catamaran, Lacy Dancer, could make maybe sixty. On a good day, with a daggerboard lashed off the leeward hull. Two hulls cost us in points to windward, and the junk was closing the long point of an imaginary triangle to cut us off.
Thankfully, even with the kludged-together cabin, our two thin hulls cut through the water faster than the junk. Cartographer Ellian de Sanaa, perched on the webbing between the hulls with her sextant in hand, finally called out, “Safe!”
By the time the junk beat its amazing cut into the wind to catch us, we’d passed just a half league ahead of them.
“Will they fire on us?” little Lem asked, fear clear on his browned face, the wind tousling his kinky black curls.
Half a league. Enough to worry about artillery on land. But out here, we had to wait to hit the crest of a swell to see the patrol and take a sighting.
“I think they’ll have a hell of a time sighting on us,” I said, vastly more confident in speech than I felt.
The Brelians might have more ships farther up the line though, I thought as I hung on to a halyard that vibrated under my palm. I let it sing me the song of salt and wind, taut from the top of our mast to the deck as the sails absorbed the power of the Yessikan windstream.
A refugee named Origast squinted into the spray. “A monohull would have beat that heavy beast.”
“It could never have carried the cabin,” I said.
We were a hundred souls draped in rags, crammed all over the netting between the forward bows, soaking wet, pitiable, hungry, scared. Maybe ten of us could swim. Slung between the hulls: a great sphere of a cabin. The ocean constantly slapped the oak bottom of the shuttlecock-shaped contraption so violently, the Lacy Dancer shivered as if shaking apart.
Maybe it would. The seas would grow. I’d planned on thirty passengers. I calculated the ship would ride high enough to escape this brutal punishment with thirty. We had triple that weight aboard.
We’d pushed off the docks at Sangsai as the diplomatic quarters burned and Shan rebels poured in. Brelia declared all borders frozen to try to stem the sudden explosion of refugees.
Desperate people fled down the docks and threw babies over the water toward us on the slim chance we’d catch them.
I’d jumped into the water with a rope around my waist to save the drowning infants as mothers wailed from the docks. And I’d thrown up afterward as the sensation of tiny bodies bumping against my hands burrowed so far into my brain that I knew I’d never be able to escape it.
Ellian stepped over dazed people who stared at the tall swells in utter terror, and leaned into me as she hung off the same halyard. “You eat?”
I shook my head. Not since the harbor when we’d stewed orange peels to chew on.
“Rest?” she asked as a follow-up.
We’d fled the harbor with thirty other ships. Half our number had been boarded or sunk by Brelian junks cordoning the mouth, before the rest scattered to the compass points. I’d kept watch since then, but could feel sleep’s deep hooks pulling at the back of my mind.
I shook my head. “After we evade the junk.”
The longer we delayed heading to the Throat by evading patrols the less food we’d have, the more the waves would batter the cabin, the more likely something would go wrong.
Besides, there were enough nervous people on this ship, strangers who didn’t know or understand the plan, that I suspected if I went to sleep, I’d wake up to the Lacy Dancer headed in a different direction. Not that I hadn’t also looked at the hills in the haze as we rounded St. Cithnet Point and skirted the reefs. We had a shallow draft; the keel of the ship could skim the jagged coral and bring us in.
But to what?
Brelian troops would shove us into cages and cart us back to the border. I doubted most of the people on our deck would live a week past that. They’d starve, just like most of Sangsai.
We could only flee.
I looked up, and in the direction of the next tack, when we’d aim for the Throat. It dominated the entire horizon off our port hull, and the blue green of the Breliad Sea stretched up like a massive wave that never stopped.
Past that, Theta, our twin planet, entirely filled the sky. Instead of stars, we saw clouds from above. It spun through the void around our Zeta, so close that both oceans bulged, rose, and met in the void between worlds.
Ocean spray and air swirled and trailed the empty space at the narrowest point of the Throat, and we could see the coil of storms that howled in the maelstrom of the Throat. Winds so powerful, they routinely blew ships right off the Throat and out into the void, never to be heard from again.
The crop failures, the wars, the bandits, the Shan rebels—we could leave all that behind on Theta.
If we survived the Throat.
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