|The boat bringing Zebe from the mainland|
A Zebe point-of-view section. Cele drops three hints. Is Zebe on the ball enough to understand what she is being told?
Mr Boatman-and-boat, as named by Callum, dropped Zebe off at the Reefarium jetty on the Monday. Cele tied off the ropes thrown toward the bollards, looking livelier about it than many youthful crew.
Look at her. Rosy cheeks framed by fly-away grey-silver hair. Brown eyes. Hardly a wrinkle despite living outdoors more than in. Cele’s maths, her years at the Reefarium, and how old she was on arrival never made any sense to Zebe.
They waved off Mr Boatman and picked up Zebe’s innocent bags. The dust in a sachet in her bra, a sweaty square against her breast.
They walked measuredly, their backs to the PoleWatchers. Everywhere there was a pole carrying communication transmitters, and there were at least two in sight of the Reefarium, there would be a spy camera attended by sneaky technicians, in the pay of the EMBers more often than not.
The jetty was long enough to meet, greet and get any serious news out before it must be shared with whoever was in residence. Or not, Zebe thought, recalling their abandoned state.
“You look happy like you have solved a problem,” Cele said.
Zebe’s stomach fluttered. Cele was onto her? She caved in. “What do you know so far?”
“What do I think I know so far?” Cele said. “The silver mud I brought from the valley has somehow escaped this facility and, hallelujah, is being spread through the landscape by natural forces.”
Zebe was stunned. “You mean to contaminate the whole world?” she said.
The wind soughing among the jetty’s pilings was like a sign for the end of the world.
“You bet. However you want to describe it. The mud is in no way inimical, unlike the dust. The revival of that krill was like an omen. I started releasing mud in a big way. Come see my witches cauldron?”
Zebe let Cele guide her into the visitor overnighting quarters, Cele skipping behind and in front unlocking and locking up again.
“Security still as tight as ever,” Zebe said.
“Forgot to tell you we have a bunch of visitors. Three that can’t, or won’t, live below the water-line. I put them in the upstairs ocean-side apartments.”
“From where they can see the dolphinate?” Zebe said in the same tones as she might ask whether she should hyperventilate.
“Give them something to think about,” Cele said.
Mysterious visitors indeed. “When do I get to meet them?”
“Dinner. Which the two remaining are catering. I gave them the run of the restaurant kitchens though they look more used to cooking over a campfire.”
Still hours till dinner time. Zebe ignored Cele’s innuendos as well as the three-visitors-two-remaining conundrum. “In the meantime?” she said.
“One of them looks like he might’ve been your type before he was transformed,” Cele said. “I posted a treatment plan to his deck, for you to get prescribed for him and then to treat him with. It should be interesting.”
Cele stopped Zebe near a wet-room workstation in the gloomy wet-gold corridor. Non-essential lighting on half power.
With her hand on Zebe’s arm, Cele turned Zebe. Xanthe’s missive glowed on the monitor. “I highlighted the phrases that seem to relate to us,” Cele said.
Zebe laughed weakly. “Xanthe plays at being the world’s best spy.”
“Did you bring back a sample so that we can regularise the scene?”
“Because of our visitors?” Zebe said.
“They aren’t EMBers, or any kind of officialdom.”
“Had me worried,” Zebe said ironically.
Cele looked at her in that sizing-you-up-way that she had as if she seriously wondered whether Zebe could take what was coming. “One good thing,” Cele said. “It was your sister who went down to Byron Bay. Our visitors are convinced you are a blonde.”
“What did she do?” Zebe said.
“Infected a gent by the name of Poul with the dust. I hope she only pretended to infect herself.”
“It’ll go very badly for her should the Huddle discover it if she did infect herself.”
Zebe felt her blood drain from her face and extremities to help her labouring heart. She stared at the highlighted phrases in Xanthe’s email, engraved on her heart already. …. “That Poul is here?”
Cele looked nearly as sick as Zebe felt. “Remember that mattress-fish that hung around for a while?” she said.
“You fed it for the longest time,” Zebe said.
“Thought it might eat my people if it went hungry?” Cele said.
“How did you convince it to go?” Zebe said though what it had to do with the topic under consideration, she had no idea.
“Not me. Bunch of orcas herded it away. I thought killing two birds with one stone. But, what I heard just now, the mattress-fish grew much much bigger and made it south. Suggests the tables turned and the orcas eaten. In Byron Bay it ate, maybe, that Poul. Though the informant swears Poul is alive in the fish.”
“Jonah in the whale come to life. Or, in other words, a story?” Zebe said.
“I thought that too but for the informant’s state-of-being. Damn, damn Joe Loreno!”
Cele cried, Zebe was astounded to see. Her tears spattered anywhere.
“And damn you for killing my work, my life, my theory!” Cele said.
Dry-mouthed, Zebe said, “The spreading the alien dust through the landscape theory? When the dust is out there right this minute, spreading itself, you said?”
“I only ever spread the mud, Zebe. My theory that the mud is benign and will do more good than harm. You and Xanthe introduced the dust,” Cele said. “But everyone under the sun will believe that was me too.”
Zebe stepped away.
“I’ll be leaving as soon as I can. Get out of your hair.”
“It’s a mess, is it?” Zebe said distantly.
Crying again, Cele said, “Callum refused to come.”
“He’s not stupid, is he? Where will he go?”
“He went. Without so much as a goodbye. Away with the least trustworthy of our guests. Who are men, to his understanding.”
“So,” Zebe said after a while. “Delete the hard drive?” Something to say. A way to get proceedings proceeding.
“Don’t bother. I’ll leave the sea-doors open as I go. Seawater still very efficient at wiping hard drives.”
“You really are going?” Zebe felt aghast at last.
“Why would I abandon my dearest friends?” Cele said. “The innocents in all this.”
Which put Zebe in her place. Cele that good with pin-pricks. “The only innocents in this are the children they will bear.” Something Zebe had thought since discovering Cele’s project. Never said anything, though. Cele’s project’s money kept them all.
Cele laughed. “You’re judging me. Hope you find it easier than me to negotiate the cataclysm.”