Chapter 41 -- Nothing At All
Marvin went to bed, but Tommy picked up his kitchen timer and a blanket and went back topside. The company knew they were somewhere in this area, and he would never be able to sleep below, where he couldn’t see.
He spread his blanket, careful not to cover up Bert’s nook, and stared up at the stars.
If they were here for very long, he’d need to find an excuse to go down into the engine area again. There was so much yet to examine, especially now that he knew about all those documents.
I’ll need to read each one, and compare what I find with what’s installed.
It could be that the most spectacular features of Nick’s ‘technology demonstrator’ were never brought on-line. There was that network cable to the top of the mast, for example. What was that supposed to be? He’d thought radar, but now -- who knows?
But now that he knew things were hidden, by design, he had to wonder -- what was right there in front of him, that he just couldn’t see?
The moon had set, but the GPS screen was still lit, and the navigation lights let him see well enough.
What was right in front of him?
The ship was designed to be sailed from this spot, hand on the wheel, GPS screen for navigation, throttles at ready. Wouldn’t it still be the same, even in super-duper high-tech mode? You didn’t want your instruments and controls to be out of reach.
So...what was he not seeing?
He stood up and put his hands on the pedestal and began pushing and pulling on the wood. Maybe there was a hidden control, or a secret switch.
Bert woke, and poked his nose out to see what was going on.
“You don’t know where Nick’s secret controls are, do you, boy?”
He tapped on the side of the wood panels, listening for differences. He didn’t really expect Bert to know.
As amazing as Bert’s intelligence seemed, it must have its limits. His brain was not significantly larger than any other dog’s. He didn’t have any genetic enhancements -- it was all developmental.
And he was only two years old, according to Marvin. What two-year old human could be expected to understand engineering or science? Or thinking dog-years, how many fourteen-year-olds could either?
Bert reached between his legs and scratched at the pedestal.
Tommy looked down at the base, but didn’t see anything. Where’s my flashlight?
He poked, and it seemed like the center gave more freely than it ought, but nothing happened. But it was suspicious.
After several variations, he found that pressing with his toe on the spot, and lifting the top of the control pedestal at the same time did the job.
There was a click and the little shelf where he’d set his chart books lifted like a lid, and a 15-inch LCD screen slid out, lighting up when it reached its stop.
It flared bright, but then dimmed quickly. It senses that it’s night.
The screen had a menu of controls on the left and a compass rose with sliders on the right.
He barely had time to read the menu before he heard steps below. Quickly, he pushed the near edge, and the control screen went black and slid silently back out of sight.
I remember this, in the document stash. It’s a touch screen display. How much can be controlled from here?
Bree came up on deck and quietly closed the hatchway door behind her.
“It took a while before they went to sleep. I’ve got their snores memorized.”
The mystery of the ship was wiped from his mind.
It was same rabbit-patterned pajama as before, but she’d put more thought into it this time. The front was unbuttoned and the collar was wide enough to hang off one shoulder. She’d done something to make it shorter, and he could see leg up to her hip.
She came to him and he had his arms around her without thought. They kissed. It was the most natural thing in the world. There was no question, no doubt.
At first, the warmth of her was a soothing counter to the cool night air. But bare skin brought more magic than temperature. A stroke brought more than one kind of heat.
And none of it required thought.
“I’ve been ready for you for days,” she whispered in his ear, twisting at his touch.
If she hadn’t spoken, things would have been different. His hands explored warm skin, his heart raced, and his brain was turned off. The kiss would have swallowed them both whole. A cushioned bench was to his back and a blanket for the cold sky.
But, words had to be parsed into thought, thought had to be fitted into memory. Memory brought faces.
Part of him was gleeful with the feel of her, grateful for the license she’d granted. He could push on, and she wouldn’t stop him.
He pulled his mouth back from her neck. He let the fabric drop back. “Wait.” It was so faint she barely heard it.
But he couldn’t let go of her. Neither could he devour her whole like he’d been trying two seconds before.
He kissed her again, but it was a step back, more controlled.
“Tommy.” She pressed herself hard against his chest.
He savored the feel of her, but regret was crystallizing all through his body, hardening him.
“No. It’s not the time.”
“Yes,” she hissed. “They’re asleep. I know them. I checked.”
He reached for the blanket. “No. We would make too much noise.” It was a feeble excuse, but the real reasons were too complex for words. “There’s no privacy on a boat like this.”
He draped the blanket over her shoulders, ostensibly to protect her from the cold, but it was really to protect his fragile self-control.
“No, Tommy, I can’t wait.”
He set her down, and himself beside her. He wrapped his arms around the bundle of blanket and girl. Inside him, a voice was screaming, Just do it! He moved slowly. Deliberately.
“You have to.” He kissed her forehead.
“I’m burning up inside,” she whined, “it’s like a demon.”
“I know.” He felt helpless, and guilty. He had a second to stop it early, and he’d gone too far. With his hands, he’d promised more than he could deliver.
She’ll turn on me. She always has to have the last word. He knew it.
But it was already too late. The fantasy had come to him, and he’d spurned it.
He felt the breath leech out of him. Why try?
She pushed at him, struggling against the blanket. “You can’t, or you won’t?”
“It’s the wrong time! We could be in jail tomorrow -- separate jails! And if we make it through the strait, I’ll be dropping you off in Canada, and I’ll never see you again!”
She wriggled out of his embrace. She moved to the side bench, leaving him with a handful of blanket. In the dim light, he could see her crossed arms, her legs primly together, and he could feel the anger boiling off of her.
“I promised to take care of you.” The words felt lame, but what could he do? Glare back at her and let the anger grow? It’s so messed up! He wished he could turn back the clock. Just one minute.
“It’s not the right time,” he repeated. “I have responsibilities.”
Her words were sharp, brittle. “I’m going.”
He nodded, not looking at her. “Good. You don’t want your parents to see you up here.” Not dressed like that. Not dressed for sex.
She got to her feet and walked to the hatchway. “You blew it.”
He looked up, unable to keep from aching for another chance. Maybe she saw that in his eyes. She opened the door and went below.
Tommy sat down, all the energy drained out of him, his body aching as if he’d exercised too hard. He picked up the blanket and pulled it to him.
It smells of her. He bundled it and held it close.
In the reflected light, he saw Bert’s eyes looking up at him. The dog seemed bored by it all.
“Go back to sleep. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.”