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Authors: Tobias S. Buckell

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #General, #Global Warming, #Suspense Fiction

Arctic Rising (11 page)

BOOK: Arctic Rising
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A city clung to the remains of the polar ice cap. Initially a sargasso of decommissioned floating drill rigs, tankers, and supercarriers, the metal infection had spread out across the ice when retired ice island experts began blowing snow out on the cap to thicken it, inserting metal poles to help further cool the ice, and moving out onto it.

Thule was initially an over-polar trade port. And then it became a town. And then a city. All in thirty years.

Out in the international waters, peopled with immigrants from all over the entire world, it had somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts, turned itself into a country. A petri dish of a country, unrecognized by the UN, and yet, like Somaliland, issuing its own currency, electing its own officials, and carrying on its own trade.

Thule was exactly the sort of place you ran to when you were in trouble.

It was also where Anika realized she’d packed wrong for the Arctic. Global warming or not, it still didn’t mean the North Pole was anything even vaguely tropical. She’d purchased her first winter coat at Thule’s airport.

*   *   *

Anika turned the corner to The Greenhouse, and stopped. Two policemen stood outside talking to Chernov, who stood with his arms folded.

There were three cars parked outside, meaning someone was inside. Talking to Vy.

Anika let out the deep breath she’d been holding. More shit.

She was going to turn back around the way she’d come, but someone grabbed her by the elbow. “I’m from Violet,” a gravelly voice whispered cheerfully. “No, don’t look over at me, keep walking, there are other eyes looking for you. We don’t want to raise their attention.”

Anika kept walking forward, and the man to her right fell into step with her. She felt he was somewhat shorter than her, maybe five feet six?

“I’m going to slip my hand around the small of your back, now, okay?”

“Sure.” He did so, pulling her close into his hip.

“Now we’re just a couple out for a walk,” he said. “Stare at the police.”

“What?”

“That’s what people do. Slow down.”

They slowed and stared at the police, who ignored them. After a moment they sped back up, and the man steered her back down the other side of the block.

Out of sight from The Greenhouse now, he stopped her by a set of steps. He was a wiry man, with crow’s-feet wrinkles around his brown eyes. And from the rounded face and features, Anika’d bet he was at least part Inuit.

“I’m Jim Kusugak,” he said, confirming her guess as he shook her hand briefly. “I’m an associate of Violet’s. The police are all over The Greenhouse looking for you. Violet’s keeping them busy.”

She wanted to trust him. But then she thought about everything that had happened up to this point. “How did she know to send you out here to help me?”

Jim grinned. “Violet has friends everywhere here. She was given a few minutes notice before the police arrived. Enough time for her to call me about her … problem.”

“Me?”

“Yes.” Jim reached into a pocket in the duffel bag he had slung by his side and pulled out a very thick envelope. “Violet can’t help you make it to Greenland right now. The authorities have always been willing to work with her, as most of her business is legitimate. But now they’re apparently shocked—shocked—to find out about the shady sides of her businesses in Baffin. So it’s time to retreat, and retrench.”

Anika sighed. She was causing trouble for everyone she got involved with.

Jim handed her the envelope. “So you have a choice. This is enough cash to disappear with. Could get you to Greenland.”

It was tempting. She couldn’t imagine Vy wanted to see more of her after Anika’d dragged her down with her. This would avoid complications, more people hurt. “Or?”

“Meet Violet at her safe house, and plan your next step with more help.”

Anika sat down on the steps. How well did she know Vy? Well enough not to assume Baffin’s drug lord wasn’t going to cut her throat and leave her for dead as revenge for bringing the police down on her favorite place of business?

She doubted it. Or Jim would have done that already.

No, Vy was reaching out. Offering to get even further deeply involved.

But could she do that?

It wasn’t like Vy was an innocent. She was a goddamned drug lord. She might be bubbly and blond and cute, but …

But …

Vy would be a powerful person to have at Anika’s side.

That was the cold calculation.

The other was that, Anika found herself looking back at The Greenhouse and thinking that she really didn’t want to just run away without at least talking to Vy one last time. To at least apologize.

“I’ll go to the safe house,” she told Jim. “Where is it?”

Jim Kusugak held out a hand. “You won’t like this,” he grinned. “We have a hundred-mile kayak trip out into the Lancaster Sound ahead of us.”

“Kayaking?”

“Kayaking.” He pointed at the cold sea out past the harbor. Miles and miles of cold, wet nothingness.

He was right. Anika didn’t like it.

 

16

Jim Kusugak dragged the two-person kayak down to a small concrete ramp hidden away behind a rickety wooden pier. A few fishing boats lay scattered around the top of the ramp.

Anika had expected an Inuit kayak when Jim explained the trip to her: something made of sealskin and bone, or wood. She’d seen a few local handmade kayaks.

This kayak was yellow plastic with red racing stripes and what looked like exhaust vents coming out of the back. She’d be just inches above the frigid water.

“Is that really going to hold the both of us?” she asked, thoughts of nuclear warheads and torture set aside as she considered the dangers of riding so close to the ocean. It was time to focus on the little steps just in front of her.

Jim tossed the duffel bag onto the ground. “There’re two neoprene tuiliqs in there. You wear the red one, toss me the green one.”

“A what?”

“Looks like a wet suit and a kilt made out of rubber. Put it on. Put your shopping in the duffel when you’re done.”

Inside the duffel were two pieces of clothing just as he’d described. Sort of like kayak survival suits. He pulled the green one on over his clothes, adjusting the cap around his face, and Anika struggled into the red one.

Jim walked over and inspected it. It was very much a wet suit that started as a hood and then ran down into a long-sleeved shirt. But once down to the waist, the shirt flared out into a skirt with a tough zipper that ran around it, along with a Velcro overlap.

“Looks good.” He pointed at the kayak. “Hop in the front.”

Anika clambered in. There was a comfortable seat in the front hole. Except for a tiny piece of the bow, the kayak was mostly on the concrete.

Jim grabbed the skirt of the tuiliq and zipped it onto a matching zipper running around the seat, sealing her into the front section of the kayak. Then he fastened the Velcro lip on as well. She was a part of the kayak, and waterproofed.

It was an oddly intimate melding of person and tool, she thought, turning around to test how much movement she had.

“I’ve never been kayaking,” she said. “Isn’t there a boat or something we could use for this?”

Jim shoved the kayak halfway into the water, causing her to flail a bit. “No one’s going to stop a pair of sport kayakers from leaving the harbor.” He tossed the duffel bag into the space between them inside the kayak and hopped into his seat.

“Where are we going?”

He looked around. “Out to sea. To meet a friend.”

She wiggled, making the whole kayak roll back and forth with her. “And what if we roll over?”

“It’s a sea kayak, it’s very stable.” Jim zipped himself in, then used the paddle strapped to the top of the kayak to shove it off the ground. “Just relax. Tourists usually pay good money for this sort of thing. Although for them I use a more traditional-styled kayak.”

“I was surprised by all the modern plastic, too,” she admitted. “I guess it is like when people ask me if I had lions in my backyard growing up in Nigeria. Or worse, wore grass skirts.”

She heard a laugh from behind her. “Where did you go to see lions, then?”

“The zoo. Just like everyone else.” Then she amended that. “Well, I flew a bush plane on a circle-around tour of one of Kenya’s wildlife parks for a few months once, but I hated dealing with all the tourists. And the planes were not well maintained. I crashed in a cheetah preserve.”

“Shit. Cheetahs? How did you get out of that?”

“I forced everyone to stay in the plane and I called a helicopter. One man from Brussels panicked—he ran away.”

“I can only imagine what happened to him.”

“Park rangers picked him up, half crazy from dehydration, that night. After that, anyone visiting the park had to pay to carry a GPS beacon to make search and rescue easier.”

Jim picked up the one paddle and began moving them out past the pier with strong, smooth strokes. The kayak gained speed, the bow tapping and slicing through the small waves.

Someone passed by in a long aluminum boat with a loud engine on the back. They waved, and she could feel Jim pause and raise the paddle to wave back.

“It took me a month to make the traditional kayak,” Jim said, as the paddles bit back into the water along with a steady side to side motion as he leaned into the movement. “I don’t go out very far with it, stay close to shore. Not very sure about my workmanship. I mean, yes, I guess my ancestors made them for many generations. My dad died young and my mother wasn’t involved in stuff like that. I had to look up instructions and order the bone ribs from a specialty shop to make the ‘authentic’ kayak. This one I initially purchased for the Kulusuk Race. It’s more handmade than the skin one: I used computer-aided modeling to design it, and sent that off to a fabbing factory that extruded the whole thing for me.”

“What’s the Kulusuk Race?”

“In Aberdeen, Scotland, there’s an old kayak on display in a museum along with the hunting tools and iquilik made from skins that were taken from an Inuit kayaker. He was found in the North Sea in the sixteen-hundreds, and taken back to Aberdeen, but died shortly after.”

“That sounds like a lonely death.”

“So a handful of Inuit kayakers decided to set up a modern race in memory of their distant, lonely ancestor who died in Aberdeen. They started a sea canoe race from Kulusuk, Greenland, to Scotland. Nine hundred miles by kayak. Extreme sports. Die-hard kayakers come from all over the world.”

Anika looked around at the water. Jim had told the truth. The large kayak felt solid underneath them, even with the slight rocking from his paddling. “You actually paddled all the way to Scotland?”

Jim snorted. “I got hit by a squall just after leaving Reykjavik. They fished me out of the water in one of the chase boats and treated me and five others for hypothermia. We spent the rest of the race drinking broth and watching from the decks.”

“And that was in this kayak?” She couldn’t imagine heading off into the deep ocean in this thing.

“Yes, but I’m working on plans for a bigger kayak for this year’s Kulusuk Race. This one is disqualified, now: I’ve made some modifications.”

“What modifications?”

“I’ll show you once we’re out of sight of Arctic Bay,” Jim said, jutting his chin at one of the patrol boats off in the distance. “And well clear of the local water police.”

He paddled them on. It was a good mile and a half before they rounded the rock and Arctic Bay disappeared.

Then Jim snapped the paddle back onto the kayak’s small deck, and reached around behind him. Anika twisted around just in time to see him yank on a cord, and the suddenly alien, and loud, roar of a two-stroke engine filled the air.

The plastic of the kayak thrummed.

“I ripped an old Sea-Doo’s water jet engine out, drilled some holes, and installed it on the kayak,” Jim explained, shouting.

The kayak leapt forward up onto the plane of the ocean’s surface, skimming over it. Jim had his paddles back in hand, tapping the water to keep the kayak upright, or occasionally leaning and carving through the water in one direction or another.

*   *   *

Baffin Island’s northeastern tip was a thick horn that came off the island’s main section and thrust upward in a slow curve. Arctic Bay was deep inside the long inlet created by the space between the horn and the mainland.

As they skimmed northward, the waves grew. Jim slowed down, as the bow of the kayak kept diving into the water. Anika would get, disconcertingly, slammed into the ocean as they descended the back of a passing swell. Water would rise to her armpits, flowing around the tuiliq, and then the kayak would pop out.

Now that he slowed, they motored up and down the swells, the engine in the back of the kayak chuffing quietly along.

Up in the sky, the long streaming fingers of the green, shifting into blue, Northern Lights, reached down toward the horizon, then dissolved into curtains of slowly dancing light.

Closer to the land on the other side of the inlet, the eastern side of Baffin’s horn, the swells faded away again. But Jim didn’t speed them back up.

Anika spotted why. A small catamaran floated at anchor, tucked in behind a rocky peninsula that calmed the water even further.

There were satellite dishes off the back, and solar panels unfurled from stands, like giant, silver sunflowers.
SPITFIRE
was printed across the left hull in black letters.

“The boat belongs to a man named Prudence Jones,” Jim explained. “He’s an intelligence operative who works in the area.”

Anika spun around, twisting the tuiliq with her, to look at Jim. Was this another trap? “A spy? You’re handing me over to a spy? How is that helpful?”

Jim smiled. “The reason Violet sent you out here is that Jones can get you safely to her retreat. And, because Jones keeps his ear to the ground, he’s someone you should meet in your situation.”

Anika sighed and looked back at the boat. “I guess.”

“Listen,” Jim said, his voice suddenly steely. “Violet is a good person. A lot of people, they freeze First Nations people out of the jobs, forget them, or just think of them as people who sell interesting art and talk about their history. Not Violet. I like her, so do a lot of other people here on Baffin. She’s putting a lot on the line because she likes you, and we don’t want to see her burned because of it.”

BOOK: Arctic Rising
4.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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