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Authors: Beth Hautala

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BOOK: Waiting for Unicorns
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Later that night, I dug out the coordinate ruler I used to plot Dad's route over the ice, and I measured the miles between Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Churchill, Manitoba. I drew a straight line across the map—the way the tern flies—adding it to the dot-to-dot picture slowly forming across the grid. Marking out the miles, I divided the distance the tern flew by the number of miles between Woods Hole and Churchill and came up with just over twenty-eight.

That little aviator bird flew the same distance between Woods Hole and Churchill
twenty-eight times
every year. I let out a low whistle. I'd only made the trip once, and that was more than enough for me. Compared to that little bird, I wasn't very brave.

I returned my ruler and pencil to their places in the desk drawer, then stood back and studied the map on the wall, trying to make a picture or a shape out of my dots and lines. But all I could see were two separate routes, and they wouldn't intersect until Dad came back for me.

THERE WERE TWENTY-FIVE paper loops
left on my chain the afternoon the Birdman took Simon and me over to the CNSC. It was just over fourteen miles out of town, so we drove there in the Birdman's ancient Land Rover.

I told Simon I'd show him where my dad worked, though it would have been better if Dad were here so he could show him some of the stuff he was working on himself. Even then it wouldn't be half as interesting as Miss Piggy. But Simon wanted to go. I invited Sura to come along because it seemed like the right thing to do. But she shook her head, saying something about there not being enough room in the Birdman's truck, and the ride being a bit too bumpy.

The CNSC is a research facility for scientists, sort of like a small university right on the edge of the Arctic. Dad had been coming here for a while, so he was pretty good friends with a lot of the people who worked here year-round. The Birdman, too, had done some work at the CNSC—on birds of course—so he already knew his way around.

“Why don't you two go on in,” he said as we pulled into the parking lot. “I'll come find you in a bit. And stay out of trouble.” He pointed at Simon as we got out. Simon placed one hand over his heart in mock disbelief, and I laughed.

The research center had enough room for more than eighty people to come and stay, plus labs, office space, classrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, and dining hall. I gave Simon a quick tour before we wandered down to my dad's office.

I unlocked the door with the key Dad had given me before he left and flipped on the lights. It was strange. It looked like Dad had just stepped out for a minute. Papers and manila filing folders were piled everywhere, several crates of research equipment he hadn't needed were stacked in one corner, and various maps were pinned to all four walls, starred and dated where whales had been located in previous years. The place was a mess. Dad called it organized chaos, and he knew right where everything was, so I didn't dare touch anything for fear of misplacing something important.

“This is it,” I said. “This is where you can almost always find my dad when he's not out on the ice.” I gave the room a little one-handed sweep, wanting to apologize for the mess, but Simon didn't seem to care.

“This is really cool!” he said, eyeing the crates of equipment. “My dad is a financial adviser for the military. I bet this is a lot more interesting! Where is he right now, your dad? Do you know?”

Simon stood in front of one of the maps on the wall.

“Hudson Strait, sixty-one degrees, thirty-two minutes north, and seventy-one degrees, forty-one minutes west,” I said, tapping the spot on the map with my finger.

“What?” He looked at me like I'd just said something in a different language.

“Those are the coordinates,” I said. “I chart Dad's location on a map I have at home every time he calls in. That's where he was the last time we talked. It helps me keep track of where he's at and where he's been. It's sort of nice to know, ya know?”

“But how do you know how to do that? To chart coordinates?”

“Dad taught me,” I said, smiling. “Here, I'll show you.”

I opened a cupboard door, revealing even more stacks of papers, boxes of notes, and a number of cardboard tubes. I grabbed one, uncapped it, and pulled out a map, unrolling it across the floor.

“See these?” I asked Simon. Thin lines ran at regular intervals from north to south on the right side of the map and from east to west along the bottom edge. “These are the meridian lines,” I told him, tracing a line from top to bottom. “And these are the parallel lines.” I ran my finger left to right. “They always stay the same even when maps are drawn in different sizes.”

Simon nodded.

“So, picture a globe in your mind,” I said. “Where's the equatorial line?”

“Right in the middle,” Simon said easily.

“Good.” I held up a ruler. “When plotting a location you always measure in minutes and seconds,” I said. “That's what this ruler is marked with, rather than inches and centimeters.”

Simon's face was a mixture of confusion and surprise. “Why would you measure distance in increments of time?”

“On a map, time and space are the same thing,” I said. “We're just only used to thinking about time on the face of a clock. But if you think about time across the globe, you're actually covering a certain amount of distance every second. Time is just how fast the earth spins.”

“All right,” he said. But the puzzled look on his face gave him away.

“It's like this,” I said, trying to explain it to Simon as Dad had explained it to me. “A sphere is three hundred sixty degrees around, right?”

Simon nodded.

“And there are three hundred sixty meridian lines on a map,” I continued. “So, if you divide the total degrees of a globe into equal slices, you get one degree of space for each slice. Make sense?”

“Kind of,” Simon said, but his furrowed brow didn't relax.

“Stay with me,” I said. “Each one of those three hundred sixty single-degree slices is the same as sixty nautical miles, and also sixty minutes of arc—or how round that distance is.”

I showed him what I meant, curving my hands around an imaginary globe. “So, that's how you get measurements in distance, hours, minutes, and seconds. Each single-degree slice is sixty minutes wide. And there are sixty seconds in every minute. You just break down the measurements from there.”

“Hmm,” Simon said, running his hand through his hair until it stuck up off just one side.

“It's sort of like a card game,” I said. “It makes more sense once you actually do it.”

I handed Simon the ruler. The map we had spread out on the floor in front of us charted the Hudson Bay area, up into the Baffin inlets, and east toward Victoria Island. I pointed to the bottom edge of the map. “Churchill lies fifty-eight degrees, forty-six minutes, and nine seconds north of the equator,” I said, “and ninety-four degrees, ten minutes, and nine seconds west of the prime meridian.” I pressed my finger to the dot that marked Churchill on the map. “Here.” I handed Simon the ruler. “Measure it and see if I got it right,” I said.

Simon took the ruler, measuring against the parallel lines and counting up, until he came to Churchill's dot.

“Fifty-eight degrees, forty-six minutes, and nine seconds,” he said.

“Great! That's the latitude,” I said. “Now the longitude. It's a little trickier.”

“Trickier?” Simon asked. “Don't you just do it the same way you did the latitude?” He moved the ruler until it lay parallel against the map. But unlike the latitude measurement, the lines didn't match up.

“See,” I said, pointing to the ruler. “It's too long this way.”

Simon tilted the ruler, already a step ahead of my explanation, slanting it until the lines matched up.

“Exactly!” I said.

“So on a globe, the meridian lines move closer together the farther you get from the equator. They move until they all meet at the poles, right?” Simon reasoned.

“Right.”

“But on a map,” Simon continued, “everything's flattened out, so you have to measure longitude at an angle.”

Placing the ruler on a slant, Simon tallied up the minutes and seconds. “Ninety-four degrees, ten minutes, and nine seconds,” he said.

I rocked back on my heels, beaming. “Good job! Now you can navigate your way anywhere in the world and always know exactly where you are.”

Simon sat cross-legged beside me, fiddling with the coordinate ruler.

“You're a surprising person, Talia Lea McQuinn,” he said.

I frowned, suddenly nervous.

He laughed. “I mean that in a good way. Like, you're different from other girls I know.”

I didn't know what to say, and I felt my face heating up.

“You mean, because I can chart coordinates?” I shrugged. “It's not really that interesting.”


No,
not just because you can chart coordinates. Other things, too,” he said. “And it actually
is
interesting. To me.” He handed me the ruler.

“Well, good,” I said, my stomach flipping around. “Thanks.”

But what I wanted to say was,
“You're a surprising person, too, Simon. And different than any other boys I know. Different than any other
people
I know, actually. And I like being around you. You make me feel brave, somehow.”

But I didn't say any of that. I just smiled and carefully put Dad's map away, thinking the words at Simon, and wishing I was brave enough to say them.

I turned off the lights in Dad's office, making sure everything was exactly the way I'd found it, and locked the door behind us. We hadn't gone more than a few steps down the hall when I heard the Birdman's voice. Simon grinned.

“He can't get very far without talking birds—” but I shook my head and held up my hand, cutting Simon off. The Birdman wasn't talking birds. We both paused in the hall, listening.

“So you're not concerned? It's going out early this year—I can almost guarantee it,” a man said. I didn't recognize his voice.

“I wasn't aware you were in the business of guarantees, Kurt.”

The Birdman's words were light, but there was an edge to his voice. It was that edge that made me stop. I held my breath. My heart was suddenly racing. We were eavesdropping, and I knew we shouldn't, but now I was too curious to stop. Simon looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, maybe not,” Kurt said. “But you have to admit, McQuinn's pretty driven. Don't you think? Word around here is that when it goes, it'll go fast, and no one—no matter who he is or how much time he's spent out there—will get kind treatment from an iceberg. Not sure a man's life is worth those whales.”

“He's a researcher, not a fool,” the Birdman said. “And whether or not the ice goes out early, he's not going to take any more risks than he needs to. He's got Talia back here in Churchill.”

“I hope you're right,” he said. “And McQuinn will be the one we're all applauding if he comes back off the ice with word of those missing belugas.”

“Yes, we will.”

Simon and I stood quietly in the hall until the sound of the two men's voices receded down the corridor. But I wanted to chase after them. I didn't care if they knew I'd been eavesdropping. I wanted to hear the rest of their conversation. I wanted to tell them
when
—not
if. When
my dad came back off the ice with news of the whales.

As Simon and I made our way through the corridors, I couldn't forget what I'd overheard. Everything had gone from good to horrible. One minute Simon and I were kneeling on the floor, charting our way across the Arctic, and the next minute the ice was coming off early and my dad was in danger. Even if Kurt wasn't in the business of guarantees, his words had settled and spread within me like cracks across the ice. My dad was out there. And no matter what the Birdman said, I wasn't so sure I was reason enough for Dad
not
to take any more risks than necessary.

After we finished at the CNSC, the Birdman drove us back to Churchill. He never said a word about his conversation with Kurt or anything about my dad at all, and I almost asked him if anyone at the CNSC had heard from him—just to see what he would say. But I was already scared, and talking about the danger my dad could be in wasn't going to help me feel any better. So I didn't say anything. And neither did Simon.

“Well, I think we've expended enough effort today to require nourishment!” the Birdman proclaimed. “How about some ice cream?” And without waiting for a response, he pulled up to the confectionery in town.

The Birdman's truck had jostled us over every pothole in the road on our way back, and I was actually feeling a little sick to my stomach. Though I wasn't sure if it was because of the ride itself, or the worry Kurt's words had flung over me.

BOOK: Waiting for Unicorns
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