Authors: Jordan Rivet
Chronicles: Book Two
Seabound Chronicles, Book Two
© 2015 by Jordan Rivet
Edition: May 2015
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a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of
the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric
purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses,
companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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Keith Frederick Young
glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed; in breeze or gale or
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving, boundless, endless, and sublime
Esther slid a razor
blade down the length of wire, cutting a clean line
through the yellow insulation. The rusty blade wasn’t much bigger than her
thumbnail, but it did the trick. She peeled back the rubber and held the wire
in the flame of her lighter to burn away the threads. She shook the lighter to
gauge how much fuel was left, not wanting to interrupt her progress with a trip
up to the new quartermaster. She did everything she could to avoid the upper
decks these days.
Esther let the
wire cool for a few seconds and then joined it with another, this one coated in
blue. She reached into her toolbox and retrieved a fat roll of electrical tape.
She’d found it on the
and it had been like discovering a candy
still in its wrapper.
Stacks of copper
and zinc wire, pipes, and gears filled the furthest lane of the old bowling
alley. Esther felt spoiled with so much extra material. When she and her new
allies had fled the
and brought help to the
months ago, she had snagged any spare parts she didn’t need for the
desalination system and stowed them away to use for her next experiment. After
fixing the water system, Esther had begun her grand new project: a prototype
separator to extract the natural oil from algae plants. One of the sailors from
had taken over
her engine maintenance duties so she could devote more time to it. Her notes
covered the warped boards of the bowling lanes all the way to the faded murals
on the wall.
Esther wrapped the
electrical tape around the wires and ran her fingers over the connections. She
tugged on the thick rubber tubes connecting the prototype separator to the closest
algae tank, which was taller than her. Inside, the green goop waited to be
stripped of its oil—oil that could replace their quickly diminishing
supply of fuel. A spout led from the separator to a plastic tub she had borrowed
from the galley. The machine didn’t look like much, considering all the time
she had spent on it. And she hadn’t even started on the larger version she
hoped to build for the main engine room. The oil squeezed from the algae would
be refined into a biofuel that could power the engines and, in turn, the
propulsion system. If it worked, this design had the potential to free them
from their seabound purgatory. If it worked, it would change everything.
memorized each step in the system. She’d teach her assistant, Cally, how to
build another separator as soon as she had it right. Speaking of which, where
Cally? It was already midafternoon.
She must be off with Dax.
Cally and her
boyfriend could usually be found either fighting or making out, their two
favorite pastimes. But she sometimes brought down lunch, knowing that Esther
wanted to avoid the tension upstairs.
At least Esther
wasn’t the source of the tension for once. She’d been quite popular since
bringing help for the
if she went up to the main decks, people would complain to her about the
newcomers from the
, or the
newcomers would complain about the conditions on the
. She tried to assuage their concerns, but she wasn’t very
good at it. It was easier to hide out in her workshop.
Plus every time
she went upstairs she ended up putting her foot in her mouth in front of a
certain attractive but enigmatic former Galaxian.
had no trouble calming people down, with his smooth voice and
seemingly effortless poise.
The door at the
far end of the bowling alley burst open.
Esther dropped her electrical tape, and it rolled away down the lane.
She dove after it, face burning.
can’t you act normal?
She hated how flustered that man made her, how her
body seemed to malfunction whenever he was around. She leapt back up, twisting
the roll of tape in her hands.
And it wasn’t even
him. Instead, her friends Zoe and Anita were making their way over to her
through the maze of equipment. Zoe wore her favorite vibrant purple tunic and
black leggings. A black bandanna held back her sun-blond hair. Anita wore an
oversize rain jacket with the sleeves rolled above her pale wrists.
“Yo, Esther,” Zoe
said. “You missed a terrific showdown between Judith and Dirk. I think Judith
might have Manny dump all us Galaxians in the night and make a run for it.”
“Judith isn’t subtle. She’d do it in broad daylight.”
“You may be right.
I’d give up a ration or two to see her try,” Zoe said. “Anyway, Dirk wants a
big chunk of Judith’s stores as payment for rescuing the
. Claims he’ll handle the trading with the
on behalf of everyone from the
. Judith said something along
the lines of ‘You should be worshipping the clouds and the winds in gratitude
for bringing you to the
allow you, the scum of the sea, to take refuge aboard the Kingdom of Judith.
You’re lucky if I give you so much as a spool of corroded copper.’”
“That sounds like
her,” Esther said.
“I thought Dirk
was going to crack her in the head with a pipe,” Zoe continued, “but he has
more self-control than I expected.”
Dirk was the
leader of the tanker crew that had come from the
. He had been making waves since their arrival, and
Judith, the de facto captain of the
did not welcome his input.
“When are you
coming out of your cave anyway?” Zoe asked.
She swung on the
humming pipes of the water system, making Esther cringe.
say you’re getting as bad as your dad.”
Her father, Simon, was famous for retreating into his work. She didn’t realize
she’d gotten that reclusive. She’d come home from the
filled with ideas. She wanted to hold on tight to the
inspiration, like a line in a storm, before it slipped out of her grasp.
there,” she said.
“You sure you’re
not hiding?” Zoe asked. “Even Cally says she’s never seen you work this hard.”
Zoe, Anita, and
their friend Toni had been quick to adopt Esther into their posse of
troublemakers. They had become honorary big sisters to teenage Cally. Anita had
even been helping Cally with her songwriting in the past few weeks. The death
of her sister, Eva, during the escape from the
had left Anita virtually mute, but Cally could sometimes get
her to come out of her shell. Esther liked having friends her own age around
the ship, especially because her best friend, Neal, had been busy moping
“I’m not hiding,”
Esther said. “Actually, I’m about to throw the switch, if you want to watch.”
Zoe gave a big
holler. Anita nodded fervently but didn’t say anything.
rather test the separator without an audience, but she didn’t want to wait any
longer. It was time.
The algae in the
tank glistened in dark-green clumps, its fibers dense with oil. The plant grew
abundantly in their current location. After being separated from the
in a freak storm, the
had ended up in a region dotted
with tiny, uninhabitable islands. The ship had taken refuge in the half-moon
arms of one such island, where they’d noticed sea algae thicker than they’d
ever seen before. In some places it was like a green carpet undulating on the
surface of the water.
It had been more
than sixteen years since the eruption of the Yellowstone volcano threw the
earth’s atmosphere into chaos. Temperatures had dropped drastically. Storms and
tsunamis and droughts ravaged the globe. At sea, they’d hung on, gleaning sustenance
from the waters and praying that the hull of their ship would last a few years
longer. They ate fish and seaweed and only used their fuel to run from the
worst storms. Over time they’d modified the
so the interior could be powered with energy generated by the wind and waves,
but it wasn’t enough for them to travel very far. Once a year they traded
salvaged metals and plastics for diesel fuel at the
, a deep-sea oil platform and trading hub. They
had to ration the fuel carefully to make it last. But if Esther’s new project
worked, they would be free.
She had first
learned about algae biofuel from Frank Fordham, the old engineer who had lived
for most of her life
and taught her much of what she knew. He’d told her the oil in algae plants
could be converted to fuel and used in any diesel engine, but this required
chemicals they didn’t possess. Esther had forgotten about this type of biofuel
took refuge among
the little islands, where the sea algae grew fast and thick. As the weather
warmed, the plants multiplied, spreading green fields across the water around
them. She had begun to wonder whether there was another way to get the fuel
from the plants.
with the parts she’d brought from the
until she’d finally developed the idea for the separator. Her system was a
mechanical rather than chemical method of separating the oil from the rest of
the plant and refining it into usable fuel. That was the secret. It was a
highly energy-efficient process, and the results could change their lives
forever. A new fuel source would allow them to cross the sea at will, and they
wouldn’t have to worry as much about constant conservation. The system could improve
their quality of life immeasurably. Esther just had to get it to work.
“Stand over there
by the third tank,” she told Zoe and Anita. “You’ll have the best view if it
the final wire and removed one of her rubber gloves. The system looked like it
could fly apart at any moment. She lifted the protective casing she’d placed
over the on switch and held her breath. Zoe and Anita leaned forward around the
water tank. Esther checked the connection to the motor one final time.
Then she flipped
For a moment
nothing happened. Water bubbled through the desalination tank behind her.
Someone clunked past the door in heavy shoes. Zoe stifled a giggle. Esther put
her hand on the separator machine, willing it to come to life. She felt a hum
in her fingertips. It built slowly, the vibrations feeding off of each other as
the system churned the algae in ever-faster revolutions. It had taken her ages
to figure out how to optimize this process so that it wouldn’t take more energy
to run the machine than the resulting biofuel would actually produce.
started to rattle.
“Step back, will
you?” Esther said, waving Zoe and Anita behind the tank. She pulled up her
storm goggles and leaned closer to the machine. One gear vibrated faster than
the others. Esther thrust her wrench inside and tapped it into place, trying to
avoid getting her fingers caught. The machine settled into a low hum. Green
sludge began to circulate through the system. The separator would be shaking
the oil loose from the fibers of the plant and sending it to the second stage
of the separator, where it would be refined into fuel.
Esther held her
breath. After a dozen revolutions, a glistening tear of green-tinged oil
dripped from the spout into the plastic tub waiting at Esther’s feet.
dropped. Then the oil began to pour slowly and steadily, like water from a
faucet in the old days. Esther sat down on the floor and watched the oil spill
from the spout.
After months of
adjustments, dozens of setbacks, and countless sleepless nights, she couldn’t
believe she had finally done it.
Esther,” Anita said softly.
“Look at that
thing go!” Zoe pumped her fist in the air. “So smooth! So quiet! You’re the
“I knew it had to
Esther wrapped her
arms around her knees and listened to the machine hum. With the gears
tightened, it was quieter than she expected. A sense of elation built slowly in
her stomach, just like the vibrations in the machine. She had done it. For once
she hadn’t screwed things up. Nothing had exploded. No one had been killed.
This would change everything.
“Check out the
meter.” Esther twisted down the gauge attached to the machine. She tapped it,
but the numbers held steady. “It’s not taking much power at all.”
“Does this mean
ya’ll won’t run out of fuel and need to be rescued again?” Zoe said.
“If we stay near
the algae blooms,” Esther said. “Next I have to make sure the engines can
handle the biofuel and hook them back up to the propulsion system. But . . . we
might be able to travel wherever we want. We could nip over to the
once a month.”
“We didn’t even do
that on the
when we had a pair
of oil tankers and a floating refinery.” Zoe studied the separator as if it
were a strange sea creature she had never seen before. “This is pure genius.”
Anita came over
and squeezed Esther’s shoulder with her long fingers.