Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean
Kelvin’s next message arrived in slow, steady flashes.
“NO. U?” Emmett sent back, keeping his message as simple as possible until his abilities improved.
“NO. TALK ALPHA?” Kelvin asked next, referring to the neighboring base.
Emmett shook his head before flashing back “NO. DELTA?”
“NO,” Kelvin responded.
The men went back and forth like this for almost an hour, flashing messages of increasing complexity across the desolate expanse of ocean between them. Emmett took a short break about halfway through to run inside for heavier clothes. Despite his efforts, he didn’t learn anything new about the cause of the power outage, except that it seemed to be even more widespread than he had originally thought.
“THIS BAD,” Kelvin flashed.
Emmett nodded to himself. Bad was an understatement.
“NO ONE COMING,” Kelvin added. “SYSTEMS FAILED. ON OUR OWN. NEED GO DELTA. THEN SHORE.”
Emmett rubbed his hands together. Neither he nor Kelvin would be able to survive in the Arctic without the sprawling technical infrastructure that had evolved over the years to support them. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say the sea wanted to kill them, and that the odds were against them surviving to the next day.
“SEE LIGHTS IN SOUTH?” He asked, suddenly recalling the strange lights on the southern horizon.
“NO. TELL MORE.”
Emmett was about to signal that didn’t know anything else when Kelvin flashed “SRY. NEED BREAK. BACK MORNING.”
“OK. TMRW.” Emmett replied. “He slipped the mirror back in its protective case and immediately felt an acute sense of loss at the sudden isolation. With a tired sigh, he turned and retreated inside.
After a quick trip to relieve himself, he returned to his spot at the kitchenette table. Now what? He asked himself. He and Kelvin had established a semi-reliable method for speaking with each other, but their newfound communication prowess wouldn’t do them a damned bit of good if they couldn’t extend their range. He took the emergency signal instruction card from his pocket and flipped it over. The network of platforms depicted on the back extended in a shallow arc across the southern portion of the Beaufort Sea, just off the coast of northern Alaska. The group to which Emmett’s habitat belonged resided on the far edge of this arc, a hundred or so kilometers from land. He traced his finger along the card, stopping when he reached the mining outpost closest to the coast. An idea began to form in his head. If he and Kelvin could figure out how to pass a message to the next closest cluster, then maybe whoever was there could in turn pass along the message, and so on. The only wrinkle with the plan was what to do if a link in the chain didn’t respond. Emmett hated to think of the odds of this happening, but he couldn’t discount them. With four stations in each cluster, and—he consulted the emergency card—nineteen more clusters to traverse before reaching land, that meant…he realized with a sinking feeling he wasn’t sure what it meant. The precise calculations were beyond him, but he knew he didn’t need to be one hundred percent correct. Only close enough. His enthusiasm faltered.
It was all too much.
He stood and went to his personal locker and rummaged around inside, shoving aside socks and long underwear until he revealed a full bottle of twenty-year-old single malt whisky. The liquor had been there when he arrived, overlooked by the previous operator when he had rotated out. Emmett’s pulse quickened as he gazed at the bottle. He unscrewed the lid and inhaled. A smoky, slightly medicinal scent wafted into his nostrils. He wanted to take a drink with every part of his being,
Instead, he reluctantly replaced the cap and returned the contraband to its home in the back of the locker. He stood and crossed the room to the couch beneath the window, where he stretched out on his back with his hands behind his head. He covered himself with the blanket. He was alive. That was something to be happy about. That was about all, though. He barely noticed as his eyes slipped shut and a deep, dreamless slumber settled over him.