Island Among Elsewhere

IV

My soul buzzed in numbness for lack of being. I was swirling about a great concave depression. The world I inhabited circled around a singular point in the infinite distance, where flew the birds of the air and other beasts in distant stars. The images coalesced, spun more slowly, then stopped entirely. Suddenly, I was irrefragably reminded of an inner motion connected to anchors which were lodged in immovable crevices in nature; I began dry-heaving, and thus was forced to turn from staring into the night-black sky to retching air onto the floor of the raft upon which I found myself.

Several minutes passed in this state of intermediate misery. Eventually it subsided, and in the darkness I tried to determine form from formlessness to make sense of the boundaries of my new world. There seemed to be four of them, two opposite sides sloping up to a wall on one side, and down to a wall on the other. Their edges might have been smooth or jagged; of this or their specific material properties it was impossible to tell in the night. I presumed these boundaries had some close relation to the shifting floor I was laid upon, assumptions I formed based on their closeness to myself and each other, and the rigidity with which they moved in the undertow of the waves. Yes, I was floating in the ocean. The waters and not the fleeting air were now the foundation supporting my existence, though through which I might fall just as easily should fatigue overtake me. And in darkness, faster predators than weakness might drag me still deeper into the depths.

For perhaps several hours I laid awake in the raft, listening with rapidly beating heart at the slight disturbances in the uniform chuckling of the waves against the sides. I waited for It to come back to finish Its meal. But it did not return, at least not in my waking hours or frantic vigils. I was left alone in the ocean.

At length, the darkness began to slowly break, and I beheld a halo of blood on the horizon. The halo imperceptibly grew to a waterfall of molten gold, and then spread the color of wine-dark roses to touch the underbellies of vast and scattered clouds, as though signalling the arrival of a great king coming down from his distant throne. Then the first disc, blazing with gold approaching white fire, breached the surface of the water and climbed into the sky. When it floated unaided in the sky, the golden fire underwent another change. The blue sun was rising, and as it did the ocean was excited with spasms of color at each wave-crest that gave it the scintillating effect of a vast field of diamonds. These crests reflected the golden-whiteness of the higher sun such that the underbelly of every cloud was alight with unsearchable light and hidden color, and the sight was unlike any that might be brought justice in the medium of the written word. It were as though the king, heralded by the first sun, had now come fully, and the way was paved for him to walk in this feeble world, and the atmosphere made alight with the glory of his halls. I had no choice but to look away, for the brightness was blinding.

Eventually, the glory faded, and I beheld the day as any other. I was indeed on a raft of scrapmetal. It was a square section of coated aluminum from the interior of Expeditionary-039. I guessed it was from the area nearest the buoy deployment, since that was the place I had lost consciousness before discovering myself in the ocean, and the surface of the aluminum seemed to angle to an implied point at one end, though the point was itself lost in the sea. And I felt a similar way about my own predicament, but dark humor would not suffice for my survival. I got up and looked far into the horizon above each of the jagged edges on each side of the raft, hoping almost to despair of seeing the Heath-Adams Atoll. I did not know how close Expeditionary-039 had traveled to the island before attempting an orbital insertion, nor how far I had drifted from it in my moment of unconsciousness.

My first watch was unsuccessful, as was my second. The day was growing brighter, and hotter, and the clouds became much dispersed so that I was exposed to a parched and mocking sky. I was becoming thirsty, and my vision gradually blurred from staring for long hours. I would have lost hope, had not a low hump in the distance made my heart leap. I stared at the hump, thinking perhaps that I was deceived either by lack of water or by some slow leviathan tasting the air again before lazily submerging into the waters. But I was not deceived; it was land. Land!

I decided to cast about for something approximating an oar. There was a small pile of debris on the floor of my makeshift vessel, and beneath a larger pile I found a long, floppy strip of metal. I then got to the side of the raft and dug the metal into the waters. Undetectably at first, but more and more as the vessel picked up speed, I made my way toward the flat stretch of land. It was miserable work, sweating underneath twin suns where my skin burnt twice as fast as under my terrestrial Earth, and using the atrophied muscles along my back whose need had long been replaced by technological “progress.” To exacerbate my misery, the metal sheet was much less rigid than an oar had a right to be, and so was affected interminably by the oceanic undertow. This caused the metal to cut my palms where I was awkwardly holding it. And the waters also had no desire to aid me in my noble quest of survival, but would sometimes hopefully throw me forward one moment, only to retract it the next, or sometimes swirl my craft left or right or turn it altogether, and I would have to reposition myself with respect to the direction of the island. But by degrees and by unceasing desperation, I willed the craft forward.

I was utterly exhausted when the suns had completed their trek across the sky, and I had completed my trek across the ocean and had beached the raft upon the sands of the Heath-Adams Atoll. I stumbled out of my conveyance onto the sand and fell instantly into a dreamless sleep.

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