At the Crow’s Nest Cafe, Ellison and Matilda grabbed beers and a bowl of fried skirrets and sat at one of the two tables on the balcony with a clear view of the docks. They could see Ander’s ship down below them. It looked too small to make a long sea-voyage.
“It must be insanely cramped in there,” Ellison said.
“I hope they make it,” said Matilda, and held up a skirret. “I miss real fries.” She popped it in her mouth.
“I miss coffee,” said Ellison. “But at least I can pop out through the gate any time I want. Check my messages. Catch up on the news. Drink some java. Why would anyone voluntarily trap themselves on a tiny boat for months? Maybe longer.”
“Military campaigns often go that long,” said Matilda. “I think getting away from everything is part of the appeal. Hey, look.” She pointed down. “That must be Captain Anders.”
The captain was supervising as a pair of sailors rolled a heavy barrel up the gangplank. Gulls circled overhead and the sun briefly broke through the clouds. There was a salty, briny smell in the air. Ellison breathed deep. For the first time on Krim he could fill his lungs without triggering a coughing fit.
Ellison looked out over the bay. The land curved around on both sides but straight ahead there was water all the way to the horizon.
“Hey,” he said. “Why is there a horizon?”
“Huh?” Matilda looked up from her skirrets.
“If Krim is flat, shouldn’t we be able to see all the way to the next continent over?”
“Oh, my God, don’t tell me you’re a flat Krim conspiracy theorist.”
“Why would there be a flat Krim conspiracy theory? We all know it’s flat.”
“No, the theory is that the there’s a conspiracy to convince us that Krim is flat but that it’s actually round.”
“But people have been to the edge.”
“Maybe those people are lying. Or deluded.”
“Why would Krim’s owners pretend… you know what, never mind. I don’t care.”
They watched as the barrel almost got away from the sailors before it was finally pushed on board.
Then someone whistled and the captain looked up.
“Emmanuelle!” a woman yelled from the next ship over, a larger ship, with four masts instead of three.
Captain Anders walked to the side of her ship. “What?” she yelled back.
“Ready for a break?”
Emmanuelle Anders made it down the gangplank just before the sailors started pushing another barrel.
She was soon joined by the captain of the neighboring ship and the two of them walked towards the wooden stairs leading up to the cafe. The coffee-less cafe.
“Who’s the other woman?” Ellison asked.
“I don’t know, I’ll check.” Matilda stood up and went inside for a quick chat with the proprietor. She came back with two more beers and newspapers.
“Emanuelle Anders is sailing her own ship to the new world,” she said. “The smart money is betting on her. The other captain is Clare Lestrange. It’s her first time sailing on Krim, but she has experience back on Earth. Far, far back. Decades ago. The only question is, will Pompas take over again and sink the ship, or will she sink the ship on her own because she’s inexperienced?”
“Pompas couldn’t find anyone else?”
“Apparently, nobody wants to sail with him more than once.”
She passed the paper over. “Look, honey,” she said, as Anders and Lestrange walked out onto the balcony. “They’ve got a crossword puzzle.” She winked at him. “I’ll bet I’ll finish before you do!”
The two captains barely glanced at them as they walked to the only other table. They angled their chairs around so they were both facing the bay and could put their boots up on the low railing that encircled the balcony.
“It’s good to get off my feet,” said Anders, took a sip of beer, and sighed contendedly.
“Looks like you’re ahead of schedule,” said Lestrange.
“Well, the offer still stands. Ditch Pompas and sail with me.”
“What? And abandon the best virtual world CEO ever?” She laughed.
“No, seriously, what are you going to do when he decides to sail straight into a reef?”
“Is that what he did on your trip?”
“He said he knew a secret passage through. He didn’t. We all died.”
“Why did you go along with him?”
Anders shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess he can be very convincing.”
“He swears he won’t do that again. He says he won’t interfere.”
“He learned his lesson, has he?”
“That’s what he says.”
“Yeah, that’s what he told me, too. Hey, you know what? You should sail off without him. Get everyone to come a day early for an orientation session, and just leave.”
Lestrange was about to take a drink of her beer but paused, staring off into the distance. “I could. I’d just need to get him away from the ship long enough. He’s basically camping out there now. He has the owner’s suite rigged up as a kind of home away from home.”
“I didn’t realize that. I haven’t seen him at all.”
“If anyone asks for him, we’re all supposed to say that he isn’t there.”
“It’s just one crazy thing after another with him,” said Anders. “Who is he hiding from this time? His ex? Creditors? Does he really think nobody’s going to look for him here?”
“He wore a disguise when he boarded this morning. He put on a hat and a fake beard.”
Matilda folded up her newspaper. “I win!” she told Ellison. “What do I get?”
“It’s a surprise!” Ellison let out a girlish giggle. He was getting good at his new persona. He was about to leave the newspaper behind when he realized that he hadn’t actually filled in the crossword. He didn’t want to take the risk that one of the captains would grab the paper, see that the crossword wasn’t even started, suspect that something was up, and warn Pompas.
The two captains didn’t give them a second look when they left.