Art Pact 73

We bobbed on the water's surface. Zara had found a a storage tank with a flat top which was still buoyant, and she lay full length on it, hugging it like a child its mother. The rest of us clung onto fragments and splinters, whatever pieces of wood we could find that would help hold us up - I knew intellectually that I was lighter than water without the assistance of the long spar I was holding, but like the others I could not bring myself to release my grip and trust to physics. The parts of the old ship seemed like they were still protecting us, even now that it was destroyed, and to let go would be to forsake a lucky charm that had seen us through the night and (in a way) through the storm as well. The New Amsterdam may have failed in the face of the hurricane's might, but it had sacrificed itself in such a way that its remains were still helping us, even in the morning.

"I see land in that direction," Zara pointed, barely raising her head away from its resting place.

"East," Johns told her without looking.

"I see land to the east," she repeated.

It was true - there was land there, a low strip of grey rising out of the ocean, still somehow in shadow despite the height of the sun. I felt as though it might not be impossible to get there, although it would take a long time. I did not think that I was prepared to swim for days on end.

"Smoke south," Johns said, and that was the other option.

"More chance there'll be people there," said Carlos. He was calm - through the clear waters I could see his feet kicking ever so gently back and forth, holding him in place. "Someone had to make that fire."

Not necessarily someone we wanted to meet, especially since we had Natalie with us, but the chances were that they would be friendly or neutral or at the very least those great proportion of our enemies who were bound by the common laws and decencies towards captives. Although the idea of seeing out the rest of the competition in some Dutch jail didn't appeal to me greatly, I could see the advantage when compared to dying of thirst or hunger on some tiny island in the middle of nowhere.

"It's further away," Zara pointed out. "I can't see any land there, or any ship. What if it's just the tip of a volcano poking out of the sea?"

It was a creative possibility, I had to give her that, although I was beginning to wonder whether she had ever heard of Occam's Razor.

"Not very likely," Johns confirmed. "Most likely an island, possibly another ship, although if so the whole thing would have to be alight to send up that much smoke. Probably not the best idea to go there in that case." He let go of his float with one arm, using it to paddle himself around in slow circles, observing both options one after the other. "The land is closer, yes. I say the land. The smoke is too much risk."

I looked at the little grey smudge on the horizon, still inexplicably shadowy, and wondered if he'd fully thought through just how much risk there could be on an uninhabited island, but I agreed with him - if we were going to get anywhere, it was to that island. As much as I disliked the look of it and was dubious about our rag-tag bunch paddling that far, something we could see was infinitely more likely to be reachable than something invisible over the horizon.

"The land," Zara agreed. Natalie nodded, and Carlos, who added:

"If the fire dies out after we've got halfway there, how will we know where to head for, anyway?"

"Good point."

So we began to paddle towards the sliver of land that we could just about see. We did not swim all of the time - in fact, I had been unduly pessimistic about our chances, not realising that some of the shards of the New Amsterdam would make inefficient but usable paddles, allowing two people to sit astride the storage tank and row while the other three swam alongside. It was probably slower than just swimming, but we rotated out the swimmers so that everyone got a chance to rest (in a sense) aboard the tank, and if we became exhausted while in the water it was easy enough to cling to the netting that was still wrapped around it and thereby save ourselves from drifting off or drowning.

Still, when nightfall came we were still not halfway to land.

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