I adjust the radio again.
“Hello, are you there?”
“Hello, are you there?”
I haven’t heard from base since the storm. The water is still rising. We’ve relocated to the top of the tower. The whole tower is swaying. I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out.
I try one more time.
I check the emergency beacon again. It seems to be working, but what do I know? I’m really just a glorified maintenance man.
Anne is still asleep, but it’s her shift and fair’s fair. I shake her awake, gently — we’ve been down here long enough to know each other well.
She pushes me away.
“Just another hour,” she says, her voice thick.
“Okay, but that’s it.”
She’s asleep only moments later. I reset the shift-alarm.
I’m worried about her, so to distract myself I try the radio again. There’s still no answer. I give up, look around the room. There’s no point in going outside — the lights died during the storm, and suns-up is hours away.
I collapse into a chair by the window, looking out at the endless water below.
The beep of an alarm wakes me. I’m on my feet almost instantly, panicked, wondering what’s gone wrong this time.
But it’s just the shift-alarm.
Anne switches it off and smiles at me. I collapse back into my chair.
“Good morning, sleepy head.”
I groan, but still return her smile. She’s been sick since the storm: un-focussed, lethargic, disconnected. This is the first time in more than 48-hours that she’s shown any spark.
I’m happy to see her back on her feet, although she still looks a bit run-down.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
She smiles again. “Much better. But you should get some more rest — you’ve been pushing it pretty hard.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. I’ve got it from here.”
She helps me to my to bunk.
Anne is shaking me. The shift-alarm isn’t sounding. Something must be up if she’s waking me early.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, stifling a yawn.
“I made contact!” She laughs brightly, girlishly, just for a second, her most endearing habit. I’m really happy to see her back on her feet.
“Come on, have a listen,” she says.
I crawl out of my bunk and follow her, barely surprised that she succeeded where I failed. She’s the real brains, her head crammed with technical knowledge. But she’s not as adaptable as me. I guess that’s why we’re a good team.
The contact she made is disappointing.
“Outpost 11, this is Base.”
The voice is distorted, thin, almost lost in static. I don’t recognise it.
“Outpost 11, this is Base,” it asks again.
“It’s a loop,” Anne explains. “But at least it’s something.”
We listen for hours, sitting together in silence, waiting. At some point, the loop starts to fade out. And then it’s gone.
Anne yawns. She’s looking a bit green again.
“Get some sleep,” I say. “I’ll be okay.”
Another storm just hit us. Like last time, it’s the middle of the night. This one doesn’t feel as bad, though — thank Christ.
I stagger across the room, trying to keep my feet, the tower swaying madly. Anne is deeply asleep. I pull the webbing across her, clipping it down. My movements don’t wake her. Neither does the deafening rain, the howling wind, the mad sway.
I crawl into my bunk and clip down my own webbing.
Much later, a distorted voice reaches me over the noise of the storm.
“Outpost 11, this is Base,” it says. “Are you there?”
I look around, unclipping my webbing instinctively. Anne is stirring.
“I’ll get it,” I say.
Her eyes are wide open, sharp, bright.
“I’ll help,” she says.
“Outpost 11, are you there?”
We hurry to the radio, staggering, moving with the sway of the tower. I pick up the mic and headset; she starts trying to clean the signal.
“Base, this is Outpost 11.”
“Cockatoo, is that you?”
It’s Salim. Salim! I smile. “Bet your arse it is,” I say.
“Cockie!” he says. “Now look, the storm will be getting worse soon, but evac’s on the way — ETA three hours, forty-five…”
The signal suddenly drops out. Anne collapses at almost the same exact time. I drag her to her bunk, strap her in, return to the radio.
The storm’s building. The tower is swaying so hard that it feels like it might crack. I haven’t re-established contact with Base. All we can do is wait.
At some point, the evac-raft arrives, attaching itself to the gangway encircling the tower with the shriek of metal on metal.
But the storm’s still building.
The water’s now lapping at the door, but the storm has finally stopped. We have to go. Anne looks at me, her eyes glazed. I pick her up bodily.
“I can do this,” she says, struggling free.
I reluctantly let her go.
We make our way outside. Both suns are only just rising; it’s beautiful. The evac-raft is close. I hurry ahead, open it up.
The tower buckles.
The far-end of the gangway collapses into the water. The force throws me into the raft, onto my belly. I look back. It must have knocked Anne off her feet: she’s clutching her head, sprawled on her stomach. The water steadily draws closer as our section of the gangway starts collapsing as well.
I scuttle out, ending up in the water.
I grab Anne’s hand and pull her towards me. She’s twitching. I hold her with one hand, grab the raft with the other.
And that’s when I see her properly.
There’s a deep gash in her forehead. But instead of blood or bone, there’s circuitry, wiring, metal plating, blinking diodes. Something in there sparks as water rushes in. Some smoke wafts out.
“I’m sorry,” she says, her words slurred. “They told me I’d never break, that you’d never have to know.”
Her eyes close.
(Originally published in AntipodeanSF #228, July 2017)