Chapter 17

International Ice Patrol.

Noun.

A global organization that works in tandem with the United States Coast Guard in order to actively monitor the flow of ice across the North Atlantic Ocean. Founded two years after the RMS Titanic disaster with the hopes of preventing a similar incident from ever again occurring.

Ice may have gotten the better of us in 1912, but humanity has since gone on the offensive, and most experts are happy to report that we’ve managed to turn the tide. Let’s hope the trend continues, so that future generations might know a world free from the horrors of the Cold Menace.


Right around the time dessert came, a trio approached the pool immediately adjacent to the on-deck restaurant we were eating at.

The two workers in front wore the same white uniforms as almost every other crew member I’d seen aboard, pushing along a rectangular wooden crate on a dolly. It was large, six feet high and three across, or so said my eyeball guesstimate.

No nametags on the crew, I noticed for the first time. An intentional choice on the part of Final Voyages, I suspected. Easier to dehumanize.

Behind the two leading the way with the crate, another followed at small distance, a little shorter, carrying a scuffed duffel bag. He was wearing a uniform too, but it was much more blue collar, a pair of bulky, long-sleeved coveralls and a scuffed beanie, both colored a dark crimson. He stood in stark contrast to the polished and ironed clothes of the men in front of them, wrinkled and covered in grease stains. The sun was less than an hour and a half from setting, but it was still hot, and the outfit didn’t look comfortable.

I paused on the gender. At first glance, my brain had automatically shot to assuming it was a guy, but a second look led me to question that, nothing obviously non-androgynous sticking out at a distance. I got a quick glance of the person’s face as they turned, but it was too far for me to make out with any clarity, my 20/15 vision be damned.

The two men in front stopped once they were close to the pool, turning to them for confirmation. Wordlessly, they pointed at a specific spot parallel to the edge of the pool farthest from us, where they began offloading the crate. After carefully setting it down, one moved towards the edges as if to open it, but the third person walked forward and stopped them, nodding and motioning for them to move. The two bowed and left.

Before they’d gotten back to the door they came in through, the person had set the bag on the floor next to the crate, opening it. I watched them pull out one tool after another and lay them in an orderly line along the floor, at least thirty, some easily identifiable from a distance and some not. There was a drill, a octet of alternatively-sized chisels, multiple saws and hammers, and another hefty bag of its own, among others.

They saved a crowbar for last, picking it up and effortlessly hinging off the sides and top of the crate, stacking the pieces in a neat pile besides the tools.

“Ooooo,” said Presh, the contents of the box earning his surprise. A block of ice.

Not just regular ice, it appeared. Special Paphnutius ice, rich-people approved. The block was clear and easy to see through, but it had a unique coloration, somewhere between green and a dark, golden brown.

The pseudo-stonemason walked around twice and then began to work, chiseling and sawing and drilling softly at the side facing us, carving a flat picture into one of the walls. It looked more like an effort to test the tools out than a serious display of sculpting, with them only using each tool for a few seconds before placing it back in the line, always careful not to disturb the lineup they’d worked hard to set up.

The four of us who could stopped talking and complimenting the post-meal coffee to watch what would happen next, and Hallie noticed the silence, asking me to describe what was happening. She had me stop when I tried going even a little into the minutiae of the tools being used or what image I thought the person might be making, not caring.

Which was, well, yeah. I sometimes got a little annoyed with Hallie knocking stuff before she tried it, but it was pretty justifiable case, as far as things went. I could understand her being… less than enthusiastic about the prospect of one-hundred percent visual media. There was a good reason I hadn’t overstayed my visit with Balto.

A chainsaw came to life, the sculptor having replaced his beanie with a protective helmet, complete with ear muffs and a mesh visor. Finally having gotten serious, chunks began to fly off the brick in large segments, including everything that was messed with before. Our food finished, the three of them watched with full interest, my attention split between joining them and trying to stay engaged with Hallie, as not to remove her from the situation. She picked up on what I was doing and shut it down quick, preferring to be left out. That wasn’t surprising; with Presh and Tup there, she could only talk in Nice Hallie mode, and I knew from personal experience that I was her least favorite person to interact with when she had to do that.

Nate Coiner approached the sculptor from behind, keeping a short but safe distance. Without needing to turn around to see him, they stopped almost immediately, turning it off and allowing him to approach. With the mask partially off, the two began to talk. After a few minutes of conversation, Bell spoke up.

“Hey, ear mod man. Do me a favor and ramp up the volume. I’m curious about what those two would have to chat about for this long.”

“I’m not fond of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations,” said Tup.

“A quick listen, that’s all. If it’s something serious, you switch it right back down.”

“Personal dislike aside, it’s also very illegal to use personal biological modifications to spy on other people without their knowledge. And I’m not the sort of guy who likes to bend the rules in order to annoy people.”

Bell smiled.

“You’re right, it is illegal! But not in this context. It is only disallowed in situations where a person would already be said to have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as inside their home or private business. Garelles v. Smith, 2028. A main open-floor deck of a cruise ship is what the law considers to be a public space, at least in reference to a fellow passenger like yourself. And there’s no expectation of privacy when in public.”

Tup sighed.

“…You do your research.”

“Only always.”

With his index fingers, he lightly tapped the spaces above both his ears. He looked at me and Presh with a face that might have been preparing to explain what he was doing, but Bell beat him to the punch.

“With most models, you can access the basic settings by touch. If he’s using the defaults-”

Tup furiously tapped beneath his ears, grinding his teeth together. Glaring at her, he raised his fingers to his lips, shushing.

“That really, really hurt. If you want me to do it, you need to be quiet.”

“Sorry. Go ahead, please.”

Tup took a breath and started up again, listening in to their still ongoing discussion. After a minute or two and a glance from Bell, he tapped himself back down.

“Well?”

“He keeps telling her that she doesn’t need to build the sculpture, and she keeps insisting that she wants to, that it’s fine. That’s it.”

A woman’s voice. I mentally filed her away as probably a girl, ready and not at all unwilling to be corrected.

“Why doesn’t she?”

“He said no one else will be boarding until tomorrow.”

“And why’s that? I’m still curious about this mystery boarding delay issue.”

“I… don’t know?”

Bell sighed. “Then let’s ask Nate.”

As a group, we took her lead and started to follow her, guiding Hallie after she got out of her seat. She and Presh hadn’t been saying much of anything, Hallie having retreated to her mind after rejecting my offer to talk and Presh still enamoured by the handkerchief she signed for him.

It was her first time giving an autograph. The secret private clients she usually played for were too upscale to ask for something as plebeian as a signature, and the only other ones she could have given out were the limited amounts of signed merchandise we sold online, all of which I had been in charge of signing for her. That was because of her laziness, not her blindness, but I did hope that Presh would ascribe any noted differences from “her” usual signature to that instead of any shenanigans on our part.

We said hello to Nate and the mystery sculptor, the former greeting us with the same waxy over-professional smile as always. Bell jumped to her question immediately, to which he laughed, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck.

“If I must confess, Ms. Lischtt, it’s a power issue. A certain item in Tarturus brought on by a passenger uses an inordinate amount of energy, and it must be kept on; faulty wiring on its end and some mechanical issues on ours led to a power breakdown that affected most of the ship, which created several other issues we’re still in the midst of dealing with. Much of it has been fixed, except for the air conditioning in individual cabins, which is currently being worked on. The innards of a ship this large get very hot without proper ventilation, and that effect is doubly true when around Florida’s summer weather. I’m told they’ve had something of a breakthrough, however; it is guaranteed that we board tomorrow morning.”

“…What item needed enough power to break the ship down?”

“Even if I knew, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be at liberty to say, Ms. Lischtt. The possessions of passengers intended to be used for Trade are typically kept secret until the ceremony.”

Bell nodded, brushing Mr. Coiner off, stepping forward and touching the ice. She seemed to have lost interest in him as soon as he was at a loss for information, wanting to change the subject.

“Don’t touch the ice,” said the sculptor, removing the rest of her mask. I took a look at her, sharp dark eyes staring emotionlessly at Bell, whose fingers had glazed one of the untouched corners of the greenish brown ice. She was Asian — Korean, if my half-educated guess was right — her head shaved clean.

“Ah, everyone, this is Ms. Settic. Like you, she’s a wonderful outside talent brought aboard the ship for the benefit of our passengers. She’s a world-class ice sculptor, considered by many to be the greatest in the world. She’s won more than her fair share of competitions.”

We all introduced ourselves in turn, Nate providing short introductions where he felt it appropriate.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Settic,” said Bell.

“Kohpa is fine,” she replied. “Don’t touch the ice.”

Bell smiled, slowly pulling her fingers away.

“Pykrete, right? I can tell from the color.”

Bell turned to look at the four of us, already in lecture mode.

“It’s what you get when you freeze a specific ratio of sawdust and water together. Eighty-six percent water to fourteen percent sawdust. Lasts longer than normal ice, and the perfect medium for sculpting, evidently.”

Kohpa stared at her.

“No.”

Bell frowned.

“No?”

“Pykrete is too tough to sculpt without problems, and it isn’t see through. This is Grice.”

“Grice?”

“My own creation. Same principle as pykrete, but I use vegetable fibers instead of sawdust. Weak enough to carve but heat resistant enough to last upwards of twelve hours in tropical conditions, with no loss to aesthetics.”

“…Never heard of it.”

“I can tell. It’s patented, though. Look it up.”

Nate chuckled, not quite savvy or delicate enough to pick up on the tension, rubbing his hands together.

“Well, I’m glad to see the six of you finally acquainted. If you don’t have any other requests, I do have some other duties to attend to, so…”

Bowing out with a smile, Nate turned and began to leave.

“Hold on,” said Presh.

Nate turned around, still grinning.

“Yes, Mr. Eurr?”

“Why did you say, um, the…”

Presh blinked.

“…Um, actually, uh. Another thing was more important. There’s that, you know, that ship poster, the one that’s everywhere. You know that one, with the ship.”

“Presh, I already explained this to you,” said Bell. “You remember, don’t you? An artist-”

“I know! I remembered, the contest, yeah. It’s, um. I want to see the first one. I heard the original is on the ship, and it’s supposed to be like, crazy big, so, uh. I wanted to see it.”

Nate smiled.

“Of course, Mr. Eurr. That’s simple; it’s located on the Apollo deck, in the Lord Lobby. I’m on my way to an area right near that room now, as a matter of fact, and I’d be glad to escort you.”


Seven of us came on the glass elevator to the Apollo deck, Kohpa deciding to tag along, apparently intrigued. Hallie didn’t complain about making the trip, still rumbling around her own head, and I didn’t bring up the fact that we could have separated from the group anytime, sort of interested myself after seeing so many replicas of the same picture on the way up.

The Lord Lobby had a raised ceiling, but it was a small room, little occupying it besides a small bunch of fancy armchairs, tables, and the aforementioned painting.

It was ten feet tall and at least twenty-five wide, done with oils on hard stretched canvas, an image of a ship rocking against a calm ocean, a glowing sun setting in the background. I had seen it by that point no less than twenty times, but the image blown up to full size revealed details previously too small to take notice of.

Most of the linework was thick, bolded, and carefully shaded, giving it a style that looked like a mix between a classic Renaissance painting and a well-animated children’s cartoon, but not one that I in any way disliked. I wasn’t an art expert, but I really appreciated it, seeing it up close; it was comforting in a way I couldn’t quite describe. The artist had done good work. I almost definitely hadn’t, but I felt as if I’d seen something else from the artist previously, somewhere. It had a very human quality about it, gentle and reassuring.

Carved in bronze to the walls of the four-mast wooden ship were the words “Honesty, Originality, Civility”, smaller words to the side of them spelling out the name “HMS Bounty”. On the ship itself, hundreds of potted plants were scattered on the deck, green sprouts of the same unidentified plant sticking out, several men with faces clear enough to make out watering them, wearing sailor’s outfits suited for centuries ago. Above it all, a pair of birds circled the highest point of the boat, the feathers of their wings close enough to touch.

It was unsigned, the work, only a number printed in the bottom right corner.

1492.

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