“Wrest!” Wier shouted for the hundredth time. They passed groups clinging together under hulls, but nobody looked up. Alta wiped the spyglass on her cloak, then on Wier’s–but by the time she could point the lens at anything, it was again too rain-slicked to use.
“I can’t see him,” she said. “Does he know?”
“He has to.” Wier led her through an alleyway of ships, heading seaward. “He’s got to come hide here with us.”
She and Wier had done their job, leading everyone as far as possible from the blurry oval shadow cut out of the sky–but they hadn’t uncoiled half the fleet before the clouds burst and the attack hit all at once. In the confusion, several vessels had moored within shouting distance of Wrest’s rearguard.
“Shut up!” What ships were in danger? She couldn’t tell if the craft kept moving.
“He’s not doing anything. He’s not going to come back.”
“Of course he is.” Alta emerged through a gap near the front of the fleet, but Wier wasn’t with her. He slumped in the damp hollow under a schooner’s blade.
She ran back and shook him. “We need to figure out where the wave’s going to hit.”
“Wrest has a plan.” Wier’s eyes glistened. “He knows what to do. What is he wasting time for?” He jumped up, snorting. “Alta, what’s wrong with him?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Alta shoved him. “He’s fighting for us. We have to help him too. Ships’ll get hit by the water if we don’t warn them.”
“He told us to protect them.”
Then Wier wasn’t crying anymore. His eyes had gone wide, looking over her. “What about that?”
Alta saw a shape in the storm, paces ahead of them. “Oh no. No!”
She started running. Wier ran after her. The ship they headed toward must not have known where it was–wherever the manatees went, it was in a gully near the city, certain to be capsized.
The ship’s bowsprit pointed away from the sea. A gaggle of merchants’ kids huddled on the cabin top. Wiping his eyes, Wier blazed past Alta and yelled. “Hey, idiots! Get off! The manatees are coming!”
A scrawny girl shook her head. “They’re gonna flood everything. We wanna be on a ship. So we float.”
Alta accelerated and beat Wier to the ladder. “The wave’ll flood your hold. A ship can’t sail if it’s full of water. Or upside-down.”
“We can’t leave,” the girl said as Alta clambered onto the deck. “Our parents are inside.”
“So get them out!” came Wier’s voice from the ladder.
“You do it.” A dry-eyed boy shouldered to the front of the group.
Wier vaulted up the ladder behind Alta. “They’re not my parents.”
“What if the waves comes and I’m–ow!” The lad rubbed his skull in confusion, staring at Alta, who brandished her spyglass. “You hit me.”
“I’ll do it again.”
“You can’t come here and–ow!” Alta hit him again. Wier clenched his claws. “Get your clan out on the deck, or I’ll keep hitting him.”
“Maybe one more time?” the girl asked.
“You’re next,” Alta warned her.
Wier concealed a sniffle and pointed to the back. “I’ll hit that half.”
Several children, panicked eyes flitting between the children and the watercraft, headed for the cabin.
Their parents were not happy about being dragged into the chill storm on a flimsy pretext from their children. Their expressions melted when Alta, Wier, and the others pointed out the watercraft advancing over empty beach. The manatee forward guard was giving way gradually, like thick sludge sloughing off a roof.
Alta let them draw their own conclusions about how much trouble they were in. She and Wier jumped ship. The children followed, their families had no choice but to come after, and soon the belly of the ship was empty.
“How d’you expect us to move her?” demanded one father, who shielded the scrawny girl with an arm. “Got a displacement like a mining truck.”
“How do you know?” Alta asked.
“I built her!”
Everything made sense. The girl spoke for the children because her father owned the ship. “Can we pull?”
The man nodded. “Let her lines down, they could take the weight. Wove ‘em myself.” He looked up at his ship with pride, and hugged his daughter closer. “But like I said, she ain’t light.”
“Doesn’t matter! Do it!” Wier had remained calm for an admirably long time, but his voice cracked with hysteria at the sight of the watercraft squatting over the sand–halfway between the sea and the Clearing, where Wrest had taken his troops. Alta told herself he’d fallen back, as fear nagged there was no sign of him. Be strong for Wier.
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