This isnt your watch, Lieutenant, says Crozier, hearing the whip-crack in his voice again.
Aye, aye, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean, the captain is correct, sir. I mean Irving clamps his mouth shut again, but the effect is ruined somewhat by the chattering of his teeth. In this cold, teeth can shatter after two or three hours actually explode sending shrapnel of bone and enamel flying inside the cavern of ones clenched jaws. Sometimes, Crozier knows from experience, you can hear the enamel cracking just before the teeth explode.
Why are you still out here, John?
Irving tries to blink, but his eyelids are literally frozen open. You ordered me to watch over our guest to look out for to take care of Silence, Captain.
Croziers sigh emerges as ice crystals that hang in the air for a second and then fall to the deck like so many minuscule diamonds. I didnt mean every minute, Lieutenant. I told you to watch her, report to me on what she does, to keep her out of mischief and harms way on the ship, and to see that none of the men do anything to compromise her. Do you think shes in danger of being compromised out here on deck, Lieutenant?
No, Captain. Irvings sentence sounds more like a question than an answer.
Do you know how long it takes for exposed flesh to freeze out here, Lieutenant?
No, Captain. I mean, yes, Captain. Rather quickly, sir, I think.
You should know, Lieutenant Irving. Youve had frostbite six times already, and its not even officially winter yet.
Lieutenant Irving nods dolefully.
It takes less than a minute for an exposed finger or thumb or any fleshy appendage to freeze solid, continues Crozier, who knows that this is a load of horse cobblers. It takes much longer than that at a mere fifty below, but he hopes that Irving doesnt know this. After that, the exposed member will snap off like an icicle, adds Crozier.
So do you really think theres any chance that our visitor might be compromised out here on deck, Mr. Irving?
Irving seems to be thinking about this before replying. Its possible, Crozier realizes, that the third lieutenant has put far too much thought into this equation already.
Go below, John, says Crozier. And see Dr. McDonald about your face and fingers. I swear to God that if youve gotten seriously frostbitten again, Ill dock you a months Discovery Service pay and write your mother to boot.
Yes, Captain. Thank you, sir. Irving starts to salute again, thinks better of it, and ducks under the canvas toward the main ladderway with one hand still half raised. He does not look back at Silence.
Crozier sighs again. He likes John Irving. The lad had volunteered along with two of his mates from the HMS Excellent, Second Lieutenant Hodgson and First Mate Hornby but the Excellent was a damned three-decker that was old before Noah had fuzz around his dongle. The ship had been mastless and permanently moored in Portsmouth, Crozier knew, for more than fifteen years, serving as a training vessel for the Royal Navys most promising gunners. Unfortunately, gentlemen, Crozier had told the boys during their first day aboard the captain had been more than usually drunk that day if you look around, youll notice that while Terror and Erebus were both built as bombardment ships, gentlemen, neither has a single gun between them. We are, young volunteers from Excellent unless one counts the Marines muskets and the shotguns secured in the Spirit Room as gunless as a newborn babe. As gunless as fucking Adam in his fucking birthday suit. In other words, gentlemen, you gunnery experts are about as useful to this expedition as teats would be on a boar.
Copyright © 2007 by Dan Simmons. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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