Aldebaran

Aldebaran

I headed North, perpendicular to the setting sun. The rough seas broke a few hours later and the Zodiac skipped easily over the quiet plane of the ocean. After the sun went down I navigated by the stars. Polaris, the north star, isn’t visible in the southern hemisphere, so I located the Southern Cross, a five star, kite-shaped constellation that when intersected with a line from Alpha and Beta Centauri, reveals the Southern Pole. I eyeballed it, drew a line to the horizon, and steered away from it. Mars was low in the sky ahead, a tiny, bloody dot wedged between Cancer and Gemini, a planet with a long history of inspiring images of fire, war, and destruction. A fitting omen.

I bared down on the throttle and drove for hours. The seas remained calm, and the half moon cast a weary glow on the endless spread of ocean in front of me. Antarctica seemed far away. Everything seemed far away. My stomach growled mercilessly. Hunger and thirst were becoming a serious issue. The ocean water was undrinkable. I probably had another day or two before I succumbed to dehydration.

Around 1 am I decided to take a break. I had no idea what the range on the Zodiac was, but I had to assume I wouldn’t make it through the next day. My best hope was to find a shipping lane and hitch a ride to Chile or Argentina. Unfortunately, almost no cargo ships sailed this far south. If I got lucky I might run into a Japanese whaling ship. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to flag anything down in the dark, so I shut off the engine and the boat quietly slid forward to a stop.

I laid down and stared up at the familiar heavens. I traced the constellations in my head and recited the names of the brighter stars: Sirius, Procyon, Canopus, Achernar, the Castor system, Pollux, Regulus, Rigel, Betelgeuse, Spica, and Aldebaran—the brightest star of the Taurus constellation—an orange giant about forty times the size of Earth’s sun. What would it be like to orbit such as massive star? Or to live on a planet in the shadow of such a monster? If things had gone a little differently, if the Russians hadn’t stolen everything, and if the Americans hadn’t blown it all to shit, perhaps I would have had a chance to see it up close. I grumbled and closed my eyes. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I dreamed of revenge.

I awoke with a start. It was still dark, and water was crashing hard against the boat. I leaped up, expecting rough seas, and grabbed the outboard, ready to crank it and steer out of the weather. I raised an eyebrow. Most of the ocean was calm. It had to be a boat! Heart pounding, I squinted southward toward the source of the waves. And in the pale yellow light of the moon, a parade of warships appeared, sliding by in a single, quiet column. My excitement vanished. I quickly laid down on my stomach, breathing rapidly, and peered over the edge of the Zodiac. I was North of them, but not far, maybe a kilometer, and hopefully too small to register on any of their instruments. I counted 21 ships as they passed, including a carrier, and probably a couple of submarines below. Reinforcements for the American Navy.

I considered turning myself in. I probably wouldn’t be charged with Jake’s murder. He’d never be found. But death on the high seas seemed a better alternative than a life in prison. They might even execute me for treason. I let the ships pass. By this time tomorrow I might have a different opinion. By this time tomorrow, when I was weak from hunger, and decimated by thirst, and the Zodiac had run out of fuel, I’d probably be kicking myself.

But for now, I still had a fighting chance.