Research Assistant Sam Ibsen was not a fan of his new assignment. He was not a fan of it at all.
It was the architecture, he thought. Here we was, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a tropical island no less, and it still felt cold. It was this damn Soviet architecture: the blocky concrete halls seemed to suck out the life of the place. It just went out with the draft. There shouldn’t have been a draft, of course, but there was, and the draft brought the smell.
Agh, the smell…seagull shit and oil and salt and garbage and dead fish and burning rubber, all fermenting under the clouds that swirled around the island with the shattered peak. It wasn’t a smell that one got used to; it perpetuated its foulness day in and day out without stop.
Then there was the garbage. The island was covered in it. Everything was brought here eventually, everything thrown in the ocean and forgotten. And there were people living in it even: blind mutants scraping out a pitiful existence in the trash.
He focused on his work, hard as it was at that hour. Half of the graphs were falling apart, the other half only half finished. They were trying to find a pattern to how the island moved, some reliable way to trace it. It didn’t obey currents, or tectonic plates, or anything but its own whims. Could an island have whims? The Russians hadn’t figured it out when they were here, and now Ibsen was similarly spinning in circles.
The door on the other side of the makeshift kitchen creaked open, bringing with it a new wave of gag-inducing stench, and a man. He was older, somewhere in his late seventies, with greying hair tied back in a short braid and a neat beard. His glasses were small, those old ones with the circular lenses. He wore a heavy red jacket, and carried a big black doctor’s bag in one hand.
He shut the door. The smell lessened somewhat as most of it was left outside in the night.
“Guten Morgen, Herr Ibsen.” The visitor walked over to the table with his characteristic limp.
The older man reached into his coat pocket, removing a silver pocket watch.
“One-twenty-four A.M, so yes.” His accent was thick, but understandable. He clicked the watch closed. “Are you making any progress?”
“Nothing.” Ibsen put down his pencil and sat back in his chair. Enough with this, then. A little conversation and then bed. “Division P had no idea what was going on here, and we still don’t know anything. The island just moves around, and the dimensions of it keep shifting. The lower slopes are almost completely unknown, save for the docks. Three months here and we’ve gotten nothing.”
“Maybe not nothing. Maybe the answer lies within what you already know.”
“Maybe, but then I’d have to know what I know first, and the Cyrillic alphabet isn’t helping. And anyway what were you doing out so late, doctor?”
“I was in the village. There was a baby to deliver.”
“A girl. Strong by their standards, blind and frail by ours.” The old doctor nodded his head, smiling. “Still, a good night. The tribe is still celebrating.”
“You take what excuses you can, I suppose.”
“Life is a reason, not an excuse. It ought to be celebrated more often. Speaking of celebration, Herr Ibsen…” the old doctor reached down into his bag: seconds later his hands returned to the tabletop with a bottle of wine and a cup. “It is my wedding anniversary today. Would you mind celebrating with me? I am afraid I do not have any other glasses.”
“Oh, yeah…hold on a bit.” Ibsen carefully put his papers in their appropriate piles at the edge of the table, away from potential spills. After a moment of thought, he put them back in their file folder where they belonged.
The cup was easy enough to find in the cupboards, though it was a chipped coffee mug instead of a wine glass. It would have to do. He brought it back to the table.
“How long have you been married?” Ibsen asked as the old doctor uncorked the bottle and poured. He was honestly quite curious about it: The old doctor had remained a mystery these past three months, an outside specialist brought in as consultant for the Foundation study of E-2934.
“Fifty-five years. This would be fifty-nine.”
The old doctor smiled in that way perfected by grandfathers since the beginning.
“For what? She died in her bed, at peace, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I have seen a great many people die, Herr Ibsen, and there are far worse fates than to spend a few last moments with those you love. Come now, let us celebrate fifty-five years of life and love. A toast.” He held up his own cup. “To Winry. Obwohl ich sie vermisse, ist sie in meiner Nähe.”
Outside, the melancholy wind bit and moaned from the cracks in the dead mountain. A wave brought with it an dead turtle, choked on a plastic bag and suspended in oily foam. A blind man in a hut told a story of when the sky burned. A mother and her child slept.
Eventually, the light in the kitchen was turned out.