He sank his knife into the seal which stared up at him without flinching as all the seals had on his trip south. Its hot blood steamed and coagulated on the ice as it flailed weakly, uncomprehendingly, looking up at Teriaq as if to say "What? What is happening to me?". He offered it his canteen, pouring out a bit of his water for the dying creature to drink. Respect. When it stopped moving he started skinning, splitting the seal from tail to ears. He tossed the skin into the polynya, no way to tan it, no way to know if he'd remember how to. The ribs were opened next and the intestines drawn out, they too were tossed into the hole. The meat he saved, cut in strips and wrapped in discarded tee shirts. The blubber was added to the nearly-empty jar he'd stowed away on the sled, towed behind the snowmobile. He fought the temptation to swallow some. He was hungry. Arctic exertion burned away his calories. He felt himself grow thinner inside his four layers of cloths. Instead, he chewed on a strip that was still warm. A fading memory said that his blood would be redder and his breath hotter. He didn't know why. He didn't remember why.
He continued to chew on the fresh, bloody meat as it steamed in the sub-freezing air as he walked back to camp. Top half of the red survival tent stood out on the ice along with a freshly-excavated, black snowmobile. It was the first he'd been outside in a week, the howling winds had held him in. It was July. July in the Gulf of Booethia. The ice should have retreated but it was back early. Against season and greenhouse gas it returned bringing snow and wind with it. Teriaq knew why.
When he closed his eyes he saw it again. The beginning. Green ice. Blue skies. Brown stones, slick with blubber and blood. A gasping beluga, half-dead, stares out with panicked eyes, unknowing. On breakers, wine-colored with blood white whales float like limp, cotton rags on the tide. Still more of them come to throw themselves against the rocks. Leaping gleefully and squealing they push out of the waves and onto the cobble. The dead bake in the constant, summer sun of the arctic. He stood and watched with his old friend Fullbrush.
"They're supposed to be in the inlet." Teriaq grasped for meaningful words. "It's calving season." He looked at Fullbrush whose eyes were unreadable behind the sunglasses. "Doesn't this bother you?"
"Beachings are always sad, Teriaq, but what do you want me to do? Cry? That's not why we're here. We're only supposed to look like a field station. We're not actually supposed to be ecologists."
Gulls came. They picked at the washed up carcasses. They pecked out the eyes of the living but weak. The beaching was a buffet for the children of Sila. The tell-tale flukes of orcas cut the deep water; they'd been coming further and further north with the permanent retreat of the sea ice. Teriaq watched as they swam inward toward the carnage, watched as they ate the confused and concussed white whales. Some surfed their way into the shallows. The gulls did not scatter. They did not react. They continued eating, dumb and oblivious. Some tried to fly but faltered on the air. The rest ate.
That was when the first orca, limp, confused, washed ashore.
"Get on the radio," Teriaq said.
Their receivers erupted in static and screams.
Teriaq bundled into his tent for the night. It was screwed to the skin of the sea and held down by hundreds of pounds of drifted snow. It wouldn't move unless the ice did. He lit the small, gas stove in the tent's vestibule, put some snow in a pot to melt. He fished around in the rucksack for something else to eat and produced 2 nearly empty peanut butter containers and some crackers. He scraped the last of the peanut butter out, spread it on the crackers. Licked his fingers. Still hungry he had more seal meat, this time cooked on that same stove in the animal's own blubber. He hoped the heat would kill whatever it was in the fat that fogged him.
He had had several weeks of fuel and less food when he first ran from 641. Not nearly enough to make it to the nearest "city" which was half a continent away. There was a chance of making 300 miles to the nearest town. A good chance if the snowmobile didn't die on him. Food was a problem. In the Arctic you're supposed to eat 6000 calories a day; the easiest movements are hard in the cold. Teriaq had been eating less than that. His clothes hung looser.
There is no dawn this far north in the summer. Teriaq woke to the sound of a thuds against the tent. He donned his outer layers and stepped outside. A puffin had fallen from the sky and broken its neck against one of the struts. Still more lay in various states of injury and death on the ice. A rain of birds that had forgotten how to fly. Unnerved, Teriaq put extra effort into breaking camp.
The growl of the snow mobile carried him away from the birds. He kept his eyes on the ice, sticking to thick, white ice. Young, black ice is thin and wouldn't support his weight, let alone the weight of the snow mobile. Gray ice is shifty and brittle, the result of many freeze-thaws where the currents are strongest. Worst was green. Green was Her color and he knew that no amount of incense and combing could undo the crime that made Her freeze the seas. He sped north east, hopefully he'd hit the western coast of Baffin Island soon. The coast meant national parks and national parks meant park rangers, Inuit villages, people of some kind. He'd be able to contact his employer's employers. He'd be able to let them know that She'd escaped, and importantly, why She'd escaped.
Janet Tyrease Clinton hunched into her coat. The bridge of the icecutter was cold and the trip was long and slow. She felt the hum of the water deluge system through the hull and the sharp cracks in the sea ice against the bow of the USCG Healy. They'd reached the Barrow Strait after a month of icebreaking. The slow pace chaffed at her, so close to their goal. So close to the epicenter.
She pulled out her Foundation-issued laptop and connected to the satellite intranet to distract, to remind, to motivate herself through the next week's grind. There, mass amnesia in Norway as contaminated, salted fish are accidentally introduced to ice-locked coastal villages. The ruins of downtown Tokyo as drivers, pilots, pedestrians, forgot traffic signals. Fire fighters lost the wherewithal to put out the burn, haphazardly spraying water on smoldering ruins. In America millions of pounds of contaminated fish sticks had entered the school lunches. Children forgot their parents' names. There were lakes where the water would make you forget how to swim or which way the surface was. Another mass beaching of whales, this time in Southern California, 30 minutes outside San Diego. In the arctic the ice had returned, spreading out from Somerset Island against season, current and tide.
"You seem troubled, Lady Clinton," said Eugenio through his text-to-speech translator. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
She looked at the fox. It sat on a stool, uncanny eyes staring at her over the console. "No, nothing. How is the Weather Knight doing?"
"Ah, the little chap has been doing his best to keep the wind under control but the further we go north the harder it is." A pause, the fox's paws bapped at an oversize keyboard. "He could probably do with an inspection from you, Lady Clinton."
She nodded her ascent. Eugenio was prone to polite understatement. The fox king claimed this was for the sake of propriety but Janet couldn't tell if that was true or just speech-to-text's even tone. In the biological lab a number of Foundation scientists were running tests on wild-caught samples. Others processed blubber and meat samples. Somebody cursed as the centrifuged shuddered to a stop, the display reading "error, unbalanced". They had so many samples to process, so much pulverized meat, fat. The room smelled of isopropanol and hexane.
Janet and the fox angled toward the live specimen room. A ringed seal stared up at an exhausted-looking avalanche of scruff in a lab coat, unperturbed at the close proximity of so many human predators. In the corner of the room a blackbird shifted on a dowel in an aviary. Its feathers were dull and a small pile of feathers had begun to grow on the floor. It chirped, twitched a little, chirped again.
"The Weather Knight greets you and apologizes for its state," translated the fox, itself translated by a machine.
"What's the matter with it?" Janet said loudly enough for the scruffy veterinarian in the corner to hear. The bird sang. The vet focused on examining the seal.
"The Weather Knight says that it has been unable to sleep. It's been trying to maintain the winds like you asked but when it sleeps something pushes back."
"I see. How long do you think it can keep things the way we need them to be?" There were contingency plans in the hold in case this happened. If 1948 couldn't keep the winds from changing and the ice from slamming their passage shut there were drastic options. Drastic, sea boiling options.
"The Weather Knight doesn't think it can keep this up for much longer, a day or two-"
The ship rocked and groaned with sudden impact. Eugenio fell off the counter top, paws akimbo. The blackbird, 1948, flapped irritably in its cage. Janet found herself face first in the thatch of the veterinarian's beard. The seal looked as calm as ever. This was wrong. They'd been going a paltry three knots in the open ocean. They couldn't have hit something, unless…
The alarm sounded. Anomalous contact. A spear of green ice punched through the port hole. Time for emergency measures.
Teriaq's camp sat at the base of the cliffs. It was hard, too hard to climb and Sila was angry at him so he did not dare. A nearby polynya he'd surrounded with carved, narwhal horn, tupilaqs bound together with seal ligaments. He'd seen Agloolik swim close when he'd grabbed an unaware seal, seen the qalupalik grab at his flesh offering and water sacrifice. His inu was strong here. The sky was right. The sea was right. He did not know how much time he'd spent out here. Vague memories of fear. Vague memories of fleeing. When he went to check the polynya, for incursions by the monsters below, for seal, he passed the remains of his magic dog. Black and hard it leaked oily blood on the ice from the green icicle that impaled it. It had not frozen, such was its magic, but it was dead now. A bug pinned by Sedna's wrath.
He smelled piss on the wind as it shifted. Skalugsuak had breached the surface of the polynya, fins lazily spun in the water. It scratched itself against the ice over and over and over, the water cloudy with blood. A poor omen Teriaq knew, but of what? What drew Skalugsuak from the pisspot to him? Should he end its misery? He smelled smoke on the air. In the distance a canoe, he knew it was the wrong word but could think of no other, metal clad tore through the green ice of the bay. Prow clad in flame. No, led by a giant of flame, waist deep in the water. Head wreathed in plumes of steam from the sea and smoke. A furious howl against the wind in a language he didn't understand. A memory stirred. Teriaq reached for his belt where he kept a little bit of magic. Black material, a handle grip, a lever. He raised his arm, pressed the lever with his finger, and sent the flare skyward.
"He's disoriented and suffering from acute amnesiatic poisoning."
"It's no wonder. He's been eating nothing but seal meat and blubber for the past few months. Every sample we've started this expedition has been full of the stuff." Janet said, her voice tired, "Will he recover?"
"Give him a few weeks of filtered water and therapy? Maybe. Guy was pretty far gone when we picked him up. Couldn't remember English at all." The doctor thumbed through his clinical notes. "We found this on him though. Personal notes, could be useful. "
The doctor handed Janet the journal. She paused. The sea around them boiled with the fire giant's passage, bound to service by a friendly "loaner wizard" from the Hand. She opened the journal. Trembling words greeted her.
"Your name is Teriaq LeChatlier. You are heading south. You once worked for a bunch of white people that called themselves The Foundation. They screwed up, poisoned the water with that stuff they used on you when you first arrived at site 641. Told you it was for security, that you couldn't know where you were. Do not eat the seal unless you can't eat anything else. The seals are poisoned. The whales are poisoned. They will not know you for what you are. You will not know who you are. Avoid the green ice because that's Her ice. She's angry. She is going south. She refuses sacrifices and songs."
It went on like that with Inuktitut pictograms cutting in until it was illegible. She closed the journal, put it aside for the anthropologist. They'd come to the right place. Janet walked over to the wall beside the sedated Teriaq and turned on the intercom.
"John. Transmit my identification code to Oversight. Include the message 'Our suspicions have been confirmed. Widespread contamination by amnesiatics in vertebrate and planktonic samples even as far as 73 degrees N by 88 degrees W. 1836 is likely beyond containment. Decommission will follow barring a breakthrough with re-acquired asset. Likely last radio contact until decommission attempt. Listen for clear code." She paused, considering. "Wish… wish us luck."
Teriaq slept. The Healy trundled. The giant waded. Janet decided to take tea with Eugenio. Fraternization at the end of the world.