Devi's Distraction (Icehome #7) - Ruby Dixon
The beach is my favorite spot at camp. Not only is it peaceful and quiet, but it has the largest biodiversity that I’ve seen on this planet so far. Every time I look out into the rolling, slushy waves, I see creatures. I see birds stalking through the waves, bracing their spindly bodies against an incoming crash before returning to their fishing. I see fish jump out of the water. I see tentacles—like, a lot of them—slither through the ice. I see crablike things walk along the sand, only to burrow underneath the surface when I approach. There are dead things that wash up, and creatures that feast on them. There’s seaweed and crustaceans and mollusks, vertebrates and invertebrates. As biomes go, this is a well-populated one.
But mostly I like the beach because it’s quiet.
Even now, I can hear shouting back at camp, and I mentally wince even as I use my stick to carefully turn over a half-eaten scorpion-spider that’s washed up in a pile of seaweed. I eye it, poking at the carcass with my stick, but this one’s too rotted for me to get good samples. The stink of it is eye-watering and I regretfully use my boot to kick some sand over it to bury it. Ten million years from now, maybe it’ll make a lovely fossil for someone to examine, and that thought brightens my day.
“Why are you such a fucking jerk?” Bridget bellows.
“I jerk nothing!” A’tam roars at her. “Why do you say I do these things?”
“Oh my god. Just leave me alone, all right? I don’t want anything to do with you!” I straighten and glance over at the distant camp, watching as Bridget flings her arms in the air and storms off to the sleeping cave.
A’tam doesn’t take no for an answer, though—never does—and follows behind her, saying things that sound angry and are too distant for me to make out. A moment later, Bridget snarls something back and then they’re squabbling once more. A baby cries, and I hear Liz’s angry voice even as I see a group of hunters edging away from camp to go on one of their daily trips. A few people remain by the fire, and then a new conversation starts up.
Another baby cries.
I bite back a sigh. Even today, the beach isn’t all that quiet. Everyone’s so darn tense. Things were happy for a while, and lighthearted. Most of the Croatoan and sa-khui have gone back to their home at this point, with only a few couples staying on to help guide us in our new tribe. For the most part, we’re on our own. And that’s when the trouble began, I suppose. It’s been tense around camp. There are the islanders, who don’t seem to like each other all that much. There are a few botched relationships—like Callie and M’tok, who died an ugly death before they even started. There’s tension with the one-legged guy, N’dek, because his buddy ran off with Hannah on a camping trip and now he’s more or less stranded in one spot and so people keep volunteering to help him out—which only makes him more pissy.
And there’s Bridget and A’tam. They flirted, they slept together, and now he thinks they’re married and she thinks he should die in a fire.
Which is why I like to hide on the beach and look for specimens.
I poke my little mound one more time and then continue farther down the beach, moving away from the smoother sand toward the rocky areas with the tide pools which are really just ancient trackways to some claw-footed monster that hunted the shallows once upon a time.
It’s all so very fascinating, a paleophysiologist’s wet dream, I like to joke…or I would if anyone here understood me. Most of the time I just talk and talk and they stare at me like I’m growing another head.
I really miss the academic community. At least there, I was understood. Overall, though, I’m still enjoying this world. Maybe not the people as much as the environment, but that’s just me being awkward.
I notice off in the distance that the colors shift and ripple in the waves, and I straighten for a moment before I realize what I’m seeing. Oh. It’s one of the hunters from the island. His color floods to a bright blue again and then he begins to wade to shore, a large net in his hands. He’s also coming towards me, which makes me inwardly cringe. I’m probably gonna