By the time Duncan dragged Min to the surface, and she'd drawn Zoë after, the idiots on the ship had had the presence of mind to lower one of the lifeboats.
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And thank all the gods for that; Zoë was unconscious, Duncan not far from it, and Min knew she wasn’t going to last another three minutes. There was no way the three of them could get up a side ladder, even if it wasn’t the better part of a mile long.
It was some fun, getting first Zoë’s completely unconscious, and then Duncan's semi-conscious body over the gunwale. The cold seemed to burn less, but Min's arms and legs became heavier and stiffer, hurting like someone had crushed them. Worse, she felt herself melting into dangerous and uncaring lassitude. Each action seemed more and more absurd and pointless, even her phobias of water—and what she might have seen in it—inconsequential and silly.
And then, finally, when she got both of them aboard, Min found that she didn't have the strength left in her arms to drag herself up. She was surprised into laughing, forehead pressed against the boat’s side of pseudo-oak and glass. Only the stiffening of her arms and fingers where they were hooked over the boat’s rim keeping her from slipping under completely.
This was not [i] how I expected to die.
Dammit, this is such a [/i] stupid [i] way to die….
But you would be free. [/i]
Fingers only marginally warmer than her own closed weakly on her bicep. Numbing, she sensed more than felt it. "Min?"
Carrerra , she thought dreamily. She dragged her head up against the thick and unyielding weight of her hair—already graying with frost crystals—and the lead wrapped exhaustion sunken into her bones, only to find it wasn't into Carrerra's brown eyes she was looking.
[i] Oh. Right. Carrerra’s dead.
But aren't I dead too? [/i]
"Duncan?" she stammered. Her lips felt thick and uncooperative, his name slurring. He almost looked as if he could be dead too; blanched, dusky shadows of fatigue like bruises around his eyes. Are we both dead, then?
"Come on, Min," Duncan said. His voice sounded tired and whiskey-rough. He changed his hands to grip beneath her armpits. "You have to help; I can't dead lift you. Put your arms around me."
I’ve got to get in the boat. Ri-ght. Min grabbed. His skin felt like marble, slick and ungiving. Duncan leaned back, drawing her slowly from the sea's resentful grip. Struggling to get enough height to belly over the gunwale, Min felt that it didn’t want her to go, sucking at her strength, her will, at her, like a pit of tar.
There is peace here. You could be free again. [/i]
And hadn’t she wished for that very thing?
[i] Don’t go…
Let me go. It’s calling me. Just let me go. [/i]
The words were on her lips, but she could not bring them to voice, all the discipline of the Guard raging against that very thing. But she was so very tired and it would be so very easy to fall back deep into that cold nothingness; better perhaps, for everyone…
Come down, Min. We need you. Stay with us. Come down…
"No." Duncan's voice was only a whisper now, but still enough to scrape across her nerves like rusty iron. " Min. I'm not going to let you go.” His voice sharpened suddenly to diamond edge. “Get in the godsdamned boat, Bilek-Trois!"
She had been SADU, a Guard; the command did what pleas could not.
Min lunged, getting one wooden leg over the gunwale, and then the other, collapsing like a discarded doll as Duncan drew her further and further from that easy oblivion....
....and then all three of them were curled together in the bottom of the lifeboat, rising towards the uneven line of spectators all along the rails...and Min's mind went somewhere else for a while.
That which could hunger, could starve. - Octavia Butler