Old Morn’s boat had been fossil fuelled when it came up river. A country away from the nearest refinery, that motor was now useless as anything but a source of ferrous for smelting. A paddle wheel had been forced onto the back of the boat, driven by a low-pressure steam engine. It was like sharing the river with someone breathing regularly and deeply through their teeth.
Marra had guided the boat from the lake below the waterfall and through memorised channels until a second tributary joined the river and it became wider and calmer. Only when she was sure there were no underwater obstacles would she give Morn his first lesson in steering.
They threw a sky anchor into the canopy until it caught a sturdy enough branch. The boat swung into the current as the rope tautened, coming to rest mid stream. Marra shimmed up the rope and fastened the dead anchor far enough ahead to deflect all but the largest debris. She continued into the canopy and threw nuts and fruit down for Morn to catch.
Apart from terse instructions during Morn’s lesson, Marra had not spoken all day. He hoped she would break her silence over their meal, but was to be disappointed. She filleted fish quickly and expertly and laid them inside a specially constructed steam box on the engine while Morn shelled the fruit and nuts. They threw the chaff over the side to attract more fish toward the trailing line. These would be laid on a grill in the smoke stack for slow cooking the next day.
Night descended quickly once the sun dipped below the tree line and it was almost pitch black by the time they had finished eating. Marra pulled the insect net about the cabin and rolled into her blanket without a word.
Much later, Morn woke to the strangest sound. For a moment he feared they had left the engine to build up excess pressure and it was blowing off steam in uneven bursts. A moment’s consideration told him the noise was Marra, sobbing in her sleep. He reached across and touched her shoulder. She took his hand, laced her fingers with his and the sobbing subsided.