“Are you worried about global warming?” asked Gerry. The sun was approaching the horizon and the whole world seemed daubed in red. Behind him the Berg glowed pink.
“You do realise it’s minus fifteen?”
“You know what I mean. Climate change.”
“I don’t think so,” said the Berg. “I’ve been around a long time… but before I was me I must have been snow and before that, water. If I melt I’ll just be water again.”
“That’s very philosophical of you.”
“I can feel it happening sometimes.”
Gerry looked at the enormous mass of ice looming over the boat. “What? Melting?”
“Maybe… You know water is just H2O. Well, H2O is a funny old molecule.”
“You’re in a funny old mood. What do you mean?”
“Maybe it’s the sunset… “
Gerry snorted. “You were telling me about H2O.”
“Well there’s an oxygen atom, and two hydrogens, and they stick together because the hydrogens each share an electron with the oxygen – a covalent bond. They stick on like the ears on a Mickey Mouse hat. But the ears are a bit askew, and so the electrical charges are also a bit askew, so one end of the molecule is electrically positive and the other is negative. This means that each water molecule is attracted to those around it and they bond together with what are called hydrogen bonds. They’re not separate, but stick together in a giant cluster, a gel.”
“I think I’ve read this somewhere. More like one big molecule?”
“Sort of, but the bonds break and reform very quickly – under 200 femtoseconds. Anyway, all this means water has some odd properties – a very high boiling point for its weight, high surface tension… it’s why I float!”
The colour had drained from the sea and from the sky while the Berg talked. A cold wind made the suddenly slate sea break into chop. The hollow sound echoed up from where it slapped against the hull.
“That’s what I feel sometimes,” said the Berg. “The hydrogen bonds inside me are locked down, but on my surface, where I touch the water and the air, they’re fizzing away, spreading me out… ‘oceanic boundlessness’ as Freud might’ve said.”
Gerry regarded the Berg with sadness. “I’m sorry we’re melting you, we’re horrible sometimes.”
The Berg groaned and cracked like a gunshot. The water all around shivered.
“Ha! That’s very polite of you. I’ll last a bit longer yet though. My hydrogen bonds are very stable. It takes the same amount of energy to warm me from -160°C up to 0°C as it does to melt me.”
A silence fell between them. The sun was long gone. Hard, brilliant stars were appearing overhead. Gerry couldn’t feel his toes any more.
“You know,” said the Berg eventually, “you’re looking much healthier than you have been.”
“I’ve been eating O’Neill.”
“When the lifeboat capsized his was the only body I could fish out. He’s been frozen down in the hold ever since.”
“Hmmm. What does he taste like?”
“I’ve got nothing to cook him with. Frozen, hairy, greasy, horrific pork? I don’t know. I can taste him in my mouth all the time but I’m trying not to think about it.”
“Sorry. I suppose it’s a bit like me and the water.”
“Just shut up, ok?”