Howdy, folks! Again it’s Sunday; the last day of the first week of school summer break. Also the first day of the first week after the latest prolonged episode of author’s writing depression. Is that a thing? I think it is. I’ve been struggling with it for months, so I should know.
Anyway — it was actually my mother who helped put my head back on right side up. It was a minor suggestion she made after doing the major thing: she read the German version of my WIP from start to finish. Gasp!
I had warned her, the story is still raw, there are sinkholes and craters and mirages to overcome. But she is fearless. Ventured into the realm of unknown pitfalls and monstrosities and came out with profound critique — and praise. ‘Don’t let this story go to waste. It is worth telling. I’d love to see it on screen.’ (That’s what she said, not what’s gonna happen. The screen part 🙂 )
So, thanks to Mom, I’m in better spirit today, and so let’s not waste any more time: Here comes chapter 7 of the Rebellion:
By the way, if you are new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
In broad daylight the swamps still appeared drab to Abbida, though not as nightmarish as before. The fog had dispelled, and with it that sense of forlornness that had haunted her well into her sleep. Today, though in the distance she could hear thunder rolling now and then, the sun was burning down unhampered, and after a while she caught herself wishing back for some of that fog. All around, the horizon seemed to shimmer and swirl. Trudging on, brightness and heat were weighing down on body and mind, keeping her in a somewhat dazed state.
Throughout the morass reeds grew in patches. Small islands of vegetation, housing all kinds of marsh creatures. Whenever the group wandered too close, multitudes of birds would start up from their nesting places, screeching and flapping their wings, looping restlessly above their heads and settling back down only after they’d passed. Like a strange round dance.
As the day wore on, Abbida thought she sensed the ground growing steadily steeper. Or was that an illusion? Her legs were tired, paining her for hours now, making it more and more difficult to even lift a foot–again and again and again. So it might be wishful thinking. But the murky water wasn’t reaching as high up her calves as it did only a while ago. Abbida couldn’t help getting up her hopes, they might finally have reached the other side of the swamps.
Ahead, Rona was shading her eyes with one hand, blinking intently into the distance. When a relieved sigh escaped her lips, it startled Abbida, who couldn’t remember ever having seen Rona distressed before.
“All right!” Rona called. “We’ll rest soon. I need to reorient.”
Overcome with relieve, Abbida barely kept from flopping down in the mud on the spot. Then Rona’s words registered completely. Turning to Cole she mouthed, “What does she mean–’reorient’? Are we lost?!”
Cole shrugged distractedly, his gaze sweeping the surroundings. Come to think of it, he’d been awfully quiet since they’d lost the ox. She could relate to that–but if he feared another attack from crocodiles, shouldn’t he be all the more attentive? Instead, he seemed unusually withdrawn. Something was eating on him; something he didn’t want to talk about. A sudden feeling of rejection stung her, and she looked away.
For that last stretch Abbida mustered all her reserves. Turned out, she had underestimated the distance, and after the prospect of a prolonged rest had sounded so compelling, the ensuing march felt like being punished. The sun had reached its zenith, burning her scalp, the heat accumulating underneath her dark curls, sticking whole strands of hair to her neck.
Trundling on, she turned to Cole and asked him for the cloth that was actually meant for cleaning their weapons to tie her hair up. Neither the stench of oil nor the greasy film it left on her skin made any difference now. Even reaching the riverside didn’t seem such a bad idea anymore. Think about it: Running fresh water!
At least, she hadn’t been wrong in her perceptions though: the ground did gradually rise. To the horizon, dark strips of vegetation revealed themselves, peeling out from the haze like a mirage, rising higher the nearer they ventured. The ever present islands of reeds transitioned into ferns and shrubs, with veritable tree giants hulking up behind, overgrown by climbing weeds and dangling aerial roots.
For the longest time, a croaking, rustling and hissing had been accompanying them, so after a while, Abbida had hardly noticed it anymore. Now, the deafening, angry noises, the hammering, calling and whistling of the jungle animals pierced her ears. After the uniform, washed out, earthen tone of the swamps a frenzied palette of colors greeted them; the heavy fragrance of fertile soil, blossoms of all shapes and sizes and overly ripe fruit almost overpowering her senses.
At long last Rona lifted a hand and called a halt–one foot into the jungle, the other still on the plain. “Stay vigilant! There shouldn’t be any crocodiles here, hopefully, but there are bound to be other predators.”
Nevertheless, the spot was well-chosen. It provided them with shade to get out of the sun while leaving enough open space to set up and dry the tent. It gave off a distinct stench when they unfolded it. Then again, they all did.
Rona distributed their second small ration of dried meat for the day and half a cup of water each. Abbida flopped down on a rock and dug in eagerly.
“I’ll go check out the area,” Tarek said. “Maybe find a stream, or a water spring.” Half-way to the thicket of the jungle, he seemed to have second thoughts. Turning back, he gazed at Rona questioningly. She only nodded once.
Abbida caught a sideways glance from Cole. If she hadn’t known him well for most of her life, she might have missed his subtle frown, but there it was. What now? Chewing on her stringy, salty stripe of meat Abbida contemplated what she’d just witnessed. Cole was right, even if Rona was head of their expedition and apparently knew more about their exact destination than anyone else, Tarek’s willing compliance seemed odd.
He was gone for quite a while. They’d long since eaten up, and Rona got on her feet, pacing, casting glances towards the jungle. “What’s taking so long?”
Abbida, too, felt restless. Though she very much appreciated the rest, she had been fantasizing about a pond or a stream to bathe in. Not to mention drinking her fill on clear, cool water! Wasn’t that what Tarek was looking for in the first place? Surely, there had to be some source of fresh water feeding all this lush, vibrant vegetation! So, what was keeping him?
They waited for some time. While Cole and Rona took turns circling their resting spot to discourage any predators from getting ideas, Abbida kept dozing off. Still unarmed, she gladly left keeping watch to the others. Just as Rona was about to set out on yet another round, Tarek came jogging out of the underbrush, waving from afar, “Found it! The ship!”
Rona went to meet him. Tarek threw his arms around her, lifting her off the ground in his excitement. Fiercely, she struggled free, no doubt hissing at him, judging from the look on his face.
Abbida pursed her lips. “There’s definitely something going on between the two of them.” Muttering noncommittally, Cole got to his feet and waved for her to do the same.
Passing on his canteen, Tarek told them about the stream he’d found at a clearing nearby. The water tasted cool and sweet. Eager to break camp they set out for what would hopefully prove to be the last part of this trip. Hacking and slicing their way through the thicket they followed Tarek’s directions to the site of this ominous ship.
Abbida still couldn’t even picture it in her mind. Shifting her pack around her shoulders, she caught up with Tarek, “How much further?”
“Not much. Those people really had the worst of luck. If they’d have managed to hold out just a bit longer…” He clicked his tongue.
“What’s it look like? How big is it? Have you found the device?”
But Tarek only shook his head, grumbled something unintelligible, and marched faster.
Ahead, the trees were growing more sparse now, and Abbida thought they might have reached the clearing, but when Rona reached the opening first, she squawked in surprise. Tarek smiled, seeming oddly satisfied with the effect of his discovery. Unable to contain herself any longer, Abbida brushed past him and hustled after Rona. She didn’t dare shove the apparitor to the side, so she moved to take a glance around her–and caught her breath.
What she’d thought to be an opening in the forest, turned out to be a lengthy crater, sloping from its far end down to theirs. From where she stood, Abbida had to crane her neck to see the bottom of the pit. But what really made her eyes bulge was the ship.
It was gigantic.
Big enough for all their neighbors to fit in and even some of their houses. Dipped somewhat to the front, the top–if that’s what it really was–protruded higher than the rim of the crater. Everything was covered in veins of climbing roots and plants, making it look as if the ship had built a nest.
It was utterly alien.
Nothing about this ship resembled anything Abbida had ever known. What kind of material was that? It wasn’t wood, nor metal, nor glass–though the matte, smooth quality of it did resemble glass in a way.
And wherever this ship had originated from, it was not the river. There was no hint of a keel, wheelhouse or sails. Not even a paddle wheel or chimney like in Ashok’s drafts for steam engines. By all known standards, this ship couldn’t exist. It wasn’t even a ship! Abbida had no words for what it really was.
One thing was certain though: This type of technology was worlds apart from their own. If the Conquerors were capable of producing and processing this kind of material and get a contraption of these proportions to actually move on its own–the villagers had nothing to counter with. “We’re doomed.”
“Ashok tried to warn me, but I couldn’t believe it. I thought he must be exaggerating,” Cole said, his voice full of reluctant awe.
“But what is it?” Tarek was rubbing his temples wearily, as if to persuade his brain to process what his eyes were taking in. Earlier he’d seemed so eager, even excited about his find. Now he was eyeing the ship with the sort of wariness that was to be expected of him. He had never been one to warm up with any kind of technical stuff, and this… was way over his head. Over any of their heads.
Rona alone refused to let any sign of astonishment show, rather than anger and determination. “So. This is it. All we need to do now, is find the device.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the thing I don’t get, you know?” Cole said, scratching his head. “Why wouldn’t it have been recovered by the Conquerors long since? Even if it weren’t functioning anymore, it obviously holds some value to somebody!”
“They might not know about it. This is no ship of theirs,” Rona said, startling Abbida with the revelation. “It belonged to a group of dissidents who’d cut themselves off and were going to settle in their own colony. As you can see, they didn’t get far.”
“You mean… they were shot down?!” Abbida cried.
Rona tilted her head in contemplation, frowned, then shook her head. “No. No, I don’t think, that’s what happened. Not, from what I’ve learned…”
Slowly, she drew in breath as if to add something, but changed her mind and turned away. Gripping the strap of her backpack tightly, she resumed to work a path down to the bottom of the crater. Flummoxed, Abbida followed.
She was eager to touch this strange material the ship was made of. Try as might she couldn’t picture this monstrosity to be able to fly. How would it even lift off the ground? Not to mention stay up! But how else could it have gotten here? The ship must have drilled itself into the jungle with disastrous force.
Working her way vehemently with her machete, Rona reached the bottom of the pit first. She didn’t pause to admire the sight up close, but continued to hack and slice a path around the ship. Awestruck, Abbida followed in her wake, observing and admiring, taking it all in like a real life mystery.
Behind her she sensed Cole and Tarek coming up. Cole no doubt keeping an ever vigilant eye on their surroundings and Tarek eyeing the ship suspiciously. Running a hand over his stubbly chin he brushed past her, caught up with Rona and shoved himself in between her and the ship as if to guard her from whatever danger might lurk here.
But this ship wasn’t going to attack anyone. It was in ruins. And had been for a long, long time.
Underneath all the lichens and vines that grew over the ship’s hold, Abbida caught glimpses of its surface. It appeared smoother than anything she’d ever seen, slicker even than the glazing on Mother Marjas stoneware. Most reassuring though was the discovery that they weren’t dealing with a ship after all, but with part of one. On the far side, they came across a huge breach in the hull, staring blindly into the jungle, ragged edges giving an unmistakable image: The ship must have broken apart with inconceivable force. Braces as thick as a man’s limb sprang from it like ribs of a dead animal. Reminded of their poor ox, Abbida shuddered.
Where was the rest of the wreck? Could it have been towed away? If the strangers had the means to assemble such giant constructs, surely they must have machines to lift and transport them. On the other hand, nobody seemed to know the wreck was here, or they all wouldn’t be standing here right now. Had those dissidents Rona had spoken of managed the transport? Why not take it all? Maybe they couldn’t. Whatever had happened here, must have cost many lives. The thought quenched the rest of her excitement, and Abbida wrapped her arms around herself.
Out of nowhere Cole appeared by her side, making her jump. “Don’t creep up on me like that!”
“Ass.” She bumped his arm.
With a lopsided grin he tilted his head back and rubbed his chin. “That’s pretty high. Should be right up Tarek’s alley.”
Abbida groaned. She guessed where this was headed, and she didn’t like it one bit.
Tarek had dropped his bundle; with his crossbow slung around his back he was sharpening his machete. “I am no help around here, I’m going hunting.”
“Wrong, my friend,” Cole said, hitting him on the back, pointing to the rope, Tarek had wound across his chest. “We need you here. And this.”
Tarek hesitated, but Rona gave him one of her rare smiles. “It’s okay. There’ll be time for hunting later.”
Surprise widened his eyes. They stood perfectly still, looking at each other, as if they’d forgotten their surroundings, and again Abbida couldn’t help but wonder if there was something going on that she’d missed all this time. A love affair? Well, great. Just great. How come she was the only one losing out?
The moment passed. Rona ordered Abbida to stay with the men while she was going to return to the nearby clearing to set up camp and get a cooking fire burning. Abbida was fine with that. She’d prefer Cole’s and even Tarek’s company over Rona’s anytime.
Cole emptied bolts and screws from one of his pouches into another and started collecting small rocks about the size of Abbida’s fists. Then he tied one end of Tarek’s rope around it. Between the two of them they pulled the rope until the noose sat tight.
Weighing the sack in his hand, Tarek searched the yawning opening with his eyes. He squinted, sucked his lower lips between his teeth and bent at the knees. With an elegant sway of the hips he turned, shot out his hand and let go. His second try was a hit: the makeshift anchor caught inside the wreck and Cole pulled the rope tight.
“Alright,” he purred, winking at Abbida. “Ladies first!”
“In your dreams! I don’t even think I’ll make it up there.”
“It’s all about technique,” Tarek said, shading his eyes with both hands. Easy for him to say–he didn’t have to climb.
Cole pat her back friendly. “Okay, then, I go first and you just take your time.”
She knew it was meant to hearten her, but she guessed he couldn’t even conceive how high up the wreck’s opening seemed to her. Watching him climb, hand over hand, flexing his muscles and pulling himself over the wreck’s edge with effortless ease, she felt more and more daunted. Lacking his brawn she’d probably lose her grip halfway up and fall to her death.
An eternity later she’d hardly managed more than her body’s height, her arms quivering from exertion. Like a sack of wet laundry she was dangling from the rope, trying to muster the courage to let go with one hand to reach over her head once more. From above, she heard Cole rummage in the wreck. He hadn’t stopped to watch her climb, having full confidence in her abilities. Well, then, so should she. Breathing in deeply, she reached up, groping for the rope when something whipped past her face, white-hot. Abbida squealed and almost let go.
“Don’t move! Next shot will hit the mark,” a woman barked.
It wasn’t Rona.
~ to be continued! ~
Thank you for reading!
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Hang in there!