Welcome back to part 3 of chapter 8! How have you been?
I’ve been busy, but the new schedule is good for my work-life-balance. So, I hope you’ll bear with me, while I am taking things a little more slowly, what with shorter episodes only every ten days. I do believe it’s easier on the eyes, too, not having to read large junks of text on the screen.
On that note, no more chit-chat. Let’s get with it! 😀
If you are new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 8, Part 3
Somehow, Abbida had expected the stranger to get angry or simply refuse. But she surprised her by smoothly stepping close, gently holding her wrists steady with one hand and cutting them loose with the other. Then she swiftly stepped back and nodded towards the scattered foods, “Go ahead.”
Abbida rubbed her wrists. They tingled from the blood flowing freely again, but she had to admit, the sensation was bearable. The stranger really had gone easy on her. No, she reprimanded herself, if she was going to clear the air here, she needed to start thinking of the woman as Lian.
Trying to find something innocuous to start a conversation with, she held up the severed cord, “What kind of material is this? Is it the same as in the ship? How do you make it?”
“It’s a nano-coated synthetic fiber. And no, the ship is made of a completely different material which I know nothing of. I am no space engineer.” A hint of amusement flickered over Lian’s face. She turned to Cole and gestured for him to turn around. Avoiding her gaze, he complied and was rewarded by being freed, as well. With a gloomy air, he rubbed his abused wrists and stepped back to make way for the others.
Still puzzling over Lian’s answer, Abbida watched her cut Rona and Tarek free and put away the knife. For a while everybody just stood there, eyeing each other uncomfortably. Rona fingered her wrists with a scrunched up face. When she took a deep breath, Abbida feared it was to let off one of her tirades. It was Tarek who stopped her, by tapping her shoulder and shaking his head subtly. Surprisingly, Rona let it slide without comment. Instead, she looked to Abbida, “Weren’t you going to fix up some food?”
“Never mind, I’ve got this. Just go collect some herbs and greens, will you?”
“Uhm, yeah, sure… if I may?” Abbida stammered, looking at Lian for permission. She wasn’t sure how to read the assignment. Was Rona trying to tell her something? Or did she simply want her out of the way?
“Just stay close enough for me to see you”, Lian said agreeably.
Abbida wasn’t sure if it was a good thing that Lian didn’t see her as a threat. But in all honesty, she couldn’t blame her. She felt exhausted, she was dirty and she stank. She wanted nothing more than to fill her stomach and curl up next to the fire. Maybe wash up first in the little stream nearby. Or maybe that could wait until morning.
For the time being everybody just kind of busied themselves around the camp. Tarek usually didn’t talk much, and Cole was probably still assessing the situation. Rona on the other hand, was never someone to hold back; so her silence made Abbida feel uneasy. What was she up to? Did she hold back because of that gun? Or was she only waiting for the right moment to strike?
And what was it with this strange familiarity between her and Tarek? Back home, Abbida would never have suspected anything going on between the two of them. But here they were: working hand in hand, exchanging glances and minute gestures that spoke of a far deeper understanding than Abbida had ever realized.
Reluctant to turn her back on the scene, Abbida stayed close to the clearing, plucking edible leaves and berries into a satchel. Now and then her gaze strayed back towards the direction of the wreck. How fascinating. She still couldn’t fathom what made people build such a thing–much less attempt to ride it. Where to? Far away from the home of the Conquerors, that much made sense. Though obviously, they must have been a kindred people. How else would they have had the means to–?
“Anything wrong?” Lian asked, startling Abbida. She stood right behind her, gun at the ready.
“Uh, no…” Abbida stammered, hating herself for her lack of wit. By now Lian must really take her for a complete simpleton! “This ship–what was it, really? How could something so… humongous… possibly be airworthy?”
“Even spaceworthy, you’d be surprised.” Lian smirked.
Instead of an explanation, Lian caught her by surprise with a question of her own, “Why didn’t Ashok come with you?”
She made it sound casual, and her face was hard to read, but her firm grip on the weapon betrayed her inner tension. She must have been certain to meet him here. Abbida couldn’t help but feel her own suspicions awaken, yet again. Something definitely was off.
Before she could say anything, she heard somebody approaching. By now she wasn’t surprised at all, to find Rona coming up, a wary look on her face that was quickly replaced with one of false friendliness. “There you are! Hurry up, everybody’s waiting. We’re hungry!”
“We’ve been discussing Ashok’s whereabouts,” Lian said, not in the least bit hurried.
Rona didn’t blink. Only the slightest bit of furtiveness hinted in the corners of her mouth, easy to miss for someone who hadn’t spent her whole life with this woman’s machinations. “He’s working on a contraption with which to salvage this device of yours. He’ll catch up with us shortly.”
“That was not the plan.” Lian frowned.
Abbida didn’t buy the explanation either. If Ashok was Lian’s actual contact–not Rona–he wouldn’t have sent them off alone. None of this made sense.
Rona smiled and shrugged apologetically. She seemed to have caught herself and once again appeared as confident as in a council debate–and just as slick. “Ugh, inventors–you know how they can get when inspiration strikes. Let’s just look forward to what he comes up with.”
Lian narrowed her eyes.
Abbida felt conflicted. Rona’s behavior had seemed suspicious from the start. On the other hand they were already taking a risk by talking to Lian at all. Who was to say, she didn’t plan to turn them all in once she got what she wanted?
Or, she might just finish them off instead.
“What exactly are we looking for, anyway?”, she asked, hoping to ease the tension. No use rushing things. “Can we really use it to get in touch with other villages?”
“Not other villages–” Lian started to say, then interrupted herself. “What am I saying. How would you even comprehend?”
“Well, try me!” Angrily, Abbida propped her fists on her hips. Then her stomach growled, loud and persistent, and heat of embarrassment surged up her cheeks. Abruptly, she turned towards the camp and pretended to forget about the ship, the device and the villages. No, not villages. The Conquerors be damned.
Cole stepped close and calmingly patted her back. “I’m going to wash up first. You coming?”
Under normal circumstances she’d have been delighted at the prospect of catching a glimpse of his wet, naked upper body. But, circumstances weren’t normal. On the other hand she was much too agitated to just sit down and eat. She managed a nod and followed him to the little creek nearby. Thankfully, Cole didn’t seem in the mood for banter, either.
The fresh, cool water did help lighten her spirit, though. They quickly cleaned themselves as best they could and returned to the fire to dry up. The sizzling of Taro juice dripping into the embers made Abbida’s mouth water, and she was ready to dig in.
For the rest of the evening, Cole kept to himself. Outwardly, he gave off an air of equanimity, his arms dangling over his drawn up knees. Abbida knew him well enough, though, to guess just how tensely he was weighing the situation. From where he sat he could keep an eye on all of them, without being blinded by the fire. Now and then his gaze would drift towards the site of the wreckage.
Abbida gave up trying to read Cole’s mind. Had she only dreamed it last night, or had he really gotten up and slipped out into the fog? Maybe he’d only needed to relieve himself. But he’d taken much longer than seemed reasonable, given the circumstances. After a while, Abbida had fallen asleep again, so she had no way of knowing just how long he’d been gone. What had he been doing out there? All by himself?
It wasn’t like him at all. Sneaking around, keeping secrets from her, distancing himself from the group. Not to mention kidnapping her. She wasn’t angry at him anymore, but she hadn’t quite gotten over it, either.
She’d always stuck by him. They were the perfect team! Latisha and even Ilka had always envied her for that. What had changed? Wasn’t it bad enough, that Rona kept her in the dark all the time?
Couldn’t she trust anybody anymore?
~ to be continued! ~
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The final part of this chapter and the beginning of chapter 9 will be up with the next episode! I post updates around the 10th, 20th and 30th of the month.
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