So, yeah, today’s update may have cost me a few feathers. Technical issues, kinda. Nothing a good swearing and some breathing exercises couldn’t fix, though! And of course taking a closer look at the issue 😉
Anyway, everything worked out fine in the end, and so now here we go!
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 15, Part 2
“This is the spot,” Abbida said. “Under all those blackberry vines.”
Cole made a face. “Alright, hold this,” he said, thrusting his satchel upon her. He drew his multitool from his belt and set to work on the thorny vines.
Mindful of the flammables inside, Abbida carefully held the bag to her chest. Despite all her mocking, she understood well how dear it was to Cole. After all the abuse from getting soaked on various occasions, from rain, mud and the stream Cole had taken a dive into, the bright colors of Latisha’s embroidery were dulling, the leather had become stiff and musty. Still, the intricate stitches spoke of the care her sister had put into her work. Right now, this was the one thing from home Cole had been able to hold onto.
For lack of a better solution he had agreed on her plan, and so they had retreated into the undergrowth and made their way here–the exit of the drainage canal. The one place Abbida had hoped to avoid for at least another three or four circulations, even five with a bit of luck. But luck they seemed to be running out of lately.
No more than a couple of weeks had passed since she’d last cleared the area, and already fresh vines and brambles had grown over the low concrete shelter, hiding the canal grate from view. The whole construct–duct, sheltering and metal grates–was ancient. Built back in the days of the earliest settlers with machines and materials the villagers no longer possessed. The grates had been fixed repeatedly since then, but one could only hope the canal itself would never cave in. Abbida shuddered at the thought of having to dig one out by hand.
Carefully, so as not to overly expose the place to any stray patrols, Cole cut a hole through the thicket to access the grate. Hearing him curse under his breath as he wriggled through, Abbida suppressed a totally inappropriate grin and squeezed through behind him. Her hair and clothes caught on the brambles and by the time she reached the gutter, she was ready to join in with the swearing. Nursing the scratches on her hands and face, she held her nose.
The disgusted look on Cole’s face sort of contradicted his otherwise grim demeanor. Abbida sympathized wholeheartedly. Albeit having given her best at cleaning the canal only weeks ago, the stench of algae, mold and something rotting away was overwhelming.
Being cramped in a hollow with hardly enough space to sit up didn’t help. Ducking under the vines scraping his scalp, Cole used his multitool to unscrew the clamps and hefted the grate aside. Foreboding, the entrance yawned at them. No light fell insight. Replaying her recent experience with the canal, Abbida wished they could just scrap the plan. But there was no other, so…
Breathing through a narrow gap between her teeth, she pulled out Lian’s knife. She kept the blade inside the hilt for now, but the weight in her hand felt reassuring. Returning Cole’s bag she said, “Let me go first. I know my way around down there.”
“Can’t get lost on a one way route.”
“Yeah, but it was my responsibility to make it accessible. Just humor me, will you?”
Cole didn’t object, so she got on her knees and elbows and squeezed through the opening. Thankfully, the walls inside widened slightly, making it more easy to get ahead once she got the hang of it again. For a moment she paused for her sight to adjust, and used the hilt of the knife to poke the darkness in front of her.
“You okay?” Cole said, shuffling his feet. He sounded worried.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
She pushed away the feeling of uncertainty and crawled forward. A moment later he followed, blocking out the rest of light. With a clank and a thud he pulled the grate back in place, wedging it in without refastening the clamps. Gazing over her shoulder, a weird sensation ran through Abbida. This place was narrow and creepy as it was, but with Cole’s hulking frame right behind her it felt really crowded. Trying not to think too much about it, Abbida focused on moving ahead.
Cole had it worse than she. His shoulders chafed on the walls, he had to huddle up and keep his head down. Swearing slightly louder than before he pushed himself forward. Wheezing, she mocked, “Should have left that ridiculous satchel of yours behind.”
“Never! It holds all my tools!”
To make matters worse, the canal did not follow a straight course, instead it forced them to worm their way through bends and turns. They both grew quiet, from exertion as much as growing anxiety–at least in Abbida’s case. By the time she reached what she knew was the last stretch right underneath the generator house, she was soaked with sweat and grime. The faintest greenish glow emanated from the bare skin of her wrists and hands, and a fresh whiff of oxygen soothed her nerves.
“That’s handy,” Cole said, huffing.
“We’re right next to the aircraft now,” she murmured. “There could be soldiers right above our heads.”
He grunted something unintelligible.
The last bend forced her to hug her limbs closer to her body in order to fit through, but then she was rewarded by rays of light, and she barely suppressed a whoop of relief. The exit was embedded in the ground at the back of the generator house, and thankfully, the canal widened into a small room here. Abbida pushed forward one more time and struggled to sit up. Breathing heavily, she turned to lend Cole a hand.
He was right behind her, one shoulder reaching half into the chamber, the other still in the canal. His face contorted, and for a moment of shock she thought he was stuck. She reached for him, but he waved her off with his free hand. Grimly, he stemmed his elbows into the ground and shoved his other shoulder through. Abbida slithered back to make some room.
A wave of relief ran over his grime-stained features as he hunkered next to her and hung his head between his knees. Hardly audible he mumbled, “Remind me to recommend you for extra rations next time you do the cleaning.”
Abbida patted his shoulder. “Give me your multitool, so I can remove the grate,” she whispered.
He gave it to her, but held on to it, “Make sure there’s nobody out there.”
They peered into the dim room above, but there was nothing to be seen from where they were hiding. They listened.
“It’s no use,” Abbida said. “We can’t stay here, and I am definitely not going back that way. We’ll have to take a risk.”
She reached out between the grate’s bars and had to work from an awkward angle, but at least the bolts and hinge were well maintained and didn’t make any noise. Cole had greased them well just recently, and in hindsight the ordeal of cleaning up the canal proved to be a piece of good fortune. Unless someone was really close by, the manipulation should go unnoticed.
Cole caught the bolts she loosened. When she was done, he hefted the grate up just enough to peek over the rim. “Clear.”
He removed the grate, pulled himself up and, keeping low, ran towards the window. Abbida let out her breath and scrambled to follow him. Pointing at one of the aircraft outside, he said, “How ‘bout that one–with the open hatch?”
“Is that the one that just landed?”
It was parked a little off to the side, away from the other aircraft, and looked different as well. Next to the other more or less bulky machines, its harmonious build and flat wings made it look much more nimble and sleek. And yet they had both witnessed the power of this machine. Blowing it up would most likely make someone very angry. Good.
Abbida balled her fists. The villagers had never hurt anyone. All they wanted was to live in peace. Build a home, a community. They lived together, worked together, loved one another, quarrelled and split up, but they never fought to the bitter end. Not with weapons! And not to subject one another. By what right did the invaders call themselves superior? By what right did they fall on the village to destroy everyone’s peace? If she ever got a chance she would make them pay for this!
Her cheeks felt damp, and she noticed tears of anger running from her eyes. She gritted her teeth and wiped them off. One thing after the other. First, they had to find a way to free the hostages. Then she had to get back to Lian. She was the only person who knew about the enemies’ weak spots and how to take advantage of them. After that–they’d see.
“You alright?” Watching her, Cole made no attempt to console her, and for that she was grateful. She needed this anger to keep her fear at bay. Otherwise, she might not have the courage to see things through. She patted his shoulder and took the lead out of the generator house.
Naturally, the aircraft was guarded, though only by one soldier who stood by the open hatch. His weapon hung on a strap over his shoulder, in one hand he held a smoking pipe of a sort. Every now and then he cast a glance around, took a pull on his pipe, tilted his head back and let little smoke rings escape with an air of indifference.
Cole clobbered him over the head with his multitool.
The soldier doubled up without so much as a grunt, and Cole caught him before he hit the ground. Together they pulled him back to the generator house where they set him to the ground in the far corner. Suppressing any guilty feelings that might rise from seeing the man’s pale face, Abbida searched his uniform pockets. She found the same kind of straps that Lian had used as handcuffs before. Binding his hands and feet with his own equipment gave her a stale feeling of satisfaction. Last, she gagged him with a piece of cloth and pulled an empty feedbag over his head.
“Leave him some air to breathe,” Cole muttered.
“He’s not going to–” Abbida broke off. Footsteps! Startled she exchanged glances with Cole.
“Corporal Yang?” called a deep voice. “Who are you talking to?”
Abbida’s thoughts jumbled. There must have been someone else in the aircraft!
“Corporal?” he called again, a hint of annoyance in his tone. He was coming closer now, the gravel under his boots scrunched with every curt step.
There was no time to make any arrangements. Abbida ducked next to their prisoner behind the generator, pressing her back to the wall. Cole, who stood in the open, had no time to look for a hiding place. He planted himself next to the door, back against the wall, and lifted his multitool once again. His eyes searched for hers, and she nodded firmly.
“Corporal! Are you in there? What nonsense is this? Report! Now!”
The footsteps halted. Then he shoved the door open. It swung into the room, giving Cole a bit of cover. The silhouette of a tall man appeared in the door frame, blocking the light. Abbida couldn’t see his face, but there was no mistaking the outline of a gun in his hand. The safety lever cracked. That sound she would not forget for the rest of her life.
She held her breath, her heart pounding so loud, she thought he might hear it. The hilt of Lian’s knife seemed to sear the palm of her hand, but she didn’t dare let the blade snap out just yet. The sound would immediately give her away. And put her right in the line of his fire.
~ to be continued! ~
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