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Chapter three: The East Maragadian Desert
The sun is hot.
I did not truly appreciate the fact until I was flying headlong above a barren desert in the mid of the day. The rays glared down from the sky, bouncing off the sand to offend us in never ceasing waves. I wondered if they were as hot as I was, chasing us. I hoped so. My hatred for them had me wishing they would burn to dust.
My hot cloak was sticking to my sensitive skin with perspiration. We were flying at top speed—quite fast—but the wind could not touch me through the tightly-knit fibres of the cloak. I wished I could take it off and let it fall to the ground. But the sun, especially at this degree, would have turned my skin to ashes. The Scientists had removed the melanin from my skin and the pigment from my hair when I was nineteen, for an experiment involving chlorophyll and photosynthesis. I was ghostly pale, with the grey cast of the hungin oil in my veins. It was the only reason that I succumbed to wearing the black cloak, in the heat of the day.
But luckily, I had other things to worry my attention like a dog worrie a bone. The emotions that I had all but forgotten I had were swirling chaotically. It made my head pound. And all because of a temperamental human girl. I was paranoid. I was just waiting for the hole to swallow me up again. As much sense as it didn’t make, I was beginning to realize that sometimes the best things in life are above the limits of reason. Except I didn’t appreciate that this was one of the best things in life. All I felt was demoralized. Some predator I was.
I wondered indolently why Mia didn’t complain about the heat. Even though I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it if she had, I had pegged humans as incessant whiners.
I soon realized that the wind could cool her. I was jealous as I imagined her pale, red-brown hair streaming out behind her. She had lapsed into a state of thoughtful silence after our last strange exchange. I wondered what she was thinking, but I wanted to try and be…un-robotic. Instead, I kept my eyes trained on the ever-nearing but agonizingly distant Hashin forest, torturing myself with thoughts of shade and protection from the assaulting sun that, as easily as it had brought Mia to life, could slay us both. I figured that we could reach the forest by nightfall tomorrow. If we did not die beforehand. Hyperbolized as that may have been, in my heat-ravaged state I found I could entertain the notion without feeling the slightest bit daft.
Just goes to show what a few hours in the east-desert sun can do to you.
The only thing keeping me from leaping back down to earth and digging a hole to hide in until sundown was Mia. Though it was no longer necessary, she still had her arms around me and was gently stroking my stomach. I didn’t know why, except that the movement was unconscious, soothing though it was. Rhythmic, it was a metronome for my thoughts. It made the heat just a little bit more bearable.
Finally, as a naturally inquisitive person, I was overcome by my curiosity of what Mia was thinking about so deeply and uninterruptedly. I allowed myself a quick peek. Or at least I tried to. I thought I had tuned in, but my head was silenced of any and all thoughts but my own. I concentrated a little harder. But there was no mistaking it.
There was nothing there.
I was panicked until I realized that there was something. I could feel where her thoughts should have been, but the space was silent. It was like groping for a light switch in the dark. I pressed a little harder against what could only be described as a barrier, and my vision went fuzzy. I didn’t know what was going on. Why couldn’t I read her thoughts? My panic subsided, but I puzzled over it, as the day dragged on.
I didn’t have an answer when eventually, blessedly, and finally, the sun began its descent. Ironically, that is when things started to go horribly wrong.
It started with a subtle click; obviously out of place, but I brushed it off as unimportant. I gauged the degree of the sun and when it would be safe to let my hood fall back. There was another click. I was curious. I turned the sound over in my head, trying to decipher its meaning, if there was one. I couldn’t understand it. Shrugging mentally, I again brushed it off.
After that, everything happened in excruciating slowness.
C…l…i…c…k…It sounded like a gunshot. And then nothing. The quevi-board was no longer humming with life under my hands.
The engine had stalled.
I was not stunned because we were about to free-fall the two-hundred-something feet to the desert floor; I was stunned because the quevi-board ran on a perpetual-motion engine. It was impossible for it die, unprovoked. But somehow it had. We were gliding on the force of propulsion and fading heat thermals, gradually slowing. I was too horrified to do anything for a moment. Mia was alert. She asked me if something was wrong, but I couldn’t answer. And then we began to fall.
The wind whistled by like a million tiny whispers, telling me that in three seconds Mia would be crushed flat or buried in the sand, too deep to ever be raised again before she suffocated. This time I would not be able to bring her back. Mia’s screams pierced my concentration like a battle-axe taken to a stick of butter. Either I push off and get ready to land on my feet or save Mia and prepare to land on my back. Warring against my survival instincts, I decided on the latter option.
My entire calculation only took about an eighth of a second. I still had time, precious though it may have been. Without further hesitation, I snatched Mia from behind me, simultaneously kicking the disabled board to the side with a flick of my foot. I gathered the shrieking girl close to me, so that her back was to my chest. I looked fleetingly at the ground below, and then twisted myself so that my back was almost parallel to the ground. Each second seemed to last an hour; I felt like I was floating on a bubble. Gently…softly…slowly…
We made contact dangerously close to the totalled board. The impact sent the breath whooshing out of me in a great gust. I couldn’t breathe. Mia was still on top of me, sobbing, shaking, but I couldn’t breathe. I knew it didn’t matter; it would take more than a lack of oxygen to do me any harm, but it was starting to hurt. My back hurt, too. I knew it wasn’t broken. My lungs screamed for air.
Suddenly, I could breathe again. I took in a gasping breath. I still couldn’t believe what had happened. Dimly, I realized that Mia was beside me, running sand through her slender fingers.
“I never noticed before,” she said, almost to herself. “The sand is clear.”
I could hardly believe my ears. We had just crash landed out of the sky and she was commenting on the clarity of sand grains. No post-traumatic shock? No inconsolable tears?
Give her some credit, my inner voice said. She’s tougher than you think. “It’s diamond dust,” I told her, rolling up to a sitting position.
She looked at me, blue eyes bewildered in the fading sunlight. “What did you just say?” she asked.
“Diamond dust,” I repeated. “Its diamond dust.”
She stared at me, not comprehending. “Diamond dust.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Where in the world are we?”
“Not in your world, if that’s what you mean.” I absently began to dig a hole for the quevi-board.
“Not…in…my…world?” she asked. The tone of her voice made me look up. She looked as though she would have cried, but was too shocked to find the tears.
“No,” I said cautiously. “We are not.”
She let the sand fall like rain. Or tears. “I want to go home,” she whimpered. Finally, tears glistened beneath her eyes. It made me uncomfortable. I had not meant to make her cry. I was sure that any other human would have been fascinated by diamond dust, as diamonds were considered rare in their world. I had yet to learn that Mia was so unlike other humans that it was uncanny.
“I’m sorry, Mia,” I said helplessly. “I wish I could take you back, I do I really do, but I—” can’t. That’s what I had been about to say. But my words were choked off, because they would have been a lie.
I did know how to get Mia back to her world. Back home.
It was simple, really, in context. But in reality, I did not know if it could be done. We would have to walk now, and that made it that much easier for the Scientists to catch us, and it would take twice as long to reach the safety of the Hashin forest. But I didn’t mind. For the first time in my entire life, I had a clear and true purpose to fulfill.
“Good idea, Mia,” I said instead, hauling her to her feet and then up into my arms. She stared blankly at me through her tears. “I think you should go home, too. Lets go.” I took off, and as the sand and rocks blurred beneath my smoothly running feet, I could almost imagine I was flying again.
I kept trying to tell myself that this was stupid. I shouldn’t be putting our lives in the hands of a myth, a fairytale that may or may not be true. But it was the only solution I could think of. It would have to do. For now.
A couple of years ago, I had been doing an errand for Jurtok, the cardiologist, when I heard two Scientists talking. Of course, that wasn’t uncommon, but it was the content of the conversation that made me stop and listen.
“…some island in the middle of the sea,” someone was saying. This caught my interest because I had never heard them talk about the other places in the world. This world. “They think they are all that and then some because they help people. And they go to church. Pagan, they called us.”
“Pagan! Its not like those filthy humans had a life anyway. But they wouldn’t even consider helping us?”
“So what, then? are we not people?” his tone was slightly sarcastic.
“They’ll be sorry. Damn it, they will be.”
It took me a minute to grasp what they were talking about, but when I did, I started to do some research.
If the stories I had heard were true, then somewhere in the middle of the east Maragadian sea lays an uncharted but known island called Bel Crovia. On that island is a small, underground city. That city is a Science facility. It has no name, just as my facility doesn’t.
I am hoping to find a master grade transdimensional teleportation unit on that island. Or even a little one. Whether or not they would let me use it was a different matter. “…they help people.” I was counting on that.
It was a long shot, though. Finding the island was the biggest challenge. “Somewhere in the middle of the eastern sea” is not much to go by in the means of geographical direction. And then there was the matter of convincing them to let us use their TTU. If they had one. I supposed that I could get them to help me build one I f they didn’t. I knew the basic rules and principles, and the materials needed, but that just took us back to the problem of finding the island.
If the stories were, in fact, just stories, we would be wandering around the earth and the sea until the Scientists caught up to us or a miracle happened or we died. Until then, though, I was simply concentrating on getting us out of this inhospitable desert. It was proving easier than I would have estimated.
By the time the sun went down completely, the temperature had gone down, too. I gratefully threw back the hood of my cloak and let the wind ruffle my sweaty white hair. Though the moon was hot, it didn’t burn. It was bliss. I didn’t dare take off the cloak. I was afraid that I would be too tempted to leave it off even when the sun came back up.
With nothing better to do, I found myself worrying excessively about what would happen if we didn’t make it through. Meaning, they found us.The image of Mia in the holding room pressed itself to the backs of my eyes again, and a spasm racked my entire body. I tripped, and righted my self quickly. My mind rejected the sudden anguish, trying to push me back into the hole where I would feel nothing. I had thought by that time that it no longer existed. I didn’t want to go. I would take the pain over the sedative any day. Because once I was under, I wouldn’t care if came out again or not.
That was the scariest part.
Mia, awakened by my stumble, moaned quietly and shifted her position in my arms to look up at my face. something flashed behind her blue eyes. In the starlight, her hair looked silver. The cubic pendant at her neck looked greener than it did when it was day, just like the mineral grent.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
Her voice pierced through me, securing me above my hole like a life line. It fascinated me. Except for the fact that I felt like telling her everything.
“Yes. Keep talking.” I said, before I could stop myself. Or try to. I sounded pathetic.
She seemed a little put out by my desperation. “What do you want me to talk about?” she asked.
“What’s your favourite colour?” I suggested. She could give me some answers, at least. I was sure there was nothing about her that could even compare to the enormity of my secrets. Which were beginning to be admittedly few, I thought sourly.
She arched an eyebrow. “Indigo. They took it out of the rainbow, apparently, because it is too close to blue or purple. I feel sorry for it.”
I could see she was attempting at humour. A weak attempt though it was, I forced myself to laugh; I was fascinated as the sound bubbled up in my throat like… well, like nothing I had ever felt before. I laughed again, to make the feeling last.
“What’s your favourite food?”
Chocolate… I had heard of that. A sweet sort of candy that humans seem to like a lot. Most though, would not count it as food. But jellybeans? “What are those? Jellybeans, I mean.”
She gaped at me. “You don’t know what jellybeans are?” she asked in disbelief. I just looked at her. “Absurd. Well, they look something like this”—she held up her fingers, demonstrating—“and are sort of soft like, well, jelly. Um, they are sort of sweet, I guess, except the chocolate ones taste like, well, chocolate.” She took in my bewildered expression. “Jeez, I don’t know! I have never had to explain a jellybean to someone before. Come and visit me in my world one of these days, and I’ll give you one.” she was silent for a minute.
The dilemma of our different worlds never failed to upset her. I couldn’t understand why, especially now that she was going home. I wished for the dozenth time that I could read her mind. I wondered why she did not seem at least a little frightened of me. Being a predator was all I had known, and now I didn’t even have that anymore. I felt lost.
“Your favourite type of music?” I pressed, trying now to distract her as well as myself.
Amusement quirked one corner of her mouth into a half smile. “Freestyle,” she said. I wondered at her expression.
“Care to elaborate?”
“No, I don’t. Next question. Or do you feel better now?” she peered at me from under her golden eyelashes. “I’ll bet anyone could read you like an open book (I almost smiled at the irony). You don’t have to tell me. but if you are feeling better now, I will thank you to set me down so I may walk.”
I shook my head in refusal, simultaneously trying to clear it. “I have to carry you, so I can run. The farther away we get from them, the closer we get to the Hashin forest. And food. And water.” Even with my scientifically influenced endurance, I was thirstier than I had ever remembered being. It could only be that much worse for Mia. And I was starting to feel tired. I would not need sleep for a couple days yet, but I was starting to feel the extent of my strain.
She scowled. “But I want to stretch,” she whined.
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Or do you want to eat?”
She glared at me and didn’t say anything, but she did shift around so that she was no longer facing me. Pouting. I grinned surreptitiously. Poor Nenu.
But I was still concerned about her health. She didn’t seem to be showing many signs of starvation or thirst, but I couldn’t be sure. Walking would use up energy that would not soon be replenished.
Mia was good for me. She made me feel…good. Or at least not bad. The feeling confused me, but it was still potent. If I had thought myself to have a soul, I would have described it as she being able to see to the very depths of it. I decided I liked the feeling.
Until I realized what the feeling was.
It hit me with enough impact to send me stumbling. I gritted my teeth. I shouldn’t run like this. It wasn’t safe. I slowed my pace. Mia groaned again.
“What now?” she asked.
“I think you might be right. Maybe we should stop.” I set her gently down on her feet. She looked at me, one slender eyebrow raised.
“That’s twice now,” she told me.
“For what?” I asked, sinking down to the sand. I lay on my back, arms at my sides, and was perfectly still. I was fighting the urge to get up and pace.
“About me being right,” she yawned and lay down beside me, about two feet away. She closed her eyes.
As soon as her blue eyes were no longer holding me captive, in their depths, the truth washed over me once again. Luckily I was already lying down, or else I may have fallen this time.
I don’t know how I knew. But on the other hand, I didn’t know how I hadn’t known. The evidence was there, mocking me with its simplicity. It wasn’t because it was the only logical explanation; it was because it was the only explanation that made sense. Why I couldn’t bare the thought of handing Mia over to the Scientists. Why she made me feel whole again. Why I would die for her and with her. Why I could suddenly see the light again. Despite all my dreaming and story book reading, I had completely missed the signs when they had hit me. The list went on and on, paving a path that would lead me to the same conclusion.
It was because I loved her.
But I didn’t just love her. I was in love with her. I didn’t want her to go. I wanted to be with her. And that was simply inexcusable.
Not only was it inexcusable, it was wrong. Wrong on so many levels. And anyway, it was pointless. She was just so beautiful and alive and so good. She could never want me.
I didn’t want my darkness that I wore like my cloak anywhere near her. I was afraid that somehow, I would suffocate her beautiful flame and it would go out. But at the same time, I wanted her to shine on me. It was exploitation. I was disgusted with myself.
But then, through and by the will of God, love shall conquer all; come hell or high water, you should be left standing tall in the ruinous wake of chaos and heinous destruction.
I realized with an inward groan that some distant part of my self had already made the connections and had begun to optimize. The smart part, the part the never did give up hope. The part that actually paid attention to all those love novels I so abundantly consumed.
I moaned very softly. Why this, why now? Why did I have to get a full dose of everything I had ever missed when I just realized I had been missing it?
Why did things have to be this way?
A warm, light finger touched my cheek. I opened my eyes.
“Do you hear that?” Mia asked, leaning over me and peering at my face. I wanted to place my hand over hers, to keep it there. I closed my eyes again, disgusted. I didn’t want to see myself, reflected in her beautiful eyes…
“Hear what?” I asked. I sounded tired. I was too weak to sit up.
“That noise,” she said.
This time, I did sit up. I was tensed for flight. There were many noises out there, especially for me. I listened though, for anything that was out of place. But I hadn’t been paying attention enough to make a comparison. Because I had been paying too much attention to Mia.
“That noise, it sounds like a bird? Just listen.”
A bird? I relaxed. I listened harder, trying to find a sound in the swirling cacophony that matched her description. And then I did hear it.
I almost choked.
“Yeah, I hear it.”
Was this a joke? I wondered maliciously. Was this supposed to be funny?
“It’s a konce. We must be getting close to the Hashin forest.”
How could this be?
“They only come out at night.”
“You look ill.”
“Is something wrong?”
She hesitated. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I didn’t say anything.
Konces are small, nocturnal, eight legged insects, with proportionally large, colourful wings. They have an exceptionally lovely song that is often mistaken for a bird’s. Ancient Tecovedan texts portray them as symbols of true love.
I was too emotionally drained to linger on the irony, but I wonder even now if God was playing a prank on me. If so, I tip my hat to you, God. That was a good one.
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