… continued from Prisoners
The remainder of the day passed without incident. The guards remained at their post, silent and resolute, completely ignoring any attempt to speak with them. Occasionally others would pass by through the corridor outside, and Anna would catch curious glances into their chamber, but none approached the entrance nor engaged with the guards.
After several hours, with her stomach rumbling, Anna began to wonder if they would simply be left to starve, but just as she determined to speak up, a Kwakitl arrived with a tray of hot food. A quick squawk with the guards, and the Kwakitl was allowed in with the tray. He set the tray down in the center of the chamber without a word and without looking at any of them, and then left.
After eating, they were allowed, one at a time and accompanied by one of the guards, to visit the washroom. For that Anna was thankful.
She did not sleep well that night, turning fitfully on her pallet of cushions while her mind roamed across all that had happened, and all that might be happening at that moment. Who were the new arrivals? Why did the Kwakitl assume culpability or ill intent on the part of the humans? She had no answers for these questions. She rolled over to find Jaci watching her.
“Anna,” he whispered, “I’m so sorry to have led you into this.”
She put a finger to his lips. “You didn’t cause this.”
“But if only I…”
“Shh. It’s not your fault. We’ll figure it out.” She saw the doubt in his eyes and recognized it for the self-doubt she often felt for herself. She scooted closer to him. “Come here.”
She wrapped him in her arms. He turned his head to kiss her, but again she put a finger to his lips. “Just go to sleep.”
Ten minutes later his deep, regular breathing told her he had, while her own mind continued to race with her runaway thoughts and emotions.
Soon enough the skylight brightened with the arrival of dawn, and Anna realized she must have slept after all. She let go of Jaci and sat up to find Laxmi grinning at her.
“Sleep well, did you?”
Anna glanced at the still slumbering Jaci. “Well, one of us did, anyway.” She stretched and yawned, then glanced at the guards. “I suppose breakfast should be here soon. I guess that’s one advantage: room service.”
The day passed much as the previous afternoon had. At one point a juvenile appeared at the door and tried to push between the guards, but she was rebuffed amid much squawking and whistling. Only their meals were allowed in.
Anna emptied the contents of the basket, neatly piling cushions and blankets on the floor, then she put the folded e-suits and helmets in.
“What are you doing?”
“We don’t know how long we’ll be kept here, and when eventually we do leave, we don’t know if we’ll be able to return. We need to bring everything with us when the time comes.”
She tore one of the blankets into long strips. The guards looked in at the sound of tearing fabric, but they did not intervene. Anna just smiled at them, which no doubt puzzled them, and fashioned the strips into straps. Soon enough she had converted the basket into a makeshift backpack.
“There. Now we’re ready for anything. Well, almost anything.”
Two more days passed without any change in their routine, and Anna wondered aloud if instead of starving the humans, the Kwakitl simply meant to bore them to death.
All that changed, however, on the fourth day of their imprisonment. Laxmi was first to notice an increasing commotion in the outside corridor as more and more Kwakitl rushed past, and soon the babble of raised Kwakitl voices reached them, as well. Their guards, previously so stolid and silent, began to hop back and forth from one foot to the other, looking at each other, at the humans in the chamber, then back out into the corridor.
“They’re nervous,” said Laxmi.
Ten minutes later, Ca-Seti arrived at the doorway and spoke to the guards. She then entered the chamber, as impassive and unperturbed as ever, and pointed at Jaci’s tablet. Her meaning was clear.
“What’s happening?” Jaci asked her through the device.
“You are to come with me.” Without another word, Ca-Seti turned and headed down the corridor.
The humans looked at each other, then Anna grabbed the basket-backpack and slung the straps over her shoulders. The guards gestured for them to hurry up, and then they all set off after Ca-Seti.
The cacophony of avian voices filled the rocky hallway as the humans and their escort made their way amongst excited Kwakitl. Occasionally Ca-Seti could be seen to squawk at the crowd to clear a path for her group to move through. They traveled around several twists and turns, but the route was by now familiar, so it came as no surprise when they exited onto the elevator platform.
Anna shielded her eyes from the mid-day glare of the sun reflecting off the sea. Even with Kepler 62’s dimmer light, she was unused to the brightness after being inside the caves for so many days. The platform teemed with Kwakitl jostling for a position on the next elevator down to the beach, but Ca-Seti squawked once more and the avians parted to make a path for her group. When they reached the elevator itself with its unobstructed view of the sea, Anna finally saw what had made everyone so excited.
She had half-expected to see a spaceship descending out of the sky, but instead what greeted her gaze was a delta-winged vehicle of some kind skimming across the waves. At first Anna thought it to be some sort of fast boat, but as it drew closer she saw that it was airborne, though only by a few meters off the sea surface. As it approached the lagoon, instead of rising up and over the reef’s crashing breakers, it turned to make its way through the calmer waters of the pass, slowing as it did so. Some sort of hovercraft or ground-effect vehicle, Anna decided, and probably not itself the lander that caused so much consternation on atmospheric entry. How large must the lander be, she wondered, that it carried this in its hold?
The elevator platform began to descend, carrying Ca-Seti and the humans along with several other Kwakitl who had managed to crowd in with them. Ca-Seti turned to face them and started squawking. Jaci quickly activated his tablet again.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
“You will translate for us. You will determine their intentions.”
The hovercraft reached the beach well before the slow elevator could make its way down the cliff. It settled down in the shallows a short way off from the docks, a shimmer distorting the air and water beneath it until it floated on its delta wing. Anna could hear a low-pitched hum that seemed to emanate from the machine, a deep bass note which vibrated the platform beneath her. Kwakitl swarmed the beach, their curiosity overcoming any trepidation at this amazing sight of a technology none of them would have ever known of, let alone seen with their own eyes.
A hatch in the side of the hovercraft opened with a loud hiss of escaping gases and equalizing pressures. A hush fell over the crowd of Kwakitl, and for a moment the only sound other than the omnipresent bass hum was the creak of the elevator platform, still descending on its track. Moment later, something stepped out of the hatch onto the wing.
It was definitely not human, nor was it avian.
Although the new arrival clearly wore a spacesuit of some sort, a suit of silvery metallic shimmer covering most of its body, the suit could not disguise that it walked on six of its eight flexible limbs, while the clear faceplate in the middle of its bulk revealed a face alien yet familiar, with large lidded eyes over a hard-beaked mouth. The otherworldly cephalopod turned to look across the crowd on the beach, where horror overtook amazement and the front ranks of Kwakitl pressed back into their companions in their desperation to get away from the water.
The Orta had arrived.
… to be continued.
© Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.