… continued from Interrogated by the Orta
An awkward pause ensued, filled with the slap of waves against the wooden hull, the creak of timbers as the boat rocked in the swell, and no more. Anna’s heartbeat pounded in her ears, so loud to her that surely the Orta could hear it, and she was certain the game was up, they were caught, when Ca-Tren’s avian squawk sounded and Jaci’s tablet streamed its written translation.
Are you not Orta? What else could you be? Most assuredly you are not Kwakitl, and though you wear a bowl of water over your head, a fish tank you carry with you and yet live within, I also do not believe you are a fish. Our fishermen tell tales of creatures like you in the deep sea, and perhaps that is where you are from, but… I do not think that, either. We have legends about you. Mothers tell their daughters myths about you, and most Kwakitl do not quite believe in you, yet they also fear you. I do not doubt there was trouble at Ar-Danel if you went there. You are the creature in the dark children are taught to fear if they do not heed well their parents.
Yet you do not fear us, though by your own telling you are still young yourself.
I am not my mother. I am a student of Li-Estl. Li-Estl, who unearthed the old histories to shine the light of truth upon the dark ignorance of our people. Li-Estl, who taught us that we once were a great people, a people who flew beyond the skies of this world before we fell into darkness. Li-Estl, who taught us that in our time of greatness we were not alone, that the Orta, far from being monsters to frighten small children, were our partners and friends until, in our hubris and our downfall, we drove them from our world.
Li-Estl who is now dead, perhaps by the hands — tentacles? — of these same Orta. Anna had not known Li-Estl long, but in their short time together she had come to like and respect the old bird. Jaci, of course, had known her much longer. Reading the transcript of Ca-Tren’s speech to the Orta, Anna was struck by just how important a role Li-Estl had played in keeping a light on in the darkness for these young Kwakitl, and how keenly her loss would be felt, even if not all Kwakitl fully realized the magnitude of that loss.
Yet Li-Estl’s influence remained, here, in the form of this fiery young student of hers, facing down what must seem a formidable foe, the embodiment of dark childhood myths, and recognizing those myths for what they are, and what they are not.
Did Ca-Tren know that Li-Estl had perished? Ca-Seti had whispered it hurriedly to Anna while seeing them off on the boat, while Ca-Tren hid down below. Did Ca-Tren hear?
You speak well, young Kwakitl. There is yet hope for your people, if there are more like you. Very well, we shall detain you no longer. Sail home to Ar-Danel and finish your test. Your people there need you.
Why is that? What has happened? What will I find when I arrive at Ar-Danel?
Let it go, Anna breathed. You already know, no need to push them. We’re so close now.
There was… trouble. You shall see when you arrive. Know that it is not what we wished.
The boat rocked, as if a great weight stepped onto the far hull and then stepped off. A few more bumps of the hull against something solid, and then the fans spun up, whining to a rising pitch, then receded with the departing hovercraft. After another few minutes, the hatch over Jaci’s head opened, filling the cargo hold with grey light, causing Anna to blink in the sudden brightness. A rush of fresh air came in with the light, and she breathed deeply.
Ca-Tren stuck her head down through the hatch, squawked once, then backed out. Jaci stiffly pulled himself out after her, then Anna followed suit, slowly unkinking the knots from her back and joints from the hours of stillness in the dark. By the time she got her head free of the hatch, Ca-Tren had already opened its mate on the far hull, where Laxmi eased herself out.
“Well done,” Anna said as she hauled herself back into the main hull’s cockpit. “Very well done. Li-Estl was indeed a great teacher, and she had at least one star pupil.”
Ca-Tren looked at Anna quizzically, then at Jaci, pointing to the tablet in his hand.
“Ah, sorry. Out of juice at last. I need to put it on the solar charger for a bit. Which, with this cloudy weather, might take a while.” Jaci made gestures at Ca-Tren, trying to explain, but she just looked at him with that same quizzical look, until he sighed and gave up.
Anna looked out to sea, observing a far misty patch where the Orta hovercraft already receded toward the western horizon.
“Right. Well, let’s get the sail up. And, we need to keep sailing south for a time, just in case they look back and take notice that we aren’t doing what we said we would be. We’ll just sail slowly, but then after that, we need to do our best to be well away from this patch of ocean.”
After thirty minutes Anna’s impatience got the best of her. Having seen no sign of the Orta’s return, she had the crew turn the boat back northwards, riding the waves downwind toward their unseen destination. Every few minutes she could not help but look back over her shoulder, checking for any sign of pursuit.
Jaci came up from below and sat beside her at the tiller. He offered her an opened food pack, but she shook her head.
“Are you sure? The finest in freeze-dried, vacuum-packed pre-made meal bar cuisine?” Anna glared at him, so he laughed and took a bite himself. “Suit yourself. You know, Anna… Are you still certain we wouldn’t be better off making a deal with the Orta? They don’t really seem all that monstrous, in fact they seem quite reasonable, and they definitely have the means to get us off the planet.”
Anna kept her gaze ahead, on the horizon, and collected her thoughts before speaking.
“Yes, they did seem reasonable back there. Almost too reasonable. But I cannot forget that they shot and killed people… Kwakitl people… back at the island. I cannot forget they killed Li-Estl. Surely that means something to you, doesn’t it?” She turned to look Jaci in the eye. “I know she was special to you. You knew her longer than Laxmi or I. She was no fighter, she was a teacher, and an elderly one at that. She of all her people knew the truth of the Orta, so she had no reason to antagonize them. So, why? Why would they do that?”
“Just so, Anna. Why? Are we so sure what really happened? We didn’t see it. We saw some flashes of light, and we heard second-hand from Ca-Seti, that’s all. And the Orta know we’re here. They’re looking for us. How much longer do you think we can evade them, in our creaky wooden sailboat against all their technology? And what do you think they would do with us, anyway? They could help us! God knows, we could use some help. I’m still not entirely clear on your plan once we reach this mysterious island with the elevator. You don’t really think it’ll be functional, do you? It’s been idle for a thousand years! Meanwhile, here we meet some folks with an actual rocket, or a spacecraft of some kind, anyway, yet you still want to chase down this ancient piece of archaic tech which long ago fell into the realm of myth and legend for everyone around here.”
“I’m not sure I’d call a space elevator archaic. It looked pretty advanced to me.”
“William the Conqueror was invading England when that thing was built. Hell, maybe it’s even older than that. Julius Caesar might have been crossing the Rubicon. Yet show me an Apollo Moon rocket that still works. Fascinating to look at in a museum, but you wouldn’t trust one to take you into space today.”
“Apollo was the program. The rocket that carried those astronauts to the Moon was a Saturn V. And it was another fifty years before anyone built another as powerful.”
“Whatever. Would you ride on one? Wait, don’t answer that. You just might. But, I sure as hell wouldn’t!”
Anna laughed, and after a moment, so did Jaci. They both relaxed.
“Ok, Jaci, your point is well made. Regardless, I still do not trust the Orta, and we are going to investigate the elevator. We’ll be there in just a few more days. And if it doesn’t pan out…”
“Then we’ll try it your way. We’ll turn around, and we’ll turn ourselves in.”
… continued with So Many Stars, and So Quiet
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