Ventus – Day 11 of 135


Calandria debated how much to tell the youth. There was no law as such against revealing galactic news to the isolated and backward people of this world. At worst, the various anthropological groups that studied Ventus would be furious at her for muddying their data.

There was little, however, that Jordan Mason could do with anything she might tell him about the wider world. He was a prisoner of this place, like all his countrymen. There was no prospect of rescue, or escape, for the people of Ventus; compassion dictated that she not even hint that Mason’s life could be other than it was.

She was going to have to tell him something, though. It might as well be the truth, as far as he was able to understand it.

They skirted the edge of an escarpment for a while. This path gave a great view of the endless, rolling forest, and of the towering thunderheads that were bearing down on them. Calandria sniffed at the air, feeling it change from dry and still to charged, anticipatory. There was no way they were going to get to the manse in time.

It was ironic, she thought. In idle time before landing she had stood at the window of her ship, the Desert Voice, and contempated this world. Gazing down at Ventus, the human eye lost itself in jewel-fine detail. Her eye had followed the sweep of the terminator from pole to pole, gaining a hint of the varieties of dusk of which this world was capable. Sombre polar greys melted into speckled brown-green forests, along a knee of coastline reddened by local weather, and in a quick leap past equatorial waters her gaze could touch on this or that island, each drawn in impossibly fine detail and aglow with amber, green and blue. Each, if she watched long enough, summoned into night.

She had wondered then if the original colonists had felt the way she did now. When they first beheld Ventus and knew that a chapter of their life was ending, and a new one beginning, had they felt the same unease? And the anticipation?

She had tried to picture what their imaginations brought to the pretty little islands that had caught her eye. Standing above this canvas, each must have painted it with his or her own colors, drawing the boundaries of new states and provinces. It would be irresistible, at a new world, to wonder what the forest looked like from underneath; how the rain smelled; what it would be like to sleep under the stars here.

At that time the skies weren’t as empty as they now appeared. The Winds were still visible, like gossamer winged creatures dancing above the atmosphere. All frequencies were alive with their singing and recitative. They were almost as beautiful as the planet itself — as intended — and they took human shapes to communicate with the colony ships. This was expected; they had been designed that way.

The Winds sang, and danced in slow orbits in time to their singing. In those last moments before the nightmare began, the colonists’ eyes must have beheld a perfect world, an exact embodiment of their dreams.

Thunder grumbled. It was so different when you were down here, she knew now. The invulnerability of space was a dream. Calandria found her steps quickening, not so much because of the coming rain, but because once again she was reminded that Ventus was not the natural environment it appeared to be.

They rounded another arc of escarpment, and there it was, right where the Desert Voice had said it would be: a manse. Jordan hadn’t spotted the long rooftop yet, obscured as it was by trees. Calandria smiled at the prospect of warmth and comfort the manse promised.

Jordan was ignoring the view. In fact, he seemed to be sniffing at something. She raised an eyebrow, and cleared her throat. “What are you doing?”

“Death,” he said. “Something’s dead. Can’t you smell it?”

Damn if he wasn’t right. She should have been more alert. Jordan had walked several steps off the deerpath, and now gingerly parted a spray of branches. “Lady May, look at this.”

She looked over his shoulder. In a dark, branch-shaded hollow of loam and pine needles lay a giant bloated object. It looked like nothing so much as a big bag of mangy fur. At the top was a kind of flower of flesh, which, she realized uneasily, had teeth in it. As if…

“What is that?”

“Looks like it used to be a bear,” whispered Jordan. Its mouth had folded back to become a kind of red-lipped flower atop the bag of flesh, and its eyes had receded into the skin. She looked in vain for signs of its four limbs; save for the vestigial head, it was little more than a sack of fur now.

A sack in which something was moving.

She stepped back. For once, Mason seemed unfazed. In fact, he looked back, caught her obvious distress, and grinned.

“A morph’s been here, maybe two, three days ago,” said Jordan. “It found this bear, and it’s changed it. I don’t know what’s going to hatch out of it, but… looks like several things. Badgers maybe, or skunks? Whatever the morph thought there was a lack of in this part of the woods.”

Of course. She’d been briefed on morphs, she knew what they were capable of. It was a very different thing to witness the result.

“They’ll come out full-grown,” said Jordan as he backed away from the clearing.

Thunder crashed directly overhead. Calandria looked out over the escarpment in time to see a solid-looking wall of rain coming at them.

“Come on!” she shouted. “It’s only a little farther.”

Jordan looked at the rain and laughed. “Why hurry?” he asked. “We’ll be wet in two seconds.”

He was right–in moments, her hair was plastered down on her head, and cold trickles ran down her back. Still, Calandria hurried them away from the disturbing thing that had once been a bear. They continued to skirt the top of the escarpment for a hundred meters, then came out near what might normally have been a good deer-path down the slope; it was a torrent of muddy water.

“What’s that?” Jordan pointed. Perhaps two kilometers away, warm lights shone through the shifting grey of the rain.

“Our destination. Come,” she said, and stepped onto the downward path. Her feet went out from under her, and Calandria found herself plummeting down the hillside in a flood.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)