Author Topic: Esme 3  (Read 1702 times)

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Offline Daen

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Esme 3
« on: October 10, 2022, 04:58:46 AM »
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of new information, most of which was completely beyond me. Apparently the ancestors had built this place before the Great Fall, and the woman upon whom the story was based, had worked here. Doing what, I really didn’t understand.

Her name had been Ivy Baker. She’d been blinded in some kind of accident as a child, and had learned the ancient tongue, Braylee, shortly afterwards. She’d had an advantage during the Great Fall, as she’d already been blind, and was used to it. She lived long enough to pack up a bunch of what Sarah called Hard Drives, whatever they were, and bring them back here, where she had once worked. She’d entrusted a few others with her secret before dying, and those had been Sarah’s ancestors.

The caretakers of the Sanctuary had been working ever since, trying to find a way to reverse the global blindness. It was genetic- another word I didn’t understand- so they tried changing the very way humans were put together to try and fix it. Their greatest discovery had been the plant-based enzyme, about a hundred years ago. After that they’d started reaching out for help, from the adjoining Munga villages.

Apparently there were crops growing right above our heads, on top of the mesa. Since the caretakers here needed those crops to feed themselves, they quietly reached out to the various Munga communities, and made contact with their spiritual leaders; their mulkurrs.

The early priestesses had done as Jack had: assuming that these sighted visitors were gods or spirits or supreme powers of some kind. Over time they'd developed a more equal relationship, as the mulkurrs had come to recognize that the Sanctuary's caretakers were ordinary people just like them. I wasn't sure if Jack's mother knew the importance of the plant she'd been growing, but I was willing to bet anything that it was why she'd been targeted by the Torgans.

Somehow, the Torgan Governor knew about the connection between the Munga and the Sanctuary. He might not know exactly what was going on here, but he definitely knew enough to try to invade. According to Rust, Sterling was vicious and single-minded. He would come here personally, soon enough. All the while, his troops would keep searching for this place.

Water wasn’t a problem here, even this far out into the desert. There was a huge, uh, aquifer was the word Sarah used, underground, that they used for drinking water and hauled up to irrigate their crops. How they hauled that much water up was another incomprehensible explanation, but I got the basics. Apparently there was another use for sunlight, other than just growing crops. It could be harvested, somehow beyond my understanding, and used to keep these machines running. I went up to the top of the mesa with Sarah, and saw the strange, bright flat things up there. Solar panels, she called them.

There was something that was neither panels nor crops on the far end of the mesa. “What’s that?”

Sarah glanced at it. “Ah. There were machines, back before the Great Fall, that the ancestors used to actually fly through the air. They could go very, very far using them. They’re called airplanes. We found the ruins of one out in the desert a while back, and brought the pieces back here. Eventually, we were able to build new pieces and fix the thing.

I stared at her for a moment. “You… can fly? Like a bird?”

“Sort of. This makes a lot more noise, and can’t change direction as fast as a bird can, but yeah, I’ve flown inside it once. Scared the hell out of me, I can tell you. I can’t actually control the airplane, but Aru can. He’s our pilot. That’s an ancient word for someone who controls planes.”

I could hardly imagine what that must be like. I’d thought I was so brave, being out on the water all alone because I could see. I had sailed farther from home than any other Pino could have ever gone, simply because I could see. But to actually leave the ground itself? Spectacular!

We met a few more of the caretakers on our way back down the stairs. Aru was among them, a whip-thin young man with close-cropped black hair and a big smile. Apparently there were about twenty caretakers in the whole place, and most of them were blind. I tried to hide my surprise as I greeted them, and then waited until they were gone, before inquiring. “I thought you could give them an… injection and they could see!”

“We can,” Sarah explained. “But the plant extract is rare and hard to come by, especially since people have to grow it in secret. We usually only have one sighted person at a time, in case of emergencies. Everyone else has to be in the dark until it’s their turn.”

I supposed that made sense, in an equal way. If they had limited supplies, they had to limit use. Still, it seemed unfair to them. Why did I get to enjoy all of this sight, when they had to ration it? “Why did you give Jack an injection, then?”

“He earned it. If it weren’t for him, we’d be pretty much out of supplies by now. Two other convoys were on their way here as of a week ago, and Jack’s was the only one to make it through to us. Thanks to the three of you, we have a chance to give sight to the right people.”

This was their plan, I realized. Their long-term plan at least. “You’re trying to sway the people themselves, aren’t you?” I spoke before really thinking about it. “If you can prove to them that becoming sighted is possible, you can share this medicine with them!”

“And teach them how to grow, process and make the medicine themselves,” Sarah confirmed. “But first we have to get enough of them to see at once, to spread the word far enough. People in power won’t like that- especially the Torgan leadership.”

“Speaking of them, how did Sterling know about this place? Why did he wait for so long before attacking the Munga, and invading the desert?”

Sarah grimaced. “One of the mulkurrs went missing about a week before all of this started. We believe she was kidnapped, and then tortured. If Sterling learned what she knew, he’d want to come here and claim this power for himself. Thankfully none of the mukurrs know the exact location of the Sanctuary, or what the plant is used for precisely, but it’s only a matter of time before his soldiers find this place. We just have to hope we can be ready first.”

It was a race, then. I imagined Sanctuary agents sneaking around Torgan cities with needles in their hands, and orders to inject various powerful Torgans all at the same time. Not to kill them, but open their eyes.

As we reached the bottom of the stairs, I caught sight of Rust, in deep conversation with another caretaker. Sarah whispered to me that the other man was a northerner too, having been born and raised in Darwin. Rust turned as soon as we approached. “Hugh, this is Esme. Esme, meet Hugh, a fellow fisherman.”

The man reached out his hand strangely, and I slowly took it. He gripped mine firmly, and then shook once and let go. He seemed to sense my confusion, because he followed it with a smile. “It’s called a handshake,” he clarified. “The ancestors used to use them as greetings, and to solemnize a deal between two people. It’s just something we’ve picked up when we meet newcomers around here.”

“Thank you,” I managed with just a little surprise. Not at Hugh's strange greeting, but upon seeing Rust’s eyes! He was still blind, too! Somehow I’d thought he would have taken an injection the moment he heard about them. “Could I have a word with Rust, please?”

“Of course,” Hugh said graciously. “I need to get back to work anyway. It was a pleasure meeting you, young man.”

“You too,” Rust responded with a smile.

Sarah excused herself as well, as her eyes were needed downstairs, and I rounded on Rust. “What the hell? Why didn’t you take that injection?”

He blinked. “So, you’re not mad at me for siding with Jack anymore? Now it’s about a sighted thing?”

I hesitated. In truth, with all the amazing things around here, I’d completely forgotten about our earlier spat. “No! I mean, yes, I am still mad about that, but I’m mad about this too! Jack earned his sight, and so did you! Why didn’t you get one?”

Rust let out a noncommittal noise. “Sarah mentioned that they were low on the medicine, and I figured I’d get my chance eventually anyway. Why waste it on me now, when it could be used on someone important?”

“You are important. If not for your strength, at least for your knowledge of the Torgans. You spent years in their territory, killing them at will, before you even met me!”

“I don’t need sight to tell them what I know,” he continued evenly, and I felt like I might scream. “What’s this really about, Esme?” At my silence, he gave another smile. “Keep trying, lover,” he echoed my own words back at me.

For a moment, pride blinded me, but it passed quickly. He was nothing if not honest, and he deserved the same from me. “I… I wanted you to know what I look like, ok?”

He snorted, and then laughed aloud, and I felt like hitting him again. “That’s what this is? Esme, I don’t need to see you to know you. I know what you sound like.” He leaned in a little closer, and I felt my breath quicken. “I know what you smell like.”

He ran his hand up and down the small of my back. “I know what you feel like, and I know you. I’ll be able to see you soon enough, if the medicine works. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll still know you. Always. Now, are we done fighting? Can we go somewhere and make up properly?”

I shook my head in mock anger. He always made it so hard to stay angry with him! Sometimes I wished I could infuriate him the same way, at least a little. Maybe I did, but he was just better at hiding it. Finally, I gave him a quick kiss. “I’d like that.”
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:07:48 AM by Daen »