Author Topic: Part 28: Questions upon Questions  (Read 5473 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 28: Questions upon Questions
« on: December 09, 2022, 01:00:26 AM »
When he got to about the three thousandth rocking motion, Moss started to feel pain. It was a new and very unpleasant sensation. Well, not entirely new. Moss vaguely remembered feeling this back during his seedling days, as his bark had started to firm up.

Protected though it had been by Char's flame-resistant mixture, Moss' bark had been badly damaged. Entire sections of his trunk were no doubt exposed to the elements. If some barkless primate had lost its skin like that, it would have meant nearly instant death, but as a treqar he had at least some time to grow it back.

The trouble was energy. By his reckoning, he'd been in motion for a day and a half now, without any Corelight from his now-dead leaves, no water from the ground, and no nutrients from his abandoned roots. What water he'd stored before the fire was at risk of leaking out through his damaged exterior. Pondering it in the dark, Moss decided to grow only a minimal shell over his damaged areas, and to save the rest of his energy. And hope that Char knew what she was doing.

He had to get more information from her! He sent Grace over to her… and then paused. Right, she was dead. They were all dead.

Was this how his ancestors had felt? Was he getting a preview of what the rest of the Union would feel in a few years? How could anyone live like this? To be trapped: sentient but stuck. Unable to move except for in the most basic growth patterns.

He realized his rocking motion had changed. He was being moved again. Moss concentrated on the motion, and realized he was being lifted upright, and lowered. Was he being planted again? Incensed at being so helpless, he railed against his empty prison!

Suddenly a connection appeared in his mind, and Char was there. "Hey, Moss."

"You have no idea how good it is to see you. Or anything else for that matter," he said with great relief.

"I can imagine," she let out a stream of sadness.

"Where are we? My branches and leaves are all gone. I'm blind."

"Here," she expanded their little network of two, giving him access to what she was seeing currently.

The first thing he took in was the presence of a cart next to him—or her, actually. He was seeing through her senses. It was bigger than the one he'd designed, with a flat bed big enough for a full-grown treqar. For young treqars like the two of them, it was room for them both: that was how she'd rescued him. There was a river just to the south, running its hectic pace to the south. Now that he was in the ground, Moss could actually feel the dampness in the soil, and greedily sucked it up. Core only knew how close he'd gotten to complete dehydration.

She was using a radio for some reason, issuing instructions. The cart sprang into motion again, turning away from them. "Where is it going?"

"This is an off-the-map oil deposit I… was told about some years ago. I'm sending the articulators to gather some of it. I'll mix more fuel and then load up the cart again. We used up most of what we had just getting here."

Moss had so many questions. "You were told? By whom? How are you even still alive, Char? How am I? Are you working for the Chancellor in secret? Is that how you knew the attack was coming?"

She sent out a burst of refusals. "Stop, stop. I can't answer any of that. All I can tell you is that you're safe for now. Grow leaves if you can, and roots, but not too deep. We're not staying for more than a day."

"Where are we going? If you're not working for the Chancellor, then who? I know it wasn't the trejuns, or they would have blasted you to death, too!"

"I don't know, all right?" She responded angrily. "I'm way off-book here. I wasn't supposed to come back for you, or even to save your life in the first place! I was just supposed to move on, and hope everyone thought I was dead."

Moss held back any further questions, trying to hold in his fear and curiosity. She was clearly conflicted, and he didn't want to make it any worse.

"It was Rax," he said slowly. She wouldn't know this, having been gone.

Or maybe she did. Char was full of surprises it seemed. "He betrayed us to the trejuns. His grove was still intact—just being held hostage by them. He was stupid to trust them… but I don't know if I would have done any differently in his place." That was one of the things he'd pondered in the darkness. It was all well and good to think you'd be courageous in circumstances like that, but actually being faced with it put all those intentions to the test.

"The trejuns promised him they'd meld him to a jun queen in exchange for him spying on us. He planned on going home and giving juns to his grove to replace the dead qars."

"They would never honor that deal," Char said with certainty. "They view all of us as pests to be wiped out. The Chancellor is responsible. Not for the war itself, but her decisions did lead to the destruction of the Arbormass."

"How is this her fault? I don't understand."

Char paused, and that sad feeling was now mixed with anger. "Chancellor Esta held back information, just like she was raised to do. Just like most of her predecessors would have done. She knew the full extent of Trejuna's crimes. She knew just how many of your people had died—how many groves had been burned to ash, but she restricted that information."

"She was just trying to avoid a panic," Moss protested.

"She was treating everyone like seedlings. Actually worse than that: like qars! If everyone had known just how despicable the trejuns really are, then Rax would have known it, too. He wouldn't have trusted them."

"You don't know that for sure," he responded, but not with any real force behind it. There was such bitterness in her words, such hatred. Char really did blame the Chancellor for this, as much as she did their foreign enemies.

Not knowing quite what to say after that, Moss just watched through Char's senses as she manipulated the cart's articulators. Ironically, recovering rock oil from the ground was much easier for these mechanical graspers than it had ever been for the qars.

Char hadn't built that new cart, or fueled it. The designs were definitely Arbormass work, but the construction had happened elsewhere. Also, there was her fake death. She might have been able to blast herself to pieces, but faking it and getting out of there unnoticed first would have required help. She wasn't working alone by a long shot.

Wherever Char's true allegiance was, one thing was for sure: she was trying to do what was right. If not for the Continental Union, then at least for Moss. She could have left him to die. She could also have left him at the Arbormass, to be found by Union rescuers.

Char was definitely not a trejun agent. Given her antipathy towards the Union, or at least its leader, it seemed unlikely that she was working with them either. That meant a third party. The northern groves were all gone: Whitefoam and Winterbark had been the last to fall, over a week ago. Was it some kind of subversive group inside the Union? Moss wondered if perhaps… Char was a revolutionary of some kind?

It seemed that Rax wasn't the only person he'd never really known at all.