Come The Revolution – Snippet 12
Screams filled my ears until we hit the surface of the Wanu River, hit it hard enough to knock the wind from my lungs, almost hard enough to knock me out. Muffled and remote underwater sounds replaced bedlam. Groggy and disoriented, I wasn’t sure which direction was up until my feet sank into the weeds and bottom muck. My right arm was useless and I still had the front of The’On‘s tunic crumpled in my left fist. He floated limp beside me. I couldn’t let go, he’d drown. I pushed off from the bottom and kicked with my feet as hard as I could. I didn’t seem to be making any progress. I started feeling dizzy from oxygen starvation, could hardly keep my straining lungs from sucking in the Wanu River, when the water around me got lighter and then I broke surface.
Air! I vacuumed in a big, shuddering lung-full and my vision cleared, sound came back — people crying for help, screaming in pain and fear, splashing into the water. I looked around, oriented myself. We were close to the river bank, near the base of Prahaa-Riz, but the river was deep like a canal, so we’d had enough water under us to absorb our fall. Folks after us hadn’t been as lucky and lots were still falling from the shattered windows, tumbling down like an organic waterfall to land with soft thuds among the heaps of still-twitching bodies along the river bank. Only the first of us had been thrown far enough out to reach deeper water and avoid being crushed by the bodies cascading down afterwards.
It was hard treading water with just my legs, but I needed my one good arm to keep The’On‘s head up. I wasn’t sure he was breathing but couldn’t do anything about it in the water so I started kicking us toward the bank. I hadn’t gone far when one of the Varoki pulling himself up out of the shallows noticed us.
“There, the Human! The one who killed the Guide!”
Killed Gaant! ME? Well, just about everyone who actually saw what happened was probably dead by now, so it made sense to just blame the closest Human. The Varoki groped in the shallow water and came up with a good sized rock, threw it but it fell several meters short. He started looking for another one and a couple of the dazed survivors on the bank started pointing and shouting as well, wading into the water toward us. I kicked harder, now pulling us away from the shore.
The river was too wide to swim this way. As it was I was already tiring and barely making headway, but I had to get away. Reason and calm words weren’t going to get me very far with the Varoki survivors on the bank. I stopped for a second and used my good hand to push the back of The’On’s collar into my mouth. I held it with my teeth and started kicking again and doing a half-assed back stroke with one arm. I made better progress but I could hardly keep my head above water and was having trouble breathing.
I got another twenty or thirty meters out but my breath came in ragged gasps and my legs were losing power. I needed to take a break, catch my breath, but couldn’t with The’On. I wasn’t sure I could make it back to shore even if the mob weren’t there, and I felt panic start to tighten my throat. I got a nose-full of water by mistake and started choking. That’s when something hit me in the head from behind. Fortunately, it was a rescue float.
I let go of The’On‘s collar, twisted around, and saw a commercial fishing boat about ten meters away, idling in the channel, with four Humans along the rail yelling in English to me. One of them held the line attached to the float. Problem: I was still coughing, still couldn’t manage to gulp down any air, and I’d pass out pretty soon unless I could. I wrapped my legs around The’On‘s torso and grabbed for the float’s handholds with my good hand.
I threw my chest over the float and coughed the water out of my lungs as the crew dragged us alongside. A great big guy bent over the rail, grabbed my good arm, and started lifting. He could have managed me, but I still had my legs wrapped around The’On and the extra weight stalled him. He struggled for a couple seconds and then growled.
“Let the leatherhead go, yeah?”
Leatherhead. That’s what Humans called Varoki sometimes. It’s what I used to call them, back before a lot of things happened to me.
“Drop him!” the fisherman repeated.
I shook my head. “He’s my friend.”
He let go and I splashed back into the water. “Fuck you, then. Drown with your leatherhead friend, yeah?”
One of the other fishermen started pulling in the line to recover the float but I hooked my good arm through one of the flexible loops and held on with what strength I had left.
“Let go!” the big fisherman said.
“Leave me the float,” I said. “At least give us a Goddamned chance!”
“I give you boathook is what,” he said and turned away from the rail. The fisherman who’d pulled the line taut looked at me, frowning but not angry. When the big guy reappeared with a nasty-looking all-metal boat hook, the three others started talking to him. Up until then we’d been talking English. I didn’t understand the language they argued in now, but I recognized it: Portuguese.
After maybe a minute of spirited argument the big guy lowered the boat hook, leaned over the rail, and looked at me. Since my one good arm was tangled in the rescue float and I was mostly out of the water, hanging from the rail by the rescue line, I was about as helpless as I could get. There wasn’t any point in giving him a tough-guy glare; I had nothing. But I wasn’t going to let go of The’On, no matter what. So I just looked back at him and after a couple second he shrugged.
He said something in Portuguese I couldn’t understand and walked away.
The other three fishermen pulled me and The’On over the rail and onto the deck.
I didn’t have much strength left but I’d at least recovered my breath. I checked The’On for a pulse. It was faint, even for a Varoki, but his plumbing was still working. He wasn’t breathing, though, so I started mouth-to-mouth and after about five good puffs he vomited river water and started coughing.
That’s about when a stabbing axe blade of pain reminded me how messed up my shoulder was. The fatigue, trauma, and reaction to the adrenaline high all came home at the same time and I passed out. Didn’t even feel myself go clunk against the deck.
I came to, felt the soft vibration of the boat’s electric motors through the metal deck, found my arm strapped against my body and the shoulder packed in ice. Shoulder felt different, too — still hurt, but in a different way. Propped up against a metal locker, I sat up straighter, looked for The’On. He was a couple meters away, lying on his stomach, still unconscious. Vomit stained the deck around his face — that alarming orangey-pink Varoki vomit that looks too much like blood — but he was breathing.
I squinted up my comm link and saw I was still recording on the locked channel. I cut it and commed Marr, sub-vocalizing to keep it private.
Sasha! Oh, thank God you’re alive! The feed just went out. I didn’t know —
<Yeah, I cut it to comm you. The’On’s hurt and I’m banged up a little, unconscious for a while, but we’re both alive. Have you heard from the others?>
The comms are blacked out in Prahaa-Riz below Level Two Hundred. You must be outside the effect radius.
<Yeah. My feed came in okay though, huh?>
From when the trouble started, yes. I could hardly watch, and when the window broke…
Her voice faltered and I could hear her crying softly. I tried to imagine what I’d have felt seeing that feed, knowing it was through her eyes and ears, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine it, or what I’d have done waiting to find out the rest. I got choked up myself.
<I’m okay, baby. I’m okay.>
The fishermen noticed the movement and the big guy started walking over.
<Got to deal with this, Hon’. Back soon. I love you.>
I love you, she answered, voice wavering.
I cut the link as he got to me and looked down.
“So, not dead, yeah?”
I touched my ice pack. “Sore as hell.”
“We pushed shoulder back in. Not good to leave it out like that. So you the Sasha fellow on the vid feed?”
He looked over at The’On‘s stationary form.
“So you like the leatherheads, yeah?”
“A couple of them. What’s the vid on me?”
He glanced over his shoulder where two of the crew in viewer glasses stood in the lee of the small superstructure. The big guy nodded at them.
“Still coming in, yeah? Different feeds, all show you standing there mouth open and dick in your hand when hell breaks loose. Feed-heads going on about what a mastermind you must be. You know, to arrange the whole thing and then look so stupid-surprised when it happened. You really that smart?”
“Do I look like it to you?” I asked.
“I think maybe I like you better if you did it.” Then he shrugged, as if letting go — letting go of the idea he’d rescued a Human outlaw who’d just masterminded the biggest and most brutal mass killing of Varoki bigshots in history. Yeah, that’d be something to tell the grandkids someday. “My name — CÃ©zar Ferraz,” he said. “Over there is–Hey! Dado!”