The Spark – Snippet 32

CHAPTER 13: An Unnamed Place, to Begin With

Baga called, “We’re here!” and took his hands off the panel he leaned against while he was controlling the boat.  I was already up and alert because the boat had warned me we were about to arrive.

Baga walked over to the door, which he said I ought to call a hatch. He looked at me and said, “You’d better be ready, Pal. We don’t know what there’s going to be out there waiting for us.”

“I’m ready,” I said. I held up my shield and weapon.

In fact I did know what was outside, because the boat had showed me: three big maple trees; brush and saplings; and two long rectangles laid end to end which I supposed were the pods dropped by the other boat. They did look pretty much like the rooms on both sides of our boat’s central aisle. One was open and empty; the other was closed.

I didn’t tell Baga and Frances that the boat showed me things. They’d ask questions about how I did it, which I couldn’t answer. I suppose it was because I was a Maker, but I don’t know that; I sure couldn’t tell them how I did it. I don’t like to chatter when there’s no point in it, but I’ve learned that an awful lot of people don’t feel the same way as I do.

Baga pushed the hatch open. Buck jumped out, waggling his tail, and I followed behind with my arms lifted as if I was ready to switch my equipment on and fight.

Well, I was ready. But I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need to.

The air was so wet that I thought it must be raining, but it was just a mist so thick that water beaded on my face as I walked out into it. The trees were dripping, and the limbs and trunks were shaggy with moss and ferns.

“Those are the pods!” Frances shouted from behind me. “Eloise! Where are you?”

“Stop!” I shouted. I’d been walking toward the pods myself, and I’d gotten close enough to identify the thing Buck was sniffing at: a short boot.

The two bones of a lower leg still stuck up from the boot-top. They’d been sheared through and the meat stripped off.

Frances did stop, but at her shout the door of the closed pod lifted slightly. A woman called, “Frances, is that you? Is it safe?”

At that Frances scampered past me, calling, “Oh, Eloise! Are you all right?”

I was trying to look in all directions. I didn’t see anything to worry about.

A big drop water slipped off a maple leaf and whacked me in the middle of the forehead when I looked up. That was a lot better than seeing a panther ready to jump down from a branch, but it sure startled me.

The pod popped completely open. The woman who crawled out was draggled, but she still was beautiful when she lifted her face and saw Frances. She was pretty like the best kind of spring day. Lady Hellea was beautiful, but her beauty was like the patterns the sun draws on a frozen creek.

Frances ran to her. Eloise stood up, but she’d have fallen back if her sister wasn’t hugging and holding her.

It was gloomy in the mist, but I could see the sun up there at mid-sky–a fuzzy ball through the maple branches. It wasn’t really cold either, though the beads of water on my skin made it feel that way.

“Oh, Frances!” Eloise said. “It’s been so awful! The most terrible things have happened!”

“Ma’am?” I said. “What did happen? Is that–” I gestured with my right toe “–the guard who was with you?”

“Ooh, I hate that!” Eloise said with a glance at the boot and a theatrical shudder. “Well, we woke up in the morning, I woke up, and Jeffries was shouting and banging on my door. I was afraid to open it but I finally did, and we weren’t in the boat!”

I was coming to think that Eloise didn’t so much act theatrical as she was theatrical. It wasn’t something she put on, it was like her blond hair and pretty face. I’ve known men who found that breathless enthusiasm just as appealing as they would the face and hair, too.

“Why did they do that, Pal?” Frances said. “Leave the pods behind instead of killing the guard and then, well, whatever they wanted with my sister?”

I shrugged. “Camm may not have thought he could handle the guard,” I said. “Or anyway, he wasn’t willing to take the chance. This was simple, and if the boat couldn’t carry more than three nowadays, then leaving off two of the eight pods didn’t make much difference.”

I didn’t say that however Camm himself felt about it, Lady Hellea sure didn’t want Eloise to get to Marielles. If something went wrong and Philip got a sight of Eloise, Hellea would’ve been out of luck. What would’ve happen to Camm would start at nasty and get worse.

“What killed that guy?” said Baga, who’d come out but was staying close to the hatch. “If Camm didn’t do it, I mean?”

“Oh, it was terrible!” Eloise said, stepping away from her sister so that she could give all her attention to the boatman, her new audience. “Everything was fine except, you know, there wasn’t anybody here. We had food from the rooms; it wasn’t very good, but it was as good as it’d been on the way here. Then the day after we got here, Jeffries was making a shelter from his room’s ceiling liner so that we didn’t have to be inside all the time it was raining, and it’s always raining or going to rain. Like it is now! Oh, Frances, its been awful!”

“Yes, but what happened to Jeffries?” I said. I guess I sounded peevish, though that wasn’t half of what I felt. Eloise cringed back and put the knuckles of both hands to her mouth.

“Ma’am, I’m truly sorry,” I said as gently as I could. “I’m just worried about keeping you safe. I need to know what danger is if I’m going to do that.”

“Oh, I forgive you,” Eloise said with a coy smile. “I can never stay mad at anybody.”

I forced a smile. It was about as fake as the sun at midnight, but it was good enough for the job.

“Well, it was huge,” Eloise said, spreading her arms wide. “And it came right out of the sky! And Jeffries shouted run for my room and he took his cutter out even though he was wrapped in the liner kind-of. And I ran like he said and closed the room up and it was awful! There was screaming and the room banged and I was afraid it was going to tear open but it didn’t.”

“What did you do then, Eloise?” Frances said, taking her sister’s hands in her own.

“Well, Frances, I couldn’t do anything, could I?” Eloise said. “I stayed in my room and waited for Jeffries to tell me to come out. And he never did! He just left me there!”

I thought about the guard. I’d never met him, but I’d met Duncan and I don’t guess there’d have been a lot to choose between him and Jeffries. I hoped when my time came that I’d behave as well as Jeffries had, buying time for the clueless girl he’d been hired to protect.