It’s been an utterly chaotic week at work this week, which meant writing has taken a back seat – I cannot wait for the day I get to do this full-time! The weekend is always so short when you have so much to do *lol* Here is Chapter Eleven 🙂 Please remember this is a rough draft, and as the author I own FULL copyright to it. This work may not be copied/shared in any manner other than a link to this blog. Thanks and enjoy!
‘Holi, how long before the full diagnostics on our blood samples is complete?’
Eoin looked over his shoulder at the projected blonde in the center of the room.
Closing her eyes, Holi shimmered as she processed the necessary information from the computers.
‘Another five hours.’
‘Will the nano-virus still be viable? It’s been three days! How long before it deteriorates beyond use?’ Eoin fretted.
‘I will achieve the required results in time, Eoin,’ Holi assured him.
In the living quarters sprawled across the couch Ally let out an exasperated sigh.
An alarm screeched over head.
‘EMERGENCY BEACON ACTIVATED!’ Holi propelled her voice over the din. ‘SHALL I TURN OFF THE ALARM?’
‘Yes!’ Eoin bellowed as Ally raced into the main room.
‘Holi! Can you see anything?’ she demanded, the fog of boredom from being stuck in the lab for the last few days vanishing in an instant, her mind clear and exhilarated at the thought of a challenge.
The sounding alarms silenced and Holi shimmered. Eoin frowned at Ally.
‘You’re not going, you promised!’
Ally scowled at him. ‘Trust me, you don’t want me cooped up here any longer. It’s not good for us. And I’ll be careful.’
‘No trace of humans,’ Holi said as her image solidified again. ‘Possible tree fall or animal encounter.’
Ally nodded and headed for the supply cupboard, seizing her pack from it and adding a few other potential necessities. Eoin followed with an anxious face.
‘Be careful, take one of those communicators with you. Here, I’ve set it to channel 13, just hold the button and talk.’ He handed her a small box, like the one she’d seen the human shouting into. Ally studied it with interest running her fingers over the tight honeycomb surface on the front and testing the button on the side as Eoin demonstrated. A sharp crackle and whine made her flinch away from him, which finally brought a smile to his face.
‘It’s because of our close proximity,’ he explained and backed up, till he stood at the other end of the main room. ‘Now try.’
Wrinkling her nose at the expected noise Ally squeezed the button. ‘Hello?’ she said cautiously when no electronic shriek rang out. From the other end of the room Eoin grinned at her.
‘Now release the button,’ he called and Ally did. The unit in her hand hummed a second later then Eoin’s voice came through loud and clear as he whispered into his device.
‘Be careful, love, you know I worry.’
Ally laughed at the ease of it and held the button again. ‘I will! I’ll hunt out some of those tubers out again.’
‘And mangos!’ Eoin said and he walked over, opening his arms wide to her. Wanting to get moving, dancing on her toes already Ally darted forward to give him a tight hug but paused for a kiss. Taking advantage of the moment, Eoin held her firmly, lips devouring hers till she pulled away with a gasp.
He winked, lips flushed like hers felt. ‘Be careful out there.’
With a chuckle she was off, up the stairs and down, jogging alone the tunnel toward the freedom of the jungle.
Climbing the rope brought a smile to her face when Ally recalled Eoin’s face the moment she showed it to him the other day after he’d come out to rescue her.
‘But I, I, climbed…’ he’d trailed off, staring down at his dirt smeared clothes that left Ally giggling. Sympathetic giggling she’d assured him, though the flat look he delivered suggested he didn’t believe her.
‘Silly boy,’ Ally muttered to herself, a grunt of effort huffing out as she climbed steadily hand over hand, up the green rope.
Sounds made her pause as she neared the top and she paused, listening.
Heavy shifting, crunching noises and the twanging release of branches yanked down. It was a lot of noise yet Ally could hear the unconcerned song of birds and primate cries which puzzled her exceedingly. Taking a steadying breathe, Ally eased herself just high enough to peek over the top, teeth gritted with the effort to hold her position.
Her jaw dropped.
Scrambling up, slinging one arm then the other over the lip of the hole, Ally staggered to her feet.
Trumpeting sounds erupted around her.
The parade of elephants flared out, their ears flapped wide with alarm as they regarded the newcomer suddenly standing amongst them.
Barely breathing, eyes wide and heart pounding with excitement, Ally couldn’t stop a spreading smile of delight. She stayed still as the elephants recovered from their shock and smelled the air around her, their trunks extended. Behind the legs of the largest animals, a baby elephant gave trumpeted squeals while flapping its ears as it rushed around behind the adults. Ally didn’t move, counting fifteen animals, including the baby. They weren’t like the images she’d seen in the animal book Eoin had given her when they were first courting, a rare gift that had made her father relent to her partnering with him. These elephants had smaller ears, and she didn’t see any tusks. Their foreheads weren’t rounded either but humped, their backs too. The heavy smell around them made her eyes water and nose itch. She breathed through her mouth, not offended by the arid faeces smell but not inclined to savour it. The elephants kept watch on her and Ally made sure to keep her motions slow and obvious. Walking a little away from the hole, but keeping it to her back, Ally reached back with a grimace and untangled a strand of hair that had caught in the strap of her pack. Dropping the pack to the ground, she unwound her hair and shook it out then gathered it up again, fingers twisting the sly curls that escaped back in. The dense curls and length made it fairly easy to shape back into a bun, the curls twisting back on themselves so holding it in place. Ally sighed in relief with the weight off her neck, the air humid and thick, an instant sheen of sweat layering her skin.
An odd muffled shriek of a squeal rang out and all the elephants rushed away forming a tight group, Ally dropping to a crouch, ready to run.
Expecting shouts and shots any moment, she had the communicator in her hand and ready to go. The muffled shrieks continued and all the elephants flapped their ears while stamping back and forth around the noise. Ally crouched back down, trying to peer beyond their legs. She pressed her fingers to her mouth when she spotted it, wincing in sympathy.
The wrinkled baby elephant stood awkwardly, tail lashing and ears cringed back. One forefoot seemed to hop back and forth with increasing urgency while the other sat heavily on its delicate long trunk.
The muffled cries got more urgent, but one of the adults reached down with its own trunk, sliding it under the offending leg’s knee joint and tugged. The baby made sense of it and lifted its foot, silencing the awful squealing cries. Instead it snuffled around the adult’s legs, trunk coiled against its chest just like a child who’s jammed their hand in a door.
A half laugh of relief escaped Ally’s lips, making the animals turn their heads to regard her, but this time their ears didn’t flare, just flicked back and forth at the curious sound. They returned to foraging, keeping near, the adults occasionally casting looks back at Ally who stood there still, mesmerised by the scene. Shaking it off, she slung her pack on and started her own foraging, keeping her eyes peeled for the tell-tale shoots to the tubers she’d found the other day. The background noises of the elephants comforted her, knowing they’d alert her to any possible intruders in plenty of time.
It didn’t take too long to collect a small pile of the tubers, once she located the first trailing vine shoots. She suspected them to be variations of potatoes, probably a staple crop to these areas long ago, because the vines looked strikingly similar to the potatoes they grew at home. As she dug, using a fat stick she’d stripped of all its leaves and quickly sharpened the end to a point with her pocket knife, pushing it below the soggy surface and groping till she felt the lump then flipped it out, she became aware of an encroaching presence. Twisting to look, a hand on the ground to balance herself where she crouched, she saw the baby elephant regarding her intently. Ally grinned at it and clicked her tongue like she would at a new dog. The baby jerked its head back, ears flapping. It lifted its trunk and trumpeted, the sound not alarming but almost playful. Several of the adults inclined their heads to look, but turned back, focused on the tall dense clumps of grasses. The crunching sound of them chewing filled the air, muffling most other noises.
But the baby appeared much more interested in what Ally had.
She watched in amusement as it tentatively shuffled closer, its trunk extended and waving at her as if to test her response. Ally stayed where she was, keeping her body and mind calm.
The baby reached the pile of roots where they sat on a broad green leaf, in easy sight, and wandered its trunk across the leaf like a child might walk their fingers. Ally grinned, close to laughing and waited to see what Baby did next.
With its trunk poised ready above the closest root, Baby flapped its ears and looked straight at Ally then touched the tuber.
When she didn’t react Baby tried again, running its trunk all over the tuber then feinted a jump to the side, trunk drawn back and body tense and ready.
Ally burst out laughing.
The sound again drew the adults’ attention and realising then how close their baby stood to her, most of them turned to watch.
Moving slowly both to reassure them and to not startle Baby, Ally crab walked to the pile and picked up the tuber Baby touched. She offered it to the tiny elephant who stood quivering only a meter from her. To be so close to the infant thrilled her, and she studied it, marvelling at the features all a perfect miniaturisation of the adults. Baby had a light covering of hair across its head that made it look almost like a funny old man. Turning her head slightly, Ally quickly observed that Baby was a boy.
A rather timid one.
Trumpeting at the offered root, ears flapping hard, Baby backed off a few steps. Ally stayed still clucking her tongue again and smiling. ‘Here, you can have it.’
Her voice made the adults pause, reassessing the situation and they shifted a little closer.
Ally kept calm, offering the root as Baby took a step forward before jerking back. It took a good five minutes before he crept close enough to snatch the tuber, cramming it in his mouth just as his mother reached to check it. The adult wasn’t pleased by that and seemed to scold Baby, prodding and tapping at his head with her trunk while he greedily scoffed the tuber.
Ally stayed very still when the adult elephant came over to examine the other tubers on the pile. Rolling them around with her trunk, the adult lifted one to her mouth. Crunch, crunch, crunch and gone.
Regarding the three tubers left, Ally kept still while hoping she’d have at least two to take back to the lab to eat with dinner.
Apparently satisfied with the root, the adult turned, its heavy swaying gait sending tremors through the earth as it ambled back to the dense clumps of grass. Baby followed it, its little trunk reaching to touch the adult’s back leg before he put on a burst of speed, rushing to the grasses.
With a silent sigh of relief Ally returned to following the trailing vine, digging up several more of the lumpy roots, adding them to her now replenished pile.
The sound of small feet approaching her again made her grimace, casting a regretful look at the pile before turning.
There stood Baby, tail swishing behind back and forth like one of the perpetual devices Eoin kept at home on his desk, clutching a length of the dense grass. The ragged ends suggested he’d snapped it off. Shuffling closer to her, Baby proudly presented the grass, holding it toward her with his trunk.
Surprised, Ally turned properly. ‘Is this for me?’ she asked, offering her hands out palm up.
Baby dropped the offered stem, more like the trunk of a sapling in density before turning and dashing back to the side of his watching mother.
Holding the grass, surprised at the hardness of it, Ally studied the repeating ridges in the green tan surface then lifted the end to her nose and sniffed.
The sharp sweet scent instantly made her mouth water and she delicately touched her tongue to the end, eyes widening at the taste. Like freshly squeezed apple juice, just somehow cleaner, purer in flavour.
‘Sugarcane!’ Ally exclaimed when she realised and smiling she wrapped it in another of the large palm leaves she’d set aside for the roots. This would be a treat to surprise Eoin with.
Humming away happily Ally stashed the wrapped roots and sugarcane in her pack, shrugging it on before standing, peering for a mango tree. She could have gone back to the other one, but wanted to scout this area anyway so set off when she spotting a similar shape in the distance. Unexpectedly several of the elephants followed, not Baby though, who stayed at his mother’s side while munching away on the sweet stems of the sugarcane bush.
It started to rain lightly as Ally moved through the jungle, feet almost silent against the leafy sodden ground while behind the elephants made surprisingly little sound themselves, until the bushes and trees grew denser. The shape she’d spotted in the distance was indeed a mango tree and Ally looked up, delighted to see many heavy ripe fruit hanging from its limbs. The elephants following hurried in as she climbed the trunk, using both feet on either side of the trunk to push up and up before she reached the dense branches a good eight meters up. Climbing into the branches she quickly began collecting the fruit when she realised the elephants were intent on the same task and the sense of urgency distracted her from recognising the sound that drifted innocuously on the breeze.
Seconds later the sound of human voices drummed home like a dash of cold water.
Reacting instantly Ally threw her pack on and scrambled higher into the tree, up where the heavy foliage concealed her presence. Perched in a V of strong branches, she carefully adjusted her position, watching the jungle below.
The elephants reacted too, trumpeting to each other and backing into a tight defensive group, ears spread wide and flapping. She couldn’t say for certain, but it felt like they feared the humans as much as she.
The voices paused then continued, growing in strength. The mix of English and Hindu confirmed Ally’s suspicions from the days before. A group of villagers, two of the men among those who had been trying to sell them a vehicle, walked toward the mango tree. Shrinking into the V of branches, Ally pulled her hands and feet in as close as possible, skin shivering at the close proximity.
Chatting noisily amongst themselves the villagers paused in conversation to regard the elephants. Several women walked with the group and at the urging of the men, removed the long shawls that covered their heads and backs, leaving them in short belly baring tops and brightly coloured long circle skirts. Holding the shawls up, they bent their elbows and made loud shooing noises and motions at the animals.
Agog in bemusement at the sight, Ally turned her head to see what the elephants made of the nonsense. Just as she did the men all began shouting, loud and hateful sounding, shrieking at the elephants while waving their arms. The elephants trumpeted in response and turned, walking back into the jungle while casting looks back at the humans behind who kept up the aggressive line.
Biting her lips in concern, Ally looked up. Quietly standing and holding her breath, she began wriggling higher up the tree still. The rough bark and young branches cut and scratched as she did, but she didn’t make a sound, a true sense of terror spreading through her body. She could feel the nano-virus react, stimulants flooding her system, all her senses expanding as she squeezed herself up into another fork of branches, gathering her limbs beneath her. As hidden as she could manage, she began to look for an exit, eyeing the trees nearest. Below her the group of humans were slashing down young saplings, stripping the leaves to create long poles and poking at the fruit in the branches. The women, their long shawls back in place, wrapped around their heads and shoulders, spread their skirts and dashed beneath the tree to catch the falling fruit, squealing and laughing.
Limbs cramping, back aching Ally bit back a groan of pain when she made the slightest adjustment to her posture in the limited space she had. The humans kept knocking out mangos, catching them and piling them on the ground.
Scowling in discomfort, Ally tried to ignore the aches and pains, taking the opportunity to observe. To the casual observer it looked like any normal group of friends. It felt hard to make sense of them being so different to her and Eoin. Harder still to realise that unlike the humans she’d grown up with, these ones might wish her harm.
The gathering of mangos continued until all in the lower branches, within reach of the long poles had been exhausted. With their prized mound of golden green fruit piled on a spread piece of cloth, the humans set to cutting open several of the fruit sharing them around. Lounging back, their loud, occasionally raucous conversation easily reached Ally’s ears, too easily in fact. Even with her limited understanding of the Hindu, English dialect they spoke, she recognized when the conversation made a sudden turn.
‘Remember the visitors the other week?’
The male who asked the question stood watching the group while he tossed a mango back and forth between his hands.
‘Who’d forget them?’ Another of the men said with a hard snort of a laugh.
Three of the five women sat clustered, gossiping before one, urged by the other two, giggling said, ‘I remember blue eyes!’ The three dissolved into silly laughter.
The other two women who sat with an obvious and deliberate space from the males, their backs to the other women, made gruff sounds of disapproval.
‘He would eat you first! You baka girls! Fall for a pretty face,’ the woman with white streaked hair flipped her hand at the three younger women. ‘They steal your soul! Promethians bring death. Pray Mother Durga helps the raiders find and kill the monsters.’
‘Forget the blue eyes,’ drawled one of the men, the one lounging beside the three young women, teasing them by flipping their shawls back off their shoulders. The girls scolded and slapped before giggling together. ‘Those violet eyes. Now those…’
The other three men gave long coarse caws of approval that sent ripples of revulsion down Ally’s back as she clung to her spot, legs aching from being in the same cramped position for so long. The turn in conversation was making her wish for a sudden thunderstorm, anything that might make they hasten home. But nothing happened.
The words burned fierce stripes of hot red across her cheeks and Ally swallowed hard, pressing her head against the trunk of the tree as they continued.
‘Take blue eyes blood, and with that fuck the violet bitch till she dies!’
‘All line up for it!’
‘I’d slit her throat, let her watch as we drain it into a bowl.’
‘It makes good money?’
‘Stuff the money, ever had it? The blood, it’s like pure power. Whatever those ancestors did to make them, they did it good.’
A shriek of revulsion rattled Ally where she clung in the tree. One of the two older women lunged to her feet and with a messy scramble flung herself at the male, slapping his face hard enough to make his head snap back.
Eyes popping at this sudden violent display, Ally unintentionally tucked tighter against the tree, mouth in a silent ‘O’ of astonishment as the two began to beat each other while the others rushed forward to separate them.
‘You blood feeding Asura! You would defile your soul, you Nastika! I will beat the baka from your brain!’ The older woman’s voice rasped against Ally’s sensitive hearing. The men all earnestly began to thump her with closed fists and the occasional open handed slaps. The younger girls, giving up their pointless wailing, rushed forward to pull her away.
The resulting bloody nose and puffy face as bruises rose in the woman’s face horrified Ally, compelled to pity. All the women wailed, draping their arms around each other. Together they left the clearing, casting the occasional dark glances back at the men who stood staring at each other.
‘Now we have to carry it all!’ One of the men scolded the one who’d been attacked, fresh gouge marks in his face.
‘Baka women,’ the beaten one spat out, a nasty scowl wrinkling his face.
Silently they piled the mangos together, creating quick serviceable holds out of large palm leaves they crisscrossed then tied closed.
‘The raiders think the Asuras are still in the jungle,’ the man with speckled grey hair said quietly while tying his pile.
The beaten man looked at him with a still gaze that made Ally’s gut cramp.
‘When will they be back?’
‘Three, five days perhaps?’
‘You joining them?’
The three men paused to hear the grey haired man’s response. The silence was punctuated by a drop in the wind.
Muffled in her bag, jammed against her stomach and the tree trunk, Ally felt a sudden hum and heard a crackle of static.
The blood felt as if it drained from her face when she realised it was the communicator.
Pressing tight against the tree, she squeezed her eyes shut. Below her the grey haired man continued his voice an unpleasant growl of anticipation.
‘Yes. I want to see blue eyes bled dry. Then the violet eyed witch raped and burned! Someone must make an example of the Asuras. We do NOT fear them!’
Again a vibration of a crackle hummed against Ally’s flesh. Body tense, breathing shallow, Ally wriggled a hand between her stomach and the tree, trying to reach the communicator. She had to turn it off!
Below the men were moving, gathering their parcels. Chancing it, Ally yanked the communicator out the bag, peering down for the little off switch.
Jamming her thumb against the power switch Ally cringed when a shout rang out.
‘What was TH-‘
The indignant furious shout was cut short as the air seemed to thicken and tingle, the hair on Ally’s arms and around her ears snapping with static. Half a second later a cracking roar of sound and intense heat sizzled past, hitting the ground with such extreme force Ally was almost flung from the tree.
Ears ringing, eyes blinded from the flash, Ally blinked rapidly trying to make sense of where the humans were.
Flung around the clearing the four men law sprawled as if dead. Still blinking, trying to rid her gaze of the blinding back-flash, Ally narrowed her eyes and watched them closely. After a moment there seemed to be the slightest movement from one, then groans rang out from two of the others. Minutes later they staggered to their feet, all blank faced with shock. Except for one.
Still prone on the ground, the older man was as grey faced as his speckled hair. With her eyesight almost back to normal Ally spied the thin dark lines of blood trickling from his ears.
The man with the gouge marks in his cheeks dropped to his knees beside the grey haired man, reaching across to shake him by the shoulders. Neither him, nor the other two men could rouse the man. A heavy rumbling crack of thunder made the three men look up in alarm. They exchanged quick glances. The man with the gouge marks hunched against a sudden intense downpour. Soaked to the skin, Ally felt the tell-tale rise in static electricity and clenched her teeth. The chances of the next strike hitting the tree she clung in seemed almost guaranteed, but she couldn’t risk revealing herself.
‘Leave him!’ shouted one of the other men to the man with the gouge marks. ‘He cursed himself! The Asuras killed him!’
‘Run!’ shrieked the other young man. ‘They will hunt us too!’
A flash of lightning ripped overhead and all three men cried out in alarm then bolted. Ally counted to a scant ten the moment she lost sight of them then scrambled out of the branches that held her. Cramped from the constricted position she’d had to hold for so long, Ally’s arms and legs barely held her and the descent down the long trunk ended up an almost uncontrolled fall. Knees wobbling when her feet touched the ground, she shoved herself off from the trunk as the hair around her ears crackled again. An ear splitting crack then the boom of thunder flung her meters away. Lying dazed on the ground, eyes seeing stars and head ringing from the sound, Ally became acutely aware of the scent of burnt hair. The smell registered in her inner alarm system and she jerked to sitting, eyes scanning her limbs, hands patting her head. A slight crunch near the ends of her hair suggested singeing, but so far nothing more. Turning she jerked away, crouched on her hands and feet ready to sprint.
The dead eyes of the smouldering corpse stared blindly in her direction. Ally blinked and blinked again, unnerved at how the grey haired man’s eyes had come to be so stark open. Mind clearing from the sound, Ally realised the body had been struck by a second bolt. Feeling the rising static in the air again, tendrils of hair clinging determinedly to her face, Ally grabbed her pack from beside the tree, throwing it over a shoulder and turned to run. The well tied parcels of mangos caught her eye. Hesitating for half a second, she rushed and grabbed one in either hand, leaving the last two there, and ran back into the jungle.
The density of the trees was heavier near where their entrance was and with the thick clouds roiling overhead it was almost pitch black as Ally ran over the sodden leaf littered ground. A sudden fork of lightning streaked the sky, punctuated by the reverberating rumble and crack of thunder, lighting the area around her. The extreme illumination allowed Ally to spot them, the herd all huddled tight together, trunks gripping trunks.
A pang of sympathy at their fear made her chest ache but Ally didn’t slow, slaloming the trees between her and them, every other step illuminated by flashes from the sky. Reaching the huge animals, she dropped the two parcels of mangos then turned, waiting for a flash.
A gentle touch on her back made her twist. In the next blaze of light she saw it was the mother’s trunk. Unsure of the right response, Ally reached and very gently placed both her hands on the trunk, as if reassuring a nervous friend, and softly squeezed.
Cold air blasted around them, more noise shattering the area as hail stones thundered down. Giving the gently probing trunk another pat, Ally decided to make a run for it and in the next snap of extreme illumination she spotted the way she’d come. Pushing off from the protection of the large bodies allowed the hail to assault on all sides, pinging off her scalp. The grape sized hailstones were fairly small all considering, so she didn’t think it too risky. Until she hit a patch.
Skidding across the ground, arms whirling backward to try and slow her trajectory, Ally felt her extended right leg tip over the edge of the hole.
A shriek burst from her throat. With a swift motion she shoved herself over, belly to the ground and thrust her arms down, fingers ramming deep into the dense wet dirt, halting the skid.
Panting hard mouth pressed against the bare trail of dirt she’d created, Ally pulled herself back from the edge drawing her knees beneath her. When she caught her breath she turned, squinting through the heavy downpour that followed the hail.
Right before her gaped the black open maw of the hole. It made her stomach churn and knees seem wobbly. Flopping over, sitting with her knees up and elbow resting on them, Ally spotted the hanging rope in one of the flashes of light. The rumble of thunder sounded more distant now, and the gaps between the streaks of lightning grew. With her heart rate almost back to normal, Ally took a breath and climbed to her feet, cautiously edging her way around the opening to where the rope hung.
For once the climb down to the safety of the tunnel, and lab didn’t feel disheartening.