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Up, up and up the vehicle rose. Heart palpating like she’d never experienced before, Ally couldn’t summon the breath to scream before she blacked out, nano-virus overriding her system.
Eoin, mind drifting in an oddly pleasing manner, patted his wife’s dipped head and chided her gently.
‘Can’t panic Ally belly. Nano-virus doesn’t like that. Best fighter is always calm.’
The view only got more spectacular, the land spreading out beneath them punctuated with the occasional sparkle of an explosion as the humans pointlessly wasted their ammunition in trying to bring them down.
‘Neh-neh, neh-neh-neh,’ Eoin sang to himself, most amused by the entire situation. The vehicle hummed still but it had lowered in tone to a steady sound. The constant noise felt almost soothing and without intending to Eoin dozed off.
When he later woke, Eoin couldn’t be sure if he’d been asleep for minutes or hours. The scenery had changed remarkably, the dense mountain forest terrain gone, now replaced by grasslands with the occasional stretches of trees. From this height the rivers were thin lines of sparkling white and blue. He sucked a breath in when he realised the mass of gray was an enormous herd of elephants moving across a river.
‘Eoin?’ Ally said in a tremulous voice, making him turn in surprise.
‘Love! You’re awake.’ Eoin stretched a hand out to her. She grabbed it tightly in both of hers, her eyes and mouth lined with stress as she too stared out the window.
‘How will we get out? What if we fall?’
He squeezed her hands then looked down, frowning at the harness that held him to the chair. ‘How’d you get this off?’
Ally’s eyes widened in alarm. ‘No! It might not be safe!’
He smiled at her and tugged his hand out of her tight hold, turning his attention to the clasp beneath his breastbone. It took a little wiggling and squeezing to make sense of it but seconds later he’d unclipped it. The floating sensation had long gone from his mind and now his body felt remarkably heavy, more so when he released himself from the harness. Turning to his wife he gently unclipped hers. Ally watched with anxiety.
‘Are you sure?’
Lifting the top portion over her head, and pushing the bottom straps away, Eoin shifted across the seats and pulled her gently into his arms. Her arms locked tight around him. She shuddered. Rocking her gently, Eoin pressed kisses against the cheekbone resting near his head.
‘You did amazing. Utterly amazing. Thank you for saving us.’
She nodded, that cheekbone rubbing hard against his collarbone and hugged him tighter still. Moments later a growing dampness spread across his shoulder as she cried almost silently. He swallowed hard, her pain making his throat unbearably tight.
‘I did not think we were going to make it. Oh Eoin! You lost so much blood!’
That seemed to draw both their attention to his clothes, Ally sitting up to stare at his shirt while he looked down at the same time.
The fabric, once an off white, was covered in red and pink, blotchy with coagulated blood, wide trails running down his pants, even over his shoes. The smell, he realised now, was quite strong. It gave him a feeling of almost not being in his body, to be sitting here smothered in his own blood. Both of them stared in perturbed silence until Ally took a deep breath and wrinkled her nose with a frown, working past the disturbing reality of his near death experience.
‘I wonder what supplies we have in this thing. Other than the not so useful microscope,’ she said with a tentative smile.
‘Ah! Don’t be insulting that microscope!’ Eoin scolded, playing along. ‘Why don’t you have a look? I’m going to have a look at the dash and see what this contraption is up to.’
With a forced smile Ally eased herself through the gap between the seats, into the back of the vehicle. The cabin wobbled with the movement and she froze, eyes tense.
‘Don’t worry,’ Eoin said as calmly as possible though his own gut twisted at the unnerving sensation. ‘It’s a small vehicle, it will move a little when we do.’
Ally gave a short nod, her lips pressed thinly together and turned away from the seats, examining the floor and sides. Eoin twisted to face the dash and held his hands out to bring the options up. The image spread out beneath his palms, the image looking to solidify into the shape of a traditional dash. Numerous glyphs appeared and he quickly discovered there were even more when you moved your hand, dragging the images from right to left. The old English was fairly straight forward so it didn’t take him too long to sort out the status updates. As he was reading through these, Ally popped up at his shoulder.
‘Look! I know it’s not much, but it’ll have to work, do you think we’ll be able to land somewhere?’
As she said it the vehicle began to lower, the dropping sensation pronounced enough to make Eoin’s stomach lurch. Ally was over the back of the seats in an instant, staring white faced at the dash when Eoin reached for her hand where it clutched at her already fastened harness.
‘Fasten your-‘ Eoin finished lamely as he registered it in place so set to clipping his in.
‘Did I make it do this?’ Ally whispered with a sideways glance at Eoin, eyes flashing back to the dash a moment later.
‘No,’ Eoin reassured. ‘I’ve been reading the system updates, we’re landing because it needs to rest the motor. It needs oil and water.’
‘Oh! I can do that, the mechanic showed me,’ Ally said with a relieved smile that vanished as the cabin suddenly shook then calmed, the downward motion seeming a little faster now. Her hand flashed out to grip his. Eoin squeezed it back and forced a smile.
They watched the view of the land grow larger, closer. With an exclamation Eoin shook Ally’s hand and pointed with his other. ‘Look! See that? The arrangement of lines, the way the trees follow them? That looks like a pre Event town!’
Ally nodded, leaning forward as much as she could in the harness to stare at where he pointed. A river winded its way down the middle of the arranged lines that began to blur out the lower they got.
Eoin shook his head with a smile. ‘I didn’t realise how easy they would be to spot from above.’
The vehicle hummed louder and louder and the lowering slowed as it inched its way into a clearing beside the river. Watching the tops of the trees get so close it looked like they could reach out and touch them felt insane, Eoin couldn’t stop a grin spreading across his face as they lowered still until the twisted narrow trunks of the trees were visible. The hum rattled his teeth and Ally grimaced at him when their eyes met. Seconds later the vehicle made a sharp downward solid jolt. The humming shut off.
Sitting in stunned silence he and Ally stared out into a totally new land to where they’d been only hours ago. Around them the trees offered some shade from the late evening sun.
A beep then a number of different tones rang out from the dash as various symbols lit up. Eoin pressed the clasp on his harness, releasing the tight hold of the straps with a sigh of relief. Ally did the same, scooting close to him and staring at the dash as he did. Eoin snuck a glance at his wife’s face, Ally’s lips scrunched and eyes flashing over the details before she looked to his face. The intent focus she’d expressed vanished and she swatted him, a flush instantly rising in a slash down either cheekbone.
‘What?’ Eoin grinned then hugged her tight at her grumble of embarrassment. ‘Stop underestimating yourself, you got this thing ready didn’t you? What do you think it says?’
Her chin wobbled as she scowled at him before looking back at the dash.
‘The uhh, the noise, it’s because it needs oil.’ Her eyes flicked up to his, tentative and anxious. Eoin nodded.
‘Yes. This here, this phrase suggests a cog of the motor is stiff from disuse. Have you seen the motor?’
‘Oh yes!’ Ally lost the doubtful expression, eyes eager. ‘I’ve been wanting to show you.’
She motioned the door to open and jumped out. Before Eoin could follow she made a stop motion with her hand. He sat tight, watching from the various spots of plasoglass as she stalked about, eyes and body tense while checking the area.
‘All clear,’ she said when arriving back at the open door. ‘I don’t think anyone’s been here in eons.’
Eoin nodded with a smile. ‘I specified an unoccupied area with tree cover and easy access to water.’
Ally blinked, a frown flickering before vanishing. ‘Oh.. you could have mentioned.’
Climbing out into the fresh air after spending so many days beneath in the lab was a true pleasure. Eoin stretched his arms out hard and smiled at Ally while turning to look around them.
‘Lovely area,’ he commented, inhaling deep, enjoying the scents of trees and water.
‘It is,’ Ally agreed, stepping close to him and sliding her arms around his sides, hands settling comfortably on his ass. ‘Are we still in Asia?’
‘We’re almost over the old India border. Then we’ll pass over the nomadic lands and onto the land of Eden before crossing the range home.’ He turned his head to kiss her temple, his arms folding around her back.
‘Many more stops?’
‘Depends on performance. Where’s that oil?’
She pulled back, pausing to rise on tiptoes to kiss his lips. The pause grew longer as she did it again, her full soft lips melding against his in a manner that distracted him completely from the task at hand till she pulled back and smiled at him.
‘What? Oh.’ He followed her, grinning when she flicked him an amused glance and winked.
Ally ducked, squatting at the low sides of the vehicle near its ridiculously tiny wheels and pressed something. The vehicle back slid up, revealing the most beautiful piece of workmanship Eoin had ever seen.
‘This is the motor?’ he asked in disbelief.
With a smug smile, Ally nodded then darted around the side.
Eoin couldn’t take his eyes from it. Gleaming silver, gold, and bronze, all balanced to perfection, the mass of thin concave half spheres of detailed cut-out metal arched and rolled across and through one another in a beautiful perpetual dance.
It wasn’t until he heard the squirting sound that he realised Ally had reappeared with the oil and was carefully and studiously oiling all the points where the metal crossed paths. Stepping back to allow her space, Eoin just watched, mind marvelling at the creation.
‘All done,’ Ally said a short while later, stepping back to admire it with him. ‘Isn’t it lovely?’
‘Incredible,’ he said with awe. ‘Just amazing.’
‘I wanted to show you ages ago, I knew you’d love it.’ Ally turned to smile at him then her eyes dropped to his clothes. ‘Let’s sort those out.’
Leading the way to the river they could smell and hear, Ally tossed a small parcel at him when they reached the small rocky riverbed beneath the bowed branches of the trees. ‘Here. Soap. Strip, wash. I’ll do your pants, you do your shirt.’
‘Oh take the easy part,’ Eoin teased.
‘It’s your blood,’ Ally retorted then grinned. ‘I grabbed the sheets that are meant for sleeping under. We’ll just have to do it island style.’
‘Or toga style,’ Eoin commented while easing the stiff blood soaked garments off. ‘They used to wear something like it in the truly ancient city of Rome.’
Ally lifted her eyebrows in response but didn’t say anything, just set to soaking his pants under the meandering water, more a wide creek than a river, and began scrubbing the fabric together. He did the same, watching the water wash away in shades of pink. It was an oddly disturbing reminder of this morning, making him pause, staring around at the peace of the burbling water, the song birds in the trees and the sound of the breeze in the leaves.
He turned to meet Ally’s eyes and gave a half smile. ‘Just,’ he sucked a breath in and let it out slow. ‘Just letting it go.’
She nodded sympathetically. ‘Be nice to get home.’
They finished in silence. Eoin wrapped the dense sheet around his waist twice, tucking the ends in then watched as Ally, naked and gleaming, carefully crisscrossed her sheet, tying the ends behind her neck, beneath the mass of dripping curls.
The sight quite took his breath away, body stirring and stiffening at the simple yet intensely erotic performance.
Lowering those long tan arms from her neck, she looked up, violet eyes widening for a moment before slanting. A slow seductive smile teased across her lips as she walked toward him with the gait of a prowling lioness.
‘Love,’ she said in a throaty whisper, her hand catching his cheek, pulling his mouth to hers. The deep kiss caused an inner pull that ended in a deep groan when her hand tugged away the sheet at his waist, fondling then cupping him firmly. He felt the smile on her lips, her tongue teasing his before she pulled away with a gasp of a laugh and released her grasp, her hand finding his, fingers entwining.
‘Come, let me show you our base camp,’ she said, eyes twinkling as her other hand tugged the knot beneath her hair loose, letting the sheet drape over her arm. Eoin paused to drag his gaze up and down that firm, taut figure and lifted his eyes to hers, watching when her gaze dropped to his waist.
‘Lead the way,’ he said, voice husky with need.
She grinned cheekily at him and dropped his hand, darting ahead. Watching her bound away, breasts and buttocks seared to his mind, he followed with speed.
When they woke the next morning, tangled in the sheets and each others arms, Eoin kissed his way down his wife’s forehead to her mouth.
‘Good morning, wife.’
‘Good morning, husband,’ she said with a grin. ‘Breakfast?’
It didn’t take much to reorganise the vehicle from a sleeping space to its normal seating arrangement. The seats slid back into sitting position from the flat bed position with the release of a clip. After a quick dip to refresh themselves, they sat near the vehicle and ate the bars Ally had found in a kit in the back.
‘Not very tasty,’ she commented between mouthfuls. Eoin nodded in agreement, taking another sip of the water they’d collected to try and wash the tough, dry mouthful down.
‘Filling at least,’ he said before a piece caught in his throat, leaving him hacking away. It took a few more sips of water to get rid of it. ‘Bleagh,’ he said while she laughed. ‘I can’t wait to get home!’
By the end of the day his clothes, spread across the back of the seats, had dried enough to wear. It was a relief when the vehicle lowered itself from the sky, settling in rolling plains beside another water source, this time a wide and deep river, flowing a dark blue when they’d first spotted it above. Ally was out in a flash, calmer at the flying but much happier with her feet on the ground.
‘I don’t like the lack of cover,’ she grumbled to Eoin as he followed her out. ‘Feels too exposed.’
Eoin nodded in agreement then motioned around them. ‘Not much option wise though.’
Ally gave a scowl of a nod and disappeared around the back of the vehicle with the oil can. Eoin climbed back into the seats and pulled his clothes off the seats, removing the sheet before wriggling his pants on, the fabric stiff from the hard washing.
An appreciative whistle made him jerk around, unintentionally flushing as Ally laughed at him.
He grinned sheepishly.
They were both pleased to set off the next morning, the sunrise streaking pale across the flat planes of grass. The hum didn’t seem as loud this morning though Eoin wasn’t sure if that were due to him getting used to it, or due to the oil making a noticeable difference. Ally sat tense at the initial lift off and rise, not relaxing until they reached the desired height according to the vehicle’s measuring equipment. Lower than the last two days, due to a strong head wind. Eoin read the details on the dash then sat back, watching the land pass by beneath them.
Other than the occasional moment of stomach dropping turbulence, this made for a leisurely method of travel. Ally sat with her legs tucked to the side resting against him while he stretched his arm across the back of the seat behind her. Being able to watch the spread of land from this height felt bizarre, like the huge old maps kept by the Council had come to life beneath them. Today’s view got even more interesting as the vehicle, with deference to its various measuring devices, chose to take them across the ocean, toward the land of Eden.
They both sat high, looking down at the last of the vanishing cliffs of the Nomadic coast and ahead to the long stretch of blue. At the very far edge there was the faint smudge of dark land.
‘Wow,’ Ally said quietly after they’d watched the deepening shades of blue touched with the occasional flicker of whitecaps. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much blue before.’
‘Neither,’ Eoin said, leaning forward with her, both of them as close as possible to the plasoglass windscreen. ‘I always cross land, never oceans.’
‘Never?’ Ally asked. ‘Would you?’
Eoin paused while watching below. In occasional stretches of clear you could see dark shapes. Perhaps just seaweed, but the oceans around Eden teemed with life, if the sales of fish were anything to go by.
‘I don’t know,’ he answered finally. ‘I find so much water, so deep… Unnerving.’
Ally nodded, flicking him a glance with a smile before she returned to watching the view.
By the time the stretch of land grew more pronounced, they’d spotted a pod of whales, creatures so large and strange Eoin had been ready to instruct the vehicle to fly lower, until a bout of rocky turbulence forced them both to strap in.
The pockets of it hit again as they crossed over the sharp coastal cliffs into Eden. Ally sat in stiff silence, jaw tense and fists clenched. Eoin hung onto his harness and closed his eyes, breathing carefully, calming himself.
A beep on the dash made them both twist.
‘APPROACHING VESSEL. REQUIRE INSTRUCTION. DO YOU WISH TO HAIL? DO YOU WISH TO BE UNSEEN?’
‘What?’ Ally wriggled out of her harness as Eoin unclasped his. ‘Where? Can you-’ she broke off in a gasp.
Some distance from them, perhaps a hundred meters lower or less an airship ambled along, a plume of smoke rising from its chimney that stuck out the side of the sailing ship style gondola hanging beneath the bright red oval balloon, the heavy straps cutting troughs into the fabric that strained against the steam within. Wide arched wings and a rudder allowed it to steer in an indolent fashion. It looked like an odd hack-up of ancient contraptions, but was popular amongst the wealthy Edenites, as well as the signature vehicle of travelling troupes of entertainers.
Also, occasionally, raiders.
Eoin and Ally stared at it grimly as the dash voice repeated its request for instructions.
‘We wish to be unseen,’ Eoin half bellowed to be heard as the dash attempted to repeat its request yet again. ‘Unseen!’
Seconds later a shimmering sound reverberated through the cabin. Ally looked at Eoin and in unison they sat down, strapping back in just as the vehicle lifted higher into the air. The increase in forward momentum as well as height pressed them firmly back in the seats. Eoin kept his eyes on the dash, watching the red flash that signalled the airship slowly vanish off the screen.
‘DO YOU WISH TO REMAIN UNSEEN?’
‘Yes. Show me the chosen landing zone.’
Ally leaned forward too to see when the map flicked up on the screen. Eoin frowned at the dot highlighted, it appeared downwind from Eden, which might look appropriate on a map but in reality left them exposed.
‘No, take us higher. On that peak there,’ he jabbed the dash, making dent motion appear.
The dash noted the changes.
Neither of them spoke as they drew nearer to the chosen base camp. Just being this close to the land of Eden, let alone the capital city, it brought the memories of the other day up loud and clear.
When the vehicle settled smoothly on their chosen position, high in the mountains that overlooked Eden, neither of them moved. Finally Ally said, ‘They were Edenites, the raiders?’
Eoin nodded. ‘No one else uses that dialect.’
Ally’s shoulders went up and down with a sigh. Unclasping her harness she opened the door and with a cautious look around, stepped out.
Taking his time with his harness, knowing she’d take longer to do a perimeter check here, Eoin jolted in surprise when she called him out.
‘You’ve got to see this!’
The tone of excitement confused him. Eoin hurridly half crawled, half climbed over the chairs and stumbled out onto the rocky surface with its low gnarled trees.
Ally stood a couple of meters away from the vehicle, grinning at him and shaking her head. ‘Come and see.’
Stepping out, he started to turn back when she darted forward to grab his arm.
‘No! Don’t ruin it, come and see.’
Fighting the urge to look over his shoulder, Eoin followed her. She stopped a short distance away then grinned at him. ‘Look!’
Turning back, Eoin’s jaw dropped. He blinked. Then blinked again.
The rocky ledge they’d landed on was empty.
Shaking his head, mind disbelieving, Eoin looked up just as a cloud passed over head. The shimmer gave it away.
‘Isn’t it!’ Ally bounced on her toes beside him, hands to her mouth as she smiled in delight. ‘I think it’s mirrors, some kind of mirrors.’
Nodding, Eoin moved back, arms outstretched as he felt for the vehicle. The closer he got the more there seemed the slightest of shimmer. Finally his fingers touched the smooth surface of the vehicle. The door slid open and the dash voice intoned, ‘CONTINUE UNSEEN?’
‘Yes,’ Eoin said with a disbelieving laugh before stepping back again to stare at it. With the open door it made his eyes and brain fight the illusion, almost making his vision feel like it swam. He knew the vehicle was there, could see the open door and the seats inside, but the actual vehicle was almost impossible to pinpoint, making it look as though he stared straight off the rocky ledge.
Even with the knowledge that they were close to invisible there on the mountain, neither of them slept well. It felt a painfully long night as they tossed and turned and sighed, waiting for dawn. When the sun eventually rose both of them were bleary eyed.
‘Home today,’ Eoin said while giving Ally a hug. She just sighed, arms tight around his back. They settled into their seats, the vehicle’s hum increasing higher and higher till it launched off the mountain side. It gave Eoin a shock this morning, that unpleasant lurch forward off into open air and for a moment his head spun. Shaking his head with a mutter, he settled back in his seat, Ally nodded in pale faced sympathy.
‘Enough of flying?’ he asked her wryly.
‘Enough of everything for a while,’ she said. ‘I want to get home and do nothing.’
‘Except build the earthship,’ he said with a half smile, surprised when all it brought was a grunt in response. He reached for her hand, giving it a squeeze. Ally forced a smile before her face sagged with tiredness.
‘Sorry love. I’m just over it all right now.’
But she tucked her hand in his.
Silently they watched as the city passed beneath, too high to make out much except the occasionally impressive structure. When the city had been rebuilt after the Event, the humans, and at the time Prometheans, had aimed to use as much of the old city of Rome as they could save. The encroaching ocean had taken much, the capital city of Eden almost fifty kilometres further inland than the last. So what they couldn’t save they recreated with salvaged materials from other structures. Having seeing images of the original Rome, it was fascinating to see the recreation, with bits of steel, ancient glass, stone, and wood in the familiar shapes.
They both relaxed when the buildings grew sparser, until only the occasional farm structures appeared then nothing, the land climbing and climbing until they soared over the sheer rocky alps. Ally finally perked up as they passed over the peaks, crossing into the land once known as Switzerland.
‘Look! Look! I think I see it.’ Ally bounced in her seat.
Eoin nodded, a wide smile spreading just as the dash began to flash.
‘FINAL DESTINATION APPROACHING. PREPARE FOR LANDING.’
The dense forest of their town, Winterthur, came clearer into view. Dotted amongst the trees were come visible buildings, others you had to know what to look for, peeks of windows from the earthships built into the side of the sloping hills that lead down to the town center, where the vehicle was slowly lining up to land.
The town center had a wide open grassy area kept clear of any objects. It was the outdoor area used in the dry periods for meetings, entertainment, training, all manner of things. Now it was rapidly crowded with people as the hum of the vehicle increased while it lowered and lowered.
Ally’s hand gripped his tight as the vehicle made its final set down, amongst the open mouthed crowd of Prometheans, and the few humans who lived with them.
‘Open, open!’ Ally almost shrieked in excitement while waving her hand at the door, missing the sensor the first two times. It finally slid open and she tumbled out onto the grass, Eoin right behind her.
Ally’s father, dressed in his long gray council robe with vivid blue lining bounded over the grass to snatch his daughter up, as if she were six years old and not a respectable twenty six. Around Eoin the crowd of people laughed and pushed forward to hug him, hug Ally, and crowd close to exam the vehicle. The voices were loud and raucous with excitement and relief. Ally’s mother appeared, hugging Eoin first then her daughter whom her husband finally released.
Trying to catch his breath, his face feeling like it might split from smiling so wide, Eoin staggered at the next enthusiastic embrace from a friend, making them both laugh.
A frightened shriek rang out.
Head spinning, Eoin twisted, stomach lurching as his vision began to blur and shift. Amongst the surging colours from the bodies crowded close, he spied the dark auburn hair of his wife, lying limp on the ground. Heart racing in fear, head spinning so he couldn’t make sense of his feet, Eoin slurred her name as he lurched forward, barely registering when his head bounced against the grassy earth.