by Lisa Waren
Elise is a Seeker. This time she might have found a lot more than she was looking for.
|Elise lazily drifted toward consciousness, but kept her eyes closed. Listening to the sounds around her, she knew that Tolar was in the ship again. He must have been looking for something because she could hear him moving things around.
A hot wind blew across her face. She opened her eyes, and saw two suns low in the sky. They appeared to be stranded in a desert. Sitting up slowly, she turned to look at where she was. Tolar had rigged a makeshift shelter out of some of the ship’s remains. It was large and crude, but effective in the short term. She tried to see further into the distance. Standing up, her head began to swim so she paused a moment and closed her eyes till it passed. She opened her eyes again and scanned in every direction. It was useless. No matter where she looked, the view didn’t change. There were only varying degrees of sand and rock.
“Ah, you’re awake.” Tolar’s deep voice called from behind her. Elise turned carefully to see him. “I was beginning to worry. I wasn’t sure how long was normal for you to sleep.” He came toward her carrying a large box.
“How . . .” She stopped and put her hand up in a vain attempt to stop the pain. Her throat was as dry as the surroundings.
Tolar noticed her discomfort as he set the box down beside what had obviously been a fire during the night. Reaching into a smaller box that he must have brought out earlier, he handed her a bottle of water. “Here, you haven’t had anything to drink in some time. Please, sit here.” He gestured toward a seat that he had brought out. It had no legs, but it had been rigged so that it would provide a decent place to sit and lean back.
She carefully lowered herself onto the seat, and drank the cool water until her throat began to feel normal again. When she felt better, she tried again. “How long have I been asleep?”
“I would estimate that it has been approximately thirty hours since the crash.”
“Thirty hours? I’ve never slept so long in my life. Sometimes, I don’t even sleep that long in a week. Is it morning or evening?”
The length of time that she had been out bothered her, but then her stomach gave a loud growl and she was forced to direct her attention elsewhere. “Did you happen to find any food?”
“Yes, I did. In fact, that was one of my first priorities.” He reached into the same box out of which he had retrieved the water bottle and produced a packet of emergency rations. Elise groaned in disappointment, but accepted it. It was a standard packet for humanoids; liquid concentrated protein and nutrients. Everything needed for the standard humanoid to survive. Unfortunately, whoever made them never took into consideration how foul they tasted. Every ship was required to carry these packets, but she had yet to find anyone who actually liked the things.
“Starvation may have its advantages after all.” She looked at Tolar as she said this, but he only stared at her in confusion. “What?”
“Why would you prefer to starve?” He was genuinely worried that she might wish to die.
Elise looked at him in regret. “Never mind. Bad joke.” She turned back to the dreaded packet still unopened in her hand. After carefully tearing open the seal, she raised it in a toast. “Here’s to survival.” Taking a deep breath as though preparing to ingest some vile medicine, she choked down the liquid inside as quickly as possible. She cringed as it first touched her mouth. Then as it hit her starved stomach, the taste ceased to matter. All that mattered was filling the pit inside her.
Once she had drunk it all, she tossed aside the empty packet, and reached for the water again. She rinsed her mouth several times attempting to rid herself of the horrid taste.
Her stomach feeling better, she was able to think again. “Did you find any rations that you could use?”
“Yes. There was a small crate of them. There is a lot more of your kind, though so I thought that since we don’t know how long we’ll be here I would use some of them too.”
“Can you do that? Are you sure they’ll work for you?”
“They don’t have everything I need, but I can use them without immediate danger. I think as long as I just use them to supplement the others it’ll be ok.”
“What happened to the others on board?” Elise asked hopefully, but as she could see no one else, she was afraid she already knew the answer to that question.
“The front of the ship was destroyed on impact. I’m afraid the others in the cabin with us didn’t make it either. The Kelsite lived through the crash, but his wounds were too severe. A large piece of metal ran through him and his seat.” He bowed his large head. “I could not separate them.” She could practically hear the tears in his voice. He must have tried desperately to save the Kelsite. “The other female was already dead when I found her. Her body was . . .” He couldn’t finish the thought.
A voice whispered in her ear. “Poor Jaesa. At least she didn’t suffer.”
The voice startled her at first. Then Elise recognized it as Besh, though he was hard to hear. “I’m sorry, Besh.” She replied in her head.
So now she knew. It wasn’t just a dream, it was real. There was actually someone else sharing her mind. She knew she should feel angry and violated, but for some strange reason she just felt confused. “Can you hear everything I’m thinking?”
“No.” His voice was difficult to hear at first, but the more she listened and focused on it the better she could hear him. “Only those thoughts that you direct to me. Although, I can sense your stronger emotions, and if you are focused on some thought I may be able to get the idea, but your general thoughts are too vague and undirected for me to hear.”
That was good. She had too many thoughts that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing with him just yet. He was, after all, still a stranger to her. “What about memories? If I’m remembering something, could you see it?”
“Only if you made an effort to show it to me. Most memories would be even more vague than your idle thoughts. I doubt that you could show me a memory now even if you tried. The connection is still too new. After we have adjusted to each other and you become more comfortable with me, you will have more mental control, and you’ll be able to do more.”
Something suddenly occurred to her. “You said that you and Jaesa had been together for three-hundred years?”
“Just how old are you?”
“I’m not really sure. The Daela do not take much notice of time until joined. I do know that I was fairly young the first time I was joined.”
“How many times have you been joined?”
“Three, not counting you. The first time was with Donar for only seventy-five years. Then Kourra for two hundred and thirty-six years. Jaesa and I had only just celebrated our three-hundredth year together.”
So long. To have lived more than half a millennium. All the things he must have seen and done.
“Are you all right?” Tolar had noticed her long introspection and become worried.
“Sorry. I guess I was just lost in thought.” For some reason she didn’t want to tell him about Besh just yet.
Elise didn’t want any of them to get depressed. “So, what’s in the boxes?”
He brightened immediately, proud of what he had accomplished. “My priority was survival, so after I got us out of the ship and put up the shelter, I searched for supplies. He reached a tentacle out to the box where he had gotten the food and water. “This one holds all the salvageable food, water, and blankets that I could find.” Using another tentacle, he pointed toward a smaller box near her. “That one holds some personal gear that I found. I couldn’t be sure what belonged to you. Everything was in such a mess that it was hard to tell where it may have come from.”
Elise grew hopeful. “Did you happen to find my net-link?”
He searched his memory. “I found one, but I don’t know if it was yours.” He went to the box, and dug around for a minute before coming back with a slightly battered net-link. “Is this it?”
Elise took it from him and examined it. Most of them tended to look alike, and the damage made it difficult to positively identify as her own. She tried to open it. The lock was stuck at first, but with a little work, she managed to get it open. Net-links were made sturdy, but she wasn’t sure if they could survive the kind of beating that this one had suffered. “Cross your fingers.” As she said this, she looked up at him, and realized that he didn’t get the reference. “It’s an expression. Do whatever you do for luck.” He seemed to understand that and stood up straight as his tentacles wrapped tightly around his body. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and waited.
She held her breath as she slowly reached for the button that would activate it. Her finger touched the cold button, and she paused a moment before actually depressing it. Gathering her courage, she gave it a firm push. She released the button, and waited.
A soft light began emanating from it. It was trying to work. Could it have made it after all? A message appeared on the screen.
Please wait . . .
Tolar had opened his eyes again and moved to watch over her shoulder. She tried to give them both a little hope. “We may not be stranded here after all.”
The old message disappeared. Once more holding her breath, she waited. Malfunction. Internal diagnostic shows the primary memory capsule (part number 13479B) to be non-functioning. This part must be replaced.
“Damn!” Frustrated and disappointed, Elise switched it off and dropped it on the ground next to her. “So close only to be stopped by something so simple.”
Tolar looked at the link, and then at Elise. “Could we replace it? There are a lot of things on the ship that survived because they were in the back. Maybe one of them would work?” He asked hopefully.
Elise thought about it for a moment. “Hard to say. So many of the parts for these things are specifically made for them. These same memory capsules are used in a few other things.” She considered the net-link for a minute then picked it up again. “Do you have any tools?”
Tolar went to the large box he had just carried out. Moving aside a few things, he soon pulled out a gray box. It was another standard ship addition. A tool kit made specifically for small or delicate equipment.
“Perfect.” She took the kit from him and opened it beside her on the ground. Pulling out one of the small tools, she began to carefully take the link apart.
After working for about half an hour, she finally managed to get to the damaged memory capsule and pry it out. It had suffered the unfortunate luck of being placed in a spot that now had a large dent. The capsule itself didn’t look like much, just a blue tube slightly smaller than the tip of her little finger, but it was one of the most important components in the machine. It had been broken when the casing was hit.
She got Tolar’s attention, and showed him the broken capsule. “We’re looking for one of these.”
He examined it carefully. “Where would we find one?”
She had thought about that while she was working. “These are used primarily in communication devices. They’re not really designed for working with much else.”
Tolar went back to the big box. He rummaged around for several minutes. Finally, he came back carrying a few battered pieces of equipment. “How about these?” He laid them down next to her.
There were two short-range links, an internal ship’s radio, and a small recording device. “No, I’m afraid all of these put together wouldn’t have enough memory capacity.”
She hated to see the disappointment on his face. Even though he didn’t have human features, she could read his expressions rather easily.
“Let me think about it for a while. Maybe I can come up with something.”
“I’m sorry that I am not more helpful. I don’t know very much about such things.”
She comforted him as best as she could. “That’s ok. I know enough.” Elise wasn’t one to go in for a lot of physical contact, but he obviously needed it. She stood up in front of him and held out her arms, inviting him into a hug. His eyes widened in surprise. After a moment, he stepped forward and wrapped his tentacles gently around her. She held him close and was surprised to find that she felt a little better herself. “We’re gonna be all right. You’ll see.”
They pulled away from each other smiling. “Thank you. I didn’t know that humans could be so nice. Most of them tend to avoid my people.”
“Well, I’m not most humans. I know that you’re a nice person, and besides, I kind of needed a hug too.” They smiled at each other. “Now, let’s go see what’s left in the ship.”
“Are you sure you’re ready? You were out a long time.”
“I’m sure. The sooner I get it over with, the better. Besides, maybe inspiration will strike.”
Tolar considered her briefly. “Very well, but watch your step. It’s quite a mess in there.”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to help me over the bad spots.”
Tolar smiled at her, pleased at her suggestion. Elise reached out and took hold of the end of one of his tentacles. “Lead the way.”
He seemed startled at her readiness to touch him, but it clearly pleased him.
They made their way to the wreckage and Elise was struck by the damage. She’d had no idea that it was so bad. She was even more surprised than before that they had managed to survive at all. Looking back the way the ship had come she could see the deep trench it had dug along the way. It must have slid across the desert for a long time. The forward section, where the pilot and other crewmembers would have been, was crushed against the large rock that had finally stopped the ship.
Tolar guided her through the opening where the docking door had once been. The door now rested on the ground nearby, twisted and torn. They made their way slowly forward till she could see the main cabin where they had been sitting during the crash. Seats were lying every which way with missing cushions, and broken frames. It was no longer recognizable as the room she remembered. A rough path was apparent where Tolar had made his way through looking for survivors.
“My God. We actually survived this.” The truth of it finally hit her. It was a miracle that either of them was alive.
He pointed out a section far forward where the wreckage had been thrown to either side till the floor was nearly exposed again. “That is where I found you.”
Walking toward it, she could see the two seats between which she had been wedged, and the heavy support beam that had pinned them together now laying over the nearer one, the cut straps of the safety harness peeking over the edge of the cushion.
Shaking it off, she looked around in an effort to remember why they were there. “This won’t be easy.”
“What can I do to help?”
Elise sighed deeply and pushed her hand through her hair in frustration. “Well, let’s see. You could first tell me where you’ve looked already. No sense in both of us going over the same ground.”
He turned to the right-hand side where the other passengers had been. She first noticed the two machine tarps draped over small sections of debris.
Tolar’s voice dropped to barely more than a whisper. “I’ve been through all of this side.”
She rushed on, desperate to change the subject before they both got depressed. “Then I’ll start over here.” Turning to the opposite side, she examined the damage for the best way to proceed. “Why don’t you move aside that seat there?” She pointed out a large piece of metal and cushion near the top. “You clear the big stuff and I’ll get the lighter stuff. Sound good to you?”
“No problem.” He reached for the seat she had indicated and they began their tedious search. For three hours, they cleared away debris till they could get to some of the small equipment buried beneath it. Elise carefully picked through it, setting aside those items she was sure were useless and putting the things she thought they might find some use for in one of the small metal boxes that Tolar provided from the storage closet at the rear of the cabin.
When Tolar came back from about his tenth trip outside he asked, “Anything useful?”
“Nothing with communications potential, but a few small things we might be able to rearrange into something more useful.”
“Maybe we should take a break for now.”
She stood up and stretched, hearing the pops in her back from crawling through the debris for too long. “Yeah, I’m getting hungry again anyway. How about you?”
“I drank a nutrition pack a few minutes ago.”
“Those extra appendages sure come in handy. All right. I’ll go suck down a pack, and be back in about fifteen minutes.”
“Take your time. You shouldn’t work too hard after what you’ve been through.”
She appreciated his concern, and waved over her shoulder as she answered him. “I’ll keep that in mind, but no guarantees.”
Along the way back to camp she worked her sore muscles to get out the stiffness. Elise pulled out one of the food packs and took back her former seat. She opened the seal and began sipping the noxious fluid thinking back over the things she had found and how they could be cobbled together into things that would make their, hopefully brief, stay here more comfortable.
When Tolar came out twenty minutes later, that’s how he found her. Her head drooped onto her chest and the mostly empty pack in her hand lying on the ground. He took the pack from her and gently carried her over to the makeshift pallet. She never even stirred. Laying one of the salvaged blankets over her, he went back into the ship to finish.