The first chapter, the rest will be located at jimmyagent007.wordpress.com/
|Sometimes, the most valuable thing in life is the voice of a friend telling you that things will be alright. That every day is a chance to make things better. As long as you keep working towards that goal and don't give up. That every setback is a chance to learn.
She told herself this every day and knew it to be true, but that hadn't always been the case. Alone in the dark, crying for hours after being tossed down the chute with the garbage, she had given up on everything. Unable to see, she sobbed in the blackness that smothered her. It wasn't until she saw a flicker of light in the distance that she stopped. She crawled over the jagged metal slowly, inching her way towards the light. Weak from not having any food, it felt like ages before she could put her tiny hands on the light. It was a small stick, glowing from one end. It had a long string tied to it and as she waved it about she heard a voice.
“Hey, is someone down there?” Called a voice.
“Hello! Yes!” She replied.
“Were you crying? I heard something and tried to look but lost my light. Can we meet up so I can get it back?”
“I… can I keep it? I don't know how to get back out and the rats keep trying to bite me.”
“How did you get in there in the first place? You shouldn't be done there if there are rats.”
“I was cleaning the garbage chute and got kicked from behind. I heard laughing as I fell. I can't climb out.”
It took some listening but she could tell the voice was coming from a round pipe that fed through the crushed wall of metal and scrap. As she drew herself closer she could hear his responses more clearly.
“Careful, I’m a sending down my knife.”
A small clatter of noise came from the pipe until a short piece of rusted metal, silver along the sharpened edge, fell out. Its handle was wrapped in leather from the same rats that had been harassing her since she first fell in.
“What do I do with this?” She asked into the pipe.
“It's to kill the rats,” he replied.
“Can't you just get me out of here?” her tiny voice begged.
“I don't know, I don't think I can get into the house where you got in. If there is another way it could take a long time to find it. So keep the knife and cut any rats that get too close. Just keep working on staying alive and it will get easier. Trust me.”
“Thank you, I know I don't deserve your help but thank you.”
“Why don't you? What's your name?”
“I was always called garbage because I am.”
After a brief pause, the voice returned, “No you aren't. I have to go, but I will be back tomorrow and I will use your new name.”
“What do I do while you are gone? I don't know what to do!” She screamed into the pipe.
“Just figure out what you need and learn how to get it. I will help when I can. Just don't stop learning, that's what my ma always says. My pa sometimes calls her Ancora, that's what I’m gonna call you. That alright?”
“If you want, then it's alright. Please come back soon.”
“I will, call me Nordo. Silly sounding name, but it's mine. Talk to ya tomorrow!”
With that, the boy's voice was gone. She was alone in the dimly lit scrap cave, waiting by the pipe, waiting for the voice to come back. Waiting for the voice to call her Ancora.
“Ancora! You down there?” Nordo called.
Ancora shook awake having not realised she had fallen asleep, “Yes! I am here!”
“Are you alright? Did the rats get you?”
“No, I heard them coming but found a pipe bit near me. I hit a few with it but then used the string from your light to tie the knife to the end of the pipe. Then I could get them before they got too close.”
“Hey, that's great! I’m sending down some tato wafers. You can eat them. Then we can try and find a way for you to get out.”
Ancora greedily ate the food she caught as it came out of the pipe, barely pausing to unwrap it from the cloth it was covered in. She had never gotten to eat anything like it before, only ever getting the bits still stuck on the bone or the pieces left over when her parent was full. Her stomach rumbled.
“That tasted so good! I hope I can have more when I get out of here.”
“Sure thing! Now, it may take a while, but day by day we will make your life better.”
Ancora fiddled with the light-stick in her hand. It had burnt out years ago but it was the most important possession she had in her cave. She let it go, the string around her neck kept it from going further. As it settled between her breasts, she sighed. Normally, she kept herself busy while waiting for Nordo, either harvesting mushrooms in the waste cave or working on any number of things in her workshop. The lights always needed fixing and normally kept her busy. Except today was special, it had taken a long time but they were finally ready for their plan.
A long time is an understatement, the scrap cave was her home now and she had lived longer inside it than her old home above. The memories of that time had largely faded. She looked at the pipe that so much of her life revolved around. Far too small to have fit through, even when she herself had been much smaller. A small motor powered a fan that drew in air from the surface, aided by another that Nordo had set up on the surface. Running through the pipe was a number of things that exited just before the spinning blades. A wire that connected her receiver to another that Nordo used, that had let them talk easier. A cable that was attached to a wireframe basket that they had used to send things back and forth. That had let her send him things she salvaged so he could sell them. The last thing was a water tube from the still on the surface. She had water down in the cave with her sometimes but the still had saved her life on more than one occasion.
Ancora chewed on some rat meat jerky as she waited, while the plan had largely been the same over the years, their tools were the part that was lacking. She had been able to complete most of the work with what scrap she could find loose or pull from the walls and flooring. Whatever she couldn't find, came down the pipe. The last critical piece was simply too expensive to get, at least until they had saved up enough. When they first realised that she was going to be down there a long time, Nordo had sent her a manual for fixing things. He had already memorised it and used it to teach her to read. Then, over the years, she learned how to fix the things she found. Anything she didn't need was sent up the pipe to sell. Anything too big was kept and used to make her life easier.
Now she waited, waited to start getting out. As much as she had done to make living in the dark scrap cave liveable, it wasn't a real life. The stories her friend had told her, about other people, seeing strange things, even the light in the sky, made her work harder towards seeing it all for herself. The receiver on her desk ticked.
“What took you so long?” she asked, falsely critical.
“Well, I had all that money and was wondering if maybe I could just spend it on sweets and tell you what they tasted like.”
“Good plan Nordo, I'd be so angry I'd leap through the pipe and strangle you. Then both problems in my life would be over.”
He laughed hard, taking a moment to collect himself. “I think if making you angry was all I needed to do to get you out of there then we would have done it many times over. I’m sending it down now.”
Ancora turned off the fan on the pipe and moved it out of the way, the hinge squeaking as it moved. She gripped the basket cable and waited until she heard him tap the pipe. Once he did, she began to pull as he gave up slack. In all the years, nothing took as long to get to her as that package had. She unclipped the wire basket to open it and pulled out what was inside.
“Did you get it?” he asked, just shouting down the pipe like they had for the first few years.
“Yes,” she replied before picking up the receiver. “Hey, I got it. Walk me through it.”
“Alright,” his voice muffled as he started to reply before his end got close enough to his mouth. “The canister is pressurised, so be careful when you attach the nozzle. The funny looking spoon thing will make a spark that will ignite it when you squeeze it right. Just remember to light it quick so the gas doesn't fill the room up and explode. But before you do that, put the goggles on so you don't go blind when you look at the flame.”
“So it's like a really bright soldering iron?”
“Yeah, sorta. Melts metal a whole lot faster and hotter but yeah. You could cut your iron with this thing.”
Ancora did as he instructed and lit the gas after opening the valve. The flame burnt brightly and she held it against the wall for a bit and watched the metal drip to the floor. She quickly turned it off to save the fuel and took off the goggles.
“Be careful, there can be sparks and flying drops of metal. If you were cutting more than a lock I'd tell ya to cover up with heavy protection.”
“You tell me a lot of things, you assume I listen,” Ancora teased.
“I know, I know, I'm as foolish as my name. I get it,” he laughed back. “Just be careful. Don't want you getting hurt right when we are so close.”
“Fine, I will be careful. This might take a while though, you ready to wait?”
“Huh? What? Sorry I dozed off because of the sound of stupid questions.”
“It's a wonder you don't put yourself to sleep all the time then.”
She set down the receiver so he couldn't respond like she did every time she won the argument. Ancora opened the door she had built to contain the waste cave. It was the place where all the slop from her old home fell to feed the rats and mushrooms that grew within. It reeked of every kind of terrible smell but it was the only way back up to the surface. The closest it came to clean was in the one corner where she had stacked what she had been building for years, a small work lamp hung on it. Piece by piece she had assembled it in the stink filled room, too big to haul through the small door. It was, after a fashion, a ladder or scaffolding, depending on how you looked at it. She anchored the foundation with bolts to spots she had prepared and covered with buckets to keep the crud out. It was a long way to the shaft she had fallen through all those years ago.
Her rig assembled, she climbed the rest of the way up the chute, a tighter fit than it had been the first time around. She held onto the grips she had made in the side by covering bits in rat hide. At the top, she reached the final part that had kept her from freedom for so long. There was a lock on the hatch, meant to keep the rats from climbing up. She had often suffered if she had ever forgotten to lock it when she lived on the other side. Pushing the hatch up, the hinges she had oiled every chance she got slid silently. There were only a few finger widths of space before the lock did its job. Ancora stashed the goggles and blowtorch in the small alcove she had made close by. She had to get ready before making her move.
Climbing back down, she almost stumbled as her body shook with excitement. Kicking a rat that had gotten too close, she smiled as she thought of them never being able to eat her. There were a lot of things in her home that she wished she could take with her, many would have been valuable, but she needed to move fast. She had to only take what she could carry without slowing her down.
“Everything is ready,” she said after her hours of effort.
“Finally,” he scoffed. “Now, I got something else special for you.”
There was another basket to bring down, and a third. The first was a new pair of shoes, the others he had sent down over the years to help protect her feet were all rotten, even the ones she had on. The next was a fresh new jumpsuit, the tough fabric of her current one had been covered in patches when she first got it. This one was as new as things could get. Last was a new pair of gloves. Again, something she had needed badly.
“How long have you had these?” she asked.
“A few weeks or months, but I wanted you to have them now so you can leave the crap down there.”
“Thank you, I’m going to wash up first though. Don't feel right putting them on when I smell so bad. Hopefully, I won't pick up much on my climb out.”
“I wouldn't mind giving you a wash afterwards.”
Ancora grinned at his suggestion, she didn't quite understand why but her body felt warm and tingled at the idea.
“Maybe, but for now I will do it myself.”
Knowing she was going to leave soon anyway, she used all her water to wash. She used the tub she had made with the soap Nordo had sent her down the pipe. As clean as she had ever been, she dressed in the new jumpsuit and put on the new shoes. She put on her light-stick necklace, followed by the knife on her belt. Smaller than it was when she had first got it, from years of sharpening, it would still cut a rat to ribbons. Nordo had already taken all the money she had saved up to buy her things, most other bits were too big to carry. She looked around the home she had made and thought about never seeing any of it again. Ancora was at peace with that.
Throwing down rat skins so she wouldn't have to step in the muck of the waste cave, Ancora made her way back up to the opening. She popped open the hatch and looked around. Years of watching let her know the habit of her parent and knew the perfect time to move. Heavy snoring in the distance was a good sign. She slid a wedge under the hatch to keep it open while she readied her torch. Almost too excited to remember to put her goggles on, she had to turn off the gas the moment she almost lit it unprotected. The torch was bright but it was silent, at least silent enough to avoid waking someone up. She had other tools that could have done the job but they were all too loud and would have woken her parent. Of course, Nordo had known a torch was the tool they needed but as common as they were, he needed one small enough to fit down the pipe.
Two cuts were all Ancora needed before the lock fell free and the hatch could move further. The only time the lock had ever been off before, was when her parent was using it and that was exactly the worst time to try and get out. Slowly, after turning off the torch, she hoisted herself out. For the first time in years, she was back in her old home. It felt so much smaller than she remembered. She lifted her goggles and looked back down where she had come from and said goodbye. Turning around, she started to remember where things were. The door she had never been allowed to use or even look through was right where she remembered. There were locks on it as well that all suffered the fate of the torch. One spark of metal lept and stung her arm where it had landed. She hissed in pain but kept quiet enough to finish the job.
With the locks cut, she slowly pulled the handle but was suspicious of the stiffness. A quick return to the chute let her grab the can of oil she had used to loosen the hinge on the hatch from the alcove. Using it all, anywhere she could think might make noise. Again she pulled the lever, it was loud at first but the oil helped a bit. With it out of the way she could still hear the snoring, she relaxed a bit. She pushed the door but it only moved a few fingers, enough to let the bright light in and blind her a bit. Then an unfamiliar pair of hands came through to grab from the outside and pull.
“Just gotta get this open and we can run, forget the noise and push.” Nordo urged.
Ancora put her shoulder into the door and it pushed open wider. Not enough to squeeze through but enough for them to see each other for the first time. Although she had never seen someone smile before, the goofy grin on the boy's face didn't fail to show how happy he was. It only changed when he glanced down at her chest, causing him to blush. Ancora was puzzled as she looked down at her chest and at his and wondered why she had so much more to see there than he did on his chest.
“If I had known you were this pretty, I'd have gotten you out sooner,” he said, still blushing.
“If I had known you looked that stupid, I’d have made friends with the rats instead,” she replied.
He shook his head at the old joke and put himself in a better position against the door frame to push it open. She didn't need much more space to fit through but as soon as it was almost there the door swung free and they heard a snap. The snap was followed by a loud pop from behind Nordo. Hidden in the junk, connected to the door, a scattergun had just forcefully injected scrap iron bits into the back of the boy. He fell forward into Ancora’s arms.
“No no no! What happened?!” she screamed.
“I can't feel my legs,” he commented, as if merely confused.
“There is blood all over your back, what do I do?!”
They could hear shouting and stumbling from down the hall as they slid to the floor just inside the doorway.
“Run away, I'm not moving, you gotta get away.”
“No, I can't leave you! My parent would get you!”
“That's alright, I have a going away present for him.” Nordo produced a glass bottle from a bag on his hip, filled with liquid and a rag stuffed down the neck.
“I don't understand?! What is that?!”
“You have any idea how expensive glass is? I wanted to make this special.”
Nordo used the igniter for the torch and the rag went up with flames. He heaved the bottle at the sound of the yelling and they watched as the hallway burst into flames.
“Now, run away. You can't pull me away fast enough and that fire won't hold for long, also people don't usually live after getting hurt like this anyways.”
“No, I'm not leaving without you! This isn't fair!” Ancora shouted in a panic.
“Bad things happen to everyone, almost none of it is fair. But as long as you keep trying to do the right thing, the bad stuff doesn't bother you as much. I got to save you, that's the right thing, now you go do right things. You are worth saving.” Nordo rushed his speech, knowing he didn't have the time he thought he would have with Ancora.
“I don't want to be saved without being with you!”
“Well, now that's a bit…” he paused, to stare at what he just noticed. “Is that a still?”
Ancora looked at the flames covering the metal drums and the tubes running between them, “I don't know.”
“Run! Now go!” Nordo yelled, urgent to get Ancora away quickly.
Something in the tone of his voice made her set aside her reluctance to leave him. She ran away as fast as she could, having trouble watching her feet in the bright light. After a short distance she stopped to turn and in that moment she saw Nordo smile and wave, she didn't understand the look in his eyes. Then suddenly a deep rumble of air pressure sounded before the hot blast of fire consumed her whole house and the explosion knocked her off her feet. The fireball immolated everything she knew and the one person she cared for. Almost unable to even look at it, Ancora couldn't see her friend. Then she felt the scrap below her shift, at first thinking it was simply loose, but then all of it seemed to move. The blast had unsettled the surrounding area and the void below, where she had been living, gave it someplace to go. Over the years while she had salvaged from the walls, there were sometimes shifts that threatened to cave everything in but this was beyond anything she had seen or felt. The whole area was starting to collapse and she needed to get away.
Ancora scrambled away from the fire over the moving scrap in the hopes that she would stay ahead of it. Bits and pieces of metal and other things moved past her, some hitting her and almost knocking her over. It was hard to see things coming in the bright light while also keeping an eye on where she was using to support her movement. As she crested a ridge in the scrap, she felt things settle. She looked behind her, putting her hands over her eyes to protect them from the glare. The whole landscape had changed, what had once been an area with a reddish hue of rust covering the surface was now largely the newly exposed metals and junk. Everything she knew was gone and buried. There would be no going back to look for anything. Her body was sore and she checked herself for cuts only to find her lightstick necklace was gone as well as her knife. Lost in the scramble. Her new clothing, ruined with rust and tears.
She sat, exhausted and sore. What should have been the best day of her life, was now a disaster. Ancora buried her face in her hands and wept, wishing the world away.
Ancora could hardly contain her grief. Recalling all the cherished moments with her only friend, she remembered how he talked when his parents had died. Suddenly, she understood what he had described the pain to feel like. She had been there for him to talk to and help him endure the pain. During and afterwards, he had never stopped encouraging her and explaining how he was able to cope.
“Unless it’s a matter of immediate life and death, take some time to feel your feelings. Accept them and get them out.” He had said. “Just keep in mind that if there is something that needs doing, don't take too long. Never stop trying to live.”
Those words clung to Ancora’s heart as she poured her feelings into the world around her and accepted the death of her friend.
“It’s okay to still feel hurt, even after a long time, just don't stop being the person they loved.” he had explained, referring to how his parents had loved him for being so kind.
Ancora knew that with everything gone, she would have to start over, no matter how difficult. She put her pain away to deal with later and wiped her eyes clear.
Standing up, determined to find something to salvage and start again, she started to wonder about where to build her new house. Somewhere nearby but not over her old home, she wanted to someday recover Nordo’s body. Taking her first step, the scrap she was standing on slipped. She crouched to secure herself but the piece was wide and was now sliding down the ridge she had rested on, away from her old home. Holding on tight, she was spun around as the piece hit debris on its way down. The curved edges on all the sides kept it from catching on anything as she hurtled down the slope of scrap.
Just as she was planning to leap the opposite direction she was sliding, hoping to cancel her momentum, there was a strange noise. The scrap stopped descending but kept moving away, Ancora looked around her at the ripples in the water made by her passage. The noise had been the splash of the scrap piece hitting the water and it wobbled as she shifted to look around. As it spun, her view alternated between the shoreline and the endless horizon of rust coloured water. Her mind struggled to make sense of so much water in one place. The ball of fire in the sky glared across the surface making it difficult for her to see anything. Moment by moment the slope she had fallen down became more difficult to see or even find. Her flimsy vessel swayed with the small waves that carried her further away.
Ancora reminded herself to be the person Nordo cared for and not let her pain diminish that, “What, the colossal fusk, is this?! Not only did I lose everything I have known and loved but now I’m adrift on some endless, rusty water?!”
She ranted to the sky with her frustrations, only pausing to steady herself when her body got too animated for her vessel. Nordo and her often argued with each other as if they were the ones responsible for the others trouble, only to stop when their insults caused them to burst out in laughter. Whoever laughed first lost, only now her opponent was the sky itself and all it did was keep blinding her with the bright light. Ancora wished she had not lost the welding goggles to give her eyes a rest. Exhausted of insults, she knew her situation was dire, once again setting her feelings aside for the moment, she tasted the water. It was salty and metallic, she knew she couldn't drink it. Nordo had explained that people couldn't drink salty water. She had thought it mustn't have come up often but with so much of it around her then, she understood why he had brought it up.
Sitting in the centre of the scrap, after very carefully adjusting herself, she swivelled her neck to see around her, shielding her eyes. The shore was distant and fading with each moment, nothing else shared the water with her, and the direction she was travelling had no shore at all. Keeping balance in her tiny refuge was tedious and there was nothing else with her that she could use. Finding water in her scrap cave had been easy, it condensed on the cold metal walls and she could collect it. Nordo had explained that it would fall from the sky on occasion but Ancora didn't know what to look for. Aside from the ball of fire, there didn't seem to be anything in the sky.
With nothing to do, Ancora shut her eyes and sat still. She would have to wait and try not to fall over.
A moment of terror sparked as Ancora felt her whole body tip and fall over. However, as her eyes opened she could see that she was no longer at the mercy of the water. The metal she had been stuck on was now resting at the edge of the water. The thing that confused her was that it didn't look like any scrap she had seen before. There was no separate pieces, just solid rust coating a single piece. It was massive, it reached high above her until it ended in a point. She climbed out onto it and it felt stable. A few kicks told her it was not only stable but totally solid. She kneeled down and rubbed the surface. Under the rust wasn't even metal, she didn't know what it was. Too hard to be plastic or anything else she had ever seen.
The sound of scraping metal alerted her to the water moving her scrap being pulled away by the water. Ancora rushed to it and grabbed on to keep it from moving. She pulled and dragged it up onto the strange surface to keep it from drifting away. While it wasn't much, it was the only thing she understood, so she didn't want to lose it. With it safe, she left it behind to explore and find out what she was walking on.
Scaling the incline would have been arduous, so Ancora walked along the edge of the water. She would look out over the water to see if the shore was still there but saw nothing. There was no sign of scrap anywhere and she was starting to get worried before she reminded herself that at least she wasn't on the water, trying not to tip over. Walking at least made her feel like she was being productive and until she explored everywhere there was hope that something could be found. While most of what she had seen had been part of a steady curve, there was suddenly a change that seemed odd. A ridge, higher than herself but much lower than the peak to her left, pushed out into the water. Carefully approaching and climbing over, she was suddenly hit with a number of feelings.
Firstly, she noticed an abundance of metal scrap before her. Objects and tools, metal, things she was familiar with. Secondly, though, she was disturbed by the form of what used to be a person. A body, dried up and shrivelled from the heat like some of the food Nordo had sent her. It was higher up, away from the water, laying there, as if asleep. Ancora had only ever seen two people in her life, one hardly remembered. This was the third and she felt sorrow for the loss, another person she would never get to know. Turning away, she studied the formation she was standing on. It was like a giant pair of arms reached out from the peak and surrounded a pool of water, not quite meeting at the hands. A number of metal boats floated inside it, most tied but some floating free. She wondered if there was perhaps others to be found.
As excited as she was to see all the tools and possibly meet new people, she had more important things to think of. Water, she was more thirsty than she had ever been before. Between crying and being under the hot sky for hours, she was getting dehydrated. She spotted what looked like a cook stove near the dead body and she rushed over to inspect it.
“I’m sorry whoever you are,” she said to the body as she passed it. “I’m going to borrow your things. Hope you don't mind!”
What she found when she reached it stopped her dead in her tracks. A pile of bones, far bigger than the rat bones she used to toss away, littered the area. Yet, they were not shaped anything like a rats either. They were long and thin, with a thin flap at the end opposite a giant maw.
“Are these fish?” she asked the body. “Nordo told me how some of the food he brought me used to swim in the water but I didn't believe him. I didn't think there was enough water just laying around for something to live in. I guess I was wrong. But you couldn't have eaten all this if you didn't have water. Where did you get it?”
Nearby was a barrel on a stand, its top was open, and it was dry inside. The bottom was scorched from flame and the ash underneath it told her what had happened.
“Your cook stove ran out of power, didn't it? Tried burning something but ran out of things to burn maybe? That why you are naked?”
Ancora wondered for a moment. It seemed obvious to her from what else had been laying around that it had used to be a still, but without a heat source, it had been left open.
“You wanted to catch water from the sky? I guess that if it didn't work for you then I shouldn't bother waiting. I am going to need power. Do any of those motors down there have power?”
Making her way down the slope to the tied up boats, she inspected each one to see if she could get the motors running. She wasn't quite sure how they worked or what the part in the water would do but none of them seemed to be working. One by one, she pulled out the power cells and licked her fingers to test them each in turn. They were all dead and her mouth tasted like grease. Regardless, she hauled them all up to the stove. There seemed to her, a lot more possessions than for a single person. As if more than just the one body had ended up there. She wondered where they had gone. If they escaped then they would have taken their things. If not then their bodies would have been somewhere nearby.
As she searched for anything else of use, she found a long pole with a knife bound to the end. Like what she had used to kill rats except longer and bigger. She wondered if that had been how the dead body had caught the fish. What interested her, however, was the copper wire binding the knife to the poll. Slowly unwinding it so it wouldn't damage the wire and keep the knife for herself, she took the wire to where she had stacked the power cells. She connected each one to the other with the wire leading all the way to the stove. There was a brief flicker of life before it gave out.
“I suppose if you had a hand crank generator then you would have used that instead,” she mumbled.
Letting out a sigh, she looked around for anything else that would help get her some water. There were a lot of interesting items that she was excited to play with but kept having to remind herself that they had to wait. Coming up empty she decided to finish her trip around the island. She gathered up a length of rope that had been laying on the ground and looped it over her shoulder. Not that she really ‘needed’ to pull her scrap boat back with her but she didn't like to waste anything. Leaving behind the boat refuge, she made her way along the edge of the water like she had done before. This time, she paid more attention to the land on her left, her eyes having gotten a bit better at seeing in the bright light. The thin layer of rust that covered everything caught her eye when she saw it had been disturbed.
“What's that?” she asked herself.
Ancora looked behind herself to see her footprints in the rust and looked back at what she had seen, someone else's footprints leading up the slope. She decided to find out who had left them and started to climb up the slope. It was easy at first, but as the incline slowly increased she found it more difficult.
“This isn't like climbing scrap at all, nothing feels like it's going to pull or slide,” she commented.
As she made her way up, she saw a bright reflection come from her left side. She turned to see a figure laying in an alcove at an odd angle. Ancora drew closer and could see the person, withered like the one she found at the cam, laying upside down, feet aiming at the peak, with his neck cocked at an odd angle.
“Oh, you fell didn't you?” she asked. “What is this?”
Ancora gently grabbed at the object that reflected the light as she pulled it off his face. It had covered his eyes and as she held it up to her own she understood.
“Light goggles! It makes the light less bright! Not as good as the welding ones but I think these might be better. I hope you are okay with me using them. Everything has been so bright up here!”
She put on the glasses and felt her eyes relax considerably. Apologizing, she searched the body for other things he had on his person. Unlike on the beach, this one still had his clothing. A hat with a wide brim helped even more with keeping the sun off her. Under the body, clutched in a hand that had been twisted and forced behind by the fall was a large spool.
“So what were you doing up here where you could fall? Something to do with this?” she asked as she inspected the spool. “Oh, a power cable. Were you trying to hook something up?”
She looked upwards towards where the footprints lead and where the body might have fallen from. Farther up, she could see something else reflecting the light from the sky. Slowly, taking care not to fall like the last person, she hauled the spool with her to the point higher up. She was about halfway to the peak when she found it.
“Oh, is this some kind of signal? I guess it wasn't easy getting it up here, let alone higher. I guess this is why you didn't set it up there. What was the power cable for then? It reflects light on its own.”
Ancora studied the object for a moment. It was a large flat panel sitting on top of a short pole, leading from a box with legs. There was a small green light on the box that, according to the worn engraving, indicated ‘POWER’.
“How does this have power if it's not plugged in?” The moment she asked the whole panel whirred and clicked to move a small bit. “What was that? How did you move? Why? You are following the light in the sky, but you don't have power except that you do. Where do you get it? The only moving parts are making you look at the sky.”
Confused, Ancora looked at the box under the panel. She found the socket for the power cable and was again confused when it read ‘POWER OUT’ instead of ‘IN’.
“You are labelled like a power generator but all you do is… wait, you are getting power from the thing in the sky? How does that work?”
Ancora shook her head, she wasn't going to get answers there and, however confusing, she had a power supply. Plugging in, she began to unspool the cable as she slowly descended. The body with the broken neck had, she decided, gone up to run a cable back down. She didn't understand why it couldn't have been done from the campsite when the sky could be seen from everywhere but she just assumed they knew more than her. After taking the rope off her and leaving it with the body for later, Ancora descended along a more direct path to the camp and was almost there when the cable got to its end.
“Oh really?!” she exasperated. “I didn't see any other power cables and that stove is all the way down there!”
Ancora was annoyed, she had to either haul the stove up to charge cells with it, lacking any flat surface to set it down, or haul the sky light power generator down to the camp. Both would be heavy and the dead people put it up there for a reason. She needed a new option. Leaving the end of the cable under the spool to keep it in place, she returned to the camp and started to look around. The power cells near the stove couldn't be plugged into the cable and, after testing the weight of the stove, Ancora knew that moving it would be a last resort. None of the other junk laying about seemed to be what she was looking for. She knew that taking apart the stove just for the power components was an option but would compromise the stove itself.
“So I need to make a longer cable, mangle the end of it to maybe make a charger, or dismantle something that I need intact.”
She sat looking at all the different shapes of the power cells and wondered about what she had pulled them out of. The boats, more specifically the motors attached to them, were important but she had a lot of them. Looking at a few she soon found one that had a power input port that looked like it would match the cable. Still heavy, she knew she wouldn't be moving it but decided that it wasn't important enough to leave intact. Ancora got to work pulling it apart until she had the power port and the contacts for the power cell extracted. Finding a satchel in the camp, not unlike the one she wore in her cave while pretending to carry salvage to sell in town, she put the components in with the power cells.
“Alright, let's see if this works,” she said as she plugged the power cell into the motor components before plugging the cable in.
She let it charge for a moment and was about to remove it to test with her fingers when she saw a dull yellow light on the side.
“Yes! It's working! Not sure how long this is going to take but I am thirsty.”
While Ancora waited, she moved back up to where the body lay and begun to tie the rope she had left around it.
“Really sorry about this, but I think it's better than just leaving you here. Maybe you would like it better with your friend.”
Dragging a body isn't very easy, but down a slope after desiccation did make it easier for the small girl. Eventually, she was able to get it back to camp and lay it next to the other body. She untied the rope and wrapped it around herself again before getting back to the power cell. The light was still yellow, some of the ones she had in her cave would turn green or blue when fully charged so she left it to keep charging. After some time, she reached her starting point, where her scrap boat had come ashore. She tied the rope to it and shoved it back into the water. Then began the long walk around, pulling it to where the rest of the boats where.
After taking a short rest, the effort making her feel lightheaded, Ancora went to check on the power cell that had finally flicked on it's green ‘charged’ light. She removed the cell, replacing it with another, and returned to the stove where she plugged it in. The element started to glow red with heat. She turned it off for a moment while she pushed it under the barrel, thankful she hadn't had to haul the whole thing up to where the cable ended. Next, she found a container nearby that she could use to scoop water and start filling the barrel. After the first few litres, she turned the stove on again to start it warming up. Going back and forth from the water was tiring work and she slipped on the wet surface, ending up half submerged.
“Ow! That hurt!” she shouted. “Though it is a nice way to cool off.”
Ancora sat in the water, playing with her bucket while she cooled off when something caught her eye. That something, in turn, caught her bucket in its jaws as it attacked. She screamed as the long fish, whose jaws she recognized from the remains at the camp, chomped through her bucket. Backing away, scrambling up to where it was dry, she kicked out at the monster and yelled. Out of its reach, she breathed hard while watching it move back into the deeper waters.
“Just wait until I figure out how to kill you! I bet you are tasty!”
Discouraged from collecting any more water she returned to the barrel and slid the lid back into place. It was shaped like a lopsided cone so that the condensation would cause the water to run off to a spout on the side. She used a smaller container that rested on the hook below the spout to collect what would dribble out. It took some time but she got a few sips of water that were a relief to feel down her parched throat.
“It's working!” she shouted, waiting for more to collect in the cup.
After she had gotten a full cup worth of water she decided to get back to filling the barrel. Keeping an eye on the water in case the fish returned, she used her damaged container to replenish the barrel to a decent amount.
“Water is taken care of! Now, I just need to get some food.”
Ancora knew she had to kill a fish, but having never done it before, she wasn't sure if it worked the same. Normally, she would bait the rats and stab them with a spear. They both seemed to want to eat her so she remade the spear from the knife and pipe she had. This time she used strips of clothing from the body, saving the copper wire for something else. Of course, in the waste cave, she never had to work hard to bait the rats. There was always something for them to munch on. Now, she wasn't sure what to use. The fish had shown up quickly enough that she figured it lived nearby.
The spear was between her feet in the water, not as deep as she was when she had fallen in but she hoped it was enough. The water was far too deep and rusty to see the bottom but she could see far enough to react if something got close. She lunged with the spear at a flash of what looked like the side of the fish, stabbing it. She was excited as she pulled it up but very quickly saw something else. On either end of the fish, she saw massively curved blades, holding it by both ends. They were attached to an opposing set that gripped the fish. Behind that was what looked like a junk pile, metal and reflective bits piled on the same strange substance that made the blades holding the fish. Ancora backed up, keeping the spear in front of her, still in the fish, as the shambling junk pile kept moving forward. More emerged from the water, each appearing to be holding fish in their blades. They walked on many armoured legs, the junk pile looking like a protective layer.
“What are you?!” Ancora asked.
It’s movement arrested, the one she shared the fish with moved spherical protrusions, that came up through the junk cover, in her direction. The others did the same. They all seemed to be regarding her. She could see the junk more clearly like someone had collected shiny or reflective bits and used a resin to stick them together. When they moved again, they moved back into the water with their fish. Remaining just shallow enough to look at her. The one holding the fish she wanted tried to do the same when she tugged on the spear to try and keep the fish on it. It paused, then let go, the massive blades opening to release the fish, then closing. Ancora almost stumbled over when it had let go and clutched the fish tightly after regaining her balance. Then the creature returned to the water and joined the rest to look at her.
“Thank you!” She shouted. “You like shiny things for your shell do you? Wait there!”
Ancora turned around and looked inside the nearby shelter that one of the dead people must have built. Hanging from the ceiling was a mirror that she snatched. The things were still in the water when she returned and she held out the mirror towards the one that had let go of the fish. She used it to reflect the light at it and watched as the mighty blade hands reached out to pluck it from her hand. It was hard to tell, but it sounded like there was a lot of clicking noises coming from the water. She had hoped it meant it was happy. After a few minutes of seeing them mill about, they went too deep for her to see.
“Well, that was unexpected.”
Cleaning the fish was a lot different from the rats she had grown up eating. There was no fur to remove so she wasn't sure if she should skin the thing. Her stab wound and the ones made by the blade hands of the creature made it seem like it was too thin to be worth it. Taking the knife off the spear again she sliced the fish open and got to work sorting out what she could eat. After some experimenting with a plate over the stove, she figured out just how long to cook it.
“Alright then, food is done, for now. I wonder if I can trade again for tomorrow’s fish?”