Chapter 26: A World beyond Imagination
… living. Exim clutched the arms of his seat as the ship seemed to settle downward at an angle. He unbuckled his seat harness and fell against the window as the ship rose up again and dropped. The ground outside the window looked solid but it was swelling and receding, like the waves of an ocean, solid yet fluid. The ship did not appear to be sinking into the ground. He steadied himself against the seats until he reached the side hatch. Exim opened the hatch, which dropped away heavily. He climbed down the ladder and jumped to the ground, which started to recede, causing the ship to roll toward him. Exim jumped out of the way barely in time to keep from being decapitated by edge of the side wing. The side hatch had rolled underneath the ship. There was no way he could get inside the ship if he needed to do so, unless the ship rolled back the other way.
Exim scanned his immediate surroundings. He saw spherical domes sporadically spaced along the distant hills. They were interconnected with pulsating filaments and bridges. It was impossible for Exim to gauge the distance to the nearest dome but one of the bridges connected to it had an entrance close to him. He ran hunched over with his arms extended toward the ground in case the ground swelled up under his feet. The ground swelled up, throwing him over the side of the swell into a narrow trench. He got back to his feet and ran along the trench until the walls of the trench receded and flattened. He could see the massive doors of the entrance to the bridge swaying back and forth, but it was the ground under his feet that was swaying. The ground swelled again, throwing him against one of the doors. He reached out instinctively to grab hold of the pulsating door knob. There was a whirring sound inside the thick door and the two doors parted slightly. Exim slipped inside between them.
Chapter 27: Archives
Ellen was wrenched suddenly from the complexities of her dream when the harsh sun overran the hills, roofs, and gauze curtains, putting to blade the dark ghosts of her small room. She sat up, looked around the room shielding her eyes when they approached the window, and got out of bed. Ellen undressed, washed herself as best she could, and picked out a clean but rumpled set of clothes from her duffel bag. She left the room, locking the door behind her, and walked down the stairs to the now empty pub. She sat down at one of the tables. After some time, an old man walked out of the kitchen and noticed her sitting alone. He called out something unintelligible in her general direction and she pointed to her open mouth. He mumbled something else to which she shrugged her shoulders, turning her palms upward. The old man nodded, grumbled something to himself and walked back to the kitchen. After a long time during which her stomach did its own grumbling, the old man walked out of the kitchen carrying a tray of steaming fish and a glass of boiling tea. He set the tray down in front of her, his trembling hands synchronized to the trembling tea glass. She speared a piece of the fish with the overturned tines of her fork, put it in her mouth hungrily, and swallowed. She looked up and saw the old man still standing beside her, leering. For a moment she did not comprehend, but then she thought she did, and took out some paper money and put it on the table. He picked up the paper money but continued to stand over her, watching enrapt. Self-conscious, she shooed him away with a gesture of her hand. He closed his mouth and walked back to the counter from which he continued to gaze in her direction. The old man was far enough away from her that she could concentrate on eating her breakfast. She ate her fish quickly, without tasting it, and swallowed it down with the scalding tea.
Ellen walked out of the pub into the harsh sunlight. She shaded her eyes with her hand as she looked around the village square. She scanned several decrepit nondescript buildings and compared the cuneiform signs to the markings beside the word archives on the card she had prepared before she had boarded the hydrofoil. One of the buildings possessed a sign with most of the markings in agreement. She walked across the square toward the building with the agreeable sign.
The archive was in the basement of the building. The room was dank and mostly dark with dusty cones of yellow light cutting out the empty reading tables and metal cabinets. Ellen noticed an old woman eyeing her suspiciously from behind an unidentifiable piece of braided yarn stabbed by two long knitting needles. She walked over to the nearest metal cabinet and opened the sliding drawer. She scanned the folders in the drawer, picked up the nearest folder, and riffled through the pages of news clippings. Some clippings were printed in the standard language that she had learned when she was young, but most were written in the local language that was completely incomprehensible to her, except for the few translated words she had prepared for herself before her journey. She glanced at meaningless picture after meaningless picture, clipping after clipping. There was a picture of an old man standing stiffly behind an old woman. There was another picture of a young man standing next to a large fish hung upside-down from a rope and tackle. Still another picture showed a young woman holding a small infant. She closed the drawer and opened another one. She looked through the folders in the same manner. She slid the drawer shut and opened the bottom drawer. No luck. What did she expect?
Ellen went to the next cabinet and opened the first drawer. After finally closing the lower drawer, she moved on to the next cabinet. The old woman never took her eyes off Ellen. Ellen moved on to the next cabinet and the next cabinet after that.
The old woman grumbled something and pointed at the clock on the wall, which Ellen hadn’t noticed before. She shrugged and turned away reluctantly from the cabinets. Ellen climbed the stairs and crossed the threshold of the building into the cooling dusk sea breeze. The sun was low on the purple horizon. She walked toward the harbor where she smelled grilled fish. She bought a piece of fish seared by glowing embers and ash underneath. The young boy took her proffered money, wrapped the fish in the morning newspaper, and handed it to her. She took it over to a bench on the pier, sat down, and munched on the fish while contemplating the setting sun. When she had finished her supper, Ellen walked back to the public house. The pub was beginning to fill up with families and friends, with noise and light. The din barely died when she entered. She walked straight to the stairs and up to her room.
The next morning Ellen woke with the sun in her eyes, washed herself and dressed, and descended to eat breakfast in the pub. This time the old woman she’d paid for the room two nights before brought Ellen her breakfast. She walked back to the kitchen without waiting for Ellen to pay her. The old man watched Ellen from the kitchen window while she ate.
After she finished her breakfast Ellen returned to the archives and the old woman clucking behind her knitting. She went to the next cabinet and opened the top drawer. Time stretched away like melted wax. She had lost count of how many cabinets, drawers, and folders she had gone through.
Then she found it. It was his picture from when he was younger. The news clipping in her hand was printed in the local cuneiform. Ellen brought the clipping over to the old woman to look at, but the old woman pointed at her eyes and shook her head. Ellen photographed the clipping and returned the original to the file, and the file to the drawer.
Ellen left the archive building and walked out onto the square. It was late afternoon. She looked for a young person who might be multilingual. She stopped people near the fountain and asked one after the other whether they spoke Standard. One young man answered yes. Ellen showed him the photographed news clipping on her vidcom and asked him in her pidgeon-Standard whether he also knew the local tongue. He answered something incomprehensible, which she took for affirmation. The young man read the clipping quickly. Ellen asked him how she might find the man in the clipping. The young man said that according to the article, the man in question lived by himself in a cabin on Mount Delfinor.
Where is Mount Delfinor? Ellen asked.
He pointed to the sloping inland hill and cliff overlooking the village.