Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 5
I was allowed to take up bunk for the night inside the craft, to which I had mixed feelings. Joseph was allowed to do the same, but the unpadded narrow seats that folded down were hardly enough to rest half of him. He ended up on the floor of the cabin just below me in the space where the cargo had once been strapped down. Lorraine and Samuel were also inside, closer to the cockpit. The others found shelter on the surface below, inside the drafty tents just below us. Despite the less-than-comfortable arrangements, my built up exhaustion from the day took me right to sleep.
I awoke some time very early morning to the rocking of the craft in the wind. Joseph had rolled over away from me, his forearm draped across his face. The windows gleamed with condensation and the orange glow of the first sunlight. I was eager to look at my clock, but I realized that if we had drifted across any time zone, it would be meaningless.
At the front of the craft, one sleeping sack remained, stuffed still with our Pilot, while Samuel’s laid half open, the entrance trailing off to the compartment from where they flew the machine. I tugged at the rugged zipper of my own bedding, getting it open just enough to slip my foot out and onto the cold floor. The air, I found outside, was frigid, eating through my flight suit. Treading lightly past Joseph, I walked up to the door to peer in at Samuel in his seat, half asleep.
I pushed the door just lightly, but lacking the caution to allow it from clacking against the wall. Samuel stirred and jutted his head back my way. “Awake?”
“Yes, uhm…” I stammered. “You are too?”
He clicked his tongue in response before reaching up to the panel of instruments to tap on one of the dials. “Checked our heading.”
“Where are we at?”
“Who knows. More eastward. Maybe the ocean.”
I nodded a quick response, already knowing I was reaching his daily allocation of nice words, especially noting the time of day. “Reassuring.”
Finding my way back out while avoiding stepping atop both Lorraine and Joseph, I walked to the rear of the craft. The sunlight was starting to creep over the strange horizon once again. I stepped down onto the ramp, finding immediately that a cloud had deposited a fine layer of dew atop the metal, turning the incline into a slide. I caught myself safely back on my hands, but not without making a clamor of the metal, and likely an involuntary yelp from myself.
Looking about, I caught Captain Daniel’s face staring up at me from between two lengths of sheet forming the shelter outside. “Eager to start the day?” he said and grinned.
I pushed myself up and off the final stretch of ramp and onto the ground, brushing the condensation from my palms onto my thighs. “I’m awake now, at least.”
Daniels had pushed his way out to meet me, glancing about while stretching his back left and right vigorously. “Whatever floats your boat. Didn’t take you for an early riser, anyways.”
I frowned and looked back to the shelter. “You sleep well?” I said, attempting to clear the heaviness from my voice.
“Yes, well, I’m sure you know me by now.” Daniels shuffled his feet. “Four or five hours will do it. Any more and I feel hazy.” He said, beginning to walk off to the supplies cached under the wing.
I skipped to follow after him as he went for the crates. He stopped beside the wooden-slatted boxes, running his hand across the now damp, darkened exterior. “Should’ve tarped them over.” He mumbled under his breath. “Can’t use them for firewood now.”
“I must ask…” I began. Daniels turned and glared at me for a brief second before forcing his gaze into a softer shape. I sucked in another breath and continued. “Do you really think setting a fire atop this thing won’t make it mad?”
“We’ve been through this kiddo. Not my area of expertise.” He folded his arms across his chest and offered up a shrug. He glanced around a little more before leaning to my side and shouting back towards the shelter. “Mr. Dunn, are you awake yet?!”
“Yessir.” The sloppy accent returned from under the craft. “We should be good to go, sir.”
“Keep it up!” Daniels returned with a loud voice far too close to my own ear. He made quick eye contact with me. “Wake up Lomeli, could you? Its best we start out sooner than later.”
I gave a quick nod in response, turning on my food to head back to the ramp. As I passed the shelter walls, I could see the orange stained feet of the the kerosene stove poking out from beneath the canvas, accompanied by the sound of Mary arguing with her husband.
“You’ll waste all our flint! Get it lit with this new-fangled lighter bit, dear.”
“Ya’ treat me like I’ve ne’re done this before.” Chase returned.
“If we don’t get some coffee goin’ soon, this expedition is as good as over.” The woman said, the patience drying up.
I missed the last bit of conversation as I mounted the still slick ramp up to the cabin. Lorraine had already gotten up, and had predictably grabbed the waste bucket from the corner of the compartment. He sleepily gave me a nod while understandably rushing to relieve himself outside on the far side of the craft.
“Slippery. Careful.” I gave a quick warning as he departed.
After I had Joseph up, we headed down to join the others. A few steaming mugs had already been passed around to those where were awake, while Chase boasted. “Fastest pot o’ coffee, just about.”
Babir crept out of the tent and stood to adjust his suit. “You can thank the altitude for that.” The brown man explained. “The higher up you are, the less energy you need.”
Chase grumpily poured him a cup of the liquid, the tin mug barely able to contain the sloshing from the rough movement. “Well, dun look a gift horse in the mouth.” He finished, passing the hot drink to him.
Babir wrapped his hands around it, and only after a quick blow, he took a long sip. The steam crept up across his face, coating his cheeks and nose with a bright sheen. “Well, then, off to work, then.” He finished, passing the now empty cup back to the cook.
Daniels pointed past me, directing Joseph. “Lomeli, care to help him dig through the crates for his things?”
I looked back to Joseph, the bits of dried sleep still at the corners of his eyes. “I don’t mind helping out.” I offered. “You get your coffee, Joseph.”
“Whatever suits you, Sami.” Daniels said with a shrug before turning his back to the side of the craft to rest.
I jogged up to Babir, who had already taken to one of the slatted covers with the flat side of the prybar retrieved among the gear. The reinforced bits of wood at the edges cracked and splintered as they strained against the lines of nails driven along the edges. When it became freed, he shoved it over the backside and stood on his toes to look more easily inside.
“Not here.” He mumbled. “Buried deeper.” He added with a click of his tongue, fitting in a bit of his strange language.
“Pass some here.” I said cautiously. “I don’t doubt the others will want to go without their things much longer either.
Babir shot a stony-faced look back to me, before hefting one of the cylindrical packs back in my direction. I caught it atop my knees before letting it slide to the ground and carefully tuck it beside another crate.
“We have it.” He declared, rolling a bundle of what looked like tanned animal hide under his arm. He took it to the ground and untied the first bit of binding. He extracted from one of the pouches a beat-up leather bound journal, glancing at the stubby pencil shoved down between the pages.
“Why so early?” I spoke up.
The brown man shoved the booklet back into the pack and returned to his feet. “We can’t be expected to stay up here for long. Deeper we should go soon, but I should want my time up here.”
I nodded in response. “May I… join you, then?”
“Does not matter.” I heard his voice trail off as he began to wander away from our landing spot.
The sky in all directions was no less than ninety percent clear, with a few wispy clouds clinging onto the horizon. As I hurried to catch up with Babir, I noticed my chest rising and falling harder than before as I attempted to suck in enough air. The sky was the palest shade of blue I had yet to see in my life. As I walked, I noticed a pair of faint marks, parallel, leading away from the rear of the craft.
“What are these, Babir?” I called out to him. “Something natural?”
“Oh no, sir.” He shook his head, his dark straight hair being pulled at by the breeze. “Landing wheels.”
I repeated the words in my head, finally catching up to Babir where he had stopped to examine something. “From… us, you mean?”
His head continued to nod. I found a spot beside him, shifting around to avoid casting a shadow at the spot he had chosen to examine. Dug into the skin was a deep divot where the wheel of the flying craft seemed to have first made contact.
“Christ, do you think we hurt it?”
Babir rapped his knuckles on the skin. “No, too thick. But…” He trailed off while he went to his pack once again. This time, while unbinding it, he rolled the entire length open, revealing the instruments and tools and tubes and glass microscope slides tucked inside the pockets. From one of the pouches, he extracted a beat-up fixed blade knife wrapped in a coil of thin handkerchief cloth. “Good enough to sample.” He said indirectly.
Flipping the handle around in his grip, he took the blade to the edge of the gash, beginning to trim away at the rugged skin. The second motion brought the blade deeper, filleting off more. The layers of gray, gnarled flesh made way to lighter ivory color. I bit at my lip and glanced side-to-side to make sure the massive creature would not suddenly react to being vivisected.
Babir glanced up at me. “Like a mosquito bite. Less. Just dead skin, still. Just like with the stakes into the ground, no?”
“Yes.” I said, holding my breath.
The brown man replaced the knife and exchanged it it with a smaller scalpel-shaped blade, taking it to the freshly opened section of flesh. With steady fingers, he cut away a section, about a half inch wide, which he deposited in one of his corked test-tubes. He held the clear yet smudged tube up to his eyes to examine the bit once again. “It shall do for now.”
None of the others knew exactly where Babir had come from. His accent was thick, but his English was more than passable. Some had guessed Nepal, or India, or Pakistan, or some unheard of places like Burma or Cambodia. Whatever his origin, he delivered himself to us one day out of the blue at Lorraine and my father’s shop where the flying craft had just begun to be tested.
He introduced himself as a biologist, one particularly interested in the very same creature that we were headed to. He explained his recently newfound interest in Mobius and how it came about. Somewhere near his home- the Tibetan Plateau more specifically- a dessicated sample of what seemed like scat, or animal droppings, was found. The size of it, however, was larger than any could have fathomed, and additionally, its age seemed to match up with the last sighting of Mobius passing through the area. It was not the only occurrence of such a thing to be found, but it was the freshest find.
After a local herder found it, the news spread around the area until it eventually reached Babir, who quickly traveled into the highlands to seek it out and examine it. According to him, it seemed to be mostly made up of plant matter, some of which didn’t seem to exist anywhere in any known botany books he could find. Among the bits, he also found various unrecognizable seeds, some of which were able to germinate.
One such plant he had brought with him. It was something that looked like a fern, but also seemed to grow by inches in a day. Captain Daniels seemed intrigued enough, but it still took some encouragement from us to get him to consider bringing Babir aboard.
“I shall look around some more.” Babir said while stuffing his pack back closed.
The wind caught up with me. I shifted my jacket and fiddled with the zipper again. I could feel my sweat gathering in my pits, my body begging for bath or something the like. With the gusts of air, I caught the smell of some sort of protein cooking up. I turned back to where the others were. A wispy cloud of smoke was wavering just above the side of the craft. My stomach suddenly jumped with excitement and hunger. “We should eat up, soon. So we can have our strength.” I said, glancing at Babir who had already thrown a prospective eye farther away.
“I shall, follow my nose, as you say when that man has finally prepared food.”