Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 6
Chase had put on bits of dried meat into a simmering pot to soak up some of the water. I peered over into the first of two of our waist-high water barrels, now half full under the lid tilted to the side.
Lorraine had returned and had began to eat first, bits of dried bread and some untouched portions of meat on his metal plate. Mary came by with a crock of steaming beans, the flurry of vapor flying out in all directions. She deposited some on the pilot’s plate, followed by Samuel’s, finally stopping at Alice’s, who frowned as soon as the slop hit her plate.
“You should supply your men with some proper Heinz, Captain.” She said, blinking slowly at Daniels.
The captain returned with a scoff and lifted his eyes to his own plate for Mary to offer up more of the canned legumes upon. I felt a prodding at the side of my arm. It was Joseph trying to pass me a plate of my own.
As I was served my own breakfast, including the unctuous, floppy bits of re-hydrated meat, I heard Alice creating a loud rasping with the edge of her spoon across the surface of the plate. She placed it upon the crate beside Chase, who glanced up at her. “Seconds?”
“No. Thank you.” She added quickly, straightening her back. “I must pack up to seek out our prospects.”
Daniels cleared his throat. “Not alone, like we said.”
“I will be just fine. I’m not going to do any delving just yet.”
“Someone to watch your back.” Daniels repeated, his tone flat.
“Sami, come with me, would you?” Alice turned to me. I sucked on a bit of gristle from the meat, rubbery and tender between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I swallowed it down before responding. ”I wouldn’t be of much use.”
“I will come with you, ma’am.” Joseph stood up, shifting around his half-eaten serving roughly.
“We’ll need your help here, I’m afraid,” Daniels said. “Lomeli.”
Joseph turned his head down. I clinked my spoon down hard enough to get the other’s attention. “I don’t mind, that is.”
“Very well.” Alice said her last words before bending back to grab her own ruck from behind her. I set down the plate at my feet and stood back up. I jogged a few feet to catch up with her.
Alice’s pack jangled as she walked, her steps light and deliberate. Her hair was short, just below her ears, and a pale yellow. She looked something between a waitress at a nice restaurant and a motherly school teacher, being a decent amount older than me, at least from what I could assume.
“We’re headed south-west, off 22 degrees.” She announced, looking down at the compass that had appeared in her hand. “Remember that.”
“Wouldn’t have Mr. Alcott been a more suitable partner?” I asked.
“You can’t remember a simple reading?”
“I am able…”
“Good, then.” She said, nodding without attempting to look back my way. “I just need someone to stay off my back.”
“I wonder if Mobius would say the same?” I attempted to joke.
Alice finally turned back, flashing me the turned-up corner of her mouth. “Well, hopefully not for long.”
Alice Padilla was one of the few members of our crew who had to be actively sought out. Our plan, devised by my father, Lorraine, and some of the men my father employed, only extended as far as landing upon Mobius. Upon Captain Daniel’s arrival, he noted that infiltrating, as he called it, the creature would be possible. “It has to breath from somewhere.”
Information was dug up from various libraries and universities from around the east coast and bits of England and Europe about what features could be made out on the creature. Sketches made from a none too old viewing of the creature displayed what seemed like gills of some sort under its slowly undulating wings. Other depictions showed Mobius with eyes, a tiny mouth, possibly a rear exit, and likely other bits.
It took a little less than a year for Mobius to pass over once again, this time in range of an observatory that my father had bought out. The viewing that took place, very meticulously over the course of several days, confirmed there seemed to be some sort of orifice penetrating into Mobius.
Lorraine was the first to point out that arriving at a place would not be possible by his air craft, with the precise flying and long landing distance that would be required with it. I forget where the suggestion first came from, but an idea was presented that such a thing could be scaled like a mountain.
Photos of Alice Padilla were in the big city newspapers after finally mounting Half Dome way across the country in Yosemite, California. She was the first woman climber to do so, and took the chance to announce that she would be retiring from the sport, leaving the tempting El Capitan formation for someone else. Before she disappeared- “into some cabin at the edge of a pristine lake somewhere,” my father said, he sent a telegraph across the country to attempt to reach her. His message said, ‘we are in need of a member of our team that is not afraid of heights. All expenses will be taken care of.’
Alice arrived a few weeks later by train. She stopped by the workshop’s address on the pretense that she was only stopping in our part of the country for a short amount of time before she took a ship back across to England to visit her siblings after a long time away.
A sketch artist had drawn the section of Mobius as if it were the face of some cliff to climb. It was shown to Alice, who scoffed at it, saying that an amateur could do such a thing. “Are you willing to train others, then?” My father had countered.
It was later told to her that such face was upon a living thing, a couple miles in the air. I remember seeing her think for a bit, eyes dancing around the ground. She then finally sat up and made eye contact with my father. “Are you paying these folks in cash, or simply in experience and fame? I ‘d prefer to accept the former.”
I felt the cold wind run through me once again. It seemed to rush up vertically, attempting to blow the hood off my head. Alice was still a few steps ahead of me when she stopped suddenly. I slowed my pace. Under my feet, I could feel a faint crunching of a hard material. I looked down to see the fragments of clear ice parting out of my way as I crunched over it. “Particularly cold here, isn’t it?” I spoke up.
“We’re at the leading edge.” Alice said, tapping her foot before her. I blinked through the frigid wind and allowed myself to peek ahead. Only a few meters away was the drop off to the ground below. I caught sight of the clouds below us, lazily drifting by, either by their movement, or that of Mobius. I slunk back a step and knelt to the ground.
Alice slid her arms out from underneath the straps of her pack. It jingled with a metallic sound as it hit the surface. She grabbed at the buckle upon the outer flap, flipping it up and revealing the worn bundle of rope, tied in a figure eight, with the rest of the cord wrapped around the center. A second bundle followed, both placed beside Alice’s feet. Finally the woman pulled out a ring of metal instruments and clips, each strung around a metal band.
“I don’t figure a piton will stick into this thing’s hide, here,” She spoke to herself.
“You’re doing down?”
“You’re going to write this down in your journal later? Is it for your father?” She said, dodging eye contact while she unwound certain sections of rope.
“Uh, no, not particularly. More for myself.”
“Hmm,” She hummed, glancing back into her sack. “Good thing I borrowed this stake from Alcott.”
She produced one of the sharp, barbed stakes from the previous day we had used to keep the flying craft grounded. After checking my expression, she responded. “It was an extra one. An odd one out.”
“I suppose you’ll want a spotter?” I sighed.
“I won’t go too far. Yes.” She said, grasping the metal rod tight. “Better you than Mr. Joseph. Didn’t want that oaf getting distracted by a cloud or something.” I frowned and watched as she hammered the metal in with a narrow metal-headed hammer from her sack. She found the end of her cord and wrapped it around the protruding bit. “Take this for now.”
I stood and grabbed at the slack of the cord between the stake and the bundle by her feet. She pulled the final item weighing down her belongings: a harness. She stepped one foot at a time into the straps and adjusted the bands around the thick parts of her thighs over the jumpsuit. She finished by clipping into the system of clips, bringing with her the remaining wound up bit by her side.
“Okay, then, Sami.” She peered at me in a brief moment of intense eye contact before turning back to to the edge just behind her heels. I perked up and reassured my grip on the slacked bit of rope.
“Don’t wrap the rope around your forearm. You’ll lose circulation, or dislocate your arm, or possibly get pulled off.” She handed out warnings like she had given them many times before. “Let the anchor work for you. Your job otherwise is to keep me from being let down too quickly for this first bit.”
“Once I’m ready to come back up, I’ll signal you by whipping it right and left.” She finished and gave me one last look before her foot disappeared back off the edge.
The line went tense in my grip. I began to let off bits of slack from between me and the stake held into the lumpy skin behind me. The cord dragged through my palms. The weight continued to build, as if it were pulling me closer to the ground. My cold knuckles began to strain and turn white as I kept a tight hold on the thin, slick cord. A few minutes passed, with the strain growing in my limbs. I felt a sudden feeling of slack in the rope, causing my stomach to bunch up. I resisted the feeling to immediately start yanking upon it. At the point where it draped over the perilous edge, it had dug in just slightly. I managed to suck in a deep breath when the loose bit of rope jumped back and forth deliberately.
I slowly began reeling it in, avoiding the desire to begin coiling it around myself. The meters of rope came up, each length falling to the ground at my feet causing my heart to skip a beat. I finally allowed a second breath when I saw the top of Alice’s head to poke up. I used the last bits of my strength to pull the rope taught and help her up.
“Quite the… view.” She said breathily. She climbed hand-over-hand until her body had found flat land again. From there, she returned to her knees and unbuckled herself.
“You don’t find it… I don’t know…?”
“I don’t know of what you speak.” She shook her head, blinking at me. “Seems what you all saw is there alright, leading nicely into some sort of orifice.”
“And I anchored a length of guide rope down there, so when we all head down there, you barely have to look down.” She flashed a rare smile.
“Won’t Daniels know you went down, then?” I huffed, shifting my weight over onto my rear on the ground.
“Won’t he be happy to know that we can continue sooner than later?” She returned. “Let’s head back.”