Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 9
Babir tossed down his pack and lifted his hand to his forehead, scanning the dark exterior bathed in the palest of glows. “An air bladder.” He said, deadpan.
My eyes further adjusted to the surroundings. We were up against a wall, in which was the opening leading back out into the long airway from which we had entered. The domed ceiling reached up perhaps 30 feet or more, and the room continued into darkness as far as I could see. The floor was not completely flat, rather with humps of grey-brown flesh, like muscles, and what could possibly be connective tissue or bones strung intermittently among the other material.
Daniels cleared his throat. “A what?
“Like he said- its a gas lighter than air.” Harris added.
“Yes.” Babir replied. “Some of my colleagues had thought…” he trailed off, the thoughts failing to completely exit his mouth.
Chase huffed and leaned back towards the wall behind him, propping up the weight of the stove off his shoulder. “Spit it out, would ye?” He said. There was a slight gleam of sweat on his brow. “Capn’, are thinkin’ this may be a good place ta stop? I still have yet ta relieve myself, y’know.”
“Do what you need to do.” The captain sighed. “Won’t be able to smell you over the rest of this stench anyway. Sengupta, care to explain what this could do for us?”
Chase dropped the pack and retrieved the pail from his wife, before running off back into the airway we had come from. Babir shuffled his feet and looked about. “There have been… ideas as to how it stays aloft, Mobius. The air is thin at this altitude, but something lighter… methane, could help keep it up.”
“So you’re saying we’re in it’s own personal fart balloon?” Daniels said, his thumb and forefinger stroking either side of his nose. Joseph stifled a chuckle, while Alice played with the collar of her suit, held up to her mouth.
Babir shook his head and crouched to the ground again, stringing along bits of the material off the ground with his fingers. He brought it up to his nose, taking a whiff of it, before shoving it back our direction. “Decomposing- plant matter.”
Chase huffed back up behind us, nudging the bucket off to the side. “That’s the source o’ this awful smelling gas, is it?”
“I… believe so.” Babir nodded. “In an… anoxic environment, the bacterium that do this work the best.”
“In plain English?” Daniels spoke up.
“They like low-oxygen environments.”
“There is obviously oxygen here.” The captain rebutted. “We are still alive and breathing.”
Babir bit at his lip and crouched back down to the ground. “I am aware…”
“How much longer must we stay here, Captain?” Mary grabbed at his shoulder, her face twisted up.
Daniels rolled his eyes and dropped the pack from his back, resting it upon the wall.
“Seems like we have a mystery to solve first. This is what we’re here for, isn’t it? To discover the secrets of this thing?”
“We’re camping here?” Joseph tilted his head to the side.
“Here?” Alice said, her foot stomping with a reverberating slap. “Why here? This smell is going to cling to me for weeks after we’re gone. Doctor Richards, this can’t be good for our health to breath in, can it?”
“There isn’t much down here, just the smell- likely.” Richards shrugged. “We would already be succumbing to it if it were so dense. It naturally rises upward. We’re getting a steady supply of proper oxygen from outside, too.”
“Likely?” Mary protested, slapping the back of her hands in the doc’s face. “You don’t seem too certain for the person looking o’r our well-bein’.”
“Ladies.” Daniels huffed. He had been scraping away bits of the slimy material to make a clean place for rest. “The faster we allow our… investigation to work out, the faster, perhaps, we can get out of here. You are more than able to seek out another part of this beast more pleasant to take up shelter in. Sami, the compass does work down here, does it not?”
I shuffled with my pack and shoved it to the ground, opening the front-most pocket. Inside was the metal and glass compass that Samuel had left with us. The needle wavered a fair bit before finding north. “Uhh, seems to be. Mostly steady.”
“Good enough.” Daniels nodded and patted me with a heavy hand on my shoulder. “Just keep an eye on it to make sure our transportation hasn’t chosen a different heading.”
Chase, Alice, and Mary had taken to the airway in order to breath better and to set up the stove in a safe spot. Harris and I began to sweep away more of the muck for the captain and Joseph to roll out the sleeping sacks. It wasn’t long before I was ready to strip down out of my insulated suit, and down to the trim khaki underneath.
I could see the hints of sunlight still shining through the cover ahead, albeit predictably starting to fade little by little. Babir had planted himself at the edge of our group. He had taken a sample of the slime material and pasted it against a glass slide, sandwiching it with another on top. He had produced a handheld lamp, and was shining the orange bulb up through it.
“That’s one of my father’s lights, isn’t it?” I approached, kneeling beside him. “What a wonder, electricity held in such a little metal cylinder.”
“Quite useful.” He mumbled. The sample shown dark green atop the light, and was made up of tiny oval shaped bits. “It is some sort of organic life.”
I scuffed up bits of the sticky, fibrous material with the toe of my boot. “You said that your findings of its… droppings… they contained plant matter.”
“Correct.” Babir nodded. “But… different than here.”
“Quite…” I ran the tip of my finger through the gooey material. “I imagined… something more lush.”
“Such a thing may still exist.” The brown man nodded slowly. “This is akin to, hum, regurgitation you may say. The methane it generates is used to keep it afloat in the air.”
“You said, though, that it requires a low oxygen environment?”
“You are a good listener.” Babir took the glass slides with the material still inside and wrapped it in a scrap of cloth to stow in his bundle of equipment. “The breach into the airway may have been a way to release pressure. Though… for some reason, it may have not been enough.”
“Thus the scar tissue. Like… it was torn at some point?”
He nodded back at me. In his hand, he took the light source and shined it about. As he stood, the light wavered back to the deep recesses of the area. I followed him up, scanning the locations at which the light found brief purchase. “Mobius does not depend on anything else for survival. Never landing, never interacting with the outside world. A microcosm, reflecting an ecosystem in itself.”
I noticed the light source coming through from the exterior was beginning to dim little by little. My nose had slowly become deaf to the thick odor of methane, and in that, I felt like I could detect the odor of some sort of food. My stomach rumbled in hunger for the first time since the night before, when we had first pulled out the cooking supplies.
“I hope that sound was you, and not the creature.” Babir said, his voice attempting to supply supple sarcasm.
“Perhaps it is time to eat.” I stood back up.
The supplies had been piled up near the wall neatly, the organic material mostly cleared away. The thin mats had been unrolled and placed haphazardly. Alice was sitting upon one sideways, her back leaning against the wall behind her.
Mary approached her, a round tin in her hands with the handle of a utensil sticking out. “Some for you, m’dear.”
Alice took the food in her hands an retrieved the spoon. “Lovely.” She muttered.
“Cold, I take it?” I spoke up.
“Can’t start up the stove in these conditions, Sami.” Mary returned.
I nodded and looked around. “Is Joseph about?”
Mary jutted her head back to the airway. “In dere with the cap’n and the doc.”
I crouched down and stepped into the cold tunnel. Chase was nearby, the stove still packed beside him, but with several opened cans of beans before him. “Now yur hungry, huh?” He said, catching my gaze.
“I’ll get some in a bit.” I said, catching sight of the others gathered around the light source of the lamp. “Get everyone else fed, first.”
Harris was knelt next to Joseph, the big man’s pant leg wrung up to his knee. “Gotten worse, it looks like.” The doctor said, peering at the bruised flesh. “You might have shin splints too.”
Daniels grumbled and sighed under his breath. “How long is he gonna’ be like this?”
“Hard to say, in these conditions.”
Joseph shoved himself off the wall and yanked down his pant leg. “I can work through it.”
“Not if you want it to heal.” Harris pushed him back.
“Chase.” Daniels called out. “How many more days of food we got?”
The cook fumbled with the last few bits of food stuck to the inside of one of his cans. “Tree days, up ta five if we stretch it. Though… we are surrounded by meat, ya know?”
“Don’t even say such a thing.” Harris snapped.
I felt at the slick texture of the wall behind me. I looked back to the hole in the wall, into the other chamber. “Babir says there is a source of more plant life likely, whatever it may be that Mobius feeds off of.”
“I’m aware.” Daniels shrugged. “Let’s have a chat with everyone, won’t we?”