Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 10
The bed rolls had been splayed around the entrance of the airway, a couple inside. Save Alice, the others had stripped down out of their outer layers, experiencing the ambient heat inside where we were located. The light had become dim, all but the dancing light from the flame in the airway. A few of us, including myself, were finishing the rest of our early dinners, the cold beans clinging to our spoons like glue.
“Anyone got the time?” Mary asked.
“Could be any time.” Harris replied, his eyes transfixed to the ceiling above.
“I’m not even tired.” Joseph added.
Daniels extinguished the lantern and stood up among us, his silhouette barely visible. “It’s time we make a plan of action. There’s no way we could cover everything we hope to explore here inside this creature on the food we have at hand.”
Babir gave his hands a singular clap to grab attention to him. “This digested plant matter we have here is coming from somewhere. If we find the source, we can borrow some to use for ourselves.”
“Correct.” Daniels said. “However, if we do not, we should need to return to the ground so we can avoid starving up here. At first light tomorrow, I’m going to have us split up. Alice, Dr. Richards and I will attempt to map out the rest of the airway, perhaps to the an exit. Sengupta, Sami, Lomeli, you three see if you can’t seek out this source of vegetation. Mary and Chase shall hold the camp here.”
“Yes, Captain.” Babir nodded.
Chase huffed and laid back down his the mat. “Lovely. I’m knackered anyway.”
“You’re a fool, Mr. Dunn,” Mary spoke up, “if ya think we’re jus’ gonna lay around all day. We can have a look around ‘ere.”
I laid back down myself and stared up at the network of veins and flesh above us, just still barely visible. Joseph was beside me, sitting with his legs crossed, massaging his shin. Babir flicked on his battery powered lamp to once again peer at his glass-enclosed sample of slime. I shoved my eyes closed to block out the obnoxious light, and before I knew it, I had fallen off to sleep.
I awoke some time later. My throat was sore, and I could feel the humidity and sweat clinging to my skin, despite having slept without any coverings. There was the faintest bit of light above us. A few of the others already seemed to be up and about. I rubbed my eyes and sat up.
Harris was beside me, tending to Joseph’s leg. He had taken a white cloth bandage to wrap tightly around the bruise. “I’ve wet this down just a bit to help keep it cool, too.” He explained. “If you find another source of clean liquid, you should soak it.”
“Dun worry.” Chase spoke up. I caught sight of him and his wife stretching a wide cloth across a form consisting of four stands, holding bits of wire between. “We can start replenishin’ our waters here real quick like.”
I stood and examined the contraption. Mary stopped by and placed an empty jug beside the lowest edge of the tarp. “Collecting rain?”
“Not too far off, Sami.” Mary said. “Condensation. The Incas did somethin’ like this, called fog catching. Water’ll condense on this as it cools down.”
“Plenty humid ‘ere, ay?” Chase added in.
Harris nodded back to the cook and gave one final tug at the wrapping around Joseph’s leg. “Go get ‘em, big boy.”
After getting some food in my stomach, and tending to my needs, I turned my sight towards the expanse of the air bladder. The captain and the others had already exited out back into the airway. Joseph was fumbling with the laces on his boots, attempting for the third time to properly tie them. After finally securing a proper knot, he arduously returned to his feet and looked in my direction.
“We can go now, Sam.” He said.
I stretched my legs and moved up from my own sleeping mat. Babir was already at the edge of the camp, shining his light out into the vastness. I approached him. “Where shall we look?”
The dark man turned around and blinked at me. “The head of the creature is that way.” He said, pointing roughly to our three o’clock. “I believe whatever is sustaining it must be lower. Somewhere- a place it may see the sun.”
“The sun… for photosynthesis.” I said, looking in the direction he had pointed. “Hardly any here…”
Babir leaned his head side to side. He switched off his light and looked to the ceiling. “Look, there.” He said, jutting a finger skyward. Above was a distinct dark vein interrupting the canopy of pale light. “I’ve noticed it, running a long way. We may follow it to find our way back.”
“I see it.” Joseph said, turning around in a circle.
“Can you keep an eye to it, good Joseph?” Babir asked.
“As far as it goes.” He responded.
Babir smiled and waived an arm for me to follow. Joseph moved up behind me as we set off, the tips of his fingers resting on my back for guidance.
We walked for several minutes through the unchanging scenery. The only change seemed to be the amount of slime upon the ground slowly growing. I glanced back from Babir’s footsteps in the material to look to Joseph, who still had his neck craned upward. It seemed as if the ceiling had started to come in closer, the area beginning to feel claustrophobic.
My eyes strained in the dim light. Babir flashed on the battery-powered torch occasionally to shine it off into the darkness. It sometimes turned back my way, interrupting the careful adaptation my eyes had taken on to the darkness. Little by little, I felt the irritation growing, as if the sky above was brighter.
“Joseph.” I called back to my partner. “Does it feel brighter to you?”
The big man’s pace faltered, and he bumped his feet into my heels. “Only following that vein.”
“It has gotten a bit lighter.” Babir called back. “We’re heading down as well.”
I blinked my eyes and gazed at the ground, both ahead and behind us. There was a faint curvature. A sudden drop of moisture fell from somewhere up high and landed right between the bits of my hair, soaking into my scalp. “What was that!” I huffed, looking up for the probable source and rubbing the liquid from my body.
“What was what?” The dark man asked.
“From humidity. Like Mr. Dunn had mentioned.”
Joseph let out a groan and suddenly stopped. His body turned around in circles, neck seemingly stuck in place. Babir stopped in place and turned back around. “You two…”
“Joseph?” I called for his attention.
“I lost the line.” He groaned again, his feet stomping as he continued to turn, his head moving back and forth in a search pattern.
Babir crouched down and examined more of the material. “We shall be fine.”
“We are lost. It is my fault.”
“You have been dragging your bad leg, Mr. Lomeli. There is a clear trail behind, don’t you see?” Babir reassured him. “Besides, I doubt we have much further.”
I marched up to Babir and examined his surroundings. “How do you figure?”
The dark man fished around in the muck, plucking with the tip of his finger a long and wild pale strand of something. It continued back from where it came, before snapping off. “What is it?”
“A root.” Babir said, a smile creeping across his face. Between his finger was also a section of what looked life a leaf, partially rotted away.
I stood back up and looked back to Joseph. His head was turned down, chin to neck, with his arms crossed over his chest. “Joseph… we’re on to something, it seems.”
The big man shifted slightly, but did not say anything. I sighed and looked to Babir, who was ignoring the two of us, rather continuing off in the same direction. There was a sudden shift under my feet. I felt the soles of my boots slide in the muck. Joseph moved from his pout to catch himself and then scoot to me, offering to catch my hand. The ground seemed to shift at an angle of several degrees. Up ahead, I caught sight of Babir’s silhouette crouching forward.
Mobius seemed to not want to relent whatever path it was on. “Did we do something to make it angry, you think?” I called out.
“I’ve got you, Sam.” Joseph warned.
The blinding light was cast upon the space without warning. Through the ceiling, the rays of sunlight were cast down, catching the dust-like particles in their glow. They were produced by long almond shaped slits running parallel to each other. A breeze blew through the space, washing away the old musty odor for a brief moment. The new scent was decidedly pleasant and fresh, though that possibly could be said of any other scent at the time.
When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I saw it. The first word that came to my mind was lush- a thick covering of wide-leafed plants, growing on the humps and up the walls of the insides of the creature. The biggest of the plants were tall stiff-stalked vines, almost like saplings of a tree, growing out of the ground.
Babir began to scoot forward, aiming at keeping his footing. I slid forward, pushing myself along one foot at a time. Joseph kept just at my back. “It’s like Mobius is sunning itself.”
Babir looked back to answer. “Perhaps, you are not wrong. It knows what it must do.” The dark man had reached the first bit of foliage, still thin, residing in more of the muck. I finally caught up with him and touched the plants.
The leaves were wider and thicker than any fern or lily that I had seen before, like they were swelled up with water and covered in a waxy skin. Their root systems seemed to be buried in the muck, some of which was more decomposed, almost like a loam. The widest of the leaves basked in the sun, and the stems and branches still twitched from the sudden movement. The light continued much deeper, to which there was no end in sight of the vegetation.
“A rain forest inside of a flying creature.” I said, in awe.
“Some of these plants have not been seen in… hundreds of years, or more.”
“And they’re just happily growing here, living off Mobius, the light, then eroding away to be used as fuel.”
“A symbiotic relationship.”
The moisture of the material beneath my feet began to wick into my pants. Joseph had begun to wade around me, while Babir began tugging at the leaves and shining his light against their undersides.
“Do you reckon there are any of these plants that are edible?” I asked, tugging at a leaf of my own.
Babir followed a thin stalk up to where it was growing out of the still thin canopy. Hidden among the leaves was a fat cone-shaped fruit hanging off one of the vines. He gave it a gentle squeeze with his hands, collapsing the flesh around his fingers. From the thin papery skin oozed a slightly viscous clear liquid that gleamed in contact with his skin. He pulled his hand away and brought his tongue to the webbing of his thumb, attempting a taste at the liquid. “Hmm. Slightly sweet. Mostly water-based.”
I shoved myself closer to get a better look at it. “A sort of nectar?”
“Concentrating sugar is a sign of a plant working hard to store energy.”
Babir attempted to pull on the fruit once again. The ground began to rumble gently under our feet, as the incline of the space returned to normal. Above us, the bright light of the sun wavered, followed by the closing of the wide slits. The area returned to a pitch blackness while our eyes adjusted. Joseph’s hand clumsily found my shoulder.
“Be careful, Sam.” He warned.
“The photosynthesis is now over.” Babir attempted a joke. “I would believe there is an organic mechanism that feels the heat of the sun to open up such things.”
“Certain summers I’ve seen Mobius… it always seems to fly higher.” I reminisced.
The first test flight we had made as a team was only four months previous to this day- back in November. The team working under Lorraine had put in many extra hours to get the craft finally ready to fly, weighted down with the equivalent with all of us and our supplies as well. We managed to get it ready just before the first snowfalls in the east.
The craft was loaded and secured on the flatbed car of a train- notably in the depths of night where there would be less people to ogle it and further criticize our project. That following morning, two states away, the sky was a spotless bue and the pre-arranged strip of cleared and compacted ground was ready for the first test flight. I remember Joseph attempting to chase away the crows from the nearby field, complaining that they may try to fly into the spinning propeller attached to the engine.
Lorraine, Samuel and Daniels were to be the only ones on the craft that day for the first flight. It would be the first proper test of more than one aspect: the weight, as mentioned, but also the height it was able to reach and maintain, especially with said weight. This was of particular importance as the creature was already nearby, as determine it would be.
Mobius was never in the same place twice it seemed, its path erratic. Some months, it could be found mentioned in news from London, or Tehran, in tales of sailors coming from South Africa, or in newspapers used as packing material that had come to my father’s company in boxes from California. Old texts recounted in history books told of it visiting various civilizations at different points in their developments, thus its long legacy as well. To those attempting to study it, of course, it was nothing but a frustration of having only a short time to observe it.
Judging by it’s path, at the time, we would only have a short time to both determine if reaching it was possible, and then finally having an attempt do so. Daniels and the pilots went up as we watched and crossed our fingers. The craft became a shining gray speck in the sky before disappearing when it crossed paths with the giant silhouette of the creature. Forty minutes later, the sound of the engine returned to our ears as it carefully aligned itself again to the strip of land from which it had launched. With a bumpy but overall uneventful landing, Lorraine and the captain returned to us, legs somewhat unsteady, to report that they proved that what we hoped to attempt was indeed possible. Some days later, the entirety of our group would head up in the craft for another test flight, and to give us a taste of what we would be in for.
“It is likely self-regulating.” Babir announced, pulling me back from the memories.
I tilted my head to the side. “Self regulating…?”
“A hot air balloon, for example.” The dark man commented. My dark vision was slowly returning, and I was able to catch sight of him demonstrating with his hands in the air. “When it receives heat… for Mobius, it is from the land… it rises and cools off in the thinner air.”
I nodded in understanding. “Perhaps… if we had attempted to take to Mobius in the summer, Lorraine’s flying craft may not have been able to reach it.”
“That would be the pilot’s problem, not my own.” Babir mumbled absentmindedly. “These fruits… must be saving energy from when there was more sunlight.”
“If we consume them, do you think we would interrupt it being able to sustain itself?”
“You ask many questions.” The dark man returned. “Hmm, there is much growth here. We are not significant here.” With a click, the glow returned to his battery-powered torch. It shined off farther into the distance, where the vegetation grew ever thicker and greener. “Let us bring back some. We may need extra help to push on any farther.”