Deeper | The Weight of Air

Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 12

After we all had gotten ample time to catch our breaths and level our heads, Alice opened up to me about what they had explored father down the airway. Beyond the opening, the tunnel continued on at the same mild incline for about another kilometer. At that point, it shifted down more steeply, wider too- too much to continue down normally.

From there, Alice had taken point and pulled out more of her climbing gear. She anchored the ropes at the top of the incline. Harris volunteered to stay behind and belay her and Daniels down. Naturally Alice set off first down the rope, slowly treading against the wall before her. The captain went next, the lamp in his hands. It seems it was cold and drafty, much like before. She said the rope eventually ran out, keeping them from descending farther. Daniels, though, she said, had other ideas. There was a faint light below, that which could have been the way out. With her one remaining bundle of rope, he decided Alice could tie into the side and continue down, saying that the incline was still not entirely that steep.

Alice said she attempted to talk him out of it, but he insisted, saying that he would stay and make sure the connection was secure, and that he would stay put to not put extra weight on it. She anchored a new barbed pin, also tying into the previous line. Down she went, to a point where she could hear the air moving by. The rope continued off down, dangling in what seemed to be open sky, outside.

At that point, she described, was likely when the creature shifted in the sky to catch the sun above. There was a sudden movement, and the rope ran about the tube, banging her into the wall and causing her to lose her grip. The clip jerked her down, allowing her to catch hold before going too far. Alas, she was still farther down than she had wanted to go- several arm lengths dangling away from the the underside of Mobius.

She described the view below as the first time she had considered the reasoning behind someone having a fear of heights. Below was no sign of land, simply splotches of blue and white. The bottom of Mobius was not smooth, as previous observations had told, but rather ridged with gray skin, leaning front to back. The patterns of the skin were also vaguely fingerprint like. Putting her feet to the rope, she had been resigned to inching her way back up to the orifice. It was widest near the bottom, pointing out towards the back of the creature, formed in a way to be also aerodynamic. Nothing else could be said of it, other than the feeling of assurance that being back within reach of it gave her, she said.

She gazed at Daniels as she described climbing back up to the point where he had been resting, flickering lantern still in hand. She was only able to nod when the man had asked her if it did indeed continue on to the underside of the creature. He was apparently happy with the answer, not asking any more, and simply calling up to Harris to begin guiding them up.

After I packed away my writing some time after, I noticed the smell of something burning pungently. There was a faint stack of smoke coming out of the airway, albeit most of it contained inside. I poked my head in to where Chase and Mary were crowded beside the stove, lit with a flickering flame.

“Don’t get yur hopes up, Sami.” Chase grumbled at me.

“Oh, I was just… about what…?”

Mary prodded at the grate over the flame with the long-pronged fork, turning over a blackened piece of something vaguely meat-like. “Like I said, mostly gristle. Can’t be bad if you cut away most o’ the bad stuff, though.”

I felt a shoulder push past me and into the airway. “Smells like you ruined it pretty nice, Mr. Dunn.” Daniels revealed himself.

“Well, it ain’t no piece’a chuck.” The cook shook his head.

“Can’t be worse than when the pouch of seasonings fell in the river two weeks up the Colorado.” Daniels chuckled. “All we had to salt our rations was the sweat from our upper lips, Sami. Will you be… partaking?”

Mary passed the captain a slice of the charred section of meat on one of our metal plates. Along the severed section, there was a bit of pale pink flesh, surrounded by jagged bits of soiled gristle. “No, thank you. I think I’ll suffice with the dried stuff in our rations.”

Daniels shrugged and took a seat beside the Dunns. “Suit yourself.”

I crept back out, the smell of smoke blowing out my nostrils. The light coming through the membrane above us was beginning to die out. I crept around the slick surface back to my bedroll, where my sack was located. While I tore into the fresh vacuum-sealed bag of dried meat, I saw Babir’s light flashing about the edge of the camp.

The next morning I had developed worse of a sore throat, and a cough to accompany it. Opening my heavy, crusted eyes revealed that the morning light had already returned to us. I lifted myself from the bed roll and breathed in more of the noxious air. Despite the smell long being lost to me, I could feel its heaviness. My head, on the contrary, felt as if it were floating right off from my shoulders, with my ears serving as the air balloons.

Barely able to stand, I pushed myself up and towards the opening in the wall.
The camp stove was cold, leaning awkwardly as it failed to find a flat point to inhabit in the tube. The Dunns were asleep as well beside it, their bed rolls packed right next to one another. I took deep breath of the fresh air, but upon exhaling, it caught upon my throat, causing me to begin my hacking. Chase rolled over and shoved his face unto the crux of his arm. “Ey, cough yer lungs up elsewhere.”

I shoved my hand over my mouth and took a second, slower breath. Harris was farther down in the opposite direction. Her perked up as well. “You sick, Sami?” He said sleepily.

“A bit… out of it…” I managed to mutter, after finding that my first words of the day were not eager to exit my throat.

The doctor sat up and shuffled the glasses back onto his face before shaking his head my way. “No, that certainly does not sound good.”

I gave my throat a grumble to clear it. “I’ll be… fine.” I lurched myself back down and sat against the wall sleepily, giving my eyes another rub.
Out of the corner of my vision, I saw Daniels lean in though the hole in the wall. “Your father wouldn’t want anything happening to you. You know that, Sami. Richards, give him a once over, would’ya?”

Harris had already hefted his pack between his legs, the clasp open and hands inside, searching for something. “Already on it.” He squinted his eyes and pushed his glasses farther up his nose. From a woven cloth pouch, he unraveled a bundle of wooden tongue depressors. “Let’s get into the light, shall we?”

I sighed and forced my way to my feet. Back outside, I hunched down on my behind and peered up into the pale glare. Harris pushed himself before me, pulling my chin upward further. “Say aww.” He directed. His eyes studied my face as he drew the simple instrument in line with my throat. I felt it shoved against my tongue, the taste dull and slightly bitter. “A little bit inflamed, I see.”

This was hardly the first time that Dr. Richards had looked me over. It was sometime after I had been working along with the others, particularly inside of the warehouse where the flying craft was being tested. At that point, the final kinks of the mechanical systems were being worked out, and any little possible improvement they could think of was being tested. The air in that place was always thick with the smell of the petroleum fuel. Those days while the engine was being ran, I would always come home with a similar sore throat or runny nose.

Richards, at the time, was giving each of our members a physical to assure my father that none of us would topple over and die suddenly during the mission. Everyone seemed in good health- including Daniels, who was only described as having terminal lack of sleep. That is, until Richards caught me after one of my stints in the warehouse. As he described it, my airways ‘detested’ any sort of pollution, a fact which I had never discovered living upon the family estate a good measure away from the center of the city. I knew that I was never the most sturdy of children, or most athletic, but Richards assured me that I would still be fine to come along. Sometimes I wonder if it was only my father pushing him to report such a conclusion.

I withdrew my face from the light grasp of Richard’s fingers. I swallowed hard and fought against the pain in my throat. He blinked at me a few times before breaking the depressor in two, discarding it to the side. “It isn’t anything dire, you know.”

“I’ll be just fine.” I sighed, rubbing the snot from my nose against my sleeve.

“That plant you found yesterday…” The doctor said absentmindedly.

“What about it?”

“Joseph said it was sweet, was it not?”

“Sure, plenty.” I nodded.

“Seems like it could be some sort of nectar. If you take some of it orally, it would coat the inside of your throat, protect it.” He smirked and crouched down on his knees before me. “Even far back as ancient Egypt, they knew about the magic of honey and the like.”

“I’ll try it then.” I said, wanting Richards to leave me alone.

Some minutes later, Chase and Mary had come to. Their first action of the day was to start up the stove once again and take the last bit of water to the heat. Joseph and Babir went off to the tarp they had set up the day previous to check the water it had hopefully collected. They came back eventually with a single two gallon jug full, just enough for one more day.

Richards came forward as the first cups of coffee were being strained from the slurry of grounds. He brought with him the strange fruits from the day previous, one in each hand. “If you want to extend the water supply a bit, cook these down. They’ll sweat some. Maybe add some sweetness to your coffee too.”

Chase eyed his suspiciously. “If yer’ tellin’ me how ta’ cook for my own men…”

“Just do it, dear.” Mary tugged at his shoulder. “They’ve been out this whole time, while we’ve been lounging here.”

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