Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 17
Daniels leaned in beside Babir, shoving his hand out into the cold air outside. “The air craft took off four days ago… Tuesday… this coming day should be…”
“Saturday.” I spoke up.”
“Thank you, Sami.” The captain replied, pulling his hand back in and shoving it under his arm. “They won’t be back in the air until Monday… to see if they can come across us again.”
Chase groaned and sat up painfully. “Gonna’ be a long three days.”
Daniels paced around a bit, gazing at us in the dim light, as well as the surroundings.
“The flare gun-” He announced suddenly, a tension in his voice.
“Who had it?” Mary called out. “Chase?”
“Had nothin’ but food.”
“I know I should have-” Daniels grumbled under his breath. He shuffled his feet about, knocking the toes of his boots into the various packs lying about. “Ain’t anyone seen it?”
“Mr. Daniels-” Joseph perked up. “Is it in this box?” The big man asked, rattling around a red leather-covered package with a handle.
The captain snatched it up, shaking the contents. “Good man,” He praised. “You’re at least good for something.”
I sidled up to Daniels, just barely able to see him undo the buckles holding it closed. “It didn’t get soaked?”
“Don’t you worry yourself, Sami.” The captain shook his head. “The cartridge is water proof. The primer will be just fine too, once it takes some time to dry. As long as the gun doesn’t rust out on us.”
I let my shoulders relax, letting out a sigh. Daniels clasped the box closed and shoved it under his arm. “Don’t anyone let me leave this anywhere. This is our ticket home, to signal Lorraine where we are.”
Alice leaned against crevice leading outside, her eyes trained to the watery horizon shining with the last remains of the half moon’s glow. “That gives us enough time to find a more suitable place to get out of here.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Padilla.” Daniels stomped. “I know you’re probably eager to rid yourself of us, but the craft ain’t going to come any earlier, the paycheck neither.” He leaned once again to the sky, taking in slow breaths through his nose. “If only Alcott were still here to tell us where we might be.”
“Captain…” Babir played with his light, flicking it off. He pocket it and pushed himself off the ground. “May I have a word?”
“About what?” Daniels huffed, holding his hands to the back of his head. “Is it something that the rest of us can hear?”
Babir’s face twisted up. He glanced at me with studious eyes before looking back to the captain. “That depends.”
“Depends on what, Sengupta?”
“How this knowledge may effect people of the world.”
Daniels bit at his lip, looking between Babir and myself. “I see. Sami, what does your father plan to pass on? I’ve seen you with your notebook, always taking any chance to write down something.”
I jumped, remembering the materials in my bag. I crouched down and threw it open. The side pocket, held shut with a single button was still damp. Inside, I could feel the wavy, wrinkled pages of my writings beside the stubby pencil and sharpener. I carefully pried it out of the bag, flipping through the pages. Some were stuck together, but despite the water damage, the lead still clung legibly where I had deposited it.
“All still there, I hope?” Daniels asked sarcastically.
I waived the notebook back and forth, allowing it to catch the air. “I have a duty to pass on the things we learn here…”
“Well, Sengupta?” The captain sighed, shrugging my direction. “You heard the boy.”
Babir leaned against the back wall, his arms crossed over his midsection. “Take this as you will… but this creature is not in proper health.”
Richards cleared his throat. “I had the same suspicion.”
Daniels looked back at the doctor, his head nodding in rough agreement. “How do you figure?”
“You see-” Babir began, shaking his chin back at the path we had come from. “Such a… cesspit should not exist inside a healthy creature. We have seen decay and malady, invasive organisms.”
“The fungi.” Richards added.
“I see.” Daniels said with another nod. “I feel I’ve asked this before- we know very little of this creature to begin with. How can we be sure this is out of the ordinary?”
“We can not say at this moment for certain.” Babir concluded.
“Well, then.” Daniels sighed and slumped down to take a seat, the flare box moving to his lap. “I see how you think this could rock the boat. You have a few more days to determine if this is, in fact, the truth or not.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Babir finished. He slumped his shoulders and allowed himself to slide down the wall to a sitting position.
I looked back into the darkness down the path. “You don’t intend to… head back that way, Babir?”
The dark man pursed hips lips and shook his head. “I would have like to… gather a sample of that fungi, but… no. There may be more to explore here.”
Mary was just beside me, her husband’s head on her lap. “Where is… here?” She asked.
Richards shifted around, looking into the dark expanses before us. “The ear, or something similar, I would assume.”
“Correct.” Babir nodded.
“The thing’s ear?” Chase shuffled, grumbling. “What does it need ta’ hear?”
“The ear is for more than just hearing.” The doctor said, leaning forward. “The inner ear is used for balance- to orientate yourself. I would believe that putrid liquid we came from… was part of the thing’s navigational system.”
“I don’t understand a bit.” Mary huffed. “But if ya’ find out something unique, I’ll be happy to say I helped out.”
I slumped back down, my head to my knees. The exhaustion had began to catch up with me once again. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the first signs of light being cast across the surface of the water.
I was shaken back to my senses, finding myself fallen against the ground from Mobius shifting about. The gear that was beside me had slid as well, tumbling into my thigh.
“Hold on tight, Sami.” Mary spoke up. She was crouched against the outside wall, balancing her grip along either side of the gap to the outside.
I pushed myself up the best I could, bracing my feet against the floor ahead of me. Across the ground, the packs had been opened up, with all of their contents neatly spread out in neat blocks to gather up the now bright sun. Daniels, Richards and Babir were still in the shadow, crouched in spots of their own to hold position.
“Babir-” I caught the dark man’s gaze.
“It is trying to sun itself again, I believe.” He answered.
I finally regained most of my balance and footing. “How long have I been out?”
Richards crouched his head down and looked out at the sunlight. “A couple of hours?”
“Ye looked too peaceful, m’boy.” Chase commented. He was sprawled out against the wall, with Joseph sitting beside him to hold him in place. “Not like we had a place to go quick.”
The light shirt on my back had more than soaked up enough sunlight to dry out the rest of the way, and furthermore, the rays were beginning to feel uncomfortably warm on my neck. I pushed myself back into the shadow beside the other three.
“We were talking, Sami-” Daniels turned to me. “There is still more to see, it looks like.”
Babir stood carefully, pushing himself off the inclined wall. His finger traveled upward, to a deeper part of the otherwise narrow area. “It may be the creature’s central nervous system.”
My eyes adjusted to the dim light. The peculiar chamber indeed continued deeper into darkness. An arched structure inside appeared differently than the surrounding material, a pale ivory color, stained with dark crevices and rough etchings. Seemingly stretched from it was a tight, fibrous pattern of more flesh, connected to the walls at the other side of the structure.
“Where it’s brain may be.” Richards called me back.
“Is that… some sort of bone?” I pondered aloud, looking between Babir and the Doctor.
“Always the observant one.” Daniels spoke up first. “Richards says they may be like the ones of our ear.”
“Vastly unlike our own, though.” The doctor submitted. “Primitive, I would call it.”
“Farther, deeper…” Babir said, his fingers still pointing and bouncing. “We can see what makes it tick, as you say.”
The ground shifted one again. I kept my balance, my arms swinging at my sides. Joseph relaxed, allowing Chase to roll back down. Alice was still resting by the exterior wall.
“Sami-” Daniels spoke up. “Now that you’re awake, you can join us if you think you’re up to it.”
I nodded my head, but Joseph spoke up before I could say anything. “Sam, I go where you go.”
“Hold on, big guy.” The captain held his hand to the air. “It might get a little tight if you head in with us. You can help out Chase and Mary get the supplies all taken back in.”
I looked to Joseph’s down-turned eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine,” I said, looking then to the captain in agreement.
Daniels gave me a assured smile before addressing the others. “Mary, prepare our things to be ready once we get back. Padilla, see if you can’t think of a way we may be able to get out of here.”
Babir was already at the edge of the chamber, shining his light deeper. I hiked up to him with the captain not far behind me. The walls and the ground beneath my boots was smooth, with an almost greasy substance making it slick. The light from Babir’s electronic torch flickered and shined off the surfaces.
“Your lead, Sengupta.” Daniels said, his feet tapping. Richards shifted to the side, looking onward.
The brown man nodded and pushed onward. The room with the bony structure was just in our reach. Babir took a wide path around the tense strands, stepping among the uneven bits of the ground. “Quite interesting. I wonder what it has heard with these ears for all these centuries.”
“Human nonsense, likely.” Daniels sighed. “No doubt, tired of it, too.”
“A cumbersome structure, rigid too.” Richards hummed. “Our voices are likely so comparatively small, it may not even sense a thing, despite being so close.”
I kept a close eye to Babir’s back. Ahead of him, the path was obscured by wrinkled, fleshy obstructions. The dark man gently touched his hand to it. It sat still at his touch, even with more pressure.
“Strange.” Babir mumbled.
“What is it?” I spoke up.
“It is not responsive.”
Daniels pushed beside me roughly. “Should it be? What does that mean?”
Babir turned back, his eyes studying the surroundings with mixed interest. “Such a delicate part of the creature. It should have some sort of reaction, even a reflexive one.”
“Your theory has some more basis, then, I assume?” Daniels huffed.
“Perhaps. Deeper, we must go.” Babir nodded, turning his attention back forward. “I detest having to do such a thing, but…” He shoved the end of the torch between his teeth before turning his hands to his pack. From the outermost pocket, he withdrew the same long knife I had seen several times previous. With his free hand, he stroked the wall with gentle movements. He mumbled before digging the knife into the membrane.
The bits of tissue drooped as they were cut away. The blade traveled just enough to create a gap wide enough for us to step through. The light dropped down again as the dark man replaced the blade into his pack. He then took the torch back from the grasps of his mouth and shined it ahead. He let out a long sigh from his nose, frozen in place.
I attempted to lean my head around his shoulder to get a better look. “What do you see?”
Babir let out a few words in his own language before stepping forth. I followed after, drawing my leg up and over the flap. My boot immediately met with something sticky and fibrous. The light held in one spot upon the wall. Behind me, I felt Daniels bump into me, pushing me slightly forward, as he stepped inside.
“So, this is what you feared?” Daniels spoke up. I looked to the light beam that hovered around a tiny mushroom hanging to the wall, which was obstructed by more of the white webbing of mycelium.
“It has come this far.” Babir sighed.
My nostrils caught a strange bitter odor that made my eyes water. “What… does this mean for it?”
“Come.” Babir uttered the single word before taking us forward with a slow march.
Richards let out a low, pensive groan. “For all that I know… this is indeed unsettling.”
The ground and walls were saturated with the mycelium. Beneath the layers of ghastly covering, the flesh was wrinkled and wrought with wide twisted veins and arteries. The tunnel was cramped, and I soon found myself crouching to avoid having the fungi attach itself to my hair.
The light was barely visible at our feet, and I noticed the beam being hardly as bright as it once was. Babir smacked at the metal housing, causing it to flicker, but not improve the strength of the glow. With one loud crack, the light finally extinguished all together.
“That’s that, is it?” Daniels sneered.
“Can’t be much farther…” Babir said indistinctly. The slow blinking of my eyes allowed them to find traces of a glow penetrating the darkness past the leader. “Seems as if it won’t be necessary…”
The same glow we had seen before deeper inside the creature, slightly greenish and smoky, returned. The light crept down at us from farther down the path, as if it were traveling along the intertwining fibers of fungal growth. Babir was the first to reach the point at which he was able to return upright upon his feet.
The bitter odor still stung at my nose, and my head felt light. I had to blink hard several times to convince myself that the scene we had come upon was real. “It’s… beautiful.”
Bathed in the greenish glow was a miniature forest of mushrooms of various sizes, some as tall as Richards or Joseph. They had flesh that resembled tattered leather, surrounded at the base of the caps with deep ridges that seemed to respire with the tiniest of particles. The ceiling and walls were tall and domed, covered in more of the mycelium, and the ground was wrinkled and bound with various thick root-like structures.
Before I could wander forward in awe, Richards put his arm out in front of my chest. “Do not tread there.”
“Damn.” Daniels hummed.
Babir crouched down, his knife out once again. “It is what I feared.” He stabbed at the base of one of the closer mushrooms. His knife dug into the flesh, coming across more of the soft fungal tissue.
I nudged the ground with the tip of my boot. “Is this…?”
“It’s brain.” Babir nodded slowly, standing.