Bridled | Pilfer

Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 18

“What does this mean?” Daniels finally cracked the silence.

Babir turned his back to the chamber and took in a slow, deep breath. “There are other cases of such a thing down on the surface. A fungi that invades its host and overrides its natural instincts.”

Richards tugged at the captain’s shoulder. “I believe we should turn back.”
Daniels rubbed at his chin, looking between the chamber and the doctor. “Mushroom spores or some nonsense?”

“Yes, sir.” Richards nodded, glancing to Babir who gave a nod to affirm.

Daniels sighed and began to begin the march back. His pace was slow and deliberate, his steps placed in the same markings we had made on the way in. “Is this mushroom… thing doing something to Mobius?”

Babir nodded his head. “It had already done so, I am afraid.” He clicked his tongue. “It has taken up residence, and it will go nowhere. A fungi like this is a single, expansive organism.”

“And now…” Daniels grumbled, rolling his head. “It has some sort of control over it?”
“More or less.” Babir said. “It is hard to say… the fungi we know of takes over small creatures… ants, insects. Mobius is big, complex.”

Richards pushed up behind me. The glow from behind was slowly fading in the distance. “It is also a primitive creature.”

“This could have been festering for…” Babir paused. “Years, decades maybe. Who knows how or when it picked up the spores.”

Daniels glanced back at the rest of us. “And this is why you feared news getting out. That Mobius, this creature is not existing for itself any longer. Just some brainless slave to an even simpler organism.”

The silence went on for several long moments before Babir broke it. “Yes.”

My boots trudged out of the final bit of organic webbing as we found our way back to the separate chamber. Daniels stopped and turned back to us, blocking the path. “Well. There are various ways to present this, twist it, or even trim it down, so that the public may consume it. Isn’t that right, Sami?”

I caught the captain’s piercing eyes before jutting my gaze to the floor. “Yes…, sir.” Just before my eyes met with my boots, I saw one of the others just outside, obscured by Daniel’s position.

“Mrs. Dunn.” Babir called out, attempting to shift his weight side to side to peer out past the captain. “What are you doing out there, Mrs. Dunn?”

“Do not pay it any attention.” Daniels warned, his hand further to the wall, blocking the path.

“You returned quickly, Wess.” The woman called out. I caught sight of Joseph also near her, his hands at work.

“We have some unique news of our own.” Daniels called out over his shoulder.
Babir squeezed through under the captain’s arm. Daniels attempted to grab at him, without any success. “Sengupta, because of circumstances, I assume you won’t object to this.

Daniels drifted out backward, allowing Richards and myself to finally exit. Mary was pointing to Joseph, who was working at the crux of the bone structure, clumsily drawing a long knife into the hard material of the organic structure.

“Joseph?” I called out to him. He jumped in fright, stumbling backwards and leaving the knife buried in the bone.

“Sam, welcome back. Miss Mary said it would be alright…”

“Captain!” Babir stomped back up, jutting his finger to the work being done. “Whatever you say, you cannot justify this.”

“What is going on, Babir?” I looked between the two. “Daniels?”

“He is poaching, Sami.” Babir glared at me.

“Hah!” Daniels patted himself on the chest. “It’s only a bit.”

Babir grabbed at the front of the captain’s shirt before being pushed off. “You had already planned this to happen before we even knew what we were dealing with!” The dark man seethed.

Daniels snorted again. “Doctor, this little bit won’t hurt a thing, healthy or not, right?” He turned back to Richards.

“I am not in a position to respond to something like that.” Richards crossed his arms. “Ask the biologist.”

Daniels huffed and rolled his eyes before making his way to Mary, who presented him with a few bits of bone that had already been flayed away. He held it in front of his face, examining the fibrous material. “There are people who would pay big money for something like this. We have buyers already lined up. People who are gonna be able to pass off exotic material like this, selling it to brainless rich folk who believe it has the ability to cure whatever they want to come up with. That, or just pass it off as a good luck charm. People from your part of the world have been doing black market trade like that for centuries now, haven’t you?”

“You know nothing of my people.” Babir huffed, marching off down towards the exterior, his footsteps heavy.

I marched towards Joseph, avoiding eye contact with the others. I reached up to his arm, pulling him away slowly. “I was jus’ doing what they asked of me, Sam.” He pleaded.

I began to guide him away, taking the machete from his hand and tossing it to the ground. “Just leave it.”

I glanced back to see Daniels shifting back and forth. It seemed as if he were deciding whether to go after us, or leave us be. His gaze caught my own just before he bent down to retrieve the long blade. “Suit yourself. We’ll be long gone before Sir Rees has any words for us.”

Chase glanced up at us as we returned to the open crevice, still looking out at the blue sheen of the sea below. He had laid out the remaining foil packets of food at his knees, as well as the empty jug of water. “Ye would have a lot more to learn if ye wasn’t afraid to take the next… logical step.”

“And you all could have a plenty to learn of respect.” Babir said, slumping down at the wall, his face turned sternly outside.

Richards stood before the cook, his hands at his hips. “I suppose you’re feeling better now, Mr. Dunn.” He asked, as if out of formality. “Are you trying to determine how much food you want to allow us should we continue not to cooperate?”

“I’m no monster.” Chase grumbled. “Nether is the cap’n. If yer hungry, grab what you want.”

“And what…” I turned my eyes to the empty water reservoir. “Do you want to do about our drinking water?”

Chase shoved his head in the direction of the exterior. “I think the missy has an answer.”

I looked about, noticing Alice had gone missing. Just at the crux of the opening, where the crevice ended, there was a rope danging outside. The spot was fortunately free of the stiff bristles normally guarding the edge. I crawled to the spot and shoved my upper section out, turning over on my back to follow the rope up. I saw a set of petite boots feet just in time to dodge out of the way, back inside.

“Out of the way, Sami.” She called out over the sound of the wind passing by. Her feet met with the edge, guiding her legs in little by little. She finally caught at the top edge, enough to swing her head under.

“You made it all the way up there?” I glanced back up and out past her.

Alice frowned, cracking and rubbing at her bare knuckles. I noticed for the first time the cracked skin and thick, cloudy calluses on her fingertips. Her nails were stubby and uneven. “Not particularly easily.” She sighed.

Chase huffed loudly as he returned to his feet. Richards eyed him suspiciously. “You’re not planning on heading up there, are you?”

“Like I said,” The cook groaned, grabbing up his stiff pack at his feet. “We have’te collect some water b’for anything else. Not gonna survive three days high and dry like this.”

“The fog catcher again?” I noticed the stiff riggings weighting down the canvas.

“Good eye.” Chase shifted uncomfortably, holding at his back. “Care to join me?”

“You believe you’re fit enough…” Richards interrupted. “…to head up there hefting all that?”

“Perfectly.” Chase smirked.

Alice leaned back against the wall, studying her fingertips. “The line is secure. As long as you bring one of those chutes, just to be safe.”

I glanced about, looking for the pale, lumpy bag that had inhabited my back for some time, still unused. They were all stacked in a pile to gather sun. I rifled through them, finding the one with my initials embroidered on it, the one already cinched to fit my shoulders with little room to budge. “I’m coming too.”

“Suits me.” Chase pulled the pile apart beside me, finding the one belonging to him at the bottom, the straps slashed from before. He then tossed it to the side, grabbing the one that belonged to his wife. “Good as.” He muttered to himself.

I slung the pack over my back. The rear panel was still moist with water, and clasping down the front buckle pulled it close to my shirt. Alice tossed a rope harness at me, my reflexes reacting just quick enough to keep it from smacking into my chest.

“You’re on point, today, Sami.” She smiled at me.

I ignored her words and finished suiting up quietly. Chase got his own next.

“Miss Alice.” Joseph stood up, approaching her. “I can join them, can’t I?”

I sighed. “Joseph, you don’t need to-”

“I suppose.” Alice talked over me. “Just head up after they’re up so we don’t have much strain to deal with.”

I caught sight of Daniels and Mary heading down from deeper inside the chamber, a macabre haul of ivory-like material resting in the captain’s arms. “Good initiative, Mr. Dunn, Sami.”

I ignored Daniels’ praise, simply picking up my pack of gear and marching towards the crevice. Chase took his own gear up once again. Just as I was about to lean out to attempt to judge the distance up and out, I felt a strong hand pull at my shirttails.

“Now, hold on there, Sami.” Daniels reeled me in. “You won’t be needing all the extra weight.”

His grip attempted to slip the strap of my bag back over my neck and shoulder. “What does it matter to you?” I tugged back with enough force for him to take notice.

“Like I said, I don’t need you up there wasting time writing down your offhand comments about what you think has been taking place up here.”

“There will be no time wasted, I’m sure of it.” I adjusted my grip, digging my fingers into the material.

Daniels grit his teeth and leaned down into my face. His stubble was as long as ever, dotted with streaks of gray and bits of muck left over. His breath smelled rancid, and his hair stuck to his brow and temples with a shine of sweat. “Just hand me the bag.” He seethed. “It would be on my conscious- out of respect for your father- should anything happen to you.”

“It is my personal belongings, and-”

My words were interrupted by the captain’s hand latching onto my face, fingers entrapping my jaw. “Listen here-.”

“Let go of him!” Joseph bellowed. I managed to see out of the corner of my eye the big man wrapping his hands around Daniel’s waist, picking him up and shoving him towards the crevice. As Daniels let go to regain balance for himself, I felt myself slipping backward. My hand found the dangling rope outside just in time.

“Let go of him!” I heard someone calling to get Joseph off. Daniels met with the exterior, his hands flailing for anything to balance himself on.

“Sami, hold on!” Alice stuffed her body out a nearby slit, her arm still a decent distance away from my grip. Joseph continued to flail, his fists pounding up Daniels’ back and flailing about. The captain eventually found his grip to the front of my shirt.

“Don’t you dare let go.” The spit flew from his clenched teeth. My grip was tense, my knuckles white, but the cold wind was beginning to whittle away at my strength. I felt a sudden shift in the creature beneath us, this time turning us down toward the deep blue-green of the sea below. Daniels continued to tug away at my shirt. When I felt myself fall backwards, I knew that my grip on the rope had finally failed.

Daniels’ knees knocked into my legs as he clung on for dear life. I saw the horizon tumbling in and out of view. “Pull it! Pull it!” The captain’s mouth mimed, the sound of his voice torn away by the rushing air. I flailed my arms up near my chest and my numb finger finally caught onto something. The canvas chute exploded from my back, jerking us hard. The captain’s weight caused us to swing back and forth like a pendulum, before the sudden burst of icy water flung me unconscious for the split second of impact.

The water was salty like no other, and any attempt to hold in a satisfying breath was lost to the frigid expanse. The strings holding the chute to me held me from orienting myself properly. I managed to see the captain floating motionless, face down, a few feet from me. I pushed hard against the random movement of the waves, attempting to reach him. My hand finally found his collar, allowing me to shove his neck over my shoulder. His chest convulsed with a few watery sputters.

There was a sudden yank against my back. I kicked as hard as I could with my feet, fearing some current was taking me. Just before my strength failed, I saw the tall steel hull of a boat pulling up beside me.

My first memory after that point was looking up to the sky, a dark shadow hovering above. Just beside me was also a familiar face- a thin tender one, clean shaved and bright-eyed.. “Father?”

“You’re safe, Sam.” He grabbed at my shoulders. His lithe fingers were warm against my bare shoulders. A nearby stranger tossed a blanket over me.

“Why are… you here?” I shivered out a response. “Daniels…?”

“He’s safe.” My father propped me up, putting me against the wall of the cabin. “When Alcott returned to us on the ground, he said Mobius was headed in the direction of the Atlantic. I supposed I would hire a boat to follow after her… it.”

“Daniels is…” I shivered again.

“Like I said, we just pulled him out of the water with you.” My father nodded up and over to the other man, also wrapped in a blanket. “Looks like you saved him a good bit too. I have to say, it was quite the surprise seeing a parachute pop open in the sky that like all of a sudden. Then, the two of you show up in the water.”

“He is… not to be trusted…” I grit my teeth to stave off them chattering.

My father glanced at the captain, still unmoving, then up to the dark creature in the sky. “Well…” He sighed, looking to other members of the ship’s crew. “I suppose, up their without their captain and first hand, they won’t be able to do much more. We should retrieve them a bit early, shouldn’t we?”

I gulped and nodded slowly, adjusting the blanket atop my shoulders. My father nodded and talked indirectly at one of the others. “Yes. Radio Robert Lorraine, get him the heading they need.”

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