Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 9

We decided to dig around our landing spot to figure out why it was bare. By we, I meant me and Estella. There might be a ruin lying underneath the clearing or something else interesting, we figured. 

Estella marked off several spots on the ground using chalk, giving me a confident smile. “We should find something interesting here, want me to help dig or stand guard?”

“I think stand guard, you are the expert on dealing with these plant monsters.” I told her and started digging on the closest spot. 

“Sure thing.” She replied and drew her gun. 

“You girls find anything worthwhile out here?” Aurora asked us, coming out of the Xing. 

I had gotten three or four inches down into the ground where the soil changed from firm to a type of spongy softness. I kept going. 

“Not sure, ask Sam. I’ve been keeping watch.” Estella replied. 

“Not much yet. Just the ground getting softer, perhaps a good spot for planting if we want to expand the garden outside.” And then the shovel hit something hard, producing a metallic echo. 

Aurora chuckled at the sound. “You just proved yourself wrong my friend.”

I bent down and brushed the soil away, thinking to retrieve the metallic item out of the ground.

“Careful, whatever is buried here might be buried for a good reason.” Estella warned me. 

Turned out it was a flat metal surface. Feeling around it, it seemed to stretch away in all directions. I stooped to take a closer look. Aurora knelt down next to me and poked at the ground. 

“I think you found a hatch to something, could be another ship crashed here, or it’s an underground structure.” Aurora said as she pulled on something in the dirt. It popped open, showing a keypad underneath. Aurora hooked it up with a series of wires and a green light came on after a few minutes with a pop sound. 

“Behold, treasure!” Aurora announced triumphantly as she pulled open the hatch.

“Or you just popped the lock to a centuries old septic system.” Estella quipped with a wink.

Something was pushing up and bulging outwards from the ground. A circular piece of machinery a few feet wide settled in at just under six feet tall. Popping arose from several other places around us. 

“I think that might of connected to a larger system.” Aurora said thoughtfully.

I readied myself for combat. Seeing this, Aurora drew her own pistol. 

“Is there enough fuel from the converter for lift off?” Estella asked Aurora as she backed towards the ship entrance. Aurora confirmed in the negative. 

By then, other posts have risen up around us. More or less in the spots Estella had marked off for me to dig. We decided to fall back to the Xing. As we did so, some of the plant creatures at the edge of the foliage started to creep near, presumably drawn by the excitement. 

Estella pointed to them with one hand as she stepped back on board. “Seems the plants don’t like whatever you did either.”

“These posts could be the locking mechanism for a huge hatch.” Aurora said thoughtfully. “Meaning we’re parked on a giant door, or elevator.”

The posts continued to rise several more feet into the air as I clambered over the threshold. Last in the line. 

“Good thing the ship didn’t park us over any of those.” Estella noted. 

From aboard, it’s apparent that the posts formed a rough circle around the Xing. Time crawled by until they seemed to lock into place with a hum. A net of glowing blue billowed out from each post, like spiderwebs launched into a soft breeze. The web strands wavered one way and then the other until they grew long enough to start twisting around each other. 

“Good going, you woke up the entire moon.” Estella glared at Aurora.

“It beats being overrun by plants for a fourth time, doesn’t it?” Aurora replied with a shrug. 

Estella grinned. “You’re right about that at least.”

“I think the only way out is down now. So let’s wait for the biofuel converter to do its work and then we go explore what’s under.” I said. 

The blue net seemed to have converged as far as we could see aboard. A deep rumble sounded, reverberated throughout the ship and we began to descend. “Well, that did the work for us.”

Aurora placed a hand against the wall to steady herself. “With any luck we just found an abandoned space station and are entering the docking bay.” She gave us a hopeful smile. “Makes me wonder if maybe this thing is made from the same alien tech bits our ship is.”

“We’ll know soon enough, someone should go tell Hue what’s happening so he doesn’t freak out.” Estella replied. 

I volunteered for the job. When I got there, all I saw was the lower part of him sticking out of a panel and the only sounds grunting, swearing and the occasional clang of a tool hitting something metal. I tried to coax him out of there but he would have none of it so I gave up and brought him up to date in the state he was. 

As I talked, our descent continued, punctuated by occasional bumps as if the mechanism was caught on something. Eventually, we stopped with a lurch. H-squared climbed out of the panel then, looked at me and mumbled something about plants. Then he held up some pieces of withered vine. 

“Forget about plants for now. Come with me, I don’t want us to rush back here for you in rescue.” I told him. 

The ship suddenly lurched sideways. I put out a hand on the wall to steady myself and then looked across to H squared to make sure he was all right. He had already turned back around and was rooting in the panel again. I rolled my eyes. 

When the ship quietened down, I went alone to rejoin the girls. A giant open space lay outside the hatch, lit only by a bluish bioluminescence. The shadows of a few large objects lay scattered across the space. 

Aurora asked me about H squared absentmindely but I could tell her attention was already engaged by the prospect of exploring the new area. Estella smiled at me and passed me a glowstick and flashlight. 

“Doing repairs which I cannot break him out of. So I decided to leave him be.” I replied as I took the items of light from Estella. 

“Not sure where we’ve wound up, but I’m eager to find out.”  Aurora panned a flashlight across the ground outside. The floor was made of metal and grated, probably for easy drainage. 

“I wonder if those things in the distance are more ships?” Estella pointed to the large objects.

“Back to back formation with Guppy in the middle?” I was already on to the specificities of exploring this space. 

Aurora asked me to take the lead and I agreed. 

“I’ll bring up the rear, let’s check out the closest large object, if they are ships we might find more fuel.” Estella said. 

“Assuming they run off the same fuel ours does anyway,” Aurora replied, “Lead the way, Sam.” 

I went towards the closest object, which turned out to be a derelict ship. Mostly dismantled with lots of parts and pieces missing. Rusted and overgrown with vines.

“We might be able to salvage this for parts if we need any.” I pointed out. 

“We seem to have found a ship graveyard,” Aurora nodded to me, “I’m more curious what happened to the crews.”

“Clearly someone is down here with how this ship’s been mostly dismantled.” Estella noted. 

“We can check the crew’s quarters or the lounge.” I shrugged and moved in closer to look at the ship. Estella followed me.

“Heads up, we got company.”  Aurora walked up to us and told us quietly, “Something scrambling around at the edge of the lights, near the ship on our right.” 

Estella briefly glanced in that direction, “They’re probably scared of us, especially if they’ve been stuck down here for a long time.” 

I trained my gaze away from the right. I figured too much attention from us might alert the thing, whatever it was. 

“If it’s living I can’t feel it.” Estella said. “I say we go over and explore that ship next, see if we can find whatever it is you saw.”

“Same thing I felt with the plants, so could be there’s more plants there, or you saw a plant monster.” She added as an afterthought. 

“Only one way to find out.” Aurora said. She asked me what I thought. I shrugged and moved over. The ship was in worse shape than the derelict,  essentially just a bare metal frame thick with very green vines. It was a contrast. 

“Somethings stripped this ship bare.” Aurora concluded after panning a light around it.

“That does seem like our plant friends.”

“Except for the vines.” Estella pointed at them. “This ship either came down here recently or the vines can live down here just fine. Though I think they’re dormant right now, like up top when night falls.”

“What probably happens is ships land, get overrun by vines and stripped, then carried down here every so often by an automated system, that wreck is probably a recent arrival.” Aurora conjectured. 

“Then what about the thing you saw moving around?” Estella asked her. 

“Could be a survivor, saw us and ran, which is why you couldn’t sense them.” She shrugged. “We can keep poking wrecks if you want, fall back and start a big fire from some wreckage and see what it draws for attention, or keep poking around to look for an exit, or whatever ideas you gals have?”

“I don’t like the big fire idea but other than that, I don’t mind.” I said. 

“Let’s see if we can pick up the tracks of whatever you saw and follow it to its home.” Estella suggested.

“Sure, what could possibly go wrong with that?” Aurora agreed with a grin, shining her light along the ground to look for tracks. It disappeared right between a spot of vines somewhere near the skeleton ship. We gathered around and found a tunnel leading within. 

“Whatever is living down here has to know where we can find good, water, fuel.” Estella said. Great excuse, I did not tell her. 

“There’s a kind of tunnel right here.” Aurora pushed back the vines and gestured to it innocently. “Want to take the lead again, Sam?”

I moved in. “Seems well travelled.” I commented on the path not long in, when the path split in different directions, not just left and right but top and down as well. 

“This is suboptimal.” Aurora commented as she came abreast of me. 

“Another maze,” Estella looked down at Guppy. “You lived in a maze in that trash warren, think you could lead us to the center of this one?”

Aurora pulled out a rope to tie around her waist. “So you don’t lose me.”

“I am slippery.” Guppy announced proudly. 

“Like a well oiled machine.” Aurora agreed as she tightened the knot. The second she did, Guppy disappeared into the maze. 

“Oops. Yuck, there’s slimy stuff in here!” Came the cry a while later. 

“Slimy?” Aurora sighed as she followed the rope towards Guppy. “What new definition of disgusting have you found for us now dearie?”

“You know. That stuff that smells. You didn’t tell me bout that, Aurora.”

“This is why I bring up the rear, so someone else can blunder into the nasty things.” Estella whispered in my ear with a giggle. I gave her a playful slap. “You naughty girl.” She gave me an innocent-like smile. “You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it first.” She said with a wink.

A light appeared ahead. I took it as a signal from Aurora to join them. I put a camaraderie arm around Estella and moved off toward Aurora and Guppy.

“Ooh, Aurora, I think I know where it is.” Guppy played at whispering, when her voice actually carried well. Ah well, can’t be a spoilsport. 

“Where what is?” Aurora asked her. 

“The thing. You said it was moving.”

“Well, it was when I saw it, where is it?” The light had moved, probably to shine wherever Guppy indicated. I could not see the girl but I heard her voice, “This way”. 

We followed on a twisting path that went up and down. The vines lying around, despite being slimy and stinky, made good handholds and footholds. 

“This is like walking up the wrong end of some giant monsters digestive tract.” Aurora stated with a growl of displeasure.

“Which end is the right end?” Estella asked innocently, trying not to giggle.

“Too graphic an analogy.” I cringed as a picture came into my mind.

“I-” Aurora paused at the question. I was afraid she was actually going to present an answer. “Just forget it.” She said with a sigh and I did the same. 

We had come to what was probably the bridge; there was nothing left inside anymore. Guppy was standing just inside. Aurora walked up and stood next to her, penning her flashlight around. 

“So what do we have there? Seems just an empty space to me.”

There were vines everywhere the flashlight shone on. It touched on the back wall, moved on and came back. In the circle of light, a plant creature cowered. It tried to pretend that it was the same as the vines behind it but its colouring was off. It was too yellow. 

“That’d be what Guppy found, it looks… Scared?” Aurora commented. 

“We outnumber it, and it’s clearly unwell,” Estella nodded, “It’s probably afraid we’re here to do it harm, invading its lair like this.” She eyed it curiously. “I wonder how long it’s been down here?”

“Assuming it’s a plant creature and not someone wearing vines as camouflage.” Aurora peered at the creature, raising her voice. “If you’re human speak up, we’re not pirates, we’re just explorers, and can help get you out of here.”

The thing emitted a strange kind of high-pitched squeal. 

“I don’t think that’s human, unless that’s a special power.”

“It’s a plant,” Estella told Aurora. “And you’re scaring the seeds out of it.”

“Oh,” Aurora lowered the light, “Do you think we should take it with us, help get it back to the surface somehow?”

“I mean it’s a plant but it’s a smart plant, leaving it here to starve and die seems wrong.”

“If Estella wants it as a pet?”  I raised my eyebrows at her. Aurora gave her a “well?” expression. 

“If it was a flesh and blood animal we’d help it, we should do the same here.” She walked up, kneeled down next to the creature, pulled out a piece of fruit from her pack and held it out in the hand with a visible green stain on it. “Food.” She told it gently and glanced back at us. “It should be able to metabolize this, hopefully.”

“I think if we adopt this thing long term, Hue will blow a gasket.” Aurora said. 

“Just long enough to get it back to the surface, it belongs with its own kind, it’s a wild flower.” Estella assured us. 

“Estella can hide it in a basket. H squared is going to have his head in the panels for quite a while.” I suggested. 

“It can stay in the garden until we find a way back to the surface, he’ll never even know it’s there.”

The creature sent out a few little vines to touch the piece of fruit on offer, as if sniffing it. After a moment, they tentatively took it and pulled it into the mass of vines where it disappeared. 

“It didn’t hurt Guppy or Hue in the engine room so it’s clearly not carnivorous,” Aurora said. .

“I got some great fertilizer back at the garden, powdery nitrogen stuff they use in greenhouses, plants love it.” Estella pulled out another piece of fruit, holding it out and stepping back to slowly lead it towards the tunnel.

“As long as it doesn’t grow to a size where it can grab people.” I said. 

“As long as it doesn’t start tearing up the ship you can store it wherever you want.” Aurora added. 

As we were speaking, the creature took several teetering steps forward to reach for the second piece of fruit. Some of its foliage was shaking ever so slightly as if stirred by a non-existent wind. Estella reassured the creature and lured it out more slice by slice of fruit. The rest of us had gone on ahead letting her bring up the rear as per usual. I was bored. I itched for action or something to catch my eyes. That was when I saw, in the opposite direction for the Xing, a shape smaller than a ship. 

Craft/Curiousity Reads of 2021

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I picked this up because there was a breakdown of this book in one chapter of Larry Brooks’ Story Physics. So I was hoping that by reading the actual novel first and identifying the key structural moments and then turning back to Brooks’ chapter it would enrich my understanding of the 3 Act structure. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Larry Brooks didn’t really subscribe to the 3 Act structure as I learnt about it but rather to the model of a story being composed of 4 parts held up by 3 major plot points (which is basically cutting Act 2 as I learnt it into half but the 3 major plot point system was a bit different from the set of structural moments that I learnt holding up the 3 Act structure). 

I’m not quite sure what I’m taking out of this book, personally. I had started a book analysis group and I nominated this for our first book to study (we are taking turns at nominating books and by alphabetical order of first name, I came first). So perhaps I will be singing a different tune later since we are analysing this book for the rest of the year. 

Da Vinci’s Code by Dan Brown

I got to this book via almost the same source: Larry Brooks’ other book Story Engineering. He didn’t have a whole chapter devoted to this book but just used it as an example to illustrate his points here and there. So I got curious about it (and from this, you should be able to deduce which is a craft read and which is a curiousity read). 

Besides the controversy factor, I think I actually prefer the first book of the series which I personally felt like had more stakes involved. I did get unusually curious about various paintings reputedly by Da Vinci, enough to actually Google them. 

We live in flawed abundance…

The starting line is from the Way under the Way by Mark Nespo. I had doubts over sharing this but the Wild Writing practice is about honesty and generosity so I decided to go ahead and share this piece that showed me as having a mix of generous and ungenerous thoughts and as flawed as every other human being out there. 

We live in flawed abundance of love. We might not always get the one we love but somewhere out there or maybe even closer, someone is bound to already love or or about to love us. We might not always get what we are after but we get something different and as good as what we want or even better. Life is generous that way or winds up that way. Trust it but give it a little bit of time. Your turn to be generous towards it. 

We live in flawed abundance of hope. There are all kinds of hope, not just the one type. There is misplaced hope, misguided hope, illusory hope, tenuous hope, desperate hope, false hope. Quite a mixed bag of hopes out there. But as long as there is, cling on. See where it takes you and go from there. 

We live in flawed abundance of abundance. You know, the Internet age, the age of convenience. You get all types of information, even all types of things, at your fingertips, at a little button you click on the screen. That’s the rosy picture of it. Does it work so well truly? Nuh. But there you go. That’s the image of what this age is supposed to uphold. 

We live in flawed abundance of freedom. Yeah yeah. There’s democracy, individualism, you name it. But unless you are an orphan, who doesn’t have connections to others, who doesn’t deal with expectations to negotiate, responsibilities to uphold and social rules to navigate? So where is true freedom? Doesn’t exist, I tell you. Not unless you go Robinson Crusoe. But then, not him either. He’s just too busy with survival. Not true freedom either. 

Nuances of the Chinese language (1)- Written versus Spoken

This new serial post is actually inspired by the fact two Internet friends asked me about the Chinese language, separately but with a coincidental timing that was very close to each other. 

So let’s start with the basics. First, we have to distinguish with the written language and the spoken language. There are only two systems of written Chinese: the complicated (the original) versus the simplified. The complicated system of written Chinese dates back to the first Emperor of ancient China, to the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC). For a long time I believed that simplified Chinese dates back to the Communist party that holds office in Mainland China but apparently some of the simplified characters actually could date as far back to the Qin dynasty as well and others appeared in the work of ancient poets throughout Chinese history. So the Communist party did not invent it as I believed, only made it the official writing system. It used to be that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau used complicated Chinese whereas mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore used simplified Chinese. But I guess now Taiwan is the only place that still uses complicated Chinese. 

As to spoken Chinese, there lies your myriads of dialects or local/regional variants of Chinese. Now of course there is the official Chinese spoken: Mandarin which again dates back to the Qin dynasty which imposed one common written and spoken language for the whole of China. How close are these dialects to each other? Some are quite close, from neighbouring regions. Others are like foreign languages onto each other. If I borrow an analogy to the English spoken language, then I would say some of the Chinese dialects are like UK versus US versus Australian versus Canadian English whereas others are like English versus Spanish versus Italian, all derived from Latin. 

Now, personally, I can speak in three separate Chinese dialects to varying degrees: Cantonese is my mother tongue and I can converse in accented Shanghai-nese and Mandarin. To me, these three dialects are quite distinct and let me summarise here how they feel to me in sound and impression:

  • Cantonese- it’s a casual language and new slangs frequently crop up even before the advent of the Internet age, from TV dramas and movies (of course, I’m talking about the Hong Kong variant of Cantonese, can’t speak for the Canton region or Macau which also speak Cantonese, never lived in either place). There are no sounds in Cantonese that require you to roll your tongue or stick your tongue up to the roof of your mouth (which are both hard for me, at least I’m not aware that I have the ability to do either consciously). It’s funny but I can’t really speak for how it sounds like, perhaps it’s mother tongue bias. I should also mention that there is no pronunciation system in Cantonese that is equivalent to that in English or Mandarin pinyin. I learnt all my Cantonese pronunciation by being told in school how each character is pronounced. That was the way we did it in Hong Kong in 1989-1994. Since then, there had been a problem of people born after me that had a tendency to not pronounce words properly by swallowing part of the sounds in a character that distorted meaning. I think part of the solution offered was to sort of steal from English in order to coach people in proper pronunciation but I had already left Hong Kong by then. So I don’t know whether this meant a revamp in how you taught Cantonese pronunciation in school or not (and plus there was all that weirdness of what language you got taught in at school and how the same school rapidly changed between English versus Cantonese versus Mandarin after 1997. Heard this vaguely from Hong Kong news, not part of my personal experience).
  • Mandarin- consistent with its status as the official language, it’s quite formal and I tend to associate it with announcement, news broadcasting and that kind of stuff. I also tend to think of it as having lots of tongue-rolling sounds. 
  • Shanghai-nese- to me, it sounds a bit rough and I often associate it with noise and bickering. On this mainland Chinese dating show, a girl from Shanghai once said that it was a dialect good for bargaining with shopkeepers when asked what the different Chinese dialects were good for. I agreed with that also.

Moonlake’s Writing Updates- September 2021

I’ve actually been going pretty strong ever since I got back to my WIP in July. I burned through 10 chapters in that month and for August it was 8 chapters.. Sounds grand, right? The reality is that I was leveraging 90% of this on previous notes and tying up loose notes from revision. Only the last of these 10 chapters provided the scope for some muscle work and I took it to as far as I could go before I had to let it go until the next round (a fork in the plot for a particular scene that doesn’t have much repercussion on later chapters but I still need to make a decision and I wasn’t ready for it). 

But I’m learning to celebrate the small victories, to take them as they are. So I’m putting this up here and on the Facebook group I run, not to get accolades, just to record it down somewhere. Coincidentally, this is what I’ve been doing for Wild Writing. Just recording down what comes to my mind on the page. I’ve been using free writing (Wild Writing is just a special form of free writing for those who did not read the first Wild Writing post) more extensively now, at least 3 times a week. Lately, I’ve even concocted my own prompts (two of them so far, one I’ve used, the other one I just came up with today). 

So, overall, on the WIP, I’m up to draft 0.81. Yes, I’m using two decimal places now, because somehow I feel like I might need more iterations. And like I was telling a member from my FB group, this WIP is going to take as long as it takes. 

That’s it for writing updates. Until next time. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2021

Fantasy: 

Blue Moon Rising by Simon R. Green

I came to this book via the second book in this series with a completely different set of cast and I think I prefer the next book better because it’s more my cup of tea in term of the genre blending in fantasy with mystery (I actually thought of re-reading it to test whether I will like it as much as the very time). I do think I like it overall with its cliche-bending start and an overall light, clipping pace though the ending felt a little set up for lack of a better word. So I recommend this as great light reading if that’s your cup of tea.

Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

The portrayal of Griminir and the lore around the kaunr are all excellent but because I personally don’t feel for Disa at all, I feel like this is being diluted by her having such a large role in the book. I’m also not personally enamoured of prophecies but I’ve got nothing to complain about for this book. Overall, a solid book. And I’m still intending to read book 3, hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the Griminir trilogy. 

Children of the Black Sun trilogy by Jo Spurrier 

I was intrigued by the blurb of book 1 so I picked this up but I had no intention of necessarily following this series (those days were gone). Book 1 was solid but I wasn’t particularly into the characters. However, it was set up as that you simply had to go on to the next book. So I did that and I got into the characters more. Now, here I had a choice, there wasn’t a real compulsion for me to follow the series to its conclusion so I went and read the blurb for the third book and that decided me. Overall, I would say this is a trilogy where the stakes for characters kept on escalating (I mean, most series do but I think this one does this visibly for me). 

This trilogy contains a bit of disturbing stuff to do with torture (including rape) but there wasn’t actually anything graphic, just stuff mentioned in passing. That didn’t bother me even though I mostly read adult fantasy without these, just putting it up here as FYI for everyone. 

The Sarantine Mosaic duology by Guy Kavriel Kay

I had wanted to read Fionavar Tapestry but it was only available in audiobook format which I have not converted to since I always imagine I might have difficulty with understanding (I had listened to part of a short story on audio with little problem given the slow pace of word enunciation but I remain in doubt about a full length work, could be personal bias also, I much prefer reading words as opposed to listening). Anyway, long story short, this series is what I had picked up instead. 

I am currently reading book 1 so a full review is pending in December. Hard to say much about it at this point. 

Mystery: 

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

This book has got all the elements I like about a thriller- a fast pace, plot driven, frequent twists and character stakes that you can get behind. I was actually drawn in because I was curious about Da Vinci Code but I thought I would test the water with this. Now that I know what I’m in, I will definitely go on to the others of this series.

Da Vinci’s Code by Dan Brown

I was not actually feeling a little trepidation about this book when I realised it started a brand new female character alongside Robert Langdon- I had a deja vu of this being turned into a Hollywood film series where in each film he ‘hooks up’ with a different girl. I was happy that the book was primarily about the ‘case’ rather than personal relationships but (spoiler alert: it did eventually head towards the direction I feared). 

Anyway, this book still does not disappoint if a fast pace, riddles and twists are your game in mystery. 

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 8

I walked up on Estella and Aurora right as Estella was calling out for H squared. “Where is he? I need him to fix up the panel on the bridge so we can pinpoint which part of the alarm has been set off. Or have you two found that out already?” I asked the two of them. 

Estella got the blank-faced look that told me she was using her special power of sensing. “I think Hue’s in here somewhere, or the plant is afraid.” She finally told us hesitantly, succeeding by a “HUE!”

“I don’t think the plant has emotions?” Aurora then gave a shrug of I don’t know. 

“I can fit in there! I’ll get Hue, don’t worry!” Guppy yelled and threw herself into a small hole on the wall. Was that a hole that just opened up somehow? I was confused by what the kiddo said. Then there was a muffled cry. I told the others and Aurora assumed it was Guppy whereas Estella and me thought that it sounded more like H squared. At any rate, I led the way into the Aurora-enlarged opening that Guppy jumped into, Aurora followed me and Estella brought up the rear. 

“Once we retake the ship, Aurora, work on a device to electrify the hull, it should keep them away for good.” Estella was saying at the back. 

“Brilliant notion.” Aurora replied. 

I had climbed into the hole but it was not quite adult sized. My limbs felt more like useless appendages that got tangled up by the foliage and I could only push and shove my way through marginally. 

“I think we need to clear away some of the vines here first.” Aurora said in my ear. 

“Good idea.” I set to work with the hedge clippers. Thankfully, Estella was such an avid gardener that she had insisted spending some of our old spoils on a pair of hedge clippers that responded to voice. Else I was not sure how I was even supposed to work with it in such cramped quarters.  

I made some headway with the clippers before the vines fought back, slashing at me with tips that glinted like metal. I was going to loose a volley on the plant life when Aurora yelled for me to hold them back. I let loose. The first energy bolt sent the vines into a panic but no real damage, the second hit and then the last one combusted. There was a big whoosh and then fire spread throughout the plants. Smoke came out and the temperature rose a notch but we were now far enough away. 

Once things had quieted down again, Aurora gave me an eager grin while revving her buzz saw which she was apparently busy electrifying as I let loose my volley. “Now all we need is one of those lumber jack shanty songs. Now plan Sam, you shoot our way forward, I’ll watch your back?” 

I nodded and shot a few of the vines still strung about the room but the space was mostly clear. The vines looked and acted like normal vines again. “Looks like the spray did most of the work.” 

Aurora nodded “Yeah, thankfully, let’s see if we can find Hue and Guppy in this wilted salad.”

“They’re near the center of the room as far as I can tell.” Estella told us, pausing often as she said it. 

“Why the hesitation?” I asked her. 

“The plant gives off this weird mental static, like the sound of rain on a rooftop, makes it hard to hear things clearly. So it’s either them, or the plant itself.” She shook her head. “I’m not really sure to be honest.

“Right. Wait and see, I guess. Did I tell you about the plant circuit?”

“The what?” Estella gave me her “I dunno know what you are talking about” look. 

“The plants were crawling all over everything in here, not just the circuits.” Aurora clearly interpreted what I said differently. I didn’t jump in to correct here, she would work it out soon. “Or did they avoid those?”

“I crawled into the vent to get to the bridge. Once I got there I saw these plant tentacles forming themselves into one big circuit in the room. I didn’t like that somehow and I decided to break it.” 

“The way they take over the machine parts I almost wonder if…” Aurora’s voice trailed off.

“Out with it Aurora.” Estella gave her a mildly impatient look.

“It’s stupid,” Aurora sighed, “But the ship is made with alien bits and that garden right? Maybe the alien bits are trying to use the plants to upgrade the ship? Make it better somehow? It explains why there’s a clearing here and it landed us in the middle of it.”

I shrugged. “Unless you can find a way to talk to the alien sentience, we don’t know what’s going on. I’m not keen on the idea though. Who knows what the ship would take it into its head to do besides flying us to unknown destinations?”

“So you’re suggesting we what? Let it run crazy through our ship? See if it doesn’t rip it down to the frame and leave us stranded?” Estella shook her head.

“Like I said it’s stupid. I’m not real eager to let our home turn into some garden freak show.” Aurora agreed. 

“One of these days we should find out what the alien part does exactly.” I told the two of them. 

“Agreed,” Estella started poking the center of the machinery, “Guppy? Hue? You in there?!”

“Mmmph!”

“I think he’s over here!” Aurora called out, cut away vines from a machinery that was just a solid box wedged between the floor and ceiling with various panels and instruments attached to it. Some of the panels were being propped open by vine snippets and wires were exposed. In fact, this was pretty much a repeat of what I saw on the bridge. 

Estella knelt down and started pulling off panels. 

“Why do they keep taking people? I mean Carnivorous plants usually put them in pools of digestive goo don’t they?” Aurora looked over at Estella for confirmation.

“Some,” Estella nodded, “But they could just as easily take them to let them die, and decompose into fertilizer.”

“This looks exactly like the bridge looks now.” I commented as I went around the machinery towards the direction Aurora said H squared was in. Sure enough, a bulbous plant thingy was pinning both H squared and Guppy on the other side. I rushed forwards towards them. “Mmmmmm…” They had vines muffling their mouths so could do little except murmur. 

I shot the thing, blasting a big hole in the bulbous part of the plant body. Green goo that smelled of compost exploded out of there and sprayed around in a big circle. Luckily for me, I was out of range this time. 

The vines released their captives and started its death throes. I went forward to check that H squared and Guppy was okay. 

“Are you two okay?” Aurora spoke my thoughts.

“I am covered in goo.” Guppy spoke each word with a capital letter enunciation. “It smells gross!” Next to her, H squared slumped into an almost-fetal position on the floor. 

“Did that thing do anything else besides trying to muffle your calls for help?” I asked the two of them. 

Mother-hen Aurora rushed over to Guppy, “Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up again.” 

“It just held me. It didn’t do anything else.”Guppy made this “I’m exasperated with the world” face as she wiped goo out of her hair. 

Estella had knelt down next to H squared and was murmuring something to him. I joined them. “Did that plant thing do anything else to you?”

He looked up at me. “Me?” He looked confused and mumbled something about the ship. I took that as meaning he’s unharmed.

“Good thinking Sam, thankfully they don’t seem to be the type to plant seeds in people.” Aurora took Guppy by the hand, leading her off towards the showers. “Once we get cleaned up, I’ll set to work on electrifying the hull and getting a biofuel converter running.”

“It just looked unreal to me, seeing the two of them pinned by a plant.”

“This whole situation has been unreal,” Estella noted, “I never imagined plants could be smart enough to cannibalize a ship. Sam, can you look after Hue? I want to go give the garden a thorough look over and purge it of anything similar to the plants on this rock.”

“Sure thing. H squared, come, I will escort you to the bridge so you can get rid of the plant-machine fusing there.” He just gave me a blank look. 

“You will know what I mean when you see it.” I got him to the bridge where I left him happily doing the repairs and then joined the other two gals after having a little Sam-special break at the lounge. They were at the fuel converters. “How’s it going?” I asked as I popped my head in. 

“Pretty good,” Aurora gestured to the converter proudly. “This will keep us fueled easily from here on, we just need to feed it garbage, anything compostable really.”

“Maybe route the toilets into it?” Estella suggested.

Aurora gave her a narrow eyed look. “That’s a messy idea, if you want to volunteer to relay the pipes I won’t stop you, but I’m not real eager to try it, one wrong move in your in deep crap, literally.”

Estella quickly shook her head. “Forget I mentioned it, unless Hue feels like doing it.”

“How’s Hue?” Aurora asked me. 

“He’s happy doing his repair at the bridge.”

“How long before we’re airborne?” Estella asked. 

“As soon as Hue finishes fixing whatever the plant broke, until then the electric hull should keep us plenty safe. Rations aren’t so great, but I can probably rig a bio processor to turn the plants into edible paste if need be.” Aurora said. 

Plant paste? Eek! “We should forage for game, perhaps in the jungle, armed with the weedkiller.” I said. 

“Does that mean I get to go look for more firefly goo?” Guppy looked hopeful. 

“Sure, just give me a bit here to make the fuel converter and electro plating permanent so they don’t fall apart when I leave the ship, okay?”

“I kind of doubt there’s any game left in a forest this hostile, but it can’t hurt to look, could be something adapted to make the plants ignore it.” Estella nodded to me. “I can try to make more weedkiller but I’m about out of ingredients, maybe Aurora can make some kind of sonic repulsor?”

“Possibly?” Aurora shrugged. “Let’s just hunt at night, the plants are dormant then, which is probably when any wildlife will be out and about anyway. We can use the glow goo Guppy found to light the way.”

“Yes!” Guppy gave her enthusiastic approval of the plan, which we all joined in. 


Remarkable Women in Ancient China (10)- Wen Xiu

Who is she:

  • Once concubine to the Last Emperor of China Puyi, otherwise known as Consort Shu or the Good-hearted Consort

Notable Life Events:

  • Born on 20th of December, 1909, to a Mongolian family that was part of the Manchurian Eight Flag army 
  • Entered Puyi’s Court at the age of 12 as Consort Shu (it was said that Puyi had randomly chosen her when he was asked to choose his empress- he had abdicated then but they allowed him to keep his title as emperor- but it was decided by the court that Wen Xiu did not have the good looks and family wealth fit to be an empress so she became a concubine instead) 
  • Left one day from where she was living with Puyi and the Empress to start suing for a divorce after nine years of marriage to Puyi. Most of her own family (except for her sister) frowned upon this action. This was known as the Revolution of the Knife Consort and occurred in 1931. The divorce was finalised upon the condition that she would never remarry. Later, in the same year, Puyi tried to save face by denouncing all her titles. 
  • Eventually remarried to a soldier of the Natinonalist party in 1947 until her death in 1953, when she died of a stroke 

Why is she remarkable:

  • The first woman to actively seek a divorce with an emperor (and get it)
  • The only consort of the emperor in Chinese history who had ever taken up a teaching position (it was her first job after the divorce but she had to leave the job when her identity as Puyi’s ex-concubine was exposed) 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

It’s clear that Wen Xiu is a woman who has a clear mind of what she wants and can act decisively to pursue it. It was said that one of the driving factors behind the divorce was that she tried to influence Puyi to break from the Japanese who only propped him up as a figurehead to no avail. 

English reference on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenxiu

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 7

Full darkness had fallen, with only starlight pointing the way for wayward travellers. I could see the outline of the crater’s edge in a rough circle around the top of the forest and lights from the Xing. My peripheral vision caught flashes of light far away- a reddish firefly sort of glow, but when I turned towards that direction there’s only darkness. I figured it was too late to go back and with the space suit I had on, camping out was totally feasible. 

Some scuffling came from below and then Estella’s voice, “Sam!”

“I’m up here, couldn’t see much. Some dim light in the distance. I’ve marked the direction so we can explore in the morning.” I hollered down my report. 

“We can barely hear you!” Aurora shouted back. “Are you stuck?”

“No, I’m fine. I will camp up here for the night.”

Estella and Aurora made some exchanges between them. I couldn’t decipher the actual content with the wind blowing so loud. 

“…we should head back to the ship before dawn.” I heard Aurora call up. 

“Sam, are there things I can stab up there!?” Guppy’s squeak cut in. 

“No, nothing to stab up here. I can barely see anything. I thought it would be a good idea to climb up here so I can see better…”

“But I wanna see.”

More talking that I couldn’t hear, I assumed the gals were trying to dissuade Guppy of climbing up. Though, knowing the kid, it probably wouldn’t work. 

“All right, kiddo, I will climb down. You, hush and don’t move.” I resigned myself to do the sensible thing. I’ve always known that children would be trouble; you have to act all sensible around them. 

“Guppy’s coming up to see, then you can both climb back down together.” Estella shouted up. 

It did not take long for the kid to come up. “Hmm… looks like I underestimated you.” I gave Guppy an appreciative nod.

“Ooh, that’s pretty. Sam, why did you stop? They’re beautiful.” Guppy went over the edge and out of sight. Her voice got fainter towards the end, as if she was moving away. 

“Crap, the kid has gone off. I better go after her.” I told the other two gals. 

When I tried to climb over, a bout of dizziness hit me and I had to drop back down. It felt like there was no air right over the lip of the edge.

“Oh, I’m totally bringing some of this back to the ship. Sam! Where are you? You need to see this.” Guppy’s voice came to my ears. 

“Crap, something is going on here. If you don’t hear me again in 1 minute, climb up here and go off towards the direction with the light.” I shouted down below before attempting to get down on Guppy’s side again. 

I took a big gulp of air first and charged up over the edge. I felt my lungs about to burst up like a torn sack and my skin felt all wrong. The world was spinning in front of my eyes. In the midst, I saw a lot of small reddish flickering lights. I staggered forward a few steps before I felt like I was about to tip sideways. I held still, hoping that I wouldn’t fall over. 

“Hey, Sam, you don’t look so good.” I saw Guppy coming close, but her face was distorted like in a funhouse mirror. 

“Hmm, maybe you should go back. Here, take my hand, I’ll help you.” I groped for her hand, which appeared in multiples, all overlaid with each other. Then a small hand took mine and led me back over. 

Not sure how long passed- 15 minutes?- I felt normal again. Guppy was looking at me with huge eyes, looking worried. “You ok, Sam?”

“There’s something with this edge. I couldn’t breathe whenever I go near it.”

“Can’t breathe? But it’s totally fine!”

“I don’t know, it’s getting late now. We better go down so Aurora and Estella aren’t worried. Come on, kiddo.”

“Ok. Then I can show them what I found. Look.” Guppy held out a hand smeared in a glowing reddish goo. I stooped to take a closer look. I decided it was some kind of bioluminescent algae, something in Estella’s expertise. 

“Aurora! Estella! I can’t wait to show you.” She shouted before eagerly climbing down. 

“Show us what?” Aurora called up.

“Look! It’s beautiful.” The glowing reddish goo has spread to Guppy’s arms, cheeks and hair. She danced around in the dark, hopping and making a light show. 

“You just bathed.” I laughed at Aurora’s groan, not that she could hear it. 

“I’m a glowfish!”

Estella chuckled. “You look like a thousand fireflies flying in formation!”

“I’m a space firefly!” Guppy danced around even more. 

“I wonder if this stuff will make good plant repellent?” “Find anything interesting up there?” Estella and Aurora spoke at the same time. 

“Um… no. Just lots of this stuff. And rocks. That’s it.”

“I couldn’t breathe whenever I was near the edge.” I pulled a long face at the thought that I performed worse than a child. “Guppy is fine though.”

“Oh, yeah, Sam got sick up there. You ok now, Sam. I was really worried.”

“Really?” Aurora eyed Guppy curiously, “Sam, feel like climbing back up there, covering yourself in the goo and seeing if you can breathe?”

“Don’t go alone, Sam. I don’t want you to get sick again.”

“It’s probably because Guppy is shorter so is closer to the ground where the breathable air is.” Estella pointed out.

“I’m okay now.'” I bent down to Guppy’s eye level to tell her. “Hmm… I don’t like goo normally but it might be worthwhile to try that.”

“I’ll go with her. Just in case.” Estella said. 

Guppy reached up her fingers and smeared goo on my nose, then giggled. I tickled her under the chin.

“Hey! That’s cheating.” Guppy squealed with delight. 

Aurora grinned from ear to ear, “I’ll stay down here with the firefly.” 

“Yeah, I’ll stay here and play space firefly with Aurora.” Guppy smeared goo on Aurora and ran off giggling. Aurora went after her and the two left a trail of laughter. 

Me and Estella exchanged a smile and went up to the edge. “By the way, Sam, next time you run off, can you leave us an arrow drawn in the dirt or something? We nearly didn’t find your trail.”

“All right.” I smiled sheepishly.

We both gooed up and tried to go over. The same as before. I tried to push through and didn’t even make it as far as before. I knew when to call in a defeat and retreated back to the safety of the ledge. 

Me and Estella looked at each other. We speculated over how Guppy could do it before climbing back down to join Aurora and Guppy. 

“And that’s what I would do if I were a space firefly captain.” We heard Guppy telling Aurora as we got to the bottom.

“You’ll make a natural leader when you get older.” Aurora told her before turning to us.. “How’d it go?”

“Goo tactic didn’t work.” I concluded. 

“Aww, you didn’t get to play with the goo?”

“A pity,” Aurora nodded thoughtfully.

Guppy looked bummed. “I wanted more goo.”

“Staying close to the ground didn’t either, no idea how Guppy can breathe up there.”

Guppy looked back and forth at all of us. “Whatcha talkin about breathin?”

“Um…” Aurora gave Estella and me a blank look.

“How do I describe it? Whenever I go over the edge, I get dizzy, I feel like there is no air, you know?” I tried to explain to Guppy. 

“Oh… Yeah, I forget sometimes…” Guppy had her head hung down while she played with a rock with her toe. 

“What do you forget?” I prompted her. 

“Please don’t make fun of me.”

“Go on, we won’t, I promise.” Estella encouraged her. I nodded. 

Her voice had gotten so low that it was almost a whisper. “Well, I don’t need ta breathe. Knife boy got mad at me once because he held my head under water and I didn’t get scared or anything. All the other kids made fun of me, called me a freak, so I don’t talk about it.”

“Oh, that’s just your magic talent.” Aurora told  her with a cheerful smile.

“But they like it when it makes me a number one scout.” Guppy puffed her chest out with pride. “Magic?” She looked confused. 

“See, you do have a special ability! Like we talked about before, your special talent, like mine is building machines and Estella’s is feeling people’s emotions.”

Tears start forming in her eyes. “But… But I’m not special. Everybody knows it.”

“As far as talents go, that’s a really neat one.” Estella agreed.

“You’re special in our eyes. You’re part of our crew, right? That makes you special even if nothing else does.” Aurora told Guppy. Guppy’s lips started quivering and she looked like she wanted to bolt. 

“Come on, kiddo. Tears are.. well, you only cry when you are happy.” I turned away to avoid looking at Guppy crying; I never liked the sight of tears, it gave me a queer feeling. 

“It’s okay, being special is a good thing,” Aurora reminded her, taking her gently by the hand.

“Um technically…” Estella pretended to point out awkwardly. “Guppy having a talent makes her normal, like everyone else, not having one would make her special, so she’s right, she’s not special.”

Aurora played along, pausing a while before saying. “Well.. There you have it then, Guppy, having a talent makes you not special.”

Guppy squeezed Aurora’s hand and wiped away her tears with the other hand, making her face glow more. “Aurora? When we get back, can I have more cake?”

“Sure, we still have some red velvet.” She promised Guppy, nodding to me and Estella. “Let’s hurry back before Hue eats it, okay?”

I nodded and turned to walk off in the ship’s direction. We made it back easily. Somehow the number of plants hanging outside the ship seemed to have gone down. Abroad the Xing, Aurora wrestled Guppy into a bath before finally rewarding her with cake. 

“I’m not sure if she’s a natural at being a mother, or just improvises really, really well.” Estella observed with a giggle.

I shrugged. “That’s one new experience I never ever want to try, motherhood.”

“After I get some sleep I’ll get started on that bio-fuel converter.” Aurora concluded the sentence with a yawn.

“You and me both, Sam.” Estella punctuated the sentence with an empathetic nod. “Excellent, I’ll do some test digging to see why the plants never overran the clearing, and when it’s dark we can harvest some plants for the converter to turn into fuel. Wasn’t there some lights you said you saw up top, Sam?”

“Yes, they were the same colour as the goo, actually.”

“Oh, well that answers that.” Estella nodded. “Can you give me a hand tomorrow digging a few test holes, Aurora and me are curious why the plants never overgrew the clearing, and are thinking maybe there’s something interesting under it, ruins or whatnot.”

With the plan for tomorrow all set, we all went to bed. 

***

An alarm went off when I was still in sleep. I jumped up from the bed and donned my battle gear before going off towards the bridge to investigate the alarm. The bridge door won’t open again; I caught a wisp of green hair in my peripheral vision that veered off towards Engineering- Estella. I decided to take the old approach of vent crawling. Not that I loved crawling but someone had to get rid of those pesky plant creatures. 

Sure enough, the first thing I saw in the vents was a bunch of tentacles stretching through it. Taking out my hedge clippers, I took a swipe at them. The clippers made a gash along one of the vines but didn’t cut all the way through. It twitched and another vine shot out at me. I wrestled with the vine and was put slightly off balance. I took another swing at the vines and this time the tool snipped right through one of the vines and it fell twitching to the bottom of the vent. 

I wiped sweat off my brow. “That was close.” No more adventure with the vines until I got through the shaft to the bridge and was looking out through the vent exiting into the bridge. Apparently, they had gone a step ahead of me and were running rampant within the room. And with purpose, their layout didn’t look like plant growth as much as a circuit of some kind, connecting the various panels in the room. I didn’t like the look of that. I climbed out and took an experimental swipe at an important node- well, as far as I could tell, not that I’m an expert at this kind of stuff. I wondered how it would react when I provoked it like this. Perhaps it sensed my intention, it lashed out at me before my clippers got to it. I nearly tripped over some other vines trying to avoid the attack but it had to do better to change my mind. 

Apparently, where I hit happened to be one of its weak spots. The clippers shredded several vines and partially severed another. Some other intact vines twitched as well; the circuit impression sunk into my mind more. And apparently I did not completely break the circuit, perhaps damaged one of the important nodes. A vine took a swipe at my head. I could feel the coldness as it swished harmlessly over me when I danced out of the way, albeit a bit clumsily. The clippers took some getting used to.

I wasn’t liking the plant circuit business one bit so I took another go at it. The vines tried twitching out of the way of the clippers while some others blocked my way. Even with that, I managed to cut partly through another vine. That provoked a more aggressive response when it tried to grab my wrists and neck. By now, I had gotten in practice and easily got out of harm’s way. 

I sliced through another key vine. The other vines started twitching as if in a spasm. Some smoke rose and the creature began to retract into the vents and through some of the panels, leaving me amidst a room full of burst open panels, exposed wires, controls partially taken apart and the remnants of several vines sticking up here and there. I went over to the panel for alarms to pinpoint the section of the ship for which it was triggered but it was not working at all. Time for H squared so I headed on over to Engineering. 

The songs we could have been singing

This is a piece created from a prompt from Maya Stein’s Press Play. I truncated the last paragraph because it was too personal but I like the ending to this truncated piece as well. Enjoy: 

The songs we could have been singing, the dances we could have danced, the words we could have spoken… how long do they stay with us, or do they fade away eventually like everything else? 

The songs we could have been singing when we were happy, when we were sad, when we were angry… Why did we not sing them? Because we couldn’t sing, or because we were not alone and we did not want to be heard singing? 

The songs we could have been singing, the tears we could have shed. Could not but did not. 

The songs we could have been singing, could have sung… I don’t remember any actually because singing isn’t my thing. I cannot get the notes right if there are no instruments to set the tune for me, I can’t sing. But I like songs, or I like lyrics and the stories they tell. I collect lyrics.