“I’m going in that direction to check out that thing.” I said before walking off. Aurora gave me a nod of acknowledgement. “Thanks for letting us know this time. If you’re not back in a couple hours we’ll come searching.”
When I got close enough to see the structure for what it was, I realised it was some kind of building, made out of a series of containers stacked together. I searched for an entrance and my eyes landed on some dead vines woven together to form a curtain of sorts. I’ve still got the hedge clipper so I used it to cut the interfering vines away, just in case.
Inside was dark. I shone my spotlight around. Something was living here. There were places for sitting and discarded bits of food amidst ship parts and obscure mechanical bits. I walked around a bit, alert to any noise.
Then I chanced upon a sizable pile of bones in a far room near the corner of the whole structure. I examined it, to see if I could determine what species they belonged to. They looked human. An alarm sounded in my head. I went on more cautiously as I went to explore the remaining parts of the building. But I found nothing more of interest other than further signs of habitation. I headed back to the Xing.
“There’s nothing like a hot bath to cure everything.” I announced as I plopped myself down at the lounge.
“That’s for sure. Find anything interesting out there?” Estella asked me.
“Welcome home.” Aurora said as she slid a slice of cake atop a plate towards me.
“A bunch of containers heaped atop each other that house a cannibal? Looks like human bones to me.”
Aurora looked a little unsettled at the news, “Did the bones appear gnawed on? Or just laying there with rags around them? It could of been the occupants just died?” She asked hopefully. Estella just listened with a thoughtful look.
“Unless the occupant is a giant, I don’t think the pile could be that big. And there weren’t any marks on them. They were stacked in a far off room. Just seemed creepy to me.”
“Let’s not stick around long enough to find out if the place’s owner is still alive then?” Estella said. “There’s got to be a way to get the lights on down here, something powered that elevator after all.”
“It was a key pad that got us down. So another keypad would get us up?” I suggested.
“Good point,” Aurora accepted my point, “Picking over the wrecks doesn’t seem to be very helpful, and the bio fuel converter should have our tanks filled enough to make the journey home in a while. We can search along the walls of this place for doors and keypads, see if maybe we can find a control room or the elevator controls at least.”
“Estella, your new pet escaped the garden.” Aurora pointed towards the door. Me and Estella got up and poked our heads out of the door to see that plant creature Estella lured with fruit slices wandering off down the hallway.
“So much for garden confinement. I guess you better go get it.” I told her.
“I guess it learned how to work a hatch lever.” She shrugged, “Guppy, could you keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t get into trouble, and Hue doesn’t try to put it in the bio converter?”
Guppy smiled and ran out.
“As long as it doesn’t try to harvest the ship I don’t see a need to keep it locked up?” Estella said.
“Hue is just going to loooove this.” Aurora said with a snicker.
“I’m not having a good feeling of Guppy and plantsie together but we need to go and find that other keypad.”
“We should take both of them with us honestly, I’m not super comfy with the idea of leaving them here alone with some cannibal maybe out there.” Aurora said.
“I don’t think the cannibal will eat Vines.” Estella said with a shrug. “Still, better it stay with us for now, I doubt Hue wants to be alone with it.”
“All right, let’s go find them then.” I went after Guppy. I heard footsteps behind me a few moments later. We followed a mud trail to the bridge but nobody was there. Then we spotted it again leading towards the quarters but it came to a dead end again. Then the cargo hold and still not there.
“That girl surely is slippery.” I commented before turning towards Engineering, the last place to check. I found her standing in the doorway holding one hand over her mouth and trying not to giggle. I smacked my forehead. Talk about jinxing.
I walked up to get a better view of H squared’s hysterics and assess how best to step in. Instead, he was on his belly working in some panel, with lots of wires and things exposed. Vines was standing over him with a large wrench in one of its vines. It handed the wrench to H squared. He took it without looking back and seemed to have mumbled something.
“My opinion of this plant’s intelligence is going up rather quickly.” Aurora whispered in awe.
“Um…I guess Hue just found an assistant?” Estella sounded confused. Just then, H squared mumbled something and Vines rummaged in the tool kit, took a spanner out and handed it to H squared. The duo worked together as if they’ve been doing things like that for years.
“Guppy, is Hue friends with Vines?” Aurora asked.
“That… wasn’t quite what I expected. I was expecting a scene.” I admitted.
Guppy could not stop herself giggling loudly. “Probably, but I don’t think Hue knows who it is.”
“Well, if everything is so harmonious, let’s leave the two of them be.” I suggested.
“Hue, I’ve tamed one of the plants, it’s going to help you repair the ship.” Estella called out, to preempt a panic attack, I presumed. Meanwhile, H squared directed Vinest to hold two pieces of conduit together while he sealed them. Then he mumbled something but it was anyone’s guess whether he meant for Vines again or Estella.
“Agreed Sam, let’s leave them to handle repairs, and I feel better knowing Hue isn’t all alone here.” Aurora said and Estella agreed that we should go. Guppy looked torn for a moment but then turned to follow us.
I strode out of the Xing. ‘Which direction do we go?”
“Up to you Sam, I trust your judgement.” Aurora told me with a confident smile. Sometimes the gals had more confidence in me than I do.
“One direction seems as good as another.” Estella commented.
“Yeah, that’s why I asked. I thought someone might have some idea of where to start. How do people normally design up and down escalators?” I thought about it for a second and added, “ I mean, besides putting them next to each other?”
“True, let’s start with the top wall and work our way around the perimeter?” Aurora suggested.
“Actually, have we searched close by? Thinking about my escalators being side by side thing.”
“Good question, I don’t think we have, let’s start there.” Aurora agreed.
“Seems like a good idea to find out what’s right around the ship anyway.” Estella nodded in approval.
“We will do a 360 around the ship first and then we expand the circle if we don’t find anything?”
“Good plan.” “Sure, I’ll bring up the rear like usual.”
“Look here,” Aurora pointed at the dirt. “These lead off that way, the controls are probably back there where the ship stopped going down before it moved to the side.”
“That sounds like where I’d put the controls,” Estella nods, “Let’s follow the tracks?” We did that, walked through a trail of random junk until we came to a rectangular shape right in the middle of the pathway. It turned out to be some machinery with strange controls on it.
“You think this is it? Aurora, your show, I think.” I said.
“It could be,” Aurora around it slowly, playing her light across its surface to get an idea of what it might do before randomly pushing buttons and throwing levers. While she did that, I stood by in red alert mode just in case we were jumped by giants.
“Pretty sure this is our ticket out of here,” Aurora finally said with a nod. “Do we want to head back to the surface or explore down here more before I try to get us back up?”
“I say back up, food is probably a more immediate concern now. If H square has any demand for spare parts, we can come down later now that you’ve cracked the password.”
“Good point.” She nodded, glancing over at Estella and then down at Guppy. “You both cool with us getting out of here?”
“More than.” Estella said. “We come back, we’re bringing more light, this place is way too dark for my comfort level.”
“Guppy? You are part of the crew, your input matters.” Aurora encouraged her with a smile.
Guppy looked around and then put on the most serious expression she could muster. “Mhm, I agree. We should go. Besides that gives me more time to play with Vines. I gotta train him, ya know.”
I raised an eyebrow at her for that.
“With how smart he is, be careful he doesn’t train you.” Aurora said with a joking smile, turning her attention back to the controls. “Okay now let’s seee here..” and turned her attention to fiddling with the levers and buttons
“What do you plan to train Vines to do?” Estella asked Guppy curiously.
“Well, I definitely want him to attack anybody who tries to hurt me. And maybe I can teach him to scare people. Like stand real still until they sit under him for shade. Then BAM! Vines on their shoulder.” She started giggling uncontrollably.
Aurora rolled her eyes but she was grinning at the same time. “Just be careful not to teach him things that will get him hurt or you into a lot of trouble.”
Guppy gave a lopsided smile and a promise. I looked at Estella. “Looks like you have competition for your pet.”
“Good idea on attacking anyone who tries to hurt you,” Estella told Guppy while nodding to me with a chuckle. “Everyone needs someone to watch their back. Vines seems to fit in well on board, I think we have our ship’s mascot. With any luck it can also convince the rest of the plants up top to leave us alone on our next visit, and keep any more that get on board from trashing the ship.”
There was a great grinding sound, then a deep vibration came up through the floor. “Sounds like that’s it.”
Aurora agreed with me. “When the ship moves past we’ll hop on.” Estella gave her assent.
The grinding went on for some time. The Xing came into view almost reluctantly, it felt. And that turned out to be because it was pulled along by a glowing blue netting that had enveloped it.
“Hmmm…. didn’t expect the blue netting.” I said.
“It’s to keep it from falling off I think.” Estella seemed to be inspecting the gaps between the squares that made up the net. She apparently found that to her satisfaction and boarded the Xing. “”Let’s get on while we got the chance.” She said and held out a hand to those of us who wanted to take it.
I went up myself. “Do you think we will be able to lift up from that blue netting?”
Aurora came up behind Guppy. “It should vanish once the lift stops. I’ll go check on the converter and see how the refueling is coming along.”
“I will go and catch my beauty sleep then.” I walked off towards my own quarter.
“A great idea.” That was what I heard when I walked into the lounge.”What’s this great idea?” I asked.
“So we suck up tanks of goop and use it to fuel the ship.” Estella summarised for me.
“Does this mean I get to go play with it again?” Guppy was positively glowing as she asked.
“Thank Guppy, our little genius is the mastermind behind the plan.” Aurora turned to her and gave her a firm nod, “That you do, you can run the hose into the center of it and suck it all up.”
She sat up tall and proud at that.
“I can land the ship near it, make it easier to just pump it directly on board.” Estella said.
“Perfect.” That was from Aurora.
“Right, that’s also closer to the forest.” I was thinking of the food forage.
H squared and Vines walked past at that moment. He was gesturing and mumbling animatedly. Vines shambled along after him.
I gave a thumbs up to Guppy. “Looks like the two of them are getting along very well.”
“I can land us on top of the ridge where there’s no air, Guppy can just climb down with a hose using her talent, and suck up the goop.”
Guppy giggled. “I have a talent.”
“I’m surprised how quickly Hue clicked with Vines, not complaining, just surprised.” Apparently I was not the only one who saw the sight. “I’ll fashion a long hose then.” Aurora told Guppy.
“The ship seems to resonate with Hue, and I think the vines on some level.” Estella shrugged.
“Perhaps H squared has been talking plant all along.” I joked.
The refueling plan went along admirably, except for the time it took. But what could you say for efficiency when you put a girl on the job? At any rate, I was waiting for nightfall so I could hunt for game in the forest.
“The new fuel and whatever Hue and Vines are doing has made our girl nice and agile, I could get used to this.” Estella told us happily over the intercom.
I blinked several times before I realised she was talking about the Xing, not Guppy. For Guppy had finally come in and she looked like a child-sized glowing red firefly. For it was fully dark outside and I headed out into the woods.
Not far in, I saw a cluster of bladed plants of a pale colour but with bright red splotches. They were as tall as a tree and their blades looked sharp enough to slice open skin. I decided that Estella should take a plant at these.
“I wonder if the jungle is reacting to our presence?” Estella pondered on possibilities, “Or if this is what that red goop grows into when planted?” She took a sample of the nearest plant.
“It never occurred to me those goo were plants, I thought they were mineral based.”
“I bled on one before the other day.” She told me. “I wonder if it used my blood to… evolve?”
I shrugged, bade farewell to her and moved out further into the forest.