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An Excerpt from The Reegiad

Chapter Thirty-five: The Neverdeep Sea

 
 

They arrived at that magic hour just after sunset when the sky itself provides all the world’s light. The landscape outstretched before them resembled desert as much as beach, while only a darkling glimmer along the horizon belied the presence of a sea, wine-dark and becalmed. Between here and yon top-heavy sea-stacks loomed in silhouette against the sky. After the sheltering confines of the forest the vastness of the beach afforded a sense of openness that was both liberating and a little scary. Scary, because Arti knew she was being hunted, and knew also that the sky was littered with electronic eyes. Liberating, because some of those eyes led back to her father — and hot showers and soft beds, and pretty dresses, and heels against tiled floors.

Haiku remained conspicuously absent, along with the canteens and all the camping gear. So with nothing else to do and unable to make camp, they wandered on, into the open and toward the briny scent of the sea, an exotic lure for Arti who had spent most of her life amid mountains, and a sign of food for Reegyn. The tang of sea breezes evoked a sense of optimism Arti knew was irrational, and yet she welcomed it. This had been such an emotional roller-coaster ride of a day that she simply gave in to it. Besides, she knew full well that a few trees would not hide them from the technologies available to her pursuers. The greater mystery was why it had taken them so long to find her.

It was an awful thing to feel so torn. She truly loved this place. Part of that love was powered by sheer curiosity, for now she understood how little the public had been told about Selene. If IlluminKraft had indeed lied, then she was seeing things she wasn’t meant to see, and who could resist a peek behind the curtain? And if IlluminKraft had lied, did her father know?

Her father had never lied about anything in his life for fear of burning in Hell. So the question was, would he lie in order to keep his job? Would the fear of unemployment trump the wishes of God himself, that big CEO in the sky?

Arti suspected the answer to this question would be determined by the power of rationalization. It seemed to her that religious people could rationalize just about any kind of sleazy behavior. But then, she was young and cynical, and knew everything.

Weary and foot-sore (and heart-sore, too) they both kept walking across the great flatness of sand. Perhaps it was a kind of momentum that kept them going, or perhaps hope, or wonder, or the lack of anything else to do. The beach was wondrously huge, but offered the promise of a sea somewhere up ahead. Arti spied movement from the corners of her eyes, but when she looked directly she saw nothing but tracks at her feet, widely spaced and crisscrossing at random. It looked as if someone had been racing remote controlled toy cars. While she puzzled over it, Reegyn yelped, “scramsanders!” and took off running. Where in the world did he find the energy?

Only then did Arti realize her perception of movement had not been a trick of the light. Those tracks had been made by creatures running around on wheels! Later she would dictate the following to her omni:

“I kid you not, dear diary. I swear to god, they were living creatures with wheels! They looked like something from a cartoon, sort of; a cross between Carl the Cab and Crabby the Crab. Much of their bodies were made up of a kind of sack that bellowed furiously, so I suspect their wheels were powered by air pressure. All the huffing and puffing made it seem like they were really pissed off all the time. Fully inflated the creatures were about the size of a football, but deflation reduced then to bony little crab-like things, but with wheels instead of legs. To be honest, they were hideous looking things.”

For the nonce, alas, Reegyn could not catch one. They zigged and zagged and sprayed rooster tails of sand in his face. A last he collapsed in a gasping, rib-aching heap. When Arti caught up with him he said, “Shit. Too fast. Ain’t got net. Or knife. I’m straffed.”

Arti plopped down beside him and wiggled her toes in sand still warm. A short distance away a flutterboat floated trapped and becalmed in a tidal pool. The pool was big, about half the length of a football field, its surface shimmering with skylight. The air lay still. The flutterboat wiggled its butterfly sails fruitlessly, seeking a breeze that refused to blow. She heard the sea breathing in the near distance, long and slow.

“Do you understand the tides here, Reegyn?” Arti said.

Reegyn shook his head. “Can’t make,” he said, “heads or tails. Of it.”

“I’ll bet this whole beach is covered during high tide,” she said.

“Most,” he said, “likely.”

Arti looked at the sky seeking moons. Mothermoon was absent, but another one floated stark and tiny in the east, almost full. She saw no sign of swift little Blitzermoon. She wondered how much pull such a tiny body would have on the oceans. Not much, she guessed. As usual,The Traveler’s Guide to Selene wasn’t much help.

Having caught his breath now, Reegyn stood, took Arti’s hands, and urged her to stand. He gazed at her with eyes full of sadness and adoration, almost as if he had already lost her. Moved by that look, Arti pulled him close and held him tight. “Don’t be like this, Reegyn,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Arti sensed him relax a little, perhaps somewhat reassured. Hand in hand they veered past the tidal pool and continued toward the sea. Neither of them knew why, really. Somehow it just seemed important to complete the journey as far as they could. When at last they arrived, the sea retreated from them, then returned a few seconds later. The waves were low, and long and slow, and not at all like ocean waves. Certainly not as dramatic as the Pacific. The water seemed as warm as Arti’s own blood.

The shallows seemed to extend seaward for many hundreds of meters. On the horizon a flat-topped island loomed against luminous clouds. Arti couldn’t imagine how its peak had been sheered off so neatly. Elsewhere and all around, sea-stacks and rock sculptures lay scattered on wine-glass pedestals.

A wave rushed a hundred meters across the beach and surged past Arti’s shins. The motion dizzied her, eroded sand from beneath her feet and tickled her soles. Had Reegyn not held her hand she might have lost her balance. She felt tiny, a mere mote amid immensity. Only the movement of water stirred the air and made it wet and briny. Reegyn looked from Arti’s face to rushing surf wearing a tentative smile of awe. Solid ground seemed many leagues away; now the flux of surf and the towering sky were all they knew, and each other.

They also knew an unresolved brokenness still lay between them. Arti could see it in Reegyn’s expression, feel it in the tentative way he touched her. He had such big expressive eyes for a boy, and within those eyes lay anxieties Arti did not know how to assuage.

As they waded ashore Arti remained keenly aware of Reegyn’s awareness of her. She loved the way he scanned her hair, the way his eyes lingered on her breasts before flicking to her face. It made her feel truly seen. Such looks acknowledged her in a way that seemed more than sexual. It was certainly more than sexual for Reegyn, for Arti now understood that she had become his entire world in a way that was not even possible for an ordinary person, for someone not marooned in immensity, and without a past. Arti felt this as both a burdensome responsibility and a flattery.

So was love simply a huge ego trip for Artemis Wilde? No, of course not, for Reegyn truly and utterly beguiled her. If sex is the at the root of love for most young people, then this is particularly true for a girl who had been a boy, and as a boy had found no comfort or excitement in sex, a boy for whom sex had seemed a cruel joke. The few times she had experimented with sex as a boy, nothing seemed to fit. Not only was orgasm maddeningly elusive, but so was its reputed spirituality. She had read in a sociology text that a young person’s discovery of sexuality could be experienced as a revelation. For Arthur Wilde Junior, though, it had revealed only emptiness.

Reegyn had banished that emptiness. He had made manifest the reputed spirituality of sexual love.

This analysis did not scroll through Arti’s mind in so many words but revealed itself as a felt wholeness. Now she turned to her lover and blurted, “You know, Reegyn. I do love you.”

Reegyn smiled wanly, shaking his head as if he had just dodged a bullet. “You ain’t said that since yesterday,” he said.

Arti heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Jesus, what a day.”

Reegyn stroked her hair, touched her face. He examined her as if he hadn’t seen her in years. Arti felt as if she were being made love to with his eyes alone. “Yea verily,” he said, “what a fucked-up day.”

They held one another. As easily as falling off a log, they kissed tenderly, thus mending all the day’s wounds. It felt really, really good. “I love you too,” Reegyn murmured.

So there you have it, dear reader. Not a single issue was discussed nor nary a disagreement resolved. Nonetheless they had suddenly made up and were back in love again. So it goes.

“I’m pretty hungry,” said Arti.

“Me too,” Reegyn said. “Sorry I couldn’t catch a scramsander.”

“How much meat is on a scramsander anyway?” said Arti.

“Not much,” said Reegyn. “I’d have to catch three or four.”

“Maybe one of your rotored friends could bring us a fish,” she said.

“Ain't got my flute,” said Reegyn.

“Now you do,” she said. “Look behind you.”

Reegyn looked. Haiku bestrode the gloaming surf like an alien Jesus upon the Sea of Galilee (or a giant two-headed goose), her dandelion eyes catching the last of the day’s light. Beyond her, Blitzermoon arose from behind the clouds, a hard starlike glint, waxing rapidly. This crazy thought passed through Arti’s mind: Haiku’s own star of Bethlehem.

Reegyn ran to Haiku, splashing through the tide, gleefully calling her name. The way he acted made Arti think of her own childhood when her father returned home from one of his long business trips. She, a little boy, would run to him calling Daddeeeee! as if he embodied the second coming. (What’s with all the Christian allusions all of a sudden? Sheesh!) Reegyn flung himself upon Haiku thus answering the age-old question, How do you hug an alien? Reegyn did it by leaping and swinging from one of her eye-stalks, by swinging one leg through the Vee where her goose-necks joined to form her “necky thing.” From there he climbed to her back and lay on his belly, arms outspread. And that’s how you hug an alien.

Who knows how Haiku felt about all this. Arti wasn’t any good at reading splinkish body language. Haiku one-eyed Reegyn, regarded Arti with the other eye, and kept on walking. Arti felt relieved to see all their gear still in place on Haiku’s back.

When Haiku reached dry land Reegyn was crouched on her back virtually aglow with happiness. “Look what the cat drug in,” he said.

“It’s about damn time,” Arti said. “Haiku, where have you been?”

The alien seemed to gather her thoughts and said, “Haiku flying asshole.”

“You crushed them single-handed, did you?” Arti said.

“Haiku ain’t got no hands,” said Reegyn.

“It’s a figure of speech,” said Arti.

They pitched camp way back in the dunes in the lee of one of those big pedestaled rocks, presumably beyond the reach of the tides. Arti popped the tent while Reegyn and Haiku went hunting.

After staking out the lamps Arti settled on a parachute and made her diary entry. “Thank god I don’t have to sleep on bare ground,” she said. “Sometimes this whole thing feels like a dream, like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. Haiku intrigues me. She knows more than she is able to express in English. It seems to me she speaks with a slight Japanese accent, which is weird for a creature who can parrot any sound she pleases. And get this, dear diary. She goes missing all day right along with my pursuers. Can this be mere coincidence? Has she done something to them? She looks like a cartoon character and sounds like a little girl, so it would be all too easy to underestimate her. But saying so out loud makes me wonder if I’m being paranoid. Come to think of it, I’m surrounded by cartoon characters today. Maybe I am dreaming.”

By the time Blitzermoon waxed gibbous in the east, a tiny shirt button, a landward breeze had begun to blow. The moon she had spotted earlier now stood at zenith, less than full, half the size of Luna as seen from Earth. Its wane and verdant radiance highlighted tidal pools scattered across the beach turning them all molten. The distant sea wore a stripe of tarnished silver. Arti’s stomach growled the very moment she spied Reegyn and Haiku in the distance astride their own inky shadows.

After they had eaten their fill they sat shoulder to shoulder atop a dune and watched the tide advance across the beach swallowing tidal pools. “So what do we do now?” she said.

“To go forth yonderly,” Reegyn said, “or to sidestep the briny deep?”

“’Tis the question,” Arti averred.

“Do we still slouch toward Humany?” queried Reegyn.

“That’s the plan,” said Arti. “If so, we could just sit here and wait for that IlluminKraft runabout to land on us.”

“Speaking thusly,” said Reegyn, “where the hell is it? And where are the flying assholes?”

“Better yet,” Arti said, “how does one tell friend from asshole?”

“Tiz a pretty pickle,” Reegyn said, and fell into silent thought. “Arti, what do you want to do? Are you itching to get back home to dear old daddy?”

Arti heaved a deep and trembly sigh, snuggling closer still. “Yes,” she said. “No. I don’t know anymore. I want both. I’m a spoiled brat, as you can plainly see.”

“Haiku thinks we can cross yonder sea,” Reegyn said.

“Really? Did she tell you that?”

“In so many words,” Reegyn said.

“I’ll bet,” Arti said. “So many garbled words.”

“Verily.”

“So does Haiku have a say in all this now?” Arti said.

“I reckon,” Reegyn said. “She wanted me to come with you, or you to come with me. You know, back at that other sea.”

“Lobey’s Sea,” Arti said. “Did she really?”

“I think so,” said Reegyn. “It’s hard to tell.”

“But why?” Arti said.

“I can chik only a glimmer of an answer,” Reegyn said, “but I think it’s because she cares about me. She was worried about me.”

“Why was she worried, Reegyn?”

“I think I was dying,” he said. “Dying inside. I think she knew how lonely I was.”

“How could she have been so sure?” Arti said. “I mean . . . she doesn’t think like us.”

Reegyn squirmed. Arti could tell he was uncomfortable. “You can tell me,” she urged.

“Okay,” he said. “I didn’t fess it before, but . . . I tried to off myself like you did. Only I jumped off a high place.”

“Oh no,” Arti gasped.

“I’m pretty sure the ground broke some bones. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t die. I would have if it hadn’t been for Haiku.”

“Oh my god,” said Arti. She was curious to know how Haiku was able to nurse him, but decided to save it for later. “So Haiku cares about you and wants us to be together. Do you think she cares about me too?”

“You can’t tell?” Reegyn said. “She thinks you’re delicious. And I think she wants us to cross yonder pond.”

“But where is she taking us, Reegyn?”

“She won’t say. Or don’t know how. You know how fucked-up she is.”

“Not as fucked-up as you thought, I dare say.”

“I double dare,” Reegyn said.

“But what are we supposed to do,” Arti said, “swim?”

“Haiku can swim us,” he said. “Besides, she says it’s not that deep.”

“How not-deep can a sea be?”

“Beats hell outa me,” said Reegyn. “Maybe we can walk.”

Remembering the way she felt during their brief wade earlier, Arti couldn’t imagine even trying.

 

 
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