2017-12-31 21:29 short-story science-fiction return-to-ebyx fiction


Past mountains, around bogs, across broad plains of dry scrub that could easily cut you, he went. Hanging from his neck was an ancient thing, from their past world, and he didn't know how it worked but it did work. It was a Navigator. When he held it up to the shape of Ckiqs in the sky, then Ckiqs was there, it told him what direction he was going and how far away he was from where they landed several generations ago, the place they started. It told him in a whisper, it was a gentle voice that he could even hear in the areas where great winds roared or even in the middle of a storm. For him the voice was reassuring, and in the times when he felt anxious it calmed him.

He'd traveled across a large amount of the wild places — the places in the far north or the far south, away from the crisscross of train tracks and towns and the overhead buzz of Skimmers. Far above themselves satellites pinged mercilessly back to the towns and cities and trains telling everyone where everyone was. But not like the Navigator, not with poetry.

His walking was like a story. Except for the Navigator he relied on the skills taught to him by his mother and father. Their great-greats brought this knowledge with them from Aok. They didn't land with the others — because of some error they landed far away from the others. It was a long time before they found the villages that sprung up in the meantime. They tried to settle down like the others, they tried for a generation, but there was nothing for them in the villages except noise and interruptions and Councils and arguments.

He was born in the small space under a boulder, sheltered from a rain storm. When he came of age he bid his mother and father goodbye, they walked one way, he another. Later, when he passed through a small remote town, he stopped for a while and he met his wife. She was reluctant to live as a wanderer since she had grown up in the village, but she loved him, and she knew he couldn't stay.

Their first season was easy, the weather was good and there was plenty of food. She became pregnant and they found a nice area by a lake to have the child. They would stay there until the child was strong enough to travel, like his parents had done with him. He built a shelter with trees he cut, he put traps out and he fished, collecting as much food as he could.

When it came time for her to give birth he knew something was wrong. The baby wasn't in the right position, and he tried everything he could, that he'd been taught, but it went badly and he didn't have enough experience to know what to do. For two days his wife struggled, but the baby was stillborn. His wife didn't stop bleeding. He put them together in a pyre somewhere that had a nice view of the mountains, so that they would always see.

He regretted things now, he regretted his nature, he regretted not staying with her in town. But he also knew it would've been impossible.

Then for months he rode the trains that went between the wide areas that used to be jungle. He thought of the trains as great serpents, winding their routes along the ground and under hills, and up and over them too. And the trains slinked across the soil and they sometimes rested in huge yards with one another to keep warm. And he watched these monsters and thought that he should get back to walking the places that were forgotten, away from this, but he found solace in the speed of the trains and in the particular nighttime skies of the spaces between stations.

One day he noticed a young man following him, hanging back, but working his way across the same trains and through the same train yards. Equ hid and waited for him.

"Why are you following me?" He confronted the man.

Startled, the man said "I'm not, I'm not following you… I'm studying you." The young man explained he was an academic, that he was studying wanderers.

"Studying? What for?" Equ asked.

"For when you're gone, when your kind of people are gone, when we don't wander any more, so that we'll have a record, so that we'll understand," the man said.

"If you really want to understand then you'll have to travel with me. I cannot tell you, not with words."

The young man balked at this, he said he couldn't just leave, that he had responsibilities. How can you understand if you can't sacrifice anything, Equ thought. But he didn't ask him this because he thought it would be tiring and futile. Then Equ wondered if he too was unwilling to sacrifice, because all he knew was the Navigator, that if he wanted to understand the young man he too would have to sacrifice something.

"But why do you want to understand? Why does it matter?" Equ asked.

"So that we don't forget, so that we know how people used to live." The young man said.

"I live this way now, I am not yet dead. If you want to understand, walk into the world." And Equ reached around his neck and removed the Navigator. He handed it to the young man and he said "this will tell you the words you want to know."

That night was the quietest night Equ had ever known.