2017-09-04 14:01 fiction science-fiction short-story return-to-ebyx Benjamin Brood

Nauja

Shila and Nauja intended to go the whole way around, everywhere they could. They believed that staying in one place for any period of time was not the way people were intended to live. After all, it wasn't the way their ancestors had lived — they had been nomads who moved from season to season, resource to resource. Shila and Nauja disdained the immovability of the village. But their arguments made no inroads. For three generations now they had lived there, in the same place. The elders would not hear them. But here was an entire world to cross, to discover, and to support them. Why wouldn't they take advantage of that? They could try to use sea canoes like their forefathers, although only a couple of people still knew how to build them, and they had become just ceremonial really. Also, there were no pack animals here to help them. Everything about the nature of the village kept them in the village.

But Nauja knew where the seeds from the pods were stored. After the last landing the pods died and rotted, but seeds from them were saved and always kept in the hall, locked in a box. They didn't know if these would work, if they would grow at all. And if the seeds did grow what would they become? They'd only heard about stories about what pods looked like, they knew they'd been used to get down here from the sky sea.

One night they quietly entered the hall, it was open to everyone in the village, but they didn't want to draw any attention to themselves. They found the box but they didn't know how to open it. They'd never seen anyone open the box. It was old, something that must've traveled over from Aok. It was made of a material like rock, it didn't feel like anything else. They discussed how to open it in hushed voices. Without a key, or something like a key, they'd have to try to smash it. This would be too loud to do in the hall. So they took the box.

The next morning one of the elders realized the box was gone. He called the others and they sent word around the village. "The box must be returned", they said.

Shila and Nauja had taken the box to a glade in the forest, near a small waterfall, a place that no one else knew about. The jungle was big, and they'd explored it more than the others who chose to stay in the village and in its farms. By nightfall the elders had sent out word again: "The box must be returned, you will not be punished".

They considered trying to smash the box with rocks or an ax. The more they looked at it the less they believed this would work. And while they couldn't lift the lid, they didn't see anything that kept the lid closed. They would return to the glade and stare at the box, trying to understand it. Then they noticed something happened when the morning sunlight rested on it, the seams appeared to swell. Shila took a stick and pried the seam, and it suddenly opened. The inside of the box was covered with something soft and velvety and completely black. There were seeds, a small pile, each seed perfectly round and small enough to fit in the palm of their hands.

They took two seeds out and carefully planted them. They put them in an area open enough for sunlight. They wondered if animals might try to eat them, so they built a small fence around them. And they promised each other they would come back everyday to check. Then they took the box back and replaced it as quietly as they'd removed it.

The elders said nothing more. But there was a moment when Nauja was speaking with her neighbor, that she feared she was suspected. A quality in the neighbor's body language, the movement of the eyes, and strange little pauses — Nauja wondered if everyone knew. She told Shila and they talked about how it would soon be time to leave.

The next day they returned to the glade and saw the ground was swollen. Purple sprouts had poked through. And the day after that the sprouts had become stalks that came up to their knees. They watered modestly, unsure of how to best care for whatever was growing.

On the third day the stalks flowered. Big yellow flowers with sharp petals. The centers looked moist. And the flowers gave off an aroma they'd never encountered before, something like the strong but not unpleasant smell of fur.

Their fence was untouched. Whatever was growing seemed to be uninteresting to the animals in the jungle.

Things were tense back in the village. By taking the box they had crossed a line and people moved strangely, distracted by this new sense of violation. Nothing could be taken for granted anymore. At night Shila and Nauja surreptitiously gathered things they wanted to take on their journey.

The pods emerged from the dirt like the tops of heads, with fine silky white hair. The stalks had fallen away, withered. But when they returned to the site the following day they saw one of the pods had turned black, it appeared deflated and sunken and there was a foul odor. What could've happened? They wondered. This was new to them.

Not knowing what else to do, they dug up the rotten pod and they pulled it out and they burned it. It was heavy. They thought it might've made a little noise, like a prolonged sigh, when they set it on fire. And they hoped no one would see the smoke.

In the next couple of weeks the remaining pod grew up out of the soil, with tendrils spiraling down into the dirt. They didn't know what to do for it anymore, watering it still seemed like a good thing to do. The pod was the shape of a teardrop. When Shila held her hand on it for a few moments she could feel it quiver slightly somewhere inside. The color of the skin shifted from white to a deep green. It was soft. And they couldn't tell if it had a front or a back.

When will we know?

One day they entered the glade and saw the pod was connected to the soil, but it didn't sit on the ground at all. It was hovering. They walked around it slowly looking for anything that might help them. Then it occurred to Shila, Oh! like the box in the morning sun. She looked for a seam. There was something around the lower half of the pod, and she tried to pry at it, like she'd done with the box. There was a sound like husking corn, and the pod opened, exposing a fibrous interior that emitted faint light. When the sun moved away in the sky, the opening closed.

Indirectly they said their good-byes. They collected their things. When the sun reached the pod that morning, they opened it and crawled inside. There were vines across the top, and flowers on the bottom, and they weren't sure what to do. Should we talk to it? Should we dream to it? Should we cut the vines? Should we try to roll it out of the garden? They waited several hours but nothing happened. The air inside was cool and fresh, much cooler than they were used to. They left that day disappointed.

They would eat some kajangka and dream to it. They would dream about the places they would go, and maybe the pod would hear them. They set everything up carefully that night. And they dreamed of huge mountains, and snow, and they dreamed of rocks at the edge of a gray ocean and of huge spiney trees.

In the morning in the glade they cut the tendrils that held the pod to the ground and they got into it again. It was vibrating. The faint light inside the pod appeared to change color, and pool up in one place, to take the shape of the glade outside in a way they recognized but also in a way that was abstract, or in a way that used a sense they didn't realize they had.

Then they were moving. They felt it shift and turn and they could feel the ground below them receding. The patterns of light and vibrations told them that the jungle was below them and they were finally moving.