Here is the conclusion to Chapter 13 of Emprise. If you like it, you might like the rest. The entire book is meant to read like whispered promises, like kisses, like lyrics sung by a lover, the universe, or God. You don’t have to believe in a God or something beyond the mundane path to death in order to enjoy it, but it’ll help. It is the story of two teenagers who loved the Universe and found it loved them right back. But then again, all my stories are love stories.
Falling (Emprise, Chapter 13)
Robin edged the glitterfly alongside the blob, then, untying it, hopped on the large blob with Charlie. She caressed the glitterfly one last time, and said, “Thank you for saving us. Go find your friends.” With those words, the huge fish butterflied itself into the dark ocean and disappeared.
Charlie did not move, but lay on his back, looking at her. She could see in his eyes he was relieved and even happy to see her, but his face was still a twisted scowl. “We aren’t exactly saved yet,” he said. His lips were not moving, but she could hear his words.
Robin looked from him to the axe. They were sinking, slowly. It was bitterly cold now, and the water moved sluggishly. Below them, miles below, she could make out sharp spires of ice. The ice was bright against the murky deep, illuminated as if from below.
Charlie, meeting her gaze, spoke up. “We’re on an ocean planet. I think the whole planet is water, even the core.” He sat up, still holding the axe. As he did, the blob bobbed momentarily higher. Charlie looked at the blob, speaking. “It keeps sinking, and we’re not strong enough to swim up without it.
Robin gestured toward the ice. “What do you think happens when we get there?” she said.
Charlie shrugged. “Dunno. Either we get stuck there, or crushed from the pressure, or burn to death.”
“Burn to death? In the ocean? It’s like ice water.” They could feel the cold, although vaguely. In time, their bodily functions would slow down sufficiently to stop their hearts.
“I’m not sure why I know,” Charlie said, “but I think that glow is heat. There’s some rocky core – magma or whatever, and the water is above it. The pressure from the miles of ocean is so great, it’s formed some weird ice mantle. Except it’s a hot as the earth’s mantle.”
“Fire water,” Robin said. “My people always were at risk from men bearing fire water.” She was speaking solemnly.
For the first time, Charlie’s scowled eased, and he burst into a broad grin. His dimples lit the ocean, and Robin’s mood with them. “You are so goofy,” he said.
“I can’t help it,” Robin answered, now laughing at herself as well. “I’m one-quarter Tewa. I’m sensitive to stuff like that.”
Charlie looked over the side at the glow below once more. “I’m part Scottish. My dad claims we invented strong drink.”
“I figured this was your fault somehow.” Before Charlie could defend himself, she looked at him, still with the axe, and had an idea. “Charlie, you have to let go of that axe.”
“What? Why?” he protested. “That elephant guy gave it to me. I’m supposed to do something with it. I just don’t know what yet.”
Charlie gaped at her. “Heffalump? Seriously?”
In response, Robin blinked at him. Twice.
“Okay, ‘Lord Heffalump’ wants me to fight something. Maybe once we land on the bottom, there’s some creature we’re supposed to kill.”
“You’re rationalizing. What he wants you to fight is anger. Just let it go.”
Charlie shook his head. “That thing is playing games. He’s … she’s, whatever, connected to Siri. I don’t trust him. I’m keeping this axe for protection.” He held it protectively to his chest.
“He’s not an enemy, Charlie.”
Charlie hesitated before responding. The water was beginning to warm. They were running out of time. “How do you know?” he asked.
Robin touched his arm. “Because I’m me, Boo,” she said.
Charlie searched her eyes, then, wordlessly, threw the axe over his shoulder, and into the depths. She knew that he would.
“I hope we don’t die, dream girl,” he said, holding her.
She allowed herself to be held, and closed her eyes. Beneath, they heard the faint clink of the metal axe impacting the ice below. This was followed by a loud cracking, which they felt, rather than heard, the vibrations knocking them on their bellies. Each of the teens clutched at a side of the blob, just as it rocketed upward in a bubbling gush of water. Quickly they rose – a hundred feet, a thousand, a mile, and rising quickly. As they ascended, propelled by the gust of gas and hot water released from beneath the broken ice, the blob expanded in size. With every lessening bit of water pressure, the fish grew, itself filled with expanding gases.
By the time they passed through the miles-long school of glitterflies, the light blob was a hundred feet in diameter. Miles higher, ascending with the speed of a hot air balloon riding a strong updraft, they passed schools of what must have been this world’s version of whales. They were gentle creatures, long and wide, with enormous eyes and mouths. Robin was now on her knees, hands uplifted, and hair flying behind her. As she passed, these not-a-whales sang to her. Their songs were low rumbles, unmelodic, but lovely. Behind Robin, Charlie was standing, grinning.
“How do you feel, Dimple Boy?”
“Lighter,” he replied. Robin nodded and resumed sailing on the rising blob.
In time, the water became brighter, as light from above the surface began to break through the ocean depths. They had been rising for close to an hour, and were still a hundred feet below the surface. Robin turned to speak to Charlie, but she could no longer form the words. He was kneeling, his eyes wide, a hand covering his mouth.
He could no longer breathe the water.
Robin thought to give him mouth-to-mouth, wondered if he would think she was trying to kiss him, when her breath suddenly stopped as well. She looked up, and could see a rippling orb of light above. It was the sun. Now, in a race to the surface, riding atop a two-hundred-fifty-foot-wide yellow orb, Robin and Charlie held their breath as long as they could. Robin willed the blob to rise faster, panic seeping into her mind as surely as water would fill her lungs. She would drown in the panic, the wet, claustrophobic horror of it. No more than thirty minutes before, she was a creature of the depths, as comfortable and at peace as any glitterfly, not-a-whale, or floating toothtrap below them. Now, she was an interloper.
She began to swim, needed to leave the blob, wanted to reach the surface faster. As she did, something clutched at her feet, attempting to drown her, murder her in this soggy hell. She kicked it off her; it flailed below her in pain and released her. Twenty feet higher, something grabbed both legs at once, ensnaring her, pulling her down. She fought blindly, swung, and thrashed with all her might.
It grabbed her, pulled her to it. It would bite her next, perhaps ending her life, seventy feet from the surface. She closed her eyes, trapped, awaiting its deathblow …
… and it kissed her cheek and held her, gently. Her eyes opened to see Charlie staring at her with concern. He was swimming slowly to the surface, his strong legs kicking beneath him. He was holding her in his arms, his eyes never leaving hers. Robin looked down and could see her rope looped around her ankles.
Moments later, they breached the surface, blinded momentarily by sunlight, their burning lungs filling with air. After coughing and gasping, then regaining their lungs, Charlie told Robin she had begun to panic, and was rising to the surface too quickly. He had attempted to restrain her, but she had kicked him in the face, bloodying his nose. The rope, then his strong arms, followed.
“Why didn’t you just let me reach the surface, and follow me up?” she asked. She was sorry to have hurt him, but annoyed that his fear of water had caused him to pull her back to him, as crabs will in a steaming pot of water.
“I figured the jellyfish we’ve been riding moves at that pace for a reason. You know, to let its body adapt to the decreasing water pressure. Since it lives here, I thought if you came up faster, the bends would kill you.”
“Jellyfish …” Robin said, absently. Then, “I thought you said you can’t swim,” she said.
“I can’t. But I can dream that I can.” For her, he had learned to dream, finally to dream.
She looked at him for a time, then swam closer, and kissed him. It was a real kiss, strong and fevered, her tongue dancing with his for the first time in their young lives. Her eyes clamped themselves shut, and she delighted in the pebbly softness of his intruding tongue. As she pulled back, she looked at him, overcome with embarrassment and emotions she had never acknowledged.
You. It’s you.
It had always been him.
Charlie looked at her – his eyes filled with questions, bright with emotion, and shook his head. He touched his lips with an index finger, then with his tongue. For a moment, she feared he would kiss her again, but instead he smiled. She swam, for a moment, in his dimples, floated in his eyes, lassoed herself with his curls, and, quietly … fell.
“Duck!” Charlie screamed.
A second later, screeching in from a cloudless sky, an enormous bird ripped them from the ocean. It had hidden itself by diving from the direction of the blinding sun. It rose, the air thinning, growing colder, getting dark.
They were being abducted, and not to this gentle world.