The Logs of the TDFS Tindome
Chapter 62: The Twilit Shore
"Mannie," warns Bavör. "We're moving on TK power, not with the gas bags.
It's drawing all our power. What's happening out there?"
"Is it using all our power?" asks the other dwarf.
"Yes, we've hit 100%."
Mannie has Eïr cut back on our forward motion. Bay checks the gauge. "That's not good enough," he reports.
Mannie urges our impromptu helmsman to sink closer to the sea-like surface. She is unhappy about getting closer to the dangerous interface, but she lowers the ship. It helps. "Much better. Keep it here," reports Bay.
The captain, lying on the deck of the upper bridge, regains consciousness. He stares up at the sky: black with many hard, bright stars. Mannie bends over and explains what has happened. Finwë sits up, and finds that he has overshot. He was not feeling light-headed; he was feeling light. He stands up and looks out the window at the spire. "What is that well-lit thing?"
"It's the only thing ... here."
"The engines don't sound right."
"Bay is trying to keep things running," explains Mandorak.
"Mr. Craggenhilt, do you see that?" He points to the dent in the viewing bubble, with the waves of distortion around it.
"Yes, Chekhov was there."
"I thought we were very light. Oh, the bust was thrust into the window."
Up on the observation deck, Eric looks up at the airbag. It's really taut, but most of its staylines are showing a bit of slack. He tells Mandorak, who doesn't understand its significance. Mannie tells Bay, who does understand. Bay explains, "The bag has more air in it than there is in the 'space' around the bag. This also means that the bag is not providing any lift."
"Can we use that air in the ship?"
"Yes. But we should have plenty of air, because this amount of the stored, jellied air," he cups his hands together, "makes this much air out here," and he spreads his hands well apart.
"But it's leaking to the outside," protests Mannie.
Bay drains some of the air back into the ship, using up a bit of power. Soon, the ship shows increasing buoyancy, and its TK power consumption decreases. Carefully, he finds the best balance of air in the bag to keep them moving up.
That crisis over, Mannie examines the outside scene. "Where are the shadows?" he wonders. He can see the texture of the spire, which implies shadowing. He can tell that he can see even better than he could back home on Hreme, on a moonlit night with the edgefires behind him. He keeps examining the scene. He comes to understand that the spire is truly huge; it is a land the size of Lanthil. He increases the magnification on the window as he looks the spire over, looking for a cave-like area to aim for. Now he can tell that some of the smaller spires are really tall, spindly trees, the same silvery grey as the spire itself. He estimates that we are still several hundred meters from the spire.
"Chekhov, what's outside?"
"Not much. Rock, water, a little air."
"What are those vegetable things?" he persists.
"Not a menace to navigation." This is not the sort of answer Mannie was hoping for. Eïr finally unpins the bust from under her thigh, and hands it to Mannie. He puts it down in an upright position.
Sam watches Eïr wince as she hands over Chekhov, and asks, "It there anything I can do, about your head?"
"I'll take care of it later," the healer promises.
She adjusts the steering so that we begin to circle the spire by moving to our left. Looking down, Mannie can see the sea-like interface making waves as it laps on the shore of the spire. He informs everyone of this.
Eric has been watching his paper dart. (The one with a bound dowse to the source of the sky-gold and sky-silver from the Island.) The dart continues to point to the spire even as the object moves towards starboard. He mentions this.
We realize that we should angle more towards the spire. "Move dead slow," Mannie advises Eïr. She slows down even further; she is not the most confident of helmsmen. "Let's try to hover over the beach, not too close to the base of the spire."
They sink closer to the interface. We can see vegetation on the sand, and trees farther away. We catch glimpses of the Tindomë in the surface of the interface. The 'water' laps gently up on the beach, a very sparkly beach. There's not much color; everything is black and white and shades of grey. There is a shaded area on the beach that is the outline of our ship, but it's not a crisp, distinct image. There is still no defined light source we can detect.
Mannie asks Bay about this air-stuff, "Do we have air outside?" Bay studies his gauges: they show that the air in the bag is now at about the same pressure as the outside, and guesses that this means that there is now more air outside. Mannie checks the door that had been hissing. It is no longer hissing.
Mannie asks the Captain to bring up the net, so he can communicate remotely with Bavör. He then prepares to open the cargo hold door, and slam it shut again instantly. He opens it, and breathes deeply. The air is cold, and thin, very like the top of a moderate mountain. He looks out again at the silvery trees. "Bay, could we use these trees to repair our engines?"
"We have our tools. Yes, we could."
Eïr mentions, "Aldamir knows a lot about wood. Maybe he can help too."
Since Aldamir is also on the net, he sniffs that he does have some acquaintance with some kinds of wood. Mannie asks him to come to the loading dock, and look out at the trees.
Meanwhile, Sam sidles over to Eric and says, "Did I hear right? Were we leaking air out the door?"
"Then we really are in space." She shivers.
"We're not leaking now."
She starts to giggle. "I'm sorry. 'Elves in space' just seems so... inappropriate." She turns to the Oakley lad. "You know about space. Are we really in space?"
Aldamir looks hopelessly around the scene outside the cargo door. Mannie points out the trees to him. He looks at them carefully. "Those are deciduous down there, and those up there are conifers. The weather would be... oh, no, it could be the amount of air, with it getting thin up there. Ummm."
"Cool. Let's take a look," responds Mannie, who tosses down a rope ladder.
Ignoring the ladder, the young Oakley says, "It's not like any part of space I've ever learned about. I think we should keep checking."
"What's to check? We can breathe, and we're here." Mannie starts climbing down. Sam climbs after him. Aldamir hesitates, but grips the ladder tightly, and slowly works his way down.
Mannie finds the ground just to be a silvery, quartz-based sand. He savors some of the sand, and decides it is more glass-like, sharper than the usual sort of sand. "I've seen sand like this," volunteers Sam, "but it was black. It was sand made from volcanic rock, and it was sharp like this."
"What do you make of the -"
"There's no shells."
"What does that mean?"
"Shells are left by shellfish creatures, and stay on the beach until they are broken up by the waves. Oh, I remember! The guide said the black beach didn't have a lot of shells because it was so new."
Mannie carefully avoids the water, but Sam marches right into it. "Whoa! That's the coldest water I've ever been in!" She steps back out. "It's colder than Maine."
"It's a place in the North."
"Let's us avoid the water for now, shall we?" She agrees.
Aldamir arrives, and they head up the beach. He stops at the first shrub, and examines a leaf. "Ah, this is really interesting. The flesh is transparent, and the silvery color is this lower layer. It works like a cat's eye! That's really clever." The others look blank. He explains, "The light is really weak, but the leaf gets two chances to use it: first, when the light enters, and again, when it reflects off the silvered layer. It looks very terrestrial. Many other planets have very different vegetation. Although this is the first time I've seen silver chlorophyll."
He returns to the question that Sam asked while they were still on the ship. "I don't know, Sam, I really don't know. The gravity's light, the atmosphere is thin, and there's night sky in every direction. It's a lot like space. But we can breathe. I just don't know."
"Well," says Mannie. "Let's see if we can use those trees to repair the ship." They walk up the beach.
"That's not like terrestrial grass," Aldamir observes. He examines the first tree, checking its bark, and bending its branches back without breaking them. "It's a hardwood, although not a very hard wood. What do you need to repair?"
"The engines. They appear to be seized."
"It will be hard to predict how these trees will interact with the wood you already have. You shouldn't intermix them on a close scale, because they will expand and contract differently, and respond to moisture differently." Up in the ship, Bay nods understandingly. This was something he had actually known about. Learning the attributes of a new variety of wood is not something he is enthusiastic about.
Eïr suggests that we could use our tables and chairs to re-make the engines, and use the new wood to re-place the tables and chairs.
Aldamir, interrupted in what he was going to explain, walks over to another tree. He leans over the tree, puts his hands and forehead on it, and stands very still for a while. He returns, and explains that the trees are not very conscious, so that, as long as we are respectful, we can harvest the wood. Mannie accepts this odd information placidly.
©2002, 2006 Ann Broomhead. All Rights Reserved.