Chapter 14: The Rift
Haurvil hovers outside our shelter for hours, alternately, pestering, threatening, persuading, inviting, driving Sabonis nuts until in a blink he simply vanishes. In the utter darkness I do not see him leave but I can sense his absence in my gut. I hadn’t minded his company. He had kept Sabonis too flustered and distracted to flirt with me.
The night is mercifully shorter than I expected. The light of dawn comes on almost like flipping a switch. The orb expands much more abruptly than it contracts. One moment there is night and the next the landscape glows golden. Dark shapes scurry through the reeds and bushes to their occult lairs.
Sabonis looks at me and nods. We continue on our way. We climb away from the marsh up a gradual slope. Where the stream bed forks, we take the left tine and veer up a ridge. Sabonis strains and even I feel winded and fluttery in my innards. I hope my tolerance for heights is not changing so soon. I can’t remember how high I had climbed before and if anything has changed.
The caretaker’s road plunges all the way into the gulch and all the way out the other side. We cross it again and surmount a shallow pass. A massive gulf opens before us. A long, thin ribbon of water glistens far below. I think it might be a river or a fjord or a strait, but I can see marshes and mud flats separating both ends from the sea. It is a long lake. Like Seneca. Like Cayuga. Like Skaneateles. The sight makes me homesick. Lifesick?
Sabonis motions towards the scorched-looking uplands and barrens rising behind the lake. “We’re going there.” He points out to a barely discernible curve of land in the sea, swallowed by mists. “That’s what they call Dilmun, but I call the Cape. That’s my home.”
I can barely make out a rocky outcrop projecting from the sea at the end of a strip of dunes.
“That’s so far,” I say.
“Nah,” says Sabonis. “We’re more than halfway there already.”
“We’ll get there today?”
“Of course,” he says. “Barring any interruptions.”
We descend through widely spaced conifers. We cross the caretaker’s ubiquitous path yet again as it slashes its way across this leeward side of the ridge.
The slopes are devoid of Climbers. The dry and dusty ground radiates back the warmth it absorbs from the orb. There is no wind.
Sabonis reaches into his vest pocket. “Want some breakfast?” he says. He hands me something that looks like a thick chunk of tree bark.
“What is it?” I flip it over in my hand.
“Fish jerky,” he says. He passes me his knife.
I cut off a shred. It smells like bait, tastes of rot. I spit it out.
Sabonis wags his head at me. “Sooner or later you’re going to have to eat,” he says. “You’ll keep on going whether you do or don’t, but your body is gonna wither till it’s worthless.”
“I’ll eat,” I say. “Soon as I find something edible.”
The land lays open before us below a slope of rock and knee-high scrub. We enter a deep rift with mismatched ridges. Our side steps down a series of weathered, metamorphic ledges while the landscape ahead looks like it had recently disgorged from the gullet of a volcano. This entire half of the island before us looks like it has been plastered onto the rest of Lethe. Fumaroles steam atop the summit cones.
We approach Loch Belial, its cobalt waters contrasting with the gray-green slate of the sea. The floor of the rift is mostly flat, except for patches of jagged outcrops that made me think of shark fins.
I study the scorched terrain, the smoking mountain. “Sure is ugly on this side,” I say.
Sabonis sniggers. “Yeah.”
“You might say that.”
“But not really, because there is no Hell. Right?” I giggle nervously.
“So what’s this Avernus place that Shade was talking about?”
Muscles shift and tense in Sabonis’ face. “Never mind about that.”
I am curious, but don’t press.
“Kind of … kind of reminds me of Hawaii,” I say. “Like maybe parts of the big island.”
“Oh? You been?”
“Not yet. But me and Gina plan … well, planned … to go, after she graduated. It was gonna be our dream trip. Like a honeymoon without the wedding. I researched airfares, resorts. It ain’t cheap.”
“I used to live there,” says Sabonis. “Had a free ticket. Free room and board.”
“Really? How’d you manage that?”
“Marines. Kaneohe. I was a red patcher. 3rd LSB.”
“Landing logistics. We make sure Marines and things coming ashore got where they were supposed to go.”
“Is that where you learned to sail?”
“Fuck no. I’m no sailor.”
“Well … yeah. I know … you’re a Marine, but—”
“What I mean is I’m no good at sailing. I suck. I mean, I get by, but … I depended on Andali to get us around. When he disappeared … I was up shit’s creek. That’s why I tried to link up with Delgado.”
“Then why are we looking for your boat?”
“I mean, I do fine close to shore, when things are calm. Any idiot can handle a sailboat in those conditions. But when things get rough. In big seas. I have a hard time. Not Andali. He could deal with anything an ocean could throw at him.”
“Is … that a problem?”
“Why would it be a problem?”
“The interface. The place where I came into this world. It was … pretty far out.”
He stands there and blinks at me. “How far?”
“Pretty damn far. I was floating for days, weeks maybe.”
Sabonis takes in a long, deep breath. “Well, let’s worry about one thing at a time. Let’s first find my damn boat.”
The dark blue waters of the Loch dominate our foreground.
“Pretty lake, huh?”
“Yeah … it’s nice,” I say, though whatever tints those waters is far from wholesome. The blueness is no trick of refraction, but intrinsic to the water itself.
“I think it’s the molybdenum leaching out that turns it blue,” says Sabonis. “Reminds me of some tailing ponds in Colorado. There’s fish living in it, believe it or not.”
We skitter down a final decline of loose stones onto a cracked and dry mud flat beside the Loch. Not a ripple mars the Loch’s surface. I see no fish. Apart from the marsh grass, no sign of life. It looks dead.
The floor of the Rift, too, looks like it has been aerial-sprayed with herbicides. Every shrub is thorny and leafless and brown. The single tree visible across the whole expanse has only one scraggly bough bearing a few leaves.
We cross the flats heading seaward away from the Loch. Sabonis steers us towards a solitary butte of columnar basalt, separate from uplands. It overlooks a deep cove flanked on the Lethe side by a similar butte of knobby granite.
At the edge of the flats, we walk along a low bank of gravel that isolates the flats from a broad, rocky beach pounded by swells marching unhindered through the mouth of the inlet. Slabs of bubble-ridden lava rise up here and there to meet the waves with explosions of spray.
The mound affords a view down the length of the Loch. Wind ripples the marshes fringing its shore like the cilia of a giant Paramecium.
“Sixwing’s down the other end,” says Sabonis.
“A town of sorts,” says Sabonis. “That’s the good side of Lethe. Where a Squatter can have a decent existence if he wants. If you’re going to settle on the flats, leeward is the place to be.”
“Settle?” The idea grates at me. “I ain’t settling here. Not ever. I ain’t settling for this.”
“If there’s a way back. I’m going back.”
Sabonis grins. “That’s my girl. That’s what I want to hear. We’re a team now. I got the means and you got the intel. If Delgado thinks he’s got the market cornered on returns, he’s got another thing coming.”
“Boy,” I say.
“Ah, whatever,” says Sabonis.
I feel a thrill go through me whenever Sabonis mentions going back. I feel like someone in the first plunge of an addiction, fearful of the dealer but captured in the rapture of his drug. I just hope I can deliver on the intel part. I figure getting the hell off this island would be a start and the rest would come to me. I hope.
My eyes follow gullies that etch the Loch’s cindered shore, the curves of the volcanic slopes that leapt from the Rift, and across the smooth skin of the Loch and wind-scraped flats to the soaring, snaggle-toothed ridge that screens Mt. Abdiel from these wastes.Back down into the Rift, my gaze hooks on one of the outcrops that jut from the Rift floor like twisted shark fins. At the peak, forty feet up, a figure stands, diaphanous cloak flowing. She swoops down on us like a harpy.