The two weeks on the ship, which Zoey learned was named the Bright Side, passed in a bit of a blur. She didn't see Joshua again, as he spent most of his time in his cabin, doing who knew what. But she was fine with that, he was a brutish, mean man anyway.
Who she did see a lot of was Chan, the first mate. One the second second day of travel she'd come to the cabin and offered to teach Zoey and Derek how to fight and survive. They'd both agreed, having no idea what they were getting themselves into.
She woke them up at seven every morning, forced them to eat the most horrid food that Zoey had ever tasted for breakfast, and then the day began. Throughout most of the morning they were in a setup similar to the education hall in the fleet, only there were only five desks, and it was a lot smaller. Aside from Zoey and Derek, there were three children in the class, two boys and one girl, none of which were over ten. Ten was apparently when you stopped school and got to work on the Bright Side. There was about two hundred crew on the ship, but only a handful were in steady relationships, and less then a dozen were officially married. Most of them didn't have time for children.
Chan wasn't usually the teacher. It was a mix mash of crew members, mostly men, who volunteered to teach the kids on the ship basic survival.
The curriculum, if you could call it that, was all about survival. They had to memorize the plants and herbs that you could and could not eat. There was a section on how to evade a pursuing enemy. There was a class on tactics for resisting interrogation, or at least surviving it. The grizzled old man who taught that class said, “Everybody breaks under torture.” He looked like he would know.
After the class and lunch, once more made up of horrid food, Chan would take over. She taught both of them how to handle a variety of close combat weapons, from daggers to rocks to tire irons. She even gave Zoey a long bladed dagger to practice with. She also taught Derek how to properly aim the pistol he had. He was apparently not all that bad of a shot.
After weapons practice they were allowed to do whatever they wanted for awhile. For the first week they just talked in their room, but by the second week they had started walking around the ship, meeting the crew. They were a varied lot. Most were tribesmen from a dozen different tribes, each with their own language and customs. About a third of the crew was from the Vanic tribe, exiles apparently. They learned about the Vanics when they saw them assembled on the deck, going through a series of preset motions that Derek said was called “dancing.”
“Why do they dance?” Zoey asked Chan, who happened to be passing by.
“They do that every seven days, as a way of thanking God, who they call The Maker, for giving them happy lives,” Chan explained.
“There lives don't seem so happy,” Derek remarked depressingly.
“There's a lot of happiness in simply living,” Chan shot back. “You'll learn that.”
“Well, whatever, it's very beautiful,” Zoey said, cutting both of them off. They couldn't do anything but agree. The dance was a slow series of motions, closer to yoga then a tribal dance. Several times throughout it the dancers would be balancing on one foot, then hop to the other and skip back. All at once they slowly put their hands to their mouths, and drew the hand back, exhaling as they did so. They drew their palms into fists, clutching an invisible ball. They threw it up into the air, then slowly went down to their knees.
“Now they just took all of their hate and drew it out of their bodies,” Chan explained. “And now they say a prayer to end the dance.”
“Cool,” Derek said absentmindedly. A strange calm had descended on him. It would come back every time he saw the Vanics dance.
“That's it!” the lookout shouted far to early one morning. “That's the Well Well!”
Zoey was still groggily asleep, but a few moments later she heard Joshua's voice. “No need to dock! Wake the fleet girl and Derek up! Don't bother with anyone else!”
Zoey tried to relax, but a few minutes later the door to their room opened, and an ugly crew member stuck his face in. “Captin' wants you on deck in five minutes. Bring any weapons you got, and a light or two. You'll need em'.”
Derek moaned, then pulled himself out of bed. Zoey did the same. Derek grabbed his gun and Zoey grabbed her dagger, and they went out to meet Joshua, who, with the crew member who'd told them to get out of bed, was lowering a small wooden rowboat into the water. They tossed two metal canisters into it, along with a long rope.
“Good, you're awake,” Joshua said without looking up. “Today should be real easy,” he added, motioning for them to get into the boat as he did so himself. “Derek, you'll help Bud row,” he ordered. Derek had never rowed before, but got the hang of it pretty quickly.
“So, are you going to the Well Well with us after all?” Zoey asked, sitting at the stern of the boat with Joshua.
“No,” Joshua responded coldly. “But you'll be fine. People go into the Well Well and come out fine all the time. There's no real danger.”
“Then why aren't you going with us?”
“Because I'm lying through my teeth.”
“Hey, at least he has the courage to admit it,” Bud added from behind them.
The morning mist was still thick when they landed. It obscured everything beyond the beach, and made the world seem a whole lot smaller then it was. The sand was cold under Zoey's feet, and a chilly wind made her shiver.
“Bud, watch the boat,” Joshua ordered, picking up the rope. “Derek, Zoey, come on. And bring the canisters.”
Zoey and Derek took one of the heavy water canisters each and trudged after him. The forest of this island was much denser then the Gen's island had been. The tree's were unusually large and wide, and they created a canopy that only allowed the tiniest amount of light to reach the bottom. Zoey got an uncanny feeling of claustrophobia, even though there was far more open space on the island then on the ship. There was not even the slightest indication of animal life on the island. It was eerily, unnaturally, silent. Not even the wind came through the trees. The silence pressed in around the three of them as they went deeper inland.
“What exactly does the Well Well look like?” Zoey asked, desperate to break the silence.
“You'll no it when you see it,” Joshua answered.
“Aren't there any birds?” Zoey continued, trying to keep the silence at bay.
“No,” Joshua responded quickly. “They go out of their way to avoid the island. No creature stays on this island if it has any choice in the matter. They avoid the Well Well it's self like you would an entrance to hell. I think that's why it's water isn't more commonly used. If the animals fear it you'd better fear it too.”
It seemed like a massive contradiction to Zoey. If there was a well that healed wounds, wouldn't animals be attracted to it? Joshua was right. It was unnatural.
“If it's so unnatural why are we bothering?” Derek asked, surly as ever.
“Usually I wouldn't risk it,” Joshua began. “But, Clooney's offered too dam much money for me to give up on him so easily. Besides, I have you two, which means no risk for my crew.”
“Touching,” Zoey said contemptuously.
“I really don't give a dam about what you think of me Zoey,” Joshua smirked. “But if it's any comfort to you, I've met plenty of people who've gone down into the Well Well and come out again just fine.”
“What, so it's not that dangerous?” Zoey asked hopefully.
“Oh no, it's dangerous as hell. I'd put your chances of survival at fifty percent,” Joshua answered. “Those ain't bad odds. I've survived worse. Oh, we're here.”
They had indeed arrived. The Well Well was a vast, back hole at least a hundred yards apart. The trees grew right up to it's edge, which was a sheer vertical drop. All sunlight that entered the well died instantly, swept away by some unseen force. Standing at the edge and looking in, it appeared to be bottomless. It was completely out of place, a dark intruder in the greenery. It was clearly man-made, as no natural forces compelled the earth to simply open up and expose it's innards to the outside world. And if they had seen it from above, they would have realized it was a perfect circle.
“We're going down there?” Zoey said, almost in awe at the vast darkness.
“Yea, good luck with that,” Joshua said, tying the rope around a tree. “Fill up those canisters with the water you find, make sure it's the right water, and then pull twice on the rope to let me know you're ready to come up. If you come up and the canisters aren't completely filled, I'll send you down until they are.”
“How do we know what the right water is?” Derek wondered aloud.
“It sparkles when hit by light,” Joshua responded. He threw the rope down into the abyss, and they heard a barely audible splash. “Start climbing.”
The canisters had large straps which allowed Derek and Zoey to sling them over their shoulders. Derek grabbed the rope and grimly started down. “What if the rope snaps?” he asked just as Zoey was about to start.
“Don't worry about that, there's nothing you can do if it does,” Joshua called down to him. “Oh, and you'll need flashlights! Almost forgot. Here Zoey.” He handed her two rusty flashlights. “Give one to Derek when you get down there.”
Zoey nodded and started down as well. The well's walls where smooth, and it was hard to find purchase for her feet. She ended up sliding a good deal of the way down. She nearly crashed into Derek, clutching the rope at the bottom.
There was a two inch deep film of water covering the ground. The ground did seem fairly solid in spite of it's dampness. Pure, unfiltered darkness closed in around Zoey. She quickly handed Derek a flashlight and turned her own on.
They both shined the light on the water, hoping it would sparkle and they would be able to get out quickly. It didn't. Although neither of them said it, they were both terrified. The silence and darkness was stifling. The light barely pierced the darkness, it seemed opaque.
“Why are we even doing this?” Derek wondered. “We don't owe anything to Clooney, not really.”
“Aside from both our lives, you mean?” Zoey said. “Besides, when your comrade is hurt you do everything in your power to help, even if you don't know them that well.”
“Right, all for one and one for all,” Derek responded. He didn't sound convinced.
There seemed to be nothing but a flat and watery emptiness. They searched endlessly for some pool that would contain the sparkling healing water.
“I found something!” Derek suddenly yelled from much closer then Zoey thought he was. After a few moments of groping in the dark, she found him.
“What is it?” she asked.
Derek shined his light on a small door, built into the side of the hole. Zoey read the big yellow words printed on it.
Project Fortune Teller
Authorized Personnel Only
“Should we go in?” Derek asked.
“Why not? It's probably the way to the healing water,” Zoey suggested. With a deep breath she pulled open the door.
It was still dark on the other side, but suddenly, the distant thump of machinery could be heard. There was flowing water was well, very close by. As they entered they cast their lights around the area, getting a clear image.
They were in a cavern, with stalactites hanging down over them. A small pool of water was in the center of it, and as they shown their flashlights over it, the water lit up with thousands of tiny points like stars. Dozens of rusty pipes came out of the water, pumping some horrid combination of liquids into it. The pipes were connected to a small metal box of a building, with a doorway labeled: Do not enter under any circumstances.
“That's the water we're looking for,” Derek said with a victory grin. “Gimme your canister, I'll fill them both up.”
“Right,” Zoey said, handing over her canister. “What do you suppose is through that door?”
“I don't know. I just wanna get out of here,” Derek said nervously.
As he started to fill up the canisters, Zoey went over to the door and pulled it open. A dark, rusty hallway greeted her. There was another door at the end.
“You shouldn't go in there!” Derek called.
Zoey shrugged his protest off and continued down the hallway, and through the door. There was a small room with a control panel and shabby wooden desk, along with a dozen file cabinets. The control panel was dominated by a large button labeled open. Under the desk there was a safe that had been broken into and it's contents stolen.
Zoey flashed her light around the files. They had strange titles such as Generalized Extinction Report and Re-Calculated Survival Rates. She opened one, but it was simply a mess of military gibberish.
The “open” button taunted her. Open what? She kept thinking. Open what? Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she pressed the button.
The entire wall in front of the control panel promptly slid up to reveal a silvery liquid behind a glass window. It was transparent, and at points was almost milky. It sparkled with a thousand glowing points of light like the water outside.
And it was filled with dead bodies. Zoey counted at least two dozen people suspended in the silver. They all must have been dead, because they didn't wear any breathing equipment, but they were strangely not decaying. Their hollow, lifeless eyes where still intact, and their skin was still smooth and fresh. Those eyes told no information, had no blood in their veins. They were dead still. Those eyes scared Zoey more then any giant monster could have.
For a few moments she stood there, transfixed by horror. Then she vomited onto the floor. It was more from terror then disgust. Her knees stopped supporting her and she fell, unable to look at those eyes.
Derek came running. “What's going on? What's-” he stopped when he saw the bodies, then took his own turn vomiting on the floor. He leaned against the wall and cried. “Oh my god... oh my god... my god,” he said over and over again.
They both simply laid there for awhile, letting shock and fear sink in. The bodies had broken the facade of courage that had kept them going. They were forced back into reality. They were not safe in the Well Well. Something had killed these people, and it could very well kill them too. They were not invincible. But they tried to deny it with tears and shock. Desperate to push away reality.
What got them back to reality was the hum. It started off as a low, unremarkable sound, the kind a refrigerator makes. But it grew. It became a hum of a loud car engine, then of a violin being tuned. It was a hum that made your skin crawl, that made your teeth chatter, that made you glance around, searching, frantic, to find where it came from.
“We got to go,” Zoey stuttered. “Have you filled the canisters?”
“Yea, yeayeayea,” Derek responded. “We should... we got too.”
Even as Zoey got up and went to the door, the humming grew louder and louder and louder, until it became a physical force that they had to push against to reach the door.
Beads of sweat dotted Zoey's eyes. She gripped her dagger. The humming came from the hallway. Any optimism she had was swept away. The humming would kill them. She would have gone to the Well Well and been killed like so many others, adding to it's strange mystery. Derek nodded. He thought the same thing.
With a deep breath she opened the door.
A cloud of black flies swarmed at her the moment she did.