The Blue Moon (a sci-fi romance)

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Chapter Eighteen

The appearance of the tribe changed much for the three castaways. The general sense of freedom they’d once enjoyed to live and roam as they wished had all but vanished.

Forced to stay close together, their little patch of jungle felt like a prison at times and—to make matters worse for Emma—Pin would only fish at dawn and he refused to take her with him anymore. This contradiction of the rules they’d all agreed upon upset her, and she told him as much one morning as he was making to leave.

“You’re breaking a promise, you know,” she said, sulking in the branches above his head. Adam was still asleep next to her, lying on his belly, his arms dangling from the branches.

Pin looked up and rubbed sleep from his eyes. “How long have you been waiting for me up there?” he asked as she scaled down and stood in front of him.

He was suddenly surprised how tall she had become, her head reaching nearly to his chest. The little girl he’d once met on The Tian seemed to have been replaced entirely by the spritely figure before him.

“You said we would always fish together,” Emma continued. “For safety, remember? You promised you’d never leave us alone. You can’t break a rule like that, because, well, it’s the rules.”

Pin smiled and knelt down to her level. “I know it feels like I’m breaking a rule, Emma, but I’m doing it to keep you both safe. If I’m caught out there, I’ll be happier knowing you two are back here in your trees, safe as can be.”

Emma frowned. “But then no one will be there to help you. Me and Adam, we’re getting good with our spears now. If ogres try to grab you we can help you get away.”

“Hard to argue that logic,” said Pin with a grin. “And your skills with a spear are coming along, that’s true. I’m very proud of you both. But you’re just not ready yet. I’m sorry, little mouse, but I have to be firm about this. Maybe when it gets darker I can spy on the tribe and see if they’ve stayed in one place or moved on altogether. If they’re gone, maybe life can get back to normal again. Wouldn’t that be a nice thing? Until then, wait here. We’ll have a nice breakfast when I get back, okay?”

Emma refused to answer and turned her back to him. Pin rose and frowned. He hated to see her upset, but he knew it was for the best.

Without another word, he picked up his fishing spear and the nets Emma had made him and left the small camp.

After he’d walked a few yards through the trees he looked back, but the girl was gone. Already up in the trees no doubt, he thought and continued to where their raft was hidden and waiting.

As soon as Pin left her sight, Emma tied her spear across her back and stormed away from camp. She didn’t need to be sheltered or protected.

I’m almost ten years old! she thought angrily as she pushed though the dense underbrush. I’m not a kid. I can take care of myself!

She just needed to get away for an hour, get to the waterfall and cool off. Pin wouldn’t be back for that long anyway, so he wouldn’t even know she was gone. And Adam would sleep all morning as usual.

Emma looked up as she moved, catching the first light of the rising sun as it crested the tree tops. She loved the way it lit the jungle in sharp beams and showered her in warmth. It almost made her feel better and she picked up her pace, looking forward to stripping down and escaping into the cool water.

Recently, she’d taken to bathing alone. She felt increasingly private about it and didn’t always want to play the boisterous games Adam did. Sometimes she just wanted space to think, or make up stories in her head.

She liked to dream up tales of the Royal Twins and their life ruling from the silver tower. Secretly, she’d decided that the prince had set out to rescue his sister from her captors across the mountains. And when he stormed their stronghold, his magic filled it with such brilliant light that they were blinded, and the twins escaped hand-in-hand.

She didn’t share this with Pin, of course. She liked the way this ending to the story made her feel and didn’t want it ruined by his usual questions that were impossible to answer.

Emma heard the burbling of water then and knew she was getting close to the waterfall. She’d grown accustomed to picking out its soft tones from the rest of the jungle noises.

But, as she approached, she was met with another sound. It was strange, like a low humming that floated on the wind like a song. She stopped to listen. It wasn’t like any sound she’d heard in the jungle before. It wasn’t an animal, or a bird. (She had learned to distinguish the sound of their songs). This reminded her more of how her nanny sang to her back on the Tian.

Emma thought about turning back, remembering what Pin had said about being grabbed. But her curiosity got the better of her and, looking up, she decided to climb into the trees to look out over the water from a safe height.

Moving quickly and quietly, Emma scaled the trunk next to her until she reached the interlocking branches above. Then, moving stealthily on all fours, she made her way from tree to tree until she could look down on the waterfall from on-high.

There—wading naked in the water—was an ogre.

It seemed to Emma to be a female, but it was hard to tell for certain by its alien features. This one had white lines drawn across its forehead and down its neck. Dark green and brown hair grew long down its back and dipped into the water. But the thing that made it seem more woman than man was that it cradled a baby in its lower, third arm, keeping it close to her stomach as it washed it with its two others.

The baby had short hair, a similar shade as its mother’s, but its skin was different. Instead of a rich tan, its skin was marbled in three different shades of black, dark green, and pink. Emma thought it looked beautiful; strange and special.

Emma watched as the mother bathed the child, gently singing to it in the same low humming she’d heard earlier. She hadn’t realized how large the creatures were when she’d studied them from the cliffs days ago. This one was twice as large as Pin and its arms were thick with muscles. And yet, it treated the fragile baby with impossible delicacy and care.

Emma wondered if her own mother had held her as close, then realized she had almost no memory of her at all anymore save for the hologram. She closed her eyes for a time and tried to conjure a memory of being with her mother, but nothing came. It was as though time had erased her from existence.

Emma’s thoughts were disturbed by a commotion and she opened her eyes to see two hulking figures barreling through the trees on the opposite side of the waterfall. They were ogres, male, and much larger than the mother in the water.

They stepped onto the wet black stone along the edge of the pool and barked in their alien language, pointing at her aggressively and waving her towards them. She refused to come at first, howling back and using her three arms to shield the child in a way that made Emma nervous for it.

One of the males was in the water in an instant, wading towards her, the two of them batting at each other as he moved in close. The mother tried to move away, but his thick fingers grabbed her long hair and he pulled her back towards him roughly.

She spun around and battered him with her two larger arms as she held the child behind her back with her lower third. But her strength was no match for his, and she was easily overpowered. Holding her arms up over her head, he used his third hand to rip the child from her grasp. Its wailing pierced the jungle and its mother cried out helplessly.

Emma covered her mouth and muffled a cry, confused by what was happening and overwhelmed by the mother’s sadness. Why would they take her child? She had an urge to jump down and help, and realized she was already holding the her spear, ready to attack.

A hand touched her then and she turned with a start. It was Adam. He’d come up behind her silently, his spear strapped to his bare back with thick vines. He opened his mouth to speak, but Emma pressed her hand over it and pointed below. Adam glanced down and his eyes grew wider as he took in the conflict.

The tall creature with the child was leaving the waterfall now, the other male striding close behind him. The mother remained at the edge of the pool, weeping, her face planted in the palms of her two large palms.

“What’s happening?” Adam mouthed silently.

Emma pointed to the next tree over and they both clamored through the thick red branches until they were a safe enough distance away to speak freely.

When they stopped, Adam reached up and pulled a blue fruit from the branch above. Then he sat down cross-legged and bit into it, speaking as he chewed.

“Pin said we’re not allowed to leave camp,” he said flatly. “You shouldn’t break the rules, Emma. Not after what happened at the cave. Not with ogres around.”

Emma was too angry to sit. She looked down at Adam and pointed a finger in his face saying, “Pin’s not our father, Adam, he can’t tell us what to do. My father’s dead, yours is dead, too, and that’s all there is to it.”

Adam stood up quickly and pressed his face close to hers. “You don’t know that! Don’t say that!” he said angrily.

“Just because you don’t want to think about it doesn’t mean it’s not true,” Emma said and crossed her arms. “We’re all that’s left and...” Emma sat down suddenly and pressed her hands to her face. Tears poured down her cheeks.

Adam sighed and let his half-eaten fruit drop to the ground. Then he sat down next to her.

“Hey, what’s gotten into you, anyway?” he asked. “Why have you been so weird lately?”

Emma shrugged without looking at him. Then she pulled her hands away from her face and sighed deeply.

“You didn’t see it, the map in the cave. This world is so big, and we’re so small.” She turned to him and their eyes locked. “And we’re never going home again, Adam. I never really thought about it until just now, but we’re never leaving this place. I hate it here. I want to go home.”

Adam didn’t answer as they sat in silence for a long moment. Home, he thought. Where is that? He was space-born, raised on ports his whole life. The blue moon—with Emma and Pin—was the first place that felt like home to him.

Adam watched Emma as she looked off into the distance and wished she felt the same, wished he could bring her thoughts back to happier things. She was always so distracted and moody lately. He missed how easily happy they used to be.

“They took that little baby from its mother,” Emma said suddenly, looking down at her palms in disbelief, as though something she was holding had vanished. “They ripped it right from her hands. Why do you suppose they did that? The baby, what will they do with it?”

Adam put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Cheer up, Emma,” he said. “Pin said the ogres will be gone soon and everything will go back to normal. The way it was before. You’ll see.”

Emma turned back towards him and smiled thinly. She wished he understood what she was feeling but liked that he was there to comfort her all the same.

“Now, come on,” Adam said and pulled her to her feet. “We’d better get back before Pin does, or we’ll never hear the end of it. You know how he gets. He’ll yell until he’s all red in face and that big blue line appears on his forehead.”

Adam puffed out his cheeks and held his breath until his face turned a bright shade of red. Emma laughed at his imitation, which in turn made him laugh. He blew out a large breath and began to feel dizzy. The sound of Emma’s laughter mixed with the sensation made him elated.

As they travelled back to camp, Emma took time to look down at the waterfall as they passed it, checking for the mother ogre. But the pool at the bottom of the falls was empty and the water was still, save for the ripples caused by the steady downpour.

When Pin returned to camp, he and the children set about preparing breakfast. They ate in silence, none of them feeling much like talking.

Emma still thought of what she’d seen, wondering what would become of the child, so innocent and small. Adam could tell she was still upset and wondered what he could do to help set her mind at ease. And Pin—who had no knowledge of her experience at the waterfall—still thought Emma was upset with him and decided it was best to not disturb her further.

So, huddled together and eating a meagre meal in silence, they made a most depressing sight.

When night fell and they all lay down to sleep, Adam was restless. Emma had been quiet all day, preferring to keep to herself even more than usual. He knew she was still troubled by thoughts of the Ogres and was worried she would never be at ease until she knew the fate of the baby once and for all.

If there was only a way I could learn what happened to it, he thought as he stared up at the red gas planet in the sky. Maybe if she knew it was alive and well, she would go back to being the old, happy Emma?

Suddenly, Adam was struck by an exciting idea, and—waiting until he could hear the heavy breathing of his two companions—he grabbed his spear, crept out of camp, and ran back through the jungle to spy on the ogres.

It was easy to stay hidden in the cover of night. Even if he was spotted by unwanted eyes, he knew his small size and shape would register him as an animal in the tress.

So he flew through the branches with grace and confidence towards the cliffs where he would be able to peer down on the tribe.

His mind set to his task, he arrived at his destination quickly. His heart pounded as he left the tree line and stepped onto the rough stone. Even in the cool night it felt hot on his bare feet.

The cave was still a ways east, but he could already hear the loud rejoicing and hollering of creatures in the valley below. And, as he slunk along the edge of the cliff face, he began to make out the glow of bonfires burning violently.

When he reached the spot above the cave, Adam crawled to the edge of the cliff, careful to stay in the shadows. Too nervous to look over the side, he took in a breath and let his nerves settle until he found the courage to peer over the rock face and down into the valley.

Truly, he was overwhelmed by what he saw.

The ogres had set up an elaborate camp directly under the gapping mouth of the giant cave. Large tents—constructed of dark red logs and draped with multicolored animal hides—formed a perimeter. Small fires dotted the landscape, figures hunched around them, eating strong smelling meat and drinking from swollen animal bladders. All of them were speaking loudly all at once.

Most of the tribe, however, was massed in celebration around a single fire that raged in the center of their camp. A complex structure made of hundreds of thick wooden logs, the bonfire towered over them, sending inky smoke into the dark night. The fire was so large Adam’s brow began to moisten as he watched wide-eyed from the top of the cliff.

He let his gaze wander around the camp, looking for a sign of a marble-skin baby. But—while he saw many young ogres sitting together in clumps off to the side, passing drinking bladders back and forth—he didn’t see any babies in the crowd.

As he continued to scan the area, something large and set to the side of the bonfire caught his attention. The curious object sat atop a twelve foot tower made of thick wooden beams and was unlike anything he’d seen in the jungle before.

It was perfectly round and black and had a number of long silver spikes jutting out from all around it. As Adam inspected the strange object, he began to notice the ogres acting just as strangely towards it.

Their frantic dancing and wailing song seemed to all be directed towards the spherical monolith. They waved their hands at it, gyrated wildly and ran on the spot. Some even fell to their knees, raising their three arms towards the red gas planet looming over the scene and calling out as if appealing to some unseen god.

All this went on for some time, until the celebration reached an ecstatic climax of drumming, chanting and dancing and then everything stopped suddenly.

Adam crouched lower, unnerved by the deafening silence. He backed up and lay on his belly for fear of being spotted. Then, as though the entire tribe had read his mind, each of them turned towards the cliff and looked up at the very spot he was watching them from.

Adrenaline shot through him and his heart pounded in his chest. They see me! he thought, expecting ogres to burst from the trees and grab him at any moment.

He was about to get up and bolt back to camp when a single deep voice boomed from the valley below. It spoke slowly and clearly, and with an air of authority, though Adam could not understand the words. He listened as the voice continued for another moment and then the entire tribe called back in a single voice.

“Chara!” the voices of many cried at once.

“Daa!” boomed the single voice in response.

“Chara! Chara!” the tribe wailed madly.

Adam peered over the edge of the cliff again to see what was happening below.

The entire tribe was on their knees now, staring at a single ogre standing in front of the tower, the mouth of the cave directly above him. Covered in bones and holding a long silver object in his hand, he addressed the tribe like a pastor would a congregation. Adam had seen small church ceremonies on space ports, but never anything on this scale before.

He watched as the ogre in bones held the silver spike over his head and faced the red gas planet overhead. The tribe did the same.

“Daa-du!” he called loudly. “Daa-du! Daa-tu!”

“Chara!” the tribe answered.

A silence fell over the camp then and the tall ogre brought his metal spike down again. He pointed it away from the crowd and towards a tent at the edge of the camp saying, “Taa-tura,” solemnly.

Two figures rose and drew open the colorful tent flaps, their scaly texture sparkling slightly in the firelight.

A hush fell over the crowd and Adam sucked in a breath.

A figure emerged from the tent—a female, clothed in colorful hides, her hair tied lavishly in vines and she cradled something wrapped in skins.

Adam squinted, trying to make out exactly what was happening.

The female walked slowly towards the ogre in bones. The crowd parted as she passed, some of them whispering inaudibly. When she reached the tall tower, she peered up at the round object that rested at its top.

“Daa-du!” said the ogre in bones.

“Chara,” the female replied softly.

“Chara!” boomed the tribe in a single voice.

With that, the ogre took his silver spike into his lower arm and reached out towards the female with both his others.

Nobody moved. It seemed to Adam that nobody even breathed.

The female glanced over her shoulder quickly, her eyes wild, as though pleading for someone to help her. When no one moved she turned back and stared at the ogre in bones who remained unmoving. Then she looked up at the red planet overhead and let out a piercing scream that cut through the silence like an explosion. She screamed a second time, but the anger in her voice was gone. This time it was a cry of pure sadness.

When all her breath was gone, she looked down mournfully at the package in her hands and unfolded its wrappings. She leaned her face down and kissed the little marble-skinned baby inside it before closing her eyes and passing it to the massive ogre in front of her.

The ogre in bones took it from her and cradled it in his upper arms. Then he shook his upper body slowly so the bones he wore began to rattle.

“Chara! Chara! Chara!” the tribe chanted.

As he rattled his bones faster, they slapped their knees and shook their heads as they repeated the word, until a thunderous vibration echoed across the valley.

As the sound reached a fever pitch, the ogre in bones lifted his third arm, bringing up the long silver spike and turning to look at the round black object on top of the tower. The crowd continued chanting, “Chara! Chara!“, and his bones rattled as he pressed the end of it against the child’s chest.

Adam covered his mouth and turned away quickly as the ogre thrust it downwards.

The baby never made a sound. The chanting stopped. There were no more cheers below. There were no more songs.

Adam didn’t look down on the tribe again. Instead, he scrambled across the rock until he reached the tree line and vomited into the grass.

He remained hidden in the shadows for a few minutes more, heaving and sobbing. He would never tell Emma what he had seen. He would never tell her what happened to the marble skinned baby. He wished he hadn’t seen it. He wished he’d never come to the cliffs.

Adam pulled himself to his feet and leaned against a tree, trying to find the strength to climb it. But his will to move had vanished, as though it was swallowed by a black hole. Something inside him suddenly felt dead.

A noise somewhere in the darkness made him jump and he finally moved, more out of instinct than anything else. He scaled the tree and ran back to camp under cover of darkness as quickly as he possibly could.

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