Monday, March 29, 2010

Decker #17

"Coxli," Degren asked, "we were wondering if you would see fit to let us have some water and food rations from, er, your boat. We would be happy to offer some of the treasure." He pointed to the small pile of coins and gems they'd gotten from the larger chest.
"Oh, we'll certainly need a bit of water and food on our journey," Coxli replied, "won't we?"
The two men looked at each other, then shrugged simultaneously. "You want to come with us?" Degren's tone reflected Decker's incredulity. "Traveling with us is probably not your safest course."
"Yeah, and what will you do with your boat?"
"Easy come, easy go," the lizard-man said. "I've been 'flying solo' for longer than I care to remember. If you fine gentlemen will have me, I'd be delighted to share your adventure. Haven't been spelunking since I was a child. Ah, the old cave, where my Glag-tui egg-mates and I all tore free and entered this harsh world! Only a few of us survived that adventure, that's how it is for we reptiles, you know! I was one of the quick and anxious ones, always looking for a nice tight crack to slip into, or a handy rock to crawl under. You two can be my 'rock', if you know what I mean; big, strong fellows! And to have someone to talk to again, well-"
"You'll have to pull your weight," Decker cut him off. "We won't expect you to be the 'pack mule', but a third of our cargo can be strapped to your back. And don't expect us to 'have your back' if you don't have ours, lizard-lips!"
With the small chest (re-locked, and the key safely back around Decker's neck), water, food, Cletus' side iron, and a knife for each, they headed for the cave. Each member of the party had taken a couple handfuls of gold and gems in case a situation that called for barter arose.
They entered the cave and went down; down past the cement sidewalk, down into the darkness where the bare light bulbs were dead or nonexistent, down into the low-ceilinged, slippery-shale darkness. Coxli kept up a running banter most of the way, grating on Decker's nerves. The lizard-man had far better night vision than they did, though, so Decker was hesitant to ask him to be quiet; among Coxli's reminiscences were a smattering of observations regarding the twists of the stream, warnings about stalactites and low-hanging outcroppings, and other bits of information that occasionally saved the two men from painful missteps.
They made it to where the lights returned occasionally, where Decker remembered a stiff climb up the slippery rocks as the stream took a precipitous dive into the depths. Coxli, with his clawed feet and quadruped dexterity, was completely in his element here.
"Oh, the joyous memories of youth!" Coxli waxed rhapsodical. "Hide and seek on mossy cliff faces, frolicking along waterfalls in the warm Cradsellan sun! Snuggling at steam vents in the comforting dark closeness of Tith Cave, where I hatched....I wish you could see it, gentlemen!" He skittered in circles around them, occasionally extending a hand to brace them as they slipped and slid down the treacherous stone.
"Coxli, I hate to cast a pall over your narration," Decker shot through clenched teeth as he navigated an especially difficult descent, "but I kind of need my whole brain right now. Plus, we may not be the only ones in this cave, and not everything we encounter is likely to be friendly. Could you please, um, save the life story for a better time?"
"Oh dear; you're quite right, Decker!" Coxli's voice was contrite."I'll try to hold my tongue, it's difficult you know, being that it's forked and all, and there's been no one to talk to for so long-" He caught the glare both men were giving him. "-um, right."
They reached the signpost and decided to continue to the stairs before they took a break. Decker's legs, accustomed now to long stretches of exertion, were still on the verge of cramping, but the stairs seemed attainable. A bit of walking on a less treacherous path might ease the tension in his calves, anyway.
At the signpost, fatigue and memories of Cletus caught up with him; he was deeply grateful for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. He closed his eyes and leaned back against stone, noting the slow pulse of yellow-orange on his eyelids mixing with a soft, aching blue; images of the lanky miner in comic scenes, in difficult times, overlaid the dull flash of stress. He concentrated on just breathing, letting the slow pull of his diaphragm and the rise of his chest dominate his consciousness, pressing the painful glow into the darkness of his subconscious. Every now and again, he'd let his eyelids crack open. Degren was doing the same thing he was. Coxli was staring; first at one, then the other, mouth opening and closing as though he wanted to say something but was restraining himself. All in all, Decker thought as his eyelids got heavier, it seemed like a good time for a little nap.
Degren was dreaming; vignettes of life scenes that were familiar, snatches of scenes that seemed strange and distant, vague remembrances that didn't seem to fit at all. The dreams started with scenes of he and Furge, then recessed into the past, to times before he'd met his mate.
Most strange were some of the dreams of childhood, in which he seemed to be a completely different person. He saw himself playing on the lush, green banks of a river, diving and splashing, riding a long rope swing in a great arc, letting go and being flung far out into the current, paddling hard back to shore and running up the bank to do it again. In this scene, and in some others, he wore blue shorts, tattered and frayed at the lower edges. He had no fur; his lightly freckled skin was tan on his face, arms and back, but pale and pink on his legs and belly.
Now his dreams began following his life forward, in sporadic flashes between himself with fur and then more without, between the desert lands of Degren and the now-green, now-icy white scenes of another homeland. More and more, he saw himself as this new person, this bald pink denizen of temperate climes, riding around inside rumbling metal monsters in huge villages where the paths were replaced by hard, smooth roads of gray and black, where impossibly tall towers rose in the middle of brown-skied cities that sprawled across miles of land like brittle scabs on the wounded earth. The stranger he dreamed himself as was somehow familiar, and the further up his lifeline the dreams ranged, the more familiar the person became, until, in a kaleidoscopic whirl of color, he met himself; the bald, alien self met Degren in an old, dilapidated shack tucked into mirror-image foothills of their two worlds.

The two men awakened almost simultaneously, each wanting to tell the other about the dreams they'd had, both deciding to mull over the dreams for a while first. As is the way with dreams, they faded quickly because they were not spoken. They had barely reached the bottom of the stairs before neither man could pick a solid recollection from their minds regarding the strange scenes from their recent slumbers.
Coxli was quick to remark that they were both noisy sleepers. "The two of you almost seemed to be having a conversation as you slept," he said. "It's a good thing we Glag-tui only require meditation to refresh ourselves!"
Degren and Coxli took up stations to watch for other beings while Decker fumbled around for the pressure plate that opened the door to the concealed "boat house". They got inside without spotting anyone, immediately loading their gear onto the boat. Coxli was quite impressed with the high-tech little launch, nattering on about the seemingly magical properties of it. They showed him what they knew about its operation, then took their chances on opening the door and motoring out into the inlet. Moments later, they were thrumming along up the river; with any luck, they'd be back at Tut's place in half a day or less.

No comments:

Post a Comment