As everyone blissfully eat their desserts in peace, Edward flips his newspaper to the back section to read one of his favorite features - the weekly short story piece.
by Ciye Cho
~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~
Shiewo and the Majestic Swarm
(A short story from the universe of Orberana)
by Ciye Cho
DOWN IN THE ODYSSEY’S ENGINEERING DECK, surrounded by wooden consoles with beeping machines, Felix Dabblezapp stood by a porthole. The young human stared out the small window at a cloudless orange sky. He searched the dusk for a flicker of a different color—but found none. All he saw was a darker orange above and below the ship.
Felix was about to sigh, when a child’s voice emerged.
‘Is something wrong, Felix?’
The young man turned to see Theo floating next to his shoulder. In the dusk light, the cloud’s rainbow-streaked body had a gold tinge to it. Felix looked amid the moisture to focus on the cloud’s mouth, nose, and two eyes—features that shifted about with a ‘cloudy’ vagueness.
The human smiled and brushed a hand along the top of the cloud. Droplets of dew gathered on his palm. ‘Hey, little guy.’
‘What’s wrong?’ asked the cloud. ‘There’s nothing outside.’
Felix shrugged and brushed back his spiky blond hair. ‘Maybe that’s just it.’ He stared back out the porthole. ‘I don’t understand how this place can be so barren of life. Imagine that… a stretch of sky without a single cloud.’
Theo morphed a part of his body into a tiny hand and used this to poke Felix’s shoulder. ‘I think you’re forgetting something,’ the cloud giggled as he left a damp spot on the youth’s singlet.
Felix looked over at him and chuckled. ‘Well, you’re not just any cloud!’
His laughter, however, died down as he looked back outside.
The young man opened the porthole and stuck his head out.
The sound of the Odyssey’s flight song filled his ears, and he closed his eyes for a moment to listen to a strange mix of electronic, acoustic, and otherworldly instruments. He heard synthesizers, reverb-soaked guitars, and resonant horns—all of which were tied together by a string of piano melodies.
He smiled to himself before opening his eyes to stare at the exterior of the vessel. It was hard to see much of the Odyssey from where he stood, but he could just make out one of the ship’s sidehorns. He could just see flashes of rainbow light streaming out from this enormous brass horn, carried out by the broadcasts of sound. Stretching his head a little further out, he could also see the ship’s lower balcony and (at the end of this structure) the ship’s basshorn. Streams of jet-black exhaust rushed out too, along with sounds of musical bass.
Flight music! He thought to himself as he shook his head—the concept still seemed so strange to him. ‘Amazing,’ he whispered.
He pulled his head back in and listened to the same song echo within the ship.
A smile crept over his face as he stared above him.
‘Let’s have some fun,’ said Felix as he wandered across the narrow deck.
‘Fun?’ Theo watched him head toward two silver doors on the far end. ‘Felix?’
The youth pressed a control panel next to the doors and opened them up to let himself into the deck’s tiny elevator.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Why, to see the captain, of course!’
‘Felix…’ Theo shook his head. ‘You know the captain will get mad if you disturb her while she’s conducting.’
The doors closed with a hiss.
‘Felix? Hey! Wait up…’
The cloud looked up at the ceiling and eyed a small crack between two planks. He floated towards it and squeezed his gaseous body through the gap to find himself in the Synthesizer Deck. However, the cloud paid no mind to the colorful keyboards that covered every single wall, searching, instead, for a crack between one of the ceiling units.
It took a moment, but he eventually squeezed into the level above.
The Respiration Deck was empty, but the accordions and bellows that hung from the ceiling played soft melodies to accompany the captain’s flight song. Theo took a moment to whistle along—until he heard the elevator whoosh up the ship. He let out a sigh but slipped through another ceiling to enter the kitchen above. And, from there, he rose through one last level to find himself in the Piano Deck.
Theo stared around the dim level. The narrow place was lit only by the semi-circular stained-glass windows on both of its longest sides. However, his attention soon drifted to the black baby-grand piano that waited in the center of the deck.
The command piano glittered in the dark, all of its embedded panels pulsing with electric light. And, just behind the piano, on a black bench, sat Captain Shiewo.
Theo floated over to watch the young woman.
Shiewo’s eyes were closed, and her heart-shaped face looked serene. Her hands, however, darted back and forth over the three overlapping banks of keyboards. Theo smiled as he watched her hands travel over dozens of multicolored keys—sometimes connecting distant keys with what seemed like a painfully wide stretch of her fingers. Her hair was a mess of short dark strands as she swayed back and forth, lost in a trance-like conduction.
Up this high within the ship, the music that she played did not have the additional accompaniment from the levels below. But Shiewo’s work was anything but a mere piano song: the work that left her deck was a constantly changing melody line; a strange and unpredictable mix of notes that rushed, exploded, lingered, and sometimes even melted away into nothing but reverb.
A jumbly thing of magic, thought Theo.
The cloud hummed along softly.
Behind him, the elevator doors slid open with a hiss.
Felix tiptoed over to Shiewo’s side. There, he raised a hand and waved it in front of Shiewo’s closed eyes. The captain, as usual, did not react, lost in the music.
The young man sat on the edge of the piano bench.
‘Felix?’ whispered Theo.
Felix raised a finger to his lips and turned to wink at Theo.
The young man did not make a sound but stuck his head right in front of Shiewo’s, before pulling a variety of silly expressions. Still, she did not flinch, and he shook his head in wonderment. ‘I just don’t get it,’ he whispered.
‘And everyone says that I’m a child,’ said Theo as he floated back toward the lift, waving the human toward him with a cloud hand. ‘Come on! Let’s leave Shiewo to her playing.’
Felix did not seem to hear the cloud, focused instead on brushing his hands up and down several lengths of each keyboard, doing his best to avoid Shiewo’s fingers as she raced up and down the keys.
Theo waited by the elevator and shook his head, his eyes almost rolled back—a recent expression he had mastered from watching Felix. ‘Felix,’ he repeated, waving for the youth to join him. ‘Come on!’ He looked through one of the giant stained-glass panels for a moment. ‘Let’s go back and…’
Theo quieted as he saw a flicker of gold light drift beyond the ship.
‘Huh?’ he whispered.
The cloud floated over to the young man and hissed: ‘Psst! Felix!’ The youth turned and Theo pointed behind him. ‘Look at that!’
The human looked up and shrugged. ‘Look at what?’
Theo turned—but this time he saw nothing but orange sky.
The cloud frowned. ‘Hey... Where’d it go?’
Felix shrugged but turned back to the piano and reached for a knob on its lid marked ‘pitch control.’ A grin passed over his face as he lowered his hand.
‘Don’t mess with that,’ whispered Theo as he blew a puff of cold air at Felix. However, as he got closer, the glimmer of light reappeared outside the opposite window. He froze. ‘Hey. There it is again…’
Felix started to get up from the piano bench, until something yanked him back down.
The young man looked down to see the front of his singlet locked in the grip of Shiewo’s right hand. He let out a gulp as her head turned to face him. Her other hand ceased playing and pressed a button on the side of the command piano to bring the ship to a hover.
Neither Theo nor Felix said a word. The only sounds to fill the air were the ambient loops of piano that the command piano used to keep the ship afloat in ‘hover mode.’
Shiewo opened her eyes, and her brows came down low over them to form a dark line. She did not say a word as she faced him. She did not stare or glower either, merely boring into his head with her bright green eyes.
‘Err… hey, Shiewo,’ said Felix sheepishly. When she did not reply, the young man started to count down in his head the number of seconds that drifted by without a single blink of her eyes. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine…
‘Did you guys see it?’ Shiewo said suddenly in a soft but clear voice.
She let go of his singlet and stood up to walk toward a window.
‘You saw it too?’ Theo chirped. ‘That gold thingy?’
‘I don’t know what it looked like,’ she replied. ‘But I heard a strange whirring…’ She leaned against one of the stained-glass windows to stare outside, and then frowned. ‘…like the hum of a reverse coromiterial hyporial rotor.’
‘A what?’ asked Felix.
‘A hover motor,’ Theo translated.
‘Wait.’ Felix crossed his arms and shook his head. ‘You heard a motor over the sound of the Odyssey’s flight song?’
Shiewo looked over her shoulder at him. She raised an eyebrow.
‘I hear everything, Felix,’ she told him.
The young man reddened.
Yet, before he could say another word, a flash of light passed behind the captain’s side of the ship. ‘Hey!’ he called out as he rushed to her side. ‘What was that?’
One of the smaller panes of the stained-glass window cracked down the centre, and all of them hushed. Shiewo ran a finger over the crack. Her frowned deepened as the gold shape disappeared. She turned to look at Theo. ‘My friend, could you go take a look outside?’
Theo looked at the crack and gulped.
‘Outside?’ He avoided her gaze as he swayed from side to side. ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea… what if it’s a lightning gremlin or some kind of sky porry?’
Shiewo moved over and gently ran the back of her hand over his cheek. ‘Theo…’
‘I know, I know…’ he sulked for a moment. ‘Courage. Yes… I remember…’
A near-smile passed over Shiewo’s face. ‘Then what are you waiting for?’
Theo shrugged, then took in a deep breath. He and Shiewo moved to the rear of the deck, and there, she opened the porthole.
‘Promise nothing bad will happen?’ he asked.
Shiewo reached up to gently touch both sides of the cloud—all she could do to hold his formless body. ‘I’m right here, Theo.’
The cloud stared at the orange sky for a moment, then sighed.
The cloud floated out.
Theo zipped a hundred feet away from the porthole before he turned. Alas, not much could be seen in the dusk light. All that stood out against the orange sky was the fish-like shape of the eight storey Odyssey—the giant brass finhorns looked as if they were made from gold in the strange light; the eye-shaped stained-glass windows on the port and starboard sides shone in orange-tinted colors; the tail balcony was nothing but a silhouette.
The Odyssey looked more like a strange animal than a narrow wooden vessel.
Theo floated around the ship, using the light from the ship’s portholes to help him study the air around him. He shivered as he stared around him at the eerily quiet world. He took in a deep breath, then did one quick pass, and another, and another.
However, nothing could be seen around the ship.
Finally, the cloud floated back.
‘Okay-I-did-a-search-and-there’s-nothing-out-there-anymore-so-lets-just-go,’ he told the others in a nervous gush of words. ‘Maybe it left.’
Shiewo shook her head as she stared back out. ‘No. I can still hear it.’ She closed her eyes. ‘There’s a faint clicking sound…’
She frowned as she opened her eyes.
‘Where exactly is Erduu?’ she asked.
It was a moment later that the crew got into the elevator and made their way down to the storage level. From there, all of them walked toward the glass doors at the end of the deck.
The doors opened with a hiss and they walked out across the lower balcony.
There, their ears picked up a strange humming sound, and they stared ahead to see a dark silhouette standing at the far end.
‘Erduu?’ said Shiewo as she and the others walked closer.
As their eyes adjusted to the dimness, they realized that Erduu was balanced on only one of his green legs. The other leg was held up at such an impossibly high arc that it might as well have been a bamboo branch. One of his arms was wrapped around the knotted mass of his torso; the other was held out above his head—and the nodes that divided this limb were coiled like a ribbon. His long face was equally still: the purple wings of his two eye-bugs were firmly closed over their beetle backs; his nose and mouth were frozen.
The bamboo swayed gently on that one straight leg. The only other movement to be seen was that of his leaf hairs as they shivered in the breeze.
Felix turned to look at Shiewo, and even she seemed a little taken aback by Erduu’s newest meditative pose. ‘Well. That’s a new one,’ Felix whispered.
They moved closer, and as they did, the humming to leave Erduu’s throat was painfully loud—as though every hollow bit of the bamboo’s body was resonating with the sound.
‘Erduu,’ said Shiewo. ‘We need your help. There’s something beyond the ship.’ The bamboo did not react and she raised her voice: ‘Erduu?’
No response came and she reached up, ready to knock on one of his hollow shoulders.
Yet, that was when a flicker of light appeared above their heads.
Everyone looked up to see a gold ovoid covered in unusual shapes of metal. Then, a flash of light escaped the bottom of it—a burst that disorientated everyone for a moment with its blinding whiteness.
‘Whoa!’ said Felix. ‘What was that!’
The crew held onto the balcony rail as their vision slowly came back.
Shiewo pursed her lips. ‘I have no idea… but let’s find out.’
The captain made her way back to the glass doors and pressed a control panel next to the door. A videoscreen above this panel lit up with a flicker and, through the communications link, the captain saw an image of a goldfish surrounded by murky water.
‘Livingston,’ she began. ‘Something just flew past the ship. Did you see it?’
A low rumble left the videoscreen as the goldfish replied: ‘See what? What are you talking about, woman? Exactly what sorts of things do you think I see from my tank? Puppies and red balloons?’
Shiewo let out a sigh. ‘Livingston! You know what I mean: did you detect anything passing by?’
‘Like what? We’re in the middle of nowhere, Shiewo.’
‘Like a gold blur’ said Felix as he rushed over. ‘A gold thingy rushing past.’
‘A really fast gold thingy,’ added Theo.
‘What?’ grumbled Livingston.
‘Livingston… this is important. We were in the middle of a flight song when—’
‘I’ll tell you what I was in the middle of,’ said Livingston. ‘I was in the middle of a nap before you people started pestering me!’
The goldfish cut the comm-link with an angry hiss.
‘Hey!’ said Shiewo. ‘Wait a minute, Livingston…’
The humming behind them faded abruptly, and everyone turned to see Erduu open the wings of his eye-bugs. The purple iris on the back of each beetle stared at them.
The bamboo’s contorted limbs came down to his side.
‘Oh. Hello, everyone,’ he greeted them cheerily. ‘What’s going on?’
‘What’s going on?’ repeated Felix. ‘There’s an alien object shooting around the ship at a million miles a second, and all you have to say is what’s going on?’
‘You’re looking for an alien object?’
‘Yes,’ said Felix. ‘An orb-shaped thing.’
‘Like—’ Erduu stretched his hands four feet apart, ‘—this big?’
‘Gold in color?’
‘Oh. Why didn’t you say so,’ he chuckled. And with that, Erduu walked beside them and pointed to the right.
All of them turned to see the orb floating beyond the balcony.
No one moved, merely staring at it from the corner of their eyes.
‘What are we doing now?’ Theo hissed under his breath.
Everyone looked to Shiewo, but found her focused intently on the object.
Felix shrugged. ‘I think we’re just staring at it.’
Theo floated over and positioned himself in line with the others. His ‘face’ faded out of existence for a moment before it reappeared on the other side of his body to let him look at the creature. ‘Am I doing it right?’ he asked. No one answered, all fixed on the orb, and Theo sighed. ‘I did it wrong, didn’t I?’
‘Shh…’ said Erduu.
The bamboo let one of his eye-bugs float away from his face to head closer to the orb. ‘What have we here?’ the bamboo whispered. ‘Let’s see what you’re made of.’
Erduu’s vision split into half as his left eye-bug relayed a closer view of the orb.
The object had a shell made up of dozens of small geometric pieces of metal. All of these pieces were flat, connected to the one next to it by a large bolt. All the pieces had engravings and embossed markings on them—Erduu could not see what they were from afar, but each pattern had a strange way of catching the light, making it seem dusted in starlight.
Erduu drew his eye-bug back.
Erduu frowned when his eye-bugs were united again. ‘Fascinating…’
‘What is it?’ asked Felix.
‘It’s some kind of an egg.’
‘An egg?’ said Felix.
‘Maybe we should leave while it’s stationary?’ said Theo as he darted behind them. ‘What if it’s dangerous?’
All of them quieted as the egg began to float a little closer to the ship.
However, while the others began to back off a little, Shiewo focused her eyes on the creature. She noticed things that none of the others did: some of the bolts and facets of the egg were dented and corroded; thin wires poked out of odd places; lines of grease had dribbled between some of the connected faces.
She watched a droplet of grease seep out from between two plates. Machine ichor? She thought to herself. A moment later, she noticed that the egg was shaking a little. Shivering.
Shiewo walked slowly to the ledge.
‘What are doing, Shiewo?’ asked Theo. ‘It could be dangerous.’
‘It could be spying on us,’ said Felix.
‘It could be many things,’ whispered Shiewo as she turned to look at them. ‘But I’ll tell you what it isn’t.’ She turned back to the machine. ‘It isn’t working properly.’
The captain leaned over the rail and stretched a hand out towards the creature.
The egg floated back a little, but did not flee.
‘It’s okay…’ Shiewo whispered to the machine. ‘Let me help you.’
Theo and Felix looked at each other.
The egg came a little closer.
Shiewo waited until the orb was just a few feet away before she reached out and grabbed it in her hands. With its hover engine still running, the orb seemed weightless.
She pulled it carefully over the balcony.
In the glow of the ship’s lights, everyone saw ornate patterns of stars, curves, and geometrics over each faceted corner. The creature looked tarnished and battered; it had a very strong odour of old brass.
The orb’s hover engine cut out abruptly, and it dropped to the balcony floor with a heavy thud.
A rumble echoed below them as Livingston appeared once more on the balcony wall’s videoscreen: ‘What was that!’ he exclaimed. ‘I felt something huge crash above my tank.’
‘It’s nothing, Livingston,’ said Shiewo without looking at him. She lowered into to a squat beside the egg to examine it from all sides. Erduu and Felix gathered next to her.
The image of Livingston in the videoscreen grew larger as the goldfish zoomed in on them from his end—taking the time to study the egg. ‘What is that?’
‘That’s what we were chasing,’ said Felix. ‘The egg thing with the blinding lights and window-cracking ability.’
‘Hold on,’ said Livingston. ‘Why exactly did you bozos bring aboard a potentially dangerous mechanical egg that’s capable of cracking windows and blinding people?’
‘Because Shiewo thinks it’s broken,’ said Theo matter-of-factly.
‘Ah, well of course—that makes perfect sense!’ Livingston scoffed.
No one paid any mind to him when a cracking sound echoed under the egg.
One of the panels underneath it popped aside, and everyone watched two legs emerge.
The creature pushed itself off the ground with the help of two silver limbs. Each leg was no more than a steel rod capped at the bottom by a sharp three-prong grappling hook.
Everyone held their breath as the creature swayed about, but the egg did manage to stay upright. And even though it had no eyes, it paced around in a circle to study at the crew.
‘Why hello there,’ said Felix. ‘What are you?’
The creature focused on Felix and let out a chirp.
Felix whistled back. That is, until the creature lunged toward him and hooked one of its talons down on the ground near his foot. ‘Hoi!’ the young man cried out as he darted back from the silver claw. Erduu and Theo also began to back away.
Shiewo, however, leaned forward and waved a hand in front of it. ‘What are you?’
The egg started to move toward her… only to crash backwards with a loud clang. Felix and Erduu could not help but chuckle, and Theo, who had been peering out from behind Felix, came a little closer. Shiewo did not say a word, but a near-smile passed over her.
Her eyes traced over the top of the egg, and she noticed a broken stub of metal jutting out from under one of the panels.
Shiewo reached into her toolbelt for a spanner, then stretched forward and undid one of the bolts holding the damaged plate in place. The creature started to shake, but she leaned forward and patted it on the head. ‘Shh… it’s okay.’ She told it.
The creature stilled.
‘I’m going to fix you up.’
With that, she pulled out the bolt.
The others gathered around her as she began to slowly remove the other three bolts that held the damaged plate. She then lifted the broken panel aside.
Shiewo stared inside the egg to see a tiny cosmos of silver and gold gears. But what she saw was no ordinary clockwork—many of the gears were unable to do a full cycle; they turned back and forth by approximately twenty degrees. She tipped her head to the side and placed her ear above the egg. She heard a soft doom-dum, doom-dum, doo-dum radiate outwards from the gears.
It’s like a heartbeat, she thought to herself.
She held her hand over her chest to feel her pulse, and found that it was not dissimilar to the rhythm of the machine below her. She pulled back from the egg and noticed a few strands of gold wire at the bottom.
The others gathered around it and stared on in awe.
‘It’s beautiful,’ said Erduu.
‘Most of it is just going back and forth,’ said Felix. ‘I wonder how it got stuck that way.’
Shiewo shook her head as she eyed the parts. ‘I don’t think it got stuck in any way. I think it’s supposed to be doing this.’ she paused. ‘Like it’s waiting.’
‘For what?’ asked Theo.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Shiewo.
Her eyes drifted to the broken gears inside it. She followed the paths of the gear trains to a fist-sized flywheel that seemed to be at the very core of the egg. As she eyed it, she tried to create a mental picture of all the gears.
However, she did not have long to picture it all.
While Shiewo, Theo, and Erduu focused on the creature’s top, Felix crouched low and spotted something unusual under the lower side of the creature: one of its panels was devoid of markings, only a single hatch.
He pressed the hatch and it popped open.
Shiewo left her reverie to see what Felix was doing. Erduu and Theo also turned. All stared in to see a dark recess beyond the hatch. There was one single object there: a gold button engraved with a small ‘X’.
‘Fancy that,’ said Felix as he reached to brush the button with his fingertip.
‘Felix!’ said Shiewo. ‘Don’t push that! We don’t know what it does…’
‘Easy. I’m just touching it. Nothing’s going to—’
The button sank under his touch, and everyone froze.
A loud pop echoed inside the egg, and all motion ceased within it.
Everyone’s eyes widened as the egg suddenly keeled over with crash.
‘Felix!’ said Shiewo.
‘You killed it!’ Theo trilled in panic.
Felix paled, but held his hands up. Curiously, before he could say a word, a single bolt shot out from the side of the egg and struck him on the chin. ‘Yow!’ he exclaimed as he looked back the egg. ‘It hit me! That thing hit me…’
‘Huh,’ said Theo as he stared at the egg.
Shiewo and the others started to lean forward.
That was when another bolt shot out into the air. And another. And another…
Everyone was rooted to the ground in surprise for a moment. But as the bolts arced closer, Shiewo snapped one arm around Felix and another around Erduu and dragged them back toward the balcony doorway; Theo floated after them. Together on the other side, they watched as the egg’s external bolts shot away. Felix watched one dart towards him, but just managed to dart away from it as it crashed onto the bulkhead behind him. Somewhere above, a bolt smashed into a porthole and shards of glass showered onto the balcony deck.
Yet, after a dozen bolts had been blasted aside, the pieces of the egg itself—now only held together by crusts of grease—were blasted in all directions. A cloud of steam, smoke and sparks filled the air as the skeleton of gears underneath it started to shake. A boiler inside the machine ruptured a second later, birthing an enormous gray cloud of steam.
The crew darted beyond the doorway.
‘Not good!’ Felix cried out.
A videoscreen on the inside of the storage deck wall came to life
Livingston came into view.
‘Hold on everyone!’ said the goldfish. ‘I’m going to use my sonic bass to swing the ship to the side and throw it off.’
Erduu and the others grabbed on to the edge of the doorway. From where they stood, they watched a stream of bass leave the Odyssey, accompanied by an insanely loud rumble as Livingston started to shake the ship from side to side, up and down. However, no matter how much it bounced, their rudderman was unable to create enough force to throw it off.
‘Get inside the ship, everyone!’ Livingston boomed. ‘Things are going to get rougher.’
With that, he rocked the ship with an even greater pulse of bass.
The others scuttled further into the ship. But, amid all the chaos, Shiewo looked down at a golden gear at her feet. She bent down and picked it up, oblivious to the sounds of the crew calling her back in. And as she stared at gear in her hand, her frown deepened. She looked back up and thought back to what she had seen inside the machine. ‘Doom-dum… doom-dum,’ she whispered to herself.
She rushed to the videoscreen with Livingston. ‘Wait! Stop, Livingston!’
‘WAIT!’ she told him. ‘You can’t toss it overboard.’
‘But it’s going to explode!’
‘No. It won’t! Stop, Livingston!’
Their rudderman growled but slowed. ‘Bah! This had better not blow a hole above my tank.’
The crew gathered around her. ‘Shiewo?’ said Erduu.
‘It’s going to be fine,’ she told them.
With those five words, the machine outside suddenly quieted.
A look of relief passed over Shiewo’s face. Yet, this expression soon faded as she looked out.
What she saw surprised her.
The crew wandered back out onto the balcony to find it covered with a mess of grease, ash, and rubble.
Shiewo frowned as she wandered amid the pieces.
Erduu picked up a piece of rubble and reached to throw it over the edge, until
Shiewo turned and grabbed his hand. ‘Wait,’ she told him.
‘There’s nothing more to see here, Shiewo,’ said Erduu.
‘But…’ she paused as she shook her head. ‘I don’t get it,’ she squatted down and brushed aside some of the scraps of rubble. ‘This makes no sense.’
Erduu sat down next to her.
The bamboo shrugged. ‘Who can explain oddities like this?’
Shiewo looked around her at the waste, searching for something recognizable from the egg. At last though, when she found none, she shook her head. ‘Maybe you’re right.’
The bamboo got up and extended a hand to help her to her feet. She reached for his. But as he began to lift her from the waste, she caught sight of something to her right.
She froze for a moment, and then lowered back down.
‘Shiewo?’ said Felix.
‘It’s just a mound of rubble,’ said Erduu. ‘Just some broken toy.’
‘No… I don’t think it is,’ said the captain.
With that, she bent down to pick up a piece of gold the size of a thumbnail. Holding it closer to her, she realized that it was actually a tiny face: two miniature cogs were attached to the front in place of eyes; a tiny slot looked like as a mouth; and a fan of tiny tickers fringed the top like hair. There was a small slot at the base of this head.
Shiewo looked around her and found a gold rod just a few feet ahead. She brushed off the ash and, without thinking about it, she inserted the rod under the gold head to create a single piece.
She turned around and began to spot other parts.
‘Shiewo?’ said Theo.
The captain did not answer and the crew looked at each other in puzzlement. At last, they bent down and began to help sieve the ash for more gold parts. All of their finds were soon piled up next to Shiewo as she began to inspect a whole array of tiny metal wires and gears.
Minutes passed until all the ash was cleared.
That was when Shiewo picked up a mass of metal wires and began to connect them together.
Her hands moved in a flash.
Until, a few seconds later, she came to a halt.
The crew stared down to see a tiny gold figurine in her hands. The gold head attached to the gold rod was capped at the bottom with a tiny wind-up key. Hundreds of wires were connected to the rod, just below the neck of the headpiece.
‘What is it?’ said Theo.
‘Let’s take a look,’ she whispered.
Shiewo twisted the wind-up key three times.
There was a soft whirr, before the creature whirred to life.
The strands of wire attached to the rod began to flutter, and as they did, they lifted the tiny figurine a few inches off Shiewo’s palm and into the air. The wires swished up and down so fast that they no longer could be distinguished as individual threads, blurring into a gold aura around the tiny metal head.
Up close, Shiewo realized that the tiny eye-gears had started to turn in a clockwise direction. The creature’s wings seemed to absorb a lot of the light from the ship, giving it the coloration of a candle: dark in the center and incandescent in the outer circle.
‘Hey there,’ said Shiewo.
Shiewo stuck her finger out and gently touched the gold blur of ‘wing wires.’
They felt ticklish and a near smile passed over her face.
The others stretched forward to try to touch it, but the creature merely chirped and lifted up above their heads.
‘Incredible!’ said Felix.
The creature lifted higher as they stood up. But unlike the hover engine of the egg, this creature neither zoomed nor hovered. It merely drifted across the air like the dried husk of a dandelion.
Up it floated into the air. It tumbled in the wind.
Felix turned to stare at Shiewo. ‘How did you know what it was?’
Shiewo turned to face him. ‘I didn’t.’
‘I don’t get it.’
Shiewo turned back to stare up into the orange sky. ‘Sometimes you don’t need to know what something is—only what it isn’t…’
The creature was ten yards above the ship when the crew looked up again. But just as it seemed ready to disappear into the sky, other things emerged. All over the horizon, a wash of other gold drifters emerged across the dusk, like stars gathering for night. As they did, each mechanical creature spun around this tiny newcomer, spinning so fast that they all became a flash of white.
And, just like that, the creatures melted away into the orange sky...
Guest post created for SteamBoyz event, Shiewo and the Majestic Swarm: A short story from the universe of Orberana by Ciye Cho, author of Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure
© 2011. All rights reserved.
by Ciye Cho
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A Fantasy Flight to Adventure
by Ciye Cho
* image source newspaper advert