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Authors: Berengaria Brown

Earth (2 page)

BOOK: Earth
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Chapter Two

 

The first day’s walk was easy. Much of it was over land they’d
scavenged for edible fruits and berries. The next three days weren’t too bad,
either. They found plenty of edible plants and the food rule was easy to obey.
No scavenger was ever permitted to take more than half of the available food.
Something must always be left to reproduce in case the people came back this
way again later. With only four mouths to feed, there was more than enough for
them all to eat until their bellies were full each night.

On the fifth day
Raine’s
sandal
broke and although they tried knotting a strip of fabric around her foot to
hold it on, the fabric frayed and fell off again and again.
Raine
tried walking with one bare foot but that was hopeless. She was limping in less
than half an hour.

“Watch for a safe place for us to stay the night. We’re going to have
to make
Raine
a new sandal before she injures her
foot badly,”
Terah
said.

“How are we going to do that without any cured animal skin? We don’t
even have a needle and thread,”
Raine
said.

“Easy. First we catch an animal,” said
Terah
,
hoping they could do that. The men usually caught the animals while the women
scavenged for fruit and vegetables. But they all knew how to look for animal
trails and how to make a trap, so they’d just have to do it.

“Besides a day when we don’t walk might be nice and it’ll help
Raine’s
foot to heal,” Skye added.

“Tomorrow is the last day on my hand. It might be sensible to stop
every last day on our hands to ensure we don’t get too tired. It’s a long walk
to the ocean,”
Terah
suggested.

“I agree the journey appeared long. How many days do you think it will
take?” Flame asked.

“All my hands and feet, all of
Terah’s
, and
most of yours, Flame,” said Skye, sighing.

“That’s what I think, too,”
Terah
said. But
she wasn’t really concentrating on the conversation. She was looking all around
to find a good place for them to stop. It had to be hidden and safe, not too
far from the river so they could get water to drink, and with some cover for if
it rained. Even though it was the warm time of year, rain was still quite
possible and the nights outside could be cool. They might get ill if they were
wet all night long. They each had a blanket, but it had to function as bedding
and an outer garment in the cold, so shelter was a must, especially if they
were going to light a fire, cook an animal, and cure its skin. Not that the
skin would be cured in a day or two, but hopefully it would be smoked enough to
make into a sandal for
Raine
. If they could find an
animal. That wasn’t guaranteed at all. So far they’d only eaten fruit and
tubers.

As they had each day so far, they talked about the things they saw as
they walked, stopping to admire a pretty flower or colorful rock formation. But
Terah
could tell
Raine’s
foot was hurting her again. They’d strapped her sandal back on, tying it to her
ankle with numerous strips of fabric, but it slipped and slid on her foot and
she was forced to walk slowly, concentrating on not falling over.

Finally
Terah
saw some rocks that had the
potential of offering them shelter.

“Wait here while I go and look at them,” she said.

She shrugged off her pack and left it with her friends and then hiked
up the hill to the rocks. It was farther than it had seemed from down below,
but distances were always like that. It’d be best to collect water before they
came up here if there was a sheltered space to stay, though. Carrying a big pot
of water up the hill would be hard enough that they’d only want to do it once.
Terah
stared at the rocks. She really wanted an overhang to
hide the smoke from any fire they lit, but if there wasn’t one they’d just have
to wait until after dark to cook any meat they caught.

When she reached the rocks
Terah
was bitterly
disappointed. It was worse than she’d imagined, and much worse than she’d
hoped. Rocks were scattered all around the ground leaving no space for them to
sleep without an enormous amount of work clearing rocks away, and some of them
might be too deep into the ground to move anyway.

She climbed up on the lower rocks looking for an opening or overhang
higher up, but there were more rocks all jumbled together. Unwilling to give up
she scrambled over the outcrop to the far side of it. There was one place where
there was a bit of a bowl-shaped depression. There wasn’t room for four women
to lie down but they would have some shelter at least. Now she had a really
difficult decision. Stay here, where it wasn’t really much good, or keep
walking and hope to find somewhere else before dark.
Raine
had to have a new sandal. It was impossible to expect her to keep walking as
she was.

Once more
Terah
climbed over the rocks,
searching around in the hope she’d find a suitable place for them to stay. Even
so she almost missed it. A narrow dark slit between two rocks, almost hidden
behind a third rock. If she’d still been wearing her pack she wouldn’t have fit
through the gap, but without it she wiggled inside into the perfect tiny cave. It
was barely big enough for the four of them, but if they curled up their legs
they could lie down. Best of all, it had a roof so they could light their fire.

Happily she inched her way out again and scrambled down the rocks,
hurrying back to her friends, waving at them.

Skye waved back and crouched down, untied their cooking pot from
Raine’s
pack and headed toward the river. Fetching water
was usually
Raine’s
job, but making her walk any
extra distance right now wasn’t a good idea.

By the time she reached them Flame had collected two armloads of wood,
and she and
Raine
were both holding the makings of a
fire. Indicating with her head, Flame said, “I’m sure there are rabbits in
among those trees. As soon as we put our things in the shelter you and I can
set some traps,
Terah
.”

Skye joined them and
Terah
showed them their
hiding place.

“I’ll get the camp set up while you go scavenging,”
Raine
said.

That made sense. “Thanks.”

They wove several traps from sticks and vines. It was something they’d
done before, but not one of their usual chores so
Terah
wasn’t very hopeful of the outcome. Still, with three traps she had to hope one
of them would catch a creature. All were placed on the tiny trails the animals
used, and then well hidden with leaves.

They then went foraging for food, finding nuts and berries, but not a
lot.
Terah
knew their meal today wasn’t going to be
nearly as filling as their meals had been the past few days. Some meat would be
a welcome addition to their diet. Or maybe they should try to net a fish.
Although a sandal couldn’t be made out of fish scales unfortunately. At least
there was plenty of dry wood. They each collected another armful to take back to
their shelter.

By the time they returned to the hideout,
Raine
had set their packs against the back wall and dug a fire pit in a hollow over
toward the side of the tiny shelter so the flames wouldn’t show through the
opening. It was going to be rather smoky inside, but that was good for curing
skins so it would do.

As darkness fell
Terah
and Skye returned to
the trees to check their traps.

“Oh, look. There’s a rabbit caught in this one,” called Skye.

“He’s very small, but
Raine’s
foot isn’t all
that big. There should be enough skin to make her a sandal.”

“Reset the trap. Maybe we’ll catch another one tomorrow.”

“Good idea, Skye. We need to stay here an extra night, so maybe we’ll try
to get our dinner as well.”

****

Each day’s travel was long and boring. The computers plotted the best
path to take, and the ship pretty much flew herself, with the proviso that
someone always needed to be on watch in case one of the instruments indicated a
problem.

Fortunately the men had been together all their lives and were used to
cooperating with each other. What was different was that all eight of them were
hoping for a bride and only Andreas was certain of finding one, at least at
first. As the leader, the fates had made the decision for him, since he’d been
born first. But for the other men, they would only know when they met their
bride. There was no guarantee they would find her here, or even on this
journey. Four brides had to be found for the power to be strong enough to
restore peace and harmony to their allocated area of Earth. Until the fourth bride
was found, the men had to continue looking.

And then the four men who hadn’t yet found their brides would have to
see where the power led them in the search for their own women, maybe nearby,
or possibly in a totally different area of the planet. They might have to
journey far into the planet Earth to find their bride, or they might have to
wait many Earth years. Nothing was promised to happen immediately.

Meanwhile their days rotated around their meals, their work shifts, and
their break times. Soon they were too far from Mu
Arae
7 for their own personal electronic devices to work. The only means of
communication back home was through the official ship communications system.
Hourly updates scrolled across the flat screens in the break room, but it was
difficult to be interested in Mu
Arae
7’s news when
they were so very far away from it, and quite unlikely to ever return.

More and more they spent their time researching Earth, this strange
devastated civilization which would soon be their home.

There were vast amounts of information up to the year 2030. Then news
became much more political and heavily censored as the wars began.
Governments
fell, nations disintegrated into fighting
territories, and whole countries were almost wiped out by diseases. Diseases
that might have been prevented had the nations not been so focused on war.
Diseases that might have been cured had money and supplies been given to
researchers fast enough.

Instead Andreas and his friends watched video clips of fighting, struggles
for food, and empty towns. They saw satellite pictures of the lights going out
around the planet and Earth gradually growing dark.

The most recent information came from their own people. The men who had
been sent before them. Now there were lights in twelve different areas as
communities began reclaiming the land.

“We’re the eighth mission so the earliest ones have already set up two
or three new communities,” Gabriel said.

“That’s good news. It means the men who didn’t originally find their
brides have since found them,” Duncan added.

Andreas hadn’t thought of that but the lights showed that was true and
provided genuine hope for the future of them all.

****

Raine
ran ahead of them to reach the top of the hill. There was a moment of
silence and then she waved madly to
Terah
and the
others still climbing the hill. “Look, look. I can see the ocean. I can see it.
It’s bigger than a river. Much bigger.”

Terah’s
aching muscles told her that likely the ocean was still a very long
way from them. If there was one lesson that had really been hammered home to
her on this journey, it was that distances were deceptive. Everything was
always a lot farther away than she expected it to be. Nonetheless she walked
faster up the hill. Seeing the ocean would be exciting. It was their
destination after such a long journey.

They all took off their packs and sat on the grass at the top of the
hill, staring at the ocean. It looked like a lake, except that it had no end,
no far side. Instead of land there was just more water. Of course
Terah
knew there was land on the other side of the ocean,
it was just too far away for her to see.

She closed her eyes to picture the map Old Anny had drawn for them on
the dirt floor of their home. Then in her imagination, she took a stick and drew
on that map the way she and her friends had come. It was very hard to keep the
two pictures together in her mind, and twice she lost control of the image and
had to start again, but finally she was sure. They’d wandered about a day’s
walk too far west. Two days’ walk at the most. So in three days they should
arrive at the safe place.

“We’ll go to the ocean and rest there for a day, and then we need to
head east for one day, maybe two,” she said.

“East?” Are you sure?” asked Flame.

“Picture the map Old Anny drew and imagine the journey we’ve taken. See
if you agree with me.”

“That’s much too hard. If the others agree with you, I’m happy.”

Skye moved off the grass to a patch of dirt, picked up a stick and
began to draw.
Terah
followed her and sat with her, not
saying anything. Flame remained where she was, lying flat on the grass, but
Raine
came across and watched Skye intently.

BOOK: Earth
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