– CHAPTER THIRTEEN –
Sobs turned to bloody shouts. Curses. Pounding ceased and punching commenced. Her pummeling of the door quickly became not about attracting Roos’ attention but turning his stupid face to raw meat!
Roguish good looks. Lost puppy dog expression. The world having unfairly pushed him to its borders, all because of his interest and ability to eke out profit from a dead and buried world. His acceptance… of her.
She fell for the act.
Stupid, Clara. Stupid!
It did not take long for Clara’s arms to ache, to feel like they had disconnected from her shoulders. Every blow she landed. Every blow the door accepted without complaint, always asking for more. I can do this all day, the door seemed to say. Can you? it dared her.
Limbs gone limp, she answered by letting her head fall against the unassailable obstacle in her way. She was trapped. Tricked. Betrayed.
Without remembering doing so, Clara found herself seated on the floor, back against the door, hands clasped and between her bent knees.
Questions tried to keep up with her furious mind, which raced along looking for walls and road golems to crash into. Why had Roos betrayed her? For profit? Everything was about profit. But for what purpose?
The nightmares from her childhood came to mind, unafraid of Clara’s anger, her sobering. Stories told to her to be aware of the narrow-mindedness of the world someone like her—a conduit—lived in and whom that state of mind belonged. Now those stories were more real. Stories of Junkers taking sleeping conduit children in the middle of night. Just like Sammy… like Dad. Stories about ambushes on the road, caravans and single wagons raided for as something as a simple as a loaf of bread and a memory stick. Rose… Merlyn… burn it, Clay! Stories about mobs of people nearly lynching a conduit for trying to bring a piece of machinery to life, something to help a group of people construct a wall, like a dozer or a lift, or maybe simply to make easier the moving of a bunch of road golems out of the way. In some tales the crowds would turn the conduit over to the His Hand members, people who treated conduits as if they possessed a disease, an infection, heavenly-minded thumpers willing to “cleanse” the conduits for the betterment of the conduit and the communities. Now, people would tell Clara’s story, another warning to younger conduits hidden in among the crowds. Stay hidden. Don’t use your forsaken abilities. You might end up like Clarabelle Danvers if you dare…
Clara ran a hand across her tightly shut eyes, wiping away tears. “Which story will be mine?”
Silence answered her. Useless.
Clara ran her fingers through her hair then tugged hard on the tightly curled locks nearest her scalp. Pain flared.
“Which story is mine?” she asked again, her voice low but terse. This was her fault. She should never have come to Nork without Uncle Marty. He never came into Nork or any other ruin area without his partner. Her dad once. Now her.
Another tug. More pain. A reminder.
The room remained dark, thick with black tar that clung to every inch, each corner. Fits my burning mood, Clara mused to herself, admitting her gloomy state.
She could create some Nites, attach a couple to the wall and press back the dark. Except Clara felt too tired to expend the energy.
“Conduits are clever,” her father’s voice echoed in her head. Clara grabbed a chunk of hair on either side of her head, drew her legs up tight to her chest, and set her forehead on the tops. “We need cleverness. The world is broken. Only clever people will put it right again—someday. We mix things, solve problems. The machines are problems. Fix them, sparkplug. Fix everything!”
Always positive. Never blaming. It was her father’s attitude that prevented Clara from hiding her abilities, repressing her talents, his fatherly love kept her returning to the Wrench Works. Careful, yes. Stupid, nope. Nope, not Mo Danvers’ daughter. She was care, not stupid.
“I’m clever, Daddy,” she choked out before sniffing.
With a smile that could make you believe you could fly or walk on water, if you believed hard enough and were clever enough to figure out how, Mo Danvers grinned at his daughter from her memories. Good memories.
Suddenly, Clara sensed the Field again. Her anger broke, like the morning fog after the rise of the sun, and the Field showed itself through her self-pitting despair. She felt invigorated.
Clara tousled her hair, inhaled deeply, blew out a long breath, and rose to plant her feet.
Renewed with a sense of purpose, a desire to survive, Clara inhaled the Field. Touching the Field within herself, she readied to produce a Nite to light the maintenance room. Can’t work in the dark.
She opened her eyes and the electric blue light of a Nite greeted her. It drew itself together, focusing into almost a pinprick until a wispy young woman’s form unfolded itself from a fetal position, throwing arms and legs to the sides.
Clara drew in a breath and nearly began to sob again. “Tink?!” She cupped her hands over her mouth, wanting to hug the Nite but knowing the three-inch girly figure would pass directly through her. “Tink… Is that really you, Tink?”
Hands cupped and held out in a supplicating manner, Clara provided a place for the Nite to sit. Tink did, her Field light woven skirt spreading out as she sat. Then Clara herself sat, a firefly light glowing in her hands, washing her pale flesh in a gentle blue hue.
His life just… just… plop. Tink’s form exploded in a showery blink but reformed as if time had rewound itself. There and gone but not. Confusing. Still… I felt his life go… plop. Again the Nite’s delicate form blinked into a multitude of sparks.
This was insanity. Right now, Tink seemed no more intelligent than the Nites Clara produced to Wake machines, things of pure energy needing coding to function.
“You’re babbling, Tink,” Clara said. She didn’t have time. Whatever Roos intended for Clara, he would be back at some point with some trouble to bear on her. “I need you,” she told the Nite, desperate. “Tink! I need your help.”
Tink raised her head to regard Clara seriously, petulant, her starry eyes burning. Told you so. I told you, you couldn’t trust him. Something… She wiggled her tiny nose as if there was some strangle stink in the air. There was something funny about him.
Clara flicked the grouchy Nite like she were a piece of dust on her coat collar. Her fingers passed straight through Tink, the Nite merely shimmering as brightly as a clear night’s starry sky.”Oh? You know so much about humans, huh?”
Arms crossed over her shallow, tiny chest, Tink stuck her chin out at Clara. I‘m a good judge of character.
I’d decided to hang around you this entire time, hadn’t I?
Polite rational to flatter and pacify. Clara could not argue. In fact, she fought back a smile. “True,” she agreed simply, giving very little ground. For a tiny Nite, a millimeter was a mile.
I’m also logical. I see patterns, persisted Tink with a huff.
“Nothing logical about us humans,” Clara insisted, closing the gap in the give. “We’re emotional, unpredictable.”
If we were more predictable, Clara mused, I would have seen Roos’ plans before the door slammed! All that sneaking about… the boy is a tricksy git. Burn him up!
Tink agreed with Clara’s statement as if it were her own point and Clara was just coming to the realization. Exactly. All I see is 1’s and 0’s, patterns in the flows. Data has patterns when you observe the lines long enough, same with emotions. Observe humans long enough, you all fall into patterns. Nothing is random.
All this talk of emotions, Clara found herself remembering the way Tink reacted to the big cat’s death. Mournful. Hurt. Distressed. As if a piece of her had been cut away with the big cat’s life, as if both her and the beast were connected, as if she could feel the beast’s passing. Feel its last exhale of emotions—its pain and fear at the unknown third world.
The Nite swung her legs over the side of Clara’s right hand and let her feet dangle. Head bowed. Distracted, deliberately.
“What did it feel like, Tink? How did you feel when we killed the big cat earlier?”
Tink did not answer for some time. Nites are easily distracted without a conduit’s instructions. Constantly processing and pulsing with the Field’s energy. Short lived and always on the move. Tink was not an ordinary Nite, though. She rubbed her slim upper arms as if cold. Empty. The Field pulsed weakly. Shocked with the sudden absence. The world was filled with noise and then… nothing. Screams and then… silence.
None of this made sense. Nites—even as strange of one as Tink—could not physically interact with the world. Energy. All a Nite was in the world was energy. Potent. Ever changing, ever flowing, ever growing just as a seed sprouts into a sapling, matures into a tree, is consumed by a blaze, and begins anew as a seed from its elder self’s acorn or fruit. Or maybe Clara was too hasty. Perhaps Tink could sense emotions. All that she described were feelings, human feelings. Tink could observe Clara—her trials, failures, times of weeping, smiles, moments of joy, flashes of frustration. But to know the core reactions, the effects on the soul, was something of experience. To know emotions of the heart, Tink would need to experience. Was that possible?
Talk of lost life reminded Clara of her situation. I need to get out of here, she chastised herself. Any moment, Roos would return with a nightmare story she did not desire a central role in.
“I need to get out of here Tink. Will you help me?”
Tink slid off Clara’s hand and slipped into a flapping ribbon that glided all over the room on a nonexistent updraft.
Clara too took stock of her surroundings, exploring by using her firefly light friend like a lantern. There were few nocks for conduit and Nite to investigate.
Long ago when the rail golems still chugged along underneath the once bustling Nork, this room belonged to the people who maintained the rails. It was small. No bigger than a closet. A place to store tools. Tools now rusted. Ridges chipped and dull. Rubber handles dried and crumbling. While many salvagers picked Nork clean in their pursuit of the past, the rails were lost, blocked off by debris, some of the tunnels flooded. Clara would bet no one had ventured down here in near a hundred years. The only footprints tracked through the thick coating of dust were her own.
Clara spotted a shovel propped up in one corner of the room, its handle covered in grey filth; a spider had woven its webs between the tool and the wall.
She hefted the ancient tool and wedged the point of the flat-spade between the edge of the door to the tunnels and its frame.
Before she could apply any door-crushing force, the spade snapped in half with a stiff crack of squealing metal. Clara fell forward against the wall, the now broken shovel’s wooden handle still in her grip. She received a mouth fall of a spider’s silk web for her efforts.
Disheartened, Clara expelled a breath and blew away some of the web covering her face, her eyes shut tight. She then spit out the silk threads on her tongue.
When Clara finally opened her eyes, Tink’s light revealed one living creature that still knew of the tunnels and called this cramped work closet its home…
A spider near as big as Clara’s eye.
Clara shrieked like a little girl confused about whether to be excited or frightened by the insect crouched on her knee.
She dropped the spade’s handle and began to swat away the remaining webs clinging to her face. She’d only seen one spider in the maintenance closet, yet she could swear ten thousand were climbing all over her face and arms, some trying to pry her lips apart, to get into her mouth. She spat and a shiver overtook her spider attacked body.
Taking up the shove’s handle, Clara swiped at the limp webs strung across the wall and dangling from the ceiling, clearing the area. Not long after she discarded the handle, she felt foolish. Her heart beat frantically in a far corner away from the place where the spider had made its trap. Joining the spooked heart in another, cobweb-free corner, Clara knelt and gathered herself together before starting to take a second inventory of the more useful instruments that could help her escape.
She found little to assist her efforts.
Tools and spare parts had survived. Given enough time she could build something to ram the door down, break the entrance off its hinges. A machine powered by the compressed contents in a few of the red tanks stashed at the back. A cannon. Yeah! She could cobble together something to launch a missile at the door, maybe the shovel handle. She had enough parts to create such a mechanism. Yet she lacked the time required. Time she did not have. Nor did Clara have enough food in her pack to last her an extended amount of time.
Thoughts of food woke her stomach monster. Two more grain bars of her mother’s making were stashed in her pack. Half of one she ate now, washing down the two bites with a quarter of the water in one of two bottles she also carried.
Are you just going to sit there? Tink inquired, settling into her girlish form with curled fists already set on her slender hips.
Still chewing, Clara glared at the food bar. If she was correct, Roos would return soon and she would figure out who he’d sold her out to. She would not need to survive on her mother’s travel rations for an extended time.
Clara wolfed down the remainder of the bar and chugged the last of the water, wiping the excess away from her moistened lips with the back of her hand.
Midair, without any solid surface underneath her bare blue-lighted feet, Tink began to tap her foot in irate exasperation.
Why don’t you just use the door? Tink asked, as if that notion were the most logical solution to the problem.
“Door’s locked from the outside,” Clara answered flatly, herself annoyed. Clara swallowed, held the bottle over her opened mouth and tapped the last drops of water down her gullet.
Unlock it then.
Bottle shoved back into her pack and snack wrapper tossed aside with the rest of the useless junk in this closet, Clara let out a heavy sigh. “If I could open the door as easily as turning the knob I wouldn’t still be—”
Tink flew to the door, likely not believing Clara and wanting to see this so-called lock for herself.
Except, Tink wasn’t hovering near the doorknob. The Nite had settled herself beside the door, to the left of the frame, and was examining a sign on the wall reminding rail workers to CLOSE THE DOOR WHEN LEAVING. Of course Tink couldn’t read any of the words. Realization snapped inside Clara’s head. Tink was not looking at the sign but through the piece of paper behind cracked and brittle plastic.
Can’t you feel it, Clara?
The little light pixy was kneeling in midair, tiny hands pressed against the plastic sign promoting proper hygiene, her head bowed, eyes closed. Her long flowing hair floated around her head like morning mist.
It’s right beyond here… within reach. Feel for it, Clara. Feel.
Clara placed her hand against the wall, right next to Tink, to the side of the plastic covered sign. Hand and Nite were the same size.
She extended her sixth sense—her Field sense—and the world bloomed alive, lit with the tingling awareness a person feels at the back of their neck when someone is watching them. The entire Field seemed to notice Clara and she it.
It’s not broken, Tink insisted. It wants to Wake. Wake it, Clara.
What was Tink referring to?
Clara could sense the Field, the raw energy clustered together, traveling on invisible rails the way the underground golems used to.
Wait! There was… something. Something on the other side of the wall. An emptiness, a gaping wide mouth eager for food.
She glanced down at the doorknob. The ball-like knob’s middle had no place for a key to slide into or a button to lock or unlock the door.
Other doors in Nork possessed alternative means of accessibility other than a mechanical lock and key, this door must too. A panel! A panel with a number pad requiring a numerical code or a card reader. Both electrical.
But no. Although Nites were intangible, having no physical form, those a conduit creates with their own Field cannot pass through walls. Clara’s father used to say imagination was the only limit to a conduit’s abilities. Physical barriers prevent access, for the flesh, armaments, and the elements. The mind cannot penetrate that limit. When a conduit produces Nites, he or she finds it difficult to see past the physical limits binding their preconceived perceptions of the world—like the laws of physics. For this reason, many conduits cannot make their Nites pass through solid objects. For whatever reason, this does not hinder the Nites entering the bulky shells of machines. Probably because conduits know Nites must pass through a machine’s metal skin to Wake it. Clara’s father always tried to teach her, her only limit as a conduit was her own mind.
Hard as Clara tried, she failed to force her Nites through the wall and to the door’s control panel.
She gritted her teeth.
If only she were outside the door with a view of the panel. Well, then that would defeat the purpose of needing the control panel, wouldn’t it? A fit of giggles came on and Clara had to stuff them down to keep her sanity. Panel was outside the door. Problem one. Her own mind was more a barrier than the wall separating her and the panel. Problem two. She could feel the Field outside; too bad Clara could not touch the larger Field. Only feel. The Nites in the larger Field, wild and untamed by a conduit, rushed along to nowhere, to everywhere. Why could those wild Nites not detour into the panel to help?
Two sparks focused on Clara, stopping amid the flow and disconnecting from the greater Field.
How in the world…? She shouldn’t be able to interact with—
Wake the machine, Clara. Quick! They’re coming.
Right. There was no time to ponder conduit and Field philosophy with trouble marching toward you.
Two Nites. One Nite to Wake. A second Nite to hack. Clara’s father taught her to circumvent electronic locking mechanisms, to encode a Nite with instruction to attempt a series of numbers or letters until it discovered a specific pattern for input into the lock. An easy coding. But first, the machine—the panel—must Wake.
Outside the maintenance closet, the two Nites that had somehow become aware of her, responded to her need, struggled with the instructions she placed on them. Stubborn. The Field inside and around a conduit was accustomed to that human. The Field just outside the reach was wild and untamed, as skittish as a pack of wild wolves, more likely to flee from a human hand than lick.
Clara pressed her will harder at the Nites, clubbed each one over their lights.
You will listen to me burn you! she demanded.
There! She felt the panel gasp with a rush of life. She recognized the feeling as a shock eddying through the Field, bumping shoulders with the other commuting raw Nites in the collection of the Field. The second Nite entered the panel and began its random number shuffling, ferreting out a proper sequence to open the door.
Tink looked over a shoulder at Clara and smiled gently, the stars in her eyes winking.
Sweet sounding, the door went click and swung inward, creaking with the embarrassment of a child caught revealing a secret they should never have known.
Shifting into her ball of light form, Tink streaked without fear into the grim tunnels. This bravery shocked Clara from stillness and gave her heart.
Wanna keep reading? Turn the page and continue to Chapter Fourteen.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved