Huntress

Prologue

I have arrived at the first main event of these wild Ferron days. Island WS-F-007, or Isle Seven as I’ll call it henceforth. Its coordinates within the region already speak to considerable alteration, as the Upwell Storm has shuffled the pieces across these emerging skies, sending once known islands hundreds of miles away from their originally surveyed locations. Turning the charted into decidedly uncharted. Forgive my obfuscation of its discrete location for now, as I must keep some secrets. You understand, of course. The nature of the game!

Here, with Isle Seven, my aims and those of my hosts are aligned. They require multiple days of surveying and sampling for the sake their own bounties, and I shall immerse myself in a storm-sealed ecosystem for the duration of our stay. There, I will observe the no-doubt altered wildlife up close and in detail, and perhaps discover a few tantalizing secrets. This is a precious and momentous excursion, as Isle Seven will surely become a colony and port of call for a new wave of bold settlers within the decade. It will never be so pure again, and even I feel a touch of guilt at sullying this place with my boot prints tomorrow morning.

 

Verica rolled her eyes at KZ Springvale’s melodramatic view of the upcoming expedition, which meant she nailed the fake explorer’s specific voice. Well, fake wasn’t accurate. Most of KZ’s adventures were based on her own years in the Northwest Frontier, if polished up for the sake of narrative and certain details altered to shield herself from being identified as the author. Verica was KZ Springvale. But only a portion of her, an outgrowth of her exile, a coping mechanism and modest stream of income from back east. Springvale wasn’t as big as she hoped, but built up enough of a fanbase over the years to garner quick attention from editors whenever Verica sent over another bundle of tales and reports.

A compromise, between her former career and current exile. A mask, not even gendered, which was apparently a great source of debate among readers. Verica had been so focused on keeping her identity a secret in the earlier stories that she stripped KZ of everything but a voice and stance. It was Beatrix’s idea to lean into it and maintain the ambiguity, even if she thought the whole alter-ego charade nonsensical.

 She eyed the stack of magazines she received from Beatrix back in Hub, a collection of the last year or so of KZ’s publication credits. Mostly escapist adventure magazines, a muddle of fact and fiction, more entertainment than science. Though there were a few credible missives in rigorous publications, occasions when she reined in KZ’s embellishments and focused on the actual work and cataloging of the bizarre wildlife out here.

After a moment of consideration to add more to the entry, she decided it was enough for now. Verica closed the slim, water-resistant field journal and set aside a pair of pens. It was the last thing she needed to pack for tomorrow. Everything else she required for three days on Isle Seven was packed and leaning against the wall near the door of her makeshift, cabin-slash-lab-slash-office.

Despite her extended stay on the Wink and Smile, there was minimal personalization to her cabin. Plenty of customization, certainly. One wall was filled by a storage shelf with numerous locking and secured bins, even a few that could hold an air-tight seal. The electrical hookups were modified and expanded. The overhead lights could go from soft and warm bedroom to clinical laboratory-bright as desired. There were, naturally, books galore on sundry biological and ecological topics, plus an effective minor degree in weather analysis and signals.

But aside from a leather-lined storage trunk with scuffed up brass casings, and its contents, almost nothing about this cabin declared, ‘This space belongs to Dr. Verica Chantil’. By design, of course. Part of the clinging notion that this was but a temporary posting, like all the others since the disaster in the Low Raelins. Another wall. Another disassociation. Another…

No. None of that now.

Pack it away once more. Verica had other tasks ahead, a modest but long-awaited solo mission beginning with the dawn. She stood from the desk, carrying KZ’s journal to the loaded travel pack near the door, secured to a safety point, of course. Verica slid the journal into a pocket, next to her beat-up and battle-tested notebook with more rigorous, non-alter-ego, observations and initial analysis. The two struck a balance, the latter always taking the majority share, KZ a filtered, polished expression more often than not.

An additional pack waited out in the cargo hold, containing camping supplies for a base of operations away from the Wink’s landing site. The plan was to drop her a few miles away from whatever clearing the crew found suitable for their own overnight site. They would perform a few ground-bound maintenance tasks and fly detailed surveying circuits around the island. Verica would have an all-too-brief immersion in what they all hoped would be a verdant landscape.

Isle Seven, being the seventh survey stop since they entered the Ferron Expanse, was a big one, literally and figuratively. Icomb’s original Imperial survey maps tagged this island with the high-value combination of ‘Rain Bowl’, ‘Self-Sustain’, and ‘Agri-plus’. Water. Established Ecosystem. Good for farming. And the signal data confirmed it was large enough to support a sizable colony.

A grand prize, especially if they could confirm that those tags were still valid after a decade of storms. Technically speaking, this was a rediscovery. A confirmation of continued existence. Nonetheless there was so much to see and investigate herself, and three days wasn’t nearly enough time. It was merely a range of safety given the still brooding storm all around them. But Verica found herself infected by Icomb’s starry-eyed explorer talk. Of seeing this place as a whole new realm, untouched, though its existence on the original maps shouted otherwise.

Or perhaps that was KZ Springvale talking.

(Huntress and the rest of Skies Unbroken will continue in January 2018)


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Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2017