Month: February 2013

Shadow of the Rain Catchers – Part 2

Looking for Part 1? Click here to read Part 1 of Dean Giles’ novella Shadow of the Rain Catchers.


“You’re looking at genuine blueprints of a Rain Catcher.” He let the words settle in her brain.

Ava’s face turned pale and then flushed red. She’d never been good at hiding her emotions.

Ewan pointed to a drawing of the main water tank. Its bulk was kept afloat by a supporting airship attached two-hundred metres above. The drawing showed multiple venting shafts penetrating the tank’s casing.

“Here.” He pointed near the apex of the tank. “There’s a small maintenance ladder and shelf. If I can get above the fabric sacks with my hang glider and land on top of the tank, then, I simply drop a canister attached on a rope into the collected water. I’ll fill as many canisters as I can carry, and drop them down on parachutes through a joint at the edge of fabric section. All you need to do is follow me on the ground and collect the canisters as they fall to earth. Job done.”

Ava stared at Ewan in blatant disbelief. “Please tell me you’re joking?”

“Why, Ava? Why would I be joking? This water could save my father’s life.”

Ava sat down next to him on the long wooden bench and took both his hands in hers. “If you decided to go ahead with this madness, you could die. Then who will look after your father? And, if you get caught by any of the Catcher’s security drones, you’ll be killed.” Her words were becoming heated. “I want nothing more than for Daniel to get better, but you’re being reckless, Ewan, you need to think about this, seriously. Even if we did manage to pull it off, you could still be arrested and God knows what the machines would do to you for interfering with one of their own… is it really worth the risk?”

Hers was the voice of reason, and the logic was hard to ignore. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Yu Yún has been taking our rain for centuries, and right now, more than ever before, I need to get back what’s mine. What’s ours. What belongs to the people.”

“You know that I feel the same, but it’s just not worth the risk. You should be in prison just for having those damn blueprints.”

Ewan threw his hands up in defence. “All I want is to take back some water. The rain should be free for everyone.”

“There has to be another way, Ewan. Just promise me you’ll think about it, please?”

Ewan felt the wind drop from his sails. Perhaps she was right, and he had to find another way to raise the funds.

Five full days of searching for a new job yielded no results. The few employers that had available work wouldn’t touch him because of the Yu Yún incident. It seemed wherever he went his bad reputation had already paved the way ahead of him.

Full of frustration from another long, unsuccessful day, Ewan took the road back to his village. It was dark and the humming of the Rain Catchers continued unrelenting above him, a constant reminder of his lowly place in the world.

He cycled as hard as he could despite inevitable dehydration. His insides were taut like a thousand tourniquets around his spine. He needed to forget, to somehow vent the anguish.

As if in answer to his growing despair, the horizon exploded with light. Like the hand of some ancient god had reached down and lifted the carpet of darkness, the sun smiled down on the earth once again.

The storm was passing. For nearly a week the land had been plunged in the shadow of the Rain Catchers. With the distant sunset came a renewed feeling of optimism. It reasserted itself instantly in Ewan’s heart, and with it came a rekindled loathing for the machines who stole the sky.

The Colored Lens Is Looking For Slush Readers

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Shadow of the Rain Catchers – Part 1

The hang glider looked like a parrot with a broken wing, a patchwork of coloured cloth stitched together in a swooping arc across its five meter wingspan. The wings told the story of the last year of Ewan’s life. He had scrounged every scrap of material from old clothes, furniture, and even dried out rabbit hide. He needed less than half a square metre to finish building his Little Dragon, and with it, find a way to save his father’s life.

Ewan had secured the hang glider to a makeshift bench in the middle of his wood-shack workshop. He had hand-built every inch of the shed and furniture, the wood and nails salvaged from nearby dumps or broken carts and the resultant outhouse had the look of a mangled old oak patched with shiny sheet metal.

He made his way across the dusty room, avoiding the scattered tools and piles of cardboard boxes.

In the corner he heaved a rickety shelving unit to the side revealing a handle on the floor. He grunted as he pulled the handgrip and lifted away a large section of flooring. The secret compartment housed a folded heap of fabric. The pattern was similar to the hang glider sail. A mismatch of different materials stitched together and attached to ropes of different sizes and lengths.

Ewan had seen the design in an ancient book. It was called a parachute, used long ago so people could jump from great heights.

Technically they were legal as there was no law against jumping off a cliff. But the hang glider was a different matter entirely. He would be fined a week’s water rations just for building the thing and prison time for actually flying it… if he got caught.

The Forest Gate

For Alex, the wagon ride was almost unbearable. He’d spent every day of his thirteen years in the city, where the horizon in every direction was formed by a physical object one could touch after no more than a few minutes’ walk. Now here were tiny villages, beyond them isolated farms, beyond them vast, empty plains. Above it all was the greater emptiness of the sky, with no crowding rooftops to divide it into pieces small enough for the mind to accept.

In the twilight of the first day, the horizon ahead was an unblemished line. By the next morning, it had cracked and broken, and ran like a jagged scar along the junction of earth and sky. There, Alex knew, were the mountains. Each day they grew closer. By the time darkness closed off the seventh day, the wagon was winding stubbornly up their foothills.

When Alex woke, in the gray light of the eighth day’s dawn, the wagon had stopped, the stillness sickening after seven days of almost constant motion. They’d arrived at the edge of a camp, whose tents and stalls covered the floor of a narrow valley, and lapped up along the lower reaches of the surrounding hills. The mountains towered just beyond. Far across the field, the dark green of the forest showed through the seams of the camp.

He was startled badly enough to chafe his wrist on the manacles that bound him to the wagon’s bed when a voice bellowed, “Up! Wake up, you pigs!”

The man opposite Alex spat back, “Get down to the pit yourself, devil.”

A moment later the man flinched forward, and Alex saw the glint of a spearhead receding through the bars of the cage at shoulder height. The guard behind it said, “Next time it goes in.”

A few feet from the back of the wagon stood a fat man in flowing red robes, his long gray hair stirring in the cold breeze, his attention divided between inspecting the prisoners and haggling with the leader of the city guards who’d brought them.

Were Alex free, and back in the city, now would be the time to sidle inoffensively near, to find with furtive glances the fat man’s purse, to probe the place with practiced fingers, to move casually away, triumphantly unnoticed, five or ten or twenty gold pieces richer.

Only after the fantasy had passed did he begin to listen, with a burst of heat in his cheeks.

“It’s less than promised because you’ve delivered less than promised,” said the fat man.

“Sixteen by my count.”

“Fifteen and a half is not sixteen. How much do you think that babe you’ve brought me can carry?”

“I heard carrying’s not the main point, but running.”

“You go in there and try running. I’ll give you ten percent on anything you bring out. That’s twice what I give my best eggers.”

“I wouldn’t run.”

“Fight then? Fighters don’t last. Fighters get eaten up in our world, shat out in the one beyond the gate.”

The fat man dismissed the guard with a single step toward the wagon. To the men inside, he growled, “My name is Dern, and you belong to me. Do your job, and you’ll gain your freedom, and more money than you’d make in a year of mugging. I always tell my men, eggs are heavy, but so is gold. When you—”

“One of them things give you that?” Alex looked to his right to see the thick, bald man three spots down the line grinning raggedly. “One of them gate-dogs?”

The scar began just below Dern’s left ear, and ran jaggedly down the side of his jawline before dropping off his chin and out of sight. Dern gave the man a tight-lipped smile. He must’ve known how it made the scar twist and crawl like a living thing, or a dead thing unnaturally revived. “No gate-dog, as you city people call them, did this. One gets close enough for that, it does more. Much more. So you needn’t fear for your lovely face, oh my fair one.”

Tired laughter filled the cage. The man who’d spoken twisted his head back and forth to scowl at his fellow prisoners, reserving none of his feeble wrath for Dern, whom he’d apparently identified, too late, as an unassailable foe.

“That inquisitive nature will serve you well as a scout, my fair,” Dern said. He turned to one of the guards. “Take this one to Farrier. And… Scout,” he said, pointing to another man. “Scout,” he repeated, pointing to another. When he came to Alex, he raised his arm in a dismissive wave. “And.”

Cincinnati Steam Shovel Blues

Machinery daunted him, levers, gears, and all those moving parts, but Nester needed the work. After three days on the job, the longest stretch he had worked in one place for the past year, he finally settled in on a contraption the folks in salvage called a steam shovel. It was something they’d pieced together from a hodgepodge of spare parts, and as they were apt to do, salvage boasted of their success in bringing the thing to life.

Its boiler tank had been yanked off a driller in the salvage pit, apparently the only part on that rig not twisted up or fused together by a powder blast. The winch and steam engine they’d plucked off a rail tractor, and the axles and rims came from an ancient gasoline-powered truck excavated from the quarry bottoms. But her guts, they told him, the boom, crane and bucket, and all her pulleys, came from a Cincinnati steam shovel, probably the same kind their ancestors used to dig out the Great Quarry. It was equipment so well forged, they claimed, that, not only was it still salvageable after three hundred years in a rust heap, but the recognizable symbol of the Cincinnati Man stamped on every piece kept the company legend alive centuries after its demise. Every time Nester jerked back the boom handle and dropped the bucket for a scoop of soil, seeing that faded logo of a man in red boots standing on the edge of the earth with a hammer in one hand and spade in the other, made him feel as though he had traveled back in time.

“Fourteen in this batch, Nester. Nothing but proles and infantry.” Millie, who was dressed in her usual gray overalls, inspected a clipboard.

“One hole?” Nester scooped another load of coal into the firebox and stoked the flame.

“You’ll get used to it. If it bothers you, spade’s leaning by the shed.” Millie shrugged. “But I’ve never seen a one-legged man work a spade into this hard earth before.”

Nester nodded and eased back the lever, lowering the boom, bucket open. He carved a ditch as deep as a full-grown man and as wide as three men abreast as he backed the steam shovel toward a stone marker. Then Nester signaled his eleven-year-old son, Lemuel, who helped out at the burial yard because he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the school anymore.

Lemuel grinned and gave one of the corpses a kick in the head. Following a dust-up of lime, the body swung halfway over the edge of the ditch.

“Have some respect, boy,” Millie shouted. “Gently!”

Lemuel glared first at Nester, as though he expected his dad to keep quiet, then at Millie, who was a young woman about the age Lemuel’s mother would have been. And Nester did stay quiet. Nester’s own father would’ve wrestled him down and tanned his hide. But Lemuel wasn’t right in his head, and Nester already had to sleep with one eye open.

Millie marched over to the boy wagging her finger. “Look here. Nobody would know if we just threw these poor saps over into the garbage heap. But when I scratch the names on that stone,” she said, pointing to an irregular headstone in front of the steam shovel, “well, that’s all the mom’s of these kids have. And that’s who matters because that’s who’s still alive–moms.” Then Millie went on and on under her breath about the injustice of her being pulled off of book salvage duty to tend the dead yard. It made Nester nervous to watch Lemuel’s face during her rant, as though he enjoyed his time here among the dead.

“Now, give them stiffs a good sprinkle of lime. Or else they’ll get ripe on us.” Millie pointed to a mound of white powder with a spade sticking up out of it.

Nester hop-skipped over to the shed and studied the lime pile. At the same moment he heard a whoosh of steam behind him. His chest felt as though someone had clinched his heart up into a fist, the same feeling he got every time Lemuel got up to something awful.

Nester’s mouth gaped as though a bubble grew on his tongue big enough to hinge his jaw wide. The boom on the steam shovel lowered over the hole, gears grinding. In the window of the operator’s cab, Nester saw the face of his son, an innocent face, just like the one he wore the day he was born, his eyes wide, not wanting to sleep or cry or eat, just stare at things, at people, at Nester, as though he might climb right up in through Nester’s eyeball and rummage through his brain. Lemuel had just sat and stared for the better part of three years before he ever tried to make a word. That happy vacancy had dug into Nester, into Lemuel’s mother, the way the teeth on that steam shovel bucket ate chunks of the earth. On the far edge of the ditch, Millie, working the water pump, had her back to Lemuel as the bucket positioned over her head getting ready to drop.

Nester almost screamed, but Lemuel turned his head at that moment staring right at him, swallowing anything Nester planned to yell before it left his mouth. The bucket on the steam shovel lowered, jerking back up and down again. With the eleven-year-old at the lever, the crane arm swiveled back and forth before the bucket crashed into the ditch, missing Millie’s head by a hawk’s beak.

Millie hopped aside, landing flat on her back. “Mama Jones! That was close. You trying to kill somebody, Nester?”

Nester couldn’t move. He could only watch his son frustrated by the controls on the steam shovel, slamming the lever forward and then back again. “Lemuel.” Nester said, realizing he had said it so softly there was no chance anyone had heard him. “Lemuel,” he called louder, though still much too quietly.

Millie sat up. “Nester! What’s that boy doing in that shovel?” Her expression soured when she saw just how close the shovel had come from her head.

Nester dropped the spade and made his way for his son. “Nobody said you could get up there. Did they? Get down from there.” Sometimes Nester just wished Lemuel would say something, anything at all that would tether him in the regular world.

“Don’t bring that kid back here. Consider yourself canned if you can’t find a place for him.” Millie pointed at Lemuel as though she spotted a rat scurrying off the mooring line of a ship.

“All right, Millie.” Nester had heard those words before. He guided his son up to the top of the hill that overlooked a valley filled with headstones, each covered with columns of names. Nester knew he was supposed to cherish his boy, teach him the ways of manhood, let him learn from his mistakes, but he didn’t think Lemuel knew right from wrong. And without his mother to guide him through, Nester figured Lemuel might just be a bread loaf so molded—by the time all the green spots were cut out there wouldn’t be any bread left to eat.