Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Life on a Wave

Time for another excerpt from what I'm writing. In this one, Captain Eskemant reveals his origins and describes life on his home planet, Wave, and the beginning of the disturbances that would change his life forever:

Tornwade of clan Wushesh was born and raised among the nomadic sea people. On the surface of Wave there are a few thousand small islands with a total area of only 10,000 square kilometres or so, mostly clumped in a vague crescent in the tropics. The remainder is restless ocean, save for the polar ice caps.

One group of islands, nestled in shallower water, forms a shield against most of the ocean storms, and it was here that the Weshesh built their water farms. Every year, after the tropical rains had passed, they’d sail their homeboats into the wide expanse of calm water they called the Ring. The islands surrounding them supported a few fruit trees and bushes, but the people of the clan distrusted the land and always felt uneasy there.

Tornwade learned to mend the kelp-rope cages, dive to cultivate the kelp beds below, and prune the floating strumweed mats that had wandered into the Ring to feed and bud off new mats. By the end of the season they’d have enough dried kelp heads to feed themselves on their long travels when the fishing was poor, they’d hope to have harvested enough greyhead and dumbol fish to sell at the Platform, and the strumweed would provide them with the raw material for cloth, and enough fresh water for another few months.

He watched his grandmothers and aunts salting away enough dumbols to use as bait for the deep-sea fishing season, and he’d sit with his brothers and sisters twisting kelp-rope during the warm, quiet evenings while father repaired the homeboat to make ready for the trip to the northern waters. The stars twinkled into life, shyly, and the shushing of the surf over the shallows came invisibly to them. The warm, sweaty air of the day was lifting, cooling, and a pleasant breeze would blow in their faces.

The Platform was the mobile sea-town where the sea peoples traded with the Outsiders. It housed a few stores and offices, all gathered around a central landing apron for an orbital shuttle. Not many of our clans would touch most of the trade goods on offer. We had our ways and we were happy. Medicines, though – we could extract our own antiseptic, anti-inflammatories and pain killers from the sea life, but for much else we traded fish for better health. And steel blades, and wire, sometimes. Other clans, who weren’t so conservative in their ways, bought outboard motors and harvested methane from the strumweed to power them. We all had small methane-powered stoves to keep warm in the northern winter nights. But they also wore Outsider clothes, listened to Outsider music and even ate the processed food the rest of us found so alien. Some got drunk on Outsider booze and wasted away to nothing or fell off their boats in the middle of the night. They hungered after the gadgets for sale on the Platform: navigation aids, two-way radios, clocks, small boxes with glowing screens and so on. We just laughed at them. Who needed it?

A few clans began to settle on the deserted islands, away from the waves which rocked us to sleep each night. They built huts and discovered the problems of sewage, parasites and vermin. Many grew sick. Cholera was common.

The trouble began when Tornwade had almost reached the age of adulthood. He was looking forward to building his own homeboat and setting out to explore the Fringed Islands in the distant east with two friends. They'd hunt the giant barking eels that lived in the deeps but occasionally emerged on deserted beaches to mate and nest. After that he was expected to find a wife and settle down.

The clan homeboats swept into the Ring in little groups at the start of the kelping season. People were busy furling their sails and dropping their anchors and didn’t notice the new shape on the skyline until one small girl on the homeboat nearest that of Tornwade’s family let out a delighted cry. "Look, a big net-needle in the sky!"

It looked to everyone as though the Outsiders had built a slender mast of some kind on one of the larger islands that circled the Ring. Over the following days the clan discovered it was a transmitter built next to a complex of some sort. The people there weren't at all friendly and drove off Tornwade and the others who'd gone to find out what was going on.

The clan adults talked about it. Almost everyone felt robbed, felt that these coarse foreigners had invaded their home, even though none of the clan wanted to live on an island. But they didn't see any lasting damage the construction would bring.

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