It is the grand age of cell tech, and all across the Luccani Alliance of Isles, workshops are springing up, full of young people out to make a name in the flourishing industries.
Demeri Winsyll is one of many, backed by her two friends Saeir (tall, pedantic, likes a cuppa), and Chey (none of these things). Together they have a dream, of circumnavigating the globe in Saeir's new flying machine (with as few things on fire as possible).
Nobody said exploration was easy.
But nobody said it had to be sensible either.
It started when I came to a river. Just a nice, broad, silty rainforest type of river. Nothing unusual about it, though it did make me wonder how we were supposed to do such things as, say, get across. Whoever had made this road didn’t seem to have bothered about that part. But there was a figure, seated on a log, hunched over and looking very miserable. And, when I came closer, soaking wet, covered in mud, and with a familiar multicoloured death bird perched on the shoulder.
“Don’t say it,” Demeri said, as I pulled up beside her. “Don’t even start.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” I said, which was a complete and total lie.
Demeri stood up, muddy water the colour of strong tea dripping from her body and pooling by her feet. “Look,” she said, pointing out over the river. “Look over there. Look at it.”
I followed the line of her finger, straight over the silted waters, probably home to various aforementioned face eating things that I didn’t want to think too hard about. At first I didn’t see it, and then... “Oh. I see what you mean.”
“It’s tragic. It’s the most absolutely tragic thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Demeri,” I said, “why in the world did you think it was a good idea to drive your car into the river?”
“To get to the other side.”
I knew then that the entire scene had slipped into what we will call Demeri-logic, and there was no sense arguing. The thing about Demeri is that once you argue with her, you’re doomed. She will use a specific form of logic known as I’m Always Right, and no matter what you throw at her, she’ll stand there being smug. She could even pull off smug after having done something as idiotic as driving into a river, which takes a very advanced application of I’m Always Right logic indeed.
And so, I got down to business. “So you want help with getting it out.” It seemed that so far, spending a day as a girl hadn’t had any real impact on everyday life. The rainforest, it seems, just doesn’t give a shit. Nor does Demeri. Besides, in a way, this was the best thing ever. Something horrible was happening, and it wasn’t to me!
“Well, I’m sure I could do that. But I won’t say no to a bit of assistance.”
“Yes. And that’s why you were sitting on that log and moping!”
“I wasn’t moping. I was contemplating the options available to me.”
See what I mean? I don’t need to explain any more, do I? “Well, moping or not-”
“I mean,” Demeri said, staring out over the stricken, half submerged car. “Think about it. Think about how you’d feel if it was your snuggly love machine of a bike. And don’t deny it. I’ve seen the way you look at it. Think of how you’d feel if your beloved death machine was underwater. Think of it.”
I stared back.
Now bear with me for a moment here, because this part is going to take some setup. Imagine the majestic rainforest wilderness as seen from above, a carpet of soft, deep greens, rolling away into the distance, mist hanging from the branches as far as the eye can see. Take it all in. Feel the vastness, the sheer expanse of it all. Take your time. I want to make sure you’ve really got the point here.
Now imagine a lone voice, echoing over the trees.
“I am not in a relationship with my bike!”
There. That’s that out of the way.
It soon became apparent that being a girl would also not have any bearing on my usual job in such situations, which would be to wade in and fix a rope to the car to get it out. This came after assertions from Demeri that the river wasn’t that deep and easily waded through. “Well, it was for me. You might have a bit more difficulty. Still, you can swim, right? Try not to drown.”
“Lovely,” I said. “What if something tries to eat me?”
“Offer it your hand. Or hope that it bites off a part you didn’t want anyway.” She grinned, in a way that made it quite obvious exactly what parts she meant.
“I told you, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet!”
“Well, neither am I.”
It wasn’t too bad, once you got the hang of it. Once you get used to the idea of thick, muddy water creeping up your legs and licking against certain highly conflicted areas, at least. It’s a bit like swimming in the sea, except thicker and muddier and hotter, and... well, not really like swimming in the sea at all, except it was in a way because of the whole water thing. Nevermind that, that was a rubbish analogy. What i said earlier, it wasn’t too bad. Demeri managed to guide me by the safest path, passing the rope to me from her first attempt at getting the thing out. I made it without being eaten or having anything bitten off, wanted or otherwise, and managed to get the rope fixed to the car before wading back out. A few pulls with what power I could muster from the bike and a bit of plain simple tugging, and the thing finally slid back onto the bank, its frame completely covered in mud, twigs, and various other things. Demeri pulled open a door and a miniature waterfall sloshed out, while I watched from my seat a safe distance away. The whole thing stank of fish. So, come to think of it, did I.
“Now all you have to do is drive it away!” I said.
“I...” Demeri stared at the stricken interior, her face the very picture of horror. Sorry about the boring phrasing. I had just pulled a car out of a river, give me some time here. Meanwhile, Demeri wandered around the car in much the same way that a small cute fluffy animal might around the corpse of its freshly killed mother, perhaps with some desperately sad background music to set the scene.
“If you like, we could hold a funeral,” I said. Look, I was covered in mud and bore a fragrance that might be considered a highly attractive perfume. If you happened to be a shark. I wasn’t going to soften things now.
“No.” Demeri stroked the roof, leaving clear blue streaks in the dirt. She stared out at nothing, but with a glimmer of determination.
“It’s dead now! Look, I’m sorry. I know it’s hard. You shouldn’t think of it was your fault. Well, it is your fault, but-”
“No.” Demeri snapped into action, ripping it open and exposing the broad cell array to view. The compartment was a sludge-clogged mess but it didn’t stop Demeri from reaching inside to check the cell states. “It’s not dead. It can’t be dead.” She paused, bent over the array, and took a deep breath, “I know it’s not dead.”
Oh no. There it went. Denial had set in. I know I’d managed to resurrect my bike after the incident with the mud crash, but that had been a much simpler affair. Compared to this, it had just been a bit of dried dirt on the array. In this case... well, judging from what I could see from here, Demeri would probably have better luck dragging the array compartment home and converting it to an aquarium. “How can you possibly say that’s not dead?”
Her voice was level, flat, and the most determined I’d ever heard. “I know it’s not. I just... know.”