TERRA INCOGNITA

Excerpt

The storm hit without warning. Torrential rain hit so fiercely that the ocean waves were flattened. Fork lightning flashed across the sky and thunder rumbled after only a few seconds delay. Everything changed again as huge breaking waves came in from two directions. The hovercraft was picked up like a cork and tossed around with Evan almost losing control of the craft.

“Get everyone buckled in!” Zorell screamed as she staggered to her feet after being pitched across the cockpit.

Everyone else except Evan received the same fate but by crawling, clinging and assisting each other they all managed to clip themselves into seats in the cockpit, just as a mountainous wave pitched them sideways. Evan applied power and managed to reverse the right engine and power up the left. The hovercraft actually slid backwards beneath the wave before turning and accelerated out of the other side and back into the thunderstorm with a gigantic wall of water straight ahead.

“Any more of those and we’ve had it!” Evan screamed above the roar.

Zorell saw Anneke trying to help Questa who was white with purple lips and white knuckles as she clung on. Further away, Landon hung grimly to his seat with his eyes staring outside.

“Mark,” Zorell screamed. “Can you help?”

“Automatic assistance is available but it is estimated that our outer hull will be fractured if we have three more of waves with a magnitude of the previous one,” The computer’s voice sounded strangely calm as they sank into another trough before rocketing up the incoming wave. Luckily, it was straight ahead so they were not pitched sideways.

“One’s coming in from my side!” Anneke screeched.

“Another on this side,” Landon’s voice was only slightly for controlled. “If they both hit us at the same time…”

The hovercraft vibrated and Zorell could do nothing except hang on and hope.

“A suggestion,” Mark’s methodical voice must have increased volume for she heard it clearly above the moans and screams of her companions.

“What!” she howled.

Outside, was a wall of water.

“I suggest we fly twenty metres above the waves.”

“How?” cried Evan. “A cushion of air is needed to support a hovercraft.”

Zorell turned angry eyes at him. Those comments didn’t help!

“Do whatever is necessary, Mark,” She forced her voice to remain calm.

“You need to physically activate the necessary equipment. Please ask Evan to press his pad simultaneously as you press your own.”

Two bright yellow rectangles appeared on the console in what Zorell thought was just a metal surface. They were three metres apart and could not be reached by the same person.

“Did you hear, Evan?” she screamed as the left wave arrived and they rolled sideways.

“Yes!” He was the calm one this time. “On three… One, two…”

Zorell watched his hand go towards his pad as she reached out for her one and on three, pushed. A buzzer sounded and the engines rose in pitch, the rev meter shot into the red danger area and several unknown yellow lights flashed from the console.

“Look!” Anneke screamed.

Zorell turned her head to stare out the left window. Below the deck, a silver slab swung out, carrying with it a circular container that held the left spinning propeller that provided the hovercraft’s lift.  She saw another one out the other side of their hull.

For a second, the hovercraft dropped before anything happened. The hydrogen peroxide thrust engines ignited with a roar but instead of pointing out the rear as they normally did they now blasted down. The hovercraft rocketed straight up with flames and smoke left behind them.

Within seconds it lifted above the frothing waves and back into almost welcome torrential rain.  Several metres above the water, the thrust engines cut out as quickly as they started and they hovered, mid-air with the side propellers keeping them steady.

“We’ve got wings,” Evan gasped. “Look!”

In front of the console a long narrow monitor lit up in what again seemed to be just a metal surface before. Lit up on it were a row of new instruments, dials and touch pads.

“We have fuel for two hours flight but it is being replenished by the rain,” Mark announced. “Do you wish to return to manual control?’

“No!” Zorell stared at Evan who was concentrating on the new console and replied. “Stay on automatic control and head out of the storm.”

“Understood. It will take an estimated fifteen minutes to travel beyond of the storm.”

Their hovercraft still wobbled and pitched but they were now above the waves and heading into driving rain.

“Great move, Zorell. When there’s danger we always take to the sky.” Jax said as the two young bees arrived.

“But why did you wait and almost get us killed?” Vark added.

Zorell couldn’t help smiling. “I didn’t know the hovercraft had the ability to turn into a helicopter,” she said.

“More secrets of your ancestors?” Jax asked.

“Yes, more secrets from my ancestors,” Zorell replied.

She glanced around at her companions. Apart from still looking pale they had all come though without any injuries. Only Landon looked slightly worried.

“What is it, Landon?” Questa asked.

“Oh nothing really,” Landon replied. “We just lost the kayak from the deck, that’s all.” He grinned.  “Imagine what it would have been like if we had hit this storm when we were still in it?”

“We would have drowned,” Questa whispered.

Zorell felt her arm being squeezed and reached out and gave her new friend a hug. One more terrifying episode was over. The future was still unknown but she was sure they would cope.

*

The hovercraft continued to rise through the clouds before they burst into sunshine with the world below covered in cloud as far as the eye could see. The scream of the engines dropped to a more satisfying rumble as they flew in a lazy circle.

“Evan, why are we circling?” Zorell asked.

Evan shrugged. “We’re on automatic control. Mark, can you answer Zorell’s question?”

“Yes,” the computer replied but said no more.

“Then do it!” Zorell hissed.

“An incoming message is in conflict with our immediate aim that is to place yourselves, bees included, in a safe environment. To merely fly away beyond the storm is the easiest way to do this but an overriding problem remains.”

“And what is that?” Zorell asked

The Rasborne’s Daughter was also caught in the storm and has been driven onto rocks near the island of Fatoku-My that means The Pillar in the Sea. There are few landing areas on this island because of twenty metre cliffs along the coast. Unless we return and rescue the crew, they will not survive.”

“So?” Questa cut in. “If our situations were reversed, they wouldn’t help us!”

Zorell swung around. “And if we never bothered to rescue a kayak caught out in the ocean, where would you be now?” she snapped.

Quest flushed and stared at her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. The Waxon are not human like us. Would you rescue a wild animal in your world if you knew it would immediately attack and kill you?”

“Questa has a point, Zorell. The Waxon have an entirely different moral code than our own. To them, we are just wild animals and predators at that who have no right to live,” Langdon added.

“If we lower ourselves to their level, we are no better than them.” Anneke entered the argument. “My friends the bees took a risk and approached Zorell and her friends to help me. If they had decided humans were too evil to help, I’d be dead!”

“That is true,” Rahis landed on the console. “The humans we knew before we met Anneke were sadistic brutes and would have destroyed us if they had had the chance. As for the Waxon not being human, I think you are wrong. They’re a different branch of humanity but are definitely human as intelligent as yourselves.”

Questa glanced around. “If you decide to go back and rescue the crew, just be careful and be prepared for anything, that’s all I ask.”

“Mark, can safeguards be built in if we rescue any of the ship’s survivors?” Zorell asked.

“Only by altering the air supply and rendering you all unconscious.”

“We could use our stings and attack them if it is necessary,” Rahis said. “In my opinion, this would be preferable.”

Zorell turned back to Questa. “I cannot leave a living creature to just die down there if we can help. If we try and fail at least we have tried. It would be cowardly to just leave without doing a thing.”

Questa nodded. “I understand,” she whispered.

“We’ll be okay,” Landon placed an arm around Questa and held her close. “We will do everything possible to help.” He glanced down at his partner. “Won’t we Questa?’

Questa looked up and nodded but her voice trembled and the tears filled her eyes. She was genuinely scared of the Waxon.

“Tell me, if the ship held the nuns from the monastery you escaped from, would you rescue them?” Zorell asked.

Questa shrugged. “I guess I would.”

*

The drop back into the clouds was not as bad as Zorell expected for the worst of the thunderstorm had moved on. There were still flashes of lightning but the thunder took longer to reach them so there was not the concern of being struck. They came out under the clouds above a raging ocean. In contrast to the storm, this was now worse! Huge waves cut across from two directions to hit in long rows of breaking surf that sent spray high into the air.

“Fatoku-My is a kilometre ahead,” Mark announced. “I advise you to assume manual control but with the safety mode activated. If we are in danger of hitting land or water the hovercraft will automatically rise out of danger. If necessary, this mode can also be switched off.”

Zorell nodded when Evan glanced at her.

They shuddered slightly but Evan managed to adjust to flying an aircraft rather than just a hovercraft. Zorell gazed through the spray and foggy conditions outside. Beyond the waves was the outline of the island with sheer cliffs that rose out of the water.

“I have The Rasborne’s Daughter on my screen,” Anneke called out. “It’s right beneath a cliff and appears to have tipped over slightly.”

“I can see it!” Landon called out from across the cockpit where Questa and he were watching out each side. “To your right, Evan.”

“Got it!”

Zorell felt them rise a little and the left wing dipped slightly as they turned. The scene was scary with waves crashing in every direction. If they had to land on it, the hovercraft wouldn’t stand a chance; they’d be flipped and crushed or sunk within seconds. She looked up and saw the sailing ship ahead. The sails were all down and one of the masks had snapped. Waves pounded across the aft-deck but the ship itself didn’t move. When a high wave swept past she could see the reason why. The Rasborne’s Daughter was squeezed in between two rows of rocks with the bow actually out of the water. Perhaps the crew had driven it in there rather than having the ship smashed sideways into a row of rocks further in. Beyond the whole are, cliffs that were barely visible in the conditions, rose above the ocean.

Zorell grabbed her binoculars and swept the area. She saw something! Off to the left was a lifeboat but it was upside down and crumbled between more rocks. The chances of anyone aboard surviving in the water were nil.

“I can see debris beside it,” Anneke was watching the same scene on her computer. “I think a second lifeboat has also broken up. I’ll do an infra-red search.”

Zorell glanced around and saw Evan, Questa and Landon concentrating on the scene outside. There seemed to be no obvious danger close to them so she switched her own monitor to follow Anneke’s one. Fifteen or more dull brown blobs appeared against the light blue background.

“Bodies,” Anneke explained. “Their body temperature is too low for them to be alive.”

The screen changed as Anneke moved the view to The Rasborne’s Daughter that appeared as a stylised rectangle on the screen. About a third of the way along from the rear a rectangle glowed bright red.

“There’s someone alive down there,” Anneke gasped. “But why hasn’t he been swept overboard?” She changed the screen so that in one corner, a real life view showed. However, all that could be seen was crashing surf hitting the wreck. Without the infrared search the Waxon aboard would have been invisible.

“Evan!” Zorell gasped,

“Go it!” he replied. “I’ll go closer!”

The hovercraft rose vertically for thirty metres or so before Evan piloted it slowly along until they were above the wreck of The Rasborne’s Daughter. Their craft was only buffeted slightly by the outside conditions now and the rain had turned to a fine drizzle that the windscreen wipers coped with.

“Look at the small screen!” Anneke screamed.

Zorell did and saw a zoomed in view of the deck below. A Waxon woman was tied to the railing of the top deck and terrified eyes looked up at them. Her arms were held over the railing and wrists bound behind her back. Also, her ankles were bound while another rope was wrapped around her body to hold her against the railing.

She had been tied there and left to drown!

“Mark, can we help the woman below?” Zorell cried.

“The probability of succeeding is only one on ten without direct intervention. You will need to winch her aboard.”

“Where’s our winch?” Evan asked.

“There is one in the cavity roof above where the propeller wings folded out. It can be accessed though the kitchen where I have opened a trap door. Someone will need to go down and untie her. We have equipment and safety gear available,” Mark replied.

“I will go,” Evan said.

“No!” Zorell replied. “You are needed to control everything. I’ll go!”

“Not without me,” Anneke cut in. “There needs to be two of us in case one gets into trouble.”

Zorell was about to say no for two reasons; she didn’t want Anneke hurt but also the thought of Evan being alone with Landon and Questa didn’t help. They were scared of the Waxon and what if they decided to stop Evan? This was only a slim chance but they were still strangers.

“You forgot about us.” Rahis interrupted her thoughts. “We will look after Evan. If the two new humans panic we can knock them out with our stings.”

Zorell glanced up and saw that almost the whole swarm had arrived and covered the ceiling overhead.  “Thanks,” she thought. “I doubt if you can help us outside in these conditions, anyway. If a wave hit any of you…” She turned to Questa and Landon. “Can you two help if we manage to get the Waxon aboard?”

“We will!” Landon sounded determined.

“And you, Questa?” Zorell asked.

“I’ll help.” Questa appeared more nervous than defiant. “If we all help, we have a better chance of succeeding. Just don’t take too big a risk, that’s all I ask.”

“We won’t,” Zorell replied.

With Anneke beside her, she walked through to the living area. The difference was immediate.  Cold salty air blew in from a three by two metre opening in the floor. She could see the wreck below with nothing in between. This was no view through safety glass but the real outside.

“Safety gear is in the side cabinet,” Mark’s voice was easy to hear even above the roar coming in from outside. “It is equipped with breathing apparatus and communication to myself or the others is available.”

The cabinet replaced what was the kitchen sink. On being touched it slid back to reveal two rubber-type bodysuits, a full facial helmet and oxygen tanks already attached to the back. Zorell helped Anneke into one and in turn was assisted into her own suit. It fitted perfectly and contracted around with a soft material that sort of sucked onto her skin. There were surgical-type gloves that gave her fingers freedom to move easily and boots that also clung to her skin after being zipped up.

“Mark, what do we do now?” she asked.

“At each end of the trap door you will see a harness attached to a nylon rope. Clip them on like a seat safety belt with the four sections around each limb clicking together on your stomachs. Afterwards, attach your helmet and the equipment belt you see before you.”

Zorell saw a knife, a pair of pliers, cutting gear and a small ray pistol in the belt pockets.  She nodded at Anneke and followed the computer’s directions. After she placed the helmet on she found she could hear everyone as clearly as if they were beside her in the cockpit.

“There is a loose harnesses attached to ropes. It needs to placed on the Waxon being rescued so she can he pulled aboard.” Mark said,

“We will bring her in when she reaches the top,” Landon said.

“We’re also here if our help is needed.” Rahis added.

“We’re ready, Evan,” Zorell said. “Can you move a little to your right and down a few metres?”

“Right Zorell, My screen shows what you can see. Keep talking, though. If there is any problem, just yell and we’ll lift you out of the way.”

“I’m ready,” Anneke whispered.

Zorell could see her eyes wide and unblinking, staring at her.

“Mark, we’re ready.”

“Good. Sit at each end of the trapdoor and jump when you are ready. The ropes will hold you both and all you need to do is give directions. Is that clear?’

“Yes!”

“Wait until we are above the deck next to where the Waxon is tied, wait for any waves to go by and drop.”

“Are you following this, Evan?” Zorell felt her heart racing but otherwise felt calm.

“Yes, I’m moving in closer now.”

*

 The deck of the wreck below was relatively stable with waves breaking on the lower deck below it. Spray washed across the upper one where the Waxon woman stared up as she wiggled her body in an attempt to break free.

Zorell gripped Anneke’s hand and they slid, rather than jumped out the bottom of the hovercraft. The wind immediately caught them and they were flung forward. Zorell gripped the rope with her hands and used her boots to stop herself from crashing into the fuselage. She stared up and saw the ropes coming down with the spare one attached to the harness clipped to her belt.

“Can you hear me?” Anneke’s nervous voice echoed in her helmet.

“Yes. Just hold on.”

They both cleared the hovercraft and another problem arrived. The wind carried them towards one of the remaining upright masts with a crossbar facing them like an extended sword. If their ropes became entangled in it they could be in serious trouble.

A line of white cut through the air, there was a smell of burning timber and the whole mast groaned and flopped back, taking the crossbar with it. Someone above, probably Evan had used a ray gun to destroy the object.

“You okay?” His voice sounded worried.

“Thanks!” Zorell replied.

She could see the deck below but not the Waxon. Of course, she would be behind them. “I need more slack,” she called.

She felt herself dropping slowly until she was behind a small raised cabin. This cut out the wind and spray a little and she managed to reach out, clasp a door handle and pulled herself in. When her feet touched the deck it became easier but there were still problems. The deck was wet and slippery with the far side sloping away at quite a steep angle,

“Can you manage?” Zorell asked Anneke.

“Yes.” Her friend let her hand go and gripped a net fastened to the adjacent wall.

After Zorell made herself reasonably secure she studied her surroundings. Their deck vibrated whenever a wave crashed through the main deck below. Out beyond them, the row of jagged rocks looked solid as the waves hit them, splashed up and retreated back to smash into incoming ones.  She turned and saw that the whole vessel was squeezed between this row and a second row of rocks. Further back, just visible in the mist and spray was the cliff face that towered up out of sight.

She turned and there a few metres away, was the Waxon woman. She was certainly tied securely with her arms back over the railing itself and the rope fastened to a smaller horizontal railing.  As well, another rope encircled her stomach and lopped around a vertical pole before being twisted back around her ankles and lashed to a steel ring attached to the deck. She looked terrified as she struggled to free herself.

“We have come to help,” Zorell called. “Don’t be afraid!”

Speaking English was probably a waste of time but she hoped her tone or body language would help. She jumped in fright when accented words filled her helmet.

“Are you here to help, human woman or have you come to gloat at my predicament?” the Waxon woman asked.

“So we risk our lives to just drop down here to gloat?” Anneke replied. “Be grateful that we are not locals who have no trust of the Waxon.”

“We have come to help,” Zorell said. “I’m glad you can speak English so we can talk.”

“She can’t,” Rahis’s voice filled her mind. “The computer is translating our two languages simultaneously.”

“Rahis!” Zorell gasped. “How do you know what is happening?”

“Stupid woman. Lower your chin and look down.”

“Rahis is in your pocket.” Anneke almost giggled.

Zorell glanced down and saw a head and antennae sticking out of a top pocket of her bodysuit as Rahis used her front legs to pull herself up.

“Is Rahis that insect in your pocket?” The Waxon woman sounded frightened but determined. “If you brought it here to torture me, I assure you I am not defenceless.”

Zorell moved closer until she was an arm’s length from the struggling Waxon. The alien woman was about her own height and build with long silver hair plastered down her neck and water dripping off her face. “I am Zorell, my companion is Anneke and Rahis is the intelligent bee in my pocket. Please trust us for I fear we do not have much time. Afterwards we will answer any questions you have.”

“Zorell!” The Waxon gasped, “The apparition that talks to us is called Zorell but she is Waxon, not human.”

“The one that you can see and hear but not touch?” Zorell asked.

The Waxon nodded and appeared to become less antagonistic.

“I am not her but she uses my name.” Zorell gripped the railing as a huge wave roared through below them; spray hit her face and the creaking of timbers told her that time was not on their side.

“The superstitious crew blamed me when we were caught in the storm and left me here to drown.” The woman looked up. “I am Sarios Wolk. Please don’t let me die.”

“We won’t,” Zorell replied. “But if we’re going to rescue you must trust us. Is that clear?”

Sarios nodded and appeared to relax a little. Her eyes still showed uncertainty though as Zorell touched her on the arm.

“We will place you in a harness and get you lifted aboard.” Zorell took the knife from her belt, cut the ropes that held Sarios and helped her into the harness. She felt a warm but shaking body and could smell a slightly salty aroma not unlike a person who had been swimming in the ocean. After waiting for another wave to surge by, Zorell spoke to Evan, the harness ropes tightened and the Waxon swung above them.

“Got her!” Landon said a moment late. “Wave when you are ready to pulled up?”

Zorell and Anneke were hauled up, the trapdoor closed and the craft rose up in a vertical climb. Zorell glanced out a window and saw a gigantic wave hit the wreck below. It sort of rose in the surge, trembled and crashed back in the surf. Waves covered it and nothing reappeared.

The Rasborne’s Daughter was there no more.

A wet warm hand grabbed her one. Zorell thought it was Anneke again but turned and saw the Waxon woman beside her.

“Where are the others from the ship?” Sarios was obviously speaking English and not having her own language translated.

“Those in the lifeboats never made it,” Zorell replied. “We have machines that can tell us whether someone is still alive or not. That’s how we found you.”

“Perhaps the gods have spoken,” Sarios whispered. “Thank you both.”

Zorell nodded and placed her arms around her. Questa caught her eyes and smiled while at the same time, Rahis flew out of Zorell’s pocket.

“I’ll lower the alert from red to yellow but we will still be on guard, just in case,” the bee said and flew away towards the cockpit.

*

Terra Incognita - Ross Richdale ebookmall   Kindle  Smashwords  $2.99 The MoshShop  $A2.85 Flipreads Php 125

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About Ross

Ross Richdale is a New Zealand author of over 40 novels, both science fiction and contemporary that are sold as ebooks at all the major outlets.

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