CHAPTER THIRTY TWO – The Simple Village

The blind man’s name was Oculis Multarum and he remained our guide for the rest of the visit. He knew we were starving. We arrived to his settlement after lunch. So our first stop was the first building we came across, a farm. Before we approached, the blind man asked for us to turn off our torches. Of course we were reluctant. They were the only things lighting our way. But we did as we asked and as our eyes adjusted, we saw there was enough light to see everywhere. It was beautiful. 

Beyond the farm we could see a large mound and out of it came the dust we saw before. Except here it was glowing, lighting up the area. The dust acting like glow sticks floating through the air.

“Is this stuff safe to breathe?” asked Caroline.

“I thought you said you couldn’t talk about the forest?” Oculis said as he was quoting what I was thinking.

“No, but I can talk about whatever is in front of me as long as it doesn’t reference where we are.”

“He thinks you make your life too complicated!” Oculis said as he nodded towards me.

“It’s not me that makes it this way. James, you know this!” 

“Are my thoughts not private here?” I said. Frustrated at the old man.

“Afraid not James. Telepathy is commonplace in the galaxy. You have been lucky enough to find a home with the Tuhingans. Could have been worse.”

“Aren’t you Tuhingan?”

“No, I am all this forest gives. Now come, lets get you food.”

We entered a shack made of the same material the trees were made of. Purple in shade as we looked at it. A small bird came swooping down and then pushed the door open. We entered to find a fire lit in the centre of the cabin with a large pot above it. There was an older woman stirring the pot.

“Ahh, are these the guests?” the kind old woman said.

“Oh yes,” Oculis said as he sat down on one bench at the edge of the room.

“Oculis had sent word through one of this talking companions. I have been making this stew for your arrival!” 

“Thankyou” I said as I took a seat. I looked up to see the bird with its face staring straight at me. The eyes almost looked human and its beak looked to be a shade of green. It felt like it was staring straight into my soul, I felt quite uncomfortable.

“So, I heard you two have lost your digital copies and all that is left of you stands right in front of me here. Is that right?” the old woman said as she spooned up some stew and placed it into a bowl. 

Caroline stared at her. “Why do you want to know?”

“Haha, child. Don’t worry. You are among good people here. I just wanted to know how much protection you were needing? This forest is a dangerous place for wanderers such as yourselves!” She made me feel a little uncomfortable with the way she said her previous sentences. I was even reluctant to eat the stew. However, my hunger surpassed my slight worry they poisoned it. Or anything else this mad woman may have done. 

Upon realisation that we weren’t dieing or having hallucinations, the conversation with her became a little more relaxed. We discovered that this old woman did not want to be melded with the animals of the forest. Surprisingly, she had one large drone tending to the fields.

“It only requires one drone. It’s terribly efficient.” The old lady said.

“It appears you live such simple lives.” I said.

“Well, it is the biggest attraction to this lifestyle. We like to be one with the surrounding forest. Allow nature to be our entertainer and support. However, we don’t want to cut ourselves from the luxuries technology can bring. I could never turn those fields over myself! But that drone is tireless!”

I smiled in response and the old lady looked confused back. The conversation went on about their life in the forest. It sounded like a peaceful life, one I wouldn’t have minded living. Me and Caroline were so glad our luck had turned out well. The hospitality of these people were tremendous. We could have stayed there in that small cabin for much longer than we did. However, Oculis soon wanted to move on and introduce us to the village more. 

We left the cabin and began our journey into the village. It was a simple setup, with huts of different shapes and sizes being randomly placed. They respected the forest and had built the huts around nature, around the tree’s. All the huts were situated around the bottom of this large mound. The place which had the glowing dust coming out from it. 

Oculis was showing us round, showing us the butchers and many other market places. It was a pleasant visit and we felt like very important people. The question soon dawned on mine and Carolines mind. 

“Why are you showing us all of this?” I asked. “I don’t mean to be rude or anything. This is fantastic, I love looking around your tiny village. It looks so beautiful. But why?”

Oculis stopped and looked at me. “You were with the group that was trying to rescue the girl!”

“Yes, but now we are more interested in saving our own lives!”

“That may be so James, but you have a good heart!” he said to me. Looking at me with his blind eyes, as if he could see right into my soul.

“I don’t understand?”

“I show you these sights, so you understand. You both still want to take her back to her mother, even though you don’t know the full story.” I looked at him, still confused. The bird flying around our heads. “I want you to understand why she should stay!”

“Wait, stay? But her mother needs her!” Caroline interjected. 

“Ahh, so the Companion speaks. No, her mother knows nothing but vanity! She knows nothing of sharing herself with others. To her, her daughter is a tool to show the world that she is a good person.”

“It doesn’t give you an excuse to kidnap the child!”

“Ahh, you who are so young you do not yet know the complexities of this world! It saddens me to hear you verbalise these thoughts without first trying to understand. She is here at her own will. She ran, we give her sanctuary.” Caroline went silent. “Ahh, she is struggling. You see, she swore secrecy when she came in here, yet she is feeling that we are breaking the law and she needs to act. However, if she reported the crime and began an investigation, it will go against the secrecy act. So she is trying to summon The Core to run simulations.”

Caroline looked at the blind man in terror. “I can’t contact The Core!”

The blind man stood there for a moment as the bird continued to circle us above. After a dramatic pause he said, “No, you have no contact with The Liberty. We have blocked your signal!” 

“But, how am I still alive?” 

“It’s easy to separate the signals! We do not mean to scare you, we understand how important that life giving signal is to you!” 

I felt quite trusting so far. These people had the ability to do what they want with us and make us disappear. Yet they chose not to. Not only that, but they also admitted that they had a reason for us to exist. These people were harmless and yet Caroline seemed restless. 

She fell silent after that. After Oculis took us straight to a building that looked to be some tavern. He opened the door and we sat down on small seats at tables. There was a bar and it appeared they were serving food. 

“This is nice,” I said, trying to break the awkward silence. I looked over to the fireplace, which had a roaring fire within. “It’s nice and warm in here, especially after coming in from the cold of this forest.”

“Ahh, your clothes! Yes. I am sorry, we have nothing in the village that will fit your size. We make everything here from things we grow or hunt, so it takes time. I’m afraid, by the time we have finished your clothing, you would have already gone back.” Oculis explained. 

“It’s okay. Luckily, we dressed for camping and were expecting the occasional night time bathroom breaks to be cold ones.”

“It’s obvious you hate it!” 

“I cannot say. I cannot talk about where I am!” Caroline responded.

“Come on.” I said coughing out a small laugh. “You don’t have to be so closed off!” I said to her.

“Without the guidance of The Core, I don’t know what I can and what I can’t say!”

“But you always seem to speak so freely!” 

“I always get instant feedback if I say something wrong.”

“I’ve never seen that happen” I said stumped at the comment.

“How do you know?”

I responded with a look of confusion.

“She has never said anything wrong.” Oculis replied.

“Stop reading my mind!” Caroline said in a sharp tone. 

“Hmm, I have heard Humans are quick to anger. I haven’t seen it for myself yet. Please continue!”

“Aren’t you scared?” Caroline said scornfully.

“I am melded to many predators. Do you think I am scared?”

Caroline narrowed her eyes at the blind Tuhingan and then turned her attention to the bar. “Shall we get something else to eat?” She asked.

“Didn’t you eat enough in the hut?” Oculis replied.

“If you are reading my mind, I think you know the answer!” Caroline stood up and went straight to the bar.

Oculis gurgled a happy gurgle and then said, “Ooh, Humans are great to know. Are you all like this or just Caroline?” He appeared to be excited and enjoying the back and forth he was having with Caroline. It surprised me to see a Tuhingan act in such a way.

Before we knew it a young Tuhingan girl entered followed by a wolf and a bird. She went to the bar and stood next to Caroline. They both then appeared to engage themselves in talk. I was trying to hear what was being said, but couldn’t quite make it out.

“You’re lucky!” Oculis said to me.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“She suits you and I can see she makes you happy. Few people know of such things!”

“She’s the only thing I have and I still don’t know what to make of the whole Companion thing.”

“Ahh, you distrust her!”

“Hmm, it’s more than that. She sometimes does things that seem odd, says things that seem out of place. Other times she seems like the wisest person I know.”

“Hmm, the wisdom of The Core.”

“Huh?”

“James, she is a child. Have you not noticed?”

“She’s a grown woman!” I said in response, feeling a sense of panic come from within me.

“Hmm, I can sense that this is making you feel uncomfortable. You will learn the truth. Just remember, it’s okay. This is not Earth, she is still the one you admire. She is still the one that holds your heart!”

I looked at Oculis for a moment through slitted eyes, attempting to figure out what he was saying.

“You may deny the truth from yourself, James, but you will have to face it.” 

I remember being thrown by what he said. Not understanding a word of it. However, it planted a seed in my mind that helped me prepare for the truth I would face later.

Meanwhile, Caroline came back to our table with the young Tuhingan girl.

“This is the lost child, James!” Caroline said, presenting her. “Ave Pueri.”

“But you’re not a child?”

“No, I am not. But my mother likes to look at me that way.”

“How old are you?”

“Fourteen…” She paused for a moment as she looked at me.

“It’s okay, take your time with your new gifts!” Oculis said to the young Tuhingan.

“It may seem young to you since you live, how long?” My thoughts came across the number eighty as I thought about how old I will be if I died of old age. “Eighty natural years? Long time.” Ave said.

“You’re getting distracted!” said Oculis.

“Oh, yes. Well, I am not a child.”

“No, James. She’s a young adult.” Caroline continued. 

“Why would her mother say she is eleven then?” I asked.

“My mother is overprotective and wants to control me. She knows she will get more of a reaction from people if she tells them I am still a child!”

“She lied to us!” Caroline continued.

“So what do we do now?” I asked Caroline. 

“I… I don’t know!”

It confused me for a moment, since I always knew Caroline to know the answers to everything.

“James!” Oculis announced. “The wisdom that you see coming from Caroline, doesn’t come from Caroline.”

I looked at him. “Are you saying that Carolines wisdom is not hers?”

“It isn’t. In fact, she doesn’t make many decisions on her own. Her life completely depends on The Core, much like my wolves depend on me. This is the real Caroline you are seeing here!” Oculus said as he gestured like he was introducing her.

She looked at me with worry in her eyes. I could tell she wasn’t herself and gave her a hug. As I did so, I took a moment to think, so when I released her, I had an answer. I looked into her eyes. “We will go back, we will get scanned and then we will tell them what happened. Tell that woman that her daughter does not want to come back!”

“Actually, I do!” Me and Caroline looked back at the girl, confused. “It’s easier to show you both why!” She began walking towards the door. We all went and followed her.

She led us through the town, not saying anything, concentrating on her steps. A bird circling us from above. We were walking uphill, up to the top of the mound where the glowing dust was floating up from. We got to the top and looked over the edge and it surprised me to look down to be what looked to be lava. Hot, steaming lava. 

“This is the reason the dark forest lives and is the reason I need to go. It’s lava because of the heat coming from the rubbing of The Centrifuges metal shell with the outer shell of the Liberty. These metals can withstand extremely high temperatures. Therefore, everything around these metals has turned into lava. However, the lava pool here has been getting hotter and getting lower. It wasn’t always as low as it is now! We believe it is leaking.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

Caroline looked at me with startled eyes. “It means that the metal that gives The Liberty its strength and keeps us alive is melting!” 

“Yes, exactly!” The girl continued. 

Oculis was standing there looking as though he was thinking hard how and what to say next. “I can see a little of your mother lives in you!” He started, Ave had a moment where she looked shocked and then ashamed. “The lava level has been going down for the past fifty years. It could either mean that the cylinder shell is leaking or it could mean that the lava has seeped somewhere else. We have spoken to the bridge about this. There is no need to panic.”

“Oh, well, I guess that means you don’t need to come with us?” Caroline said to Ave.

“Even though she said she didn’t want to leave, deep down she still wants to. She still feels the need to feel her mother’s pride!” Oculis continued.

“No, I don’t!” Ave interrupted. “However, I should see my mother myself. She may not believe you if you told her what happened and won’t give up sending search parties after me.” 

“Ahh, okay. I see that you must go! Don’t worry, we’ll make sure we finish your hut while you are away!” 

“Thankyou Oculis.”

Caroline seemed eager to speak. “Wait, you said before that you are in contact with the bridge?” she asked Oculis.

“Oh yes, we have a few friends in high places. It helps to keep us a secret.”

“But how if you block all other signals?”

“We control what we block! Why are you still alive?” Oculis responded as if the question was a stupid one and turned to me. “Now, we chose you two because we could tell you would keep this place a secret. I think it’s time to get you back to the wall!”

“I’ll get the snails ready!” Ave said as she appeared to concentrate hard. 

“The snails?” I asked, a little shocked.

“Oh yes, very good at getting around. Not like your Earth snails, though. You’ll see!” 

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