Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rail-runners and Rats

Willow helped Ion prune the greenery until it flourished.

         “Help them grow,” Ry’llia advised. “Where their gardens are struggling, make them hale; bring as much abundance as you can.”
            Willow helped Ion prune just the right leaves from the greenery.  The young girl was eager to follow in the footsteps of her admired older brother.  She absorbed everything Willow had to show her. Before long, the Greenhouse was absolutely packed with ropes of vine, bushes of herb and fat roots to be dug up from the dirt.
As the days had passed with the moon waning slowly in the sky, they had set to their assigned task.  Though the humans had proven industrious on their own, the Fae still knew a thing or two about growing. When evenings fell, and dinner was complete, Willow would teach whoever wanted to learn how to use their pulp, petals and spare crumbs of leaves to make poultices and tinctures.
For her part, Gwydd discovered how it was that these outliers had managed to sustain themselves and rebuild out here on their own.  Nickel wasn’t just handy in a scrape, the pixie discovered.  The human girl also organized and managed small groups they called ‘rail-runners’.  These teams excavated the darker reaches of old subway and bus tunnels, in order to both map their areas as well as forage for supplies.
Rail-runners excavated old books and supplies.
Book and manuals were especially prized, since they provided the humans with enough knowledge to rebuild some basic commodities.  Xan, to their surprise, spoke a number of languages.  The young blonde hadn’t seemed particularly impressive at first but over time, Willow and Gwydd began to realize that he wasn’t so much aloof as much as simply had developed a habit of keeping his own council.  He also wasn’t quite as young as he looked; a lifetime of not ingesting chemicals had kept him well – all of them, compared to the City.
As their ostensible leader, skill in multi-linguistics helped bridge cultural gaps and settle disputes among pocket groups within the underground haven. Xan held regular study sessions to teach others, as well as to read stories brought back by the rail-runners, which Willow made a point of listening in on.
On this particular night, she stayed late as the other humans drifted back to their platforms, heavy-lidded and yawning.
“Xan?” her chin rested on her drawn knees, watching him re-shelve the books. “Why aren’t there any animals down here?  I haven’t seen so much as a fly since we arrived.”
Sliding the last book in the pile back into place, he sat on the edge of an adjacent chair, leaning elbows on knees.  “We presume it is because they cannot make it across the deadzone.”
“It’s only a couple miles.” Willow uncurled her legs, stretching them out and wiggling her toes causing Xan to smirk, which was about the most variation they ever saw in his serious expression. “If humans can make it, surely animals could.”
“It seems likely that they could traverse the distance, but with no food or water in-between, what would they find once out here that isn’t grown by us?”
Willow twined a long strand around her finger, in casual thought.  “Did you ever think that perhaps with your skill at languages, you might learn how to talk to them – the animals, I mean?”
If his face had been a foam toy, it would have been more wrinkly than a grumpy old man.  “What??” perplexity was the name of his expression but he didn’t shut the idea down.
“Sure,” Willow’s mind was clearly running with the ball.  “How do you think Hadron and Ion are so good with the plants?  Everything has a language, Xan.”
It wasn’t something he’d really considered before - the language of animals - but it made sense.  He didn’t have much experience with living creatures, none of the Outliers did.  What few animals still inhabited the world were either breed to be harvested and slaughtered, or scavengers of the cities.
Entertaining the idea, he queried further.  “To what ends would we get them, surely we’d have to care for and feed them?”
"Did you ever think with your skill in languages you could talk to animals?"
The gentle Weaver nodded.  “Did you know that you can teach rats to follow a trail, or navigate a maze to get to its food and water?  They are actually rather smart.  What if you used them to deliver messages between yourselves and the other shelters of Outliers? Then you wouldn’t have to risk the city every time you wanted to communicate.”
Xan stared at her with penetrating eyes, the implications of what she was saying sinking slowing in.  He hadn’t known you could teach animals anything, not in real life anyway.
“You know,” she continued, oblivious to his gaze. “like carrier pigeons, except underground.”
No, he didn’t know exactly, but he could grasp the concept and his mind was spinning with possibilities, if what she was saying were true. When he realized his mouth had been agape, he shut it promptly.
“Or…even a simple earthworm in your gardens would bring them vast amounts of nutrients compared to what they get now.”  Willow’s lavender eyes settled on him and she smiled softly, as if it were the most natural idea in the world.
“And you could teach me this language?” Xan leaned closer, drawn in by possibility.  “How would we get them?”
Tossing the strand back over her shoulder with a flick, she nodded, “Oh sure, of course.”  Her chin tilted with a natural grace, “I would imagine that you can get some rats out here if you lured them with food, across the deadzone.  Earthworms are easy…they are all over the forest floor.”
Slowly, like sunrays breaking through the cover of brooding clouds, a smile spread across Xan’s face.  “Now that, Willow, is a purely genius idea.”
Willow couldn’t recall ever witnessing him genuinely smile. Charming!

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