Sunday, April 2, 2017
1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Mbalia
Name: Kwame Mbalia
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Floating Library of Timbuktu
Maysar glared at the pale patches of skin on his brown wrists. He’d managed to slip out of the heavy iron manacles before attempting this escape and covered his arms with stolen robes. If he made it to the Library - when he made it to the library - the raw, chafed rings would be a clear sign of his time as a slave. He frowned, wrapped them in strips of cloth, then returned to the folded section of map he was studying, careful not to disturb his hiding spot.
He lay flat in a small burrow of sand beneath the wreckage of the HMS Fortunata’s stolen lightship. The cargo hauler’s name - the lumbering whale of a ship from whence Maysar had taken the small craft - was emblazoned on the side in bright silver letters. The pride of his master.
No. Former master, now.
He lifted the edge of the limp inflatable that covered him just a bit, allowing a trickle of fresh air in, and - more important - a gleam of light. The sun had dipped to the horizon, so the orange rays were faint, and it was a risk, but he needed to be sure of the coordinates. He also needed to sneak another peek at the Beetlebacks nosing about the wreck. Maysar put his eye to the crack, then froze.
A slaver’s worn leather boots stood a few feet away.
“No way that runaway survived this crash,” a muffled voice shouted. It sounded familiar - a nasal whine distorted by the thick masks the hired slave catchers wore. Maysar tried to place it with the line of scowling, jeering, leering faces that paraded through his mind. There were too many, and eventually he gave up. More and more bounty hunters and slave catchers were flocking to his master’s - former master, he corrected himself again - newest ship.
“Then where’s the body?” the one next to his hiding spot growled. “He’s hiding somewhere, I can feel it.” Maysar strained to listen while holding his breath. He could just hear them over the lumbering footsteps of their Scorpions. The six-legged mounts belched thick clouds of smoke in loud blasts, but Maysar had trained himself to pick out conversations over the wheezing blasts and thudding footsteps of the automatons.
“Somewhere in these coals! You don’t smell it?” Nasal Whine snapped. “You wanna go down and poke around?”
Maysar imagined him staring at the fiery chaos strewn across the sands. At least, he hoped it looked like fiery chaos. He scattered small piles of blazing coals around and dumped scraps of leather and cloth over them. He’d also removed pieces of the lightship and scattered them around the area as well - unimportant pieces, sure, and he’d taken great care to keep bolts and screws for the components he’d have to reassemble, but it would take an experienced steamship pilot to recognize that.
And, he thought while trying to ignore the heavy leather inflatable beginning to press on him, it was rare for a slaver or bounty hunter to be an experienced steamship pilot.
These Beetlebacks certainly weren’t.
Still, he flinched every time the Scorpions drew near. The vibrations from their shuddering steps pushed grains of sand into every exposed crack and crevice, and he grit his teeth as open wounds burned along his back and arms.
It was getting hot. The smoke and heat from the coal fires made his burrow in oven. He had no idea how much time had passed. All Maysar could do was wait and hope that they gave up before his oxygen ran out. The modified coal chute he’d removed from his “wreck” dug into his side, but he didn’t dare shift for fear of giving away his position. He slipped the map inside his shirt, next to the document case he’d stolen, and winced as it scraped against his stomach.
Don’t be ruined, he thought. More beads of sweat rolled down his collar.
A few more hours, he told the case. Give me a few more hours and you’ll be where you belong.
He closed his eyes behind his sweltering half-mask and tried to slow his breathing.
"You can’t run forever, duga!" one of the slavers shouted into the night.
Maysar twitched in surprise, nearly triggering the stolen Beetleback oxygen tanks he’d carried with him - that would have been a catastrophe. One, because sand would have started rushing into the open seals, clogging valves and gears . And two -
"Don’t make it any worse!"
The voice came from just above him, near his head. His eye opened and he risked another peek. A pair of boots stomped by, and he ducked back down..
He could feel the rumbles of the Scorpion’s steam engine idling nearby - probably just below his position at the bottom of the dune. Not good. If the sand shifted just a little he was done for.
The scars from his last attempted escape were still healing.
They wouldn’t be so forgiving next time.
Boots clanked on metal, then the soft thuds of footsteps on sand sent vibrations through the ground. Another of the slave catchers had landed now. Maysar’s breathing quickened. Did the lightship look enough like a wreck? Was it too obvious? The fires. Should’ve made more fires. He bit down on his lip until he tasted blood as his mind ran over his chances of running. If they noticed anything out of the ordinary, like, say, the coal chute had been detached and not ripped off, it was all over.
"He’s dead. Stop your yelling,” said the second Beetleback.
Maysar took another peek. The boots disappeared and he heard muffled metal on metal. The slaver was back on his Scorpion. The engines revved as it steamed up and the mechanical beast’s footsteps thudded past not even a dozen paces away. “Make another pass, and then let’s go. Scolani can come search himself if he’s that furious." The voice was fading, yet Maysar's muscles wouldn't relax.
Scolani. The name conjured images of a man laughing as he dragged children from parents, husbands from wives, from the coastal auctions to the holds of the Fortunata. Maysar squeezed his eyes tight against the memories.
Was it just the one raider leaving? Both? Where did the second one go? He couldn’t hear the Beetlebacks anymore. It had to be a trap. Maysar grit his teeth. They’d tried this on him before, the last time. Or was it the time before? It was all running together - no matter. It was best just to wait. His breathing was quick and shallow, and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he shouldn’t panic. But it hurt. Everything hurt. He could just hide for a little while until the sun set completely. The winds were starting to pick up - not enough to expose him, but he could imagine the dropping temperatures, the threat of the night storms, and the looks on his pursuers faces. They would have to return to camp soon or risk being stranded. .
What was a couple more hours in hiding?
Two hours. Just two more hours. Then he could reassemble the lightship and pray that the modified coal chute worked. Maysar opened the stolen oxygen tanks a bit more and took deep breaths.
Two hours. Rest.
The young man in the mask thought of warm stories and glowing wonder from years past as his mind faded into darkness.