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Authors: Andrew Hall

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Superheroes, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion, #Genetic Engineering, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Superhero

Tabitha (57 page)

BOOK: Tabitha
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‘I’m going for a
hike, ok?’ she told Fishbowl and the dragon, studying the forest ahead. She
checked that her strange new water bottle was full enough, and stuck it back to
her belt. The knife would be useful, but she wished she could detach whatever
the thing was on the right side of her belt. It felt hard and heavy enough to
be a gun, but the shape was wrong. At any rate there was just no taking it off.
Tabitha gave up on it and looked around instead, smiling at the sight of
Fishbowl investigating the tide.

‘I haven’t felt
this good in ages, actually,’ she said, stretching her muscles as she wandered
past the creature. ‘Maybe it’s the solar power, what do you reckon?’ Fishbowl
seemed to be lost in thought, hovering calmly beside the whispering tide. Probably
drinking in the sunlight too, Tabitha considered, rather than contemplating its
existence.

Tabitha’s walk
took her far down the beach until she reached a rocky outcrop, where the strip
of white sand came to a finish. She headed off into the forest there, and
followed the sound of running water through thick broad leaves until she
reached a small river. Probably the same river that ran down into the waterfall
pool, far behind her – but where did it start? Tabitha caught glimpses of the
green mountain peak through the trees, jutting up at the heart of the island.
She decided to go for a climb.

There were no
worn paths here on the island; no sign of people whatsoever. Not even any big
animals, from the looks of things. Just plenty of frantic bugs and dancing
butterflies, flitting between shady bushes and bright tropical flowers. Birds
and lizards clung to the trees as she passed by, vivid blue and green in the
streaming sunlight.

‘God, it’s hot,’
she told no one, stopping to look out over the sea in the distance. She sipped
from her strange black water bottle, and snapped it back to her belt. Licking
her lips she got the salty taste of sweat, and she could feel the cool breeze
blowing against her damp face. Her alien catsuit seemed to keep the rest of her
body cooler though, even letting the breeze through its scales. She was
practically an alien now, looking down at her outfit. Strange how much she’d
forgotten her old blood hunger, she thought. Like a switch had been flipped
off. She could feel the sun feeding her, if she concentrated. She felt her body
storing up the light like a living battery; felt her
heartcore
humming so peacefully that she barely noticed it. All that tension and hunger,
all that worry about getting her next fix… the need had just lifted away. All
that wanting and desperation was gone.

Tabitha hiked on
towards the mountain and slapped at a fly on the back of her neck. The trees
all around her were filled with the cheeping and chattering of unfamiliar
birds; an occasional whooping call came from deeper in the forest. She’d only
heard sounds like this in wildlife documentaries. She could never have imagined
actually being somewhere like this; she could never afford it. What stood out
most though was how she felt here, surrounded by so many green and growing
things. It was a deeper kind of joy tied to her new nature; a primordial
satisfaction. As if all was right with the world. There it was again; another
split-second vision of current in the plants, coursing bright and golden
through every vein in every leaf. Tabitha saw shining liquid sunlight feed the
trunks and petals with a cocktail bliss of vitality; a
supernature
revelation. Then it was gone. She wanted to go with it, whatever the vision
was. A solar peace, endlessly connected through the fabric of the world. Bigger
than she could ever understand.

As Tabitha came
into a grassy clearing at the foot of the mountain all the birds grew silent. A
shadow shot past overhead, rippling across the wind-blown grass with the whoosh
of giant wings. She looked up, but saw only the dazzling glare of the sun.
Before she knew what was happening a crash shook the ground, and a sudden gust
staggered her back. Blinking at the flying sandy soil, Tabitha turned back to
face the sudden shadow in the clearing. She felt the deep bass of its growl
resonate between her ribs.

‘Did you
miss
me, you big softie?’ she said, smiling. The dragon turned its head away and
eyed her sidelong, like a reptile. It made a strange crackling grunt.

‘You thought
something had happened to me, didn’t you?’ she said, carefully rubbing a grain
of sand from her eye with a rough finger. The dragon laid its head lower, and
sniffed at her as she came close and stroked its snout. Tabitha remembered that
feeling of joy that had come from the creature when they’d flown around the
island. The way it looked at her now seemed like nothing less than
companionship. Or at least a mutually beneficial partnership, if nothing else;
scratching one another’s backs for an easier life. Stroking its snout though,
Tabitha didn’t believe that the creature could be that calculating. It just
seemed to have missed her.

‘I’m sure you’ve
gotten darker,’ she told it, stroking its snout. ‘You’re getting a tan,’ she
said with a smile, looking over the dragon’s scales. They’d been a pale
cloud-grey when they arrived on the island; she was sure of it. Definitely not
the deep shade of charcoal that they were now. ‘Let’s go for a ride,’ she said,
looking up at the mountain.

 

Once they’d soared up to the summit Tabitha
perched the dragon down on the rocky peak, and looked around at the island from
the saddle.

‘It’s like no
one’s ever been here,’ she told her ship, looking out across the far side of the
island. ‘But you’d probably be down there hunting them anyway, if there was
anything big enough to chase.’ The dragon looked this way and that and swished
its tail, ignoring her in favour of the view from the mountain. ‘Come on, let’s
build a campfire,’ Tabitha suggested. ‘We can sing some cheesy songs. You’ll
love it.’

Tabitha filled
the peace and quiet with songs for a good part of the afternoon, sweating and
straining to hack off tree branches with her strange black knife. It seemed to
slice through anything without much pressure; impossibly sharp. Instantly she
regretted pushing the tip of the knife against her palm, just to see if it
could cut through the black skin. She dropped the knife and swore loudly,
sucking at silver blood until the deep wound healed up. Grumbling, Tabitha got
back to work on cutting branches. By evening she was sitting in a leafy shelter
on the mountaintop, watching the sun set over the sea in a stark orange sky.

‘Thanks for your
help with the old tree cutting,’ she said sarcastically, looking over at the
dragon. She thought the creature would be sleeping as usual, but it wasn’t. Its
white eyes were staring ahead, watching the sunset from its rocky perch.
Tabitha stared at the creature, fascinated by its intelligence. That was why
they’d stopped in Alaska too, under the Northern Lights. Clearly the dragon
liked to see this alien world at its most beautiful, and she’d already felt
that it could be happy. But she couldn’t just call it
the dragon
any
more. It needed a name. Tabitha thought back to the beach, when she’d been
trying to reach out to the creature and get it to fly. She’d been tracing the
strange symbol from its cockpit into the wet sand; the one like a fallen-down
seven in a lotus pattern.

‘…Seven?’ she
said. The dragon looked around at her, held her gaze, and looked back to the
sunset. Tabitha felt her heart leap, and walked closer. ‘Seven,’ she repeated.
It looked down at her again, answering to the name. Tabitha felt a rush of joy;
a sudden connection with the creature. Companionship.

‘You’re not a
machine at all,’ she said, walking over to watch the juicy orange sunset beside
it. ‘I think something tried to turn you into one, to make you fight. I’m sorry
for what they did to you.’ She laid a hand on Seven’s side, and stroked its
rough skin with her own. Seven sighed contentedly through its nose; a gigantic
rush of air. Together they watched the world glow surreal as the sun sank down
into the sea.

Fishbowl had
stayed in the same place all day apparently, when Tabitha landed back at the
beach at twilight. The strange plant creature even hovered while it slept, with
its tentacles hanging limp beneath its body. With Seven on her right side and
Fishbowl on her left, Tabitha lay down in the sand and felt like they were their
own little tribe. She watched the peeking stars above, and remembered how good
it felt to belong. She thought about her parents, and her ex. About Laika and
the Ghosts. She thought about the others too, Chris and Sylvia, and how easily
they’d turned against her for what she was.
Freak
. But here, now, she
belonged. Lying beside the tumbling waves with the soft fine sand on her skin,
Tabitha didn’t feel alone any more with the creatures beside her. She had
nothing they wanted; no food or possessions. They could both survive without
her, and there was nothing keeping them here. But they stayed close anyway,
sleeping beside her. They had nothing to gain from her company but her company
itself. For the first time in a long time there were no dark dreams to haunt
Tabitha’s sleep. There in the company of monsters, she felt like she belonged.

 

43

 

When she woke the next day Tabitha took
a while to stretch on the soft cool sand. She felt rested, recharged. Already
the sun was climbing up over the sea, taking the edge off the cool salty
breeze. She felt full of fresh energy, felt her hands and feet drinking in the
light. Looking around her, she was lying alone. Seven burst up from the sea in
the distance then, a dark shape racing up into the sky. It went diving and spinning
and soaring overhead, leaving a fine briny drizzle from its wings to drift down
on Tabitha’s face. She watched it loop in the air and fly away over the island,
circling the forest and then flapping down onto the mountain peak. Tabitha
watched it resting, and wanted to try something. When she whistled, loud and
shrill, Seven turned its distant silhouette to face her. Another whistle and it
came soaring back down the mountain, over the forest, and landed down on the
beach in front of her.

‘Good boy!’ she
said happily, stroking Seven’s huge snout. ‘
Are
you a boy?’ she said,
looking around between its back legs. There wasn’t anything there to give it
away. ‘Well, you have to be one or the other,’ she told it. ‘You’re a boy. I’ve
decided.’ Before long Seven was back up in the sky again, circling the island
and spinning in the air.

Tabitha found
Fishbowl bobbing about by the waterfall, carefully tending to the soil.

‘Morning,’ she
said brightly, wandering into the small clearing. The creature didn’t seem to
notice her, drifting by with the indifference of an insect or a jellyfish. To
her surprise, Tabitha looked at the soil and saw chunky alien shoots growing
there already. The four red seeds planted in a row were now stubby silver
stems, like sharp thimbles poking up through the dirt. Wandering around to the
waterfall, she saw that the other seeds had become sturdy black tubes, twice as
tall as the silver shoots. She could feel the energy of their growth there
beside the water, strong and constant. Tabitha closed her eyes and lost herself
in the tingly feeling that came over her; a heady mix of sunlight and birdsong
painted over the rustling forest and the rushing waterfall. She jumped when the
silent creature’s tentacles touched her arm; but Fishbowl was only getting
around her on the way to the pool. It stuck its legs into the water, filled
them up, and went about watering its crops for the morning.

By the time she
returned to the pool when the sun was high, after a lazy swim with Seven in the
sea, Tabitha saw Fishbowl still hard at work. Smiling mischievously, she pulled
up her hooded black mask out of her collar and crept into the clearing,
skirting around Fishbowl with a ninja sneak. She crept closer, until she was
right behind it.

‘Boo!’ Fishbowl
jumped and juddered, edging away from her in fright. ‘I’m only messing,’
Tabitha said brightly, pulling her mask down and giving Fishbowl a little
nudge. ‘What’re you up to?’ Fishbowl didn’t seem to be doing much at first;
just drifting about in the clearing, passing between the shade and the
sunlight. But Tabitha soon saw that even this had a purpose. With a few extra
jets of air to take it higher, Fishbowl sailed up among the broad leaves of the
trees. Yawning, Tabitha watched Fishbowl snap off some big palm leaves that
cast a shadow down on its garden. Extra sunlight streamed down on the sandy
ground. Even while Fishbowl floated down and laid out the leaves on the forest
floor, Tabitha saw an instant change in the four silver shoots. Now that the
light poured straight down on them they began to grow visibly. Tabitha sat
close by to watch. Fishbowl did everything with a gentle, ponderous pace, but
it never stopped working. There were always insects to brush away from its
plants, and soil moistness to keep in check. Every so often it would puff air
over the seedlings through one of its tentacles; whether to breathe on them or
blow away any dirt, Tabitha couldn’t be sure. It was the first time in her life
that she’d paid any real attention to gardening. All it’d taken was a bizarre
creature from outer space to make it interesting enough to watch.

‘Is this food
you’re growing?’ she asked it, breaking the peace that had only been filled
with birdsong, and the occasional gentle puff of air. Fishbowl floated on past
her and touched a tentacle to the silver plants, which were growing rapidly
into webbed silver mounds.

‘Well if these
are for eating I hope you’re hungry, because I can’t eat anything
any more
,’ she said, with a hint of sadness. She’d already
seen some juicy-looking fruits on her walks around the island, hanging bright
and tempting from the trees. She’d convinced herself that all the fruit was
poisonous though, to make herself feel better that she couldn’t eat it. She
told herself that it’d kill her in a grizzly over-the-top manner, just to keep
up the lie. As soon as she caught a good bit of sunlight on her skin though,
all thoughts of food flew out of her head. Nothing compared with the feel of
the warm filling sun through her body; a sweet neon tingle that perked her up
with a celestial taste all its own. The first silver cone-plant in the row made
a quiet squelch then, and a fleshy red flower popped out of the hole in its
narrow top.

‘Hey, this one’s
grown a flower!’ she called to Fishbowl. The creature was busy brushing a
fallen leaf away from one of the foot-high black stems by the waterfall.
Suddenly it raised a tentacle in her direction and drifted over quickly, as if
it had sensed the new red bloom spring into life.

‘It’s nice,’
Tabitha lied, looking at the webbed red petals. It looked like someone had
layered bright red veins together into a flower shape, and stuck the flower
stalk into a crooked silver vase. Fishbowl seemed excited about it though, and
busied itself with cleaning and blowing its new flower. Another soft squelch,
and a red bloom poked up out of the third silver cone too. Before long the
other two plants had caught up, and as Fishbowl watered them the ugly dainty
flowers began to spin and stop with the wind.

‘They can’t be
just for decoration,’ Tabitha said to herself, crouching down to study the
blooms as they twirled in the breeze. She sensed something inside the silver
cones, and touched a finger to the sturdy silver stem closest to her. ‘It’s
current,’ she said, surprised. ‘It’s wind power! You’ve planted a little wind
farm, you clever little bugger.’ Fishbowl ignored her and went about its work.
The thick black stump growing to the right of the waterfall suddenly belched
out a
blurping
mass of dark tentacles, like a sea
anemone dyed with ink. The tentacles began to drift and wave in the sunlight,
as if underwater. Fishbowl seemed rushed suddenly, with all this new cleaning
and watering to be done. Its alien garden was in bloom.

‘This one too,’
Tabitha told it, brushing her hand through the new black fronds on another
giant anemone. ‘It’s taking in the sunlight like a solar panel, I can feel it!’
she said excitedly. ‘There’s current inside there. Fishbowl, you’re a genius!
But… what’s it for?’ Fishbowl kept its secrets to itself though, and set about
tending to its alien garden.

 

Tabitha set off for a run a little while
later, making sure she had her water bottle with her for the growing heat. She
wanted to finish a whole lap of the island; it wasn’t really that big from the
air anyway. The jog came easy; her body felt brand new. The only tricky part to
the run was working her way through the thick forest, dodging tripping roots
and sudden drops hidden by the leaves. There wasn’t anything in the forest on
the far side of the island, just as she’d expected. No sign of people. She’d
even felt a little trepidation, before she started her run. She didn’t
want
to find a friendly little village on the far side of the island. She didn’t
particularly want to be around people, or their curious stares. Curious stares
were the best she could hope for, really. She knew what else people were
capable of when they were scared of her. What Tabitha really wanted, more than
anything, was to make sure she was completely alone here. She wanted to start a
new life, far away from everything. Lonely and safe. She’d scoured the forest,
and found nothing but bright birds up among the branches. She got bogged down
in slick warm mud on her way back, knee-deep in the heart of a mangrove forest.
She could have sworn that the same crab had been watching her for the entire
sweltering struggle through the mud. Skittering over the surface just to mock
her.

By the time she
got back to her familiar stretch of beach Tabitha was tired and soaking with
sweat. The afternoon heat was draining. She waved hello to Seven where he
basked, and collapsed down in the turquoise shallows to cool off. She lay back
on the cool wet sand, with the tide rushing in around her limbs. Her rest
became a nap. By sundown she walked off stiffly towards the waterfall for a
wash.

When she reached
the alien garden Tabitha was shocked at how much the plants had come on. The
black tentacle plants had grown from bushes into young trees, taller than her.
Her otherworldly gardener was still hard at work.

‘Oh god, you
look terrible,’ she told Fishbowl, as she emerged through the forest into the
ferny clearing. The creature was sluggish, shaky, dragging its tentacles on the
ground. It bobbed and drifted slowly as it moved, like a leaky helium balloon.

‘You’ve been working
all day, why don’t you rest?’ she asked it softly, stroking a hand through its
gentle tentacles. They touched at her hand, but not as quickly as they had
before. It looked half dead; even its clear fishbowl head had lost its usual
brightness. A cold grey thought ran through Tabitha’s mind. Maybe the plant
creature had served its purpose now. Maybe that was it.

‘Are you dying,
Fishbowl?’ she asked it sadly. She stepped in front of it while it worked,
trying to bar the way to its row of wind-turbine flowers. ‘They’re fine,’ she
told it, trying to block its floating progress gently with her hand. But its
tentacles pushed back, delicately, steering its floating body around her arm.

‘Do you need
another drink?’ she asked it, watching its sad body drift on low towards its
flowers. ‘Can I help?’ she pushed the words up past a lump of sadness in her
throat. ‘Don’t make me lock you inside Seven,’ she threatened. ‘I don’t want
you to die.’
Oh god,
she said to herself.
I’m grieving over a
balloon.
Tabitha felt tears come to her eyes then, as Fishbowl gently sank
down to the ground beside its flowers and stopped moving.
Tabitha
crouched down and took a limp tentacle in her hand, stroking it sadly. She
could only stare, helpless in her grief. With a slow gentle effort Fishbowl
dragged a tentacle from the ground and patted the silver cone of the first
flower. Tabitha watched with teary eyes. There was a tiny arc of electricity
then, a bright little light that jumped from the flower to Fishbowl’s
outstretched arm. Suddenly Fishbowl rose up into the air, newly energised with
the current, and floated off past her perkier than ever. Tabitha wiped her
tears away, and watched the creature get back to work after its meal.

‘Oh.’

 

After several failed attempts to get
Seven to do something other than bask, Tabitha returned to the garden at dusk.
Fishbowl seemed to be winding down for the night. Three of the red flowers had
disappeared; she saw the last one fold up and shrink back down inside its cone
with a
bung
sound. The four black anemone trees still waved their fronds
though, albeit slowly in the fading light. Stepping closer to the big black
plants, Tabitha could make out a gentle glow coming from them. By the time the
last light of the sun had faded to night, the small pool clearing was lit with
a strange white glow coming from the anemones. A little later, when the sky was
filled with clouds of stars and the birds had stopped singing, the pool
clearing was lit like a twilight garden. A cold wintry light emanated from the
giant black plants, reflecting in the water and shining against the tumbling
waterfall. The light reflected in Tabitha’s eyes, enchanted as she sat by the
water. Fishbowl took a drink from the rippling reflective pool and hovered over
to rest by one of its black trees. It must have felt more at home beside a
familiar plant.

‘Goodnight,’
Tabitha said gently, touching her fingers to Fishbowl’s resting arms. She felt
them tap her hand softly in return. As she passed by the alien flowers on her
way back to the beach, their electrical charge suddenly leapt out at her in
thin lightning arcs. Tabitha stopped and stared at them, wondering what was
going on. Looking back, Fishbowl didn’t seem concerned. Evidently this was a
natural thing to happen. Feeling a tingle in her body, Tabitha watched tiny
white arcs of voltage worm their way between her fingers. She felt an itchiness
in her nose, like she was going to sneeze. Her mind flitted back to Sam and
Jane in the lab, and what happened when she’d sneezed then.

‘Oh, crap,’ she
said, and ran as fast as she could through the trees. Off in the forest she
sneezed loudly, and a ball of lightning exploded from her body with a buzzing
bang.

Seven blinked
open his white eyes on the darkened beach, stared for a moment, and settled
back down to sleep. It was just the strange little red-haired ape thing; the
one that had brought him to this wonderful place. She was flailing and cursing,
batting out the flames on a few fallen trees. She was a strange creature.

 

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