Hollowed Memories, Chapter 8, part 1

March 1, 2015

Chapter 8:  Southern Hemisphere

When Yarec woke up, he had a hammering headache.  Tendrils of white pain throbbed down his forehead.  It was a kind of pain he had never experienced before.  It might have been a fluke occurrence, or it might have been the first sign that his brain matter was finally giving way after too many body swaps.

He took a mixed opioid, which dulled the pain but made his hands wobble.  He had brought the pills in case he was injured in combat, but they were equally good for dealing with this.  They only made him a little groggy, but he did not feel like paddling when they got back out on the river.  Of course, there was no reason to hurry back to the coast.  Whenever Yarec arrived back at Kruppeen Engineering (where, the communications operator assured him, everything was safe and under control), they would send another helicopter to pick him up.  In the meantime, Yarec could savor a more leisurely journey up and down the branches of the Black Snail.

Since he did not feel up to paddling, Yarec decided to read.  His lamina had a graphic novel retelling of the legendary story of Food Dude, the man who had eaten himself to death.  Yarec paged through the monochrome images, rendered with traditional inky streaks.  The story began at the imperial court, but Food Dude was a much better poet than political operator.  By the end of the third volume, he had been dismissed from the court and reduced to raising pigs.  They were vile-looking little animals in the illustrations, with warty faces, pointed ears, and tusks, but Food Dude seemed perfectly at home with them.  Yarec decided to stop reading there, since he knew the story had an unhappy ending.  In the end, the protagonist was trapped for weeks without food, and when he was finally rescued, he ate so much that his stomach burst.

Yarec took another dose of narcotics when they stopped for lunch, and in the afternoon, they turned back into the main channel of the Black Snail River.  For the first time that day, the pounding in his braincase had subsided enough that Yarec felt like helping to steer.  In concert, the trio threaded the craft back through the gap.  The dark water, heavy with silt, raced by on either side, but once the boat was through, the flow relaxed to a slow, bumpy roll.  As they continued downstream, sometimes Rigg steered with the outboard motor, but most of the time they left the propeller stowed, and they just drifted at the current’s own pace.

They made camp again just after sundown.  The brothers steered the canoe into a narrow spur channel.  It had been constructed to divert water for crops, but the bean fields had been burned away by the sun ages ago.  What remained of the channel was short, ending with a square concrete barrier after only forty meters.  There had originally been a mechanism for sluicing water through the barrier, but it had fossilized shut long ago, and the dry watercourse on the other side of the wall had accumulated so much sediment that it was barely detectable.

When Yarec stepped out of the canoe, he felt an immediate change.  He had gotten used to a residual throb as the boat bounced and swayed, but as he stood on solid land, the last threads of pain finally melted away, and he got to sleep easily, without taking any more pills.

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