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SHORT STORY: Kale - Indistinguishable From Magic
...any sufficiently advanced technology...
This fits in the same universe as another post-apocalyptic piece that I'm working on but, other than that, am just seeing where it goes... May need to learn something about nautical terminology as well.


Hands curling round the guide line, he hoisted himself up onto the bow. It grew now on the horizon, the tiny cluster of low buildings, the lashed and patched assortment of simple boats. They must have anchored it somehow, tethered it to the ruins below the waves. It was as permanent a settlement as any in these parts.

“Blighted dirt farmers. I hate the shallows.”

Hamrin propped his elbows on the rail, resting his chin against his thick and muscled forearms. He was perhaps the largest man on the ship, rough and bearded and always ready with a fresh complaint, but he was surprisingly agile amongst the ropes and a finer helmsman than many would have guessed. A good right hand, if he was forced to have one.

“Hush.” Kale shook his head, raising the looking glass to his eye. He could see no one on the decks, but there were floating gardens there, fresh laundry billowing on the wash lines. Barely worth being called a village, but he had been surprised to hear of anyone living this far inland. It was farther than he had ever been himself, though Hamrin could not know it. “I told Shar I’d find a better price.”

Hamrin snorted. “And get the lot of us killed for your efforts.”

He need not turn his head to follow the man’s gaze. It loomed beyond the village, that broken horizon, the fine hint of shadow that all men learned to fear. Land. And close.

“Trust me.”

“Yeh?” He straightened, running fingers through his beard. “And what’s that ever gotten me?”

Kale lowered the glass, glaring down at him now. “A favored place amongst Her ships. Perhaps one of your own someday.”

“Of course you’d have to be dead first.”

Chuckling, Kale leapt from the rail, landing crouched on the deck. “Then let us hope my luck holds.” He clapped the other man on the back.

Hamrin shook his head. “Why even worry about price, though? Out here… Why not just take what we need? Shara won’t care.”

“Because Shara rules the Southern Seas with a benevolent hand, my friend. She would not have us be savages.” His fingers strayed to his cheek as they always did when he spoke of her, lingering along the curved and puckered scar that ran from temple to chin. It was her mark. “Too pretty” she had called him, “troublesome.” She had made sure that none would ever think him beautiful again. At least from the right. He smiled, feeling the skin pull.

“Yeah, right. Then what is it we do exactly?”

“We’re traders.”

“Sure we are.”
Setting aside the looking glass, Kale swept his hair back into a loose knot. They were gaining already, the floating village growing in size. It was unlikely that they had not been seen, that this was the cause of the strange stillness amongst the homes. Turning round, he glanced cross the deck. “I take it we’re ready?”

“Yup. Just a buncha traders. All heavily armed.”

He chuckled. “Good.”

Hamrin, though, was gazing now across the port, away from the settlement, away from the distant shore. “Ya see that?”

Moving to his side, Kale braced his palms against the rail. The waves were different to the West, luminous and reflective, the shimmer seeming to spread. “Gold. We can avoid it.”

“Told ya we shouldn’t have come here. There’s no good in the shallows.”

Pockets of black gold lingered still in parts of the world, always moving, shifting with the tides. Great mines there were once, deep beneath the waves but, like everything else, they had been reclaimed in the Breaking. They spilled their treasures freely now, now that there were none to claim them.

Kale took up a line and secured it to the rail, bracing his boots against the prow as he slipped over the side.

“What’re you doing?” Hamrin leaned over the edge, puffing through his whiskers.

But he had lowered himself far enough now, was able to stretch and reach a hand into the frothing wake. Running his fingers together, he felt the slickness there. “Raise the gardens.”

“What? But it’s leagues off.”

“The water’s no good here. Get ‘em up.”

Hamrin turned round, bellowing the order before bending to offer Kale an arm. He hoisted him over the rail with ease. Already the terraced pontoons were being lifted, the varied collection of plants that supported their food supply lashed hard to the ship’s side. Normally they would be irrigated by the waves, watered by the movements of the ship itself, but not here, not now. He sighed.

“Told you.”

“Just get ready.”

“Aye.” With a final smirk, Hamrin stomped cross the deck toward the helm.

Kale leaned again against the bow. He could feel it already, that strange tension, the half-mad panic settling deep in his legs. Countless times they had done this and yet each time it was different. So many settlements there were, some moving in ragtag fleets, others anchored as this one was. It was Shara who had first tried to unite them, Shara who had first woven some sort of peace. Again, he touched his face. They were all that remained of the old world, all that the scouts had been able to find. He had wanted that life once, the thrill of new places, the chance to perhaps discover something of what they had lost. But she had laughed at that, welcoming him instead amongst her favored. He was no scout, she had said. Now, now he was something else.

His hands strayed to his belt, feeling the blades crossed at the small of his back, the gun holstered at his hip. Hamrin had not been wrong; it would be easy enough to take what they needed. They had done it before. Why then was he so unsettled?

Again, he found his eyes drawn to the looming shadow, the horizon growing jagged and broken. Never had he seen it so close, been so far inland. There had been survivors once, they said, in the early days after the Breaking. The new seas had swelled, his own ancestors able to take to their ships, ride out the Great Storm. They had survived where so many others had perished.

But even they had needed earth and dirt and growing things. Others had survived, huddling on the new shores, welcoming and trading with his fathers. The Blight had ended that. It had spread quick, the plague, his people barely having time to flee again to the safety of their ships. Never since had they set foot on land, the brave or foolhardy straying only close enough for curiosity. Was that it then? Was he curious?

Settlements like this had sprung up in the shallows, anchoring themselves to the bones of the old world, tethered to the crumbling buildings below. It had been determined that the Blight was not carried in the earth itself, that the soil harvested from beneath the waves could be purified, used as it had been so long ago.

And so here he was, preparing to raid a dirt farm that floated well beyond the territory of the fleet. It had been a merchant that had told him of this place, who had sworn that the people here did not carry the disease. If he truly had any luck at all, it would be over quickly.

The ship was turning now beneath him, the narrow dock visible amongst the bobbing boats. So small they looked, none even half the size of the (NAME) Queen. But he had no doubt that Hamrin would steer them true. Behind him it echoed, that same tension, the restlessness of the crew, the click of a readied rifle. They had done this many, many times.

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