The cartography, writing, and ramblings of one crazy winter lover who likes to blog about the fun and inconsequential.

Short Story: La Mer

Hey guys, long time no see, huh? My computer broke recently so I'm still working on getting all my files from it so I can start posting more. In the meantime, here's a short story I wrote a while back that I hope you'll all enjoy.

La Mer

Lola leaned over the side of the hovercraft and looked down. The wake of the airship spread over the water below them, disturbing the mirrored image of the skies above. Rocky outcroppings jutted out of the sea--high enough that they almost scraped the underside of the craft. The black, shining rock was coated in small, spotted birds.

The hovercraft ascended toward the sky. There was a roar as the engines sprung to life and they shot up. Lola gripped the railing with one hand, and her stomach with the other. Her dark hair whipped around her face, and she wished she had cut it shorter.

The clouds that descended to meet weren't like the ones on Earth. Instead of just fluffy balls, they formed into corkscrews, cigars, and hoops. Lola tried to admire them all, but there were too many. The clouds formed into an almost solid ring above the water, letting little light or sky through.

A woman near the front of the craft stepped up to a podium. She clapped her hands until most of the people sitting in the open air seats were looking at her. Gaudy gold loop earrings hung from her ears.

"We are just now reaching our cruising altitude for this tour," she said. The mic in her cheek had her voice booming through each syllable. "Please step away from the edges of our hovercraft. We're going to be seeing a lot of wildlife today! Nueva Castilla has over ten thousand individual flying species, and we don't want any of them try to snack on your fingers."

Lola groaned over the nervous laughter. The tour brochure had promised adventure, excitement, and even a little danger, all followed by no less than two exclamation marks each. Nobody had mentioned a tour guide. She tugged the pockets of her jacket as the woman droned on.

It was her first trip all on her own, and she felt strange, coming by herself. She wished that her parents had been able to come, but that just wasn't possible anymore. Instead, she was left by herself among a sea of strangers.

A few other people hung near the back of the hovercraft with Lola. They, like her, had darker skin, and eyes that kept shifting from the sea of clouds consuming them to the guide who wouldn't stop talking. There was a gate at the back of the craft, large enough for two people to fit through.

She saw a few of them start to undress. Most wore loose clothing that they shed in favor of tight bodysuits that clung to them like paint on a canvas. Running lights glowed dimly on the arms and legs. A man with stubble on his chin winked at Lola, but she turned her head.

Lola took her time to undress. She looked around and saw scant few girls, all of them older than her. The skintight suit clung to her chest and stomach. She tugged at it and shuffled her feet. Her clothes were dumped in a small compartment for later, then she waited with her arms crossed over her chest.

The tour guide finally noticed them when the man with the stubble stuck up his hand. She looked at them with a small glare, but pressed a few buttons on her podium. Wind washed through the opening doors of the gate. A few people stood back, but the rest crowded forward in their jumpsuits of every color. The running lights cast an eerie glow on the walls of the hovercraft.

One by one, they began to jump. The first one out was the man who had winked at Lola. He was followed by an older woman, and then more people until their faces blurred. Lola was nearly the last to go. When it was her turn, she stepped up to the red line on the ground and jumped.

Doing the actual jump didn't take much thought. She had run the simulations enough times to know what she really wanted. There was no one telling her to hold back, so she didn't.

The wind whipped at Lola as she fell, her arms and legs spread wide. Clouds flew by, but they were packed so tightly she could tell where one ended and the next began. Her nose wrinkled from the smell of salt in the air, so she figured she didn't have long before hitting the water.

She moved one hand to her chest and pressed a couple of buttons. The running lights on her white suit switched from glowing blue to bright red. A vibration rumbled through her body, and Lola felt her fall begin to slow. Pads on the front of her suit tightened as the gravity around them shifted. Soon, she had stopped altogether and hung in the air.

The clouds were denser near the sea. She waved some away from her face and pointed her body upwards. Her suit complied and shot her up toward the sky. Lola smiled and spun, arching her back to send her into a corkscrew spin.

A few other fliers passed her. They wore darker suits than hers and swam through the sky like it was water. Lola ignored them. She shot up like a rocket and parted through the clouds as sure as a fighter jet. Her hair stretched into a messy halo around her head. The suit came with a helmet, but she had passed it up. She wondered if that had been a great idea.

Her thoughts came to a stop as she burst through a cloud layer. Lola came to a stop inside what seemed like a massive, hollowed-out sphere. Cumulus formations made up the walls and ceiling that contained a thousand creatures fluttering and flitting about inside.

Lola sucked in a breath. What looked like a whale with four scaly wings rose from below. It was close enough she could almost touch its side. It looked down at her with four green eyes. Little creatures that resembled foot-long cockroaches circled around its head. They were ripped apart on by beasts with four talons, four wings, and feathers as black as the night which flew so fast Lola could barely track them.

While she watched them, the kept careful notes on what she saw. Her father would have loved to see this.

None of the creatures paid her any mind. They seemed too busy spinning around each other, occasionally swooping to snatch up a bit of lunch. She flew towards the whale-like creature to keep up with it. The brochure had given it a name, but Lola had long since forgotten it; not that it mattered. She waved a hand and the internalized camera took a few shots.

Some beasts that resembled a cross between a jellyfish and a helicopter floated by. Lola steered clear of their tentacles. Little balls of feathers swooped by, and one of them came afoul of the jellyfish-lookalikes. The little thing struggled for a moment before going still.

 A squawking noise filed Lola's ears. She looked up to see the slim, ebony form of one of the predators from earlier. It was perched on the whale's back and peered down at her with three eyes. She noticed its beak resembled a razor-sharp hook split down the middle. She held out her hands in futile attempt of defending herself, but the bird-like flyer took off a moment later and disappeared outside the cloud sphere.

The wind blew softly inside the sphere. It was enough to catch the wings and sails and flaps of all the creatures, but not enough to blow them off course. Blimp-like birds floated by, their scorpion tails snapping at anything that got close. Lola stayed under the whale and out of sight, allowing her to observe without being seen.

She saw a few of the smaller birds start to dart out of the way, and even the whale started to shift direction. Lola looked to see if she was causing it. Soon enough, she spotted three more humans coasting in their suits emerge from the other side of the sphere. Their contrails drew the flying cockroaches to them, only to scatter the bugs in their wakes.

It was enough to make her groan and rub her head. Worse, she spotted the man with the stubbled jaw among them. He was laughing and shouting at the top of his lungs. She would have yelled at them to stop, if that wasn't liable to make the whale above her shy away.

Instead, all Lola could do was watch them chase the creatures out of the clouds. Even her whale started to leave. She could only chase it so far before it disappeared from the sphere, leaving behind only a few of the blimp things and other little critters.

The man noticed her and drifted over. "You're out of the tour area," he said.

"So are you," Lola replied.

He laughed. "That is true, but whereas I am with my group and a grown man, you are . . . not any of those things."

"I can take care of myself." She sniffed. "At least I don't scare away all the animals."

"These things? Really? This is small fry compared to what we're after."

"And what, exactly, would that be?"

He wrapped a hand around her shoulders, but she wrenched herself out of his grip. "Little girl, we're going after the lightning beasts. They only come out during storms, but they're by far the best out of all these sad little critters."

"There's no storm around here," she said.

"Oh? So you would think, but I have it on good authority that we're just around a thunderhead." He laughed. "You can follow us, if you like. Maybe you'll even get to see the pictures when I come back."

Before she could reply, he had flown back toward his friends. She watched them spin around the edge of the sphere, then disappear through it to the north of her. Lola took a moment to think. She could try to go after the flying whale and all the creatures with it, but finding them in the clouds would be next to impossible. On the other hand, she could head out and find the guy and his little group, and then check out whatever lightning beasts were. The third option was to return to the tour... She shook her head.

With a deep breath, Lola spun herself and plunged into the clouds where she had seen the man last. Here, the drifts were darker, enough that it was almost pitch black at a few turns. Her hair was soon slick with moisture.

Lola found the little party without much of a problem. Their running lights were like neon shining through fog, and she was soon flying beside them. If they noticed, nobody said anything. She thought the man might have winked at her, but she wasn't sure. The clouds around them were thick. Her hair began to raise from the electricity humming in the air.

Lightning flashed, and her heart skipped a beat. The light washed over her vision until it was completely white, and left behind spots. The air smelled like ozone, as if the oxygen itself was on fire. Compared to the flash, the thunder following was hardly anything at all. Rain began to pour down. It slid off her suit, but soaked into her hair.

To her right, the other fliers were making wild gestures toward a cloud bank. There were breaks in the thunderhead, and the group made for one of them. One of the men was waving his arm around wildly, snapping pictures like mad. Lola struggled to see what he was looking at.

It wasn't until lightning flashed again that she saw it. Outlined in the fading light, she spotted some sort of winged snake covered in what looked like bioluminescent running lights, or ley lines. It glowed blue once, but was gone afterward.

The others were racing for a gap in the thunderhead when lightning struck again. That time it was so close that Lola could taste the ozone inside her mouth, and she coughed twice. Her lungs felt like they were on fire. The man with stubble stopped and held out an arm to her.

"Whoa there, it's way too dangerous in there," he said. "I don't want you getting yourself killed; get hit too close and your suit will shut down."

"What?" she growled. "I saw it! It was right inside, so close that I'd be able to touch it in there!"

He smirked. "Don't sweat it, I'll go in there and get a picture for you. You stay here with these two and keep away from the lightning strikes."

"You're not my dad; I can do what I want!"

"Would your dad let you go in there?"

Her eyes narrowed. "My dad's dead!"

While his face contorted in shock, Lola pushed past the man and dove toward the gap in the thunderhead. She could hear the other people yelling at her, but the lightning kept them away. Inside, only the lights on her suit allowed Lola to see.

Then, lightning flashed and the interior was bright as day. Pain shot up her left arm, and her heart felt like it was going to stop. There wasn't just one lightning beast, but hundreds. They coiled over each other like a snake's nest, and excess electricity sparked off their combined bodies. And Lola was in the middle of it.

She waved her hand like mad, snapping pictures as bolt after bolt of lightning lit the interior. In a scant few minutes, she must have taken over a hundred photos. When she had calmed down, all she could do was smile to herself and laugh. That had shown Mr. Stubble or whatever his name was.

Lola turned to fly back out. She curled into a ball to avoid attracting a lightning strike. None had close so far, so she wasn't worried about it. It took her almost a second, then, to realize what had happened when one struck just a few feet from her.

Her entire world turned to white plasma. Part of her face was instantly sunburnt, and she could feel some of her hair burn off. What was worse, though, was the new sensation: falling. The electricity must have fried her suit's circuits, because the antigravity pads loosened. It felt like she was wearing a closed parachute.

A scream erupted from her throat. Her arms flapped desperately like, she might suddenly grow wings and fly away. The dark clouds swallowed her up in a vortex of black and gray. Even her cries were swallowed up in the dense atmosphere.

She fought to calm herself down. Get it under control, she told herself. With so much static electricity, the suit wouldn't restart until it was out of the storm. Which meant... until she was out of the clouds.

Lola gulped. She could do that, she knew; just tuck herself in and aim her chest toward the water. Taking her own advice, she tucked her knees to her stomach and wrapped her arms around them. The pads on her chest were the largest and would be what could catch her.

Air screamed past. Tears flew out of her eyes, and even her hair dried itself from the force. She felt her ears pop, but all she could hear was air anyway. She shivered and saw her hands shake from the cold. Goosebumps raised on her skin. Lola wondered if it was the cold before death.

Then, like they had never been there, the clouds were gone. Falling beneath them was like she was hanging suspended in mid-air. The water sparkled off the setting sun. It was so calm below, the water was like a mirror. Lola could see herself in it. She watched herself grow large in the reflection, and closed her eyes.

She let out one desperate plea, "Please..."

From up so high, Lola had heard, hitting the water was like hitting concrete. One touch, and she would splatter against the ocean. She held her breath and waited for the inevitable.

In a last, desperate attempt to survive, she spread all her limbs out at once to present every single gravity pad. She expected to hear the sound of them slapping the water.

What she heard instead was a loud whoosh, and when she opened her eyes, Lola found herself floating a few inches above the waves. The pads from head to toe were generating a field around her, keeping her off the water. It was weak, but stable.

It made her laugh. The waves were so close the water leapt up to hit her face. She responded by dipping her head in the water and shaking herself around. The water was crisp and cool,and it woke her up from what seemed like a nightmare.

When she moved on, it wasn't back into the clouds. There was plenty of time for that. The tour would go on for another hour, but she already had all the pictures she needed. Instead, she raced across the surface of the sea, her limbs skimming the water. With a light heart, she flew on toward the sunset.

Not bad for a vacation, she thought.


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