An’ki woke with a slight throbbing in his head. He sat upright on the fur covered ground. He looked down at Sul’ki, looking tiny and peaceful as she slept. He hated to wake her, but she panicked when she woke up without him near.
“Sunny,” An’ki whispered in a language unlike anything in modern society. “I am leaving now.”
“Ok, Annie.” She smiled and went still without opening her eyes. An’ki brushed the black hair that had fallen on her midnight-hued skin. She had taken fourteen years to get this beautiful, and every day she wowed him more.
An’ki stood at the entrance of the hut he built years ago while courting Sul’ki, when she was known as Sulia. The sun illuminated the valley below the village’s cliff with a sheet of gold. In the distance, An’ki could see a smoke serpent rising to the sky near a glowing, golden tree. Above this distant village, a Flyer fluttered. An’ki knew it buzzed like a dragon fly. Like the one in An’ki’s village, its wings and tail moved rapidly to keep it afloat. It made hunting and exploring easy.
An’ki smiled at the village his brother, Wyn’ki, built. He missed him greatly. At that thought, An’ki decided he would head to the Dome.
An’ki set himself for the community pantry to prepare for the experience. The tightly bound hut of leaves and sticks was guarded by two men, one older than An’ki and one younger.
“An!” The man on An’ki’s left shouted, becoming animated. “How are you?”
“Good, Kull.” An’ki looked over to the other man. “Ja’ki.” His younger brother tried to steel his expression. A smile broke through. Kull looked at him, resetting Ja’ki back to stone.
“What do you need?” Kull’s tone remained light and friendly.
“I am going to speak with Wyn’ki in the Dome.” Kull stiffened and nodded. He grabbed the door and said nothing more.
An’ki entered the pantry grabbing dried fruits and collected nuts from various shelves and baskets. He knew how much was needed for the “connection” he was about to undergo. He left the pantry and headed towards the Dome.
Kull’s reaction was typical with the older generation. They feared what the Dome provided, but they were compelled to stay near the Tree.
An’ki descended a small slope from the cliff where his village was. In front of him, a large building sat next to a golden tree, like the one near Wyn’ki’s village. The Dome looked like a large bowl, down turned, and placed on the ground. From the tree next to it, glowing yellow tendrils fed into the top of the Dome. An’ki ate his snacks as entered the Dome. He didn’t have to stoop.
Inside the Dome, six other people sat in the dark with golden tendrils in their mouths. An’ki finished eating and withdrew a free tendril from the cluster in the center. Sitting in a corner by himself, An’ki let his breath out slowly, emptying his lungs. He placed the tendril in his mouth, pulled deep, and within seconds, he went blind and could hear voices of everyone around him.
The chatter of his village’s residents merged with the voices of every other village that connected to their own trees. He began a slow, mental chant of “Wyn’ki.”
“Brother?” An’ki heard a monotone voice that matched his and everyone else’s. “Is that you, An’ki?”
“Yes, Wyn.” He could not sound excited. “I see your village is growing.”
“It is.” An’ki knew how proud Wyn’ki was for this achievement. His village was growing faster than An’ki’s.
“I saw the flying ship. Was that yours?” His voice held no inflection of a question. This lack of emotion frustrated An’ki.
“I learned of the design from the northern villages.” There was a pause. “Since you wouldn’t share.” An’ki knew Wyn was laughing to himself.
“Do they bring anything else?” An’ki could hear voices mentioning being from the north. He blocked them out and focused on his brother.
“A bad storm is coming. It passed them yesterday.” An’ki knew Wyn’ki was afraid of the northern storms.
“We’ll be okay. What about the southern villages?” An’ki listened, but no one from the southern villages mentioned anything. Both An’ki and Wyn’ki had sent several men and women to the south to find more trees and establish more villages.
“Yes. They are experimenting with one of the trees in the south. They have broken pieces of it to attempt mobile connections to the mind hub.”
“Any success?” An’ki was shocked and horrified that they would destroy the trees.
“I have heard words here and there.” That development intrigued An’ki. “But they still must bury the broken pieces for now.”
“Keep me informed. Goodbye, brother.”
An’ki stayed connected to the mind hub asking questions to anyone who could answer. After several hours, he was jolted by a tap on the arm. In his shock, he spat out the tendril. His vision slowly returned.
“I’m sorry, Annie.” It was Sul’ki. She looked groggy. “I’m hungry.” An’ki stood from where he connected to the tree. He picked the tendril off the ground and returned it to the cluster. He was towering over Sul’ki and smiled at his young bride, twelve years his junior.
“I’m sorry, my love. Let’s find you something to eat.”
“I want deer.” She smirked as his eyes enlarged. “Is that okay?”
“I will get you one. Wait in the hut.” She hugged him tightly and ran off. After leaving the Dome and ascending the small hill to the village, An’ki headed to the hunters’ lodge. Their hut was close to the trees.
When their hut came into view, An’ki was relieved the village Flyer was docked and ready for use. He would finally be able to use it.
An’ki looked at the vehicle. It had a large circular hull, divided into an area where the pilot sat in front. The back had seats for up to five people: two on the wall the pilot shared and three on the opposite side. The outside of it had four large wings that were circular shaped, two on each side. In the back a flat tail would spin to propel the vehicle as a burst of energy would speed it forward. The device ran nearly silent, making it ideal for hunting.
“An’ki! Welcome.” A man somehow taller than An’ki broke the chatter in the hut as An’ki entered. “What can I do for you, friend?” Thull’s voice boomed in the hut.
“I need a deer.”
“Excellent! We were about to head out for a quick hunt. Do you want to join us?”
“If I may.” An’ki, unlike the other village Elders, enjoyed hunting. An’ki was the youngest of the Elders because his father had died recently. He knew eventually he would become sedentary like the rest of the Elders.
“Let’s depart now.” Thull charged out of the door, bursting with excitement.
Thull and the other two hunters loaded spears and nets into the hunting vessel. A fourth hunter was starting the process to fly the vehicle. The pilot began to pump his legs, charging a propulsion unit in the back of the vehicle. At a much faster rate than he pumped, the wings began to flap quickly and produce enough wind to push An’ki back. He laughed at the sensation. The wings began to flap harder pushing the vehicle off the ground. Once in the air, the wings would expand out, and the vehicle would hover down. Ropes kept the gliding vehicle from straying from the launch pad. This stage was when it was possible to board.
“Ready, An’ki? I’ll go first.” Thull jumped in right as the Flyer set down. The wings flapped seconds after he sat down and locked his arms in his seat. It shot up high above An’ki and the two hunters.
“You go next, sir.” One of the other hunters spoke to him. An’ki tasted adrenaline pumping. The device was gliding back to its starting position. As soon as it touched down, An’ki dove inside to a chair on the same side as Thull. No sooner did he drop into the seat did he feel his stomach lurch as the device bounded skywards, much higher than before.
“This will get higher before we start moving. Lock your arms.” Thull yelled over the blasts of wind as they got higher above the village. An’ki’s long black hair covered his face like a mat of fur. Sweat, despite the cool wind, drenched him. The wind pulled at the only cloth An’ki wore around his waist.
“When everyone was boarded, they will close the hull’s doors,” shouted Thull.
As they glided down, much slower than they ascended, An’ki let out a breath. “Have you ever flown before?” Thull shouted despite the reduced noise pollution.
“No.” An’ki could feel his stomach and head spinning.
“You get used to it. Anytime you want to come out with us, feel free.” Thull was smiling, but An’ki couldn’t imagine ever returning.
An’ki jolted in his seat when the device hit the ground. Both remaining hunters entered from opposite open sides. He saw the tethering ropes, loose on the ground. The Flyer shot up once again, even higher and faster than before. The two hunters stood up and grabbed small flaps that extended outside each opening. They were holding their chairs tightly with a free arm. If they fell out, they would surely die. An’ki closed his eyes. When the flaps were closed, An’ki was shocked by the reduction in noise from the wind.
“Hold on tight!” Thull shouted. An’ki wanted to question it, but a loud boom from behind the other two hunters muted him. The Flyer shot forward. An’ki heard a buzz as the back tail began to spin to propel them forward. The wings outside were flapping quicker than before to keep it moving. “You can stand up now.” Thull laughed, hovering over An’ki. “It will be pretty stable now.” An’ki tried his legs, but they weren’t working. He shook his head. Thull laughed again and yanked him up.
On his feet, An’ki could feel that the vehicle was shaky, but it was more stable than he expected. An’ki looked out the open window in front of the pilot. He saw the contours of the trees and landscapes. His mouth hung open as he saw various animals roaming and plants in full bloom.
“It is.” Thull sounded vulnerable and happy. “I would never give this part up for anything.” An’ki wanted to leave the Elders and fly for the rest of his life in this moment. This was worth the discomfort of take-off. “That’s where they the deer will be.” Thull motioned to a clearing of woods. It was a little higher than the areas surrounding it.
The hunting vessel tilted to the right and quickly turned to the left. An’ki braced himself against the opening to the pilot’s area. An’ki saw the other two hunters fastening themselves to the frame of the left side opening. Suddenly, they opened the covering flap exposing the left of the vehicle to air and the clearing. Thull walked carefully, using a guide pole in the middle of their seating area’s ceiling and handed both hunters spears. The pilot flew below the tree line. An’ki began to fear his tight grip on the cockpit’s frame would fail him. He could see deer starting to flee from the passing vehicle. Both hunters threw their spears hard. Both spears impaled deer through their necks perfectly. A loud pop from where Thull was standing startled An’ki. A net exploded from a device in Thull’s hand that grabbed both of the impaled deer together. Thull removed the rope that was attached to the device, tied it to the guide pole, then began to pull the net up with the aid of the hunters. Both deer made it inside.
“Are these big enough, young Elder?” Thull laughed. An’ki was shocked at how big the deer were up close.
“More than enough.”
“Get two more.” Thull shouted to the pilot. The repeated the same process, and without mistake, the hunters collected two more deer. As the net containing the last two entered the hull, the hunters tied to the open frame and closed the flap. The change in the air made An’ki’s ears hurt slightly.
“Thank you, Thull. I appreciate it.” Thull was beaming at the praise.
“Let’s get back to the village.” Thull struggled to reply.
As they flew back, An’ki noticed a speck off the coast, not far from his village.
“Do you have a scope?” He asked the pilot who never ceased pumping his legs. He looked exhausted. Automatically, the pilot reached and handed him a tiny monocular scope. An’ki held it to his eye.
The speck enlarged to reveal a very big ship. An’ki saw the ship had white pieces of clothes with barbed Xs the color of the setting sky. These were not ships of the tribes. An’ki felt a nagging sensation.
The Flyer touched down, and An’ki helped unload in silence. He needed to get back to the Dome.
“Here’s your deer.” Thull smiled.
“Thank you.” An’ki was too preoccupied to show much gratitude. He lifted the deer onto his shoulders and started for the Dome. He knew he should eat first, but he also knew he wouldn’t be long. Inside the Dome, An’ki dropped the carcass near the center where the tendrils remained. He remained standing while he sucked on the tendril. The world faded to black and voices rose around him. An’ki spoke quickly, but the limitations of the connection showed no change.
“Is anyone sailing off the Eastern shores?”
Chatter continued, ignoring his question.
“If anyone is sailing off the Eastern shore, please say yes.” An’ki wanted to scream this at the top of his lungs. His fears were growing. There was no response.
He spat out the tendril and ran to his hut. Sul’ki greeted him.
“I need the scopes.” He saw his panic scared Sul’ki. She ran inside and came back with two scopes like the one from the pilot. He held them both up to his eyes. The ship was near to shore now. He could make out individual people. They were pale men dressed with heavy clothes. He could see they had fat spears in their hands. An’ki dropped his scopes and ran back to the Dome. He grabbed a tendril, sucked hard, and began to repeat Wyn’ki’s name.
“Is something wrong, brother?” An’ki knew his brother was much more frantic than his voice sounded.
“Burn the tree. Tell everyone to burn the trees.”
“Burn the trees?” There was a pregnant pause. “Why?”
“Invaders are coming. We must protect the other villages. Burn the Flyers too.” An’ki spit out the tendril. He left the Dome and bounded up the slope to a fire that cooked various meats. With a long burning log, An’ki returned to the Dome and threw the burning log at the glowing tree. It ignited instantly. Returning to the fire, An’ki grabbed a second burning log, ran to the now empty hunting vessel and with great sadness, ignited it.
Residents of the village walked out of their huts in shock. Before anyone could speak, An’ki raised his arm and pointed to the shore. Men in heavy closes with fat, hollow looking spears began to march towards the village. An’ki prepared for the battle that was coming.
An’ki walked towards the fire that produced the logs he used to burn the tree and the hunting vessel. He reached into it and produced a scalding hot rock that was larger than his head. His survival instincts let him block out the pain. As the war party grew near, they spoke in a language that flowed together quickly. An’ki, hand in pain, looked at the terrified Sul’ki. He stepped forward the flung the hot rock at one of the closest men. It slammed into his head and dropped him instantly.
An’ki waited for the war party to retreat, but instead, he heard them shouting louder as they approached their dead comrade. An’ki moved to the fire to retrieve more burning rocks when he heard several loud pops from their fat, hollow spears. Smoke and fire flashed out of the end of them. An’ki felt strings of searing pain travel through him. An’ki heard another pop from a spear aimed higher at his head. The world turned dark. As his body fell to the ground, the last thing An’ki heard were the shrieks of Sul’ki. He died feeling helpless.
Eric Ponvelle grew up in the swamps of Louisiana. Writing allowed him to claw his way out and discover the world. Now a resident of Atlanta, Eric seeks to use his experiences to craft nightmares and dreams for his readers. He has been published in magazines, literary journals, and on websites. In September of 2013, he was a presenter at the IASD’s PsiberDreaming conference.