Tubes to the Mountains
Water is Sacred
The morning sun breaks over the horizon in the distance, beaming its light across the vast flatlands. Giant grasshoppers flutter between tall stalks of wheat, munching and drinking up the morning dew that has collected overnight. That was the one benefit of working the wheat fields, mass amounts of moisture to gather in the morning. It made you feel like your thirst could actually be quenched since the water distribution to each household was abysmal. These brief, beautiful moments in the sunrise helped to make Danae feel like life was worth living. The deep purple clouds appeared flat with homogenous color against the vibrant sky of orange, pink, and blue behind it. Danae breathed in deep the dawn air.
The only downside to the mornings was pulling out giant grasshoppers that make their way into the water-collecting buckets. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they are so large they are easy to grasp ahold of, like plucking a fat zucchini from its vine. Danae seizes the latest trespasser and tosses it away into the air, where it spirals for a beat before untwisting its wings and flitting off to another wheat stalk. Her father always claims it’s best to kill them and save the crops, but in the mornings, collecting water with her mother, she was just glad to see it wasn’t on the ground clipping the stems.
“Please don’t kill the plants, and I won’t kill you, thank you very much!” Danae shouts to the grasshopper, which is drinking and munching another stalk, standing with legs spread across multiple heads of grain to prevent the stalks from tumbling over under its weight. Danae decided this was an especially good morning due to the few grasshopper sightings. They were always such pests.
Danae’s father was inside finishing up breakfast and walked to the doorway to announce it was just about ready. So, Danae and her mother finished gathering the dew from the plants they were working on at the moment. They used their flat wooden paddles to slide a final stalk head’s worth of water into their buckets and strolled back towards their small shack of a home. They were both careful when crossing over the thick black tubing that now lay between their field and their home. They handed their buckets off to one another as they first lifted themselves onto it and then swung their legs over to the other side. This wide tubing was the most recent from the mountaintop in the distance. An underground water channel was discovered nearby and is now occupied by guards, and this massive pipeline, miles long. The great kingdom in the mountains is where all the water goes and comes from, each drop controlled.
After breakfast, the family got ready to work in their wheat fields. As Danae usually did, she split from her parents to work closely with the neighbor boy Polyneices and his family’s sugar beet field. It was another sweltering day as she walked out to a far corner of their plot, pushing a wheelbarrow with a giant scythe and a canteen in it. For the past few years, she’s taken on the task of reaping, as she was good at identifying the areas that were dry and no longer green and could carry and swing the tool properly. Her father dealt with the threshing and her mother the winnowing, separating the grain from the chaff.
It took some time to get to Polyneices, but once she saw him in the distance, he looked up from his work and waved to her with a smile. He looked tan as ever, with his olive skin glistening from a thin layer of sweat. She couldn’t help but smile herself as she approached with her large sun hat and breathable onesie that covered most of her vulnerable, delicate ivory skin. Danae made sure she was also wearing the heart-shaped locket Polyneices had given her. She appreciated the coolness the silver locket provided against her skin and loved that it wasn’t the usual heart-shaped jewelry. This locket was anatomically correct and an heirloom from his great grandmother. “Hey! How’s the rooting going? Have you been at it long?” Danae asked curiously, once close enough for him to hear.
“Good morning! It’s not so bad today. The soil feels a little looser over here. I’ve only been at it about an hour or so,” responded Polyneices, not stopping his work to chat, digging his pitchfork deeper beneath the roots of a stout sugar beet. Polyneices cranks his fork like a great lever, and the sugar beet pops out from the earth. “Aha! Out in one clean shot, can’t beet that!”
“Oh boy, it begins,” laughs Danae. She had been prepared for his bad puns as well as his forgetfulness. Polyneices was already sporting some red on the top of his head since he’d forgotten his hat again. “You might want to cover up that hot spot.”
“Always lookin’ out for me.” Polyneices pulled out a decorative blue handkerchief from his pocket, wiped away the sweaty dew from his forehead, and then applied it as coverage. He tied a knot at the back of his head to prevent it from coming off with the breeze. “What do you think?”
“Lookin’ good!” The morning rolled into the afternoon as the two toiled away in their respective fields, yet close enough to one another to keep communicating. That’s when their regular day was suddenly broken up by unusual visitors. Out from the tall mountain peak in the distance, where all the water pipelines came from and led to, a flying machine emerged. It looked like a hovering speck at first. Eventually, it flew directly toward where Danae and Polyneices were working, raising a racket of noise with its whirring metallic blades.
The massive machine extended landing gear with large treaded wheels. It came to rest in the long dirt road that ran perpendicular to Danae and Polyneices’ family fields. The blades on top of the metallic orb were slowly coming to a stop now that it had landed. Danae was stunned, having never seen a machine like this but even more so, having never seen anyone from the high society mountain top kingdom. Her father interacts with the guards sometimes when selling his grains at the market, but this was very different. Seeing the look on Polyneices’ face told her he was feeling the same way.
After a moment, a door popped open and a ramp extended from the orb to the earth below. Two occupants of the machine finally emerged, walking down the ramp, covered from head to toe in outlandish gear. Two armed guards followed them. The two in front looked bulky, wearing layers of loose-fitting mesh clothing. They also wore strange metallic headgear with intricate goggles and tubing extending from their faces to packs on their backs. They had an odd broken stride with an occasional limp as they made their way toward Danae and Polyneices, stopping at about 50 yards away, keeping their distance. The guards were sporting their usual garb of white and yellow body armor and a cumbersome helmet. None of their skin ever showed itself to the sunlight.
Danae didn’t know how to react but knew that these people never left the mountain, so it must be a big deal. She decided the best reaction would be to go back to work like a diligent citizen. Once she picked up the scythe she had dropped and began reaping again, Polyneices nodded her way and picked up his pitchfork to start prying his sugar beets out once more. The two worked for 15 minutes straight, trying to be as casual as possible, pretending as though there was nothing odd about the flying machine and the high societies’ presence. Every time Danae looked up, they were still there, staring at the two of them working. She couldn’t understand what it was they wanted. They barely moved, only to adjust their goggles with their hands, extending the eyepieces out further along metallic tubes. The guards walked this way and that, either patrolling the perimeter or becoming a bit bored.
Forty-five minutes go by before the google wearing well-to-do do anything more than stare. Finally, they begin walking even closer to Danae and Polyneices. The guards take the lead and approach first. Without saying a word, they seize both Danae and Polyneices by the shoulders, keeping their arms from lifting, and begin forcing their hands into restrainment cuffs. Danae can’t fight against them, and Polyneices struggles to do so either. The guards tire of their resistance and knock them on the head with the spine of their armored gauntlets; they drop like a sack of potatoes, spilling limbs about.
The farmer children come to with hands cuffed behind their backs, seated before a panel of people with hot lights pouring over them. The panel sits high up behind a wide half-circle bench of intricate wooden carvings depicting a fierce battle. It’s a lot for Danae and Polyneices to take in, which is why they don’t react immediately to the disfigured faces that emerge from behind the bench. The panel is full of mutated-looking humans, likely impaired at birth and reconfigured by science, to appear how they consider normal. Some were still halfway through procedures. One was missing his nose, wearing bandages only there, and had metal teeth that seemed to lack lips. Another had a bandage wrapped around her head, and a face stretched thin to remove wrinkles, forcing an appalling expression. On top of that, she seemed to be missing an arm all the way up to her shoulder. Polyneices exchanged terrified expressions with Danae as they began panicking, asking questions, and begging to be let free.
A fat wooden gavel crashes onto the surface of the bench as the head panelist demands attention and order. Danae and Polyneices become silent, desperately awaiting what was to come.
“That’s better,” declares the head panelist, sitting in the middle of the half-circle bench, surrounding the farmer children. “As you can see, keeping the bloodline pure for generations and our riches and positions secure left us riddled with disease and medical complications.” The head panelist turns his head to hack up a phlegmy cough, chokes it down, and continues. “It is in our best interest to, at this point, introduce new genetic probability into our kingdom here in the mountains. That is why you’ve been chosen. You are young, healthy, and the most beautiful people we’ve seen within our reach. Science can only take us so far with crude interpretations of beauty. But you two, you still carry the flame of authentic beauty. Our men and women will take ample opportunities with you to mingle our genetics privately.”
Danae and Polyneices are terrified by the horrific implications. They try to get up to flee but are instantly swarmed by guards grabbing them and holding them in place. Danae cries out, scared for her life. “How dare you! No wonder there are so few of you in high society. If you had something to gain from it, you’d probably be at each other’s throats. You’re monsters and foul beasts!”
Suddenly the locket around Danae’s neck begins glowing with white light and shaking intensely. In a blink, the locket drops back to her chest, and every panelist and guard has transformed. Some are now monstrous animals like lions and tigers, while others are beastly fowl like eagles and cranes. The gluttonous panelists waste no time in their new creature form and begin devouring one another in a heap of blood and self-destruction. Danae and Polyneices use the opportunity to dash out of the room as fast as possible, not fully understanding, nor asking questions, simply taking their chances at getting home somehow.
About the Creator
Jesse Terrance Daniels
Jesse is the founder of Pied Raven Games, and his first card game, Hibernation, won Best Family Game in 2018. He currently has a book in the process about game design. The book, titled Make Your Own Board Game, will be available 08/2022.
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