Incident at St. Laurita’s
by Kochava Greene
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Leaving a new guard on watch, the women returned to their cells. Sister Amelia did not sleep, but thought and wrote until dawn, when she went to find Mother Angelita. The Mother Superior was still in a state of shock. Her red eyes and drooping posture belied her hopeful morning invocation and prayers.
“Mother Angelita,” began Sister Amelia. “We have to remove the creatures or cleanse the lake. If we wait for the creatures to move, they could kill us on their way to open water.”
Mother Angelita looked at her. She had reports to write, warnings to make, and bones and ash to clear from her courtyard. Cleansing the lake? How could that even be possible? She looked bewildered for a second.
Sister Amelia continued, “Please let me tell you my idea.”
But Mother Angelita seemed to come back into herself, focusing her eyes, and took Sister Amelia’s hand. “Yes,” she said, “but first we will eat.”
The nuns took their breakfast in the refectory, a warm room on the outside wall of the convent where morning sunlight streamed through a large circular window and several smaller spiral windows filled with stained glass. In the sun with the scent of morning grains sweetened with the convent’s honey, it was hard for Sister Amelia to reconcile the attack of the night before with the sense of comfort the room and its inhabitants offered. She began to think again of leaving the convent, looking for another safe place. No, she thought, looking at her sisters nervously eating their meals, I can’t leave them to face this.
After the sisters’ communal breakfast, Mother Angelita and Sister Amelia returned to the Mother Superior’s office. It was almost as spare as the nuns’ cells. A long plank of wood laid across two file cabinets served as her desk; on it she had a typewriter and a blotter for handwritten documents. On each wall, a stone-worker had carved a bas-relief of the sacred spiral, the symbol of the All-Mother.
Mother Angelita gestured to a set of chairs on the side of the room. She brushed her own apron nervously and sat. She looked into Sister Amelia’s eyes, deliberately not looking at the nun’s mechanical legs.
“Sister Amelia, I’ll be blunt,” she said. “I haven’t lived my whole life in a convent, but I’ve never dealt with the creatures either. I’ve lived inland all my life, and never thought our lake here would be a threat. The sheriff will be here this morning, early. He thinks we will all be fine. But I want to know from you — you said we won’t be. I want to know why you say that, and what we can do.” She paused. “But,” she said, “I do not think I can be party to doing anything that will hurt the lake or the natural animals that live there. The All-Mother entrusted us with this world, and we cannot harm it.”
Sister Amelia wasn’t eager to speak. The things she had to say were not going to reassure her Mother Superior. But she did know about the creatures, perhaps more than any of the other nuns, and she could certainly speak about them more calmly than could Sister Margaret.
“Wajas begin the move to a bigger lake by sending out an advance party: two or three egg sacs. They wait until the eggs are ingested, and begin counting the days back in the lake. They aren’t dumb animals: they plan.
“Once someone or something swallows an egg sac, well, you’ve seen what happens: one egg develops, kills its brothers and sisters, and works its way out. It uses its pincers to grab food, and summons the rest of the colony with a special scent.
“The grown Wajas leave the lake, join the new ones, and eat their way to a larger body of water.” She stopped. She swallowed, hard. “They will attack and eat any living thing.” She closed her eyes a moment. “Most people do not survive an attack. I was very lucky. You should know that the All-Mother saved me.”
Before Mother Angelita could ask about this last statement, Sister Amelia continued, “They seem to wait about five or seven days, in case the eggs’ hosts have traveled far before the eggs hatch. But if the hatchlings don’t send out the signal, the grown ones send a search group. They are stronger and even more dangerous than the hatchlings, and they can live outside of water for a while. I’m not sure for how long. But the Wajas will follow the trail of the egg sacs here when they leave the lake.
“There are two traditional courses of action prescribed,” said Sister Amelia. “We can fight them in the lake, or we can poison it.”
Mother Angelita was predictably aghast. It was impossible to imagine, utterly unthinkable, to go against the All-Mother in such a way, to behave in the exact opposite of her vows. “I understand you have special knowledge, Sister,” she said, “but there must be another way. Certainly we cannot fight, and poisoning the lake is just not possible.”
Sister Amelia bowed her head. She knew what she said was a heretical suggestion: she could be asked to leave the order immediately. But she had a plan; she just needed to convince Mother Angelita. She raised her head a little, and said, “I do have an idea for fighting them, if you will hear me out. And I will be the one to fight. And if all goes well, we may even... improve... the lake.”
Mother Angelita listened. When the bell for lunch rang, she dispatched Sister Amelia to write a telegram, which Sister Amelia had already drafted, anticipating what was needed, to be sent to Texas. She began the mid-day meal with the usual blessing, and spent the rest of the day in the steam chamber, seeking a vision from the All-Mother.
Sister Carlita took the telegram to the closest office. “Make sure not to leave anything out, no matter what the telegraphist says,” Sister Amelia told her. “We need Honey to bring everything listed there, and quickly.”
It was a long list, with items Sister Carlita had never heard of: a 1/3-size Gaspar steam engine, an Asclepion breathing machine, and three reels of something called Copper Mold. Sister Amelia also asked for twelve dozen copper rivets, two clockwork band-revolvers, and the Zambian, although who or what that was, Sister Carlita couldn’t tell.
Sister Carlita asked, “Who’s Honey?”
“She made my legs,” replied Sister Amelia.
Sister Carlita rode quickly, did not wait for a reply, and returned before nightfall to the convent, where again a larger than usual night watch was on duty.
* * *
Two days after Sister Carlita sent the telegram, Honey and the Zambian arrived. They could be seen coming from a long way off, the twin screws of the airship pushing through the hot desert air. Trailing behind the airship was a flag declaring the ship to be The Airship Yam of the Royal Navy of Comoros, an old joke between Sister Amelia and Honey.
As the ship approached, the nuns of St. Laurita’s could see that she was a decommissioned Texan ship. Yellow and reddish metallic armor plated her sides, and she had three guns front, rear, and sides, as well as a giant winch and what appeared to be escape gliders hanging below the ship’s main body.
Many of the sisters came out into the garden to watch the arrival of the Yam, shading their eyes with their hands. Sister Amelia rushed out to help secure the airship to the convent’s northern wall, and Sister Pippa ran to help her. They grabbed the ship’s long landing lines and brought her down to the edge of the convent, the ship firing off short blasts of air as it descended. A few moments later, a door in the armor opened and a stout wooden stair dropped out.
The woman who emerged from the Yam could have been Sister Amelia’s sister. Tall and graceful, with long thick coils of hair falling around her shoulders, she too had the scars of a woman of Comoros: intricate patterns that swirled and twisted behind her ears and down her throat.
She wore a traveling outfit none of the sisters had seen before: a trouskirt, a cutaway skirt that ended at her knees, attached to long, flowing trousers. A high-necked green-striped blouse with long sleeves and worn boots in the same dark brown as the trouskirt were topped off by a Texas Ranger’s hat with a wide, thick band.
She embraced Sister Amelia in a hug that seemed to last an hour, the two women swaying from side to side. Finally, they let go of one another, and Sister Amelia remembered her manners. Stepping to the side, she said, “Sisters, this is Honey Washington, a machinist. Honey made my legs for me, and she’s going to help me fight the Wajas in the lake.”
Sister Amelia spoke with the herbalists among the group, and then helped Honey bring an assortment of devices, tools, and materials out of the Yam. The sisters saw little of Honey for the next two days: she was covered by an enormous welding mask that shielded not only her head but also her entire torso.
She and Sister Amelia worked outside in the courtyard, though, so everyone could see what they were doing. The Zambian, it turned out, was a short metal capsule, with a propeller at the rear and a place for two people inside.
Honey explained, “We call it the Zambian because it was first tested there, in Lake Bangweulu. It’s not a Hunley-type submarine, just for small bodies of water. It’s for exploring, but we’re going to use it against the Wajas.”
They outfitted the Zambian with two more propeller-like circles of blades, connected to handles on the inside. And, with a feverish intensity, they molded and connected metal to the breathing machine using the steam engine. The result was a box with tubing.
“Sister,” Sister Penelope asked Sister Amelia, “what does that do?”
Sister Amelia grinned. “It fits over me,” she said. “For hunting Wajas!”
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Kochava Greene