Sunday, 24 February 2008


The sound of water laps gently through the knotted reeds of the platform. The subtle motion rocks Sed as he lies, on duty, looking up at the stars. Then, it happens, a brilliant firework strike of light scorches the sky and flies overhead. With the practised enthusiasm of his young age he jumps up. He knows the importance of getting to a strike quickly. He hauls the little bell up, almost the total of their village's supply of metal, and rings it furiously. The men in the little huts curse and groan as the pull themselves out of bed. Sed has not taken his eyes away from the place where he saw the strike fall, using the stars as a guide to counter the slow twisting of the house boats, made more furious now as the men start untying the ropes binding them together. Torches are lit and their coloured lanterns hauled up higher to indicate their claim.
Jan is standing next to Sed now. His big, muscled frame towering over him with his gruff expression buried in the darkness of his beard. Sed points and Jan nods.
"Quicker, boys. It's not far off where we saw the Kords earlier today. I have no wish to let them get to this strike before us, again."
The Kords had been shadowing them for weeks. Occasionally there had been violence between the clans but the Kord are cowards, scavengers looking to interfere with other's success. They are not the real reason for Jan's concern. He knows that it has been several months since his clan had a major strike, have returned to the harbour with a chunk of metal of a good size for sale, and he is worried about their food and other needs being met before the bitter winter falls over the plateau.
Once the village has separated into its component boats the men start to row hard in the direction of the strike. The diviners have already thrown their lines out into the water, casting for the shrill little signal that will indicate they have found the meteorite. The divers are limbering up, stretching their muscles and practising their breathing exercises. On the horizon they see lights of other houseboats. The patterns identify them as the Kord and another clan, the Pertri, mixed in amongst each other, both working to slow the other one down. A bonus for us, Jan thinks.
After half an hour of effort the rowing teams are swapped. The boy was sure that the strike was close but Jan knows that the dark is always misleading. Then, after another ten minutes, the linesmen's equipment starts buzzing. They have found something. Rocks are cast out as anchors even as the divers are leaping into the water, their chests and arms lit with bioluminescent cream. The lake is not deep, an average of twenty meters or so and ideal for their work. The bed is soft sand, though, and often swallows up strikes and makes them hard to find. The divers sink down, the fragmented glows of their bodies slowly fading as the push themselves deeper.
After a few minutes they are back at the surface, coughing and sucking grateful air into their lungs. As they are doing this Wer, the head of the divers, signals to Jan: A big one. Prepare two cranes, maybe three. Wer is not a man given to exaggeration, Jan allows himself to feel a moment of joy, hidden in the darkness cast by the torches burning at the corners of his platform.

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