Friday, February 17, 2017

Mongrel: Concrete Proof for Zebe

Bark Texture, imagine if your back looked like this ...

In which Zebe herself, through her visit to Zoo Hall, organises proof that the monster sometimes exists in Tardi ...

Tardi and Shad softened down hard bread rolls by wetting them under the tap when they heard the individual sound of Neil’s customised hoverole swing through the intersection into the residential community.

“His air intake pipes have got to have been squeezed to make that screaming,” Tardi said. 

“I’ll get the door!” Zebe called.

There had been no communication between Tardi and Zebe since their upset. 

The hoverole squealed to a halt as Zebe reached the front of the house.  

Rumble rumble, said a male voice. Zebe’s voice was insistent about something. Finally Neil gave way, promising something. 

“Couldn’t understand a word,” Shad said. 

Neil followed Zebe into the open plan living space. 

“Gennelman wears his ‘gzitement right out,” Shad said in a broad version of the Stormy dialect.

Tardi nodded. Neil wore a fixed smile and a tense demeanour. His eyes glittered. He rubbed his hands, seemingly over a feeling of success. 

“Neil, could you make us a sandwich?” Zebe said.

Lunchtime was hours ago and surely Neil would’ve eaten in the SoHAB canteen? Zebe gave the man busy work in other words.

“We’ll be upstairs,” Zebe said. She waited on the third step for Shad and Tardi to precede her, almost with her foot tapping. 

Tardi lagged.

“Go on,” she said, not playfully.

“Why?” he said. “When you already decided … your discussing the situation on the front door step?” 

She laughed.

If that wasn’t the last straw. It wasn’t hard to stage him tripping, with soft carpet and narrow treads. 

Not saying a word, Zebe helped him up with a steely hand in his armpit. “I thought we could sit on the settle?” she said. 

Tardi only glanced at the space at the top of the stairs. He followed Shad into the master bedroom. 

“You surely didn’t have to make this much of a mess,” Zebe said. 

Tardi and Shad had stacked the bed and mattress on edge and roughly folded the bedding on top. 

Shad pointed upward. “Broken skylight. A piece of wrack in the wind. We saved as much as we could.”

The patio had the tarp stretched over it for shade since the wind dropped. Tardi’s toe-roots pretty safe on the concrete. And anyway, the tree in him was still in retreat. 

A fire-pit of scavenged bricks lay on the concrete. Embers glowed. Their swags hung drying over the guard rails. 

Tardi watched Zebe noting it all. Pain in her expression. Inadvertent tears that she tried to hide when she saw him watching. Her manner made more sense. How often had he hidden tearful emotions with anger?

Shad started to take down the tarp. 

Neil strode through the bedroom. “Fuckers ate us out of house and home.”

“No power,” Tardi said. “We ate everything that would spoil without refrigeration.” 

“Where’s your mate?” Neil said.

“I think he saw you coming,” Tardi said. “Find him down by the river maybe, if you want him.”

“Damn. I said I’d bring in the both of you. Two half-Stormies make a whole, right?”

“What’s your prize?” Tardi said.

Neil laughed. “Zebe, of course.”

“Neil, please! I asked you to allow me to tell them.” She stared Neil out of the room and down the stairs. She watched him from the top to make sure he went. 

Downstairs, Neil swore. Kicked something. Slammed a door. 

Shad vaulted back over the railings. “Tch. Two halves make a whole! If he only knew.”

“You going along with Neil’s orders, Zebe?” Tardi said. “I don’t expect him to have thought them up himself.”

“Have to. For now,” she said. “It’s not too late, Tar. I mean Tardi.”

“Not too late for what?” he said, frowning. 

“Don’t start. You want this stupid thing. Yes, it’s stupid. I hate it. And to set it up with SoHAB, I’m having to be a Class A bitch. Xanthe was good at that. Not me.”

Hug to comfort her? Better not, he wanted to hear the rest. 

She blew her nose. Continued calmer. “There are no standardised treatments for what you want so I had to sign you up personally. Because how else would they have committed to providing the protocols? Well, that was their argument. And fucking Whit Smith was laughing the whole time because he already knows all about you? I worry about that. How they plan to use you. Neil of course loves the plan.”

“Fuck Neil,” Tardi said. “I’ll hold out for you to doctor me, Zebe. Then you won’t need to live here because they’ll have to house you. Our story will be that I might need you any tick of the clock. Will you, Zebe?”

She sniffed. “Why don’t you hate me?”

He shrugged. “Circumstances. What could you do? Can we kiss and make up?”

“If you’ll try to think up some evidence?” she said. She angled her face. Pursed her lips.

Tardi hugged her. Met her lips with his …

… the fucking monster convulsed in him. It tore him from her with his arms and legs akimbo. 

Thud

The wall broke his fall. He slid to the floor. He groaned sorting himself.

“I think there’s your evidence, Zebe,” Shad said. “What possible reason could Tar have to tear himself loose from you with such violence and throw himself backwards to smash into the wall? Something about you that the Great Bastard does not like.” 

He helped Tardi up. “What alerted him?”

Tardi touched his lips. “The disinfectant, I think. You drank the stuff?” he asked Zebe.

“They made me wipe my face with it,” Zebe said, crouching with them. “The monster did that?”

“Guess he still doesn’t want me to go to Zoo Hall where he is still a prisoner. Gonna be hard work getting me there.”

“Time to go,” Neil said from the door. “Are you coming or do I have to drag you, Tree-man?” 

Tardi chuckled. Neil had to drag him. 


Shad held back Zebe. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mongrel: What the Old Time Stormies Figured


Signing the Paperwork

“Tell me again at the same time,” Zebe said. 

Tardi breathed. In. Out. Tell them one more time. Patiently. “I’m not after being feminised. Far from it.”

Zebe interrupted. “Yet that will be the result. The side effect of taking those drugs. There has got to be a really excellent line of reasoning in place to get the chemicals released. And no way can we get anything in that line released without the backing of an organisation.” 

“In other words, a fucking good story,” Tardi said. “I see that. I’ve been thinking on it, gribs and grabs because having to do it without alerting the puppeteer.” He waited for their acknowledgements.
Shad nodded. “Also known to the Stormies as the Great Bastard,” he said for Zebe’s benefit. He cross-legged to the floor in the doorway. 

“Remember that I will want real evidence,” Zebe said. She sat on the bed. 

Tardi marshalled words. “Humanity hasn’t got any way of taming or stopping the Great Bastard that I can see,” he said. “Read tame as contain, because I don’t believe he is an animal such that might be tamed. There have been two deaths among the crew that the fucker chose for himself. IE, he has two fewer glove puppets through Trinnet getting himself killed and Callum doing the deed himself. Does anybody have a clue as to how many more so-far-unknown gloves await his rule?”

Shad held up a finger.

Tardi stopped to let Shad talk. 

“Old-time Stormies figured the Engineer is a kind of live-mind and the Huddle are the equivalent to a bunch of unknown unknowable wild primates,” Shad said. “So said the old ladies. Hence it were always going to be you to tame other-wordly entities.” 

“I so don’t see how he reasoned to that point,” Zebe said about Shad’s information.

Tardi put his hand up to stop the discussion before it got started. “The Engineer is a kind of live-mind …?” he said. “I don’t recall that wording in the three-dot history? I don’t see why a live-mind would care to reformat a planet to make it suit … No. I do see it. He was programmed the same as every other live-mind.” 

Shad grinned. “Maybe I hit a nerve with my needles and you yelled through that bit of the story,” he said. 

“It’s a good way of thinking about the bastard,” Tardi said. “Helpful. The same with the descriptors for the Huddle. Unknowable primates. Because Earth-evolved primates have a shoal of scientists watching them for any bit of behaviour that will help know them. So, what you’re telling me, I need to watch the Huddle like that.” 

“I don’t like where that reasoning is going,” Zebe said.

Tardi forbore to ask her if she at least understood. He’d ask her when he was done. “Which is why I need to get close to them. All the time he’s been on Earth so far, and thousands of years before that as Cele reminded me, the Great Bastard was controlled by the Huddle. They’ll have the answers we need, is how I see it,” he said.

He waited. Did they accept his logic so far? 

“Go on,” Shad said.

Zebe shrugged. 

Tardi continued. “Bringing us to my next problem. How I’m to get close enough to the Huddle that I can get their advice, apart from not even speaking the same language, when I’m a man? When we know they eat all men soon as they clap their eyes on them?” He waited though he doubted that anyone would have a better idea.  

“What’s wrong with using a woman as your go-between?” Zebe said.

“You are volunteering given what happened to your sister?” Tardi said.

Silence.

“I’ve thought it through a hundred times. Feminising me to the stage where I’m accepted by the Huddle has presented itself to me as the only solution?” He was as passive as he could manage while his temper notched up.  

“Still no evidence,” Zebe said. “It’s not a condition looking for a cure.”  

Tardi breathed. In. Out. Let himself get any angrier and he’d lose her. “What does that even mean, a condition looking for a cure?”

Now they both just breathed. 

She still felt oppositional, Tardi saw from the way she clenched her jaws and narrowed her lips. 

“I give up,” she said. “Sometime soon I need you to tell me, and sign some paperwork, as to why you want to take this step?” 

Tardi’s jaw sagged. “Paperwork? You told someone? Earlier you said …”

“I said that we’d need a good story to convince the people backing us for this project that it’s a good thing to do.” She rushed on. “And I could only think of the one organisation who’d want to back you for this, and that’s the EMBers. They are as keen as you to contain the creature and keener than you that someone other than they themselves does the containing. Of course I told someone, aka Whit Smith, because if he’d said no, I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of not being deregistered for good.”

This time it was Tardi not getting the reasoning, how B followed from A. “As to the why I want to take this step, I guess you weren’t listening. Again.”

“Has anyone ever told you how impossible you are?” Zebe said. She pushed past him and ran down the stairs. Clattered into the kitchen.

“Zebe’s need-to-know is all about concrete evidence, I think, Tar,” Shad said. 


“In other words don’t blame her for not hearing?” Tardi said. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mongrel: When 1 + 1 + 1 = 2

Zebe's badge before she was struck off the medical register
- from Clipart.com
In which neither Shad nor Zebe understand the reasons for what must come to pass ... 

A hoverole that was probably a cab, since it didn’t come with the excruciating sound effects that Neil’s vehicle produced stopped at the front door and went off again after an interval long enough to let someone off. 

The someone negotiated the locks on the front door as if trying to enter without being heard. 

“It’s Zebe,” Shad said.

“Don’t say another word,” Tardi said. “I’m aware of every fucking danger courtesy of all my fucking nightmares.”  He soft-footed down the stairs and entered the kitchen.

Zebe stared into the open fridge.

“Hey there,” Tardi said to her back.

She jumped. “Looking for a snack. Neil scored a night shift he couldn’t wiggle out of. One of his mates dropped me off. Kitchen is pretty tidy for two blokes shut in for the day. Did you eat anything?” She closed the fridge and turned in a smooth move. 

Tardi quirked a smile. She had a rushed explanation that shifted into a judgmental commentary but there was that move. “We picnicked,” he said. “Ate very well, thank you. Cup of tea?” He gestured up the stairs. 

“I wouldn’t mind a hot drink.” 

 She walked up the stairs ahead of him, swaying. 

Ooh la la. Tardi gladly set aside his nightmares and started looking forward to him and her dallying. 
“I’ll have a mug to take away and so will you,” she instructed. “Indian for me.” She continued past the room where Tardi and Shad camped. 

Unfriendly but not so strange. 

Shad ladled hot water from a pan bubbling by the fire onto Zebe’s Indian tea leaves, and onto Tardi’s Stormy blend. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I got a lot of thinking to do. My comfort zone and such.” 

“Thanks, Cuz.” Shad not present should make dealing with Zebe easier. 

Tardi followed Zebe into what was clearly her room away from home with a Celtic-design bed spread, Celtic cross above the bed and Celtic knot above the door. He set her tea on her bedside shelf near where she sat. The bed took up most of the room leaving a narrow alley around the sides and foot-end. 

Zebe frowned. “What’s with loose tea leaves? No milk and no sugar?”

Tardi laughed. “Teabags are a waste according to Shad. A pinch of leaves does the trick. He’d say we don’t take a cow with us on the road. And that you can add what poisons you desire yourself. Which is why I have the blend.” 

Zebe set down the mug after a sip. “Bitter.” She stood up. 

Tardi set his mug on the floor in the angle of the walls. “Mine is too hot yet to taste anything.” Here’s hoping she falls into my arms. Good fantasy or what? 

Zebe slipped by him which was when he should’ve made some kind of move. No evidence of her former willowy moves is what put me off. 

She started walking along remaining two sides of the bed. “I came back as soon as I discovered what you’re really asking,” she said. She turned slightly each time she addressed him to throw the words at him. “Do you realise? The extent, results, the changes in you?”

He didn’t get the chance saying that he wasn’t asking for the full treatment.

“Because that’s what it amounts to? A chemical sex change?” she said.

“That doesn’t sound like what I am after,” he said. “I thought Cele might have explained that I need to get in with the Huddle?”  

“I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now,” Zebe said. 

Had she even taken in his explanations? Did she even hear him just then? “Why? Because you know me so well suddenly?” Tardi said. 

“I find an actual man and he asks me to organise him a sex change?” She scoffed. “What’s that about?”

Oh. She did understand at least part of what Cele told her. “Unfortunate coming together of circumstances,” he said. “I thought that with Cele’s program … what you’re calling the protocol … I quote, Only go so far and then maintain.”

She flushed pink, not red. Too bad he didn’t have a gauge on him to explain what pink meant. 

“I didn’t buy it then or now because I don’t have evidence,” she said.

Surprising him. 

“I may have been struck from the register, but I am a medical doctor and I need a good reason, real in-your-face evidence before I’ll recommend so severe a cure.”

“Oh. Well." All Tardi’s counter-accusations fell away. He picked up his tea and drank it down in a couple of gulps. Dropped the mug. Clunk. It didn’t even break. 

“Well?” Zebe said.

“I’m trying to remember if I knew that,” Tardi said.

 Shad, at the door, chortled. “You stumped him, Doc.” 

Zebe frowned. “What do you know about me?”

Shad moved his hands to make peace. “Be easy, Zee. Can I call you that? Stormy-kind everywhere know how easily government paperwork is claimed to go missing. It’ll be your caring hands they recall.” 

Zebe was incredulous, Tardi saw. “Since when did you know of Zebe, Cuz?”

“An I just now put three together to make two,” Shad said. “One. A story she told of her sister calling her a Celtic twin for her olive skin, dark hair and hazel eyes.” 

He counted on his fingers. “Two. That scar on your arm, Zee. Where you tangled with the wildlife along one of the inland rivers. Saved that kiddie. Stormies living there tell that story. You might know them as Skanzies.”

Now Zebe really blushed. Red. 

“Three,” Shad said. “All this Celtic stuff in your room. Your sister’s doing probably, making you feel at home. Making you the healer who doctored them along the inland rivers. They are the two.” 

Zebe laughed. “Goodness me, I must have made quite an impression to be known up and down the country.” 

“Tar, I trust her with your life but” Shad said.

“Not with the feminising of me is what you’re wanting to say,” Tardi said. 

“Why is it really necessary?” Shad said.


Tardi all but slumped. What he felt like, just giving up. Couldn't Shad see that by himself Tardi hadn't a hope of controlling, let alone containing the Great Bastard? 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mongrel: Verbal Fencing


Scene outside Neil's House as seen from the patio

In which Tardi learns more Stormy history and Zebe helps to draw an octahedron ... 

“Is that what that is meant to be?” Zebe said from behind them. “Give me the pen for a sec?”

Tardi felt more lines being drawn. Decisively. 

“When you draw it on a slant, it’s easier to see both the inner and the outer edges,” Zebe said. 
“What’s it meant to portray?”

“I swore an oath not to speak of it to a sapient,” Shad said. 

“So …” Zebe said. “I’m human and you are …?” Laughter in her voice. 

Fury in Shad’s tension.

Tardi rolled off the drawer-unit. “Shad and I are as human as anyone,” he said. “But we both also have Stormy blood. He’s teaching me the culture. There are stories of each of the cultures that can’t be, or aren’t, told to the other. As protection.”

“All the stories of my culture are free to be told anywhere,” Zebe said.

“I used to think that too,” Tardi said. “But Stormies have no access to the medical services story.”

Zebe gulped air, then laughed. “Touché.”

Last time Tardi heard that he fenced verbally with Rowan. He continued. “I’ve heard it is to protect the system against being over-run with claims.” 

And after a second beat, he said, “And how many Stormies have you ever met?” Shut up, Tar-boy. Don’t spoil what you might have with her. But he didn’t stop … he’d been angry about the road-kill thing forever. “And instead of letting Stormies share in the welfare-relief story when times are tough, people make up stories about them eating road kill.”

“Here you all are,” Neil said. “We should go now, Zebe. Wind is picking up.”

Tardi hated the carpet on the stairs. If given an excuse, for example if there happened to be rain damage, he’d rip that carpet up in three minutes. Because when did Neil silently creep up to stand there and eavesdrop? 

“I’ll get back to you about those stories,” Zebe said. “I came up to tell you that I’m going to Zoo Hall with Neil. Put my name down for any jobs there might be going. I hope that I can figure out an alternative to Cele’s protocol that she wrote for you, Tardi, by seeing the situation from the inside.” 

“Why?” Tardi said. He hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. 

“I want more than just a dalliance.” She followed Neil down the stairs. 

Tardi slumped down on the bedside drawer unit. “I don’t have any good feelings about what just passed.”

“First, you quaked Zebe’s comfort zone,” Shad said. “She’ll be checking the things you said, for whether you told her true. But, different DNA is the reason Stormies choose not to share in the medical story.”

“No one ever said anything about different DNA when Steve’s brain was being rebuilt,” Tardi said. “Which is why I didn’t believe Trinnet’s claims about our mule status.”

“And it seems like Cele quaked Zebe’s comfort zone big time with that protocol, whatever that is when it is at home.”

“That’s the one I’m worried about,” Tardi said. “And Zebe wanting more than just a dalliance.”  

“I think Cele’s thingie is the treatment she designed to get you in with the Huddle. Still on your deck. I’d say the treatment cancelling out the dallying is what Zebe is worrying about. She has a very sure hand, drawing on skin.”

“And that’s all you’ll say on the subject?” 

Tardi draped himself stomach-first over the bedside unit, the foam mattress between him and its sharp edges. 

Tardi learned about the Shaman Inchoate, the Shaman in Space and finally, the Shaman on Earth. His back looked like a noughts-and-crosses grid with all the squares filled if it resembled Shad’s back. 
The middle row had the alien’s ship on his right side; the Arkship on his bark-covered side and the alien and Arkship combined in the middle slot of that row for the Shaman Inchoate and the Shaman in Space parts of the stories.  

The top row, reading from the left had a horse in the Hole-in-the-Day space-suit. How was it even possible to dress an animal like a horse in a space suit made for a human? A mystery. In the middle was a pair of electronic chips. And third, the Solar System on the right. 

“That row signifies different aspects of Shaman Jeb’s arrival on Earth,” Shad said in his don’t-argue tone of voice. Last, Shad pricked him out the three dots on Tardi’s left cheekbone and rubbed wood ash into the holes to raise the scarring. 

“Wood ash?” Tardi said.

“Our old one gave it. Her gift to you. A story for a trammelled day.”
   
They didn’t sleep indoors and despite the tarp over them and tucked in, they slept wet. Drenching rain. 

Sleep? Tardi had precious little with his back scrawning with pain. Useful Stormy word. When the rain eased, he shoved the tarp down off him for the gentling rain to put out the fire.  

Even though he couldn’t lie on his back, as when he usually dreamed, his unconscious mind never stopped trying to tell him of the dangers ahead, which it did by inserting errant warnings. When he realised what was happening, he shuddered over the idea that he could not sense the monster … was it present? What was it picking up from the stream of half-conscious thoughts?

At first light, he gave up. Went inside and checked out Cele’s treatment plan on his deck. A lot of names of chemicals he didn’t know. Three times a day some of them. Blood samples to be taken daily to be presented to the Huddle. Protocol to be held in a maintenance profile the minute the Huddle stop licking out the sample pots. 

He joined Shad. 

They sat dry on the door sill. “Terrible dream last night, Cuz,” Tardi said. 

Shad had built a fire in a steel garbage-can laid on its side. He had water boiling.  

Steel garbage can? Dry firewood? “Please don’t come into Zoo Hall with me.”

Shad narrowed his eyes. “Terrible for you or for me?”

“Both. But mine is the thing that must be done. Yours was …” Tardi swallowed. “Just don’t let the fucking management know we’re together. Do you know any Stormies living nearby?”

Shad chuckled. “Saw you wondering where I got the bin and the kindling.” He waved at the bushland bordering the housing estate. “Out there watching out for us. Bin with firewood waiting by my hand. Who but Stormies? Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be comfy with them long before you get your foot in the cage door.” 


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mongrel: Staying at Neil's


Traditional tattooing


Neil had the same kind of doubts again letting Shad and Tardi into his house, and again showed his displeasure with raised eyebrows.  

“I’d rather sleep under a bridge with them than enter a house where they aren’t welcome,” Zebe said.
The first drops of rain tapped on the porch roof. Neil caved in without further protest. 

Idiot.

“Unoriginal, too,” Shad said. 

“Reading my mind again,” Tardi said. 

“Your expressive face.”

 Zebe directed them to set the bags of groceries they all carried on the living room floor. Every horizontal surface in the kitchen had laboratory jars on it. 

“I’m sure I told you to close the shutters,” Zebe said. 

Neil shrugged. “Sorry.”

As the house was closed up, Shad looked more and more pinched. Tardi didn’t feel much better. “Not sure if we can stay down here for the duration, Zebe,” he said. 

“It’s only while we …” she gestured. “Lift the floor of the mudroom, Neil. We’ll stack the whole lot under the floor.”

“But that’s our wine cellar,” Neil said.

“You may need to shift stuff anyway,” Zebe said. “Will SoHAB even let you stay here now? Isn’t there a singles house?”

“Why I need you with me,” Neil said. “Share my house. Be partners.”

“I am a partner,” she said. She glared at Tardi. “With Tardi.”

A partner in crime would that be? Or was she referring to the project Cele set him on?

Neil looked as resentful as Tardi felt. “A tree-hair? What if you catch the disease? Xanthe liked me very well and I so figured you would too.”

“We mourn our women for a year at the least,” Shad said. 

A conversation killer if there ever was one. Tardi almost laughed out loud. “Is there a room upstairs with a skylight that we can use?” he said. Well, he knew that there was. Saw it on the way in. “Man needs light for his art,” he said of Shad. 

“Biggish storm on the way,” Shad said. “Couple of days of indoor activities?”

Tardi watched their faces. Blank. “Shad’s tattooing me,” he said. “Three-dot history.” More blank. 
Well duh, how long have I known about Stormy history? “We’ll be out of your way while you’re tidying and possibly moving the furniture around,” Tardi said. “Fridge will fit in that space where you intend lifting the floor, a good way to camouflage. Give us a call if you need help.”   

Zebe collected herself first. “We’ll shift the wine cellar into the space under the stairs, Neil. We’ll nail down the floorboards over the jars and shift the fridge over the hole in the floor covering.”

Shad had started up the carpeted stairs without any further nay-saying by Neil. 

Tardi shoved his feet into the riser of each stair tread despite that his toes weren’t growing very fast now. Would be good if it was due to the mud. 

“Good room,” Shad said. “French doors onto a patio. We can make it light and breezy. Unfortunate that the patio isn’t roofed but I’m sure we’ll be able to organise something. Only the dead can live in closed-up houses.” 

He pushed the furniture, a double bed and a bedside drawer unit both on castors to one side. He pointed Tardi toward the other bedside unit. “Screw the castors off it? We don’t want you rolling around.” He hauled a foam mattress from a slot in the wardrobe wall.

“Nothing in the drawers the man might require forthwith?” Tardi said when Shad bent the mattress over the drawer unit.

“Don’t worry about him. Your partner…” Shad laughed. “… will keep him out of our hair. After he’s told her the story of her sister’s misadventure all over again, every little detail, she will force him to contact the cleaning crew to get their every little detail. So. Get your shirt off and let’s get started.”

“This is second dot stuff?” Tardi said. He shucked his shirt. “What happened to you draping over first for me to trace?”

“Couple of spaceships. Every Stormy kid practises drawing them all their spare time.”

“Is there a story? Do we have time for it?”

“Is there a low imminent? Days with wind smashing rain against the skylight? The man will be needed at work as he held off asking for his compassionate leave. The woman will go to Zoo Hall to negotiate on your behalf. The weather will make it impossible for her to return for the duration, it is to be hoped,” Shad said. 

“The story is the Shaman in Space. It starts here …” Shad touched the place on the right side of Tardi’s back level with his waist. “… with the Great Bastard’s spaceship to be set above the Hole-in-the-Day space-suit. Well, that’s what the three wise women now figure.”

“They figure the Hole-in-the-Day thing is a space-suit?” Tardi said. “Or they figure the spaceship …”

“The spaceship. Is the Great Bastard’s, who in Shaman Jeb’s story is referred to as the Engineer. I mind now, that when you and Trinnet argued over the direction of travel, north-west or west or north, the Great Bastard intended us to travel to the place where he intends to signal his space shuttle to come and pick us up. Because he can only get to his ship by shuttle.” 
  
“And we know that how?” Tardi said. 

“His ship has no landing gear. It must stay in space.” 

“And Stormies know all that how?” Tardi said, rising inflexion despite his intention to stay cool.

“I’m as much in the dark as you, Cuz,” Shad said. “I only know the designs that summarise the stories and the stories themselves. The three wise old women sit around all day skyping and telling each other stories about the stories, gleaning any sensible little detail from their memories and other old people’s memories of when the tales were told in their youth. Meta-talking is what they call it.”

“Sort of what I suggested for you do to find out about that storm rider,” Tardi said. “I’ll start you off on that project though I know nothing whatever about the man. His name suggests he was a calm thoughtful person. I figure it’s a name he maybe chose himself.”


“All this out of a call-name? Calm and thoughtful hardly suggest someone riding a storm?” Shad set out his kit. Drew the design on Tardi’s back. “Lucky there’s no bark on this bit of your back. It’s hard enough to portray an octahedron in two dimensions.”