Monday, August 6, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 25. The Stranger

These posts have caught up to the wishy-washy borders of creation, where the first draft is still coming into being. I well remember telling someone in #SaturdayScenes how I had twenty weeks up my sleeve and yes I'd easily be able to keep ahead of the posting schedule. 

Ahh the plans of mice, women, and men ....

Eight weeks with my dominant hand in a cast, with no writing or sustained typing possible, two stints in hospital with heart disease with several weeks of (non-writing) recovery at home each time soon chewed up the weeks I had up my sleeve. 

So here we are now ... at the coal face of invention. Hope this tale will still make sense to you ... 

25: The Stranger

Pallas cleared her throat. When she had our attention, she nodded at the stranger she’d been talking to. “Meet Luke. He says he chose to remain behind to make room for Joddy and Lem?”

The stranger, tall dark and handsome I don’t think, was tall and did have dark brown eyes with dark green glints, and dark brown hair also with dark green glints. Some bits of him—say on the pointy bit of his elbow—looked as if his skin was in the process of wearing away. Fringes of skin hung round a dark, greenish … wound?

That couldn’t be right. When as green as that, human flesh was definitely ill. The man owning the elbow didn’t look sick. I concentrated harder and blushed maybe, I certainly felt redly embarrassed. Could what looked like a wound be his actual skin? The torn overlay was a torn overlay. Probably part of life suit. Right.

But still, that meant his skin was dark green. His face wasn’t, but I couldn’t stare at it to see how he’d solved that problem—by using makeup or with a stocking-weight facemask—because he’d surely notice me staring.

I stared at Jack and Pallas and Owen instead. Even Jack behaved as though he hadn’t noticed anything different about the fellow. I frowned at his silent query, asking me what’s up?

“Did they get back?” the stranger said. “Joddy and Lem. Only it’s been about …”

The rest of what he might’ve said went lost in Marti’s outcry. “You were in that crew? Oh, I’ve had such a time waiting to meet you! Can you take me to Lotor? Ple-ase?”

She just about simpered. She certainly tried to grab Luke’s arm to get familiar.

“Splat,” Jack said. “There goes my dinner.”

“Mine too,” I said. “Though it has been a good while since we ate.” Well, I was hungry.

“No food up here,” Luke said. “I always eat in the hold. Get off me, woman!” He shrugged Marti off.

I narrowed my mind’s eyes. Would that be Luke, a dark-green stranger, attending to a pair of stowaways he wouldn’t have known even if he’d been human? Because he definitely wasn’t from Silo 23. Why?

“Man is planning something for us,” Jack said.

“Not a man,” I said right by Jack’s ear. My head in the way of anyone else hearing.

Marti pouted. About what, I wondered. Luke’s interest in us, aka the stowaways? Or had we upset her with our byplay? My brother used to throw tantrums after such pouting. Hen always said that anyone over the age of two had to plan tantrums. So probably Marti was planning something too?

When Luke joined Owen at a workstation without further interaction with either Jack and me, or Marti, Marti started to drag one of the remaining bodies toward the side of the room. “Help me,” she said. “Might as well not trip over them every time we take a step.”

Not such a silly idea as the work gave us a surreptitious opportunity to keep our eyes and ears on any action by the three EMBers.

“It’s pretty weird, this system of borrowing other people’s bodies,” Luke said at the enlivened workstation. “But I have to admit, the way you use his face makes a difference. I mean you don’t resemble Toby?”

My mind was in overdrive trying to figure out how the mind transfer thing worked. The EMBers who had their minds transferred to Lotor had worn bicycle gear. Joddy’s story was pretty sure on that. These bodies, in The Second Chance, wore bicycle gear. Did that mean that a bunch of whole body-minds went from here to Lotor? I couldn’t see it.

“Sorry,” Owen said. He introduced Pallas. “Pallas EMBer. Over there we have Jack Fetcher and Kosi Lionhair. The woman wanting to do a Joddy? Her name is Marti. I’m Owen EMBer.”

“Luke EMBer,” the stranger said not missing a beat. “Wanting-to-do-a-Joddy, what’s that?” 

Still in her buttering-up mode, Marti laughed delightedly. “Joddy came back youngering? That’s what I’m here for. I want that.”

“It’s a myth, a story put about by PP,” Owen said. “Keep our attention from what’s really happening.”

Luke stopped Owen saying anything more by stopping him with an arm across Owen’s chest. “I’d like to hear the woman’s thoughts on the matter?” He said it like he and Owen were friends.

“Three EMBers should be plenty,” Marti said. “We fly to Lotor and land planet-side. Though I’ll want to accompany you while you do your scientific experiments. I could even help. When we’re done, we return to Silo 23, then to Earth.”

“We fly to Lotor? From here?” Luke said.

He sounded incredulous.

“This is a powered silo ship, isn’t it?” Marti said. “Filled with Life Lottery winners?”

“By here, I meant from where in space this ship is currently wallowing?” Luke said.
It felt like he was laughing. Jack was starting to laugh with the guy. Pallas and Owen exchanged lightning glances when they worked out the joke. Owen went back to the enlivened workstation, to try and get some facts out of it?

I could see that everyone was going to accept Luke for what he seemed to be—a human with a patronising sense of humour. An EMBer. Someone called Luke.

Luke joined Owen. “Let me.”

He talked while he input data. “If you’re not here on a rescue mission—and this is not how I imagined how a rescue might unfold—what is your brief?”

He addressed Pallas and Owen of course. And as he had had about fifty years to practice it, his little spiel sounded quite natural.

“All due to Procyon Products gung ho,” Owen said about the brief. “Thinking they can do anything.”

“It is a rescue,” Pallas said. “But also a remediation. PP hit a snag cloning the boots. This mission is a sort of back-to-the-drawing-board attempt entailing the first part of the journey. Namely, can we transfer three people from a silo to The Second Chance and return with four people, possibly?”

“Easy,” Luke said.

Three people! “Don’t tell me you expected Bene to leave Lydia behind?” I said.

Pallas shook her head and glanced guiltily at Marti.

“And bring home an original data-waver,” Owen added.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 24. Waking Up

This time I wake lying down. I’m in a different place on the floor of the command centre, and I thought I only dreamed. Make that a command centre comes a thought. It’s similar but not the same as a Silo’s command centre. As if I would know, having experienced only Silo 23, but really, why wouldn’t all the silos be the same? There’s a problem with that thought. What other ship could it be?

I’d rather go into a lucid dream than wake up totally, but I lift my head and peer around. There seem to be a whole lot more people on the floor. I study them. Nobody I know.

Someone vaguely familiar snuffles and coughs. She opens her eyes and leaps up. She shouts. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I made it! I made it happen!” Dances around.

I get up too. She’s shorter than I am and that’s weird. Dark brown hair, brown eyes, freckles. She looks like Marti, but maybe twenty years younger? Why am I taller than her?

“Are you with the EMBers?” the Marti look-alike says.

Huh? “No!” I’m affronted. She doesn’t remember me? I grabbed my hair to tease it, the situation was seriously confronting.

What? My hair! It’s different. Longer than I am used to and it falls straight down. I pull a bit of over my face to see it.

It’s too light! I’m a russet blond, like lions, not a blond blonde. Each hair is thin and the whole mass is slippery. I hate it. How else have I changed?

I’m wearing slippery black cycling shorts and a slippery emerald green shirt. I blush because I’m also wearing a slippery sports bra. I need such a substantial bra? I breathe in and out to study my chest. I don’t want to poke and squeeze myself with the Marti-replicate watching me.

Apparently I do need such a garment. Out of sheer embarrassment, I start to catalogue the similarities and differences between Silo 23’s command module and this one.

The Marti look-alike continues to study me. “You won’t be a passenger,” she says with narrowed eyes. “I doubt that any of them are still viable.”

Whatever she is talking about. Jack and Pallas and Owen aren’t among the bodies still on the floor. I miss them desperately. And what if all these strangers don’t wake up, and I have to deal with a Marti replicate on my lonesome? I can’t see it.

The replicate apparently can’t either, because she kneels by the nearest body and starts smacking its face. “Wakey-wakey. Wake up, dear. There’s work to do.”

The command centre on Silo 23 is a simple circular shape, with all the workstations on one level. This one has a mezzanine. I see two old workstations under there. The space under the elevated part must be hell to work in. A green captain’s chair sits on top.

The dome isn’t a dome as I understand it, but a framework of thick struts and braces with a mosaic of small windows. Triple layered, I see when I step nearer at its edge where it is lower. The outside layer of each little pane of glass—if it is glass—is pocked and striated with etchings of what? Space dust? Nothing can be seen outside the starship apart from the dark.

The inside layer of glass is just plain grubby. And it’s like no one has ever wiped down the terminals, desktops or chairs. I could write my name in the dust on the monitors. There are dirt-encrusted sweat stains on all the inputting devices. I see keyboards as old as vintage, as well as a couple of pairs of unloved Big Eye specs. One of the chairs has its stuffing showing, another is so far gone that the wadding hangs from the seat. How old is this ship?

The captain’s chair looks like it has a layer of dust hovering over its moss green velvet covers. Moss green velvet? Must be an eccentric sort of captain.


Yes, hello. The replicate has succeeded in waking someone. The person is quite hesitant rising to her feet. Her expression changes to a frowning doubtful recognition when she sees the replicate. She knows Marti?

Then the stranger’s gaze snags on me.

I only see puzzlement.

If the body I’m in travelled with her on this starship, she surely would’ve recognised me? But she didn’t. She isn’t Marti because Marti is here in a younger version of herself. I work it out. If before we both woke on this new but elderly ship, we came from the same ship then she must be Pallas. It seems unsafe to put that result into words just now.

I make like I’m fluffing out my hair. The stranger nods and blinks. So that was meant to be Pallas winking? I notice the Marti-replicate studying our clumsy signing.

“What?” it said. “That child followed us here? She’ll be no use at all. I need adults. EMBers. People who know the Lotor-side protocols.”

Pallas made the kind of non-committal sound that keeps people talking when it is an ordinary conversation because they think the person listening is sympathetic to the theory being expounded on. “We should try to wake a few more people,” she said. “Find out what is going on.”

“Mmm.” This time it’s the Marti-replicate seeming to agree. It’s a very different tone from her first joyful outcry.  

Five more bodies clad in the green-and-gold sprawled at our feet. I picked someone who looks about my age, or rather the age of my present body, and knelt beside him. “Wake up, Jack.” 

It worked. A couple of minutes later, Jack’s voice interrupted me shaking him. “Stop. I’m awake.” He opened his eyes and sat up in a hurry. “Oh. I’m sorry. I thought you were a friend.” 

“It’s only with friends you are impatient?” I said.

He blushed then looked at me in a kind of horror-struck way. “You’re Kosi? Kosi Lionhair?”

I didn’t like his disbelief. Probably I blushed as well, a tide of heat rushed over me. “You aren’t anything like yourself either.”

Which had him feeling himself all over and blushing some more. “I hate bike pants.”

I left him to his discoveries. Pallas was talking with someone who didn’t remind me of Owen.

The Marti-replicate wasn’t letting her target get to his feet. “No. You need to listen to me,” she said. She sat on his chest. “I’m the reason you are here. I made this trip happen. So I deserve to get my way about the next leg of our travels.”

“The next section is back to Silo 23,” the man said.

“Sounds like Owen,” Jack said.

“What Pallas and I are contracted for,” Owen said. “And we’re contracted for taking you, Marti someone or other, back with us. The kids are supernumerary but I’m sure we’ll think of a way to get them back too.” He rolled from under Marti and got to his feet.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 23. Data-waved

With the idea of staying as far from the crazy old woman as possible, I stepped over Pallas still lying where she fell. I had no plan. Just that I wasn’t going to be tranked.

Marti followed me. I scooted toward where Jack lay near his workstation.

But Marti stopped by the airlock doors. “You don’t get tranked, you impossible little twitch. I don’t have enough of the juice. The data-waver will get you or it won’t, what do I care?”

She typed into the code-input-pad and as the doors slid aside, she tranked herself. When she was unconscious too, I hid under Jack’s desk.

A very weird sound, not like the hissing previously, came from the airlock. Huzz uzz uz ssssz..

The upside-down boot swayed through the opening at the height of Marti’s head if she’d been standing. Its thready white feelers cringed like a snail’s eyes-on-stalks when they met with Marti’s unconscious body.

It went four times round the room touching everyone and searching all the spaces in between. Marti let it know there should’ve been five unconscious people?

The wraithy tentacles drew up until they were like bunches of looped lavender-white shoelaces.

I gasped, silently I hoped, when a bunch of thick octopus-like arms uncoiled from the boot’s opening. With it came an expanding cloud of greenish, miasmal tinges and a half rotten old-boot smell. I sniffed with wide nostrils, not sure that I wouldn’t be sick. Probably seeing the air accompanying the octopus arms made the smell seem worse.

But the octopus arms themselves? I realised I’d seen them coiled up in the boot when I was still in the hold. Their warty skin pouched and flexed as the boneless appendages, four of them, straightened as far as they were going to. Not all that far because they twisted and twined together as the boot approached Pallas.

Oh no! The boot descended until it hovered about an arm’s length above Pallas’s head. The octopus arm tips, about the shape and size of my fingertips, explored Pallas’s face. Would she wake?

She did not and the boot dropped in a fell move so that its arms coiled over Pallas’s face, enveloping it totally. Was it killing her? Couldn’t be eating her. One difference from real octopus arms, I couldn’t see any suckers.

The arms loosened and the boot rose with its little wings going as fast as hummingbird wings. The boot flew to Owen next. Must be doing people in order of size? Biggest to smallest meant Marti would be last.

I studied Pallas. She still breathed with a steady pattern of her chest rising and falling. A healthier rhythm it seemed to me than the stupor that the trank caused. She must’ve been feeling better even while unconscious, because she had a friendly smile!

What will I do when I’m totally alone with nine hundred and ninety nine people tranked and or put to sleep by the boot? Even if I could trick the boot back into the airlock and discover how to contact Moon Base, will Moon Base even listen to me? Will Earth even want to know me, considering no one ever came back from a Life Lottery flight barring Joddy and Lem? And I bet that they tightened the rules so that that can’t happen again.

The boot rose higher after it finished with Owen. I snapped my gaze to him. He breathed well too and smiled. The boot hovered as if it couldn’t make up its mind. Does it even have a mind?

The boot went to Marti when I thought Jack would’ve been next. Maybe I can save Jack. Pull him with me under the desk. What if the boot came under the desk and discovered me? Anyway it’s a no go. Jack is too big. And also the boot already knows him.

I scooted past Jack to Owen. Hissed, “Owen, Owen, wake up!” Might as well be shaking a sack of sand. He isn’t at home. Help! The boot has finished with Marti and is swaying toward Jack. I will be alone though everyone was already asleep barring me. I assumed that the trank would wear off and they’d all wake for us to continue with our trip if you could call it that. Be better if Marti didn’t wake.

What if Earth-side won’t come to pick us up from the silo? Pallas and Owen surely will be able to contact Moon Base for the EMBers to rescue us if Earth Base doesn’t, because we’re in a Silo and meant not to come back. I chew the side of my hand. Can’t make up my mind. Time is running out.

I do need to be with the others. I clambered over Owen and lie down in the space between him and Pallas, Jack at my feet. Marti is over by the airlock doors. Closed my eyes. I do not want to see.

Yes I do. I do want to see. Open wide. Here it comes. Its swaying octopus arms find me. I hold myself very stiff but can’t stop my tremble.

The octopus arms drag their single fingertips over me but I barely feel them. Then the boot is above my chin. Just one of the arms reaches forward with its finger-like end. I see it’s more like an elephant’s trunk tip than a finger. I can still think but at the same time I’m shuddering like a buggy about to fall from the wall.

The octopus-arm’s elephant’s trunk tip strokes me. How ridiculous are all those words coming one after another? But it does. The octopus-arm strokes me along my cheek. Like it’s saying something comforting in a totally alien language. I don’t know what, but I feel calmer. I stop gulping air. I close my mouth and try to breathe normally. Concentrate on that.

The boot hovers right over my face now. The four arm tips all stroke me so softly and so consistently that often I lose my place attending. The very fine hair on my face is hardly displaced so while I hardly feel their touch, I feel very good inside. Warm. Calm. Peaceful.

So much to look at. The arm tip stroking my forehead presses down my eyelids about every third stroke. I understand distantly that the boot wants me to close my eyes. I can’t stop staring into the well at the centre of the arms.

Each of the arms has a tree-structure of flat pink coral growing against their inside and lead my stare further in to the surface of the well—I don’t know how it works—which is a long way above me ... their fractal branching lead my stare back to their beginnings at the wellhead, where each coral organism sprouts forth from a short trunk.

The surface of the well is pastel green and divided into a field of four equal quarters by an intersecting slit where the ends of the slits feed into the base of each short coral trunk branching out and out though the canopy-edges don’t touch those of the other arms. They stay separate.

All the stroking blends together and the view is getting pretty fuzzy. I might as well close my eyes.

The boot outwitted me because I don’t feel the exactness of what happens next. If I had I would’ve been distraught probably. It sucked me up through the well?

I wake standing upright on a transparent floor. Above me are four walls that draw together to an apex. I am inside a pyramid. Below me are four more walls drawing together to an apex. That pyramid is inverted and cleaved to the one I’m in. There’s a name for such a shape. Perhaps I’ll remember it. The boot holds my hand with one of its boneless soft arms and will show me around, it thinks at me.

It raises its front end, the bit with its eyes, to show where I should look. Overhead, on a couple of adjacent sides of the upper pyramid, is a meadow of green and brown mosses mixed with golden and lavender coloured lichens. Various creatures just as strange as the boot graze and harvest and nibble the delicacies they find among the vegetation.

They remind me of a troop of baboons I once saw in a documentary. Then I see a doll-like manikin among them that drags a huge arm and hand. How uncomfortable that must be. All the creatures, I realise while scooting my gaze from one to the other, are much stranger than baboons. They wave at the boot and chatter amongst themselves and I don’t recognise any of the sounds they make.

Through the floor I see a captain’s chair capsized so it is upside down, and though I might be making that up, it is at least twice as big as the human-sized captain’s chair on Silo 23. We approach a circle in the floor. Reminds me of a porthole though it’s big enough to step through which evidently we do. One of the boot’s other arms, other than the one holding onto me, strokes my attention away from asking how.

The boot shows off the chair. Everything you could possible need to drive this alien spaceship hangs off its back or is inset in the armrests and it seems to be covered with the same mouldy kind of material that the boot is made of. Beside it, there’s another of the step-through portholes.

Travelling through at least three places—with wonders unremembered there are so many—we arrive in a quadrant where two inward sloping walls are inset with a gallery of sleeping slots for each of the creatures on the ship. They remind me of bunks. Well, not the shape of regular bunks. The boot shows me its sleeping slot, a tight fit that is shaped like an upside-down boot, where it goes to recharge.

Right there on the wall beside it, its sister has her slot, my boot tells me. This sister now climbs out to meet me. They are identical except for their colour. Is the boot itself female too? I ask.

All the creatures are female apart from himself

Himself? I want to ask.

Do you like my sister’s colours, my boot asks.

I think I must have frowned a little at their by now obvious strategy. Something is wearing off in me, I fear.

Both the boots together smoothe my brow. The boot’s sister’s toad-skin is lavender. Its warts are red. Not sure if I like it as much as the green-tinted arms. The outer covering, what I would call the leather, is moss dark.

The sister-boot takes my other hand.

Humans don’t understand how we work, she says.

The boot that brought me says, I wave patterns from a star outward and all the arcs therefrom. My sister waves patterns inward. She will wave you humans back to your first ship. Each of us can work only one direction.

My thoughts stutter over what I don’t know. Our first ship? What’s the second one when it is at home? The waving. Refers to the data-waving? From a star outward? That must mean then that because we are still in the Solar System, and the boot from Silo 23 referenced Sol, our sun, that she data-waved us from Silo 23 to the Second Chance.

Neither of the boots has a mouth to speak with. They look at me and I think their thought. Both the boots think smile-thoughts at me.

You know so much more already than the patterns that came with you.

The boot sisters herd me toward the porthole in this quadrant.

I go because the arms that aren’t holding me twine and coil. The creatures’ warts pulse. Though I’d really really like to find out how the quadrant thing works. I was in five or six different spaces, and in my primitive mind two pyramid shapes stuck together at their bases have four quadrants?

The boot sisters stroke my hands, one each. It’s time to join your friends and wake up.