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.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 22. Pallas and Owen

Owen glanced at Marti in such a way that made me think that maybe he decided that since Marti needed him to start the engines and then probably to fly the craft, he was safe making a couple of demands himself. “Starting her up, I’ll need everyone involved,” he said.

Marti gestured with the tranquilising gun. “The supernumerary baggage will have to do you.”

“Kids?” Owen said to us.

“Nice of you to ask,” Jack said.

Owen nodded. “As I said, for this to work we can’t have supernumeraries.”

Right. Got it. Jack too, he straightened up like he came to attention. We’re not collateral baggage.

“Pallas,” Owen said. “I need you to be the runner plus the eye-baller. You’ll be checking by way of the blisters that the thrusters fire in their proper sequences. Jack and Kosi and I will input the sequences.”

He saw us to our very own input stations either side of him, then addressed Marti. Or maybe the space above her head. “I’m sorry, but I’ve decided that we’ll do the firing sequences in-house, so to speak, rather than trusting Moon Base’s AI to feed it out to us?”

Owen said, seeming to ask without asking. Neat trick. I’d have to practice that some day.

“My contacts on Moon Base will wonder,” Marti said.

“Let them. This tin can is a silo and it will be punching above its weight. You can tell them that,” Owen said. “Better we catch any glitch as it happens than be left wondering where the program went wrong at the end with the ‘craft’ not operational.”

I almost laughed. Marti said her bit like she meant to threaten. Owen said his blandly like he stated a fact. Different threats, I’m sure. He meant that Silo 23 was still only a freight warehouse built on the Moon and meant to spend its life in a small area of space near to Earth, the Moon and the top of the space elevator. Punching above its weight meant we’d be going further?

“A silo is usually a stack of doughnuts,” Owen said. “Command centre on top. Each doughnut is fitted with six little supplementary rockets. Distributed over the whole hull in a hexagonal pattern.”

“When there’s no rear thrust assembly like in a space-faring ship,” Jack said. “Why are they called supplementary?”

“Good question I don’t know the answer to,” Owen said.

“Most ships have them even when they have more powerful arrangements for the actual travelling,” Pallas said. “Mostly supplementary rockets are used exactly the way silos use them, moving around in cramped anchorages. It’s become a habit to call them supplementary.” She patted the side of the silo. “Good girl. You’ll be a champion.”

That made three references, however vague, to us going beyond the anchorage. I concentrated on my input monitor. It looked like it was slaved—I looked along the row of monitors—yes, Owen had slaved both Jack’s and my keyboards to his set-up. He didn’t need us after all?

Owen gripped my wrist. “The silo is made up of the six doughnuts, remember? Jack, you’re firing 1, I’m doing 2. Kosi, you’re firing 3. Then Jack again with 4, me with 5, and Kosi with 6. I’ve slaved your input boards to mine to help us get our timing spot on.”

“Okay,” I said.

He released my wrist and grinned. “I’ll be doing a bit of reading in between, the code. Need you both totally with me, ready to switch on my say-so? Which will probably not be a shout. More a continuation of my usual mumble when I need to read code very fast.”

“We can do that,” Jack said. “If you’ll at least sign-post by e-nun-ci-ate-ing the firing command clearly. A useful word I learnt in Fetcher School designed to do away with garbled messages no one could understand.”

Jack blushed but I backed him up. “Yes. That. A fast mumble will not get it done.”

Pallas, just behind us, laughed. “They’ve got you there.”

Marti, behind Pallas, scowled. “Less of the talking, more of the doing. I want to see us underway. We have long light years to go.” She laughed at her joke whatever that was.

Owen and Pallas exchanged a lightning told-you-so look.

“So, yes. We’d better get the show on the road,” Owen said. He keyed out a few commands and his monitor started to stream what looked like source code.

Every so often, a bit flicked to my or Jack’s monitors. “Pertaining to your sequences. Don’t bother reading. I’ve got it,” Owen said. As if I would have time to make head or tail out of it.

I listened to him mumbling through it instead and kept my eyes glued on the unending and meaningless, to me, stream of letters and words. Waiting for his clearly enunciated command to Jack.

“Firing Sequence 1,” Owen said. Jack had his fingers ready over the right keys. Pressed them down. A roar started spiralling down the hull. Owen pressed his own sequence as he said mine. “Firing Sequence 3.” Two more roars spiralled down on parallel paths.

Owen ignored Pallas running from blister to blister and shouting, “Check!” “Check!” “Check!” and the increasing sound echoing through the hull.

He said, “Firing system 4.” Jack totally ready again.

“Firing system 5,” Owen said perhaps to warn me as he pressed his keys.

“Firing sequence 6.” Which I input as he said it, so that the sixth roar started its spiralling downward path until all the supplementary rockets roared together.

“Good work,” Owen said. “I can see that I’ll have to make you work harder, Kosi. To not give you a second to get distracted.”

Jack frowned at me.

I shrugged. “I did find time to think of other things. What’s with the spiralling?”

“It’s how the ignition is wired up,” Pallas said. “Your last sequence began with Number 6 rocket in the top row. Then Number 1 in the second row, Number 2 in the third row, Number 3 …”

“….awk!

Weird sound for Pallas to make? I turned.

Pallas lay unconscious on the floor. Marti removed the trank gun from Pallas’s thigh and jumped for me.

I threw myself sideways off my chair.

Marti changed the angle of her arm and set the trank gun against Owen’s shoulder. Didn’t pull the trigger, I guess. “Stop the engines!” she said.

“What if I don’t?” Owen said.

Marti shoved the trank gun across Owen’s back and hit Jack in his forearm.

Jack slumped and fell off his chair. Marti checked the amount still in the gun with a lightning glance. She set the trank back onto Owen. “Better we know where our bodies are approximately, don’t you think?”

Huh?


Owen had no such puzzlement. He hit ESCAPE and all sounds on the hull stopped. Marti hit him with the trank juice and he slid down his chair and onto the floor.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 21. Collateral Damage


 Jack tweaked my sleeve. Glanced toward Owen, telling me to glance likewise.

Owen sent me an electrical current. Well I guess he wished he could’ve. He opened his eyes wide and fierce and zapped me with a stare of one second or less.

Well, pardon me for not attending. “What. Is. Her. Plan? Ask her,” he mouthed.

I almost told him to ask her himself. But then I thought who other than Pallas and the man himself can ask the hard questions? A question coming from a just-a-kid would sound more … innocent? “Have you got a plan?” I said.

Marti turned, hesitating. She looked like she cast about for something to say. Huh. Why would Owen trust her to tell the truth?

She laughed. “I suppose you kids tacked yourself onto the parade because you thought we were going to Moon Base? I bet you thought to catch a free ride up the elevator. And for what? To see what you could see?”

The rest had the presence of mind to look stunned. But I boiled. “You couldn’t be more wrong about us!”

Marti chortled. “You’re nothing but a couple of ordinary stowaways. You’ll see. And see and see. But only by looking out of the dome as we go by.”

Stupidly my attention followed her finger pointing out the blister-ports. Windows shaped like, and no bigger than soup bowls dotted the circumference of the silo just below where it curved into a dome.  

“You’ll see the stars forever and ever, all the time different ones. But forever is a long time. Probably you won’t last that long. Should’ve looked before you leapt.” She glanced back.

Her mistake. I saw with her that she was a backward pace from the airlock. She’d glanced back to see her progress. We had all been adjusting our place in the circle in relation to her. She’d been creeping toward an objective that we still didn’t know.

 “What are you talking about?” Jack said. “A silo can only be tethered?”

Marti leapt for the left-side airlock keypad and with leaping fingers input a password.  She grabbed Bene’s sleeve. “Come with me, dear. Let me give you your heart’s desire.”

“What? No!” Bene struggled. “What would you know?”

Jack was at the opposite side of the door, at the keypad there. Superfluous engineering wins the day.

Marti laughed. “It’s no good, Fetcher. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I code-pressed the door system.”

I pulled Bene’s other arm to help her free herself. How strong could an old woman be? The airlock door slid open.

 “I’ll take you to your lover, of course,” Marti said. “Have you data-waved so you’ll meet on Lotor?”

“Stop that, Kosi,” Bene said. “That is my heart’s desire.”

The cynical expression on Marti’s face told me all I needed to know. I pulled harder. Marti slid a tranquilising gun from her pocket. “Dear dear, I hadn’t bargained on having to trank anyone quite so soon.”

Her talking allowed Jack to pull me away. Had Marti meant that to happen or were we too quick for her?

Marti entered the airlock with Bene following her and the door slid shut.

“You!” Jack said, shaking me. “Why do you always insist taking things to the limit? That stupid old woman could’ve done you real harm!”

“With a trank shot? What is your problem?” I said.

“You’re nearly half the size of an adult,” Jack said. “Ever had an adult-sized dose?”

I blushed from fury. Meaning, I got extremely hot from my chest up. Which has always translated into a blush when I checked a mirror. I didn’t need a mirror now. “Am not! Anyway, you’re not much bigger, Jacqui Fetcher!”

“Quit that bickering,” Pallas said. “You both together elicited the lengths the woman will go to and her weapon of choice. We can probably find something that’ll neutralise it.”

“Why did you?” Owen said. “Take things to the limit?”

“Remember how I grew up in a Tween House? Saw the same five people dawn to dusk every day of my life until I escaped. How come a Fetcher can’t read a face better than I can?”  I said at Jack.

I didn’t give him the opportunity to comment. “Marti has no intention of taking Bene anywhere! She’ll do the deed right there and call the data-waver to the airlock?” I made it a question to force them to think of the possibilities.

Still in bickering mode, Jack said, “So we don’t open the airlock?”

Two could play that game. “She code-pressed the doors?” I said.

Owen fiddled with his fingers by the side of his left eye. Probably adjusting his contact lens input system. Pallas too. They looked at each other with horror before they saw me staring.

Pallas tried to master her face. Owen not. “My apologies, Kosi Lionhair,” he said. “My apologies, Jack Fetcher.”

“The old woman has told you what’s what, has she?” I said. Why didn’t they realise that the old woman had had the upper hand the minute Bene capitulated?

“Threatening us with the data-waver,” Owen said. “Which she has penned up in the airlock, she says.”

“So where is she?” I couldn’t believe that the spy would want to be in the airlock with the data-waver.

“She’s gone to rout out the crew, get them to over-ride the flight sequence,” Pallas said, sounding distant. Like she had one too many shocks.

“A silo has a flight sequence?” Jack said.

“How else would it get to its mooring?” Owen said.

“By tug, I thought?” Jack said.

“Only when they are new and being delivered. Easier to have silos fitted with a basic jet propulsion system. Cheaper than running a tug every single move they make,” Owen said. “Check out the observation blisters.”

Jack and I ran to opposite sides of the dome, to the blister-ports. The little domes of triple-thick plastic glass allowed us to see down along the hull. Peering askance I saw a thruster-hood extrude. “Got one,” I said. “Not that far below the dome.”

“One here about a third of the way below the dome,” Jack said. “How many all told?”

“Six spirals of six on this model,” Marti said.

Had Owen and Pallas really just allowed the old woman waltz in? Lightning-quick, I checked their faces. Guilty as charged. Whose employ were they in?

“We’ll need to run the engines from up here,” Marti said. “The crew were quite obstreperous.”

“Meaning the crew has been data-waved?” I said, continuing in my ignorant-child mode of getting information.

“You’ve got that quite wrong,” she said. “True, the hovering thing is the data-waver. But what it’s doing with those long white wraithy tentacles, is putting people into stasis, and then seeding them with the lavender fungi. Making food for its people. That was its function when it was at home and it doesn’t know any better than to continue with that.”

I asked the next question presenting itself. “Who are its people?”

Marti laughed. “They live at Zoo Hall in Brisbane. You should ask your EMBer friends.”

I suppose she expected me to ask that question next. But our EMBers would keep. “So how does it do the data-waving?”

“Different set of tentacles,” she said.

I remembered my view of the boot from under it. The different-sort-of-tentacles had to be the warty pulsing mass in the boot’s ankle. They suggested something horrible. I shuddered.

 “That’s enough chat from the useless luggage,” Marti said. “You and your boyfriend should keep out of my way. It wouldn’t do for me to have to trank you.”

“Why wouldn’t it?” Jack said.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Marti breathed deep and spritzed the hypodermic to show us our fate.

Wasting the contents. The stuff in it was down by two thirds. She’d had to trank a lot of the crew because their only other option was the data-waver? Why did they resist if we were only going to a silo anchorage? “Can you recover from stasis when you’ve been seeded with fungi?” I said. It didn’t seem likely.

Marti came into the middle of the room. To be able to reach any of us with a small leap, I decided. She kept the trank at the ready. “You EMBers had better start working out how to start the engines,” she said. “My contacts at Moon Base will probably help if you ask them nicely. But make sure that that is all you do.”

“Start the engines?” Owen said. “Right.”

But wait, did Marti the spy just co-opt Pallas and Owen into her scheme, whatever it was? I watched the EMBers like a hawk. Surely they knew that they needn’t play along if we all rushed Marti together, something that we could organise with a couple of glances?

Owen face-forwarded with Pallas over the nearest computer input station. With hardly any trial-and-error, he set up for the Moon Base link. Telling me he’d done it all before. That he’d practised for this. That this was part of what the Pallas and Owen team were here for.

I wouldn’t have minded being near Jack for company. I felt like a fisher on a rock, all on my lonesome. Which was one of Hen’s sayings to describe being alone and highly visible to the wrong people?