Half Shaman, 1
This story takes place on Lotor, an imaginary planet, in a real star system. The meaning of the name will help you discover the name of the star. But that's necessary only if you want to know ahead of time. It's the first draft. Comments on glitches are welcome. I'm still looking for some good art to accompany these posts.
Jeb gulped water. She flailed and splashed but sank to the top of her head. She hit a wall with her knuckles. Rose. Breathed, big gulps of air. Saw the sky, a round dark disk. No stars. Called. “Help!” Heard a couple of someones running away, their feet pounding on the hard dust of the central yard.
She trod the water faster, to keep her head above it. OldEarth water was thinner than Lotor’s treacle-like stuff. The OldEarth-born ate Lotor’s water from a spoon. She bent her neck. Sucked. Cool melt-in-her-mouth water with hardly a scent or flavour.
No cistern-woman would ever tolerate someone dunking in a cistern. Accidental or not, Jeb would be hauled to the magister, sentenced to waste and water carrying for the rest of her time.
But this was a dream. She stayed upright by paddling with her hands. She hated the nightly drowning.
The sides of this dream-well were dressed stone. Impossible. Lotor’s thirst for OldEarth’s water was legendary. Lotor would suck a human dry … say a man wandered home drunk between a pair of villages and misstepped from the path … Lotor would’ve tossed aside his husk by the time the man’s friends decided to save him. A story of course. As a child Jeb always wondered how. But anyway, real cisterns had a seamless metal envelope inside the stone walls. How did this water not soak away between the dry-laid stones?
I opened my eyes. Only while dreaming can I still be Jeb and even that isn’t my real name. I tipped my head back to see the state of the day by the light in the narrow window in the wall opposite the door. Grey. Dawn. Anything useful in the dream? The fact that everything followed logically could mean something. Not dream-like.
Be still. Don’t move. Study what is different about the day. I listened.
Sounds in the cell next door. I’ve been here for three years and now they put a prisoner in the next cell? Does it mean they have discovered me? Who I am? What I am? During my first week here, guards told me every day they’d be fixing the gap between the top of the share-wall and the ceiling. Nothing was ever done.
Suspicion that they left it undone purposely flares through me. It took them all this time to find the right informant? The gap is about the height of a ten-cube, enough that I hear every move the new prisoner makes. He’s snoring. He snuffles sometimes. Did a guard break his nose to make me believe he is not in their pay? There’s clinking. He is in chains.
In other words, he’s meant to be dangerous. I grin silently. He has to be dangerous, to be next to me. I creep out of bed. Sling my cloak around me. I sit against the opposite wall, cross-legged.
“I heard you, you fucker,” the man says.
Perhaps my cloak made a noise slithering down the wall. I doubt he’d call me 'you fucker', if he knew that I am female.
“You’re the shaman,” he says. “It’s up to you to save me.”
“What?” I’m so astounded I forget I’m supposed to be a young man. But, not expecting a higher register, he appears not hear my girlish voice.
“You’re the shaman that people out there talk about,” he says.
A cold breeze blows through my sinuses. I don’t even ask what the people out there are saying. “I’m not a shaman. I was kidnapped from the school after only three years training.”
“Half shaman, then. Fucker. Couple of hundred of Lotor-born sleep in the right-hand yard. A Field of Dreams is their destination and you know what happens there, I suppose?”
I don’t say a word of what I know.
“The fifty totems in the left-most yard want saving. You know more about the supposed escape than what all of us together can come up with. I picked a fight so I could get in here alongside you. If you do nothing, I’ll be taken to the Field of Dreams with the worn-out Lotor-spawn. So get your act together and save us. Me in particular.”
I narrow my mind’s eyes. Him fighting in the OldEarth-born yard, or him fighting in the Lotor-born yard makes a big difference to whom he might be. Perversely, I niggle at his logic. “If you hadn’t picked a fight …?”
“The salt mines. No one comes back from there, either.”
With that he tells me he picked his fight among the OldEarth-born.
Clink. Clink. “Something going on outside. Damn it, I can’t reach the window.”
At night I stand below my window and look up to see the stars. I look for a fast moving speck crossing the sky. The ArkShip. Never seen it yet. To see the exercise yards at the base of the building, I need to step up onto the piss-pot, grab the bars in the window hole, cling to them and wedge my elbows into the window hole. Press my right toe in a depression in the stones worn there by every prisoner ever in this cell.
Spread-eagled, I can see out. “The Lotor-born are being encouraged to stand up. They that need it are helped quite gently. They are allowing themselves be marshalled into rough lines. There’s a soldier doling out hunks of bread.”
“To chew during their walk,” the prisoner says.
“Their gates remain shut. It seems to me that they are being trained in the lining-up process.”
“If the guards don’t come to get me in the next three minutes, you’ll have till tomorrow to spare me from the salt mines.”
I sit down again, hunching my cloak around me. I’m chilled by the sight of the Lotor-born cast out from their villages for being sick, lame, old and unproductive, and being ministered by prison guards.