Half Shaman, 7
Links to Previous Chapters:
1: Vigil 2: Wake Up Call 3: ArkShip in the Night
4: The Yellow City Dream 5: In the White Cell, Still
6: Soowei's Story
In recalling Soowei, Jeb's ancestress, Jeb recalls how Soowei's amulet passed down to her. She wonders how the ship will signal to her.
7: The Round-Up
Soowei made herself ask the next thing. “What’s a round-up?”
Her father frowned. “It’s all the towns sending all individuals of a certain age group to a certain place. They are never seen again. Even the guards that look after them aren’t heard of again. The planet tells the ship it is necessary because we are outstripping our resources.” He swallowed. “This time it is all young people aged fourteen to eighteen.”
Soowei sat again. When had she got up? She felt faint. “We’re such a little population. Eight villages. If they are never heard of again it means they are killed, doesn’t it?”
During one part of the nightmare she’d felt herself in a frightened crowd, a claustrophobic crush. A reddish glow hung over them. Some coughed, as though the glow had dust in it. “I think the planet has been waiting to catch me.”
“Hush a bye baby,” he said. “A dream?” He held out one of the tourniquets. Showed her the place to tie it on his arm. Swabbed his arm with the rubbing alcohol.
“Nightmare,” she said.
“Tighter.” He handed her a table knife to slide under the bandage and twist it, to help restrict the blood flow. He took up a scalpel. Sliced into his arm below the constriction. Dropped the blade and gripped the wound together. “Ah!” He grimaced pursed-lipped.
Soowei swallowed. She wouldn’t feel faint. She wouldn’t feel faint. Her father prodded in his wound. The edges bled despite the tourniquet.
He lay the chip onto the bit of alcohol-sodden swab. Took up the needle. “Help me with this? With that?” He glanced toward his pocket knife. He poked a hole into his flesh, into the opposite side of the cut. Drew the edges together with a knot. “Now.”
She pinched the thread together and inserted the knife tip. Pulled. Snap. Three times. Three stitches.
“Bandage,” he said.
She wound it round his arm. Firmly. It turned red straightaway he released the tourniquet. “It’ll do for now,” he said. He picked up the second tourniquet. “Roll up your sleeve, Petal.”
His nick name for her. She would never hear it again. If she cried she would be lost as well. She clenched her teeth against the sting of the blade. Looked away from the blood – her blood! – flowing.
He shoved something into the wound. The chip. It felt as big as a groat pea.
The sewing was almost unbearable. Five stitches. Ten holes. She was crying now. “More stitches than you got.” As if he hadn’t sewed himself up. She laughed, blubbering.
He slathered alcohol over the wound.
She managed to not cry out.
“There.” He’d bandaged her without her noticing. “Wrap the tourniquet over mine? Better not leave a trail.”
She knew exactly what he meant. Leave a blood trail and the planet will have you. “What will you do?” She asked him, dry-mouthed. Whatever he did, she already knew how it would end.
He wedged the scalpels and the needles in the wall. Places that he years ago had carved into the soft cement. “Chicken curry,” he said. “Your favourite.” Set the bowl in front of her. Put the spoon in her hand as if she was three again.
She laughed. It meant he’d shaped the tofu mix into little chickens. The only way he’d got her to eat the eternal tofu. Their town had six hens. They were far too precious to eat. The hens laid four eggs a day and Soowei had eaten approximately one egg in her life so far. Everybody was on the list.
“Got the satchel? Yes,” he answered himself, fetching it to the table.
She frowned. “You knew a long time ago this was going to happen? When you told me to take the satchel everywhere I went, to get people accustomed?”
“Perhaps the ship was getting some advance warnings,” he said. “Ben Cloff takes size eight boots. Take them. The planet shouldn’t know you among the rest.”
He never called the planet by the name the settlers picked for it. Glade. He figured it would have its own name for itself. Anyway it was wishful thinking they’d ever turn it into a glade.
“My leather gloves.” He put them in the satchel. “Same as the boots. Good for climbing the mountain. The pegasee live at the top. Could be they’ll help you. Food.” He put in three thick carrots and a round turnip. “Ben Cloff again, good gardener.” Last he put in his pocket knife.
She made a noise of disagreement.
“I won’t need it again. I won’t be leaving the town. That way neither the town nor the planet nor the ship will know what I did. The committee will shortly make the announcement and everyone will suddenly be busy dealing with that. You should go now, Soowei.”
He rose and she rose. He rolled down her sleeve. He hugged her hugging him. A big sob escaped her.
“Remember how much I love you, Soowei. And how much your mother loved you. If she hadn’t wrapped you in her shawl, the only thing not blood-stained, the planet might have taken you too. You lay in a little nest she made in the grasses. Go now, Soowei, my child of the swaying grasses.”
He pushed her toward the door.
Like my father pushed me toward the door of his room. He gave me his serious words while he cut himself, then me, and held my wound closed after he transferred the amulet into me. What Soowei’s father called the chip. What Soowei thought the size of a groat pea. That same object, flat, slightly rectangular. Amulet is the shaman word.
My father shut his bedroom door between him and me. I stayed there, behind the door. I heard him walk into my mother’s sick room. Heard her bed’s springs squeak from his weight. He was gone within days. My mother hated him then, for leaving her to die alone in his death-bed.
Uncle Puma, finding me so, took me to the Shaman School to get the right of it. To have the amulet transplanted from me into him, he thought. The Head Shaman sent him away.
One hundred of the amulets came down with the settlers. Who knows how few still exist? The Shamans once upon a time tried to keep track. It became too depressing.
The amulets apparently help to make a person known to the ship. It can’t mean that the ship doesn’t need to signal back because how would I know that the ship knew, or heard me, if it was to plan an event? I’m confused.