Half Shaman, 10
|Squad of Meerkats|
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 7: The Round-Up 8: The Meerkat Totem
9: The Narrow Yard
Continuing to sing of Lotor in a derogatory way, according to the guards, Jeb is hustled from the narrow yard. How will she escape?
10: The Black Cell
Three guards hustle me into the building. Not up the stairs. They walk me past a bunch of offices, what I can see of them, desks, chairs behind. They remind me of the cells upstairs. Same size, place, same orientation. At the end a door, at right angles to where Tayne’s cell is upstairs. Is there such a door upstairs as well? This door is yanked open and I am thrust in. Door slams. I am in the dark.
Pitch dark, though I see lots of after-perceptions to begin with. The shapes of the men in the enclosure in their opposite colours. Sand-coloured, they uncannily resemble the dun clothed Lotor-born melting into a Field of Dreams. I blink that uncomfortable vision away and in its place I see the fencing zig-zagging everywhere. In its opposite colouring it’s a zinging blue. I don’t recall that it was yellow? It zig-zags over a face and the diamond shapes within the outlines peel slowly away. I know what I’m looking at.
Then I hear the singing. Strong, many voiced singing that lifts my spirits. It’s the men in the cage because they sing the Meerkat Totem. Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Charged with caring, a meerkat protects the young. Charged with food gathering, a meerkat leads the foraging. Carry your family, carry yourself. Who reaches the top, reaches down for the rest.
I hear the whole thing through before I realise they are inserting words. I listen harder. A creeping has begun of something up over my feet. Charged with surveillance, we will slip away. Charged with caring, slip away from our guards.
The sound is fading because they are moving away. They’ve been started on their journey. I shift my feet and rub one off with the other. Cockroaches? Slaters? What else lives in the dark? Charged with food gathering, we make for the city by the mountains. Carry your family, walk twelve kilometres to the small platform and thirteen more both into the setting sun. Who reaches the large platform, set your face north. Walk twenty five more.
They will slip away from their guards and make for the Yellow City, fifty kilometres distant. Telling me the way. Can I walk fifty kilometres? I’m already walking at a fast clip on the spot in the little area near the door. Weird that I don’t feel any crisp carapaces under my feet.
No. The cull. The population cull. Soowei’s story. I laugh, then I snivel. I warned my Meerkats to steer away from Lotor’s maw and I am in one myself?
The sound of my painful laughter rises as if up a chimney. How tall is this cell? Almost there are echoes. I find out why the echoes as soon as I fling out my arms to explore. Ouch! I hit a wall with the tips of my fingers. Every second row is made of squared stones, the length breadth and depth of my forefinger when measured from the outside, knuckle to fingertip. Ten-cubes, the shamans call these. The rows between are doubles, two ten-cubes long. Bricks, just the thing to cobble me a little platform to sit on. Survival must be first.
And that is definitely the reason why they made the walls so tall, I think. That temptation by every escapee to break down the walls to get them underfoot. I continue exploring, shifting my feet little by little keeping the speed of their moving steady. I brush my finger tips up the wall. All building stone is split from the mountains Lotor extrudes. The Shamans think they are the planet’s wastes. I want there to be missing stones, or stones laid crookedly. Places where I can get my fingers into, to pull. One unevenly laid cube will give me an in. I ignore the fact I do not have any tools. The walls are well-laid and blank as high as I can reach.
I’m starting to feel my feet. My feet and my legs always the first to give up. When my big toes don’t make it off the ground, I need to bend to wipe away the creep by hand. No idea of the time outside and why would I care? How many kilometres already have I walked in here?
For a change I sweep my hands down the wall though I don’t want to go to ground level. Having Lotor’s hungry sand as close as the soles of my feet is near enough. Wait. Felt something. A couple of ten-cubes sticking out. A rim a fingernail-width deep, two cubes wide. Two cubes further, another such interruption. And another two cubes further, that same row again. Three of the strange configurations.
How high are they?
Five ten-cubes, they finish a single cube’s height above the level of the sand. The picture I’m getting is vertical bars with the cubes between them sticking out, as if they were fitted in after the original build. I was wrong. The walls aren’t high because they were built to be a prison cell. I bet there’s a similar set of structures on both other walls. But not the wall with the door in it.
Bent over, I high-step along the walls with my knees hitting my chest every step. Thud. Thud. I’ll be black and blue if I live that long. I brush the stones with my fingertips, feeling for the irregularities introduced when the gaps were filled. Yes. Here and here. Leaning into the nearest corner, I un-crick my back in stages because I must not forget to step. Can I rest my two feet on the nearest ledges set as they are at right angles, minuscule though they are?
Anything for the little break from the walking action. I’m in an evaporation tower that has its air intake grates bricked in. Not a prison cell at all. Will it help, this knowing? It must. Each of the intake sections has twenty cubes, sixty per grate … I picture the intake vents made to look like grates in a house I once knew. Three grates making one hundred eighty cubes.
My feet keep slipping off. The creep is winning. The height of the evaporation tower will be three storeys. It was made by the OldEarth-born. There will be no getting through the walls. No getting through the ground floor air intakes low to the ground, with their three-slotted structure. The height of the house in this case is two storeys. I know that from being outside, briefly. The ground floor walls have two interlocking skins of bricks to carry the weight of the second storey. A single skin of stones above, to lighten the load.
I can make myself a little floor and try to live forever on no food and no water because the guards won’t feed me in here.