Half Shaman, 16
|Meerkat, Totem Image, Threatening Posture|
The group waiting on the second platform is larger than Jeb expected and she makes for the only vacant place she can see. She crumples to the ground, screaming with pain ...
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 10: The Black Cell 11: Escape
12: The Creeping Desert 13: The Love-struck Loon 14: What I Know
15: Ant's Idea
16: The Automatic Transponder
By the time I climb up onto the new mushroom-shaped platform, about four times the diameter of the previous one, Ant has organised a couple of people to stand by at the top. One of them smiles gently. One of them smiles fiercely.
The gentle one is big, older than us. A twin, all the way to his smile, stands behind him. “Lithe and Limber we are, Shaman.”
The fierce one is young, like Ant and Mongoose and me. They help me to my feet, gentle and fierce, and I walk toward the centre of the platform. About a dozen and a half more than the four people that Ant said there would be, are camped around a central depression.
The fierce one and the gentle one release my arms and I, feeling hemmed in by being suddenly among so many, make for that space.
Set foot on it.
“Aa-eeehhh!” A knife hacks into my arm!
I jerk back, but, too late, I fall. Pain! Pain! My arm screams. Knife blade worries at my bone. I fall. Scream. Hurt! Hurt! Hurt! Screech! Ee-eeh! Men, women, boys, friends surround me. Reaching, holding, shouting. Pandemonium in slow motion. Their mouths move.
I do not hear. Pain only is talking and I didn’t even sing for it.
But that reminds me. Yes. There’s a patterning in the pain. Stabbing repeats. “Signal,” I gasp. I see Lithe, his face near mine on the glassy ground. “There’s letters!” I gasp. Sob. Scream into him. “A signal!”
Lithe shouts behind him. Limber pulls a someone forward. “A signal. Ready to write?”
I blurt them into the dark between me and Lithe, the other who inks her arm writing them. Each of the symbols cuts, stabs, draws a screaming blade slowly past screaming nerves. Can’t tell where they end. When they start. Dash dash dash dash dash, dot dash dash dot, dot dot dot dot, dot dot.
I start to relax.
No. Aaaah! I gasp. “More … coming.” I swallow my screams because I know what’s coming. Gasp. Dash dash dash dash dash, dot dash dot dot, dot dash, dash dash. A new sequence, I discover. It repeats itself.
At the end I sob though there’s no blood. No broken skin. No wounds but my pride again. My hope of being a normal person gone again. A spectacle I will be.
“Ha!” Tayne says. “She’s a sensitive? It’s probably the transponder niggling her.”
“And you know that how?” Puma says. He sounds dangerous.
I want to crawl away. Hide.
Ant steps in front of me. Mongoose lets me cry on him for a minute. They both help me to sit up, crossed legs. Ant stays on his feet. His leg is a tree I lean against. Mongoose sits half in front of me, my knee against his back. I cradle my poor left elbow. It throbs, so sore still. Mongoose gives me the corner of a sarong-wrap to blow my nose.
Tayne chuckles. “This platform was made by glassing, meaning a starship fused the sand into a landing pad before touchdown. Lotor has always been quite hungry for machinery, and wears away at the foundations to try and get at the automatic transponder cached in the platform’s centre. That I believe the girl was hit by."
“Why?” Puma says.
Tayne doesn’t hear or he ignores Puma. “Amazing that it should still be working. The transponder signals the geo co-ordinates. Me and my mates dropped dozens just after we arrived, all over the planet. Interesting that I never knew this one existed. Tells me this is one of the fixed points along the Great Parallel. Amazing good luck to find it and that it still works.”
Puma snarls. “Give us the scientific detail.”
That gets Tayne’s attention. He stares around the circle. “Scientific detail,” he repeats as if he doesn’t believe the OldEarth-born know anything about science. He proceeds to tell us in simplified ship-speak. “Tells us where we are on the planet’s surface. Zero Phi stands for Zero Latitude, another word for the Equator.”
“What is … equator?” Limber says. Rumble from a couple of other people wanting to know, too.
Tayne smiles like he is vindicated. Like he knew we’d not cope with science.
I feel belittled by his attitude. “In the Shaman School we had a ball on a stand to look at, with a map of the Continent and the Ocean painted on it.” I tremble with all their stares on me.
Mongoose squeezes my hand.
I continue. “Over the top of land and sea were the lines that help us navigate, which are imaginary out in the field. The way Tayne tells it, all along the middle which is the widest part of Lotor, runs an imaginary line called an equator. The signal … the signal called it ‘Zero Phi’. Tayne says it is an abbreviation.”
“With fifteen elements?" I snort. "That’s double the ship’s call sign.”
“You learned your lessons well, Little Shaman,” Tayne says.
Now I’m furious. I rise. Straightaway all around me there’s a physical shifting that I ignore. I trust Mongoose and I trust Ant. “Who isn’t little compared to you? A long end of rope to hang yourself with, my mother would’ve called you.” A couple of people snort, possibly recognising the saying from their own mothers. I bite my lips to stop there. Before I tell my people what Tayne is, he’s got to be made to tell us why he follows us.
“How can she be a Shaman with all that screaming and crying?” someone says. I don’t know his voice. “She has a hurt we can’t see. Are we fools to continue with her when it is a matter of life and death? Will she even live long enough herself?”
Ant laughs. “Listen to the Jackdaw! If somebody gave me that Totem to learn from in my childhood, do you think I wouldn’t have earned another by now? You think it isn’t a matter of life and death to her? Do you even know what she had to do to join us?”
I sit down again and tune out because Ant starts to tell how I escaped before they could rescue me. I plan what I will say.
After Ant is finished, I kneel up to get a little height. “I cried and I screamed. You all heard me,” I say.
I stop. I’m telling them what they already know.
Mongoose squeezes my hand, gets me out of my nerves.
I collect my thoughts. “First the ArkShip talks into me. Then apparently an Earth-born gadget. They both have big signals that have got to fit into the little amulet in me. It feels like I get burnt, stung stabbed and cut all at the same time. My nerves scream at me. I scream at you. But look, no wounds.” I bare my arm and show them my harpy tattoo.
“No blood. I’ll probably get used to it. Maybe to the point of not screaming in case I frighten someone.” I look meaningfully at Jackdaw. “And maybe - I won’t know till I ask - the ship can ameliorate its signal.”
The fierce one who greeted me springs forward, sliding to me on his knees. “I’ll gladly help with the singing for that, Shaman Jeb. I’m Meerkat, forever honoured that you sang my totem to discover the ship.”
“Pff. Meerkats,” someone sneered out of the people-shadows. “Always the song and dance.”
“Um thanks, Meerkat,” I say. I take a deep breath. Might as well get it all out. “I am only half the Shaman you need. But I… I thought I’d come along because I worked out how to talk to the ship …”
Tayne jumps in at that point. “You heard her, she’s only half the Shaman you need. But Lotor … Lotor needs all of her. I followed you to offer you a whole job, Jeb.”
The only sound is the soughing of sand in the wind scouring at the base of the platform. His interruption is so preposterous that I am not the only one with my mouth hanging open. Both Mongoose and Ant move nearer, they squeeze me between them.
Small protective moves, but I see people taking notice. There’s a murmuring to and fro. I know so few of these people, I can’t see who thinks what. Are there really people here who think I should take Tayne’s offer?
“Thyal?” Puma says. “You have some words on this?”
I don’t believe it. Uncle Puma is one of them? But he came to fetch me?
An old man, with just one whole arm, rises from the crowd and comes forward. He sits himself between Puma and me.
“I am Thyalsene, child,” he says toward me. “Forever studying the Thylacine Totem, I also assign and teach the Totems in this troop.” He lifts the stump of his arm. “No amulet. I’m a one-armed Shaman useless for what you’ll be good at. Together we are well-suited to the task.”
Oh. I break out in smiles from the relief. “I’d like that.” Thyalsene has put my worries to rest on a couple of counts.
“Jeb, these people live in the past.” Tayne says. “How many have they lost due to that fatal flaw? You don’t want to be among them when Lotor starts to take an interest in nomads now that she has finished with the towns. If we leave now, I can have you in the laboratories by daylight. New set of friends. People who’ll appreciate you for being of your mother’s line.”
I want to be scathing. Why would I listen to him? But … how does he know about my mother? What does he know about her? What does he mean, the laboratories? I clench my hands together in my lap. I don’t want eye-contact with Tayne and I stare beyond him.
Something flickers there. A hand waves to and fro. To get my attention? At the edge of the crowd, a woman there pulls her black hair forward over her shoulder to show me a red ribbon threaded through the plaiting. She directs my gaze to another woman, nearer to Puma and Thyalsene, dressed all in black. Then she points out two men standing quite near to Mongoose. All have their hands resting on killing knives worn cross-wise in their sauger-hide belts.
I understand, the guard squad. Maybe I smile a little.
The woman winks.
“Earth-born laboratories tend to be underground,” Thyal says, confirming my suspicions about Tayne’s offer. “The wisdom for that, it is said, are Lotor’s frequent re-arrangements of her landscapes.”
“You’ve got that right, old man,” Tayne says. “The very reason you’ve just lost seventeen Shamans. The remaining Shaman Schools have fallen, I’m told. Have you noticed how often Lotor re-arranges its surface when the Shamans are near to solving the problem of reaching the ArkShip?”
He laughs. “A pretty packet of news that lit a fire cracker under me. What do you say to the fact that you’re the only one of your kind remaining, Jeb? Wherefrom will you learn the rest of your shaman tricks now? Useless even thinking about it. Better to say goodbye. We won’t have far to go because Lotor will open a door anywhere.”
“Don’t even joke about it,” Puma says.
“I was joking?” Tayne says. “Oops. Of course I was. Though I believe that about the Shaman Schools. And I believe this puma already knew it too. That must be why you and your buddies came to fetch her? You went away without her, what was that about?”
Tayne scratches his forearm absent-mindedly. Quite a large flake of skin springs loose and falls to the platform from where the breeze picks it up.
Puma sees it too. He sees that I watched him track the flake over the side and away. He remembers what I remember. But he shakes his head. It’s too soon, he mouthes.
He means it is too soon to tell anyone about Tayne’s affliction because Tayne hasn’t yet said why Lotor wants me.
Mongoose strokes my knee to stroke my worries like he is trying to flatten them to nothing. “The bastard will get what’s coming to him.”
I’m afraid. Tayne suffers from the Earth-born disease. Whosoever touches him will die, the OldEarth-born the quicker. How many will he try to take with him?