Half Shaman, 21

Grey Wolf by Emi from forcechange.com
Grey Wolf Image for Tayne's totem

Jeb becomes distraught, Tayne is not so far gone that he can't still plot. She tries to help things along. Will Puma ever accept what must be done? 

Links to Previous Chapters:

Chapters 1-5     Chapters 6-9  [These links send you to the archives for January and February. Read from the bottom up.]

 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   17: New Chief, Old Shaman

18: Walking ...    19: The Meridian    20: Girl Questions

21: The Village Square

Vulture and Eider set the stretcher down on a room-sized carpet of blankets and bedrolls and help free me from the stretcher cover. The ground appears to be a hard clay surface, I discover by poking between the blankets. 

Mongoose and Wren sweep meat-eating sand to the edges of the clay. 

Eider settles herself near the solar-powered cauldron. It sits on four batteries that also serve as little legs and that, for traveling, unscrew from the base of the pan. Whoever carries the cauldron also has the responsibility for the battery pack, in a rack above the cauldron on their back, to make sure it is recharged during the day. 

“Bring me your mugs. Bring me your water,” Eider sings. Plenty of takers see the cauldron half-filled from mugs of water, with the emptied mugs surrounding the cauldron waiting to be refilled. “Mongoose, you’ll share with Jeb?”

Mongoose grins up from his work, rolls his eyes. 

Vulture, rolling her eyes, says, “Yes all right. Understood it is. You see his drinking mug and water-skin, Jeb?” 

I fetch both. It’s good to be on my feet, even if I’m walking on blankets and skirting people trying to sleep. I stand near Vulture, I stretch and bend. 

I hear people murmuring and talking. The soughing wind. The wind carries in it only the inert, lightest of sand grains. Jackal sings. He and the Death Squad herding Tayne have still a hundred or more metres to come. Tayne stops often, I see. Red-tail prods him forward gently, using a padded stick. “What is this place?” I ask.

Vulture settles by Eider. “A Moeran landing pad, then used as a village square with the little town built around it. Their Squares have outlasted them by hundreds of years.”

Puma joins us. “The Moerans were certainly gone by the time our settlers arrived. Several of their Squares were incorporated in our towns. So what’s happening with the Earth-born?”

I notice how no one refers to Tayne by his name any more, or by the totem he was assigned. Shortest career in history as a Grey Wolf that will be. Yet I can’t fault Thyalsene for his choice. Everyone has good in them and Tayne’s good harbours in the Grey Wolf totem. 

“Red-tail has taken charge, she said to tell you,” Vulture says.

“It’s not a question of war,” Puma says. “Girl questions! Don’t do that again, Jeb!” 

He complains, is derogatory and threatens me in one breath.

Mongoose lays down his whisk so that the tainted end lies in the sand. He takes a position between me and Puma, his shoulder protectively in front of mine. Vulture grins. 

Eider sprinkles dried herbs onto the boiling water. “She knows the Void, Red-tail said. She asks if you do?” Eider’s tone, usually warm when she speaks to or about Puma, is frosty. “The girl had to use something to get action. It mightn’t be war but it certainly is pestilence.”

Vulture interrupts Puma’s attempt to answer. “With the Earth-born loose in the troop, you could’ve lost half of us and I doubt we’ll fill the shuttle as it is. Can’t afford to lose anyone.”

 “Girls rule,” Mongoose says.

Even Puma laughs. Eider shakes her head. “You look after him, Jeb. He’s the joker none of us can miss.”

Jackal’s howled warning pulls us back to the present. 

“A campfire,” Tayne says. “What passes for one.” He rubs his hands and holds them as if to a fire. Though particles of skin sparkle and float on the breeze, Jackal and Axel allow him approach. Am I the only one who knows the significance?

“Stop there,” Red-tail says. Tayne sinks down onto a bed-roll someone isn’t going to want to use ever again. The squad stands beside and behind, while Crow alone sits down between Puma and Tayne.

Puma refills his mug and passing it across, has Jackal set it in front of Tayne. “Nothing like a cup of tea,” Tayne says. With the attention on Tayne, Mongoose sits down by me.

“A while ago we were talking about totems?” Tayne says.

 I narrow my mind’s eye. Tayne is well enough still that he can plot his way to his desired outcome? Maybe I can shift his thinking. I sing, if a bit shakily: 

“The Grey Wolf frees himself from time-worn traditions 
and stultifying townships. As the pathfinder, he strides 
through the land and leads us to new knowledges 
and new ways to be.” 

“I wanted to say that I don’t need a totem? But thanks anyway. Kindly meant, I’m sure,” Tayne says. “I’m of the scientific times on Earth.”

Kindly meant! I refuse to feel mortified. Reminding him is the important part. Tayne would have had enough input from Thyalsene to know exactly how he can apply the Grey Wolf totem to his situation.   

 “When you approached me to join the troop, you and I calculated that you arrived maybe a hundred and fifty EarthYears after our settler ancestors did?” Uncle Puma says. “Those scientific times?”

“On Earth I’d be at the end of my middle years.” Tayne says. He ignores both Uncle Puma and the blunted prodders left and right. He shuffles forward on his sit-bones. 

“Stay where you are,” Uncle Puma says. 

“I need to get that young Shaman and be on my way. I told you that.” 

Uncle Puma lifts his voice a little to let everybody hear. “The Earth-born offered us safe passage through the city in exchange for Jeb?” 

Nobody comments, all are spell-bound. Tayne has found where I’m sitting among the crowd, probably because I sang his totem, and holds me with his staring eyes boring into me. 

I thought his eyes wouldn’t be seeing all that much any more. I shudder. “Don’t let him touch you, anybody. All the bits coming off him are Lotor taking him. Mongoose,” I whisper. “I’m getting up. I might need to run.” 

Mongoose pulls my face close to his. “Don’t you look at him. He’s a snake.” 

He gets up with me. Steps in front of me. “Why have we still got this Earth-born dead thing?” he asks. “No running, Jeb. Round and round the square. Tripping. The mis-made’s reach is long.”

“Letting yourself be caught in the Earth-born’s stare gives him the strength for what he intends,” Crow says. 

“Tell me Jeb is going to live longer than me,” Mongoose says. 

Crow is the keeper of laws, lore and prophecies. “Together you will go to the end of your time,” she says.

“Fucking prophecies,” Mongoose says. “Could be right now.” 

Tayne rises too, smoothly, and in one fell pace crosses half the distance between us. Despite the prodders. Despite that Red-tail’s now bare blade threatens him enough, that blood trickles down his side.

Tayne flaps his hand toward Mongoose. “I don’t need you, Sulky.”

“You don’t get anybody, Earth-born,” Puma says. 

I resent that Puma stays seated. 

Tayne stops. With a lazy arm he sweeps the prodders aside. “I don’t see why you’d want to keep Jeb when she’s as Earth-born as I am?”

Uncle Puma laughs. “You think Jeb’s mother, because she was an Earth-born geneticist, bred a one-hundred-percenter? Sit down when I’m talking to you.”

For a wonder, Tayne subsides back on the bedroll. “Why wouldn’t she?” he says. “Couple of test tubes and a pipette, you get a long way.” 

“Jeb’s mother loved Jeb’s father,” Uncle Puma says. “Jeb’s mother choose a totem and she bred herself a one hundred percent OldEarth daughter.”

Tayne bites on the bait. “Not possible.” 

“I thought that too when I came to be implanted with the amulet. Jeb will recall my upset, I think.”

Tayne does not look at me for confirmation. He will not be distracted. “How?” he says. 

“Suddenly you trust my science?” Uncle Puma says. 

Tayne tries to puzzle it out but he probably is too far gone for Puma’s word games. 

“I’ll make it easy for you,” Puma says getting his fingers ready for counting on. “Take the nucleus from a female egg. Jeb’s mother obviously taking one of her own. Take two spermatozoa from the male, Jeb’s father’s. Both these with the female chromosome. Zip them together, however that’s done. Implant the chromosomal material into the female egg. Implant that into a uterus. Jeb’s mother’s own again. Hey presto, a one-hundred-percent OldEarth baby girl as required, with all her genes her father’s.”

“She isn’t big enough,” Tayne says.  “She should’ve been taller than you.” 

“I don’t know,” Puma says. “Jeb’s mother was a smart lady. Maybe she prevented that somehow.”

“Why not her sons?” Tayne said. 

“I don’t know. Jeb, do you?”

I shake my head. I’m still it working out. The explanation I’d missed through being thought too young to understand. 

Just when I’m looking at him, to check his progress, Tayne seems to sag inside his clothing. There’ll be a slab of flesh that’s loosened itself. It’ll start leaking out in a minute. I see it in my mind’s eye. It’ll resemble the meat-eating sand. 

“Uncle, please!” I beg him, swallowing down stinging acid. My stomach can’t cope, it’s pushing up my fears for me to vomit them out. Puma saw parts of what I witnessed of my mother’s death. 

Finally he nods.

“However,” Crow says. “The Earthborn can’t die until he tells us what he knows.” 


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