Half Shaman, 22
|Starry night sky from Lotor, a cut from strangesounds1|
Will Tayne's story change anything? How will the ArkShip's signal change things?
Links to Previous Chapters:
Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-9 Chapters 10-14 [These links send you to the archives for January, Feb & March. Read from the bottom up.]
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
22: AZ, Ship to Shaman
I’m at the end of my tether. “What is the fucking thing you want to know?”
Tayne half-rises. The warriors with him. Their blades now wink and shine.
Mongoose backs up right close to me. “Hold onto me somewhere,” he mutters. I grasp his belt where it snugs his lower back.
“What’s the thing you most want to know?” I say again. I hear myself being strident.
Crow answers me. “Something big happened on Earth. Maybe to Earth. In the years before our people left. The ArkShip’s journey was meant to last seventy thousand years. Why it was a generation-ship. The Earth-born are right about that.”
Tayne calms. Perhaps in response to hearing that he is believed to be right about something. He settles. “Start me off?” he says.
Crow again. “The ArkShip arrived in its orbit around Lotor a very short time after leaving Earth. The settlers’ stories agree that an emergency began almost immediately, a struggle within the ArkShip’s communication system. The only supposition that makes any sense, some say, is a struggle between the ship’s computer and a stowaway intelligence.
“A percentage of prospective settlers were bundled into ten shuttles and sent down to the planet’s surface. Individuals were randomly picked, torn from their families, and arrived very confused. They had to begin to save themselves from Lotor right away. You can imagine why the stories from that time lack detail,” Crow says to the rest of us.
She takes a breath and tells the rest. “The ArkShip carried thousands of living, breathing, aware people but there has never been any news other than toward the end of Soowei’s life, when the ship promised her that it would return to fetch its people. It then left the Procyon System to go regenerate somewhere without disturbance.”
Tayne laughs, albeit shakily. “Let me let me let me try some maths now,” he says. “Have I have I have I still got my maths in me?”
No one interrupts. Half of what Crow just told, is new to me. I look around. Loads of people look distracted, suggesting to me that we are all trying to piece the new information into the story we have all known since childhood. We will need Crow to tell us what is known of Soowei’s last days.
“The Ship of Fools gets data-waved,” Tayne says. “We’ll say that’s Earth Year Twenty. There’s quite a number that have gone before us, because the EMBers are not stupid, they don’t get involved except in a proven technology.”
He wears such a crafty expression that I set Soowei’s story aside and concentrate on Tayne’s. I catch Earth Year Twenty. The rest makes no sense.
Tayne continues. “But when we arrive on Lotor it is as if we are the first, except that the ship we wake up in is a rusted piece of junk that obviously has not moved for a hundred years. We EMBers do our dashing around and get data-waved back to Earth. I learn the hard way that a data-waved brain returns to its original state. Meaning, no learnings from here went back to Earth that way. I was still a fool, and signed up for a second experiment.”
“Where were you in Earth Year Minus Fifty?” I say, ignoring everything else. We don’t have the time.
“Ha ha ha,” Tayne says. “It’s the fucking Little Shaman. Well-studied in maths. What else did they teach her? Fucking Shamans. I was a fool to trust them.”
“You owe me for all the worrying I’m doing,” I say. A preposterous piece of reasoning, I see from the raised eyebrows around me. I have to control myself not to laugh at Mongoose’s crestfallen expression. He does try to save me from having to worry. I squeeze his hand. “Well?” I demand of Tayne.
“I wasn’t born yet,” he says.
“You would’ve studied about those times at school,” I say.
He laughed again, a rickety rackety chuckle. “You’re asking me about the data-waving monster himself.”
He appears to try to explain data-waving by waving his arms around. I’m nearly sick imagining how, with every move, with every rattling sound, he’s coming apart.
“A few changes in the world after his arrival, I can tell you,” he says. “Lotor bled the info right out of my brainand every other Earth-born brain wandering into her clutches. I’ll tell you how it works, Jeb. Just you.”
He leans forward. “A thousand thousand Earth Years ago Lotor lost her engineer. I like to imagine that he escaped the bitch. Leaving her in orbit around Procyon B, he took her bio-engine capability and waltzed around the galaxy for a good while before settling. Somewhere out of sight but never out of Lotor’s mind.”
He stops. Sways forward. I suspect him to be gathering the last of his mad strength to lunge forward. I pull at Mongoose to move us backward. Puma tenses.
Tayne giggles. “Two hundred Earth Years missing from your precious lore, Crow. Earth Year One, the idiots at Procyon Products do a deal with the government of the day. They data-wave a shipload of Life Lottery winners to Lotor. And Lotor, when she smells the bio-silver on them, takes them all within. She knows her engineer is on Earth.”
Puma says nothing. Red-tail is silent. Can I trust them to see what’s coming?
“When Lotor gets round to me, I promise her the fucking ArkShip so she can fetch her engineer. But I promise her before I know that the ship is away regenerating. So I’m in a fix. Lotor intends me to drive the ship. I am not a shaman or engineer. I’m in a worse fix. None of the shamans I bring to Lotor are what she wants. Ship returns from its regeneration jaunt and I discover the hereditary crewing system. Worse and worse. Before too long the OldEarth-born have only the one remaining Shaman, and she does not trust me.”
He looks up, glares into me.
Well-water, we call the colour of his eyes.
“Do you?” he asks.
A blue glow, like a knife-blade, invades me. Tayne falls away or I fall back. A guillotine cleaves me front from rear, side from side. I expect pain. There’s no pain. I expect to see blood, a lot of it. There’s no blood.
Then there is pain. My arm burns. It’s on fire. My arm, my red-hot arm falls off. No, it only flops about because my nerves scream, twist, twangle. And the amulet …? I choke. “The ship, it signals!” I manage not to shout.
Mongoose helps me to fall down gently. He shoves the edge of his hand between my teeth. “For the pain,” he says, kneeling beside me. Pain cringes and curdles and claws invisible pieces out of me.
Mongoose doesn’t have to look for Thyalsene, he’s already with us, crooning. “There now, my pretty. There. There.”
With them sheltering me, I concentrate on not gnashing down on Mongoose’s hand. AZ, fifteen elements. I gasp. More elements claw through me. Dash dash dash dash dash, dot dash dot dot, dot dash, dash dash. “Eider.” I splutter through spit, past Mongoose’s hand.
Eider, I recognise her smell, folds my fingers around her pencil. I make the marks. I don’t feel where. Dash dash dash dash dash, dot dash dot dot, dot dash, dash dash. It is the Great Meridian, I have time to remember. The ship knows we journey along it?
A hot needle tip punches a dot on the inside of my eyelid. I scream. “My eyes! My eyes!” Three dots. Red-hot cools to bright blue. A tattoo? I want to cup, shelter, rub them. Thyal catches both my hands in his one. “There now. There now.” Mongoose’s tears splatter on my face. I want to laugh. My strong brave Mongoose cries when I hurt. The blue line pulses, gets longer. Someone near me groans.
I hear a mug of tea slopped. Feel a wet cloth laid over my eyes. Blessed coolth. I sigh. “That’s good, that's very good.” I don’t know if they hear. Three sets of veins angle up from a main artery. My mouth shapes words. “It’s a leaf.” Dark spots form on a lower edge, like drops of dew. Or beads. The ship floods me with fear. “Bad beads. Keep away,” I mumble. “The ship says.”
It shows me good places with good people. A couple with two children growing a food garden. Five girls caring for a vine-covered patio. Eleven men, all shapes and ages and sizes living in a set of higgledy piggledy block-like rooms, ladders connecting them with every roof a garden. Fetch all these people.
A rose-tinted tower sits in the armpit of the main thoroughfare and the vein nearest the Field of Dreams. The food is there, in the walls. Squiggles blossom at the end of the bisecting straight-as-an-arrow thoroughfare. The mountains that are our destination.
With round Greek script punched out pointillist style into my eyes, my poor eyes, the ship orders three signals to be sung. It sets the days. I must not miss them. Gravitational forces rule. The blue fades from me. I am so tired that I fall through rock and earth straight into a den. An animal with a long, tawny, striped back jumps in after me.
Thyalsene, I think fuzzily. His heavy soft paws heal my eyes. I rest.