Half Shaman, 24
|Ruins of Yellow City, a cut from a photo by Alfred Molon|
Jeb and her people arrive at the outskirts of the Yellow City. Puma, the Chief, suspects Jeb's new knowledge ...
Links to Previous Chapters:
Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-9 Chapters 10-14 [These links send you to the archives for January, Feb and 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 23: The Silver Storm
24: The Leadership Challenge?
Three changes of bearers later, when Puma and Vulture are carrying, the remains of the Yellow City begin to appear. Blocks of twenty or thirty mud bricks, short stretches of wall stepping down to nothing, an arch to nowhere are scattered among drifts of ordinary sand made up of ground-up rock. Closer in, half-rooms have survived the winds of years.
“These broken rooms, would they be any good as shelters?” Vulture says.
I shiver a little, the half-room Vulture indicates was just such a room where the silver’s victim sheltered. “The ship, when it signalled me back at the Village Square …” I see from their faces this is news to them. “You were busy with Tayne. Shaman Thyal and Mongoose helped me … helped me not cry out. Eider passed me her ink pencil.”
Mongoose and Eider nod.
“Guess you forgot to mention it to the rest of us,” Puma says.
“When?” Thyal says. As in, when could they have mentioned it?
Eider nods. “Mentioning it now.”
“Let’s not get hung up,” Lithe says. “Go on, Shaman Jeb.”
“The ship gave me a map with the best place to camp and where to receive the remaining groups into our group at the same time stopping people exploring until they can be shown the dangers.”
“The ship talked with you because you sang the Grey Wolf totem?” Puma asks. He studies his lieutenants, Shaman Thyal, and the women. “Well, I’m still learning how it works,” he says into their non-committal expressions.
“As we all are,” Vulture says.
“No code in what I sang,” I say. “I sang to remind … Tayne … of his humanity. What he had in common with us. How similar we were to him. How, by saving us, he might still save Earth from Lotor’s engineer. And he worked that out, and so told us what we needed to know. It seems to me.”
“I see,” Puma says. “More than you think.”
“I see you thinking that this incident is the second time Shaman Jeb has fore-thought your lead,” Lithe says. “While I think her action wasn’t a leadership challenge.”
“How wasn’t it?” Puma says.
“I’m starting to feel quite mutinous,” Red-tail says.
“And you think I should take notice?” Puma says. “You’re Security, I’m Chief. Meaning to say I’m Chief over even you. You all agreed to have me as Chief.”
“I suggest you get out of that destructive autocratic mode,” Vulture says.
“How does democratic leadership sound?” Red-tail says.
Puma laughs. “Is that how you think I should run things?”
“Your exact words for the leadership style you advocated back in the days when it was a jostle,” Limber says. “My brother won’t consent to stay in-waiting for long, if you continue with this stupidity. If not him, then me taking you on.”
“I’d like to walk now,” I say. I hope that if I can get to the business of the amulets, they will all relax. “The ship also said that this group needs to seize the leadership.”
Puma and Vulture lower the stretcher to the ground. I get up off it.
“What did you just say?” Puma asks.
I stand up. Shake and tweak to straighten my clothes.“The ship needs someone in this group to be the … the … paramount leader.”
Furious, Puma casts about for a doubtful and or doubting repartee.
Mongoose interrupts. “Don’t knock that back into her teeth, because that instruction came on a river of pain!”
“I have it written on my arm if you need proof,” Eider says.
Puma gets his face under control. He fiddles with the stretcher. “Carry with luggage, or hanging straight?” he says.
I see him hoping not to have to look at anybody.
Vulture waits and waits for the other answer, everyone else with her.
“Fine. Fine. So it’s the ship telling me my business through Jeb?”
I expected that and I am ready. “The ship has to operate within the confines of the ways that gravitational forces work,” I say. “It means that we must all be on the shuttle by a certain time on a certain day, to be able to dock with the ship at the only time possible.”
I have everyone’s attention now. “Quarrelling within groups, between groups, any kind of strife will slow us down. The ship is very aware, as we are, that if we miss the ship, we are doomed. The ship will cry, but we will die.”
Thyalsene and I discussed the ship’s demands in his cave while I rested. Then we practiced the best ways for me to tell them. This minute, right now, I suddenly understand Shaman Tarsier’s long ago decision not to transfer the amulet from me into Uncle Puma.
No way will I endanger something so wonderful as our ship’s intercession in our seriously endangered lives. Especially with something like suspicion about a leadership takeover! I’m impatient already about the same problems that will surely follow the amalgamation of the two other groups.
Lithe and Limber bracket Uncle Puma at the end of the little cavalcade as I lead us all into the mouth of a wide road.
“Can seven people stand side by side across this road?” I ask, making it true by indicating for a couple of people to drop back to either side of the Lithe-Puma-Limber trio. “Yep, I think we have it … then this is the Main Thoroughfare.”
“We need to go on…” I scan the left, “ … until we have an unbroken wall … this one I think … and no inlets to streets on the right.” On the right-hand side of the thoroughfare, I see mounds of rubble stopping entry to the warrens on that side. “Yes. Here is where we camp.”
I spread my arms to encourage people to likewise spread out, but of course we are accustomed to platforms, and the resulting camp takes up about half the width of the thoroughfare. “Nobody should pass along this way further than the camp, without Red-tail’s say-so.”
Thyalsene thinks that if I say how dangerous the city is, everybody will want to be the famous ones who discovered the dangers, and get themselves killed in the process.
“Might be we need a watch?” I suggest in my humblest tones though I’m not expecting Red-tail to accuse me of stepping into her territory. I add the reason for the peace of mind of a certain other person. “I guess because people probably won’t believe an unknown shaman’s say-so on the dangers.”
It’s like Puma can’t help himself. “I don’t see why they wouldn’t already know the dangers,” he says. “Anyone wandering around the planet for any length of time …”
“Some came directly from the towns. Escaping the mayhem,” Lithe says. “I can always demo my hand.”
“Will give us a chance to break in some new crew,” Red-tail says.
It’s a comfort to know that the rest of management supports me without needing to question. “When we have fetched the two groups camped further to the north, the three leaders need to decide on self-to-ship call-signs for themselves.”
I glance at Thyal. He nods. He will advise Puma separately on staying P as it will identify him as Paramount as well. Thyal and I decided to keep that a secret and I see why.
“I understood I’d need an amulet for the ship to be able to talk with me?” Puma says.
“The ship has identified three amulets in the extrusions around the shuttle. I’m to sing the call-signs to the ship from here, tonight. The ship will reprogram the amulets while we travel. They will be inserted as they are chipped free.”
Thyalsene takes up the story. We decided together that with him dealing with the matters relating to the groups, Puma and the other leaders will resist less. “From here on, we have no time up our sleeves,” Thyalsene says. “The groups need to be fetched this afternoon. Tonight is the singing. Tomorrow morning, before we start down the thoroughfare to search out the city-folk and the Painted Tower, Red-tail and Jeb will teach people the dangers.”
Red-tail teases Puma. “I’ll get the retrieval organised then, if I may, Chief?”
“Lithe, Limber,” Puma says. “Take a few people each and see who you can find around the northern outskirts. Weren’t you organising a guard detail?” he asks Red-tail.
He sounds like his normal self.