Half Shaman, 26
|Image from ArkShip's Data Bank|
Jeb and Mongoose, as unsure as everyone else about the ArkShip's reception of them, attempt to pull rank by elevating Mongoose to the amulet-holders. Will their plotting go unnoticed?
Links to Previous Chapters:
Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-9 Chapters 10-14 Chapters 15-19 [These links send you to the archives for January to April. Read from the bottom up.]
20: Girl Questions 21: The Village Square 22: AZ, Ship to Shaman 23: The Silver Storm
24: The Leadership Challenge? 25: The Street Camp
26: The Unlooked-for Amulet
Mongoose and I stand close, by the wall and surrounded by our group resting before the big push. In an hour from now I’ll be singing the call signs. I’m meant to be resting too, but frankly it’s more restful at the moment to stand and kiss and cuddle and at least half-hide what we’re doing, than lying down together in full view of the whole world.
I stare cross-eyed at the wall. “Stop for a second? There’s something in the wall.”
“Mm-mm? What?” Mongoose mumbles.
“A flicker of light my sight gets hung up on, whenever you kiss near my ear.”
He does it again, more thoroughly.
I stare even closer in, with my nose squashed against the unpolished layers of extruded stone. “It’s an amulet. Whatever could it be doing there? Can you get it out without damaging it further than it already may be?”
Mongoose winkles at the wall with the point of his knife. Fortunately there’s still enough light to see by. The amulet drops into my hand from between two slate-like slabs. “It looks undamaged,” Mongoose says with a catch in his voice.
“You’re thinking what I’m thinking,” I say.
“Let the ship know I’m with you and never the twain of us shall want to be parted?” Mongoose says. His voice is husky and not just because he’s whispering.
“I’ve been worrying about that too, since Tayne … you know?”
Mongoose agrees. “Him saying we are all Lotor. I don’t believe the ship will want a particle of Lotor in its innards.”
“It might take our brain patterns and burn our Lotor parts. Remake us the way Lotor remade the Earthborn. What if we turn out different and you don’t …? That’s what I’m scared about,” I say.
“I will always …” Mongoose says. He hugs me tighter.
“Will you risk this?” I wash the dust from the amulet with spit and my tongue.
“In a snap.” He passes me his knife, handle first. “Cut me a little slot in the muscle of my arm.”
I rest the amulet on the tip of my tongue to keep it clean and safe. Mongoose gets ready his bandanna.
“Luckily red is my favourite colour.”
Bravado. “Arm up. It’ll bleed less. Put your hand on my shoulder,” I tell him. I don’t give him or me time to get nervous but swipe the blade across his left biceps. “Lucky you keep it sharp. Because you hardly felt it, right?” I talk faster because Mongoose grows pale. “I’ll kiss it better.”
“You’ll get my blood all over you.”
“Got to transfer amulet without getting it dirty.” I tongue the amulet into the wound. “It’ll have to sit any-which-way. No way of stitching it. And drat, look how dirty your bandanna is.”
“Just wrap it, Jeb. Tight as you can. Stop the bleeding.”
“Not so tight you cut off his circulation,” Eider says from beside us.
Ant and Meerkat are with her, agog. “Come to fetch you for the singing, Jeb,” Ant says.
“What have you two been doing? Are you whole, Jeb?” Eider says. “Looks like I’ll tend the wounded.”
I nod. “Yes, please. It’s not what you think,” I add.
“You’re worrying what’ll happen when we get up into the ship?” she says.
I nod again, but vaguely, and send Mongoose a kiss to be going on with. I decide to sing his call-sign with mine. Who knows what will happen in the next few days. I wonder how many people know the code well enough to realise.
Ant and Meerkat stop at about the middle of the wall. Opposite us sits the choir Ant has organised and I nod to acknowledge them.
Puma comes up to me. He gives me all his doubts along with his letter. “I’ll be P. Exactly as you and Thyal decided, I’m sure.”
“Your call sign will be AP when the ship talks to you,” I say. “PA when I talk to the ship on your behalf. As far as I know.”
He goes to stand beside Meerkat on my left.
Next comes Ibis. “My letter is I. My call sign will be IA?”
“It is when I talk to the ship on your behalf. When the ArkShip speaks to you directly, you’ll be AI.”
Ibis nods, smiles, and goes to stand beside Puma.
Then comes Bear, trailed by Dingo. Meerkat skips across and joins Ant to my right. “Just you, Bear, I think we agreed,” Puma says.
Bear flicks his fingers at Dingo who smiles me his lushest smile.
“Don’t try me, Dingo, or the harpy scratches your eyes out.” My best curse. Will the man even listen?
“Get going, man,” Bear encourages Dingo as if he means it. What a joke.
“Bear is my name. B is my sign,” Bear says.
“You’ll be AB when the ArkShip speaks to you, BA when I speak on your behalf. Stand there beside Meerkat, if you like.”
The singers look at me. They seem ready.
“One more thing,” Bear says. “I don’t want you to sing my totem. I picked Bear for a name because that’s what I look like. Sing me Dingo’s totem song.” His oily smile and Dingo’s leer warn me it’s all part of the same plot.
I stare at Dingo without acknowledging him. “For this kind of singing there is no question of the call-sign applicant choosing,” I say. “It’s all about the way that the code can be fitted into the words.” Now I look at the choir and smile. “Choir, we’ll be starting with the Ant’s totem song. Sing toward the top of the wall and remember, it will be call-and-response.”
I start, “Ants together …”
They echo me and we go through the song.
“… carry their towns … a stone at the time … Totems together … carry their country … a heart at the time … Together we live … singly we die.”
Then we start on the repeat, which contains the codes. Mine and Mongoose’s. Ant phrases are short. Just right for my plan.
Ants t-o-o-o ge-e-ether … carry their towns … a stone a-a-a-t the time … Totems t-o-o-o ge-e-e-ther … carry their co-u-u-u-untry … a heart at the time …. Together we live … singly we die. Together we live … singly we die.”
I don’t look at anybody in particular. I don’t want to know if anyone has picked up on my ruse. “That was good. I know the rhythm gets a bit flabby at times. That’ll be especially so with the next couplet.”
As before, we begin with the plain sung version: “Puma disrespects … fear and fervour … obstacles and obstructions … cries for comfort … customs and traditions … To Puma, leading is Life.”
It’s a particularly arhythmic song made worse by the abbreviated dot-sounds and trilling dashes.
“Puma disrespects … fear and fe-e-e-r vo-u-u-ur… ob stacles and o-o-o-ob structions … cries for co-o-o-om fo-o-o-ort … cus toms and traditions … To Pu-u-u-u ma, leading is Life.”
There’s a bit of a rumble among the singers after this one, and one or two laughs. Probably about the cus in customs. Can’t worry about it. On we go. “Next we sing the first two parts of the Thylacene totem.”
“Thylacene … instructs Totems … teaches the Totem Path … and sign-posts the Road … within without and in-between …. When Thylacene … models wisdom … be a child … imitate and prosper.
Funny how these lines seem appropriate for Ibis as well as the totem-less man.
“Thylacene … in-structs To-te-e-e-ems … teaches the Totem Path … and si-i-i-gn-posts the Road … with-i-i-i-i-n, without and in-be-twe-e-e-en …. When Thylacene … models wi-i-i-is-dom … be a child …. i-i-i-i-m-itate and prosper.”
It’s done. Huge load from my mind.
The choir is on a high. They cheer to celebrate their first singing. Successful as far as they know.
Is this the reason for the choir? That more people feel involved? Because I don’t believe anymore that they are necessary. How can the ship pick up their voices thinned through two hundred and fifty kilometres of air? I’m sure that it reads the physical aspects of my singing right out of my brain or through vibrations impinging on the amulet.
“I don’t know the code,” Bear says. “How will I know the girl sang my letter right?”
“The code is no secret,” Ibis says. “We’ve run a class since before our Shaman was taken.” She nods toward Bear. “You could have done the same.” She smiles aside to me.
She knows what I did?
The crow in my belly answers. Well, she might wonder what I did. She can’t know.
As I edge away from where Dingo is beginning to sidle toward me, I look for Mongoose.
“Shaman Jeb, a word if you please?” Puma calls.
I start toward my unknowing rescuer. Where is Mongoose?
“Well done, Jeb. The Puma song is an uncomfortable beast. Maybe you and Mongoose and Thylasene could rework it, the boy having his gift for words?”
Uncle Puma stops me with a finger on my shoulder. “That was an M I heard in the first couplet. M for Mongoose, I thought.” He puts his arm around my shoulders. “We all secretly worry how the ship will receive us, Jeb.”
“Especially after what Tayne said,” I offer. I spot Mongoose with Eider at the cauldron, drinking from his mug. A healing herbal mixture, I suspect.
“Yes,” Uncle Puma says. “I understand your motive trying to sing Mongoose into the ship’s memory. I didn’t understand at first what a suitable choice the Ant Totem’s song is for that, with that last affirmation. If the ship acknowledges Mongoose, despite his lack of amulet, we might want to be doing a lot more singing.”
He gazes at Eider while he encourages me with a squeeze.
Oh dear oh dear oh dear, I think with Thyalsene’s intonations. Tell Mongoose?
Of course tell Mongoose, my crow tells me. Together we live, singly we die.