Half Shaman, 37

An Image from Jeb's Dream 

Finally ...

Links to Previous Chapters:

Chapters 1-5     Chapters 6-9   Chapters 10-14    Chapters 15-23  [These links send you to the archives for January to April. Read from the bottom up.]

24: The Leadership Challenge?   25: The Street Camp   26: The Unlooked-for Amulet

27: The Food Supply   28: Into the Warren   29: The Painted Tower

30: Wedding and Honeymoon   31: Jeb is Puzzled   32: Human Magic   33: The Pinch Test

34: Shaman’s Dreaming  35: In the Mountains   36: The Shuttle Transponder

37: Take Off!

The map’s winking stops, and the bottom of a stair shows in the middle of the shuttle. To the side of the bottom riser of the stair appears another slot. It winks. The same old Z. 

With a dry mouth I say: “Puma, do you think you should check what it looks like inside so you can plan how everyone will fit it?” 

Lithe and Mongoose release me as Puma comes to investigate. He studies the winking slot. Looks around at the covert glancing. “Change it,” he says. Seems he doesn’t want to chance being denied entry in full view of everyone watching. 

I slide the shuttle’s transponder from the rim and getting a hand over the shuttle’s lip from Mongoose, set the transponder in its new place, resulting immediately in the happy little light show. 

Puma chooses his lieutenants. “Man! Limber! Thyal! Come with me!” Red-tail tacks herself onto the end of the little line. Puma tries to stare her away but she doesn’t back off. They all disappear up the stair and we hear their progress to midlevel, up, and up again. At each level, there’s talk. Some of it sounds like discussion. Some of it is heated. Furious disbelieving at the very top. Mongoose, having followed me into the shuttle, takes my hand. 

Puma comes down, accompanied by Red-tail. “The map above the pilot’s bunk shows us loading in the people,” Puma says. 

Everyone starts to the hatch. “Woah,” Puma shouts. “The shuttle isn’t totally free, I thought?” He settles his gaze on Mongoose and me. “See to it, Jeb.”

I climb out, Mongoose after me. He stays between me and Puma. Lithe is still out there, as is Isis. Both look concerned. I realise their partners are already inside. “We won’t be leaving anyone behind,” I say. 

“Says you,” Jackdaw says.

“Borrow your hammer and chisel?” I ask someone with them still in her hands. She grins. “Shaman Jeb, I’ll wield the stone-working tools if you manage the chief. He’s out of his comfort zone, if you ask me.” 

Someone else chuckles. “People out of their comfort-zone and not knowing it, say some silly things sometimes. Let’s get this thing free.”

I breathe. I still have friends and I still have supporters. It feels important. 

Round where the hatch is, I hear Limber and Man inside the shuttle, and Lithe and Isis outside organising people’s entry according to their height. Tall people need to go to the mid-level floor. Shorter people to the upper level. Makes sense when I look at the egg-shaped dome. Midlevel is the widest. 

“Done it!” shout my friends doing the final chipping around the sixth strut. We don’t waste any time tacking ourselves onto the end of the line. Mongoose and I make sure we are last. Mongoose gestures for Isis and Lithe to climb in and up the stair. “How will we close the hatch?” Isis says, almost whispering.

I nod. Take one last look outside. Slide the transponder from beside the stair-riser. The hatch begins to close. 

Puma on his urgent way down the stair and pushes rudely past the last few people. He grabs at the transponder. “I’ll have that, my girl.” The light-show in the transponder dies down and lies inert in his hand. He slips it into his pants’ pocket and precedes us to the upper levels. 

We stop at an opening-out of the walls. At this, the first level of people lying down, radiating from the centre, feet near the outer rim, Puma says, “You’re in here, Lithe. Place to the side there. You’re responsible for this quarter.”

I see Thyal in his place being responsible for the next quarter. Around the central column containing the stairs, I expect Limber and perhaps Jackal. None of Puma’s organisations mean anything, I realise, because none of us know what will happen next. I study how the ceiling is supported on a doughnut-shaped structure of struts. How the floor is covered with a thick mattress that has shaped itself to every person lying on it.  

On the door jamb I see the outline of a hand marked with a dash dash dot dot. My call sign again. I bet the outline is exactly the size of my hand. It is. 

“Will you look at that,” Isis says in response to the handprint lighting up when I put mine over it. 

The mattress settles around everyone until they are encased except for their faces. Hoods dangle from the doughnut structure, above each person’s face. Lithe settles a hood over his face, to demonstrate its use. 

“We better go up,” Man says. “I fear we’ll need to intercede, my love. I’m getting the idea that the ship really does prefer Shaman Jeb at the controls.” 

Isis laughs. “Got the ropes?”

On the second level, Isis discusses bedding-down arrangements with a couple of people already comfortable near the opening-out. They move at Isis’s insistence and leave three empty places in a row.  

“On and up,” Man says. Mongoose and I follow Ibis. Man and Ibis crowd through the archway into a domed area filled with a couch wide enough for two skinny people. Mongoose and I wait as far to the side of the top of the stairs as possible. 

Isis and Man grab Puma by an arm and a leg and pull him off the couch. Thump. Quick as, they loop their wrists and ankles to Puma’s wrists and ankles. Lift him up. He is silent through it all. He clenches his eyes shut. Stubborn look. 

“Wait,” I say. “I’ll need the transponder. He’ll have it about him somewhere. Can you look, Mongoose?” 

“Got it,” Mongoose says. He passes me the transponder. It lights up happily. 

Puma’s eyes snap open. “You’ll regret this! All of you!” He starts to struggle but Isis and Man have his measure and begin to edge him down the stair. 

Mongoose follows and then me. 

After I have pressed my hand against that jamb and thought my goodbyes toward them all, Mongoose and I go back to the command room with its glassy-looking dome. “I am totally comforted that you can be up here with me,” I say. 

Mongoose smiles. “Told you, I’m your love-struck loon.” He squeezes my hand. We lie down, sweatily holding hands the whole time. 

I slot the transponder in the depression for it on the arm rest. A dash dash dot dot flickers through its sequence. A dash dash flickers on Mongoose’s arm-rest. The mattress moulds itself around us. A pair of hoods come down from somewhere above and we cover our faces. 

We breathe the cool fresh air spurting from the hoods. 

I hear the shuttle’s starter engines scream.

I feel the shuttle spinning faster and faster to gather power to escape the steep-sided valley. 

I feel sleepy.

Mongoose does too, I can tell because his hand slides from mine. 

Before I start to worry that I can’t feel his hand, the most amazing scents drift from the hood. Spices and flowers, things of Earth my mother told me about. 

I dream.


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