Half Shaman, 36
|GTI Glass Transponder, not as mysterious an object as Jeb finds.|
Jeb finds an essential gadget and Puma loses his cool.
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
Leaning against the stone cliff and in the shade cast by the sun’s passage behind it, I am cool while in the centre of the bowl everyone working at freeing the shuttle, sweats in the full sun.
Clink clink clink. All pioneer children grew up with the sound of steel hammers on steel chisels in their ears as their parents mined Lotor’s exuded wastes. All villages that survived first built their stone floors.
Puma told me to keep out of the way. “It’s everyone else’s turn now, Shaman Jeb,” he said emphasising my title and name. “You’ve done enough for a while.” He looked me over with his resentment plain on his face. “I don’t know how the decision to have you pilot us up to the ship came about?”
“I think people assumed it by equating shuttle-pilot with ship-captain? I don’t know why.” Why did I even try to ease his anger? He’s out there now, strutting about, still glowering about not having an amulet. Was it my fault that Isis turned down the one offered to her because she was too busy, and so Puma thought he should turn it down as well?
Eider forced the issue by ordering Mongoose to fetch Thyal.
Thyal said, “And you want me to take it to get it out of temptation’s way?”
“Something like that,” Eider said. “The sooner we’re in that shuttle and on our way, the better for all of us, if you ask me.” She didn’t look happy. “Everything is falling apart.”
“Yes well,” Thyal said. “So cut me.” He swung forward his arm-stump. Eider cut him, I put in the amulet and Eider stitched him up. “It’s for the better outcome, Eider-girl.”
He winked at me. “We don’t want Puma upset until absolutely the last minute, and not at all if we can help it.”
What we’re seeing now, I think, is Puma at almost his worst. Lithe and Limber hover near him, trying to deflect people from interacting with him. I see Isis point at Puma and say something about him to Man.They take a bunch of their people round to the back of the shuttle and work there.
Mongoose is working hard at carrying away rubble. My crow pecks and pecks at me. I have to take notice. That hot scraped feeling between stomach and heart which is just a nerve playing up when I get nervous. So my mother used to say, she being a doctor as well as a geneticist. I cared more about stories and called it my crow.
So here and now, I’m nervous? Whatever for? Ha ha. I possibly get to fly us out of here. How? What do I know about flying a shuttle?
“Does anyone? Whoever Puma comes up with,” Mongoose says, detouring past me. “Don’t worry. The ship knows you.”
I feel a little better that Mongoose is aware of Puma’s feelings. Distraction, give me a distraction. I stare cross-eyed at the stone a nose-length distant. I see unnatural shapes caught in folds and fissures. Plastics. Wrought metals …
Throb. In my arm.
A signal from the ship? I move along the wall almost without thinking to peer at the unnatural shapes, shards shattered and folded, twisted fragmented remains enfolded and fissured within the stone. Ever heard of such inserts in stone? Ever seen any like them? My memories fly to the first ship caught by Lotor, the one that I earlier in the journey extrapolated from the evidence.
Throb throb …
It must be the ship trying to get my attention! The ship’s pulsing is considerate, not painful.
My brain processes sharpen. I gulp fresh air from the pole-cold breeze flowing through my brain my sinuses my lungs. I lean away from the cliff. Uncross my eyes. When did Lotor draw this ship down and fragment it to discover its secrets?
The remains were thrown into the garbage and extruded onto the outside surface where I now see them spread through the stone—a seam of plastics, alloys and metals. Sand-blasted colours and sun-seared glue-seams.
Which are interrupted. The colours of the plastics and metals stop abruptly. And continue on the other side of a smooth-looking object with a faint amber-like sheen. I don’t hesitate, I raise my hand to the object. As smooth as satin. The object of the ship’s interest resembles the edge of a slim box.
Throb throb throb …
That is the ship and it is definitely talking to me! Tell someone? The only one who I would trust is busy. Warn someone? Ditto. And Thyal as good as warned me not to upset Puma. I swallow. It’s up to me.
The box is hid in plain view. I arch my fingers over and my thumbs cupping upward. Set my fingernails on the upper long edge, my thumbnails on the bottom long edge. Pull the box toward me.
It shifts a finger-width. So I set a finger on each corner. It’s do-able.
Pull the box out further. Support it with two fingers each short side, the rest of my fingers balancing it from underneath.
Throb throb throb throb …
Four pulses! Reflecting the number of fingers touching the short sides. For a few seconds I am petrified by the close attention the ship is paying to me prying this object from its hiding place.
Pull it further out. Three fingers support each short side.
Throb throb throb throb throb throb …
Six pulses. And no pain. Six pulses. I hardly dare to believe it. A very important object.
The box is loose in my hands.
At once I am in a fountain of light and heat and pulsing. Amber and azure. Indigo and pulsing red. Sapphire and verdigris. Heat. Light. No pain. But get the amazing glare out of my eyes. Hug the box to my heart. I fall.
I hear someone shouting. “Jeb’s down.”
Then I hear people screaming about the fountaining light. Anything unusual is fearsome, I think. The fountaining fades. I am amazed, I think at the ship. I regret the light-show’s end.
Clambering over rocks and stones, Mongoose and Thyal reach me as the final sparks fizzle and are gone.
“I think I found a thing that we need,” I say into their worrying faces. I give the box into Thyal’s hand so Mongoose can help me up.
“It’s not doing anything for me,” Thyal says, giving it into Mongoose’s hands.
“Me either,” Mongoose says. He give it back to me.
Lights zip over it, over my hand, finger to finger as if it plays.
“I’ve never heard of gadget looking like this,” Thyal says. “I’ll have to check through the stories.”
“It might help us get into the shuttle,” Mongoose says. “There’s no door or hatch outline visible at all but we did just uncover a slight depression that looks about that size.” He steadies me for clambering toward the shuttle with his hand under my elbow and his other arm around my back.
Almost the whole rim is clear. People gather in behind us. Everyone wants to see. I don’t see Puma, but I expect him any second. Mongoose guides me to the depression at the base of the shuttle’s upper surface.
I tremble—excitement?—and slide the box into the hollow.
“Made for it,” Mongoose says.
A restrained colour-show plays over the surface of the little box in tandem with the pulsing I feel emanating from the amulet. I feel tears tickling their way down my face. “It’s my call-sign, done in colours. Ship is pulsing, not hurting me.” My voice is husky.
Mongoose squeezes me close to his side. “Look at what else is happening.”
A large trapezoid rectangle, outlined in blue lights racing round the perimeter appears on the shuttle’s upper side and slowly slides to one side.
Inside is a second panel. It shows a smaller version of the shuttle…
“It’s a map,” Puma says, pushing between Mongoose and me. Lithe catches me. Mongoose steps back. Thyalsene steps forward.
“Of the shuttle,” Thyal says. “Showing us in red light where its underparts still need to be freed.”
“You’re a shaman!” Puma says.
Thyal laughs. “Yes, it is quite ironic that I’ve just been blessed with an engineer’s amulet.”
Puma studies Thyal for a long moment. His jaw muscles work and his eyes glare from under his brows. “Better you than that little girl,” he says at last. Many in the crowd surrounding us seem to agree, with murmured comments or relieved expressions.
“Does it matter who pilots the shuttle?” Lithe says quietly. He holds me one side, Mongoose the other.
“As long as we get to the ship, Jeb,” Mongoose says.
Everyone, a few at the time, come to see the transponder settled in its place still pulsing with its little light show, the hatch panel slid away, the map inside.
“Very pretty,” Isis says. “How, friend Puma, will you convince the ship it wants P if it is Z it requires?”
“Let’s get back to it,” Puma says brusquely. “The map is good. Tells us to release the legs or struts that were holding the shuttle up when the molten stone flowed around it, and the lower half of the hatch. Though we’re probably all fit enough to climb in.”
He assigns a leader for each area. Isis and Man, Vulture, and Woodchuck. People start their hammers with renewed vigour. Clink-clink. But no-one puts down their bag. As if everyone is expecting something Lotor still to happen. Or a couple of someones like Puma and Jeb.
Do they believe they’ll be left behind?
Or will they rush the last life-boat?