Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mongrel: Tardi Refuses to be Distracted ...

Low Tide Washing the Reefarium's Strand

Shad distracts Tardi from his worries generated by the monster, by interesting him in the Stormy tattoos. 

Today, Tardi explored an area of the island not overseen by windows. North-facing, the whole quadrant of the building remained shuttered for storms and every time between them. Not enough people to run the place, probably. Tardi hadn’t met Cele this morning and Shad was glum. 

Serves him right. Shad should be suffering indigestion on top of the guilt. Tardi’s problem was the monster. When he so blithely stepped into Callum’s mud bath, the monster pulled back so sharply that Tardi felt every aspect of the disengagement. But when Trinnet on board the boat grew sea-sick, and then vomited, the monster hijacked all of Trinnet’s sensations and Tardi also grew sea-sick and then vomited.

Tardi began his study on the lower of the two decks encircling the whole building. The sandy-bottomed shallows adjacent to a narrow sliver of sand troubled with the purest reef blue water he ever saw, and it was low tide, he saw by the marks of past water levels on a jetty pylon round to the left.

Not a blade of a water-weed fluttered to show him the currents. No sea urchins waved their myriads of delicate little hands between their spikes which they used to wedge in under the rocks, to scrape at yummy seaweed with their parrot beaks. And not one school of little fish darted in the shallows. In short, no evidence of life in the water that he could see.

Further round the building to the right, he’d glimpsed Cele’s creations, her dolphinate as she had christened them, too strange yet for describing with words, though she said the -ate part in the word meant -like. 

What would they be eating? More to the point, how unlike a human could a dolphin be? And how unlike a dolphin could a human be? True, they were both placental mammals. They both had big brains. And were both warm-blooded. They both liked to play. Any other comparison? 

How like a tree was he? The deck made him conscious of it in him. His toe roots started to try and cross the gaps between the boards. He jumped down onto the minuscule strand and sloshed into the water. 

Toward mid-morning, Shad soft-footed from the shadows surrounding the stair to the upper deck. Tardi almost always knew when Shad arrived on the scene.

“Found you,” Shad said. 

 “Callum is still quite young for dealing with the crap a bastard like Trinnet will surely dole out,” Tardi said. 

“On the attack right away," Shad said. "Same age I was when I begun learning my trade studying you.”

Woah, Tar-boy. Keep you cool or the monster will come running. But still Tardi's temper made him say, “As if I knew anything about that.”

“I mean, when I started my training for the shadowing,” Shad said. “That part’s the least of your worries. Trin’s a cranky bastard but good at training up half-feathered youths.”

“What’s the worst of my worries?” Tardi said.

“Is the Great Bastard back in you yet?”

“Only to have me feel every ache and pain Trinnet is suffering. Sea-sickness, bone-paining from sleeping on the ground, and now dog-tired. Cranky. I expect the monster is goading him,” Tardi said.

“Or the boy is, if Trin is slowing,” Shad said. 

“It’s funny how when the bastard first started in me, I had so many people to worry about - Steve, Rowan, my father, Poul - that I couldn’t concentrate on it. Now I’m trying to find more things to keep my mind on, not wanting to give him all my thoughts.”

Shad grinned. “We could get started on the levels.”

“Water levels? I’ve been reading them on the underside of the building. At high tide and when the sea-doors are open, we’ll be like we’re floating, with it coming deck-level,” Tardi said. And he’d been going to say, that isn’t a safe margin when actually Shad was his equal at worrying. Why hassle him ahead of time? They had to be gone by the time that storm blew up.

“Levels in three-dot history,” Shad said. “Every dot represents a trey of stories told while the teller tattoos you with a trey of motifs. A world of pain you never suspected.”

“Sounds interesting,” Tardi said. 

Shad laughed. “What I said, Cuz.”

“But is now the right time?” Tardi said. “I’m expecting lots of interruptions.”

“Interruptions make it bearable in my opinion. Soon as you fell asleep, Trinnet shook me awake. His hand over my mouth. Quick, the Tree-Hair is out of it. He had me face down over a table and his needling kit out quick as, and filling in the shaman’s staff he outlined previous. Or you went down to talk with Cele. I knew the game by then and draped myself over the table. That day Trinnet blacked-in Hole-in-the-Day.” 

Tardi laughed. “I’m onto what you are doing name-dropping these mysterious objects and tickling my curiosity.”

“It’s fresh in me. And we’re going to have to cheat. We have a good place here to do it, but no opportunity for the needler, that’s me, to learn the designs from the one who went before. You maturing for seven months between bouts is also out of the question. Mature enough already, I reckon.”

“We’ll be lucky if we get seven days,” Tardi said. “The weather …” he shrugged. “Sorry. Meant not to worry you.”

“We won’t be here in seven days.”

“You’ve seen that? I mean with your second-sight?”

Shad nodded. “Storm of a man spraying his grief over all and sundry is what’ll dampen us.” 

Tardi studied Shad. A flush high on his cheekbones. Shy suddenly. “Go on.”

Shad shook his head. “No more on that.” 

“You’re blushing. A woman involved, is there?” Tardi said, laughing. 

“I wasn’t going to worry you …,” Shad started.

Tardi laughed more. “If she can cope with a tree-hair, there’ll be no worries by me.” Here’s hoping. “Besides, she might take to you.” Well, he said that to tease.

“She won’t.” Shad stricken-looking suddenly. 

Tardi narrowed his eyes. “You’re worrying about something more. Only woman I know who might turn up is Zebe. Will you be okay with her?”

“Yes. We should get begun,” Shad said.

Preventing more thought on that subject …

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mongrel: Shad's Decision

Boat such as Mr Boatman's that took Trinnet and Callum to the shore.

This section doesn't have a proper introduction yet. It's from Shad's POV and has him dealing with Trinnet who is a trial to everybody. As a result, Shad may make the wrong decision and feel forever guilty about consequent events. 

“You be but a newbie yourself an you take the Tamer’s levels and his tattoos on yourself?” Trinnet said.

“Everything is fresh in my mind,” Shad said.

Trin didn’t appear to listen, or he had the Great Bastard chasing through him after his thoughts. 
“I’m not staying,” Trinnet said, having already said that a number of times. “The Great Bastard is that restless in me.”

“I hear you,” Shad said. Oh Silver Ship, give me patience. “Might be for the best, us separating. Our eggs not all in the same frypan, you get my meaning.”

“For sure, when yon half-feathered friend is gone bad. He does not mark the greater good, does he?” 
 “I don’t know,” Shad said. He wouldn’t gainsay the man he’d picked to shadow. Thick and thin. Besides, the greater good mightn’t be what Trinnet thought. Some of the factualities Shad heard about this last week went far beyond the reasons for taming.

Trin went on. “The taming be up to me soon, an me not trained for it particularly. Why are you not coming to help with that?”

“I swore to shadow Tar. You know that.”

Trin acted aggrieved. “I’ll have to take the other young one. I need someone.”

Shad nodded. 

Anytime he and Callum were alone together, Shad prepped Callum with an instalment of Tar’s story plus Shad’s own ideas on what Tar aimed to achieve. Which were so considerable, Shad about cried every time he thought on it. 

And which Callum picked up the first time Shad’s voice went watery. 

“You all right?” Callum said. “My gran feared my whole life that the Huddle and the golden fucking ball will one day get hold of me. The Huddle ate my grandfather, her proper grandson.”

“You’re as proper a grandson as any I know,” Shad said.

“Thanks,” Callum said. “She’s had me sit in the Huddle’s mud every day since I got too old to be rubbed with it so the Huddle can’t see me, we hope. The ball keeps them all here when they would’ve rather gone home to their own planets. He slaves people to him. Maybe I can help you help your friend Tar? Because he fights the ball?”

Shad was totally in favour of Callum accompanying Trinnet. He grinned inside. Totally was one of Tar’s favourite words and by now Tar used a good few of Shad’s.

But … getting back to the matter at hand, good solutions all round. Trinnet on the road where he felt a hundred times more comfortable than surrounded by the salt-sea. Couldn’t fault him on that, Shad thought. 

Trinnet out of Tar’s face and vice versa. To be honest, Trinnet out of Shad’s face. Callum with a worthy project of his own instead of tripping Shad up following on his heels. 

“Take him to meet our friends in the west. He’ll help you prep them afore we meet again,” Shad said about Trinnet’s proposed destination. 

“Twig telling the tree?” Trinnet said.

Shad stayed calm in the face of Trinnet affronted. Another thing he trained himself in all his life. “I prepped Callum like it were learnings. He’s a nine younger than me. Maybe you can test him by having him speak the preps to the proper parties.”

“That I can live with. Now fetch the young one for us to slip away without the fanfare of grandmothers and such.”

“You have organised the boat?” Shad said. 

“The Great Bastard himself reminded me this morning. Of course I had the boy organise the boat,” Trinnet said. 

Mr Boatman picked up Trinnet and Callum in the previous early evening. They went without saying goodbye. “Am I an ogre?” Tardi said when Shad told him.

Cele, too, was upset and asking more or less the same question. “Callum and I never had any fights. Why would he leave without saying goodbye?”

Shad smiled nervously. 

“Callum and I didn’t quarrel,” Cele said about Shad’s smile, obviously interpreting the smile as doubt. “And he went off with just that man Trinnet. When I gave my approval it was for him going with you two. I don’t believe Trinnet is capable of handling a teenager. Now I’ll be worrying.”

Neither Cele nor Tardi ate much of the stew Trinnet left for them. Shad ate it all.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Mongrel: Tardi in the Huddle's Mud

The Huddle's Mud Turned to Stone

“She be glad to be leaving,” Shad said. “Let’s be at it, Tar.”

“Whip crack about the sea-doors stung you,” Tardi said. 

“Not wrong. Go in clothes and all. Takes you too long to get them off over your tree bits.”

Tardi found a stool and a chair arranged to step up into the tank. “She stung me with her whip-crack about her witch’s cauldron,” he said. “Thought I might turn into the frog-prince.”

Shad laughed. 

Tardi felt around with his foot in the steaming grey mud for a step down into the tank. “Found it.” He squatted slowly into the mud aiming for a seat on the stool, taking notice he couldn’t help but, the stuff happening at the boundaries of himself and the mud. 

A sensation of a hundred thousand dulled points walked up him as he sank. He nearly missed the monster’s distress. Settling on the stool, he concentrated. 

The monster cringed out of all the places it had expanded into. 

Tardi shuddered recalling that feeling of the thing as he called it then, twisting and turning in him, making itself a nest. A kinaesthetic delusion, all it was. 

And now the monster retreated, ha ha, in advance of a grey mud army. Another delusion. He lifted a couple of handfuls of the mud to face-level. 

The way it dripped wasn’t like normal slurry mud or even like sand in seawater say you dug out a moat around a sandcastle. This went in globs and strands, with … he saw close-up … slime mould sporangium-sized fingers six millimetres tall and two millimetres thick … glued together along their lengths with a grey slime …

“Almost like a egg-white, say you’re trying to separate it,” Shad said. “You know, when you toss the yolk from shell to half-shell?”

“Mmm.” If he talked, he’d lose his grip. Besides, his mouth too dry. The mud was alive? 

Of course it was. What was it that Cele said? The mud learned. 

Fluid in the grey nearly-transparent fingerling bodies glittered as they compressed and lengthened. Hydraulically almost. The origin of the pointillist sensation. 

The mini-fingers stood up on his hand, more and more of them rising to an upright position. Bits of the mud threatening to drip from the sides of his hand was pulled in by the elasticity of the slime. 
Those standing on the hummocks of the friction pads at the base of his fingers started to rhythmically compress and lengthen, first only the dozens on the friction pads, then those near to them, spreading out to all that fitted on his hand. 

Definitely alive. Definitely having intention. He swung his hands down, a giant elevator, for them to join the rest in the tank. 

On his back, on the side where the bark ridges reached for his left shoulder blade, he couldn’t feel the tamping except as a generalised pressure as if through a layer of cardboard laid over the whole area. 
But … he concentrated all his attention there … the diligent pressuring of the creatures shredded the imaginary cardboard. 

At the surface of the mud they built towers of themselves to reach higher and fell back.

“Why don’t you do a head to toe?” Shad said, observing. He glimmer-smiled. “We don’t want none of them old stories coming true.”

Tardi nodded. He slow motioned forward onto his knees. Cross-legged onto the tank floor with his face turned up for air. 

He took a deep breath. 

Did the head to toe. Counted.

The pressuring on his back grew more localised. Should he think because the pins shredded the actual bark as well as the imaginary cardboard? Would they stop at his skin? 

His gut seemed relaxed … he had his gut feelings back? He angled his face up out of the mud. Sighed. about the relief of it. He’d missed being able to trust his gut to help make decisions. 

Started rising, slowly, giving the mud creatures time to coalesce and not fall from great heights. Knees under him. Engage leg muscles to standing.

He couldn’t feel the monster in him anywhere. 

Where would it go? Trinnet? The rest of the Stormies back home would surely be a backward step for it? 

Shad laughed. “If only you could see yourself now. Proper mud man.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

Mongrel: Why the Tree-bug?

Why the Tree-bug? Tardi asks. He doesn't get any promising answers. And apparently the only hope for him is a woman who has already proved untrustworthy ... 

Cele's Answers

“Why did you come here, Tree-man?” Cele said. 

Would she ask if she had the monster visiting her? “Anything you know about this disease.” He squished needles in his mangy hair. “Do you know it?”

“I know of it,” she said. “Never knew what it would do to humans if spread like fertiliser up and down the countryside.”

 “Need a cure. Not just for me either.” 

He said it all again, in case she hadn’t taken it in. “There are hundreds back home. They’re being called new-trees and they have their human souls still in them. Only a couple of us walking and talking. Partials.”

“An off-world bio-agent brought in by one of the Huddle to help them convert our air into something they can breathe,” she said.

That was a scrap of info and no use to him at all apart from tickling his interest. No mention of a cure. “What’s the other thing I have in me?” Tardi said. “That one allows the monster to invade my mind? I caught it from some silver-barbed coral?”

He couldn’t make out her expression. Fear?

“The Huddle hides me from the Engineer,” she said. “That’s what he once was. They protect me despite the terrible thing I did to them.” 

She seemed to go into a fugue of whys and wherefores. “Maybe they still expect to revenge themselves on me. Or maybe they are saving me from him to be able to get Ushen returned to them.”

Everything about the Huddle interested him but he couldn’t yet show that in his behaviour. He’d have to try and remember what she said and get her back to his problems as if he cared nothing about hers. “I don’t quite understand. The Huddle protects you from the infection, or from the invasion? How?”
“The infection is in the silver that he manufactures, that the Huddle now need to stay alive. In my opinion, he forces the stuff onto them to keep them caught.”

“He knew me the minute I was flung against Joe Loreno’s coral,” Tardi said.  “He knows my friend Poul. He knows a bunch of Stormies, Trinnet among them.”

“But he’s not that good at seeing the stuff happening right under his nose. He’s trusted the Huddle for so long.”

“How does it work when you and Callum both have a sheen all through you?” 

“I did that to hide us in plain sight. The Huddle is a bunch of beings. Hopefully the Engineer will think we’re bits of that group.”

“What else do you know?” he said. She was paler now, not so rosy-cheeked, though that could be the basement cold. 

“Whatever he snares, stays snared. Thousands of years,” she said.

“And knowing that, you’ve been spreading it. Joany Appleseed, my informant said. Casting it into the landscape.”

“Here’s the clinic,” she said. “Would you like us to sample some of your cells? To see what we can see?” She fanned out a half dozen swabs. 

What would be the use? The bastard was in him, therefore the silver was in him.  “The tree thing then. Can I get rid of that?”

“Why would you want to? I used it to enable the cetacean people to breathe in water.”

“What fish do?” Tardi said. “I’m a land animal.” 

“Earth-evolved fish. The other world’s species that live in water evolved a vegetative symbiosis to help them make oxygen.”

“Joe Loreno stole his sample from here. Or maybe it spilled and he mopped up. Whatever.”

“You can’t blame me for everything,” she said.

“What about that fish that you had here a while, the size of a mattress? I saw you feeding it, courtesy of the Great Bastard himself which is what the Stormies call him. By the time the mattress got down to Byron Bay it was a carpet-sized fish. Must have had a great feed on the way. Sharks, dolphins and Earth-evolved whales would all do, I expect. It has the biggest maw.” He had to tell her it all despite that she was now paper-pale. 

“He doesn’t even have to do the reformatting of Earth himself, you’re doing it for him,” he said.

“I’m spreading the stuff to save the Earth, to stop things dying. We rediscovered a species of krill the day Joe left.”

“Bet it’s a silver krill,” Tardi said. “Not an Earth-evolved species. And apparently you made a completely new silver sea mammal as well. Dolphins crossed with humans? Whose idea was that?”

“They’re humans so wanting the peaceful ocean life, and so loving their dolphin friends. So yes, I melded them.”

The peaceful ocean life? The poor fucking dolphins. But careful now, Tar-boy. You want her help. You are not her conscience. “The Great Bastard showed me a bunch of eggs containing the genetic material of his kind. Eggs that are waiting somewhere nearby, for good times had by all on a water planet. He’s picked me for the first of his new support system and he’s going to try to make me do things with bad repercussions. I hoped that you might have some suggestions on how to help overcome … I don’t know … prevent the worst?”

“The Huddle have controlled him for thousands of years. Get in with them.” 

The way she smiled reminded him of Rowan’s tricks. 

“I’ll start you on that road if you like,” she said.

“Is it irrevocable?” he said.

She laughed nastily. “Look at you, asking that.” 

She sobered. “The dust is forever, the Huddle told me again and again. What keeps them and now you in thrall. The mud needs constant refreshing. In the valley the ladies all had their own ponds to lie around in and for their clones to be born into.”

“Do you? Lie around in it?” Tardi said.

She stopped before a set of fire containment doors. Unlocked them. “Come on in and see my witch’s cauldron.”

Put like that he didn’t know if he wanted to. He stepped back, into someone right behind him.  
“I got your back, Tar. I be here a while, listening. You heard when she saw me.” 

Tardi tried to recall the moment when Cele focussed on how she might be able to help him. When Shad stepped from the shadows?

“The lady is saying the dust is forever,” Shad said. “There’s your irrevocable, she be saying. The mud sounds like a shield.” He nudged Tardi toward the tank Cele indicated. “Big enough for a swim, almost.”

“I’ll leave you gents to figure something. When I leave here, soon, I’ll be opening the sea-doors. Flooding all this,” she said with her arms spread. “You left my great great grandson … where?” she said, looking at Shad.

“Youngster is with Trinnet in the caf, learning his edibles.”

“Zebe might help you, if you ask her nicely,” Cele said.

“Zebe? She’s here?” Tardi said.

“You know her already?”

“Only that she came down to Byron Bay to help my friend Poul infect himself and her with the same silvery coral that I was in hospital for. She is a blonde and she doesn’t answer friendly emails.”

Now Cele laughed nastily. “You do not know Zebe. Trust me on that, if on nothing else. Just as well for you. After I leave, she’ll be the only one who can help you with that project.”

She swirled down a corridor opposite. 

They heard a second set of doors slamming back to the walls. A few minutes later the smell of the ocean trembled into the room.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mongrel: Tardi at the Reefarium

If you have ever dreamed of being a dolphin ... you'll appreciate what Cele is doing.

Two short sections today. The first scene has Tardi explaining how he turned into a tree-man. The use of this scene is to remind readers of events in Mortal, part one of the series. The second scene is from Cele's POV, her reviewing parts of her backstory. 

Cele sat down opposite Trinnet and Tardi but perched on the chair as if she would run given the slightest reason.

So he should start in on his story. “I was thrown against some silver coral by a shock-wave from a boat, and sometime after the poison from the coral took hold in me, our countryside was sprayed with what Joe Loreno brought home. Aerial spray, by a personal harrier, it is believed.”

He stopped to sip from Shad’s brew. No input from Cele, Trinnet or the monster. “Where the resulting mist fell, people transformed into what we’re calling new-trees, for want of a more accurate description of what might have happened to them. They still have their human souls.” 

He short-cut where possible. In a minute Cele wouldn’t be able to take in any more of it. The cup-runneth-over syndrome. He’d seen it frequently since the unordinary times had taken hold. “Some people, inoculated by an earlier brush with the dust, are like me, walking talking tree-hairs. Weird that Loreno himself apparently wasn’t inoculated?” 

This was something Tardi thought of while slop-slopping on boat-ride over, experimenting with the way to tell the story. 

“He was a clean freak,” Cele said. “Never let anything touch him that might infect him.” 

“I brought a sample from Joe Loreno’s well,” Tardi said. He stood the spray-bottle by Shad’s mug. 

Cele got up. She did not touch Tardi’s peace offering. “Have a look around. I’ve got chores.”

Cele Rationalising

Cele was sociable enough, she hoped, and stayed long enough in the feeding pool that none of her clients realised her upset. And why did she even think of the people she’d come to love, as clients
The tree-man. The unordinary times. Joe Loreno, that damned greedy bastard. Yes. She should’ve kept her distance from what were essentially a bunch of experimental subjects. Before beginning with them, she’d made them sign every kind of statute she could think of. Used every kind of argument to try and talk them out of their intention. 

She’d desisted only when Mr Moneybags said he’d take his money elsewhere if she threw up any more resistance. All boiled down to money. Keeping the Reefarium open. Keeping the research going with none of it going anywhere until she surreptitiously added the silver mud to their sea-water supply. 

Got away with it right up until Zebe’s discovery. 

But why the love? Her need for physical contact with other people after losing all her own, barring Callum, she now thought. Everyday she doubted that he was hers. All of it started her down the road of wanting to belong. The only people presenting themselves the ones she made into a cetacean-human breed. 

What was she thinking, to even cave in? 

Not thinking. Needing. As now they need me. They won’t survive if we stay here. But Callum?
Ushen’s baby, brought to Cele at the Reefarium by Ushen herself. Named for Ushen’s father, Cele’s actual grandson. How easy to conflate the two after the Huddle had their way with the first Callum. The Callum she had now the spitting image of the Callum she had then, apart from the ancient human characteristics. 

Enough of the remembering. Need a couple of affirmations now with the bottom sagging from my world. 

I am done with the Huddle. 

Watering down their influence does work. 

Has worked for fifty years. It’s been my life’s work. 

And all the other lives. Nalbo’s. Colin’s and Bella’s. Callum’s. All the men eaten. All the women taken and then discarded. 

How can I live with all that on my conscience but by trying to save one small group of stupid stupid people?

There’s still Callum to organise. 

Let the tree-man think what he wanted, she knew the times were unordinary when a woman could raise her great great grandson. The raising was as finished as raising ever was. She knew Callum’s yearning. She’d done her best. Looks like the right people to take over his care came along in the nick of time.