The reins slap down onto the oxen. They lurch into motion. The traffic stops entirely to allow them their way.
“Don’t let that surprise you, “ says the accountant. “It’s that nobody wants a contact-incident. The beasts and the wagon are the only solid transport around.”
I wish the man would tell us his call name. I’m not a fan of titling a person ad infinitum.
At the end of the street the wagon rolls onto a track slithering up a slope. A stunted forest takes us onto a remnant of the plateau.
“About my business,” says Esse. “Will you tell me your secret name?”
Will he or won’t he when he’s doubtful already about his call name?
The accountant whispers near the Esse’s ear.
He doesn’t allow any part of himself to touch her. He is well informed.
The young chief frowns. “So it is to be a secret business,” she says. “I expected action. Fireworks. Fighting.”
The accountant rolls his eyes.
The girl, for that is what she still is, faces forward abruptly. Her face and neck flame red. She pulls at the harness bridling the oxen.
She feels shame? She should. How things have changed since last I was a man, that such youngsters are chosen to rule. Or is that one of the mysteries about this action that I should study? Her particularly, or all three?
My Esse ignores my wavelength. She nods the conversation along. “So Monk said. He organised the details with you?”
The accountant nods. “With Tim at the same time.” He nods into the back.
“Tim,” the techie says, reaching out his hand for shaking.
I do the honours. Touch is one of my roles. An ordinary mortal will flare and burn should the Esse touch him.
“I have a laptop and a mobile phone with me,” Esse says. “They contain an accounting of my years so far, numbers and words both. I need them both under the protection of a dependable House?”
I have time to notice the labour of the oxen, the backward slant of the load in the wagon, the trainees walking now to lighten the strain on the animals.
“The lady asks about the why-and-wherefore of Bec,” Blaze says. “If I’m not mistaken.” He bows. Toward the Esse. Toward me. “Hail to you, Esse and to you, oh Warrigal.”
He names me Warrigal with an honorific? “Loup is my call name,” I say.
Perhaps this is the hangup with the accountant? I did not tell him my call name therefore he won’t tell us his? I can’t believe it’s a power play. He seems an educated man.
While I cogitate, the accountant sags as if overcome with emotion. “Blaze. Please relieve Bec,” he says.
Rope is Bec. There is a mystery about her.
Bec walks to her father’s side, speaks across him. “My mother is the real chief,” she says. “She lies broken. Her a woman of honour with two husbands. The other and two of my brothers are dead. All four killed by the fucking Naif miners.”
She punches the side of the wagon.
I take back what I thought about Bec, my Esse. My inner face is red.
We share our thoughts, both of us having been implanted with one of Shaman Jeb’s chips, in our case liaised only to each other. One of the blessed Silver Ship’s innovations.
Bec resumes her accounting. “This husband-my-father fights with words. He brought you and your red-eyed wonder to burn the fuckers, I hope. The daughter tries to fill her mother’s shoes. They try to pretend it’s business as usual.”
Tears want to slide down her face and I want that for her. I spit over the side despite that Monk warned me that this epoch frowns upon such spitting.
“Or are you just some Ancient itinerants,” the girl says choosing to hide her grief in a tantrum. “The same as we must feed and send on their way without expecting their help in any kind of detrimental event?”
The Esse glimmer-grins, showing her power sparking and blue behind her teeth.
More than a tenth of a second and the two electronic devices she still holds will be fried. But even Blaze at the head of the oxen sees. He straightens. The accountant breathes the warrior way. In out. In out.
The Esse continues. “As I said, I need them both in the protection of a dependable house. You are Monk’s recommendation.”
“Why Tim, though?” the accountant says. “You’ll return from the action, we hand over your machines untouched.”
“Next time I sleep the long sleep,” she says. “It must be to merge with the red mountain. I want our stories told but wrote them encoded, to not fall into Naif hands. Hence your Tim.”
I hear the tremble in her voice. Way oh way, my Esse. I swear I’ll not send you walking into the mountain alone.
Maybe I gave her hope for she continues.
“Our maliced genes are not the only influence on our actions. The ways that the Silver Ship rehabilitated us for our people’s benefit and for the benefit of this, our ancient home planet, should be known too.”
She finishes with a sob. Hides her face in her scarves. She’s afraid. She is younger already than I expected, and must eat her Numen.
Her fear sets our hosts blushing or freezing. The youngsters don’t know where to look. They grin embarrassedly at each other. Their elder becomes a pale statue.
What did they think? That we live magically and forever?
The accountant wakes from his stupor. “I swear you my secrecy.”
“I swear you my skills and talents,” Tim says.
These two save themselves, in my opinion.
My Esse wipes her tears. She hands over her laptop and her mobile. “Both are dormant.” She grins at Tim. “Your first test will be the password.” Then she warns him. “Not before you hear that we …” she hesitates, needing my confirmation.
I squeeze her hand.
“… That we have joined with the red mountain.”
The accountant slips the machines into a box under the bench. “Lead-lined,” he says. “According to instructions?”
He still doubts? Way oh way, my Esse mought not be doubted.