A scene from Zebe's point of view in which she hears what happened to her twin, Xanthe and she meets Tardi and Shad.
Zebe dithered in the corridor.
Her wrist deck pulsed. Call waiting. Not just one pulse, but five or six. Impatient caller. Had she enough reception in the corridor for talk? “Hey Neil, what’s up?”
Her brother-in-law-to-be sobbed.
“I’m a broken man, Zebe. Broken. She’s gone. My Valkyrie.”
“What are you saying?” Zebe shouted over his grief. “Are you talking about Xanthe?” She had to make sure. “Where did she go?”
“Nowhere. Didn’t run away.”
Awful feeling that she knew. Was told. Cele.
One of the fire-doors opened further. The Stormy. Already crying, she turned her back. “Where did she go, Neil?”
“The cleaning crew told me because they knew about us.”
Zebe shouted to shut him up. “Tell me about Xanthe!”
“The fucking ladies took her, didn’t they? The aliens. The monster. And the EMBers have embargoed the event.”
“What happened?” she repeated. “What happened?”
“I’ve got to get her back, Zebe.” Neil cried, not listening like she was not listening to him. “What will I do without her? I got the licence to marry in the mail, and straight after I got the news.”
She sobbed. Screamed. Punched the stone wall.
“I’m not complete without her,” Neil said.
“What about me? Xanthe and me being two halves?” Thud. Thud.
“You’ve had her all your life so far,” Neil said.
What was it about him? He owned Xanthe suddenly? “Just fucking tell me how it happened.”
“They made a sail of themselves and billowed ahead of the cleaning crew. Xanthe poked her little machine out in front of the rest of the crew. The whole thing collapsed onto her. The crew turned about and ran for it. Bunch of cowards.”
“Nothing. Nobody knows. Told you the EMBers. But no Xanthe running after them, or stuck behind the barred door. They’d bring her out quick-smart if she landed there. Wouldn’t they?”
“You know the EMBers better than I do. Why is what I want to know!” Please let it not be what Cele talked about.
“What do I care about their reasons? They’re the aliens.”
Neil yammered. The only word for his histrionics. Zebe pulled her deck from her arm not to have to hear him, and let it fall.
A fine-boned Stormy hand caught it. “Might want that still,” he said. “Shad is my call name.”
The Tree-hair came next. He wrapped his bare arms around her and guided her head onto his bare shoulder to cry. Just a towel around his waist, she realised, but she cried up a storm for all the fact that she pressed against a suspiciously handsome near-naked stranger.
Make that a stranger halfway to handsome …. “Why are you being so familiar? We aren’t even acquainted,” she said, trying to step back.
“Trying to make amends,” he said. “I thought I knew you. I emailed you and you probably thought gobble-de-gook.”
He looked at her hair. “You are not the blonde who came to Byron Bay, and when I had the chance to see your pic found by my brother Steve searching for you, I thought I already knew you. I thought many bad things about you for infecting my friend Poul with the monster’s dust. So, making amends.”
“My stupid stupid sister,” Zebe said, sagging back against him this time hugging him properly, with her arms around him. “She makes me so angry being a daredevil. What’s this stuff on your back?”
She explored his back with both hands. “Sorry,” she said as if only just now aware of his state-of-being. She stepped around him to inspect his back. “Looks to me as if the mud has decreased the height of the bark.”
Tardi’s face flamed.
Shad laughed. “That’s what I meant, Cuz. The sea is creeping in, in case you people aren’t noticing. I’ll be upside. Elevator too mightn’t like water.”
Tardi looked down at his feet. Ankle deep. Slop slop. “Yeah, sure. We’ll be there shortly.”
Shad shouted down. “Make that right now. I hear Mr Boatman.”
“Okay. Right now,” Tardi said. “Zebe, please help me. I can’t travel in only a towel.”
“Where are the clothes you came in?”
He nodded toward the shower stall. “We thought too much of the mud."