Friday, January 27, 2017

Mongrel: Verbal Fencing

Scene outside Neil's House as seen from the patio

In which Tardi learns more Stormy history and Zebe helps to draw an octahedron ... 

“Is that what that is meant to be?” Zebe said from behind them. “Give me the pen for a sec?”

Tardi felt more lines being drawn. Decisively. 

“When you draw it on a slant, it’s easier to see both the inner and the outer edges,” Zebe said. 
“What’s it meant to portray?”

“I swore an oath not to speak of it to a sapient,” Shad said. 

“So …” Zebe said. “I’m human and you are …?” Laughter in her voice. 

Fury in Shad’s tension.

Tardi rolled off the drawer-unit. “Shad and I are as human as anyone,” he said. “But we both also have Stormy blood. He’s teaching me the culture. There are stories of each of the cultures that can’t be, or aren’t, told to the other. As protection.”

“All the stories of my culture are free to be told anywhere,” Zebe said.

“I used to think that too,” Tardi said. “But Stormies have no access to the medical services story.”

Zebe gulped air, then laughed. “Touché.”

Last time Tardi heard that he fenced verbally with Rowan. He continued. “I’ve heard it is to protect the system against being over-run with claims.” 

And after a second beat, he said, “And how many Stormies have you ever met?” Shut up, Tar-boy. Don’t spoil what you might have with her. But he didn’t stop … he’d been angry about the road-kill thing forever. “And instead of letting Stormies share in the welfare-relief story when times are tough, people make up stories about them eating road kill.”

“Here you all are,” Neil said. “We should go now, Zebe. Wind is picking up.”

Tardi hated the carpet on the stairs. If given an excuse, for example if there happened to be rain damage, he’d rip that carpet up in three minutes. Because when did Neil silently creep up to stand there and eavesdrop? 

“I’ll get back to you about those stories,” Zebe said. “I came up to tell you that I’m going to Zoo Hall with Neil. Put my name down for any jobs there might be going. I hope that I can figure out an alternative to Cele’s protocol that she wrote for you, Tardi, by seeing the situation from the inside.” 

“Why?” Tardi said. He hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. 

“I want more than just a dalliance.” She followed Neil down the stairs. 

Tardi slumped down on the bedside drawer unit. “I don’t have any good feelings about what just passed.”

“First, you quaked Zebe’s comfort zone,” Shad said. “She’ll be checking the things you said, for whether you told her true. But, different DNA is the reason Stormies choose not to share in the medical story.”

“No one ever said anything about different DNA when Steve’s brain was being rebuilt,” Tardi said. “Which is why I didn’t believe Trinnet’s claims about our mule status.”

“And it seems like Cele quaked Zebe’s comfort zone big time with that protocol, whatever that is when it is at home.”

“That’s the one I’m worried about,” Tardi said. “And Zebe wanting more than just a dalliance.”  

“I think Cele’s thingie is the treatment she designed to get you in with the Huddle. Still on your deck. I’d say the treatment cancelling out the dallying is what Zebe is worrying about. She has a very sure hand, drawing on skin.”

“And that’s all you’ll say on the subject?” 

Tardi draped himself stomach-first over the bedside unit, the foam mattress between him and its sharp edges. 

Tardi learned about the Shaman Inchoate, the Shaman in Space and finally, the Shaman on Earth. His back looked like a noughts-and-crosses grid with all the squares filled if it resembled Shad’s back. 
The middle row had the alien’s ship on his right side; the Arkship on his bark-covered side and the alien and Arkship combined in the middle slot of that row for the Shaman Inchoate and the Shaman in Space parts of the stories.  

The top row, reading from the left had a horse in the Hole-in-the-Day space-suit. How was it even possible to dress an animal like a horse in a space suit made for a human? A mystery. In the middle was a pair of electronic chips. And third, the Solar System on the right. 

“That row signifies different aspects of Shaman Jeb’s arrival on Earth,” Shad said in his don’t-argue tone of voice. Last, Shad pricked him out the three dots on Tardi’s left cheekbone and rubbed wood ash into the holes to raise the scarring. 

“Wood ash?” Tardi said.

“Our old one gave it. Her gift to you. A story for a trammelled day.”
They didn’t sleep indoors and despite the tarp over them and tucked in, they slept wet. Drenching rain. 

Sleep? Tardi had precious little with his back scrawning with pain. Useful Stormy word. When the rain eased, he shoved the tarp down off him for the gentling rain to put out the fire.  

Even though he couldn’t lie on his back, as when he usually dreamed, his unconscious mind never stopped trying to tell him of the dangers ahead, which it did by inserting errant warnings. When he realised what was happening, he shuddered over the idea that he could not sense the monster … was it present? What was it picking up from the stream of half-conscious thoughts?

At first light, he gave up. Went inside and checked out Cele’s treatment plan on his deck. A lot of names of chemicals he didn’t know. Three times a day some of them. Blood samples to be taken daily to be presented to the Huddle. Protocol to be held in a maintenance profile the minute the Huddle stop licking out the sample pots. 

He joined Shad. 

They sat dry on the door sill. “Terrible dream last night, Cuz,” Tardi said. 

Shad had built a fire in a steel garbage-can laid on its side. He had water boiling.  

Steel garbage can? Dry firewood? “Please don’t come into Zoo Hall with me.”

Shad narrowed his eyes. “Terrible for you or for me?”

“Both. But mine is the thing that must be done. Yours was …” Tardi swallowed. “Just don’t let the fucking management know we’re together. Do you know any Stormies living nearby?”

Shad chuckled. “Saw you wondering where I got the bin and the kindling.” He waved at the bushland bordering the housing estate. “Out there watching out for us. Bin with firewood waiting by my hand. Who but Stormies? Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be comfy with them long before you get your foot in the cage door.” 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mongrel: Staying at Neil's

Traditional tattooing

Neil had the same kind of doubts again letting Shad and Tardi into his house, and again showed his displeasure with raised eyebrows.  

“I’d rather sleep under a bridge with them than enter a house where they aren’t welcome,” Zebe said.
The first drops of rain tapped on the porch roof. Neil caved in without further protest. 


“Unoriginal, too,” Shad said. 

“Reading my mind again,” Tardi said. 

“Your expressive face.”

 Zebe directed them to set the bags of groceries they all carried on the living room floor. Every horizontal surface in the kitchen had laboratory jars on it. 

“I’m sure I told you to close the shutters,” Zebe said. 

Neil shrugged. “Sorry.”

As the house was closed up, Shad looked more and more pinched. Tardi didn’t feel much better. “Not sure if we can stay down here for the duration, Zebe,” he said. 

“It’s only while we …” she gestured. “Lift the floor of the mudroom, Neil. We’ll stack the whole lot under the floor.”

“But that’s our wine cellar,” Neil said.

“You may need to shift stuff anyway,” Zebe said. “Will SoHAB even let you stay here now? Isn’t there a singles house?”

“Why I need you with me,” Neil said. “Share my house. Be partners.”

“I am a partner,” she said. She glared at Tardi. “With Tardi.”

A partner in crime would that be? Or was she referring to the project Cele set him on?

Neil looked as resentful as Tardi felt. “A tree-hair? What if you catch the disease? Xanthe liked me very well and I so figured you would too.”

“We mourn our women for a year at the least,” Shad said. 

A conversation killer if there ever was one. Tardi almost laughed out loud. “Is there a room upstairs with a skylight that we can use?” he said. Well, he knew that there was. Saw it on the way in. “Man needs light for his art,” he said of Shad. 

“Biggish storm on the way,” Shad said. “Couple of days of indoor activities?”

Tardi watched their faces. Blank. “Shad’s tattooing me,” he said. “Three-dot history.” More blank. 
Well duh, how long have I known about Stormy history? “We’ll be out of your way while you’re tidying and possibly moving the furniture around,” Tardi said. “Fridge will fit in that space where you intend lifting the floor, a good way to camouflage. Give us a call if you need help.”   

Zebe collected herself first. “We’ll shift the wine cellar into the space under the stairs, Neil. We’ll nail down the floorboards over the jars and shift the fridge over the hole in the floor covering.”

Shad had started up the carpeted stairs without any further nay-saying by Neil. 

Tardi shoved his feet into the riser of each stair tread despite that his toes weren’t growing very fast now. Would be good if it was due to the mud. 

“Good room,” Shad said. “French doors onto a patio. We can make it light and breezy. Unfortunate that the patio isn’t roofed but I’m sure we’ll be able to organise something. Only the dead can live in closed-up houses.” 

He pushed the furniture, a double bed and a bedside drawer unit both on castors to one side. He pointed Tardi toward the other bedside unit. “Screw the castors off it? We don’t want you rolling around.” He hauled a foam mattress from a slot in the wardrobe wall.

“Nothing in the drawers the man might require forthwith?” Tardi said when Shad bent the mattress over the drawer unit.

“Don’t worry about him. Your partner…” Shad laughed. “… will keep him out of our hair. After he’s told her the story of her sister’s misadventure all over again, every little detail, she will force him to contact the cleaning crew to get their every little detail. So. Get your shirt off and let’s get started.”

“This is second dot stuff?” Tardi said. He shucked his shirt. “What happened to you draping over first for me to trace?”

“Couple of spaceships. Every Stormy kid practises drawing them all their spare time.”

“Is there a story? Do we have time for it?”

“Is there a low imminent? Days with wind smashing rain against the skylight? The man will be needed at work as he held off asking for his compassionate leave. The woman will go to Zoo Hall to negotiate on your behalf. The weather will make it impossible for her to return for the duration, it is to be hoped,” Shad said. 

“The story is the Shaman in Space. It starts here …” Shad touched the place on the right side of Tardi’s back level with his waist. “… with the Great Bastard’s spaceship to be set above the Hole-in-the-Day space-suit. Well, that’s what the three wise women now figure.”

“They figure the Hole-in-the-Day thing is a space-suit?” Tardi said. “Or they figure the spaceship …”

“The spaceship. Is the Great Bastard’s, who in Shaman Jeb’s story is referred to as the Engineer. I mind now, that when you and Trinnet argued over the direction of travel, north-west or west or north, the Great Bastard intended us to travel to the place where he intends to signal his space shuttle to come and pick us up. Because he can only get to his ship by shuttle.” 
“And we know that how?” Tardi said. 

“His ship has no landing gear. It must stay in space.” 

“And Stormies know all that how?” Tardi said, rising inflexion despite his intention to stay cool.

“I’m as much in the dark as you, Cuz,” Shad said. “I only know the designs that summarise the stories and the stories themselves. The three wise old women sit around all day skyping and telling each other stories about the stories, gleaning any sensible little detail from their memories and other old people’s memories of when the tales were told in their youth. Meta-talking is what they call it.”

“Sort of what I suggested for you do to find out about that storm rider,” Tardi said. “I’ll start you off on that project though I know nothing whatever about the man. His name suggests he was a calm thoughtful person. I figure it’s a name he maybe chose himself.”

“All this out of a call-name? Calm and thoughtful hardly suggest someone riding a storm?” Shad set out his kit. Drew the design on Tardi’s back. “Lucky there’s no bark on this bit of your back. It’s hard enough to portray an octahedron in two dimensions.”

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mongrel: Travel Is on the Menu

Boat from similar to Mr Boatman's whose is a few feet longer....

 In the  Monster-Moored universe, the natural uneven rate of progress allows for the existence of wooden boats and spaceships in the same story. 

Tardi stood in the boat, swaying to its movement as though he surfed, and watched the only person waiting in the jetty transport park, a square-edged blond leaning against a hoverole done out with numerous SoHAB Security logos. A grey SoHAB Security uniform with creases and ironed-flat planes added to the squared effect. Neil, I assume. Though not looking nearly as teary as one would’ve expected. 

The boat swung expertly alongside the jetty. Shad sprang out to loop the painters, front and rear, over the bollards. But as Zebe stepped onto the jetty, the man was right there to take her into his arms, with him now crying lustily.  

Mr Boatman shrugged and exchanged a wry glance with Tardi and Shad. 

They unloaded their packs and Zebe’s suitcases. 

A row of ten-storey buildings lining the square adjacent to the boat harbour interrupted the direction, northwesterly, where Tardi peered to see the weather. The air was unseasonally warm. He wiped a swath of clammy sweat from his face. Sheep-wool white clouds gathered and regathered in bits of the horizon visible between the buildings. “That storm is just sitting there,” he said. “No grey yet.”

“Working up to an east coast low,” Mr Boatman said. “I’m off. I need to get the boat under cover.” 

 “Let’s get into the vehicle,” Shad said. “People staring. You or me, I don’t know.”

As Tardi and Shad approached with the luggage, Zebe pulled loose from Neil. “They are my friends!” she said as if there had been some resistance to them already. 

“Her attitude a total turnabout from when we were in the boat,” Tardi said. 

Shad grunted agreement. 

Zebe cried, Tardi saw. But who wouldn’t at a meeting of two bereaved parties. 

Neil raised his blond eyebrows but allowed Tardi and Shad to stack the bags in the boot and climb into the back of the hoverole. Zebe slipped into the front where Neil joined her after he openly checked the vehicle’s hatches and paintwork for new scratches. 

The-man-himself drove rather than letting the vehicle drive itself, Tardi noted with professional curiosity. 

“Have you organised your leave yet?” Zebe said. 

Shad and Tardi all ears.

“I was waiting for you, Zebe,” Neil said. “Xanthe always organised me.”

“I don’t organise grown men,” Zebe said. “But I’ll make an exception this once. Take compassionate leave. They owe you. Wave them the licence-to-marry. In their faces if it requires that. Have you got carpentry tools?”

Neil nodded. Shook his head. Yes. No. “What do they eat?” He gestured into the back with a head-shake. 

“We eat normal, Mister,” Shad said. “And we have red blood racing round our arteries just like you.”

“We’ll stop at the mall on the way home,” Zebe said. She turned to face them, not looking at either of them, just over their heads. “Could you two stay in the hoverole?” 

Times are going to be very merry, I don’t think. “Of course,” Tardi said for Shad and himself.

On the parking lot, Zebe shrugged from under Neil’s proprietary arm. 

“He wants organising while at the same time he expects to rule?” Tardi said.

“She’s confused, I think,” Shad said. 

“Well, who …” Tardi said. Then, “Sorry. Me having the last word again. Rowan hated that so much.”

“Ace totally bamboozled a girl called Rowan that time we all went to the Bruns drinking house to ride the storm,” Shad said, reminiscing. 

“We were meant to have broken up,” Tardi said. “And she kept trying to tack us back together. I pretty well ignored her stories about Stormies. What do you mean, riding the storm?”

“Back in history some when we weren’t Stormies yet, an ancestor died trying to ride a storm. Saving all that lived across the water. All coming after him, we call ourselves Stormies to honour him.”

“You’re doing it again. Getting me interested in the next level,” Tardi said.

“Too bad I haven’t Amble’s story. Amble lived between three dot time and five, I think. I always got the idea it’s a grownups-only tale because the old one in our village never told it with kids around and cackled the whole time telling it. People came home red-faced with unhealthy merriment is what Ace used to call it.”

“Is that right?” Tardi bristled about Ace. “Seems to me all you need to do is travel round some, asking everybody you meet what they know. There’ll be a thousand different facts that winnowed down some will give you the story.”

Shad looked at him. Agog. “This is your second sight, Cuz?”

Tardi shrugged. “Travel is on the menu, courtesy of the monster. All you need to do is contact our kin along the way. No second sight needed.” 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Mongrel: A Hard Truth or a Soft Lie

Monstrous Road Kill

Zebe's POV. In which Tardi meets the woman who intends to drag him from his path. Of course he is tempted. Wouldn't you be?

Zebe fetched his clothes. “If you want in with the Huddle, you need to smell and taste of them. Why would you though?” she said, blushing. “I mean, why would you now?”

He turned his back and dropped the towel. Stepped into the pants. For once not many roots to get in his way. “Umm. Not out of choice. Which would be to be my normal self able to … um … with you.” Would he put it so blatantly if he didn’t see the writing on the wall for himself? How much time would they have? He slid his arms into the shirt she held open for him.  

“Umm?” she said encouragingly. 

“Well, dally then. A useful Stormy term.”

“Let’s dally. Take what time we have,” she said.

They met in the middle with her stepping forward and him not stepping back.

“If you don’t mind …” he started.

She buried her hands in his weird hair. “What I just said.” Covered his mouth with her lips. 

Glued. Sliding. Slipping. Their lips and their tongues. 

“Boat’s here,” Shad called.

Tardi groaned. Pecked her for a dessert. “Take what time we have.” 

The man Shad and the tree-hair Tardi side-stepped as to who would be first to meet Mr Boatman, for all that they carried bags and chattels under their arms, theirs and hers. 

“He knows Callum isn’t with us, he took Trinnet and the young one to the mainland in the first place,” Tardi said, starting along the jetty. Zebe stepped past the glum-faced Stormy. 

After one of his cryptic nods, Mr Boatman ignored Zebe. 

He addressed the Stormy behind her. “I trusted you.”

An injured sort of tone. 

Shad nodded. 

“Haven’t heard from him?” Mr Boatman said. He pushed past them all standing in the well of the boat, one two three, to free the painter from the bollard. “Kiddie used to do this.”

Shad shook his head. “I haven’t.”

“Youngster will not be free wherever he goes,” Mr Boatman said. He pushed back past them.

“I know what you mean. I have that self-same problem,” Tardi said. 

“Please sit down, at least two of you,” Mr Boatman flung the words at Zebe and Shad. “So you’ll tell me when he escapes?” he aimed at Tardi. 

Tardi slop-slopped and took up a stance to sway with the boat’s movements. He frowned. “There’s only the one way,” he said.

“And you’ll tell me the way and the when?” Mr Boatman said.

“For crying out loud…,” Zebe said. 

Mr Boatman turned a severe expression on her. “I grew up puttering this boat between the mainland and the Reefarium,” he said. “I recall when the granddaughter came with that child, to hand him over. A toddler. He named me then and there. Mr Boatman. We hit it off right away. He came along for many a there-and-back boat ride. Over time told me all his stories. Things that happened to him. As he grew older, why he must never step foot on the mainland. I know as much as he does.”

“You know as much as he knew,” Tardi said. “He lies in a spring. He’ll mineralise and be beautiful.”

“He sleeps the forever sleep,” Boatman said. “I’m happy for him.” He pinched tears from his eyes.

Zebe didn’t know whether to be embarrassed for the boatman or what. She was that short on empathy just now. Her stupid stupid sister.

 “I’ll take you the long way so you can get a taxi,” Mr Boatman said. “You don’t want to be walking too many places with Mr Tree-man.”

“Have we decided where we are going?” Tardi said, slop slopping in the slop of water in the bottom of the boat.

“Neil and Xanthe’s place, I thought,” Zebe said. “Spare rooms. Where you can tell me your whys and wherefores and I can tell you mine. Plus, where I can get to the bottom of Neil’s news.” Her voice wobbled despite her intention. 

All three men looked at her. Mr Boatman with dour interest. Shad knowingly. Neither of them with any hope. 

She turned to Tardi. “Do you think Xanthe can still be alive?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“I don’t like how promptly you came out with that,” she said. “The Huddle supposedly eat only male animals?”

“Do you want a hard truth or a soft lie?”

Even Shad looked shaken. “Tar. Please,” he said. 

“I have less time every minute to be normal, Shad,” Tardi said.

Zebe didn’t get why Shad grieved, or what for. It was her sister that was taken into the monster. 

“Think about it, Zebe,” Tardi said. “What the aliens were said to look like. I heard you asking. Could a human woman be squeezed so flat and live?” 

“The bunch of alien females we are talking about?” Mr Boatman said. “Seems to me I’ll get the Anti-Alien League involved. We’ll keep watch twenty-four seven. Any little clue. No work for a boatman anymore with the Reefarium flooded.” 

Zebe gave them all up as unsympathetic. She messaged Neil. “I’ll be at the Colman Street jetty in a bit. Come and pick us up?”