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.”