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.” 


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