Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: The Maremma Girl

Actual Maremma dog in its natural surroundings

I cross to the guard rail and study the gangways across the void. They all have their keepers, as the still nameless girl said. Even the ground floor level has its keepers, I realise, recalling my adventure earlier. 

“We are all very suspicious," she says from behind me. "As in, anybody like you comes who doesn’t jump, might be after my row.  So I’ll definitely fight you if you’re after my row.” 

She stands stilled, prepared for anything. Not with her fists up, but certainly with her whole attention on me, on my hands, my eyes. 

“I don’t want your row. Or anybody else’s,” I say. "How long have you been doing this with only six bits of info?” I load my voice with admiration. Will I convince her?

Still watchful she says, “Been here six and a half cycles. Earned eighteen credits. Why should I believe you?” 

I sit down astride a guard rail’s stanchion. Hook my left arm around it for good measure. “You didn’t come with the intake I was on, I would’ve remembered you.” 

That’s me marking time. The truth is that I don't know how many cycles I’ve been in this scene. How long is a cycle here, anyway? It feels as if the entity is having a go at me. 

 "One credit"

I have two tokens and three credits. “I discover four things about myself and I get one measly credit?” I say to the ceiling.

 The girl sits down beside me. She rests her arms on the middle rail, swings her legs over the side like mine. “It’ll tell you in a minute,” she says confidently. “It’ll say, Remembering is not discovering. Making things up is not discovery. Exploring some other person’s meanings is not discovering. 

“It tells the same to everybody. We think the entity has indigestion. Like it was fed too many of the muttons all at once. That’s the muttons down there, walking round and round, not being fed through the system.”

Down there among the muttons, aka the crowd circling the mysterious point, I see a number of familiar faces. What are Lithe and Limber doing down there? “Who are we? I mean, you? What’s the system?” 

“We are of the sheep-herder people. The stories say we were pressurised to reinvent ourselves after being retrieved by the ArkShip and that that process took us a couple of hundred cycles. See the door down near the bottom of the ramp?”

I recall the way I measured streets and lanes in the Yellow City. “That grey panel five people wide and two people tall when one is standing on the other’s shoulders?”

She looks at me as if surprised I can think up such a comparison. “That’s where we came through into the hall, in one big bunch. We were proud because we didn't leave anyone behind,” she says. 

We-from-Lotor didn’t leave anyone behind on Lotor but I have no idea where anyone is now. Only that Mongoose walked through the wall ahead of me. 

“Much good it did us though,” the girl continues. “It used to be that that mob down there was mostly us. Young and old, with the herders circulating and doing the caring. They thought that was the way to survive.”

“But?” I say after a time.

“The entity became bored. It forced another reinvention. Now we young people are held to be sheepdogs. Her Maremma dogs, the entity calls us. At first it was our duty to cut out the people who slowed the pace of the circling and to deliver them into suitable habitats.”

“Your own people?” I start to feel sick. 

“What we found is that a kind habitat, that is, a habitat that is kind on its people, gets overpopulated very quickly.” She gulps. “The entity forced the wolves onto us. A bunch of them now circulates through the habitats.”

I remember my friends once upon a time discussing some fauns in the same distant, seemingly-uncaring way. 

The fauns couldn’t be saved either, I recall. I try for the same tone of voice as the Maremma girl. “So that roar I just heard was a wolf thanking you for its dinner?” 

“No, unfortunately,” she says. Her face clears. There’s something uncomfortable about her grin. 

“That was a bear. Great white thing. You cross that threshold and if there is time, the entity will transform you into a seal because seals are those bears’ regular prey. The wolves love it in there, too. Cold. Ice. Tundra forests. Their fur thickens up and they get to eat moose if they can catch it.” 

“Tell me your other realities?” I say to try and distract myself from the Maremma girl’s teeth. They aren’t human-looking. Great big incisors.

“I’ll be better at that while we’re walking along them,” she says. “Besides, I need to keep moving to keep on proving that I can handle my patch.” 

She waits for me to extricate myself from around the guard-rail stanchion.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: The Keeper of the Doors

The green world Jeb has yet to see, photo by F Guard

The gangway oh the gangway. I walk along its third level iteration nibbling my spinach roll-up and sipping from the water balloon while I should be attending to everything under the sun, or rather the big light source up in the ceiling of the hall masquerading as the sun, that might/may/will help me choose a reality to be in. 

I would like to cuss and swear but in this situation that will probably not help, too many people around me. People who I might still need to impress even though they may be Indecisives according to the electronic voice I hear. And who’d want to be an Indecisive if they could be the other sort? Like Mongoose, wherever he is. 

Stop. Stop thinking about him.

Concentrate instead on the kind of people waltzing along the gangway even as I myself am. Sneak peek glances into spaces where doors slide open and shut, allowing the ingress of just one person flitting in and or out. Just passed a green room. Glowing green reflections. Not like it was vegetation green. But what do I know? I slow whenever I near a door. 

Haven’t had a credit for a while, probably I’m attacking this in the wrong way. Just go in? Stand on the sensori-mat and wait for the doors to slide apart? Try that. 

Nothing. Try the next one. With the prison-like reality on the lowest floor, it makes me wonder if these top levels are rewards. The people going into them certainly wear smug self-satisfied expressions. And they’re whipping in and out as though they’re trying to keep the loiterers out. 

My next surprise is that I’m not the only loiterer up here. I stop by the guard rail to study that discovery a while. Across the hall, other side of the U, a couple wistful characters slow-foot past a door that just doesn’t open. 

I almost hurry over there. What if they are both let in before I get there?

“What’s in there?” I ask.

“That’s what he’s trying to find out,” says the girl. “I’ve told him and I’ve told him. Can’t see from out here. He doesn’t trust me.”

The boy doesn’t look at me or the girl. He has his bottom lip between his teeth and looks as if he might bite someone’s head off. Next time the door slides open, he slips through the gap. I blink. Did I really see the girl push him? A humungous roar escapes before it slides shut. 

“We can only hope the poor chap ran between its legs,” the girl says. “The entity had no time to transform him. Move on?”

I follow her to the next set of door. She drops back, comes level on my other side. Naturally I move nearer the wall and doors so she has more space between herself and the guardrail.


Two tokens and two credits. Why now a credit and not when I saw the child push her companion? I loiter and she loiters with me. The door slides open invitingly and shuts again before we have time to see anything inside. 

“We need to get closer,” the girl suggests. “What I have to tell everyone,” she adds artlessly. 

She comes to walk inside the perimeter of my personal space and I obligingly shift over until I am quite close to the portal we’re studying. She looks completely without guile but I suspect her anyway. While I’m trying to see through a doorway I’m turned away from her … will you credit me for noticing that? 

No answer. 

The getting of credits, is that the game? After making sure there will be a wall beside me, I drop back. The girl stops too. “What’s the problem?” she says. 

 “How many have taken your suggestion?” I say. 

“Probably about a dozen. See, what I do …”

“I saw what you do, make up their minds for them by pushing them. What do you get out of it?”

“Credits,” she says so promptly I know it must be true. 

Huh, she gets credits for every Indecisive she helps into a reality?

"She has a fine judgment"

“And information,” the girl adds. “That roar just now. Would you want to leap through that door? Boys tend to want to.” 

You hear that? Bet you didn’t know about the information. I frown for the sake of camouflaging my intentions. “You can repeat the doors you’ve already investigated?”

She indicates the row. “Just these six give me a good living. All the rows have their keepers.” 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: In the Crowd and Out

Nude Mongoose

I am totally in luck that my shirt was rucked up. It will cover the graze in the seat of my pants. At first I don’t realise that I’m stopped by the press of the crowd, their legs, at the edge of the perambulating crowd that I intended to watch for Mongoose. Mongoose please please recognise me. 
The crowd moves its legs and keeps walking. It divides around me like water and then I’m in the crowd. A part of it. I get up, walk with it, into the distance they are all walking. But I can’t see. I’m too short. I am claustrophobic. I begin to edge out.
"Three credits"
I have no time to generate any ideas as to what system is operational here. I could insert a swear word every second word to relieve my frustration but have no time for that either. I’m out of the crowd. Near to the beginning of a ramp. I skedaddle up faster than the prevailing pace which is no more a snail’s pace per hour. 
"Four credits"
Not one single person is sitting out on the ramp. I make my way a bit higher, to where I can’t be pulled down by someone jumping up and grabbing my feet, for example. Sit down with my legs either side of a guard rail stanchion. Tuck my shirt under my almost bare sit-bones. 
The first person I see is a nude mongoose. As in, it is not wearing Mongoose’s gear. I abort the waving I began. 
"Your Mongoose is too smart to hang with the Indecisive"
“What does that make me?”
"Not smart enough. Indecisive. A child still. Take your pick"
I argue. “How is looking for Mongoose indecisive? We’re in love. We got married before take-off. We belong together.”
"I picked you because you wanted to travel the high road?"
Good thing I’m sitting already. My heart only drops to my belly because that’s as far down as it can go. The iniquitous bastard in charge is not going to allow me to search for Mongoose. 
“Did you pick Mongoose, too?”
"Five credits. He is at the training I set him"
Affirmative answer of a sort. I’m heartened then by the thought that if Mongoose is getting credits, we might meet at the canteen. 
Up to me to learn the system. I take a leaf from the edible book still hanging in my shirt neck, stuff it into my mouth and start thinking back through the credits I have so far been awarded. 
First the one when I gave the little girl a leaf. None for the second leaf. The leaf I’m chewing doesn’t taste like anything. For the second credit I didn’t do anything. Was it a …? I chew and chew and the leaf becomes rubbery. 
Third credit was when I started edging from the crowd. By now the leaf is a stodgy grainy gruel filling my mouth. I stop chewing. Fourth credit I ran up the ramp. No way can I swallow. I choke and retch and spit the stuff out beside me on the ramp’s downslope. 
"Five credits" 
Could be the same sort as the second one, I think, as I summon up spit to swill out my mouth. Don’t want to count either of them but keep that a secret for now. I should be able to get some real food with three credits. 
The canteen is on the uppermost gangway. Make my way there, keeping out of the way of any children. I front up to the counter. “I have three credits?”
The woman hands me five tokens. “Don’t waste them. 
Huh. Waste on what? With trembling fingers I feed a token into a slot, open a little door, and grab a rolled pancake stuffed with a filling resembling spinach and soy-cheese. When in doubt get something you’ve at least seen before. 
I gulp it down in half a dozen bites, without tasting it, just registering there’s something real in my stomach. I go through the performance again for a second spinach and soy-cheese roll. I don’t see any boxed drinks. I look around when I hear someone slurping something. He is squeezing the contents of a balloon into his mouth.  

I get a balloon. Guess I’m keeping count on my own now. Two tokens and one credit. Burp. Oops. Then it’s me walking out wiping my mouth with a serviette, clutching the balloon and the second rollup. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Eating my Book

An edible book from

I curve out the door. Is there anyplace to sit behind something out here? No way do I want to be seen eating the leaves of a book. I’d like to hide somewhere, and more than anything keep a lookout for Mongoose among the crowds wandering the ground floor.

I suck up the drink through the straw. A sweetish sour taste. On the side of the box a spherical object, with a pimply skin, orange. I squeeze the sides of the box as I saw someone do in the whatever. 


Fine. In the canteen. With my stomach mollified with the orange drink, I’ve got time to find a hiding place. 

At the ends of the U, the gangway splits. Half becomes a ramp curving down to the middle level. In the curve is a vertical bar. Some people walk down to the middle gangway along the ramp, and some people slide down the vertical bar. They go past the middle and lowest gangways, thump down on the floor which might even be natural stone chipped from a mother rock.

"Stonekrete, a made artifact"

Fine, stonekrete. I make for the pole. Underneath the gangways, there look to be hiding places. 

Huge stanchions hold up the weight of a roof. The side of a spaceship. Something or other. I slide in behind the one nearest.

“Oh no you don’t,” says a small person. Has to be small when she is waist-high to me. “This is my place,” the little girl says. 

I’m not in the mood to socialise, to find things out, to ask questions. I don’t have the energy to be kind. This is not my reality. Standing up again, I check the rest of the structures by looking along the row. All of them have someone behind them. They have bundles with them, and they are unkempt. Young and powerless. Sleeping rough. 

“Am I?” I ask. “Powerless?” 

No answer. 

Typical. The big maelstrom of the crowd that I was going to study to find Mongoose among them, circles out in the open. Under the gangways and among the stanchions wander only a few odds and kids. 

Correction. Under here, everybody moves purposefully. They are staying or going. And if going, definitely from A to B, whatever the A and B will turn out to be. Needing to watch them first, I drift toward the wall. 

I’m still clutching the food book to my chest. I rip off the cover and fold it into my mouth. Hunger will trump pride as they say. I let it sit on my tongue. Is it food? My mouth salivates but what does that prove? 

Then I get a taste. Mushroom soup. Yum. I chew. Swallow. Rip off the first page. Fold it in. Chew. Gingered rice. Swallow. Eat eat eat. Half the book is gone. Should save some. 

The kid pulls at my shirt. “Can I have some?” I give her a leaf. 

"One credit"

In the way of testing a game, I press another leaf onto the kid. She takes it, runs to the next pillar and stuffs it into that kid’s mouth. He comes with her. They grab me together, waist high and push me back. The wall opens. I fall backwards into a new place. 

“Meat!” someone shouts.

“Not meat,” says the ceiling. “Inadmissible loot.”

“Scat,” says a bull-shaped man sitting at a cafe table just beyond the permeable wall. Presumably talking at me still lying on the rubber flooring where I fell. What is there to get up for? I’m in a prison it appears. A tall place, cells above cells. I get a crick in my neck staring up. A lot of animals stare interestedly out their barred doors, both human animals and actual. I know which I’d rather meet on a dark night.

“Help her on her way,” says the bull.

A couple of henchmen leap forward. They remind me of wolves. They grab me by an arm and a leg each and heave me back through the permeable wall. As if I am a stone-ball I am aimed between the stanchions. Unlike a stone-ball, which rolls, I skid along the floor. 

"Two credits"

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: The Food Book

A utility corridor in the Ark Ship

Jeb finally works out how to escape from the White Hall. The entity continues its enculturation program. Jeb learns what she needs.

The corners of the room, I remember, is where people got stuck. I approach the wall where in my dream I saw Mongoose leave. I walk with the pace he used. I shut my mind to the possibility I will bounce back from the wall.  

Concentrate on walking in step with the dream-Mongoose. Walk far longer than necessary. In fact, I stop because I catch my middle on a horizontal bar. Open my eyes. 

I’m pressed against a handrail. I grip the places where Mongoose might also have held it. Many metres below a throng of people circles slowly around a mysterious midpoint. Lucky the handrail was there or I would’ve fallen on them. Splat. 

I’ve come to a huge place. As well as the hundreds of people in the circling crowd down below, I see tens of dozens of people make their ways into doorways, or come out to walk a way to other doorways on either side of me along the steel walkway I stand on.

My senses reel. I feel faint. I recall how hungry I am. How little I have drunk in the last hours. 
"Your blood is thick from dehydration. Your heart is finding it difficult to shove it around your body and get it up to your brain. Fainting brings your head to the level of your heart"
“So where can I drink and eat?”

Why did I expect an answer? I watch people coming out of the various doors either side of me. At last I see someone still chewing, and wiping her mouth with a scrap of white. A serviette, I hope. She came out of the third door to the left.

I glance behind me to the place where I came through the wall. A panel of white. Steel pipe gangways make a U shape along an inlet in the building-like structure crenellating the walls of the central hall. 

Central hall. Where did that thought come from? The Central hall of what? 

No answer. Go to something else. The white panel I came through is the midpoint of the U. The gangway I’m on is nearest the ceiling of the great space. Remember that. As I near the third door to my left, the door slides into the wall. 

I walk into the room beyond. The walls are lined with hundreds of little windows with food behind them. I watch people take out food. I try to lift a little door. Nothing. 
"You’ll need tokens. Get them at the counter at the back"
I don’t much like the entity thinking these words into me. It always chimes in a little after I have tried. Or is that the idea?
"How else will you learn?"
Learn with it doing I-told-you-so stuff? A busty, white-aproned woman behind the counter stands with her arms stretched, hands far apart on the much-scrubbed stainless steel surface. 

“You’ll be another of the refugees from Lotor,” she says. “Hungry and with no credits. Knowing none of the codes for life on the Ark-Ship. Knowing none of the manners needed to get on in the hall.” 

She slides forward a fat little book of thick leaves, about the size of a ten-brick of dressed stone a forefinger long, wide and high. “That should keep you until you can earn a few credits.”

I don’t know how it’ll keep me. The pages, when I flip them, appear to be empty, unwritten on. I scan people operating the food dispensers. None of them needs anything like tokens or vouchers which are the only thing I can think of that the leaves of this book might be. 

I weigh the book on my hand. “I’m supposed to eat it?” I say meaning to be facetious. 
“I would if I was as hungry as you look to be,” says the woman.
Huh? Is she joking? She doesn’t react. Just keeps wiping the counter where I leant on it. 

“Could I bother you for a drink?” I say when I see someone slurping from a box. 

“Fair enough I suppose,” the woman says. She slides a box of liquid over the counter. She sighs. “I should probably start you a tab. What’s your name?”

My stomach growls. 

People behind me laugh. 

“Forget it. Go. Eat. Drink,” the woman says. “Not in here,” she calls when I curve toward the back of a garbage disposal unit to sit behind it.