|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.
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.