|The way forward ... Image from barbarareid.ca|
Lithe calls me and beckons. "Jeb!" Hurry. As in, there’s no time for either the Chief’s fireworks or whatever is causing me my red-faced excitement. He’s right. We need to get everyone we can up here in one crowd. I join him on the other side of the hole.
I drop to my knees. “How can I help?” I say with a wobble of suppressed emotion.
“You’ve got an idea?” Lithe says.
I nod. “All of us came on board through Reception. The rest of the humans apparently came directly from the Ark Ship and were delivered either here or in the over-world now below us?”
“Through what doors?” I say, nodding in various directions where airlocks might be expected to show on the horizon. A few moments more will at least give me someone else who understands.
Lithe rises. Looks around. I see his glance slide over the corner where the reflective membrane stops us seeing it. I see him hesitate over the rectangle in the corner directly behind us where the shadow tried to disappear. He kneels back down opposite me, on the other side of the hatch.
“The quadrant behind that reflective membrane is the only one where none of us combined has yet been,” I say leaping over large chunks of explanations. “There’ll be three doors.”
“With you,” he says.
“The shadow tried to disappear through the door behind us,” I say. “The Ark Ship refused its entry. We all need to leave at the same time.”
He nods again. “Or get eaten.” He sticks his head and half his chest through the hatch. Is talking out in the over-world.
He lifts himself out again. “Things are not good when my own brother doesn’t recognise me. Convince them we are real?”
I dip my head through the hatch. I’m down at floor level of the over-world looking up at the crowd there fronted by Limber. “Limber, show the way. Watch out if I need to vomit from having to do this down-is-up thing again.”
I get out fast because I do feel queasy. “Bring everyone,” I call through.
Limber, laughing, tries to drop through feet first. The abrupt change in gravity catches him and he starts to collapse back.
Lithe catches his brother’s legs and drags him through and aside. Uncle Puma reaches him a hand to get him standing.
Limber reels. Goes to a knee. Pushes himself up. His eyes bulge. He gags. “I was going to say … Jeb convinced me the place was real when she said that about being sick.”
“Is real. Different rules,” Lithe says. “You got them started is the important thing.” Lithe catches the next person, passes her into the crowd. “Chief, tell Limber about the eater. He’s tall, good for a spotter.”
Each person coming through the hatch is caught, helped to stand, and passed still stumbling further into the crowd. At the end, the Maremma girl comes through herding a bunch of young people with the heads of dogs. I cringe at Kosi’s casual cruelty.
The transformed ones are taken into the crowd with only the relief that they are still alive. Perhaps there’s a cure.
As Lithe and Uncle Puma place the hatch-cover back over the hole, there’s an outcry at the edge of the crowd near the upside down walkways and ramps structure.
“Jeb! Jeb! Look at me!”
It’s the Kosi-entity’s voice calling out and she is excited!
The crowd between her and me parts abruptly—I see naked fear—people stepping behind others trying to hide; people staring at the floor; people hiding their faces behind their hands. I get that Kosi’s voice and its portents are known very well.
But it is an old woman clad in a short grey tunic who dances toward me. I feel sick. It’s Arley brought back to life. It was her skin we carried rolled up with us onto the shuttle?
Kosi chirps and carols. “I’ve got arms. Legs. A body! Finally I am a human again!”
She is not alone in the skin. She can’t be. Her tongue and mouth, formerly Arley’s tongue and mouth, are so black that I can’t see their detail, and her nostrils and eyelids are rimmed with the same darkness.
Arley’s dark brown eye-pupils are set in a grey that flashes like silver when Kosi twists and turns cavorting toward me.
“We’ll hunt now,” she says. She’s breathless, and catching my arm, supports herself on me while she gulps air. If only I could see the dark one’s smile for how Kosi means it. She’s relieved, happy, overjoyed that she is still human?
But how am I meant to think about a machine pattern that believes itself human? I glance around the crowd. A sea of bent necks, of people minding their own business, hoping against hope that the bad thing will go away without hurting them. Uncle Puma, a shag on a rock, shrugs as if saying do what you have to, niece. Red-tail nods. Be my Shaman, Jeb.
Kosi starts to drag me toward the doubled outer part of the crowd. “Come with me into the Totem Reality.”
She dents the surface reflecting the crowd ahead of me and melts through.
I grab Lithe and don’t let go. “Quick! Make like I’m the golden goose! Everyone must come!”
Kosi pulls me from the other side and I shut my eyes as the membrane gives way with a soft silken stroking that reminds me of the feel of Earth-water when I was lucky enough to bathe in a tub of it.