Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Who dies, who lives?

Detail of Totem Reality 

In which Jeb is armed and the author posts to a schedule. The laptop is ailing again and the doctor will want to take it away. 

The ground tremors violently. 

All of us in the mass shout alarm. Bodies smack wetly against the stones. Bones crack like snapping sticks. We scream and cry. 

Hardly heard, the machine-sounds stop.   

“Quiet!” Uncle Puma shouts. 

When he has a miserable kind of quiet, he says in an ordinary voice, “What’s that sound?” 

The silence is so silent it roars in my ears. Then? 

Scritch. Scritch. The sound seems to come from below the now sickly slanting disk. 

What the noise sounds like … I concentrate … someone in the gap between the cliffs and what seems now to be the high edge of the slope, is trying to light a candle with a fire-lighter. 

I stop breathing to hear better. 

A small and hesitant light flicks large orangey shadows onto the cliff walls. The shadows are blobs with negative landscape-like waists where the dark mass interrupting them is the low grassy profile of the disk. 

That little light, though, is the most comforting thing we’ve seen since our entry into the totem reality. 

We sigh our relief too soon. 

A foreshortened, night-black shape comes walking over the sward, rising from below our very near-at-hand horizon. I make out an old woman’s shape. Her tunic allows her to be instantly recognized. 

The candle light emanating from the gap between the disk and the spaceship’s walls outlines her with pale glints from her death-white skin. 

It appears that the Arley-composite jumped from the ledge to the grassy disk and that in the dark. Perhaps it knew how the disk would move? Has it come to speed along the attrition?

Behind her, I see part of a rectangular outline. An airlock? Huh? I must be even more disoriented than I thought. 

Someone below the disk starts to swear. 

The Arley-composite hesitates, then drops to the grass. She scrunches herself up. She’s trying to look small. 

I stare and stare. Making sure she’s staying there. Then to triangulate the place so I can find her at a glance. 

“Show a bit of respect,” Thyal says. “You’re alive, aren’t you?” He’s in the space below. 

“Jackal wasn’t with us before, yet here he is.” 

I know that voice, but I’m not sure. 

“His body, you mean.”

“Told you I heard voices.”

I forget everything at hand. Leap up. I’m so happy, I scream. “Mongoose! Mongoose!” I fall over an unresponsive body. Breath knocked out of me. Also my unfeeling disregard for our losses. 

I crouch. “Red-tail?” My voice small. 

“Still with you, Shaman Jeb.” With her warmth, she excuses me my lapse. 

“Could you organize getting Thyal and … and … the rest up here?” I ask. “Before the floor shifts again and squeezes them?”

I shout from fear of that happening. “Nobody else move! This slope is badly balanced!”

“Onto it.” Red-tail again calls for spare clothes, this time to be handed up to her.  

“Jeb, girl …” Uncle Puma says. “We should all join Thyal.”

His voice is dampened. Hidden. It comes from behind the up swung edge of the disk where he can’t help me. 

“You’re still on the ledge?” I ask. “Swans?” 

Hopeful, I know. 

“Both of us here with the chief, young shaman,” Lithe says. “We stayed in case we could help with the ….er ….actioning? Is that what you are thinking of next? The need for more amulets?” 

Lithe is spot on. I am thinking of more amulets needed. “I love you too, Lithe. You’re as good explaining as yet non-existent concepts as Mongoose is with words.” 

Oops. It might’ve been better if I had said nothing. Don’t want to have too many people know what I am about, or even too many entities. Have to camouflage it in a squad of talk. “I well recall when I first joined the group how you helped Ant explain why it was good to have Uncle Puma as chief, and Thyal and me as a shaman-and-a-half team.”

A kind of surprised silence hangs there until Uncle Puma chuckles. It sounds forced. 

I blush. I just small-talked Uncle Puma again. How do I do it? Perhaps Lithe or Limber or both of them have him in a strangle hold and force him to laugh. 

Nearly all the people in that little story, and whom I trust most, are not available to help me contain the dark eater. I shudder because actually, I am the only one who’ll be able to approach the life-suit near enough for any action because, hopefully, Kosi still trusts me. 

It was her quip about the now strange-ness of the Ark Ship that convinces me that everyone needs an amulet. And I need her to tell the rest of what she knows, though right now I have no idea how to organize that.

“The chief is right, Shaman Jeb,” Red-tail says in a normal talking voice that tells me she is approaching. Around me, I feel a crowding-in happening of the people with us. They want to help and are saying so in whispers and mutters. 

I grab for Red-tail’s arm. Run my hand over her face and hair. Yes, the plaited hair tail. She still has a feather. “We’ll need the amulets whichever way we go,” I say right by her ear. 

I feel her nod. 

“I’ll need a knife.”

Red-tail grips my arm in turn. Opens my right hand and closes my fingers around a knife handle. Shows me, with her hand guiding my other hand, the double edges of the blade.  

She turns me about. Puts my other hand on someone’s shoulder. “Isis will have your back.”

In her normal voice, she addresses our helpers. “You heard Shaman Jeb about the slope and its out-of-kilter balance? Everyone sit down.” Her own dark shape folds beside me.

Isis laughs breathily. “The inimitable Red-tail took them all off the horizon, Shaman Jeb. Our way is clear.” She shapes herself to my back behind me, then takes half a step back and aside to free her fighting arm. 

I pass on figuring out what inimitable means. Am I dreaming? Help, I’m not a soldier. And help, I don’t know enough. 

Gulp. Be calm my Jeb, I hear Mongoose say far away and long ago.

I match my breathing to Isis’s.  

There’s not a murmur from the people behind us. The only light in the scene, a little flame presumably, glows calmly in the canyon-like gap between the ship’s wall and the upside edge of the slope. Mongoose is down there, and Thyal, and the others. None are moving and all are silent. The three on the ledge too, are past masters at silence.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: The Attrition

A fairly wide ledge at an edge of fog-bound cliffs. These cliffs, this ledge from
In which both the alien entity and Kosi Lionhair have their say and Jeb realizes what is needed for all her people to survive ... 

I’m almost level with the thing on the ledge. The life-suit sags as if it really just is an old woman. The tunic is the same tinge of gray as Ardrey’s hair still plaited around her head skin. 

The life-suit flexes and fills until an Amazon warrior from one of my mother’s stories stands across from us. She/Kosi/it puts Ardrey’s hands around her mouth as if preparing to foghorn its message. 

Not really necessary. Silence blankets the grassy slope. 

The Amazon opens her mouth, starts to talk. No pink inside her mouth. 

The voice cracks and crackles. I hear disparate sounds like chirruping and crackling and tearing and the grinding caused by wind-blown sand in old sprockets.

It seems that the entity realizes its message isn’t reaching us. It stops. 

Behind me, I hear the ghostly sound of teeth grinding. “Stop that,” I say without turning. “You’ll ruin your teeth.” 

There is a communal breath taken of people preparing to burst out in laughter. The relief. The breaking of the tension. 

The Amazon opens its black mouth. I raise my hand. Meaning, the thing across the way isn’t done.

Crackle. Grind. Groan. It has rearranged its syllables and after a while, I hear words. “Attrition,” it says. And, “My ship … not …. for …. hundreds.”

The dark holes that serve as eyes stare across a divide of less than five meters. The head moves side to side to allow the gaze to range over the ranks. There’s no sound from among us. We stare back as helpless as prey. 

We stare. It stares.

After a while, it feels like a stale mate. Doesn’t it know what to do next? 

Perhaps not. The eyes in the suit glaze over. The suit shrinks. We are left with a sylph-like figure on the ledge. 

“I want my hunting trip before it starts. You hear me, Jeb?” 

This is the Kosi-entity, not ignorant of the attrition to come, whatever form it will come in, therefore not ignorant of the thing she’s sharing the suit with. I wonder why it gave way to her, and without a struggle? Is she a puppet? That would make sense if it is the owner. 

I try to think without worrying. We need that suit. Or rather, everyone here other than the people who already have an amulet, need the amulets inside the suit to enable them to enter the Ark Ship. I try to recall what Kosi said about the Ark Ship, what it is now. All of it has escaped me. 

And we need the Thyal-and-Mongoose group back with us without them being hunted. I look out over the so-called totem reality. There can’t be that many places this side of the membrane where Thyal’s group can all hide together? I’m sure Thyal wouldn’t have let them split up. 

The cliffs have lost their clean outlines. I search out my people, the settler-born, whom I know well. Their eyes are blobs. Their mouths no more than smudges. The green grass near at hand is also darker? “A dusk is coming over us,” I say. “I don’t know if it’s natural.” 

Of course it isn’t natural. This isn’t a natural place. The precarious slope trembles beneath us. 

“What do I do?” the Kosi-entity cries. She is marooned on the ledge in a body just as fragile as the rest of us.

Uncle Puma roars. “Lotor-quake! Lie down!” 

He’s right. The slope shakes and shakes harder. I spread-eagle myself over the ground and dig my toes into soil which surprise surprise is just a thin layer. I clench the stone in front of me. 


I hear the squealing of steel sliding over steel though I’ve only heard the sound described in words, in a history of the first days. One of the Ark Ship’s shuttles glancing off Lotor, which was when Lotor’s substance was discovered. 

Madly glittering dust clouds plume up from where the disk that is the grassy slope, doesn’t quite meet the inward-sloping sides of the pyramid. Lines of light shift and break, meld and re-meld as the slope rocks. 

Again the grassy sward moves. More of the glittering dust puffs up at its edges. Eee-aaa-ah-groan!  

The rumbling originates in the supposed mountain we’re clinging to. I stare and stare at the darkened pyramidal walls to keep my nausea at bay. But I can’t stop thinking that we’re hearing machinery. 

The slope seesaws irregularly. What was up now is down, then drifts or sags upward again. Is that even possible? As if the slope is a plate not balancing very well on an off-centered fulcrum. 

The sour smell of vomit drifts among us and sets a few people retching. Another reason to keep my attention on the action. 

The shift of the slope causes hidden parts of the darkened walls to come into view. A vague rectangular shape truncates the places where the two walls come together. I wedge my knee against my stone and kneel up. Stare. 


That must be an airlock! 

My stone rolls down hill and I’m left grabbing for anything and anyone to stop following after it. But I do follow it, sliding. Near the slope’s new lower edge I fall against a dam of people. Someone grunts. Oof.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Learning the Animated Skin

Behold the Animated Skin
image from
After a two-week interlude due to the author having to battle the flu, Jeb is back on track.

People climbing down are staying in the area near the creek. Soon … I count twenty and multiply … nearly three hundred people will throng the creek banks. I get a joke ready about what will happen if I have to stand in the water too long when I get down there. I might melt? 

“When will we hunt?” says the Kosi-entity in Arley’s animated skin. 

Is it her or is it the eater who encircles my wrist with Arley’s strong old fingers? 

I’m afraid to pull away. Scared I’ll pull her over. Petrified of what will jump loose if she falls. We survey the grassy slope with all the hundreds of people cluttering its middle lower half. 

What will we hunt?” I say. I hope Kosi at least realises that the people below are not to be thought of as prey. Will it make a difference? 

Someone in the suit laughs with girlish glee and releases my wrist to twirl on the spot. Does Kosi know that the suit’s eyes are dim and old and only glint where they might once have sparkled and that her laughing lips have cracked and are bleeding? 

Her teeth are grey outlined with black. In behind them …? Fear sweat prickles me. 

But I do need to see. I step nearer. Ardrey would’ve noticed but I don’t expect Kosi to already know the skin so well that she can make use of its perceptual circuits and I have to test the alien entity. I ignore what it might know. How else to …? 

I don’t finish the thought. What if it is a mind-reader? 

Arley’s face doesn’t change its expression, hard as I find it to believe that the entity knows nothing about facial expressions when it has been using the skin for a while. 

 “I stocked the place with a bunch of people that came through in their totem forms,” the Kosi-entity says.

I stare into the open mouth whenever the flow of words allows it. The tongue is marked out geometrically. It shines and glitters in segments as the meat within stretches and contracts to shape the words. 

 “There’s a stripy old dog with them,” Kosi says. “It told them they should hide. Should be fun finding them.”

I hear stripy old dog but can’t yet attend. I search for more places on Ardrey’s skin to see what I saw. Her ankles. 

Her skin there is blocky with amulet-shaped bumps. Like mine on the top of my foot. Mine with half a dozen. Hers an unbroken expanse under her skin.

Catching one of her wrists like I’m friendly, I stroke my thumb lightly over her arm bones. 

I feel the same-sized partitions outlined under the skin as the segments on the tongue, segments that are the same size as the amulet I found in the Yellow City and having the same dimensions as the cherts abiding under my foot-skin. 

I let the wrist slide gently from my grasp. The eater also in the suit can’t know what I discovered. 

 “Did you even hear me?” the Kosi-entity says. 

She’s suspicious? “You said stripy old dog when you’re talking about a striped old thylacine?” I say.

When I first woke up on that platform in the white hall, also called Reception, Mongoose was in his Totem form. The second time I woke, he was gone. The Kosi-entity brought him here? I look around. Where? 

The news about Thyal is whispered from group to group. “The old shaman has them. He will keep them,” I hear. 

They are right. With Thyal in charge of that group, I shouldn’t worry about them. I start to edge toward the place where people are being lowered from the ledge.

My move to come down off the cliff convinces people that we will be staying a while. Those already on the slope begin to climb and clamber toward the top. There’s gasping, a few sobs here and there and some cursing backgrounded by the murmuring of a crowd helping and comforting each other, and planning their survival in this new place for the next few hours by finding a safe place to sit.

The people who chose to bring up the rear are still coming through the membrane. Limber is here now too. Uncle Puma. Jackal. Half a dozen of the others. Then Red-tail. 


A man resting against the cliff-face is pulled back through the membrane with such force that his scream is cut off abruptly. 

Lithe shouts. Ibis shouts. 

For a minute there’s a shocked silence as we all wait. What now? 

A blood-spraying thing comes hurtling through the place where everyone came through. The unfortunate man’s head bounces off the ledge and splashes into the creek.  

“Time to get out of here,” someone says and the people remaining on the ledge start to risk their life and limb by jumping the distance, not waiting to be helped. 

I’m infected with everyone else’s hurry, and slip and slide down from the cliff. It’s real stone, I graze my hands and they sting. 

Shaking them one at the time, I clamber up the grassy slope.

 Most people bunch in little groups no further than about halfway up, as that region is furnished with an arc of stones that make sitting easier. I also choose myself a place behind a stone that is set in deep enough that it isn’t going to dislodge. 

Looking around I wonder at the serendipity of the stones being placed just so. I don’t think so. I mean, no serendipity. We all look like an audience attending a show. Which, right this minute, consists of the Ardrey-skin life-suit still standing on the ledge. It’s like the stage from where one or the other of the entities in play will make an announcement. 

I’m not wrong. 

“I have a feeling … oh how good it is to have feelings!” the Kosi-entity says. She slumps a little. “Despite that they aren’t all that comforting.” 

Then she is silent.