|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.