Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: How the chips are shared out

The upper edge of the disk, slanting low toward the left.
One of the airlocks to the Ark Ship behind it. 


Now that we know the disk for what it is, we can all feel the vibrations every time Red-tail bounces. Sometimes the disk sways and moves, almost seeming to glide a little. 

When she reaches the edge, Red-tail kneels, and as she looks into the gap, a frown gathers on her features. She glances back. To me, it seems? What? What? 

She lays down and talks into the gap between the disk and the pyramid wall so I can’t see anyone. I hear a murmuring only. Questions and answers. Comments. Decisions. I don’t hear Mongoose’s voice no matter how hard I listen. 

Distraction, distraction. Give me another distraction. I think aloud. “We could begin to dole out the amulets?”

 “That could work,” Isis says. “We’ve got a large bunch of increasingly restive people up here.”  

“I’m feeling pretty restive myself,” I say as I rise to my feet. The mumbling chatter dies away. 

“As I said earlier, to get into our ship you will need an amulet, so-called by people who were on Lotor, and probably known as a chip by everyone else.” 

A grumble starts when people realise they don’t have either. 

What is it about crowds? Are they always so suggestible? 

“When you get one of the chips I’m giving out, put it into your mouth, sit it between your cheek and your teeth.” I demonstrate. 

Isis laughs. “You aim to stop people voicing their every little emotion, Shaman Jeb?” she says softly. 

I laugh too. I lift my voice for the crowd. “The next thing requires listening like you never did before.” 

I wait for the buzz to die down. “With the minimum of movement, I want you to form yourselves into groups of approximately ten people and then choose a leader.”

“Ten?” Isis says. “Thirty-eight groups?”

“You mean that’s a lot of groups. The chips seem to be mainly breaking apart into cards two rows by five. Should I go to them or they come to me one by one?”

 “What I think …?” Isis rises. 

“Isis!” Red-tail calls. 

I ignore their grabbing-air signalling. I don’t know the code. It has to be about the way we’ll all get off. Among the mass of people, I start to see groups aggregating and surrounding their leaders. 

“We can’t get into the Ark Ship from up here on the disk,” I say to forestall forty leaders leaping up to fetch their chips. “So we’ll need to creep the route that Red-tail just travelled, every one of us. Then be swung down from the disk. Then make our way under the disk to a place where we can climb up to an airlock. Any questions?”

“How will we get up to the airlocks?”

“We’ll climb Shaman Jeb said,” someone says.

I tell them how I’ll give each leader a bunch of chips and how, after everyone in a group has tucked the little thing in behind their teeth, they’ll creep single file toward Red-tail. One group at the time. 

“Stop and grovel if the disk moves,“ I shout finally. 

Some people laugh. Maybe from nerves. Maybe about my turn of phrase. Grovel indeed. 

We start. 

I give out chips. The new leaders dole them out. Isis feeds people single file onto the end of the line. The people in the line move a couple of paces at the time. Red-tail takes people off the front and pushes them toward where Uncle Puma and Limber, now on this side of the gap, are lowering them into the gap. 

I have half a bag of chips remaining, and some grit when the last group files past. 

“Go on, girl,” Isis says. “Let’s get it over with.”


Isis is bright-eyed. “It’ll be you and me both suffering the disaster if it is that.” She presses her lips together. 

So Man of the Forest also met with disaster? Is that what she’s saying? I want to hurry, but mustn’t. I don’t allow my stare to rove to Red-tail’s expression, or Uncle Puma’s, or Limber’s. Sometimes it’s good to be short. 

I swing over the edge of the disk, kick to catch the end of the shirts-and-pants rope. Got it. I let go the disk. 

“Got you,” Mongoose says. He hugs me. Warm and furry. He is still in his Totem form and he puts his paw over my mouth. No questions now. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: The Disk Unbalanced

Partial of a Don Davis concept of a torus spaceship such as
Jeb and her people are looking forward to entering ...

There’s only an apprehensive sibilance as we wait, of people barely daring to whisper. 

“Limber?” says Uncle Puma says at last. 

“The creature brushed by me,” Limber says, broadcasting his voice over the whole scene. “I saw its darkness meld into the membrane. The membrane is still up. A visual disturbance only.”

We on the disk do not relax. 

“What’s the problem?” Uncle Puma says. “Red-tail?”

He expected us to cheer? Red-tail ever so slowly raises the lantern to assess where we all are. “The disk is free and in a sort of balance. Lotor knows how it works. None of us feels safe enough move or talk.” 

“I hear you. Thyal?” Uncle Puma says. 

Is that Uncle Puma acknowledging his ignorance? It seems so. 

“Thyal, is there something you and your group can do to stabilize the disk?” he says. Almost straightaway following it with, “No, I guess not …”

There’s something he isn’t saying. 


One of the swans hissing for the other. I hear someone talking his way down the cliff. Limber and Uncle Puma perhaps lowering Lithe. Then there are murmurs, and … hissing, clicking and growls with the intonations of greetings. 

What if the creatures from up haven’t changed back into their human shapes? Because what if transmogrification really isn’t real? I recall the podium in Reception. Everyone there in their totem-form. There must be something other going on? Mongoose, I need you. 

“We’ll be needing this, probably?” There’s enough light from Red-tail’s lantern that I can see Isis rise into a crouch and reach past me. She picks up the life-suit. 

Yes. A useful distraction.

The disk trembles as if in resentment. Everyone on board hisses for Isis to sit down. 

“We need that suit for everyone to get an amulet,” I say loud enough for them all to hear. “I’ve heard that an airlock is the only way out of this disaster?” A cruel joke that has some people sitting up attentively. Perhaps they search the dark for the tell-tale outlines of the doors into safety.  

Isis folds the blackened interior of the suit inward and rolls it up. It’s the parcel again. She shoves it in her gleaner bag.  

I wonder whether there is enough space down below for four hundred people minus the dead? What will we do about the dead? 

“There’s an airlock near where the alien went through the membrane,” someone says. “I remember seeing it before.” She gets up and starts into that direction. A couple more someones get up too and start to follow. People cheer them on.

The disk trembles and the cheering falters. Can it possibly be a reaction to a couple of people clambering about and a few more shouting? 

I rise. I’m stressed and I shout in my turn. “We are still in the alien’s ship and we are still too many. Will it be dozens of people trying for an airlock in a minute? And without any chips as far as I know. Will the disk start to spin and fling us against the walls?” 

The three droop—from shame I hope—and dropping to their hands and knees creep back to their groups. 

Now Red-tail raises her voice. “The disk is badly balanced as we all know. But we need to get off. A single person only must scout a safe route for the many. I’m Red-tail, in charge of security in Chief Puma’s group. I’ll scout the route.”

Stopping any argument in its tracks by starting right away, she turns edge-ward and walks three paces into the direction where the disk is the lowest.  She stops. Jumps a couple of times.

Thunk thunk. 

Some of us sitting moan when the disk vibrates under us. 

“She’s testing for stability,” Isis says. 

“Would’ve been good to know ahead of time?” I say. “Give me the bag? I can make a start getting the amulets loose?”

Isis chuckles, probably about my snippy tone. “The way we used to loosen corn from their cobs can be the way to loosen the amulets out of the skin-matrix. One hand on the outside of the bag kneading. One hand inside prying the amulets from their seating.” 

She hands me her gleaner bag made from the usual two rectangles of cloth sewn together on three sides, in this case with straps that feel like … 

“The straps are made of hair?” I’m surprised into saying.

“Horse hair,” Isis says. “Man of the Forest is a true scavenger and very handy with the needle.”

Flying horse hair that must be. And that was scavenged from the slopes of the mountain that the first villages encircled. Many strands are plaited together to make a sturdy thread that is woven through a mesh. 

Caressing a satiny section, I see again the flying horse overcome by the silver. Red was the main color of that event. I shudder though it was a long way ago, back on Lotor. How far we’ve come without being safe. 

I bandoleer the straps over my head and shoulder and start kneading the bag. Didn’t I decide that Kosi Lionhair is an amazing entity in her own right? That she probably would not entrust just the one copy of her pattern to any new situation? 

I hope that’s the truth. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Jeb is Stunned

Meerkat totem group

The transmogrified totems chase the dark eater. Jeb's beliefs are strained and she stabs herself to find out if she is awake

I see it seeing me, the knife still in my hand, Isis right behind me. What does it understand about us?

The alien frees its head by wrenching the life-suit’s head up like it is a helmet. It drops the head, it tears and shoves free from the rest of the suit. Drops that like a rag. 

“No, you don’t!” Isis, with the presence of mind of a leader, spreads her arms and stops the alien making a decision to step past me into the dark where all our people hide. 

Red-tail advances from my left, with the lantern held high. 

The alien looks at me as if weighing up its chances of getting past me. Why would it want to? I wave the knife I still have in my hand. 

Growling and hissing approach behind me. 


A trio of furred creatures slips between Red-tail and me, and between Isis and me. I don’t see what species they are. Just that they’re as tall as people. Walk upright. Show off their carnivorous teeth. 

Then dozens more toothy upright animal shapes, snarling and barking and wailing in one case, walk between us. Snapping here and there, they make their teeth click. 

People have transmogrified into their Totems? The alien looks confused and begins to give way. 

I am stunned. I fall to my knees. An Arctic wind roars through me. Every page in every supposed eye-witness account I disbelievingly read about the process rips loose and is swept up by the ice-devil.

Some of the totem-alterities, if that’s who they are, drop to all fours and begin to chase the alien entity. It turns and lurches unevenly up the wrong-way slope of the disk. 

The Shamans have always said and written in their lessons, that only a few, the best-studied, could transmogrify, and only if they were able to constantly live by the moral characteristics of their Totems. Privately I always thought the idea a fairy story, part of the cloak hiding us from Lotor.

Journeying with Uncle Puma’s troop through the meat-eating desert I dreamed of Mongoose and Thyal as transmogrified. To help me help them in their fighting, I thought. 

The dog-like alterities bark and howl. The cat-like snarl. There is even an animal that brays. It’s a stampede of noise, a terrifying hunt. 

I dreamed of Lithe and Limber in their black swan alterities more than once. They played along, I thought, and I haven’t taken the time to ask them why they would bother. The fact that they didn’t laugh is now my only comfort. 

I am as helpless as a newborn when I vision-dream. 

But am I dreaming now? I stab my arm with the knife. A-a-ah! I’m not dreaming. 

One of the totem-alterities wrenches the knife away from me. “What are you doing?” Mongoose says. 

“Am I … am I … am I dreaming? So many of you! All these have reached the heights?” I mean the hallowed heights of transmogrification-at-will as described by the myth cloaking our reality. 

Mongoose pecks me on my cheek. Runs after the others. Shouts. “I’ll see you down below!” 

At the edge of the disk, the alien teeters then jumps to clear the gap. The animals chasing it manage to stop at the edge of the disk. They drop to their bellies as the disk-edge judders downward, presumably due to the new weight distribution. 

Isis pulls me to the ground. “Tch tch,” she says, binding my arm with my bandanna. “Why?”

“Am I dreaming? Am I awake?” 

“Pinching yourself you would’ve known.” 

“Had the knife in my hand.” We’re fairly safe where we are, near the middle of the disk. I hear the eater shuffling through that thin layer of sand, progressing in an easterly direction along the ledge. 

 I’m seeing various animals slide down over the edge of the disk and presumably drop to the ground below. Behind us, people chatter. “Saw him off.” “Good riddance.” “Good chase.” 

While I am vaguely thinking bad that three of our leaders are all in the same place, can’t let that happen again if we all live that long, the part of the reflection that acts as the upper rear wall billows and shimmers as if it fractures into a thousand pieces. There is no sound.

 All of that is around me. Humans shout and scream their fear and surprise, and there’s even some human headless-chicken-style running around because it is still dark. 

The disk trembles. Swings free. 

Alarm calls from the group below join the distress up here and the candle flame flickers alarmingly—please don’t leave us in a darker dark—before it steadies. 

Slowly slowly the disk finds a new level. 

Isis and I, and everyone around us, try to move as little as possible for fear we’ll slide off. The headless-chicken-runners sink to the ground.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Containing the Alien by Releasing It

This amazing fungus might as well be one of the dark eater's hands ...
The question for later is ... how will releasing the dark eater from the life-suit contain it? Now, Jeb must just do the deed.

All is ready. Am I? I move the knife point straighter down my side. I visualize a tight swing up, a thrust down. 

Flick a glance toward the cliffs. Oh yeah, the slope is upward in that direction now. It’s black dark because still no overhead light. How will I see the Arley-composite …? I remember she is laying low.

I drop to the ground. Will I see her? Yes, there. A shape darker than the slope that is lit however slightly by the glow from the canyon beyond. The thing between us and the light. 

She’s risen to her feet and is on the move. Swinging her head blindly to try to see in the dark. Does she have a weapon? I crawl with the knife-blade pointing rearwards in my fist. The human life-suit can’t see me or Isis in the black dark as we have no light behind us.

Isis clamps my foot to stop me. 


I startle but realize it must have been a couple of small stones bouncing off a larger one. 

The Arley-composite stops and stares hard to my right. I see now that she is only two paces in front. The lack of light and the slope of the disk have disrupted my perception of distances. I shudder thinking I might’ve crashed into her. So, the stones, whoever thought of them were a helpful tactic. 

I rise. Left foot forward. Raising my right hand with the knife in it and my left hand to grab Arley’s old arm and swing her round … skritch. 

I slit the tunic and shifting my left hand, pinch up a loose skin fold. Swing down. Puncture and slit. 

 Arley’s skin expels air. Something inside it sucks its innards away from the knife tip. It can’t be Kosi. She has no body, I say like it is a mantra.
The blade bumps—over ribs?—help! I sob—but I can’t, mustn’t stop! 

Slish, kr-r-r-r-r.

I gag at the foul air released from the area where a human stomach might once have been. Almost I turn away. 

“The creature sends you an illusion,” Isis says. “Thyal told me about the parcel. This is the life-suit.” She half-crouches by my shoulder, echoing my stance. 

Isis needs reassurance too? “It is the life-suit,” I say for both of us. 

There’s more resistance. I tweak the edges of Arley’s skin aside to see.  I’m cutting through a bunch of …  Silvery things glint at the edges of the slit. 

I breathe out. It’s the amulets. I have cut through dozens. 

Can’t be helped. 

“There’ll be plenty for us all,” Isis says.

 Another mantra-in-the-making. 

The skin sags bloodlessly away from the cut. I sigh I am so relieved. No blood means no life. I didn’t kill anyone.

As if echoing mine, there’s an exasperated, human-like sigh—I almost laugh because for a moment I believe that Kosi produces it to remark on my superfluous fear—but how can she when she is, or was, a pattern of electrical impulses? 

At Shaman school I learned that any pattern breaks when it is cut into. What have I done? I had still so much to ask her? 

I step back into Isis. Push her back with me. 

The light grows stronger because in the left quarter distance Red-tail raises a torch.

 Isis and I crouch quite near to a dense-black shadow divesting itself of the life-suit. We don’t move. 

With one two-thumbed hand already free, the shadow pushes a human skin-sleeve down its other arm and pulls free a hand with too many fingers. Laid for a moment against the pale skin-suit, the fingers make like the suit is shredded with bone-shaped slits. 
Maybe I twitch at the unnatural sight. 

Arley’s head snaps round so the alien can stare at me.