|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.
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.