Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Testing the Machine Pattern

What Man-of-the-Forest might look like in his Totem-alterity from
I don't at this point in the writing understands why Jeb cruelly encourages Ant to complete the transformation. How did that slip in? 

Red-tail seizes the moment and salutes Uncle Puma and Thyal. Masking the sound of Crow’s leathery wingbeats with the purposeful scuffing of her feet, she makes her way into the southern crowd. 

Crow settles on Red-tail’s shoulder. 

The rest of us wait for a reaction but there is no comment from the invisible entity who I am tempted to label the enemy. I breathe out silently. Crow is one totem-alterity saved from the hunt to come.

Uncle Puma narrows his eyes at me and I nod. We can do this again. 

“Ise, Man Lithe’n Limber, you organise in the east,” he says.

The machine pattern gives no indication that she heard Red-tail’s shuffle, or the barely separated names of Isis, Man-of-the-Forest in his totem-alterity, and Lithe and Limber. With an ape and two men on bare silent feet, Isis in her boots might be the only one making her way to the eastern doors. 

I guess I wasn’t the only one knowing there are sensors in the floors and walls. Well, duh. Everyone came through the over-world. All four melt into their assigned crowd without that crowd’s resistance. The airlock beckons a two-man-height above them. 

Uncle Puma names his next pair. “Vulture and I will lead the northern crowd.”

Mongoose tenses, but Uncle Puma with Vulture already settled on his shoulder turns and strides forward. Perhaps I agreed to his plan? Plus, we probably all agreed with Thyal that Kosi is not stupid. If she does have a presence in the floor and the walls and even the airlock doors themselves—didn’t she promise to open them?—there’s no surety that she’ll let the organisers get away with their respective crowds. 

Perhaps the volunteers don’t expect to escape. The trying is the thing, they’ll be thinking. I calculate. Seventy-nine totem-alterities minus four. Seventy-five creatures to be hunted? Way too many because Kosi has a low boredom threshold. I had those same words applied to me once and I know what they mean. I flap my hand in front of Ant. “Complete the change, my good friend.”

The process is horrifying. I turn aside because I can’t bear to watch. A man becomes a tiny ant? How will he be a man again? 

I find Wren, also small, a little grey bird, quaking on a strut. I point. Gesture. Take Ant. Fly. Join Isis and Man of the Forest.

There’s a stork. Who? Doesn’t matter. I send her on. Her long toes placed carefully make no sound on the starship’s decking. She presses herself against someone at the back of the crowd until he takes her under his arm, and folds up and tucks in her legs. 

That same easy acceptance again by the human. I’m suspicious of it. 

There are still too many of us though Mongoose and Meerkat and Thyal are helping send those with non-combative totem-alterities into the crowds. 

Which take them in, one and all. What do our Ark Ship-originating humans know about the transmogrification process? Surely only what they learned in the alien starship courtesy of a machine-pattern called Kosi Lionhair? 

It seems important. I’m suspicious of these humans. I mop my neck with my shirt collar. Sweat trickling from under my hair usually means I’m letting fright get the better of me. 

I breathe. Deep. In … out. Calm yourself, Jeb. The exit is happening. The crowd here under the disk becomes smaller with each creature we send on. 

Breathe in … out. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Kosi Back in the Picture

The last real Thylacine in captivity. 

I stare so hard into the crowd that has Lithe and Limber in it that they turn and stare back. I don’t know what expression they see on my face but they pass their work to the nearest bystanders and start to make their way to us. Lithe alerts Red-tail by tweaking her braided hair and she comes too. 

All the leaders in the same place again. What is it with us? “Were you in your Totem-shape when you first woke?” I ask Mongoose. 

“On the platform. When I didn’t see you, I thought I would go look for you. You’re getting an idea?” Mongoose says.

I’m remembering. “The once-human, now-machine pattern calling herself Kosi Lionhair stole the Ark Ship’s de-and-re-constructor and installed it in this ship. She says. In Reception. Where we came in.” I shudder. “I so don’t want to be the only one to know that.” 

“Well …” Red-tail says. “You have successfully spread it to the rest of us. And?”

As if it has been waiting for a cue, the Kosi Lionhair entity giggles. “One door-opener reporting for duty! Sir!” There’s a clacking sound accompanying that I’m not familiar with. Nor is anyone else going by their expressions.

 “Well, that fell flat,” the entity says. “Heels clicking? The salute?”

Everyone around me stares at the substructure. I don’t see anything about it that explains Kosi’s presence. 

“Never mind,” The Kosi-entity says. “What I’m on about is clearing the deck. Since the fighting will have to be down here?”

There’s no reaction from my companions.

“You forgot to tell them, Jeb?”

I am mute. Mongoose shifts his arm and hugs me to him like he will never let me go. 

“You’re not to fight, Jeb,” Kosi says. “I need you unhurt.”  

Doesn’t tell me whether she sees us or sees how Mongoose holds onto me. 

“Sounds like the doors to the airlocks are about to be convinced to open,” Uncle Puma says into the air while he also gestures at his crew. “Red-tail, you and Crow go to the south-side airlock. Help and organise.”

“How many per airlock intake?” he asks the air again. Red-tail doesn’t move. Crow doesn’t move. 

Oh. It’s experimental. 

Kosi giggles. “The airlocks sometimes hold fifty, sometimes only thirty. You should ask them that are so keen to get back into the Ark Ship and it only spat them out a few cycles ago?”

I understand from that that the human people with us were born on the Ark Ship and have spent a few cycles, whatever they are in length, on the alien starship. They do seem keen to leave. 

“It is uncanny how the machine-pattern’s replies seem to answer the Chief’s questions,” Thyal says. 

He can still talk! I’m so so glad. 

“But I assure you,” he says in the ponderous way he has sometimes, “That there’s nothing down here that she can use to see or to hear. No sensors. Her timing is so good that she must still have a superlative imagination.” 

“What has that to do with anything?” Uncle Puma says. 

“She is imagining the conversations that we might be having and inserting herself in them,” Thyal says. “Moreover, I suspect that her world’s level of technological development was higher than that existing in this starship.”

Isis raises her eyebrows at Thyal’s more-overing. 

“If I’m making any sense?” Thyal says.

“Hardly,” Isis says. “If she was human, she surely would have originated on Earth?”

“By which either of you mean to say…?” Uncle Puma says. 

“Thyal is saying Kosi’s pattern’s development over-reaches the level of technology of this starship,” I say. 

Seeing various people make ready to ask difficult questions, I hurry on. “And Isis is saying that if Kosi was human she surely would’ve come from Earth and how can Earth be more advanced than this starship when Kosi in this ship is meant to have beaten the Ark Ship’s AI into submission?”

Not just Uncle Puma is silenced. I get a lot of dark looks. I’m quite confused as to who knows what and who doesn’t. 

Thyal takes the heat off me. He shakes his blunt thylacine head. “I was astounded by the simplicity down here when we arrived to do mischief. The command dash is nothing but a bunch of illogically paired on-off switches. If the rest of this starship is the same, no wonder that the child-that-was, if she originally came from a technologically superior future Earth, decided to hitch a ride with the Ark Ship.”

Just like that Thyal gives all of us a different understanding of the machine-pattern and, more importantly, of the Earth we are all hoping to get back to. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Save Us Again?

Mongoose really really is a mongoose

An important segment in which Jeb faces her POD, her point-of-disbelief, which is the magic inherent in this science-fictional story-world. 
[PODs must be explained in such a way as to be believable to the characters and acceptable as an internal truth to readers ... but this segment is the set-up for that to happen on a later day]  

“A message for those near enough to an airlock to see it in detail,” Uncle Puma says. “Pass it on. I want to know about any ridge, door handle, or slot on the outside of the doors, and I want to know about any keypads or other features besides, below or above the doors.”

 He apparently does not expect any answers any time soon because he approaches me through the crowd by dint of changing places with the people in his way, each of them pressing past each other, and finally forcing Mongoose from his position. “Jeb, step down so we can talk without every man woman and child reading our lips?”

“Better if you step up, Chief,” Meerkat says. “See all the action from up here. Talk with your back to the humans if necessary. There cannot be any secrets from your Totems and so we all say."

All the totem-alterities that can add their growls to the and-so-we- all-say. Ant does not. I squeeze Mongoose’s arm hard to not cry. 

Meerkat steps down. He and Uncle Puma do a tight little dance to change places. It reminds me of the way people stepped by one another on the dangerous single-file paths on Lotor. Uncle Puma joins me on the disk’s substructure. 

“I see that you are your usual self,” he says.

Huh? Is he moaning about something I said? Did? Didn’t? 

Beside me, Mongoose stiffens. Thyal growls. His forepaws are on the pediment. His bared teeth are nearer than Uncle Puma is comfortable about. Thyal hasn’t a human voice? 

“Why didn’t Jeb transmogrify when you did, Thyal?” Uncle Puma says. “Why are eighty of our combined OldEarth-born troops in their totem-alterities, Isis? That’s what I’m asking.”

Isis leaps up beside us. She scans the three crowds. She slumps because Uncle Puma is right. Only the handful-and-one of those of us originally from Lotor are unaffected by the inexplicable. Red-tail, Isis, me, Uncle Puma, Lithe and Limber. Plus Jackal who didn’t make it. The four hundred minus their dead hitching a ride with us are as human as humans can be. 

Interestingly, the Maremma dogs in their Maremma-dog alterities were going to be joining us too. I haven’t seen them yet. 

Uncle Puma obviously doesn’t believe that every one of the totem-alterities is so advanced in their studies that they can transmogrify at will. And anyway, I wonder, if they were, and they could, why would they now at this moment? 

I feel weak in the knees thinking it because this is stuff I have never believed. I decided long ago that transmogrifying is a fantasy. Never in the two hundred year history of humans on Lotor has anyone transmogrified, and I didn’t respect any grown-up who spouted a witness-account. It was always a cousin of a cousin kind of story.

At Shaman School, I learned that the magic that the Shamanic Way taught was a cover to hide our people from the big bad planet called Lotor. That I could accept, and I settled happily into my studies. Then I was kidnapped and thrown down a well. Captured by the sand-people. 

The fauns I met in the prison shook me though in the main I could ignore their existence in favour of taking notice of their presence. How they fitted into the prison world and so on. In the goodness of time Uncle Puma’s band turned up and I escaped to join them. It was then or never. I met Mongoose and because I wanted him, I ignored his beliefs. I feel my face get hot. 

Feverishly I continue my thoughts. So how was it that I performed the shaman’s magic in the Yellow City to save us all? Remember how both Mongoose and Thyal transmogrified to fight the people from the block village? 

I thought I dreamed it. I remember Limber and Lithe in their black swan mode fetching me from the underworld. Dreams dreams dreams. I remember calling for bread-and-honey, what my mother always fed me when I was low on blood sugar, which was when I dreamed my visionary dreams. 

And they were just dreams! 

I search for Mongoose. He’s nearby, studying me with narrowed eyes—I didn’t know a mongoose could do that—as if he’s living my argument with me. I pull my lips into a sickly lop-sided kind of smile though I have never felt less like smiling. 

He frowns and leaps up onto the pediment with me. Uncle Puma on my other side almost falls off. “Easy,” he says. 

Mongoose says nothing. He lays his furry arm over my shoulders. Nuzzles my neck with his mongoose snout. His mongoose-whiskers tickle me along my jaw. What is he trying to tell me? 

“That I really really am a mongoose,” he says, confirming that he’s reading my mind or he’s better at reading me than I am. “That I really am furry. And like you, never in my wildest dreams did I think that that could come true no matter how hard I studied.” 

He speaks into my neck. I’m holding onto him to not fall, or fall apart, to be honest. “But before?” I say. “At the Rose-pink Tower? You and Thyal?”

 “Your dreams my Jeb, with which you saved us.” He nuzzles me. “Can you save us again?” 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Half Shaman in Space: Tackling the Airlock Entries

Apparently, a human ladder is a TV trope. In The Half Shaman in Space, it is the only way out of a difficult situation and nobody is wearing striped pyjamas. An instalment where Jeb catches up with what's going on under the disk. 

Mongoose wants no comment on his furry state? I refuse. Processing my questions, I boil them down to one-word needs. “How? Why?” 

He shrugs. “How? The reconstructor? Why? I don’t know. Everyone under the low part of the disk. All of us from Lotor.”

He takes me into the quadrant that is roofed by the disk hanging low overhead. Thyal is a rangy, striped thylacine. Ant is still the slim young man he was, but with insectoid appendages. He is in a state of incomplete transmogrification. He fends off sympathy by staring bug-eyed into the lost distances of Lotor. Man-of-the-Forest is a large reddish man-sized ape next to him. Isis hugs him, she is as speechless as I am. Meerkat, though furry, seems far too tall. 

“Meerkat?” I ask. 

“On watch,” Mongoose says. “Standing on the disk’s support mechanism.” 

I’m too short to even see anyone eye to eye, let alone over the crowd. “Good place for me as well.”

Mongoose lifts the corner of his whiskered mouth like he’s trying to grin. He pushes me ahead of him through the crowd of animals. I’m so dazed trying to remember who they all are, I almost trip over a stone-crete step-up when we get there. 

Meerkat hauls me up. Both Meerkat and Mongoose, though animal-like, are nearly the same size they always were and can still speak human-wise. That seems important to note. 

Standing up on the pediment, I discover how crowded-together we are. The almost four hundred of us stand like corn stems squeezed into a vaguely triangular store-room. The transmogrifications hold the centre and the humans crowd the corners. 

People are mumbling around the chip in their mouths. Some, managing to free their hands and arms from the crush, are taking the chips from their mouths to talk. I can foresee lost chips, people trying to find theirs being trodden on. Screaming and crying. A stampede with more deaths. A lot of gory detail. 

 Back at the place where we all came over the edge of the disk, Uncle Puma coils up the shirt-and-pant rope. He’s thinking nineteen to the dozen I can see from his expression. I was wrong about the walls. The longest wall is the cliff and it is vertical even at this level. I wave to get his attention and I point at the three airlocks. 

He blazes his eyes at me. I cower. Why wouldn’t he already know about the airlocks? 

Speaking in his this-is-your-chief-speaking voice, he says, “This instruction is for the people directly beneath the airlocks. Pass it on. I need to know how many items of clothes it will take to reach from the floor to an airlock.”

He manages to have everyone involved in passing on the message. There is no pushing and shoving because the task is coming to the people. I shrug a little to convey my apologies. This is the reason Uncle Puma is our chief, after all. 

The airlock behind me—since I’m facing the cliff—should be accessible in full. To my right, I can see almost half of that airlock. The rest we have to assume is in the underworld, the place we came from through the reflective membrane. To my left, the low-hanging disk hides that airlock from me. 

In the righthand corner, a man rises above the crowd, being lifted by two pairs of hands while he kneels on a pair of separate shoulders. Now he rises to his feet. The whole group holding him up sways as he reaches for toward a door with one hand. There is no doorsill. In his other hand, he clutches the sleeve of a shirt hanging down into the crowd. 

Which he brings up level with the bottom of the door. There’s calling out. Arguing. He thumps his fist onto the bottom of the airlock door. Which does not open. He collapses back into the crowd. A message passes back to Uncle Puma. The rope ladders will need to be at least two shirts long. 

Arguments containing the doubts follow. Everyone adds their concerns and or solutions. Where to fasten the ladder. There is nothing to tie it to. 

“Build two people-pyramids to hold the upper ends of the ladder.”

“Open the doors and wedge them.”

“Get up as many people as will fit in the airlock.”

“Shut the doors.”

“Cycle the people through into the ArkShip.” 

“Open the doors how?” Uncle Puma says to each of the information-rivulets coming to him. 

From which people seem to understand that step one is the go. That information streams back to the airlocks, and people begin to practice their people-pyramid building. 

Uncle Puma turns Limber and has him lay his arms along the shoulders of his nearest neighbours for a one-shirt measure. He sets Lithe and Red-tail to work constructing a trio of ladders.