|What Man-of-the-Forest might look like in his Totem-alterity from|
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.