|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?”