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.