Fiction: Cortinarius alin aff sapient

Cortinarius sp

Cort had three places to sit in his apartment and today he intended sitting in all of them. He began in the kitchen. Sitting on his wooden kitchen chair at his wooden kitchen table. He had the two vintage crystal wineglasses part-filled with water in front of him and the silver teaspoon ready for action.

Mrs Soup would be along soon. He’d earlier checked her progess by standing this side of his front door and listening. She lived-in in the block—in fact had an apartment not too far from Cort’s—and was employed by the Department of Human Services to provide nine of the block’s residents with their meals.

“Yoo-hoo?”

Cort ting-tinged with his fork against the right-hand glass.

“In the kitchen as usual,” Mrs Soup said. “Waiting for me, I suppose.”

He would’ve smiled if he could. Not safe now. Ting. This was the high note with which he put positive comments into the conversation. Mrs Soup wasn’t backward in supplying the words.

She set the dinner bag on the counter and unloaded the covered bowls. Cort’s teeth had given up the struggle and he’d graduated onto soups and stews that didn’t require chewing. “Both into the fridge?” she said.

Ting. He didn’t know yet when he’d have time to suck up the mid-day meal.

“Oh?” Mrs Soups said. “Expecting another caller?”

Ting. Cort pointed the teaspoon at a red square on the placemat.

“Ah, you’re expecting Red. A good man.” She took yesterday’s disinfected and sealed-up dishes in their plastic bags from the vegetable crisper.

He agreed. Ting. Red was the house medic. Employed under the same arrangement as Mrs Soup, he was overworked and underpaid. In Cort’s opinion. A lot more sick people in the scene than were fed by the house.

“Thank you for this disinfecting. You are such a dear,” Mrs Soup said. “Different to the old codger two floors down.”

Cort tapped the other, almost full glass. Tang.

“Red is with Mr Irascible right now, I’d say. He sidled in as I sailed out.”

Which gave him Red’s approximate arrival time. Ting.

————

For Red’s visit, Cort made himself comfortable in his old armchair. The arm rests were perfect for him to lay his arm on a pillow for Red to serve him up with an injection or a cannula for a dose of IV meds.

“Hey, old-timer,” Red said at the door. “How’s it going?”

Cort slipped his mask up over mouth and nose.

“That’s a new thing between us,” Red said at the mask, fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. “And I have been thinking I’d like to have a look at the problem?” He finished with his head on-side, asking.

Cort gestured futility with his fingers spread, hands upturned.

“There’s a thing growing in your mouth and what? You don’t want me to have a look-see, to see if it is cureable?”

Cort shook his head. Indicated down with his thumb.

“Is it bacterial?” Red said. “I’ve still got some antibiotics you haven’t had yet. Could hit it with them.”

Cort shook his head.

“Is it cancerous?”

Cort shook his head.

“Not cancerous.” Red wrapped the blood pressure guage around Cort’s upper arm. “Only one thing left. Show me and I’ll be able to prescribe something.”

Cort pointed at Red. Gestured Red’s probably fate with a finger across his throat.

Red frowned. “As bad as that? I can go to the ambo station, get some hospital-grade personal protection gear, see you again this afternoon.”

Cort grabbed one of his signs from beside his chair. THERE IS ONLY REVENGE.

Red’s eyes above his mask narrowed. He hissed. “I told them at the station there’s a killer in our scene. What’s he doing?”

Cort mimed diseases passing from one to the next. Infecting people. He got his second sign out. His mobile. A photo, a selfie from hell. His pursed mouth with the deep grooves of his aging face radiating from his thin lips pressed tight. Both the depths of the grooves and the lips painted a deathly white. The disease escaping its confines.

Red studied it with quick glances back and forth to Cort’s eyes, the rest of his face. He frowned thunder. “What can I do?”

Gesturing, Cort asked for help to get out of the chair and be settled on the couch. Cort with a towel over his head for extra protection for Red. His third sign. BURN THAT IN A MEDICAL FURNACE. 1100 DEGREES. He mimed. Make me look like a half-warm corpse.

Red grinned wolfishly. Got out his second mobile, set it to Record. “I’ll be at Mrs Soup’s, watching this. I insist,” he said to Cort’s head shakes. He laid it between Cort’s knees. “I’ll see that your revenge goes nowhere else.”

“He’s dead anyway,” Cort signed.

“Not soon enough. Don’t worry, I have a good plan. No one else is going to be farmed by this dude.” Last thing, Red fetched the red half-blanket from his kit. Spread it over Cort’s lap. He nodded. “Eleven hundred degrees.”

————

Next, the grower. What he called himself. Just a humble farmer popping in from time to time to see how the crop was growing he said. Cort savagely echoed him in his mind.

The man getting sicker, Cort saw the fucker think, his legs up on the couch like that and covered with an ambo’s little red blanket. Cort chuckled behind his mask, whatever that might sound like.

Grower checked that that ambo was not on the premises while fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. Three rooms and a bathroom. No ambo. He set the chair on the rug alongside the couch. Its outer limits but opposite Cort. “Can’t be too careful,” he said.

Cort grunted.

“I traded some of my stock this week and scored me some magnifying specs,” Grower said. He pulled them from his shirt pocket and Cort saw that they were an eye doctor’s magnifiers. Grower slid a couple of lenses into the left frame, three on the right.

Cort grinned close-mouthed behind his mask. Made an inquiring sound.

“You’re right,” Gtower said. “I do owe you an explanation or three.” He laughed. “Your name was the beginning of it.”

Cort raised his eyebrows. This was where he might’ve asked the damned farmer-in-the-dell to explain. Mouth too far gone. But don’t worry he consoled himself, this fucker will tell you because this fucker likes the sound of his own voice.

“In the bar they all called you Cort,” Grower began. “I knew rightaway the crop I’d want to try you out for. Then I learned that you were Allin Cort. Even better. It fits the genus and species naming system. In my literature—pamphlets, brochures and pricelists—I’ve started to call the crop I’ll be harvesting from you Cortinarius allin aff sapient.”

How would he get the delusional sapient to come closer? Cort grunted as disparagingly as he still could.

“It does sounds kind of weird,” Grower said. “But hey, you don’t seem to be doing that well?” He hitched the chair nearer. “The minute I went into job-lots of specifics for the laboratories, my life improved. I got rid of all the species that were too ornery. Too meh. The ones that had no poison and or no flavour if they were edible. I was thinking to get a sample today? Get it tested and so be able to offer my clients a specific rather than a general.”

Cort let his eyelids droop to half-mast, like he was a very sick man. Chuckle chuckle. Sicker than some, not sick enough to not want his revenge before he died.

The fellow hitched the chair even nearer, reached over the remaining distance and gently unhooked Cort’s mask. “Just want to see how we’re progressing, old boy.”

The sick man aka Cort relaxed back onto the couch armrest. He’d laugh if he still could. He gathered himself for his last lunge. Had to be good.

“Medic was here?” Grower said. “He give you some salve and that’s why your mouth and all those grooves are so white?”

Cort shook his head. He coughed through a narrow slot with a tearing paper sound. Pressed together his lips again.

“Right. Right. A little cough is the go. Let me get ready for the next one with a swab.” Grower scrabbled in his bag. Got out a swab. A glass container. A this. A that and a whatever.

Cort watched the madman’s face. Here he comes. Those crazed blue eyes.

“Ready when you are,” Grower said. Sitting on the edge of the chair, both his hands filled with the equipment to catch Cort’s … spores?

Cort grabbed the dead man’s upper arms with an iron grip and opened his mouth wide.

His lips crackled. Cracked. Flaked away.

The white felty interior stretched, the fibres sprang apart.

The spotted brown gills hanging from the roof of his mouth released a cloud of dark brown spores. Cort pursed his lips and blew more of them faster and further into the fellow’s face, his hair, his clothes. He blinded him with Cortinarius spores.

Grower would’ve reared back but Cort hugged him. Breathed spores into him. Kissed him to give him the taste. Cuddled the deluded dead thing to his chest.

Whispered lovingly. “Red will be here in a minute. He’ll tidy us up.”

Novel is Selling?

This week I was amazed to find that in spite of very little promotion by me, still not one customer review on Amazon, and almost no attention while I’ve been sick, my novel Mongrel is selling.

While it’s not flying out the door, I’ve been getting enough monthly sales notices from both Amazon and Kobo that I’ve finally added my photo to my Amazon sales page, a link to this blog, and I’m thinking of translating my bio into my mother tongue. Or maybe having it translated. Though not by Google.

Getting a novel to a publishable state takes far more than just writing it. There isn’t just one aspect I could point the finger at and say this is what is selling Doomed? Mongrel. The good feeling is that the amalgamation of processes worked.

I found Kat Betts, a most excellent editor, after two goes with other people. Though she marked-up about 600+/- things to think about and/or change, Mongrel spangles with life.

I spent many many hours studying book covers and at first only learned what worked and what didn’t. I have no regrets that I went professional. The cover Dan van Oss designed exceeded all my expectations. I love it.

An eye-catching title that also might be beloved of one or two or three browsers was one of my responsibilities. It took me as long as I was writing Book 1 to hit on a series name, to decide that a question mark in a title was all right, and finally to jiggle the three book names so they might make the most sense.

The guy who wrote about keywords for Amazon? I followed his every instruction.

In between everything I’m writing again.

Reading …

One of my quarterly goals (Third Quarter) for Discord.com’s The Writing Cartel is to read at least one book a week. Going all right with that goal. I’ve probably read two books a week up to now but that progress may slow when I try to continue my writing progress in the new WIP and finish the old WIP.

Getting distancing happening in MELD to be able to re-think the last couple of chapters is my second goal. The idea is to enable the supporting MC into a stronger role ready for part 3 of the trilogy.

I’ve just finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Its fantasy and the world building is out of this world. I loved the main character … he’s a great thief but absolutely the worst skilled murderer in the Gentlemen Bastards, needs other people to save him quite often; lots of twists and unexpected turns in the plot.

The thing that surprised me most, considering I was reading fantasy, was the late introduction of magic … probably about a third way in before it was used. By then I’d almost forgotten there was such a thing as magic. The culture in this world is so well thought out. Commerce is there, being used for scams by the Bastards. Twelve acceptable religions and one unacceptable all have their place. there are plenty of poor people, middle income, and rich all trying to live their own lives. Festivals are fabulous, including the shark combats.

There is a lot of killing murdering dueling sword play and other more intricately inventive ways of getting rid of enemies. lots of swearing. Most memorable line? Memorable lines, I should say. More than I can say. A great read … it will be one of my favorites this quarter.

Writing: With What Rules …

Whales by Rita de Heer, embroidered with Colourstreams Silks
on silk scrap background

After I was involved in a discussion on what constituted clangers, and disagreed, I decided to write a story in the mode that was held to be okay. See what it felt like more than anything. See if any sense could result …

Aile cast her eyes across the inn room. Hoping to catch the thief at his work, she aimed them for his face. Twould be good if at least one forced a couple of his teeth to spring for the relative safety of the steak sandwich he’d stolen.

Gusting with laughter, the rest of the patrons sent their hands a-clattering on the tabletops. The applause was that strong, that long, that numbers of armless hands rolled from the table entirely disenchanted.

They had to be rescued, sorted, relieved from dustballs picked up from under the furniture, and restored to their rightful owners. The work of fae. Lordy lordy, do expect a few misses. They’re not paid near enough.

The thief laughed unbridled and so lost his gains … a sandwich that was still only crammed into his gob, not swallowed, not masticated, not yet bitten off or even partitioned. Fearing his pretty teeth might lose their battle with Aile’s eyes, he sent her a thought by way of his ear-jacked aerial. Would she hear his by talk? The way his eyes talked of love with his eye lashes batting shyly and his head cocked just so?

He got his eyes at the smithy, cheap rubbish his mother said. How will you ever get a girl’s unbridled interest? I need you off my hands. His eyes took offense and went back to where they came from.

His second set he worked for all the night hours of six days at the dove house. The girls, as always, were utterly enamoured with his technique. But their hearts were not what he wanted, he told them. Go on. Out with the rubbish, said the madam, throwing her eyes after him for she enjoyed a strongly-built back.

He tried his best to make her eyes work for him. But his lashes would’t have her lashes, and those eyes ended up being glanced back into the dove house, through an open window, for old time’s sake.

His third set must be made to last, he knew. Everybody in the town had lost their patience, lots of broken bits, patents, patterns, cowpats and patty cakes to fall over if he wasn’t careful. Being eyeless as well, don’t you know? He applied to the cloisters with his desperation in tow, having had to dig deep within to find it.

With him wounded in mind as well as body, the monks laid him in a cell to be assessed by the head himself. Calm yourself, oh sightless sinecure, they said. The head has worked here many a year without its body incorporated. It’s a choice you too can make though we will find it difficult to perform our miracles from a blind. Still, we are a charitable institution and will always work with a given.

Meanwhile, back at the hostelry, Aile reeled in her eyes by hand. Their thin-stranded wires coiled by her feet. She fished their control unit from a nearby soup. So much for their reputed flight. Of steel and ebony her eyes were made in a cave where the dwarves weren’t all that fussy about their justified desserts. They cared more about how they were paid.

That ‘how’ became Aile’s target. She grabbed an ill-conceived idea, with wings barely longer than a falconet’s and sent it to the breakfast table to sort her thief’s unregarded losses. Fleeting back to her in numbered send-packets, she swept them into her snood and slipped out the door. The monastery stood downhill, a slide not too hair-raising.

Her beloved thief heard her coming, glorious, victorious. I’m on my way-ay-ay!!!

Would he welcome her with a hair-flick tossed randomly into the crowded cloister for every mad monk to scrabble up from the floor or would his cowlick long enough to torque around her finger do her justly?

I don’t know, he cried. I suffer from malaise, inept-time-management and lassitude. I wish she would just carry me off. The sunset beckons for it captured that clause. Different to when the red coat lived in the Arctic and it still had ice and he still had his elves and missus. He gave out presents when you needed it and I’ve run out of mine. First I lose my eyes, then my nous, then my presence. What will I do?

Yoo-hoo, my love. Let’s be about it, thief of my heart. Aile waltzed into the cell and sweeping the thief from the bed—she plucked a round-eyed gaze from the attendant—she set her lover on his feet. Come with me my torquing clown my glaze-eyed gorget glass-eyed geegaw. The world is oysterishly beautiful.

The monkish eyes fit the thief remarkably well. He stared owlishly into the future she described so eloquently. Oysterishly? I think not, my aileron. My work is here, with my ineptitudes taken care of by management. I understand that they will whip me if I so much as drop a bundle. Apparently, I’m better at cards than every-other sharp in residence.

My new home’s clangers will control my torpors, lassitude, laze and make them episodic. Permutated with episode, epistle and episo they will finally give me an epilogue. Look for me in the cemetery, my love, on the day when you too come a-burying.

.

World-building: Strings (2004)

Rain = tears: from Strings (2004)

Strings (2004) is a film acted by marionettes though it could be said that all the actors are puppeteer-marionette-pairs. This reading would help explain the only instance that a part of a marionette handler is seen.

A problem for me personally is the lack of subtitles in lieu of the absence of living lips to read. Hence, the intricacies of plot and story, for me are gappy. It’s a coming-of-age story.

A king kills himself and leaves a letter explaining–the letter is taken before his son can read it–and not knowing any better, the son goes out to avenge his father. There is a happy ending, but not before the scene (above) where the prince makes it home to witness his sister’s death.

It’s easy to become so engrossed in the Strings world that one would forget that marionettes are dependent on their human technicians and human voices for every move, every expression, and every placement in a scene.

In one scene a human foot is seen hastening up a stair out of a cellar after the puppeteer apparently drops their character to the ground with a definite and frightening crash.

I wondered about the editorial decision to leave that scene as-is. Is it that the foot can be seen as a reminder of who the agents are in this entertainment, or is it to remind viewers of the technical skills that have got the story so far? Either of those could then be seen as instances where the viewer trips and falls out of the story. A no-no in fiction in general that I didn’t want to suspect of the producers.

After some thought, it seems to me that there was no possibility other than a deux ex machina moment, literally a god-in-the-machine, to explain how that character came to be in that cellar, and that the puppet’s handler as portrayed by her foot represents that god.

While I knew that there is much more to world-building than concrete nuts-and-bolts world design, seeing in Strings how dialogue and character actions translate into very specific cultural metaphors, had me on the edge of my seat.

On the Plain of Death, for example, the soldiers’ strings snap-freeze and break. In a contrasting war scene portraying war with a desert people, death is signified by strings burning.

“We are all connected,” says the Prince’s desert princess. She glances at the string-filled heavens where all strings go, and where, above the clouds, it is believed that strings are connected. The pair making love is symbolized by their strings mixing and weaving together.

Writers of science fiction are warned away from metaphor. (Card, 1990) Yet in Strings, the outcome of many of the actions hinge on, or are influenced by marionette-specific metaphor. One of many such actions is the outgoing king committing suicide by cutting his own head-string. He isn’t buried, but god-like, is strung up on a wall.

The Prince’s sister tries to stop him leaving her by holding onto his hand-strings.

A pair of children quarreling get themselves tangled up in their strings.

The Prince’s uncle goes to receive a prophecy from a bunch of ancient puppets, bunches of slack stringless limbs, with only their head-strings still intact.

The gestation of a baby is signified by being carved from an appropriate wood. At the moment of its coming-to-life, light-filled strings descend from heaven that are reverently attached to the head, hands and feet.

There are dozens more of such moving moments.

If a story is to be more than a theatrical experience, it needs visual backdrops, props, and processes for the characters to interact with.

The Prince is of a people who have plenty of water in their land. Rain is common at times of great sadness. Raindrops on sad puppet faces in lieu of tears is a nice extrapolation.

Cells in a prison are delineated by overhead frames that contain prisoners’ strings and restrict their movement.

When all strings attached to the living rise up to an unseen heaven, it makes sense that hooked machetes, for instance, are a preferred war weapon. An enemy can hook in and cut an opponent’s head-string to kill them. Or an enemy will gather all their target’s strings and cut through the lot with one fell stroke to deliver an even worse fate.

Slave drivers use a weapon reminiscent of a carpet hook to in-gather the strings with which to control their captives.

The tents of the desert people are truncated into architecturally natural shapes to allow for the ascent of strings to the heavens.

Again, these are only a few of the instances. Watch the film, is what I’m saying.

There is a better quality version than the one below available on SBS, an Australian free-to-air television station.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (p91-92) 1990, Orson Scott Card, Writers Digest Books, NY.

Fiction: Page 2 …

Page 2 of Mongrel, Book 1 of the DOOMED? Series; Link to Page 1 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/ritadeheer385131918.blog/194

Up again. Quick look around to see what there was to see. On the glassy water’s surface, his surfboard rose a finger-width. The swell? He counted seconds. Cooler water from the depths raised goose bumps on his skin. Twenty. The board lifted again. Yep. It’s the swell.

Grung grung grung grung grung grung.
A vibration?
He sank to feel it better.
Rung grung. Rung grung. Rung grung.
Has to be a boat engine. A fisherman on his way home?
Up again to the surface.

The swell increased noticeably in strength and height while Tardi trod water waiting for the boat to pass and the water to calm after the boat’s passage.

RUU-UU-UNG. GRUU-UU-UNG. RUU-UU-UNG. GRUU-UU-UNG!

The water trembled and he with it. The increasing swell with him in the trough between two wave crests hid the boat till the last moment. It was coming straight for him! His heart hammered at his ribs. Frantically he sculled back down. The boat crunched down on his surfboard. Displaced water punched him down, hard.

Oof!

He slid along the wreck then along the sharp coral. Toxins from the coral flamed through him like a fire front ahead of a storm wind. He breathed in water. His chest burned. Lungs bulged. He was drifting away. Fading out.

Wait! He had to live! He had to live for his little brother Steve. Up! Up! Up!

Slivers of skin and trails of blood rose and twirled alongside as he exploded through the water ceiling, coughing, snorting, sucking in air with rasping gasps. His blood clouded the surrounding water. How long before a shark came nosing by? Where was the damned boat?

A huge pink tongue slurped over his back, wiping off blood and threads from his clothes and … Was that something in his mind? The toxins were at work already? For a moment, he forgot how to swim. Then he remembered Steve and spat out bloodied seawater. He kicked hard and hauled seawater from in front.

MONGREL by Rita de Heer (2019) books2read.com
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Page 1 …

This is page 1 of Mongrel Part 1 of the Doomed? series. If you like what you read, hasten to your favorite ebook distributor, the 99c sale ends on 14 July.

1: Tardi

Tardi Malko dived down the water column to where the wrecked trawler lay on its side six meters below, the water as cool and smooth as satin bed-sheets. He stopped a meter above the wreck, sculling with his hands. He’d break the perfection of the display if he touched down, but now that he’d seen the silver coral, he definitely wanted to use it in the video clip he intended to submit for the Virtual Surfing job.

He smiled closed-mouthed to not let any water in. Oh yes! This little addition is going to swing the vote my way, he thought. He swam up for a breath, aiming for the dark torpedo shape of his surfboard floating above.

Out of habit, he checked for triangular fins when his head broke through the surface of the water. Not that he expected any of the really wild wildlife that passed through; not the season for it.

In the east it was still too bright to see much, with the rising sun seeming to hang only a couple of hand-widths above the horizon. He turned, scooping at the water with his hands and kicking with his feet. The Byron Shire coast was dark blue and rumpled with hills. The surface of the sea had the bronze tints of a Roman mirror, no wind and still no swell. His surfboard only moved because he’d troubled the water near it.

Deep breath.

He dived, squeezing his eyebrows together to adjust the goggles for magnification. On the way down, he flicked the side of the goggles near his left temple to switch to the cam function. With the goggles videoing, he swept his gaze back and forth over the silvery clumps for a background sequence of the squared pattern. There were ten rows of the clumps on the near-horizontal side of the wreck. To create a pattern like this the coral must have been seeded.


Up for a breath, and down again.

The early sunlight trembled through the turquoise water and reflected off what looked like barbs, the coral’s hair-like structures. The sun’s rays glancing over the hairs must cause the shimmering effect people had told him about. Good score, Tar-boy. All my problems solved.

Art by Dan van Oss of Covermint

MONGREL by Rita de Heer (2019) books2read.com
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Read Doomed? 1: Mongrel

Mongrel … the fellow in the banner … is available for just 99 cents from 30 June to July 14 … click on Universal Book Link: https://books2read.com/u/bW9Pgq for your favorite ebookshop

The first installment of a series set in The Eleven Islands, Mongrel tells the beginning of the story of Tardi Malko, a 22nd century surfer and trucker.

He needs a second job. While videoing his application to work at Virtual Surfing, he’s thrown against some alien coral. The Moogerah Monster, an alien entity, instantly invades Tardi’s mind and starts to force Tardi to help it break out of its prison.

Tardi begins his resistance by intending to stay himself. His ex-girlfriend signs him up for a job with her, and his drowned brother wants to stay dead next time his CPU freezes. Then the Stormies, a mysterious underclass, claim him as their own. Tamer, they call him. They expect him to control the alien monster, to use it for the good of all Stormy kind.

How will he stay human?

Wordsmithing

The excerpt below is written in a fictional, grammar-based dialect. It has one word I made up … skanzy … and some that are used in different ways than you might be accustomed to.

Watercolor painting of what one of the characters described might look like.
A typical skanzy is hard to see when you’re
trying too hard.

“A skanzy by kind and a skanzy with aptitude is what I am, though I’m quite long-winded as well. The bottom falling out of the bio-engineering market left a lot of us product scrabbling for a living. Cities wouldn’t have us, or anywhere you live. You who are not mis-made.

“Down to the rivers is where we drifted, and where we now live in permanent river-camps, despite floods and melting floes. The some of us what hold down jobs support us all. The jobs never notice there’s an unending succession of us—seen one, you say, seen us all—so when one of us is too sick to get out of bed, injured, or arthritic of a morning—someone else will turn up.

“We can’t afford to lose any of the jobs so we have a rota and a job school in every camp where we all learn all the jobs.

I’d love it if you leave a comment on how well you can understand it, and would maybe like to read more by this character?

Fiction: Scrim’s Story

As she had promised, Kate followed Aunty Jean into the robot-proving ground without a word. Beats testing robots in a transport parking facility. They waded the ebb-tide round the wall, separating the scientists’ dormitory village from the proving ground, where it ended in the sea to prevent errant robots ingressing. On the beach Kate read a sign, Welcome to Hell-city. Huh? I thought we lived in Zinc City? How is it a hell?

Aunty Jean mouthed words. No questions now. Aunty Jean entirely too good at reading Kate’s expressions. They started down the dusty uneven road that ran parallel to the wall. Kate glanced stealthily at the ground. Wait? Was that …? A robot’s footprint? Aunty Jean frowned. Shook her head. No stopping now! Too dangerous!

Too dangerous? When Aunty Jean talked Kate’s parents into allowing Kate to participate in her latest project, she’d stressed the benefit to Kate’s dream of getting a summer job helping to train robots. How would “too dangerous” every five minutes help with that?

Aunty Jean took Kate’s arm and pulled her alongside for them to walk together into a street running into a westerly direction. Every street corner had a tall egg-shaped steel sentinel. “The Nubian-class robots, at present folded-up and at rest,” Aunty Jean said. “They are one hundred percent smarter than the Martian-class robots.” Common wisdom said there was nothing to fear from the Nubians while they slept. Duh. So the Nubians were dangerous to humans when they were awake?

Finally, Kate saw what looked like the garbage mountain Aunty Jean had installed to discourage snooping. “This way.” Aunty Jean led Kate into a narrow alley between two concrete house-and-yard walls that ended at a T-junction, down two right turns and they were in a backyard. Two large chicken-wire clad aviaries, both filled with cooing pigeons, left only a narrow path between to a house door.

“Make yourself at home. I need to go out and I may be gone the rest of the day.” Aunty Jean showed Kate the guest room and bathroom. “Okay if I go out too? Explore?” Kate said. “Any other humans in this town?”

“Other than the robots, everyone is human,” Aunty Jean said. “Explore? Without knowing how the proving ground, the robots, or the people work? You’re to stay at home. Your grandfather’s marine telescope is in the comm-room. You can look out of any window so long as you stay out of sight. And also, out there I’m known as Harmless.”

Kate laughed. “People think you are harmless?”
“Out there my name is Harmless,” Aunty Jean said.

#

Scrim stood by the window of his high-up, chewing the crust he found. The whole top of a loaf of bread. And he got a half-eaten fruit this morning. He looked out over his ground. Two Nubies sat folded up in their steel egg-shapes, one at each end of the street. One of them Yellow Leg–his leg had yellow steel–who supposedly slept, but probably knew everything going on.

When he finished the bread, Scrim was still hungry. He raced his mind over the hell. Where is there more food?

Fingers sat folded in his tall egg-shape at the bottom of Scrim’s high-up. Always there, always guarding. On his way out, Scrim laid his hand on his friend’s ID pad, so Fingers might know Scrim had left the high-up.

When Fingers felt Scrim’s hand, he raised his head and slid his steel shoulders-and-arms free from the egg-shape. Every couple-of-months Scrim asked the same. “Why did them scientists put men, all-you, in steel cans and call you robots?”

Fingers got his name when Scrim-friend replaced his left-side finger blades with toe bones off a dead Nubie. He was the only Nubie who could handle things without cutting them. But Fingers still talked by skitzing his finger blades. “Some-of-we can sense their every part. They teach us to know that we are still whole men. More secrets to keep, Scrim-friend.”

A no-answer meant the Nubies-themselves still dint know. Scrim put the secrets in his heart alongside all the things Fingers told him for Scrim’s future. The dolphinate mate for life. The silver is magic. The mud is alive. Fingers and Scrim are of the dolphinate. “Whisper me about the three cities,” Fingers said.

Scrim leaned against Fingers’ shoulder where the mic was. “Humans say we are a hybrid. Human-dolphin, at first equal shares. For twelve generations, only the dolphinate lived in the delta. Our people were made by the scientist who brought us to the delta after she bought it from an overlord. He died, the three cities grew, and farmlands spread into the old floodplain. Farmers come into our creeks to swim and fish …” he stopped. Sometimes he remember-dreamed how Hell-city’s hunters stole little-Scrim. “The hunters come into the delta to make us fewer?”

“The cities force them to take a quota of us in return for hay from the delta for their camels,” Fingers skitzed. “These things I heard while serving them in their tents, while we traveled here.”

Scrim’s stomach grumbled. Give me more food it said. Out in the street he heard Harmless talking here and there. “I have to go,” he said. “Get more food.”

Read the rest of this story–by Arit Reede, my username on the Worldbuilding Magazine site–in the Gender & Relationships issue of https://www.worldbuildingmagazine.com/