A couple of months ago I stumbled across a CSIROscope competition in honor of World Ocean Day and as I had just been researching ocean clean-ups and the work done on the gyres, I thought: Yeah, I’ll give that a go. The prize would be an analysis by a bunch if scientists of the feasibility of the idea and the illustration once it had been used for social media promotions.
Mmm. An illustration by Campbell Whyte? Could be useful for a story I might write one day. It seemed like a very faint hope/plan/dream/possibility.
I thought up the words, reverse engineered them down to the required number, posted my entry and then forgot about it. The Covid thing makes you forgetful on a lot of fronts. Duly got an email telling me the good news that I was one of four winners. I was amazed.
So, yes, I’ve tried embedding to show-off my prize. I’ve tried merely to link. I’ve tried to post the URL. I’ve tried … to no avail.
I don’t see the problem.
Ah ha … stopped the embedding function. Learn something new everyday. I better hurry up and post. Battery is down to 47% …
Thyal woke me from the waking-dream I was in but, though I don’t look at Simmon, I can feel him still beseeching me with soulful staring.
I’m walking looking at where to put my feet, with my hood pulled right down over my head. I glance up to keep track of what’s going on.
The meat-eating sand does not even nibble at Simmon, and from that I know that Lotor truly knows him. Way back when, he could’ve chosen a totem and married a settler girl.
My settler father loved my Earth-born mother. I remember that he called her his loon-lover. That’s almost the same as Mongoose and me. Does it count if it is the other way around?
The direction that my thoughts are wandering in gives me an idea. “Could I ask you some girl questions, Vulture?” I say though Lithe and Puma walk between us.
Vulture splits her sides laughing, but that’s all right. The men try for straight faces, apart from Simmon who frowns. Does he suspect me?
“Signal Eider?” Lithe says.
“That’d be good,” Vulture says.
Vulture carries the stretcher by balancing it in its middle.
Thyal too follows the rest of the men. Reluctantly, it seems to me.
Eider, arriving, notices that too. She calls after him. “Limber told me girl questions, Thyal.” She laughs. “There go a couple of noses out of joint, Shaman Jeb.”
Now I’m nervous. Though girl questions were a ploy, I do start with one. “I was going to try to be a girl among the other girls again.”
“Sounds like you’ve always had trouble with that, Shaman Jeb,” Eider says.
“What Eider means is that you can often foresee by looking back,” Vulture says.
“That’s right,” Eider says. “The way I knew I was always going to be some troop’s tattooist because looking back I discovered that as a child I scribbled designs and totem portraits on every surface available to me.”
“Though probably you only had that insight when someone pointed that out to you,” Vulture says.
“Not wrong. I am therefore respectfully pointing out to you, Shaman Jeb, that you may never achieve being a girl among the girls of your own age group. For one thing, I think you’re so good at being a girl among the boys of your age group that that could be the problem in this troop. Has that been so all along? For other girls, I mean?”
I thought back on Wren’s claims. “I don’t know.” I ask another stupid question that I already know the answer for. “What’s it mean, being a loon? It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the totem?”
I’m nervous. Puma should’ve made the move I am contemplating. How will he take my interference in his leadership?
“What do they teach them in Shaman Schools?” Vulture asks the world.
“Not about love,” Eider says. “It’s way of saying how a person falls in love, Shaman Jeb, not the long and slow way.”
“Like you’re struck by lightning,” Vulture agrees. “No rhyme to it.”
“Mongoose saying he’s my loon seems kind of weird to me, given what I look like.” I hate what I’m doing to these women. In reality I bask in Mongoose’s love.
“He told you. Good for him,” Eider says.
I wish Mongoose were here with me right now. “Girl talk was an excuse,” I confess. “Puma seems to be refusing to accept the danger. I couldn’t speak with Simmon here.”
Eider raises her eyebrows. “I’m listening.”
“Better be good after two false starts,” Vulture says from in front of me.
I tell them about the Earth-born disease. About my mother and my father. How quickly my father, a settler, died. He was gone in a few hours. What the early symptoms in an afflicted Earth-born look like.
“Which Simmon had in the prison already, and Puma learned about when we all met on the second platform. Why is he holding back? Because of things he still wants to learn? With whose lives will he pay?”
It feels to me that I’m challenging Vulture and Eider. Needs must. “If Simmon gets too frustrated, he’ll lash out. I’ve seen bits falling off him. No one near him is safe. There should be someone sweeping the detritus from the path behind him.”
“Let’s hurry. Catch up with the front,” Vulture says.
“You should be carrying him,” I say. “We should tie him to the stretcher if we must keep him. Bandage my feet, I’d rather walk.”
“Village Square is coming up,” Vulture says. “The halfway point. We’ll have a rest break. I’ll talk with Red-Tail.”
She raises her arm and waves. They bundle me back onto the stretcher. Jog. Red-tail and Crow join us, and Eider spells out the emergency.
“We’ll end it at the Village Square,” Red-tail says. “Carry the weight, ladies.”
She vaults up onto the stretcher with me. She stands astride on the sticks to survey the troop rear and forward. “Crow, call Mongoose from the back.”
Red-tail whistles the wild Black Cockatoo calls of her Totem toward the head of the column. Jackal howls a reply. A cold shiver runs up my back. I’ve set something into motion.
Mongoose clears his throat, letting us all know he’s there, jogging behind Crow.
“Like he was waiting for the call,” Crow says.
Mongoose laughs. “What if Simmon had been a woman?”
“I’m only saying I enjoy your style,” he says.
Even Red-tail is exasperated. “A loon still with the love talk.”
Red-tail vaults over Vulture’s head.
“I guess Shaman Jeb has the oldest crappiest cloak?” she says. “Tear off a good length, Jeb. We’re making a sloppy broom. I see lover-boy is carrying the sticks for the screens? You and your Jeb shred this cloth to the hem,” she tells Mongoose.
“Roll it round a stick. Tie it. When we’ve done the hardest thing we’re going to do, I’ll need two more like it.”
“The hardest thing? I don’t like the sound of that,” Vulture says.
“Crow, I need Ant and Wren here,” Red-tail says.
When they arrive, she continues. “The loon and Wren will be gatekeepers at the Square. Dust off everybody and sweep the bits into the sand. Don’t allow any sand onto the pavement.”
She holds up her hand to silence Vulture about the hardest thing again. “The hardest thing will be getting Shaman Jeb past the Earth-born without him noticing, with the path still as narrow as. Safer for everyone with him at the rear where my crew can prod him along gently, enabling the rest of you to organize some kind of temporary camp at the Square.”
“Touching Simmon for a second won’t hurt us if we’re covered all over,” I say though I’m petrified at the thought.
Mongoose, Eider and Vulture make noises of disbelief about getting me past Simmon without Simmon noticing.
“Step one,” Red-tail says. “Eider, Vulture and Shaman Jeb wrap up like Egyptian mummies. Use the screen-cloths. Rip and tear as required. Every bit of you must be covered.”
While we’re busy with that, she tells us the rest of her plan. It sounds do-able. Red-tail’s final instructions place Ant with her group, he being the person most able to efface himself. He’ll be sweeping scraps from among their feet. The rest of us are ahead getting Puma into the picture. Here she laughs. “If he complains, tell him Red-tail knows the Void. Ask him, does he?”
I’ll happily let Vulture do that telling and asking. We approach the back of the group fore-and-afting Simmon. I can’t see, being wrapped like a mummy as well as spread-eagled facedown—because my right hand and foot are the stronger—between two layers of blanket.
Eider is carrying at the front. I hear her murmuring. Then I feel a couple of hurried bumps to my stomach and legs. Maybe it is Limber pulling Thyal back with him and them duck-walking under the stretcher still in its horizontal shoulder-high state.
Uh oh, here we go. My carriers drop the left side of the stretcher from their left shoulders. I strain to support my weight from my right hand holding on to the right-side stick and from my right foot wedged crookedly between stick and cloth. I’m so busy concentrating that I hardly notice the little side steps Vulture and Eider do into the meat-eating sand to get past Simmon and his keepers.
Back on the straight and narrow with the stretcher horizontal again, there’s a bit more jostling while a couple more people, Jackal and Ax probably, get past us to the rear. I visualize them dancing the side-skip, the dip under the stretcher, and the next side-skip.
After I’ve counted two hundred paces, I ask my carriers to turn me face-up, so I can start undoing the wrappings, to breathe a bit better.
“Hear that?” he says. “Guards tramping up the
stairs. Do something!”
“I hear them.” There’s nothing gentle about the
sound of guards and their echoes tramping. I wake into the moment. “We will
sing the Eagle’s Totem. Repeat each phrase exactly as you hear it.” I don’t
tell him which Eagle’s Totem we’ll sing.
“A sing-and-response chant,” the prisoner says.
I begin. “He
soars with his great wings reaching across the … His yellow feet clench the
fish that is his …”
I aspirate the final word of each phrase,
needing that little silence to keep track of the guards along the stone
corridor. The prisoner copies me exactly.
The guards stop halfway and make a lot of work
unlocking and opening a fiberglass door. An awkward squawk comes from the
person they thrust into the cell.
The guards tramp away and down the stone stairs
while the prisoner and I sing the rest of the Fishing Eagle’s lines: “He
grasps a problem as if it is prey. Tears it apart and consumes it.”
As the guards come tramping up again, I begin
to sing the Harpy Eagle’s difficult qualities. “Lest the soul in a harpy
eagle’s care founders … The harpy tears through the self-imposed …”
This time, I hear a light hard-edged pattering
in the echoing stairwell.
“They’re bringing up the fauns,” the prisoner chants. “They’re
throwing them into the cells.”
No sound from the guards for a minute. By my
calculations they have just closed a door on a young faun, a man with hooves
said to have descended from genetically engineered stock from the Ark Ship. I
don’t believe it.
Were the guards only listening to the prisoner,
or to both of us? Was he singing to them, telling them what he is telling me at
the same time that he is telling me? Is he telling them he has my trust?
The prisoner continues to rephrase the traditional
replies. “They’re just kids. Except for the faking headman. He’ll probably
The guards laugh as if they know exactly what
is going on. They have one up on me there, for I have no idea what the prisoner
intends with his information. Though the totem learning was never a secret, I
worry that the Lotor-born might begin to listen more carefully.
The guards stop near my door. Apparently there
is another cell between the one they stopped at previously and mine.
“We’ll repeat the qualities of the Sea Eagle,”
This time the prisoner sings them proud and
The cell door to my right squeals open then squeals shut. Click clack go the feet of a faun into the cell without any help of the Lotor-born. The guards tramp away, chatting and laughing among themselves.
“You are a Sea Eagle,” I sing.
“And you were a Harpy Eagle.” He laughs. “Is that why you went to
be a shaman? Because to be shaman you get to drop your totem for the chance to
study them all?”
He knows that? By every word he speaks and sings, I learn things about him. He has a lot of volume to his singing so he is strong and fit. I learn that he is taller than me from where his voice echoes against the wall between us.
He continues his teasing. “He must have hated
you who gave you that totem.”
“She,” I say. I want to hear the lengths he
will go to to discomfort me. “A woman shaman gave me that totem.” I don’t tell
him what she added. “With the Harpy Eagle’s qualities to live up to, you may
turn into a decent person.” At the time it sounded more like a curse than a
The prison’s inner walls are a double ten-cube
thick where a ten-cube is about as long, wide & deep as a forefinger. Maybe
the original forefinger was exactly ten what-evers. They are a measurement lost
I hear no sound all night from the cells to the
right (this is with me facing the cell door) not even via the gap under the door.
Only when the porridge is brought next morning, I hear a whisper, like the
rustling of someone pushing through dry corn stalks. The head-faun speaks? I
can distinguish no words.
The Sea Eagle spooning his porridge up echoes
me scraping my porridge from my bowl. The exact moment I put my spoon down
after my last mouthful, he says, “I’m Thayne. What can I call you? I’m thinking
now that I know you better, that we should keep your half-title a secret.”
He knows me hardly at all and he asks me my
name? He suggests we keep a secret together? I think not. Only when I am
dreaming, am I still Jeb.
The river of memories unleashed in me by the totem singing, becomes a slipstream of unfamiliar moments: things that haven’t happened yet, I realize. In one of the scenes I imagine being called by a strange name and not answering. That mustn’t be allowed to happen. “My name is Jeb.”
“So. Jeb,” Thayne says. “When you look at the
gap above the wall between our cells, what do you see? What color is the light
from over my side?”
It seems to me that Thayne wants me to think
that he speaks ideas as they come to him. And that this is meant to be just
such an artless comment. Though it sounds calculated. “Um,” I say. “I see the color
of unpainted stone.”
“The walls in here are unpainted stone.
I see a glaring white stripe on your side. Why?”
I wonder if it is safe to tell him. “Because everything in here is painted white,” I say. “Floor, walls, ceiling. I need to peer from under a blindfold half the day to protect my sight against the sun-soaked brightness.”
“Have you sketched the totems?” Thayne asks
hungrily. “They teach you that in shaman school, don’t they? I guess I’ll have
to imagine the wall covered with their glory. The Harpy Eagle at the top, her
wings outstretched over the whole pantheon.”
He knows I haven’t? He must have contact with
the guards. He is not an ordinary prisoner. Do they really think I’ll unburden
myself to the likes of him?
“What would I use for a writing stick?” I say
when a fingernail is the only writing stick I needed to inscribe the stars as
they appear to anyone living on Earth. My half-training has readied me to imagine
the lines between.
I shiver. What if the prisoner is an emissary of Lotor, and Lotor wishes to learn the map of Earth’s skies? One of the secrets taught at shaman school is that Lotor is a manufactured entity, a hostile self-learning construct.
Jeb gulped water. She flailed and splashed, but
sank to the top of her head. She hit a wall with her knuckles. Rose. Breathed,
big gulps of air. Saw the sky, a round dark disk. No stars. Called. “Help!”
Heard a couple of some-ones running away, their feet pounding on the hard dust
of the central yard.
She trod the water faster to keep her head above it. Earth water was thinner than Lotor’s treacle-like stuff. The Earth-born ate Lotor’s water from a spoon. She bent her neck. Sucked in cool melt-in-her-mouth water with hardly a scent or flavor.
No cistern-woman would ever tolerate someone
dunking in a cistern. Accidental or not, Jeb would be hauled to the magister
and sentenced to waste-and-water-carrying for the rest of her time.
But this was a dream. Lucid dream, she’d had it
so often. She stayed upright by paddling with her hands, hating the nightly
The sides of the dream-well tonight were dressed stone. Impossible. Lotor’s thirst for Earth’s water was legendary. Lotor would suck a human dry … say a man wandered home drunk between a pair of villages and accidentally stepped from the stone path … Lotor would’ve tossed aside his husk by the time the man’s friends came looking for him. As a child, Jeb always wondered how Lotor would suck a human dry?
But anyway, real cisterns had seamless metal
envelopes inside their extruded-stone walls. How did this water not soak
away between the dry-laid stones?
I open my eyes. Only while dreaming can I still
be Jeb and even that isn’t my real name. I tip my head back to see the state of
the day by the light in the window slot high in the wall opposite the door. The
sky is grey. Therefore the time is dawn. Can I recall anything useful from the
The fact that everything followed logically
could mean something. I am getting better at lucid dreaming?
Be still. Don’t move. I listen. I’ve been here
for three years and now they put a prisoner in the next cell? Does it
mean they have discovered me? Who I am? What I am? During my first week here,
guards told me every day they’d be fixing the gap between the top of the
share-wall and the ceiling. Nothing was ever done.
Suspicion flares through me. They left it
undone purposely. It took them all this time to find the right informant? The
gap is about the height of a ten-cube, enough that I hear every move the new
prisoner makes. He snores now. Why not before? He snuffles sometimes. Am I
meant to think that a guard broke his nose? To make me believe he is not in
That tells me that he is in chains. He’s meant
to be dangerous?
I grin silently and ferociously. He has to be
dangerous to be next to me. I creep out of bed. Sling my cloak around me and
silently slide down to sit cross-legged against the opposite wall.
“I heard you, you little fake,” the prisoner
My cloak slithered down the wall. I laugh
silently. I’m pretty sure we’ve never met. I doubt he’d call me names if he did
“You’re the shaman,” he says. “It’s up to you
to save me.”
“What?” I’m so astounded that I forget that I’m
masquerading as a young man.
“You’re the shaman that people out there are
The man appears not to have taken in the
girlishness of my voice. I hug myself to hold still my wobbling heart. “I’m not
a shaman. I was kidnapped from the school after only three years training.”
shaman, then. A fake. Couple of hundred of Lotor-born sleep in the right-hand
yard. A Field of Dreams is their destination and you know what happens there?”
I don’t say a word of what I know. All Earth-born know Soowei’s story inside out. She who was the daughter of the first Captain-of-the-Ship, saved herself from the first Field of Dreams and told her story to all who came after her.
The man continues without even taking a breath.
“The fifty Totems in the left-side yard are here for saving and though I’m not one
of them, so am I. They’re saying that all the shamans know the way home and
that there’s only the couple of you remaining. Process of elimination, wouldn’t
My heart rolls over, I swear it. When I was
taken three years ago, there were eighteen shamans still in the world. Oh tell
me tell me what do someone?
There’s never any answer to such whims, of
course. Next time I have a minute, I’ll have to recall Soowei’s story. Might be
something in it that I can use.
The prisoner is the griping sort. “Where I want
to go too,” he says. “Home, I mean. I picked a fight so I could get in here
alongside you. Get you going? If you do nothing, I’ll be taken to the Field of
Dreams with the worn-out Lotor-spawn. So get your act together and save us.”
I narrow my mind’s eyes. Him fighting in the Lotor-born
yard or in Earth-born yard makes a big difference to my suspicions as to whom
he might be. I niggle at his logic. “And if you hadn’t picked a fight?”
“The salt mines. No one comes back from them
With that he tells me he picked his fight among
“Something going on outside,” he
says. “Damn it, I can’t reach the window.”
Every night I stand below the wide slot in the
wall that serves as my window and look up to see the stars. I look for a fast-moving
speck crossing the sky. The Ark Ship. Never seen it yet.
To see the exercise yards at the base of the
building, I need to step up onto the piss-pot and grab hold of the bars in the
slot that stop me escaping. I cling
to them while I wedge my elbows into the sides of the blessed width.
The slot’s narrow vertical dimensions are to
prevent a grown man crawling through. How would it even help him with the cell
not on the ground floor? Never mind, a prisoner’s lot is not to reason why. I push
my right toe into a depression in the mud-bricks worn there by every prisoner
in this cell since the beginning of time. With my other foot I scrabble for the
angle the back wall makes with the side wall.
Spread-eagled, I can see out. “The Lotor-born
are being encouraged to rise,” I say. “They that need it are helped quite
gently. They are allowing themselves to be marshaled into lines. There’s a
soldier doling out hunks of bread.”
during their walk,” the prisoner says.
I contradict him. “Their gates remain shut. It
seems to me that they are being trained in the lining-up procedure.”
I’m chilled by the sight of the Lotor-born cast
out from their villages for being sick, lame, old, and unproductive and being
ministered by prison guards. I slide down to the floor. I sit down again,
hunching my cloak around me.
“If the guards don’t come to get me in the next
three minutes, you’ll have till tomorrow to spare me from the salt mines,” my
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.