- Fountain of Light
Sard slept on a sack of mulbry-felt scraps, under the centre of the dome. Rider had his quarters in the second entryway. On a night of no moon, he dragged his bed out, next to Sard’s. “We should face into the north tonight.”
Sard swung his bed around.
Rider woke Sard before sunrise, with a hand on his shoulder. “Tell me what you see, apart from the stars.”
“It’s my second time staring at the sky?” He almost fell into his habitual blame-thinking. But probably Rider woke him for a good reason. “What am I looking for? Satellites? Planets?”
“Closer in,” Rider said.
The rock rim all around framed the dome with shadows. The dome itself … Sard hesitated in his seeing task. “There are lines inscribed on the per-glass?”
“The Celestial Equator, curving overhead from the west to the east,” Rider swung his arm from the left behind his head to the right behind his head. “It’s a consensual-reality line that helps us observe the stars.”
“The dot behind our heads?” Sard said.
“The Southern Celestial Pole, equidistant between the two arms of the Celestial Equator that seem to finish in the west and east, do you see? The rest of the Celestial Equator is out of our sight, below our horizon.”
“The lines between the space pole and the space equator are…?”
“Celestial latitudes, not of our concern tonight,” Rider said. “We are at the beginning of Silver Time as the seasons are counted in the delta. It lasts from mid July to just past mid summer, mid January.”
“That’s half the year.”
“All through Silver Time, the Lodestar is in the night sky. This morning it is visible in the east. Look there.” Rider swung his right hand this time, over Sard’s face and forcing him to swivel his head.
He sighted along Rider’s arm. “A bright star. Just inside the rock rim. Just outside the space equator,” he said.
Rider sat up. “All my away-time I worked to gain the trust of the grey people of the delta for my project to learn about their lodestar. The only thing I could discover is that there’s a connection between that star and the seasons. The time the lodestar is present in the night-sky is Silver Time. When it is not present … that’s called Tarnish Time.”
“Tarnish suggests black,” Sard said. “As if they think it’s a black time when their favorite star isn’t in their sky.” He shrugged. “It could be that easy.”
Rider laughed. “In the villages to the west of the delta, where I lived at the time, people maintained that the Lodestar is another name for Procyon, the star that rises before the Dog Star. An Aerk Islander I met said that the Procyon System was where the Aerk Islanders originated, and the Lodestar is a remnant of the starship that brought them. I advise you not to discuss your project with anyone.”
“Project?” Sard said.
“The men Gamester has attracted to his outer cave, these swimmers, visit the delta regularly. They’re considered friends of the grey people and I did indeed hear rumors of swimmers while I was in the delta. In your away-time, for your project, I’d like you to learn more about that link, between the Lodestar and the grey people. I’m ninety percent sure that in the future that link will affect us in some way …”
Probably Rider had been going to say more but Sard heard only ‘in your away-time’. “You mean I don’t have to go forever? That I can come back? Why didn’t you say so? That’s a whole other slant.”
“You’ll always be behind the scenes, like I am.”
“You won’t be sorry. I’m a good organizer.” He recalled the performances he had had practically to rewrite on the go due to people dropping out. Or people wanting to join at the last minute. “I thrive on surprises.”
“Those are considerations for after your away-time,” Rider said. “Perhaps if you could tell the grey people you’d met these swimmers …”
“I get that. Make friends so …”
Rider made a cutting-off gesture. “Someone in the airlock.”
It was only Mab, asking for instructions apparently, Sard saw with a couple of quick glances. While Rider was busy with her, Sard tidied up the bedding, dumping Rider’s by his private airlock, and rolling up his own. He stored his gear between two pillars. He started his exercises. The slow ones, so he could fantasize his success.
— — — —
Washing and the rest were done in the opening to the so-called water tunnel equidistant between the two airlocks. Time would have to tell the reason for its existence, because Sard had too much to learn each day to remember to ask.
He lifted the lid closing off the end of a wide pipe ending at the level of his knees approximately, and peed down into it. Flushed the pipe with the half-bucket of waste-water standing ready.
The pipe went down through the intervening rock – cunningly camouflaged wherever it went through any living spaces, according to Rider – and discharged with general dome wastes to be buried in the soil in one of the plantations.
Sard washed himself with a couple of handfuls of water in the clean-water bucket, the water from a pipe sourcing gravity-fed rainwater from a cistern up on the roof. He poured his used water into the waste-water bucket, and rinsed the clean-water bucket ready for the next user.
He pulled on the life suit since it was the subject of his learnings and Rider’s teachings, though he tucked the gloves into the sleeves, and the hood down his back. Pulled on a pair of shorts over the top.
Today, breakfast was cold riced soybeans garnished with a spicy hot sauce. Same as dinner last night. He was learning the fine art of rationing and plus the use of his strength of mind. Food was brought only once a day. “How can will and knowledge be enough?” he asked Rider while he tried not to wolf down his food. He doubted his strength of mind where the purpose of the whole exercise of saving his life was concerned. Not that he told anybody. What if they stopped trying because he was doubtful?
“With good skills and a good kit they’ll be more than plenty,” Rider said. “Those are the next layers in the pyramid of survival – training your own capabilities and learning those of your equipment, such as that life-suit, for instance.”
In the mode of a good acolyte, Sard cleared and cleaned the dishes. Their kitchen was a shelf beside Mab’s airlock above another bucket, this one containing sudsy water for washing dishes.
“Today we’ll explore the fountain-of-light meditation,” Rider said when Sard took his place opposite Rider.
“Because it’s my favorite? I mean, because with it I can best control my wayward thoughts?”
The suit, because he was thinking about it, peacocked with multi-colored blotches and liquid spurting stripes.
Rider ignored Sard’s quips. He did his sitting-down-on-air trick, bowing his legs to accommodate an imaginary pony between his knees.
Sard did his diagonal four-step to end up next to Rider, as he still got confused mirroring his actions. He bowed his legs and summoned his own tai-ji pony. Be pastel, like the sky, he ordered the suit.
< You + I are discontinuous. Your hands/I hands. Your head/I head >
Be pastel. Like the sky, Sard thought as he pulled the gloves on and the hood on over his head.
Though the suit’s electrical discharges grew calmer, its colors stayed bright. < What is pastel, I know not sky >
The sky is overhead. Pastels are faded colors. Fade.
< I cannot perceive sky. I cannot feel what I cannot touch. I cannot compute sky >
Every time Sard worked the suit, he learned more of what it could and could not do. Looks like today it was telling him about suit-specific perception. How, if he wanted it to feel something, it had to be able to touch whatever it was. Didn’t bode well for the rest of its senses. Uh oh, Rider’s getting ahead of me.
Rider squatted and knuckled metaphoric light from the floor near his feet.
Sard breathed and half-squatted and knuckled a pair of imaginary cables from the stone by his feet. Make them strong and live and light.
< Intermittent energy pulsing, ground to head height, rising as you rise >
Rider breathed in while he rose out of his squat and split his cable in two, one end in each of his fists. He drew his imaginary cables up through his legs, through his gut and held the pose with his fists in front of his heart.
Sard breathed in while he rose, managing to observe the pain of his screaming muscles and then to ignore them. Give me twin cables, lit and alive, and thread one through each foot, through our leg bones as if they were hollow, and loop them round my knees and thighs. With his fists knuckling together, he guided the suit-provided cables up through his groin and his gut.
Rider breathed out slowly as he drew his imaginary light through his neck and out through the top of his head.
Sard breathed out slowly as he drew twin strings of spangling light through his neck and head – the life suit gave him stars bursting from his mouth and nose and eyes, then spurted light from the top of his head. He fizzed like a roman candle. Oops, the candle sputtered and almost died. He spread his fingers and hands and arms and showered light in a sparkling fountain falling and fading. He resumed the start position, feet a shoulder-width apart, hands hanging, long fingers pointing straight down his legs. Thank you, he said at the suit.
< You + I are continuous >
Sard made his breathing match Rider’s pattern, recovering from the show.
“Now do it again, without me,” Rider said.
Sard summoned light from the ground and on a rising breath fisted sparkling stuttering cords up his body, gapping and twisting, to the top of his head. As he spread his arms and separated his fingers, he breathed out. Light spattered in and out of the lattice of his bones and joints, strobing and fading before it hit the ground.
“One hell of a piece of equipment,” Rider said. “Did you notice that its patterning went to pieces when you allowed yourself to become distracted?”
We are one hell of an act together.
< We are continuous >