‘Half Shaman’ Published

Half Shaman is in the process of being distributed. Not all outlets have as yet processed the publication. Click on UBL: https://books2read.com/u/38Q1Bd for publisher and distributor links with more to come

# Series ‘Back to Earth’

Jeb is a half-trained shaman in her community on Lotor, an inimical, constructed planet in the Procyon Star System, when she is taken by Lotor’s sand people and imprisoned in one of their strongholds. After she spends three years in a white cell a group of her people arrive at the same time that the Ark Ship arrives back in orbit and makes itself known to Jeb.

The Ark Ship has come to pick up its people as was promised 200 hundred years ago. Read how Jeb, the only one remaining who knows how to communicate with the starship, leads her people to the last remaining shuttle that can take them to the starship.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered: 20

A scene in the Great Dividing Range by Frances Guardthis only a few metres downhill from the plateau

Mark 1 versus Mark II

The breeze all around Sard slowed. What is the problem? He glanced up. His wing’s air cells lost their fat sausage look as he watched. He didn’t plummet, but started circling downward in a tight spiral. A different kind of breeze.

< Very nice. A lovely scene in my latest entertainment. >

Ignore. Still spiralling downward, he looked between his feet, and watched the plateau become a dangerous landing ground of a stony floor with boulders and tussocky vegetation here and there. He clenched his jaws. Needs must.

< You’ll need to bring us nearer to the home ridge for me to transmit your doings. >
Sard pulled on the brakes, then on the strings above them, to try and slow his progress. He intended landing to the left of the chasms.

< I warned you-ouou-ou! >

Mark II’s voice faded out. Thanks be the universe. Sard touched down, and ran along a narrow stony slab for a half dozen paces while remembering to yank down hard on the strings to the rear of the wing to empty out the cells.

He stopped without tripping and the wing fell over and around him. He dropped to his knees and after catching his breath, untangled himself from strings. How can I test that Mark II has really gone?

Do nothing. Rest up. He grinned. It’s a plan. He tented the wing over the vegetation. Crawled under and made a comfortable nest.

The life-suit pulsed. Damn, he was just asleep. “What?”

< Input of energy is required. >

“I doubt it when I’m resting.”

< At rest the organism needs 70 units of energy per hour. The support system an additional 30 units to be able to maintain shelter from the elements. >

Sard lifted the flap of the wing. Dark night with only the stars. “Go to sleep. I don’t need you.”

— — — —

He woke shivering so hard his teeth rattled. Get up. Move. Warm up. He tried leaping, windmilling his arms. Stumbled. Trembled. The life-suit wasn’t working? His gut felt hollow from hunger. “Wake up! Wake up!” What was the correct instruction again?

< Wake up is the correct command. >

“Frosty.” Sard laughed despite his gut pain. Relief, probably. “You’re right. We need food. Though there isn’t that much left.” He upended the pack over the wing. Only a few food packets tumbled out.

< Think the food types at me and I will compute the eating plan. >

“Okay,” he thought, then said it. “Two of Greg’s savoury potato cakes. Mulberry and fried grub slice, my favourite, so only one of those. Sweet potato slice, not my favourite, so four pieces of that. Six cubes of mock cheese. Half a packet of shake mix.”

< There is choice. With enough water we can have many days of rest. Seven days if things need to be done. Half that with hard labour. >

“Seven days, of course. Even I understand we can’t stay here and expect to live. What can I have?”

< The fried grub slice. Two wet fingers dipped in the drink mix. >

“And that’s it? I could eat the whole lot, no problem.”

The suit made no answer.

“Just joking. You’re making me eat my favourites first. Less temptation. So what’s required is me getting us to a place where I can get more food. Do you know any?”

The only answer was the wind whistling among the sedgy tussocks. “Of course you don’t. My apologies. Do you have any suggestions?”

Negative on that too.

After a while he recalled the suit’s original programming. Cuffed himself on his forehead. Fool. The life-suit doesn’t understand anything not connected to it. And this is that programming back in spades. The one I yearned for. Fool again, for taking so long to remember it.

Eyes open, Sard-man. Ears, all my senses. A low wind soughed and rustled the vegetation, also low. Sard clambered up the nearest taller than knee-high boulder. He stared in every direction, trying the imprint everything in his memory.

Half the circumference, to the left, west through north to east, he sensed rather than saw the drop off. In that 180 degree half circle, the vegetation, the sedgey tussocks and low shrubbery stopped abruptly about ten metres from where he stood and were backed by blue sky. Ten metres, that’s not a lot.

He overpowered his instinct to instantly move in the opposite direction. From west again—the direction behind him—but through south to east this time, the same vegetation types went on and on and became a brown haze. Remember, though, the chasms intermittently and not visible until you get near. He looked for the smoke specifically. Sniffed. Something he remembered. From Greg teaching him? He hardly remembered Greg. Did it matter? Can’t smell smoke or see any. What about the breeze, then? Where’s that going?

The breeze came whistling over the edge of the escarpment in the north (on his left hand) and went south (to his right). Smoke and smell both would be carried away from him. He stepped down from the boulder. Peered closer at the surrounding landscape. Underfoot were rivers of bare rock and islands of grit and stones bearing the plants.

This is a desert as much as the red sandy one below. Barring the spinifex down there nearly the same vegetation. Probably the same animals. No birds the whole time I’ve been looking. Except … he glanced skyward. A raptor up there, would you believe. What is there down here for it to eat?

If in answer, a finger-length red-and-blue locust hopped from one bush to the next. Before Sard could think what to do about it, the bird swooped down, grabbed the insect and was up and away again. A little raptor. Hobby falcon. Too small, too fast and too smart to catch. The insect. Red-and-blue. How was that camouflage? The bushes. Ah. Little red flowers. Blue shadows.

Got to find something bigger than a little raptor or more than a single locust. Both of them need too much energy to catch. But also, I can’t stay in one place here the same as I couldn’t stay in the dip down there after I ate that one single rat. But still. If I can find a dip here, maybe I’ll be able to catch a rock rat. Make a fire and cook it. There’s no one up here.

He packed up the wing as well as he was able in the circumstances, not being able to lay it out flat on the ground. Make that he crumpled the wing’s cells to his chest to empty them, and gathering in the cloth, stuffed it into the backpack. But he gathered in the lines methodically and after coiling them inserted the bundles neatly between pack and fabric. Set the pack on the boulder and shrugged into it.

Set off away from the edge of the land toward a region—he scoffed at his continuing internal pretentiousness—where the vegetation seemed taller. That might signify a depression where any rain on this benighted plateau might have drained to and the veg as a consequence had grown taller.

Following the rivers of rock he was easier on his suit-legs, less cutting from the prickly vegetation. No answer to that. The incumbent version of programming was not nearly as chatty as the other.

< Following the rivers of rock will take you twice as long to get anywhere and using more energy. >

Uh oh. It’s the Mark 2 program back. How did that happen? Sard trembled. He felt the shiver go through him from his throat to his toes, him trembling from the fright of being encased in an unfriendly entity. His mouth dried. His outer covering, aka the fucking life-suit, narrowed its elasticity—somehow—resulting in a length-ways squeezing like that python trick way back when.

My own stupid fault. I thought at it—I’m still gaming it when I should know better by now. I told it I was following a rock river. And it answered me. Proving right there, that this is the other program.

He stopped, walking and thinking. To his left he could hardly see where the veg cut off at the edge of the plateau to his north. I’ve come too far south. He zigzagged back north to his safe zone. Keep walking. Get really safe. Falling off the plateau might be the lesser of the two evils.

After a long time hard walking, he stopped again. Stood there, pack still on his back. Not giving the entity any more clues than need be. My shadow getting quite long. Sun sets in the west, behind me, and I’m not even going to check that. Need to find somewhere to lay down and sleep.

The moment the sun sank all the way below the horizon, the air cooled. Damn. Nearly cold. He half expected—hoped—the suit to instantly tell him to get into shelter. Suit obdurately silent. Walk walk. The runnels of stone became harder to see. Shadowed shrubs. Almost dark, I might as well say.

Put his foot down on a place that wasn’t there. Huh? His knee collapsed and the rest of him plunged after.

He fell deeper than how he remembered a dip in the landscape. What is this place? The pack on his back pressed him down while he lay on … he felt about … on rock. Struggling out of the pack’s restraints he looked up at the edge of the ground where he’d been. Rock edges all around, the dusk grey sky beyond. The depression was maybe waist deep?

Down where he was, there were already black-dark places. A bunch of ledges over hollows? If I had a flash light … don’t need one, I have a life-suit. Grim dark thought—what else don’t I know about it?

Should he appreciate the fact that the exterior of the suit started to glow? Didn’t know it could do that either. Is Youk really so far ahead of everyone with his programming?

< A silly boy who dressed Roman style for his capture by the clay faces. >

What? Youk? Captured?

< You should attend to the shallow business of surviving in this hole. >

The suit squeezed him to get his attention is what it felt like. Is that the way to talk? A thought that might have got to it because the exterior of the suit started glowing. In patches. His right side leg and arm when he had his head turned that way because of the way he lay, but now directed his gaze into the overhangs there.

Three separate overhangs no higher than about fifty centimetres. No deeper than a body sheltering. Their gritty floors scuffled. A lot of random handprints medium-size and small scattered about. People getting comfortable in the only shelter available, that might mean.

Sard rolled to his left side slowly enough to give the suit the chance to light up the dark on his other side. One side faded. The other lit up—greenish, then bluish then white. Good approximation of a flood light.

Yep, the suit knew what he meant. His thoughts or his actions. Whatever.

This side the holes were both deeper and higher. The adults would’ve slept here, he thought. He searched for large handprints and found them. Also the imprints of weaving. Rounds and sloppy ovals.

< Where they rested their baskets. I must know who they are. >

Yeah right.

< Sleep. I will study the matter. Perhaps this benighted community has technical expertise I need. You do not have enough energy stored to serve both me and your body, and I will take most of it. You will need to cover yourself. >

Huh? He could parse that out but was in fact he was too tired. He registered the last fact and pulled out the circular underlay that was to have helped him do magic. Hmph. He lay where he lay and covered himself.

Felix the Fox interviews

Tardi Mack, of Mongrel is in the hot seat being interviewed. Read this introduction:

Dear readers, tonight we have a truck-driver from 22nd century Australia, who in a freak surfing accident got infected with a sentient alien substance. We caught him talking to Trucker & Jockey magazine, describing life post-infection while trying to avoid a rather persistent ex-girlfriend.


Tardi: You’re from the Trucker & Jockey magazine? Well met! I was a trucker once, with TLC, a family company. My dad and brother ran the workshop, and I drove our old Mack and jockeyed our live-mind freighter. Hope you’re recording all this? I also surfed for Virtual Surfing. Check me out on their website, they still have me in the sensor-suit surfing the actual waves and voice-overing the rides. My pay from them allowed me to rent in Watego’s Wall on Byron Cape, still a hot-shot tourist destination. Yes, formerly Byron Bay.

Me in the past? Oh, my name. My parents intended to register me as ‘Trader.’ The old man can’t spell and neither can I. Learning to write my name, I transformed it into ‘Tardi.’ They did an about-face on names when my brother Steve was born five years later. But Steve. Oh man. My brother and my burden. He drowned and I couldn’t save him. And Herm wouldn’t let him go. Don’t ask me more about Steve, mate. I’ll be tearing-up for the rest of the day. The landscape? Look outside. Boat-ways instead of streets. Major roads on stilts. Get up on one of them and in the distance you’ll see Wollumbin, a world-famous volcanic plug. Nearer at hand is the pimple called Chincogan. The Koonyum Ranges hunker at the back of the valley. And there are the trees, more than ever.

My kid-sized surfboard was absolutely my favourite thing when I was a kid. My dad taught me the basics. And there’s my cherished memory, him waist deep in the sea, pushing me off. Fishing me out when I fell. He’d plonk me back up on the board half-drowned, and push me off again. Remembering him then—like that—makes me feel warm in my heart, you know? You’re asking what I do now? Good question that I don’t know the answer to. On we go to one of my latest adventures …

Read the rest of the interview on My Books etc

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 17

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When the Wind Changed

A loud braying roar like a clarion from hell woke Sard out of deep sleep. The light, the angle of the sun was wrong. How long had he slept? And what was that terrible terrible racket? The kite’s fabric tenting them, rippled with the vibrations of the roaring!

He rolled into a protective crouch over Ahni—oh fuck, she was still trussed, yesterday was not a nightmare! Great animal legs trampled among the bushes he saw through a gap between the ground and the flapping tent.

You delivered us into a game? he thought at the life-suit. He jerked loose the life-suit’s zip and shoved the hood up and out of his way. Couldn’t trust any damn thing the life-suit told him. Bet Youk is doing this in his hide-out. Why pick on me? I didn’t cast him out.

The animal brayed and slobbered its stinking breath over him where a corner of the wing flapped loose. Sard fell back. It’s real? The animal is a real animal? He scrabbled to his feet, semi-crouched under the wing, froze. Couldn’t think.

The Ahni’s voice came. “Srese-brother! It’s-a-camel-animal!”

Will the great thing attack the kite? Trample us? Why is Ahni still talking to me? Words from long ago history lessons sprang into his mind. One-humped, feral over a large area of the continent. He dragged Ahni from where he thought the animal might step next.

“Sard! The-tent. Bird-to-fly-away.” Ahni stared wildly past Sard at the flapping kite.

Her eyes were fever bright, he noted before realising what a flapping billowing tent meant. The wind had got up finally? He ditched his other half-assed plans. This was his chance. They could escape for the best reason in the world, an attack by a wild animal?

He wriggled into the harness and made quick lark-headed loops to what bridles he could reach, two on each side would have to do. He concertina’d the wing loosely behind him.
Roooaaahhh!

The slobbering roar overarched them. “Enough!” Sard punched at the infernal gape—his knuckle hit a chain hanging from the camel’s lower jaw! A domestic animal?

A gust of wind took the wing from Sard’s quick containment and billowed it up over his back. The camel skittered back with mad eyes and a different note to its bawling. “Yeah, just back off!” But coming fast, he now saw, was another. A braver animal, he wasted time thinking. Two more roars sounded in the distance. “Ahni! Come on! We’ve got time!”

The canopy filled and lifted Sard onto his toes. The wing was about to take off. How could Ahni get up, trussed as she was? He bent. “Arms around my neck, hurry! We can make it!”

“Sard, leave me. Leave me,” she cried. She wriggled up the hollow’s wall, scrambled to her knees and then her feet. She started to run.

How can she run? The wind swept him into her. To save her being bowled over, he grasped her around the body with his hands and knees. “Quick, turn around! Loop your arms over my head!”

The wind walloped under the wing and they were dragged face first over the saltbush. “Hang on!” Sard kicked hard at the ground. The next gust will get us up.

A pair of fists came out of nowhere and squeezed his arms. Sard’s hold around Ahni weakened. He shouted. “Ahni! Grab the lines!” She screamed a helpless bird cry as she slipped from his arms. His strength was sapped, hers fever-burned.

Somewhere below him and out of sight she cried joyfully. “Kes! Kestrel!”

Kestrel? Who’s that? Sard swung confused as the wind gusted and he rose high and free. Must have misheard. “Ahni, I’ll be back as soon as I can! I’ll find you!” he yelled. What is there for me otherwise?

— — — —

Brassy sky, red gravel, and a dozen tussocks of spinifex grass kaleidoscoped as he bounced over the plain, the wind that gusty. He pushed at the ground when it came at him with now a foot, now a hand, all the time willing that the wing take him properly into the air.

Then the wind dropped altogether. The wing wilted and Sard with it. When he’d fought from among its folds, he was alone with only the ridge of home in the distance, and a singing silence. He’d fallen between two clumps of spinifex, his only luck so far. A raptor hovered overhead.

His victorious escape with Ahni in his arms had ended with her caught by a clay face—though he didn’t recall that the man actually wore a clay mask—and Sard scudding witlessly along the ground. I refuse. My adventure is not finished. He bundled the wing furiously into his pack. He would trail the clay faces to a good ambush point so he’d be able to explode from behind a rock, startle the camel carrying his beloved into skittering so that she could fall into his arms. Shouldn’t be too hard. He’d practiced everyone of these moves in the virtual performances back home.

Sard pulled the life-suit’s hood back over his face as he’d need the suit to spare him the brunt of the sun. Handy too that it would salvage his sweat and so be able to save him from dehydration. Thumbs hooked behind the straps to steady the pack, he took off through the spinifex, angling into the direction where Ahni said the swamp lay. A contested place where both the clay faces and Ahni’s people rested, it made sense as the place to make for. A raptor, same or different he didn’t care, kept station overhead.

The problem was that he had to choose directions, left or right, around every tussock in his way. Hours went by with the life-suit helping him only with that, it telling him the time passing, with him like that bug crawling over a tabletop. The weight of the pack was a joy-killer, though there was nothing in it that he didn’t need, he decided a couple of times.

When he finally stopped for a break, it was due to his legs. Like they were on fire? I have got to sit down have a break have a bite to eat. He punctuated each thought with an action. Shucked off his pack. Sat down. Explored the pack for something good to eat. Drank a long draught from the water bag. Ate some of Greg’s health bars. Mm-mm, can that man cook.

He lay back against his pack, shut his eyes. He might even have slept if the life-suit hadn’t decided otherwise and let him swelter. Damn. What is it with you?

< A dangerous place to stop, in sight of the home ridge. >

I’m nowhere near home! Been walking for hours!

< Nevertheless. >

He was quarrelling with a bit of Youk’s programming? That’d be right. Just like quarrelling with Youk himself. But, never the fucking less I should have a look. See if I can see any familiar landmarks. See how good my map reading is. All that.

He grinned, cheered by his take on his troubles with the damn suit. He hauled himself to his feet and walked to a little rise. Might as well take in the scene from up here. Ha ha ha. Good one, Sard. A rise all of thirty centimetres above the plain?

He looked all about. Practiced the old-time compass points by staring into the north. Nothing he recognised there apart from blue distances fronted by saltbush. Red dirt. East. Mmm, ditto. South? Give me something to recognise. Okay, yeah, in the southeast is that low old mountain. But funny it’s no nearer than it was yesterday? Move along, Sard-man. In the south proper? Not even the a roll of dust brown up by a camel. There remains only the west.

In the west lay the dark shape of the home-ridge, near enough that he could see smoke rising from the moldeckery. A bad taste flooded his mouth. His gut griped and sent reflux. Why?

< I’ve taken over the functions of this suit and you need to ask? So stubborn—such a know it all—so much self-praise. A good dose of fear might wake you to the danger of hanging around too near ridge. >

As before, the life-suit python squeezed him to the ground. < Taking you from the horizon. >

Sard crawled to where he had left the pack. Is this all about Youk, how I bested him? His revenge?I’m supposed to think I’m the fool? That I wasted all my time and energy purposely?

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 16

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Ahni was still strapped to the operating chair, mercifully still unconscious. Her skull gleamed whitely and her hair hung to one side, unnaturally long and dripping with slow blood.

Sard crooned while his hands dithered with indecision. “Ahni. Ahni. Ahni.” What to do. What not. Could he save her? He sprayed disinfectant and covered her wounds with lint. He bandaged her arm to her shoulder, and tied it to her body, all the time studying the horror of the thing done to her.

Ahni’s scalp hung inside out like it was an extension of the blood heavy hair. It would have to be sewn back. Sard cringed at the pain he’d deliver her. A year and a day of careful stitching. Would he have time before someone came to investigate? Need to take her somewhere hidden. Start, Sard-man. While she is still unconscious.

With his own head-skin clenching tight in sympathy, he swabbed the flap with disinfectant and rolled it back over Ahni’s skull bones. He tied the scalp in place with the stiffening hair. Then with bandages, leaving her nose and mouth free. More bandages to take with them, more of everything rolled in a lab coat and tied around his middle.

He lifted Ahni’s unresisting body over his shoulders, old-time fireman style, and staggered to the chocked-open doors. The arch cave was now empty. He hadn’t the time or interest to guess where Zoya, Ghulia and the merman might have gone. He slopped straight through their pool and ran with small steps along the beach.

< Energy also is lacking. >

Sard relaxed where the life-suit was concerned—like, we’re back to normal—he threw a thought at it. Take what you can. Cilliary action in the regions where he wore the simulated clothes told him they were disappearing. He felt his face reverting to the life-suit’s anonymous mask by the suit releasing its grip on the folds and grooves it had fashioned on his cheeks and around his mouth.

His strength gave out as he reached the lagoon. He caught Ahni by the shoulders as she slid from him when he fell against the bank. He pulled her across his legs to support at least her head above the water. Salt water any good for wounds? he asked the life-suit.

< Wounds may be sterilized by the application of saltwater. >

It was out of his hands however. Ahni sighed as she slid further into the pool and its cool silk bathed her.

— — — —

Sard woke. His first awareness was of the weight across his lap… he’d sagged and allowed Ahni’s head hang perilously near the water. As he stirred, she rolled from his arms onto her good hand and her knees in one move. She sat back in the water and one handed tried to pry the bandaging from her eyes.

“Hang on,” Sard said. “Let me help.” Activity everywhere all over him reminded him he wore the life-suit. “Contrast to background,” he said at it and was rewarded with a sapphire outline. “Face and eyes,” he said.

Ahni, when he’d helped her free her eyes, smiled tremulously. She looked everywhere but at his still impossible face. The sea. The lagoon. The sky. She paused at each, as if to think through something that needed to be done. She frowned at his face, then ignored it while signalling with glances into a space beside his head, and small gestures, for him to release her hurt arm.

Sard pulled the part of his hood covering his face away, then the whole thing up over his head. Cowled it in his neck.

< You + I are discontinuous. Your hands/I hands. Your head/I head >

Live with it, Sard flashed at the life-suit. The climb seemed not to frighten Ahni. Sard swarmed round her, cajoling and encouraging, choosing the easiest places for her feet and hands. He pulled her by her good arm, and pushed her when she needed more strength than she had. At the top they rested. Night came like velvet and after a while Sard fetched his pack.

She could not eat. Sard shook up all the soluble food he had in one of the water bags so that she might sip when she felt the need. Then he held her until she had gathered her strength. Walking, they kept the tracks of her people underfoot. They walked and rested alternately. All she had strength for was to sip the food, sleep and then blindly, with her good hand in his, follow those tracks.

Whenever Ahni seemed more coherent, Sard started to explain the kite, how it could take them east, to a safe place. But each time she rested only a short time and continued along the tracks. What’s the hurry he wanted to say. We can get ready and wait for a good wind. Be away.

But seeing her driven need to follow the tracks, Sard hadn’t the courage to stop her. He planned now that they’d fly to their new lives after they’d saved her people from the clay masked riders. He’d work out those details when he and Ahni caught up with them.

When daytime came, he rigged up a shelter using the alive-to-background cloth. In the afternoon he unwrapped Ahni’s wounds and squirted disinfectant into them. With the speechless glances and gestures again, she encouraged him to cut off her hair and to bury the blood-stiff bundle.

Sard scrubbed his hands with hot sand and brushed off every grain to prep himself to close part of Ahni’s wounds. He revised the moves Mab taught him by forcing him to push a needle through a piece of raw leather. With Mab he’d made four holes, two stitches. Ahni’s wound was ten times longer. Today, he decided, he’d close the part between her head and shoulder where skin edges rubbing against each other kept the incision from healing.

She bore his trembling work with a set face.

They slept again—he kept her good hand in his—until moonrise. In the night, she explained silently, she knew her way very well.

— — — —

Towards the second dawn the cliff edge angled west. Ahni halted indecisively.

“What’s up?” Sard said.

“Tower here,” she said. Her first words. She walked toward the new cliff and sat down well short of the edge. Stared into the sea.

Sard arranged the packs so that they’d both have a backrest. “Tower? In the water?” Where she was staring.

Slowly, as the sea retreated, there appeared an outcrop of rocks, half a wall, and foundations like a broken tooth at the foot of the left-hand cliffs. Ahni wept. Sard could not convince her to come with him to a camp among the bushes.

He forced himself to relax. Did it matter that they sat on? The morning wind pushed at their backs, no good for flying. Sea shadows and the sun wrestled for ascendancy until the molten ball surfaced. “Let’s get into some shelter,” he said. He tried for his most cajoling tone though he didn’t know anymore which of his voices had any effect.

“I-must-say-goodbye-to-our-tower-home,” Ahni said.

“I worry about your wounds, Ahni. We don’t have much water left. Need to be near to some bushes to collect more.”

“Soon, Sard-onyx-stone, Srese-brother.”

Sard was stunned. She knew who he was? She certainly knew the meaning of his name. Sounded like she and Srese have been talking. What does that mean for me? I do not like that she called me Srese-brother. Like she’d decided he’d be her brother, too.

“Our-tower-bones,” Ahni whispered. “Where-shall-we-live-when-the-swamp-is-not-ours-alone?”

A wonder anyone survived. All the cyclones in the tower’s lifetime had helped the work of the last. Caves, on the other hand, were strong and safe. When Sard now thought of their future together, he dreamed of a little cave, where they’d make a life for which he wouldn’t need a game master and Ahni wouldn’t need any of the amazons he’d seen in the group. How could he convince her of this wisdom? He almost thought his wisdom but that would be excessive pride, wouldn’t it?

Ahni shuffled back from the brink and teetered to her feet for the next push. Sard helped her walk with an arm around her, half lifting her in places. Need to get her mind away from the Srese-brother concept.

They angled east. The wind lay down and slept. Heat sapped their strength. The wide ploughed track became a hard single-file path wandering through the saltbush. After Sard was sure she wouldn’t fall if he released her, he walked before and behind, found short cuts across loops, and debated whether to steer them further into the desert. He doubted that that swamp existed. How could it persist in this heat? Ahni drank the last of their water. “We really do need to stop now,” Sard said.

He found a depression encircled with saltbushes over which he could drape the kite. With the inner fabric beating back the sun, they had a moderately cool tent. Ahni fell asleep as soon as she lay down.

Time he got himself some sustenance. Sard hauled the life-suit’s hood up and over his face. Sealed the neck. He’d need to be stronger than usual. He opened the water-bag and folded out the gussets. He rolled a stone into one corner and …

Huh? He almost dropped the water-bag. Damn life-suit. It’s the chatty program. Youk’s doing. He almost zipped open the life-suit’s hood at his throat there and then.

< No, don’t. You need whatever sustenance I can give you. >

Fine. He’d put up with it while Ahni slept. He re-assembled the water-bag and stone and tied it onto the bush he’d chosen for its swaggy foliage. Then answered the question. Yes.

< How is she after her trauma? >

Feverish and sad. Her tower-home is a ruin, all its people gone. She’s sleeping at the moment. Tonight she intends to start toward the swamp to see if anyone is there. How’s a damned life-suit going to process all that? How I will is more to the point.

< You don’t sound very keen. >

He snorted about him sounding like anything while he thought. Figure of speech, I’m sure. But maybe his thoughts about it all might be clearer once he’d explained them to a thing that supposedly could only understand a set of concrete understandings. Here’s hoping. He laid out his hopes in detail.

< Nice planning! Do exactly as I tell you and we will all have a lot of fun. >

Sard preened about the nice planing. He hadn’t lost his touch. But what’s with we-will-all-have-a-lot-of-fun?

< Figure of speech. Stay continuous. I can’t help you otherwise. Lie down behind her on your side and get as near as you can without touching. Do that first. >

Sard stepped over Ahni and lay down with slow careful moves. I wonder how Youk managed the superior processing power? He’s better at it than I thought?

< Ready? >

Ready. Weird that the life-suit can’t tell from the way I’m lying that I’m ready. On a spurt of silent laughter he thought, I’ll have to talk to Youk about you, finesse some of your sensory inputs.

< The Youk person was cast out of the community. He awaits the clay faces at the base of the ridge. >

What? Sard wanted to rise, get out of the scene. Youk was cast out? What the fuck?

< Careful! When you first touch your beloved it had better be with just your hand. I suggest you start with stroking. Whisper things that will put her at ease. >

Sard stroked Ahni, not because he obeyed but because it was the only way he could think of to get Ahni thinking positively about his plan. He really really did not want her thinking of him as a brother.

< That’s right. Delicately along her sore arm and more assertively over her hip and leg. >

Ahni stirred. “Wake up, sweet girl,” Sard said. “Will you have some water?” She turned her face to him and made a sucking sound with her lips, accepting his offer.

< Quick. Kiss her and caress her. >

Sard bent over Ahni and kissed her wherever he could reach. Her mouth just once and after she turned her head away, her cheek and then the sewn wound on her shoulder. She wept and struggled to get from under him.

< Tie her up! If she gets away you’ll never see her again! >

Tie her up? What is the damned suit thinking? Sard felt suddenly hot and slippery inside the suit. I’m sweating and the suit is not taking it up? What happened to we-are-continuous?

< Put up with it. I have no time. >

His hands—encased in the life-suit aka the life-suit running the show—searched blindly and found the cord for parcelling up the wing. What was he thinking to entrust his actions in his first real love affair to a damned life-suit?

When he looked up from his rant, Ahni lay trussed before him. Her eyes were scrunched shut. Her mouth a down-turned slit of resolve. His heart sank. She’ll never love me now. I had a chance with her for about three minutes? He almost wept.

< She’ll come good when she discovers who we really are. The show must go on. >

Yeah yeah. Bleak is what I’m feeling. I lost Ahni because I trusted the fucking entity encasing me? It used my hands. She won’t be able to walk, he thought at the life-suit.

< She won’t need to. We will wait in this hollow for the wind to change. Lie down. Sleep. >

He was laid down by way of the life-suit doing a python-squeeze on him. This is not how it is meant to behave. He intended to watch, but nothing in the whole world stirred nor was there a breath of wind and anyway the suit refused to let him rise.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 14

Particularly stylish life-suit being worn, NASA copy.jpg

Relearning the Life-suit

Sard rested after his labours with the kite. All he’d discovered so far was that really flying was going to be trickier than anyone imagined. The power supply, or in other words, the wind was in no way easy to understand. Its unpredictability had him stumped. Mornings a wind that blew from the east would veer to the north by midday. And he had only a day or two to learn them? Climate control out here would be so good.

The only flying he’d done so far was with the wing less than two metres above the ground and therefore dragging him along practically on his knees. Thanks you, Gammy, for the strength of the life-suit’s fabric, he thought numerous times as he picked thorns and sticks from his knees. Lucky they hadn’t scraped through.

The speed of the drag scared him witless. What if he’d been near the cliffs and had been tipped into the water below? All the sea-faring entertainments he’d ever researched flipped through his mind. There were fearsome predators down there. How was it that the mermen stayed alive?

How he’d finally stopped himself—and that at the brink—was also a mystery. He’d pulled the handles aka brakes every which way possible before he’d collected his thoughts, so had no idea which particular action cause the wing to deflate, and drop itself and him limp as rags to the ground.

He was so busy in his thoughts that he didn’t at first hear the voices of the Seapeople helping one another up the rocks to the top of the ridge. Then, by the time he realised, they had gained the plateau and were about to begin their trek south. Ahni wasn’t with them. Sard counted them, divided them, studied them by size but she wasn’t there.

A pair of older women walked fore and aft of just two mermen shading them with matting carried aloft. The reason probably that the men’s skins were bleeding, pale in patches and therefore liable to get sun-burned. And get this—Sard thought at his two informants—why would the poor saps themselves be bleeding now at this minute, if they’d been sewn into someone else’s skin sometime in their past? He dismissed Youk and Greg as a pair of ignorant know-it-alls.

Next came a pair of young women carrying babies, followed by a clutch of children. Harrying them all from the rear was a tattooed Amazonian who had Ahni’s bag bouncing on her back. Ahni definitely not among them. But, wait. The senior merman was also missing.

Though as leader, that merman was probably the one picked for the romance with Zoya. So what could Gammy possibly want with Ahni? Sard wished he’d asked more about the whole deal. If he’d been more aware he surely would’ve been able to camouflage his interest in Ahni. But when he had only Greg and Youk to ask?

< What do you want to know? >

Huh? That’s the life-suit talking? Almost normal phraseology.

< Thank you. I’ve had time now to study your turn of phrase. Time is precious and I don’t like repeating myself >

Sard crawled back into the hole where he had his camp, dragging the kite after him.

I was getting out of the scene to study the new you, he thought at the life-suit. You used to know exactly what was happening when it happened.

< The you + me amalgam only have a measured amount of energy to work with. I decided to put on hold some of our functions in preference for superior communication. >

Could a life-suit do that? There was so much he didn’t know that Greg might’ve told him if only they’d been friendlier.

< I am waiting >

Sard caught himself just in time not to say, for what? He threaded back through the dialogue. The suit asked him what was happening, the suit told him it didn’t like repeating itself, and it asked him what he wanted to know. That, probably. “What can Gammy possibly want with Ahni as well as the senior merman?”

The life-suit chuckled! The only word Sard had for the sound emanating from the chest plate. Remember that, he thought at himself. When I speak out loud, the life-suit can reply out loud courtesy of I suspect a miniature speaker on the chest plate. I’ll need to test its capabilities ahead of needing to use it. And I need to discover whether the new life-suit can read all this thinking. “Did you get all that?” he said.

< CAVE’s entity has been superseded by the implant brought by the Seapeople. >

Oh. Okay. My former life-suit—ignorant of anything not directly to do with itself—has just replied to my question as to why Gammy wants Ahni, with the fact that Gammy has been superseded. Gammy being the local name often used in relation to CAVE’s AI entity. I get it, frightening though the idea is and what if it is real?

Sard’s thoughts spooled nineteen to a dozen minutes. He’d stopped doing anything in his little cave—frozen in disbelief probably a good description—but now started to tidy. No fire-place meant he could lay the kite out and fold it. Stuff it in its pack.

Implant. Sounds like a thing implanted into someone. Brought by the Seapeople. I have to surmise that because Ahni is missing that she is the one with the implant in her?

He caught himself hesitating when an important thought rushed to the fore.

Brought by the Seapeople also sounds as though they brought Ahni specifically to bring the implant. Or they brought Ahni to do a deal and she is now a prisoner? Would they be prepared to give CAVE their implant in return for, for example, their men? But… if the implant now is in charge, what would that mean for Ahni?

< The girl will die if you don’t fetch her out. >

Did he want the girl? Yes. The life-suit is pushing me, he recognized. What’s an implant other than a kind of bot? The implant is hardly likely to kill its host.

He started worrying about the life-suit. This one doesn’t now behave the way life-suits are programmed. Could Youk have over-written the old program? I so don’t see him behind all this. Yet he’s the only one I can think of.

He shrugged. Flung his hands up and out. All of it a mystery he couldn’t solve. Go back to the last thing the suit said. Ahni will die. He concentrated on the content of this impossible output. How can I save her?

< We will need a plan. >

I thought I should take a look inside, Sard thought. Plan while I’m in the scene. What I do best. When you + I are alive-to-background its an an easy matter to stay out of sight.

There. All that was completely do-able with the old programming. This is me discovering the extent of the changes in the life-suit’s programming.

< Lie still. >

“What? What the fuck?” His arms and legs wouldn’t move. The life-suit did that? “You’re refusing me to move?” His voice petered out. Not a thing he could do about it. He concentrated on his breathing. What if the damned program took that as well?

< I can’t have you rampaging around while I’m still discovering my new capacities. >

Tardi Mack (of Doomed?, by Rita de Heer)

Tardi Mack, protagonist of MONGREL, in a three way interview with Felix the Fox and the Trucker & Jockey Magazine …

The Protagonist Speaks

Dear readers, tonight we have a truck-driver from 22nd century Australia, who in a freak surfing accident got infected with a sentient alien substance. We caught him talking to Trucker & Jockey magazine, describing life post-infection while trying to avoid a rather persistent ex-girlfriend.


Tardi: You’re from the Trucker & Jockey magazine? Well met! I was a trucker once, with TLC, a family company. My dad and brother ran the workshop, and I drove our old Mack and jockeyed our live-mind freighter. Hope you’re recording all this? I also surfed for Virtual Surfing. Check me out on their website, they still have me in the sensor-suit surfing the actual waves and voice-overing the rides. My pay from them allowed me to rent in Watego’s Wall on Byron Cape, still a hot-shot tourist destination. Yes, formerly Byron Bay.

Me in the past? Oh, my name. My parents intended to register…

View original post 1,346 more words

Tech Problem + Loss of Commons

Part of Digital Illustration of a Cyborg, iStock

The problem this week I have no name for, apart from the fact that it appears to be a technical hitch.

Some of you can see the actual image in my previous post, Avatar Remaindered Part 12.

Some of you could for three seconds see the image doubled.

Since then the image is represented with the website URL, that needs clicking on to see the paragliders.

That’s all the technical part of the problem.

I haven’t discovered a solution yet.

Sourcing images to illustrate my blog posts has become increasingly difficult, and I frequently suffer through a bout of homesickness for the ‘good old days’ … the good old days of the Internet of about ten years ago I’m talking about, when it was easy to find, copy and paste all kinds of images and reference them in the caption.

In the Middle Ages there was such a thing as a Common in most villages, towns and even cities. Common ground that Internet style was called the Public Domain. In those day we either camped right on the grass or had our crofts nearby.

These days, us commoners are being shouldered aside by the moneyed classes. They set up their compounds all over the grass and indeed the trails we used to use to get places, and their gatekeepers require serious ducats to pay for entry. They all want their coin and I don’t have a bottomless purse.

That’s the loss of the public domain.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 12

Image from http://www.thetravelmagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/Paragliding-Winter-Interlaken-Mike-Kaufmann-06805.jpg

12: The Kite

It was well into dawn now and still no Greg. Sard waited in the dip as instructed the day before. Waiting impatiently. Was Greg going slow motion because of their conflict earlier? Sard so couldn’t use hold-ups now, what could he do but try to please the man? He scooted here and there, on his knees, to be not seen above the level of the plain, setting up the bag-over-the-bush water getting trick. Using the same round pebble. Different bush. His suit remembered everything perfectly. Good to know.

< You + I are continuous >

Sard wrung his hands in the way he thought resembled Greg’s hands knotting the snare. Worked good. The suit remembered it.

“What have you been up to?” Greg stood on the edge of the dip with the sun behind him. His expression was in the shadow of his own head. Neat trick.

Sard looked up with a winning smile. “Practicing what you taught me?”

Greg stepped down. His eyes were narrowed. “You look smug. Self satisfied. It’s not safe to get too sure of yourself. The landscape, the weather, the people out here … none of them act the way you might expect.”

“Well … it feels good to me that I can at least depend on my suit. Are we going back through the desert door?”

But Greg led the way onto the ridge. “I’ve got something to show you up there.” He stopped at the eastern apex. “No talking from here on. No rolling rocks. Not any noise at all, okay? It’s the minion stronghold we must get near to.”

They clambered around the top of their own Pit, according to Sard’s feel. The superior sense of direction was one of his avatar talents. There began to be a sick-making stink on the breeze from the sea. He concentrated on not retching. Not safe.

Greg indicated that he should sit on the rim around the Pit. Did that mean no one was in there? How did Greg know? Sard mimed vomiting and only barely managed to keep it in.

< Waste not = want not >

Greg mimed pushing their suit-hoods back.

Sard shook his head. No thank you. Not here. The stink was indescribable even through the suit’s mask. He tried not to breathe. He concentrated on hoiking without a sound. His eyes streamed with tears. He crawled back along the trail.

Greg followed him, without any regard for his suit’s colour against the mainly blue-sky background. Sard had no energy to try and work it out. Back at the triangle, he trusted the air enough to finally push the hood back. “What was that?”

“Not the kitchens,” Greg said. He smiled.

“Bastard. Was it the moldeckery?”

“Yes. I figured you should know the smell of death before you leave. Might make you think. Might make you appreciate what people are doing for you. You might even come to believe that you might not have the worst deal.”

“That’s the smell Srese is having to deal with, is that what you’re saying?”

Greg nodded. “The so-called mermen, poor bastards, are sewn into raw human skins and sent out into the open ocean, waves taller than this ridge, to fish and fetch shell food, as near as I can make out.”

Sard’s main but fleeting thought was how well—in the courtship he intended to get going as soon as—he’d compare with men sewn into skins. “And Gammy our digital game master still has expectations?”

“Srese is out of the picture,” Greg said. “The lead merman has taken up with Zoya. She’s better at the signing they do to communicate.”

Greg’s expression was hard to read. “And so you’re relieved on the one hand,” Sard said. “And on the other hand you’re worried sick about what Gammy might do to Srese? I would be.”

Greg said, “That’s about right.”

There, Greg on the way to being mollified. A bit of stroking and a tad of empathy was all it took. “What happened?” Sard said, indicating with his head, “Smells like a lot of customers.”

“Daredevilry at the storm-watch. One of your arch-enemies, Phin, and quite a few others bit the dust in an attempt by our digital taskmaster … Greg grinned wolfishly at the taskmaster jibe before continuing. “…to make it possible for us to feed the incoming women and children.”

“Mmm. So the Pit’s closed?” Sard said sympathetically. All he was going to say as he didn’t want to undo his good works? Getting through the next couple of hours as almost-friends surely preferable?

— — — —

The corridors were quiet. A curfew, perhaps. Sard didn’t ask. Better to just follow Greg and not invite trouble. They met no one in Mab’s shop or in the dome. “Safe to talk?” he said. “No one here, every place we came by, quieter than … well, quiet.”

“Everyone’s busy. Us being up here is all about the kite,” Greg said. “You getting acquainted with it in a lit-up, hidden place where we won’t be disturbed. Especially by remaindered wannabes like Youk. Watch out for him when you are out and about and you’ll probably survive.” He pulled a tight roll from a storage bag and undid various knots in strings. Silk fabric flowed from his hands like a river. “Help me lay it out?”

Plenty to worry about in that little speech. He should stick with the going concern. “I worry about it being a kite,” Sard said, taking the swag of cloth offered to him. “This all seems far too much fabric.”

Greg chuckled. “I told Rider we were calling it the wrong word. It isn’t shaped anything like that kind of kite and when used properly, it’ll help you float over the desert easy peasy.”

Was that the man being sarcastic as well as mysterious? “The beige-coloured side on top?” Sard said walking backward with his arms full. The beige-colour being the same indefinable shade and texture as his life-suit? “I have no idea about the shape but what the heck.”

“Just copy-cat me on this side shaping it, on your side,” Greg said.

Trying to get more info, Sard started listing the kite’s features as he discovered them. “Right. An elliptical mat made of many flat sausages laid side by side.” Waited.

“Sausages will fill with air,” Greg said.

Mmm. “Each of the sausages has three strings hanging from it?” Sard said.

Greg stared at him in waiting mode.

“Strings where they are fastened to the sausages …”

“Cells,” Greg said. “The sausages are cells.”

Fine, cells. “All the strings up to the middle cells are gathered first in triplets, then them in pairs dancing to the left and right and then them …?”

“To a brake each to help you control the rig, and then them to your harness which will be—if you get good—a glorified seat, just right for the lording it over everything kind of guy that you are. When you’re wearing the harness you’ll be hanging under the kite.”

Guess I didn’t do such a good job with the empathy. And it doesn’t sound like the time to pile on more. What then? Ignore? “A brake in each hand?” Sard said.

Greg nodded. He seemed to come to some sort of conclusion and continued with his instructions. “Now we lay it in a sickle moon shape, so the front edge, which is called the leading edge in the video-mentaries, is on top. Ready to take in the wind.”

“Oh. You got all this from a video-mentary,” Sard said. “I think I remember it. Some of the words anyway. We did an entertainment once about the different ways of flying.” Oops. Reminded him who I am.

“Prove it,” Greg said. “That you studied that video and that you recall any damn thing. I think you’re just buttering me up. Have been all along today.”

Oh well, back to the beginning. “The cells together are called a canopy,” Sard said. “But that’s just a word. I could never really understand how one person alone could open the cells enough for the wind to get into them. The openings to the sausages, I mean cells, are small and flat. How are they going to fill?” Like, wasn’t it obvious it just wouldn’t work?

Greg rested in his tai-ji stance. Said nothing, not even with his face.

“What now?” Sard said.

“You don’t need me. You already know it all,” Greg said.

“I think I said, I could never really understand?” Sard said. “I do understand that for me to get out of your face, you need to tell me how to work this thing. I thank you for all the trouble you have gone through for me. I’m keen to leave. As soon as.”

Greg scoffed.

“I’m listening,” Sard said.

Greg stared at the blue sky dome but did continue. “I think you need to be at the centre, facing the wind, already strapped in. Whether you’re lying down, sitting, I don’t know. Probably depending on the strength of the blow.”

“Right.”

“Rider is still working on the harness.”

“If only we had some wind,” Sard said.

“We can fire up the airlock machinery and open the doors into them.”

Which resulted in a couple of flutters at the leading edge and the kite staying stubbornly on the floor.

Sard went to stand in the place where he’d hang between the two ends of the wing. “The air is passing straight over me, look at these thread ends.” He launched a couple of the silk bits that attached themselves to everyone passing through Mab’s workshop.

“Let’s lift up and see what happens,” Greg suggested. “Each at an end. No, forget that, We’re stretching it too tight, the air can’t get between the two layers.”

“I suggest we hang on to just the top layer of the front edge then, loosely. Now we run. One … two … three.” The moving air grabbed the cloth from their hands and deposited it at the other side of the hall.

“Right.” Greg looked nonplussed.

“Obviously not made to work without someone hanging on,” Sard said. “I guess I’ll just run into the wind dragging it.”

“All we need is your feet off the ground.”

“If I can get it to billow, I’ll be happy.” Sard bunched each side’s lines and wound them around his hands.

Three big breaths. Five big steps into the centre of the hall, into the so called wind. He lifted his arms despite the weight and the foregone uselessness.

The wings took in a smidgin of air that danced its way from front to rear, causing a brief ballooning that collapsed as Sard hit the wall.

“So now we know,” Greg said.

But what do we now know? Sard didn’t say. “I’m going to try running directly at an airlock.” He set about arranging the wing on the floor on the opposite side of the hall. Greg encouraged the machinery.

Sard ran. Halfway across, the canopy filled with the rushing air, bloomed and crumpled against the wall above the door. Sard dug himself out from under. “Did you see that!”

Greg pumped his hand, slapped his back. “It’s going to work! When I think we had only the old video-mentaries to go on. No patterns or anything.”

They pulled the fabric straight and rolled up the pleated length as tightly as possible. “Okay, let’s fit you with the pack,” Greg said.

For a joke Sard made his knees buckle at the weight.

“Yeah mate, and there’s still the shoes and the harness. Rider is stitching them like a fury. You need to go down to his workshop, fit the tackle to your size and I’m sure to be wanted in the kitchen.”

Rider’s workshop was next to Mab’s, Sard discovered. They had the use of the kitchenette between them. Rider’s doorway was hung with drying silks inside and out and the worktable was screened from the shop-front too. Prospective customers shouldn’t know of Sard’s presence, Rider signaled.

Sard pulled the suit-hood over his face, fastened it to the suit-neck. Make us alive-to-background, he thought at the suit.

< We are continuous >

After hot-sealing the adjustments, Rider loaded Sard with the harness, the two brakes and his flying boots. With the wing, his clothes, food and water it would be quite a load. But once he and Ahni flew, the luggage would weigh nothing, he had to believe.

Back in under the dome, Sard patiently allowed Rider to explain the webbing though it was pretty self-explanatory. Sard told of his and Greg’s experiments so far. He and Rider attached the brakes to the lines and played with their actions for a while.

At dusk, the dome lit up with a vibrant sunset. Shreds of cloud breathing pink wisped across a red background which over time became sapphire and finally night blue.

Greg brought a feast of take-out boxes filled with special titbits. Ghulia followed him in. “Zoya couldn’t make it and I can’t stay very long, darling. Things are hotting up.” She hugged Sard until they were both breathless.

Choosing delectable tidbits, Rider hovered his chopsticks over the dishes. He said, “Last thing we need to talk about is your reason for being.”

Sard choked. After the coughing and back-slapping—by way of Greg’s heavy hand—Sard said, “What? My reason for being?”

“You’ll need a trade that allows you to travel,” Mab said. “Why else would you be wandering the country side?”

Trying to equate the idea with what he intended to do, Sard said the first, weakest thing that came to mind. “I thought that at first I’d be living in the desert around here?” He twirled his raised hand to show his meaning.

“The clay-faces maraud through all the wild places,” Rider said. “On the ground, you’re no match for them on their camels, hunting people with nets and sizzle-sticks. You’ll have a better chance to live in the villages to the northeast.”

“Not so,” Mad said, contradicting as if she knew. “Those villages are small. Even one extra mouth, however beloved, is a burden if it doesn’t produce food as well as consume it.”

“What you can do well is fireworks,” Greg said, grinning at Sard. “Isn’t a traveling trade what we’re setting him up for?”

A hard-hearted wolf sneer that was, Sard thought. “Fireworks?”

“Last time I watched you do your fountaining. With sparks and flames and criss cross spatters gobs of light; stripes rippling; neon lighting up the dark. Damn, I’m jealous! I’ve had my suit for years. Never thought to ask it for fireworks!”

Sard hardly had time to take in Greg’s reasons for envy before Mab ran with the idea. “So he needs a magician’s cloak,” she said.

Sard back on track. “I was thinking a circle of this cloth would be good to hide under, camouflage in the desert. For the fireworks I’d put it on the ground, see if the light will pool.” Glancing at Greg’s baleful expression, he added. “Once I got good, I mean.”

In his mind he knew he was good already. He was a rider on a steed of light, a seahorse in the sea of the night. A fire fuelled with light. A firefly dancing above its reflection.

“Attaboy, Sard,” Greg said. “Put away those glazed eyes. Presuming people everywhere are the same as the people I dish up for, what you need is patter. To get them in, stand around. Pass the hat afterwards. ”

“You’re fast,” Rider said. “You’ll think up the patter when the occasion demands. Your practice in the meantime must be with rocks and sand.”

Finally all the goodbyes were said and Sard, not being able to flit with the load he had on his back, or fit through any secret tunnels, made like he was in transportation and counted himself lucky he didn’t meet anyone.

He slept at the lens door until dawn. Then there was just enough time to backpack his gear to the head of the ridge before the sun rose from the sea like a proverbial ball of fire. After fixing himself a time-honoured wake-up trick, with a strand of silk fastened across the path from the beach and tied to one of his toes, he napped.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 11

Lagoon: copy from 13051770_10154119532324146_3933095396926093854_n copy

  1. Sard’s Plan

For his home away from home, Sard chose a large slab of rock leaning at an angle against the solid part of the ridge. There was just enough space in the gap for him to lie full length and stare out the west-by-north facing back door—so to say—across the desert watching for Clay Faces.

Or he could crawl in from the west-by-north and get a bit of afternoon sun on his face. The outlook at this angle was down and onto the beach. The storm had left behind a sizeable lagoon. He wouldn’t mind seeing the famous mermen frolicking in it when they decided it was safe again to be outside.

The life-suit surprised him with a burst of errant color. Maybe caused by his errant thoughts and feelings? < Discharging excess energy in a I-am-safe situation. > So, another thing about the suit useful to know. What had possessed him to think he was ready to start gallivanting out in the wilderness?

Waking after he had inevitably fallen asleep while he sunned himself, his suit smugly let him know its condition. < My exterior colour, sand, shaded and sun-touched > Which was a great saving when he saw the many legs, bare, tall and small, walking up to the edge of the cliff.

Thank you, Sard thought at the suit. He allowed his gaze to travel up the legs, past the thigh-length skirts, and past the bare breasted chests in a hurry, to the faces. Could these be the rest of the mermen’s tribe? Didn’t look like any mer-people he’d ever imagined. The adults, all of them women, dragged various small kids back from the steep fall and sent them to sit on a bunch of rolled-up mats.

How good was it that he was still invisible? < You + I are continuous with the background >
But which meant that because he was practically among them, he wouldn’t be able to slide backward into the rock shelter without shifting the sand or his shadows. Better stay put.

No, he was wrong. One person could see him, a girl probably of an age with him and Srese. She stared at him with wide startled eyes. Someone called out, and she turned her head to attend. He watched her like a hawk. She moved away without saying anything about him, as far as he could tell, because the rest of the women continued to ignore him.

Her eyes were a sparkling green and he guessed her to be shorter than him by about half a head. Her hair was warm-dark, wavy, overlaid with silver. Her skin texture reminded him of the smooth inner layer of mulbry tree bark. And, she was bare breasted. His heart galumphed.

He hardly allowed his eyes to rove—he definitely didn’t want the whites of his eyes to be seen by the flat-breasted older women—the girl’s breasts, with rosebud nipples, were small and neat and separated by the bag-strap that she wore diagonally across her chest, with the bag sitting on her hip. She wore a ragged mini-skirt made of strips of a soft floppy fabric nothing like any sort of silk or tree fibre.

He stared, not breathing, while waiting to be noticed by the rest of the women or children. But they didn’t. Nobody took any notice of him whatever. Nobody saw him except her. Vaguely he was aware he should be asking why she could see him.

Also, a stronger feeling was that surely he was due for some rest and recreation? He was getting desperate for relief from the work of living in reality. Ten minutes holiday is all I ask. He waited all of a minute for a sign from the universe to tell him his request was not granted.

Nothing. Nix. Nada. No answer. He chuckled. It is all in who you ask and how you phrase it, Sard-Man. He relaxed. His suit made him a magic man. And here were his players. He could finally dream up his future. The first step was watch watch watch and know his target. Figure of speech, that. No time now to think up a more appropriate word. Breathing lightly now he stared covertly at the women congregating at the lip of the cliff.

Or was that covetously? He chuckled again. He was on track. Bet the women discussed the state of the beach, or what was left of it. He’d been surprised too. Apart from the lagoon in the angle made by the cliff curving round at the south end, there was a narrow strip of sand along the foot of the ridge where it faced the waves. That strip was all that was left of dry land. Misstep and you might be sucked out to sea in the still vicious backwash.

One of the women, with her hands around her mouth, shouted, “Coo-ee!” Another shrilled a long sequence of sounds. They attempted to contact someone at the caves? Sard filled in the details he couldn’t see. By and by everyone sat down like they waited for the tide to ebb.

The three older women and the girl unrolled a large mat over them all. Protection from the sun was all he could come up with for a reason, though the wind still scudded busily among the waves.

Excitement gripped his belly when his girl—how he thought of her already—sat down nearest him, to hold up that corner of the mat. She drew it over her head, and down her curvy back with both hands, and lifted her sit-bones from her feet to anchor the mat under her sit bones. She glanced toward him again, sideways, seemingly to measure the distance between them.

She couldn’t have done that accidentally. Heat in his abdomen. She must be as interested in him as he in her. It was like she’d already started to separate herself from the rest of them by showing so much interest in him. Too bad he couldn’t creep closer. He shouldn’t be discovered before he had the kite and knew how to use it escape with them both.

The woman under the next corner called out. “Ahni.” The girl twisted round to attend to her. Telling him that her name was Ahni. He loved it that she had a name not in the Name Book. He imagined her in his arms, soaring high on the wind as they traveled to a place where they’d make their new lives.

The timing was excellent. What with the way the entertainments usually played out, Sard was pretty sure Gammy would keep Ahni and her people until they had been milked of all the novelty they presented. Sard would be using that time to practice the kite. He’d be ready for Ahni and waiting at the top of the path, when the women and children were turned away. As this was the only way back up onto the uplands.

The idea of leaving home was suddenly exciting. With her he wouldn’t be lonely or an outcast because he’d—or rather they—would be the ones deciding where they’d go. She’d given him the best best motivation to leave.