I play video games. Love ’em. Probably a bit to much. One of my favorites are the games that let you world build. There are a few that operate in real time with/against other players. These worlds are their worlds. Windows into what they think, see and how they act/react. Take notes. Observe. This is a great way to character develop/world build. Some players are so beautiful and artistic it’s like walking into a gallery. Others are so linear, you have to go wtf? Where is the art and imagination?! Some people are messy and creative or just messy. It takes all types. Add those types to your righting. Nothing is black and white. Ok, almost nothing is that black and white.
The next few days alternated between rough and recovering. Lauranya’s stomach would rebel at water occasionally, but be fine after the initial vomiting. Standing not always the wisest choice. Dizzy spells were common, tapering off as the days went on. Lauranya’s dreams no longer were of Tine (a relief) or Maison (heartbreaking) but she would dream of fur and four legs occasionally. Those dreams made her smile for no particular reason.
Routine became re-established. The early morning for the livestock and gardens, with the mid-morning and early afternoons for the lab. Arie had frozen the fish body for Lauranya to study at her leisure. Lauranya spent hours on slides and notes. There were naps but they became fewer and fewer. The days passed as Lauranya’s stomach settled down and her joints became less inflamed.
The fish yielded information Lauranya hadn’t realized she’d been searching for. When she connected the dots, she sat back on her stool. Arie sitting across from her, making sketches on the other side of the table. She chewed her lower lip. The information could make the patronage of safety she would need for her and Arie back on the ships or it could get them both shot out of hand. Their lives depended on how well their work might be judged, worthy or dangerous. Lauranya compromised with herself. The notes on the fish and it’s unusual viral interaction, written in encrypted notes. Only she would be able to open the notes.
The evenings both Lauranya and Arie would spend watching various vid tapes of famous singers. Sometimes Lauranya would sing along. Arie would attempt to join in but would fumble some of the higher or lower notes, causing them both to giggle.
Singing wasn’t the only new thing, Arie had discovered personal pleasure which needed the occasional discretionary comment.
“Arie, we do not play with our vulva while watching the projector. If you want quiet time please go to your room until you are finished.”
Arie stopped masturbating, sitting up. With a yawn and a stretch, she gave her mother a sleepy smile. “Okay.” Arie swung her feet off the couch, heading to her room. Lauranya returned her attention back to the singer, singing along.
Part way through the door, Arie stopped. “Mommy?”
Lauranya blinked a couple of times, only partially taking her eyes away from the screen. “Yes, dear?”
“You and dad had sex to have kids, right?”
“Ah…you have been reading the reproduction section of your studies.” Lauranya gave Arie her full attention, with a smile.
“Yes.” Arie twisted a toe on the wood floor, looking down.
“Then the answer, as you know, is yes.”
“What happens when I want to have sex with someone?” She looked up at her mom, through long blond tousled hair.
Lauranya stopped the projector, with a flick of the remote. “I am sorry, love. There is almost no way you will ever meet someone here, unless the ships come back.” The question was years earlier than expected, but still deserving of a full answer.
“Which would be bad.” Arie said, with a firm nod. The vid’s made ship life, with slaves and Gods, unappealing.
Lauranya didn’t answer for a moment. “The ships, coming back to the world, would mean the reinstatement of rules that I have been lax in enforcing.” She frowned at a new thought. “Why do you ask?”
“You asked me to tell me when I heard voices again.”
“And you are hearing the dead now?” Lauranya asked cautiously, swallowing a lump in her throat. The bitter copper taste of fear.
“Yes, a woman from the water. She knows she’s dead, but mourns her husbands.” Arie’s mouth turned down, as she blinked her eyes from excess moisture.
“From the water?”
“Yes. A shark killed her.” Arie said, tilting her head a moment listening. “A flat head shark.”
Lauranya hesitated but pushed ahead. “Have you animated the body?’
“Is the body moving under your direction?”
“It’s next to the lobby door.”
“When I was throwing up.”
Arie nodded, her hands fluttering nervously. “I forgot, just heard the voice and asked her to waituntil you were better.” She looked at her mother anxiously.
“You are going to have to release her soul, my dear.” Lauranya said, with a heavy sigh, cautiously moving to her feet.
“And lay the body to rest?”
“She should animate it and use it for a guard on the building.” Jacks’ voice hung in the air for both to hear.
Lauranya rolled her eyes. “Hanging around like the family banshee I see.” She muttered. The idea was solid and Arie could use the practice.
“How do I animate the body but let the soul go?” Arie asked confused, walking back to her mother, her head moving from her mother to Jacks’ ghost.
“Can you feel the body now? Sense it in the water?” Lauranya asked, flaring her nostrils releasing a pent up breath.
“Yeesss?” Arie stuttered, concentrating with furrowed brow.
“Do you feel the soul as well?”
“Yes!” Arie said emphatically. As if summoned by the question, a form coalesced in front of them, a woman with long dark hair floating in a dark halo around her as if in deep but slow moving water. The woman’s bottom half looked like a scaled fish, beautiful in coloration. Lauranya walked slowly forward from the couch to look at the woman’s ghost closer, studying the scales on the woman’s tail. The front, a dark red while the back scales were whorled in blues and green. The scales ranged from one inch to a quarter inch in width. There were dorsal fins and side fins. Lauranya could not say if the fins were overly large or small on a mer. The woman flared her fins for Lauranya’s observation. The fins flowed lusciously like crimson silk in a hidden current, with streaks of deeper burgundy along the thick caudal fin veins. Lauranya could feel her hands itching to touch the woman and study her. The mer-woman was just as intense with her looks at both Lauranya and Arie.
The woman wore a necklace of smooth stones that shifted between pearl opalescens with flashes of blue/green/red. Complimenting her natural fin coloration.
Lauranya didn’t have to ask. The ghost’s soul self-image saw herself as a warrior. Her chest and arms were covered in thick leather armor, leather but not of a hide Lauranya knew or was familiar with. Grey in color, probably the natural leather coloration as dyed leather did not last long in water. The armor fitted to the mer’s body, yet in several horizontal pieces, the width of Lauranya’s hand, that would move with her, not made from one singular piece. Lauranya caught glimpses of red and green ties tying the armor together, as the woman floated in front of them.
“How did you die?” Lauranya asked, after a moment of surprised silence.
“The flat heads are thick in this area. They may not always be as the water grows deeper.” The woman’s voice oddly accented. The ghost didn’t seem to mind talking to the two of them, more bemused than upset.
“They can’t get in through the doors.” Lauranya said, off handily admiring the symmetry of the woman’s unusual body build.
“Not all the lower windows have survived. At least one cephalopod can climb steep hills for a few feet in search of prey.” The woman’s voice was laconic as she looked, not at them but at the foyer of the building. “Gorgeous in here.” She breathed, motioning with a slow wave of her hand. The motion spoke of a lifetime moving in water.
Lauranya blanched, clutching Arie close at this unexpected news. “That would answer our question about needing a guard.”
The mer-woman grimaced, changing her features from lovely to fierce. “I can feel Death calling but something is keeping me here.”
“Do you have family that you need to say goodbye to?” Lauranya asked, reaching a hand out solicitously than dropping it, the dead rarely needed comforting.
The mer-woman opened her mouth then closed it, with a shake of her head. “My husbands.” She tapped a sharp triangular fingernail against a bracer. “They will find another wife or others that make them happy.” A shrug. Death robbing most heat from her anger or sorrow.
“Arie, we are going to release her spirit.”
“Will she hurt us like Tass did?” Arie’s eyes grew huge, her chin started to quiver.
Lauranya hugged Arie tight. “No, baby. We are going to release her spirit back to Obatala so that she will find her way to her next life.”
Arie swiped back a tear, returning her mother’s tight hug. “Okay.” Her voice only quavered a little.
Lauranya turned to the mer-woman’s ghost. The ghost’s head tilted with a sad smile. “I had wanted a daughter.”
“You have only boys?”
“Not even that. We aren’t prolific breeders, shifting from water to legs takes a toll on the reproduction.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” Lauranya had no other words to offer.
The woman gave a slight shrug. “Nothing you could do to help.”
Lauranya opened her mouth, then closed it. She couldn’t help at this point, but she would definitely get tissue samples to study, now that there was a body close. A thought occurred.
“Is this part of your usual area or were you exploring?” Lauranya asked cautiously.
“Sister sent out an observer when the rains were coming. She asked if we would keep an eye on the tower when our hunting took us in this area.” The woman shrugged. “I became curious about the interior and didn’t pay attention.”
“I am sorry for your loss. Do you know if others will venture to the tower?”
“Maybe but not for a few months. This isn’t a prime hunting spot yet.” A slow shrug, moving the drifting hair in a slight swirl.
“Who is Sister?” Lauranya asked, turning her head slightly questioningly.
“The Torch, who sees some of the future.” The mer-woman said, continuing to gaze around the room.
Lauranya blanched at the mention of an unfettered Power, but there was nothing more she could do for them or the dead woman.
Lauranya took a deep breath. “I need your name for us to send you on.”
“Ready, Arie?” a quick hug to her daughter.
“Yes, mommy.” Arie looked up to her mother with an eager smile.
“Okay, repeat after me.” Lauranya took a deep breath. “Sachiko, may you find peace in your next life. Back to Obatala. Leave this plane.”
Arie repeated the words verbatim, her voice growing in depth and timber as she spoke. Lauranya felt the hair on her arms raise from the power Arie commanded, setting this one soul free. A strong child would grow to be a strong necromancer.
Sachiko’s ghost glowed softly, haloed for a brief moment, before her ghost faded away. Arie’s shoulders slumped as she leaned against her mother heavily.
“Is she gone?” Arie asked softly, with a tilted head listening.
“I do believe so.” Lauranya gave Arie another quick hug.
Brother stood at the newly formed beach, his feet squelching through the mud, the smell of rotting vegetation and ocean air distinctive, mildly revolting during low tide. Crabs and shallow tidal creatures were in heaven, with the rich feeding grounds. Decaying plants and the occasional bit of animal protein mixed in made for good tidal flats. Sand would be carried onto the shores but for the next few years there would be only mud.
Brother walked out into the water, where he knew the old rock outcroppings had been. The night sky holding the stars high above, brilliant pinpoints forming patterns in the heavens. He stared upwards, as the water moved around his calves.
“Someone is a cat in water.” A sultry voice caught him off guard as he star gazed.
“Good evening to you, Keyma.” Brother flashed a tired but warm smile, recognizing the voice floating through the air..
Keyma frowned as she undulated closer through the high tide water. She swam over dull rocks and mud. Pulling herself out of the water, she sat on a flatish rock next to the standing Brother.
“I heard about Leah. A rough time for her parents on their loss.” Keyma said softly, looking to the sky, leaning back on her elbows, arching her back in a distracting manner.
Brother took a deep shaky breath. “It hit us all hard. No one thought Toithan would actually kill her, or anyone could harbor that much hate to kill a child.” The words bitter still. His fists clenched and released.
“His brother passed the mental review by Treasher. Do you think he’ll still be able to honor that when or if another child is a shifter?”
Brother shrugged. “I don’t know, but the likelihood of another land shifter is rather slim.”
“Leah happened, surely another couple’s child could be a shifter.” Keyma said, perplexed at Brother’s comment.
Brother let out a bitter snort of laughter. “Not Gods spacing likely.”
It was Keyma’s turn to frown. “Why not? Genetics for us all…”
“Leah was my genetic daughter. I’m the only one who can shift or has the genetics for it.”
Keyma’s eyes widened in shock as she stuttered. “Oh. I… I am very sorry. I didn’t know.”
Brother gingerly sat down next to her. The weight of Leah’s death still heavy on his mind. “Almost no one did, until Toithan killed her.”
“How…” Keyma shook her head. “Never mind. I do know how children are made.”
Brother kept his words short, the story still painful. “Nori isn’t able to have kids. A childhood accident left him sterile. He and Yearra asked me.”
“Why you?” Keyma asked, turning wide eyes to him, then slapped a hand over her mouth. “Gods, I’m an idiot. That’s not how I meant to ask.” She tried to backtrack quickly. “You’re handsome and of sound intelligence.”
“But not everyone is going to want a shifter in their bed. Yes, I know what you meant.” Rueful laughter, at her and himself.
“I am chewing on my fin, trying to find the right apology.” She bumped his shoulder with her bare shoulder in apology.
Brother actually chuckled. “No. You’re fine, darlin’.” He stared up at the stars for a few minutes before continuing. “They wanted someone who wasn’t a part of the regular villagers’ genetic DNA floating around and the occasional bed hopping that goes with consenting adults.”
“No worries of a child trying to sleep with a half brother or sister.”
“Something like that.” A flash of a smile.
“And you are discreet.” Keyma flared her fingers, as if dismissing the others and the normal gossip of a small group.
Brother tilted his head in assent. “And that too. No one would have thought of me as the father, only that Leah looked much like her mother Yearra and not much of Nori.”
“So what brings you out to the new beachhead?” Keyma tried for a change of subject.
Brother looked up into the night sky, with its distant stars. “The stars and the quiet.” His voice almost wistful.
“Ah. I will leave you in peace then.” Keyma started to push off with her tail, when Brother rested his hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
“I like your company. I didn’t mean for it to sound like you weren’t welcome.”
She quirked a smile at him with a tilt of her head. “So you do want company.”
His eyes crinkling at the edges, in warmth and humor. “Possibly.” He smiled back at her with a lilt of his lips. She leaned forward to kiss. Her teeth catching his lower lip, tugging gently playfully. Brother sucked in his breath, tasting her lips. His arm reached around her waist, snagging her closer, kissing her hard with want.
“So what did bring you to the islands tonight? Not that I would pass up on such a lovely time gazing at the…stars.” Brother leaned on his elbow, running his free hand over her lovely rounding breast, catching a nipple between forefinger and thumb, eliciting a gasp.
“Keep doing that and I won’t tell you anytime soon!” Keyma gave a shuddering laugh.
“My bad.” Brother replaced his fingers with his mouth, flicking the nipple against his upper teeth with his tongue, his hand moved lower down her belly.
“Well that was lovely. Again!” Keyma rested her head on Brother’s chest.
“So why did you come by again?”
“Hmm? Oh, right.” Keyma sat up with a sigh. “Sachiko has gone missing and Chehreh wants to know if Sister could “See” if she is still alive.”
Brother rolled over, facing Keyma,with a frown. “She’s an excellent hunter. I’ve never seen better. Why would Chehreh think she’s missing?”
“Besides being a controlling jealous dick?” Keyma snapped, with a flip of her blond hair. “Bastard likes to bite fins for fun and not in good fun.”
“To be fair they are married. And he doesn’t like it when she flirts with others.” Brother trailed his hand along the soft skin of her belly.
“Miok isn’t that worried. Yet. Willing to say she might be chasing an elusive opal kraken hunting the edges of our fishing grounds.” Keyma shook her head, erasing Chehreh from her thoughts, damp hair clinging to warm skin in tangled locks.
“Valuable. And Miok isn’t prone to jealousy fits like Chehreh.” Brother said, distracted by the way Keyma’s stomach flutter under his touch than her actual words.
Keyma’s breath caught. “Very.” Her breathless reply. “Still don’t see how those three formed up. Miok’s the better husband.”
“So why is Chehreh so concerned?” Brother asked, idly running nails along the side of her belly.
Keyma gave a shudder, gasping her answer.“He said he saw her ghost.” her left hand flexing over Brother’s bare thigh.
“Chehreh? Said he saw a ghost?” Brother stopped, looking at her with his jaw open, his hands stilled.
“Yes. And not just any ghost. Sachiko’s. Said she kissed him on the cheek, told him her body was by the tower where the flathead shark that killed her left it, but not to retrieve it. She was on her way with Death, but the body stood guarding the child and her mother.” Keyma shook her head, rolling her eyes at the story. Her tail slapped the water in derision. “Seriously how unbelievable can you get to check on your wife might seeing another.”
Brother scrabbled to his feet, grabbing his clothes, spilling Keyma from his chest in his rush.
“Hey! Where are you going?” Keyma looked up startled, her hand half raised reaching for him.
“The deadhead scientists had a large building. There were two survivors. A woman and a child.” Brother looked down grimly, as he hurriedly donned his pants, the shirt he slung over his shoulder.
It took a moment for this to sink in. “Oh, void!” Keyma whispered, her eyes growing huge.
Brother looked grim. “If Chehreh said he saw Sachiko’s ghost…”
“Then one of them is a deadhead!” Keyma whispered in fear.
“They are both deadheads, but one of them can raise the dead.” Brother said, lips pressed together in a thin line.
She swallowed hard. “I need to wait for an answer.” Keyma said, in a small voice. She could imagine Chehreh’s reaction already. Her hands started to shake ever so slightly.
“You’ll need to shift and come with me then, but I’m pretty sure Sachiko is dead.” No more star gazing or relaxing company for this night.
Keyma nodded. She scrunched up her face, concentrating on the shift. The bones didn’t rearrange as painfully as when Brother shifted, but muscles flowed and bones in the tail did rearrange. Painful enough to leave her gasping for minutes afterwards.
Brother picked her up, carefully walking along the rocks, heading back to the village.
“I can walk!” She protested weakly, as she clung to his neck, the quivering in her legs belying the words.
“Yep, but we need to get moving now and these rocks are sharp. The skin on the bottom of your feet is tender. I’ll put you down once we hit sand. Sooner you ask Sister, the sooner you can be back with the bad news to Chehreh.”
“Fuck. I’d rather not be the one to tell him his wife is a zombie now.” Keyma leaned against Brother’s solid warm chest.
“Better you than me.” Brother said, kissing her forehead. Comforting.
“He doesn’t hate you anymore.” Keyma chuckled, her breath warm against his sweat soaked skin. “He does have other worries now.”
“But he hasn’t forgiven me for beating him.” Brother gave a laughing huff as he made it to the muck of the new beach. His footsteps making slurping sounds with each step, as he trotted towards the village.
The fever set in later that night. They had gotten the theater projector working that week and were watching an aria. They settled on the leather couch, with colorful cushions scattered about them.. Arie sprawled next to Lauranya, her head in her mother’s lap, with hair still wet from their shower. Both were listening raptly as the singer’s incredible voice hit note after note.
Arie listened to her mother sing along softly, hitting the notes better than the singer. She felt a thrum from both her mother and the other singer, racing along her spine and in her head.. The aria made her chest bones vibrate but mommy’s song was in her head, making her want to sing along. So she hummed, while Lauranya petted her hair, fingers teasing out small knots from the washing.
“Mommy, your skin is hot!” Arie said, lifting her head from her mother’s bare leg, putting a cool hand where her head had just rested.
Lauranya looked down at her blond haired child, with a frown. She placed a hand on her forehead then Arie’s, then back to her forehead.
“Oh.” Lauranya got up swiftly, heading to medical.
“Mommy?” Arie trailed behind, keeping up with her fast paced mother.
“I need to take my temperature.” Lauranya stopped in the doorway. “Arie.” She shook her head before starting again. “Arie, if something happens to me you’ll have to take over.”
“Like when you were injured from the whiskered cat.” Arie’s eyes started to glisten with unshed tears, her voice rising a little higher.
Lauranya only hesitated a second, but confirmed Arie’s fear with a firm nod. “Just like that.” She found the drawer with the thermometer. Her hands shaking, she placed the small circular pad behind her ear, then pulling the sensor pad’s connecting wire over her shoulder. The fever spiking at 102.4.
“Mommy?” Arie stood at the door, with hunched shoulders and her hands behind her back, like a toddler getting caught with a stolen cookie.
“It is ok, love.” Lauranya took a deep breath, keeping her tone light. “I am running a bit of a fever. What would you prescribe?” She pulled the sensor pad from her skin, clearing the monitor before putting both back in the drawer with a soft thump.
Arie looked to the ceiling, tilting her chin up before speaking. “Hmm…cold water, rest and the red fever stuff? Like the stuff you give me when I got fevers.”
“Very good. I,” Lauranya motioned to herself “am going to go to bed. I would like you to keep a close eye on me, but do not neglect your homework or the animals please.”
“What about the plants?”
“This should not be anything more than a ship day of fever, so the plants should” The “should” rattled through Lauranya’s brain, like a warning claxon of Babaluaye laughter. “be ok. If this does not run the projected course, then you will have to take over the plants on top of all else.”
“Do you think you will want anything to eat while sick? I know I usually don’t like foods.” Arie’s second favorite place, the kitchen.
Lauranya had to think on this for a moment. “Noni would make an excellent rabbit soup. Not a lot in it but broth and meat. Just broth for someone too sick to chew.” Lauranya didn’t finish the thought on what happened to those who couldn’t eat after a week on the ships. Arie already had more nightmares than a child her age should.
“I can make a great rabbit soup! Those sweet white roots and some of the peas. Both…” Arie ready to start on a new adventure in the kitchen.
“Arie. Arie.” Lauranya leaned forward, while speaking. The motion and the words intensity got the child’s attention. “Whatever you make will be good. Just remember I may not be able…” Lauranya’s voice caught for just a second. So slight, that she didn’t think Arie had caught the hesitation. “be able to eat. I need you to keep it simple.”
“No white root? You love those.”
“I do! Go with the sweet roots, well chopped, and the peas. Those both cook down soft enough that not much chewing will be necessary.”
“I’ll cut the meat up into very small pieces too!”
“A good idea.” Lauranya felt a chill run down her spine, raising bumps along her arms and legs. Her teeth started to chatter. “I am going to take a hot shower and then crawl into bed.”
“Mommy?” Arie’s eyes were bright with tears. One trickled down her cheek, hastily wiped away with the back of a hand, run haphazardly over a young cheek.
Lauranya rushed forward kneeling, ignoring the dizziness for the moment. “Oh, baby. I am just having a small reaction to the fish’s spine venom. Hopefully it is nothing major, just an inconvenience. Do not worry.” touching the wet smear on Arie’s cheek. “I just need you to do a little extra please.” She gave Arie her best reassuring smile “Your soup sounds delicious. It will be just what I need.”
“You sure, mommy?” Arie wasn’t talking about the soup.
“Positive.” Lauranya nodded firmly, but staggered slightly getting to her feet as she began to shiver. “Time for that hot shower though!”
“I’ll get it running for you!” Arie gave her mother a quick hug, before running out of the lab office, bounding a flight of stairs to their rooms.
“Thank you, Yemoja, for a quick witted child.” Lauranya breathed, standing up, to a wave of dizziness. Lauranya contemplated the walk to the shower. “One step then another.” She muttered carefully matching footsteps to the words. Her bed seemingly miles from where she stood.
The fever wracked her with chills, and then a burning so intense she threw off the blankets piled deep, soaking sweat into the bedding. The dreams though, those were the worst. Tine and the boys, laughing as they were floating through space, burning even in the vacuum, their skin flaking into dust with bright smiles and brighter eyes. Maison caught the dust to fling at the faceless men and women who danced on the wires between the apartments of her family home. Blood scattering on the floor and walls as the wires cut into the dancing bare feet. Arie squatted on the bottom floor of the apartments, drenched in red, as water began to seep in. Lauranya couldn’t reach Arie, as the water filled up over the child’s head. Arie continued to calmly plant the seedlings in metal floor tiles. The seedlings looked eerily like the dead scientist and their children. Their small green bodies waving like seaweeds to and fro in an underwater garden.
Lauranya jerked awake when Arie’s seedlings grew to the size of toddlers and started to walk out of the ship apartments. The sheets, drenched in sweat and her sleep shirt. The shirt so salt encrusted and clinging, making her itchy. “Stop it.” She whispered fiercely to herself. “The dead are gone.” Her throat burned and scratched, hurting with every attempt to swallow.
Lauranya tried to get out of bed. Sitting up made her whimper as her joints caught on fire. Any movement, no matter how small, hurt like a whipping wheal 15 seconds after the first lash hit. A hiss and a roll to her side, she tried to get her legs over the side of the bed.
“No, love. Stay in bed. I’ll get Arie to come to you.” Maison’s deep voice resounded through her head. She felt his large hand on her fevered brow.
“You are dead, Maison. You died on the world-ship.” Lauranya said querulously. “You are not here.” Lauranya brushed a hand through empty air to move his hand. The voice so resounding, she half expected to feel the resistance of flesh.
“True. Yet here I am, and you, my little mouse, need to stay in bed.” Maison laughed, flicking the tip of her nose as he had been wanted to do. “Stay in bed, love, and I will get Arie.”
Lauranya could not budge from the weight of his ghostly hand. She glared up at him. More of a squint as light filtered through the curtains, causing more pain.
“Gods love Maison, move, please. I cannot stay and dream.” She whispered, looking into Maison’s dark eyes, shattered with the bright flecks. Beautiful and full of love those eyes.
“I’ll stay with you so your dreams are better.”
“You are not here.” This time Lauranya managed to sit up, throwing one leg over the edge of the bed. She promptly fell on her face, when the floor rushed up to meet her. The motion of the leg over the bed rolled her faster than she could compensate for.
“Oww!” Lauranya felt her face gingerly, her right hand running over her face searching for pain or blood. Pain yes, blood no. She climbed slowly and painfully back into bed.
“Stubborn woman.” Maison said fondly, as he helped her back up. He pulled the covers over her, putting a cool cloth on her brow.
“Still not here.” She whispered, but didn’t take her eyes off of him.
“Do you really want me to leave?” That smile, a flash of white teeth through soft velvet black skin, warm to the touch, her treacherous memory whispered. Her heart squeezed in heartache.
Lauranya pushed herself up to her knees. Maison hunched in front of her, wearing his training loin cloth. His skin looked sweat slicked, with the occasional patch of sand, from the training ground. Grandfather had been so proud of being able to have an actual sand training ground, instead of hard metal flooring. “Less injurious.” He said, framing the cost beneficially.
Lauranya’s hand shook, as she reached over to brush sand from his broad shoulder. The sand flecked off with the touch of her hand. His dark skin, warm under her touch, covered muscles that bunched and released like silk over steel.
“I do not want to marry your brother.” Lauranya whispered, ignoring what reality had already dictated. Believing in this moment, a need stronger than the pain.
“I’m sorry, love. That’s history now. I’m only here for a short while.” Maison kissed her on the forehead.
“No. Please. Stay, do not leave me.” Pleadingly, she leaned forward wrapping both arms around her lover’s chest, so broad that her hands could barely reach all the way around.
Maison rocked her back and forth, comfortingly. Much the way she had rocked all four of her children, when they were sick or in need of comfort. Lauranya melted into his arms, refusing to contemplate anything other than this moment. Lauranya drifted back to sleep.
“Mommy. Mommy.” Arie’s hand on Lauranya’s brow roused her from dreams of her love. Lauranya felt her child’s touch, as electric pulses to the skin. Painful. The pulses racing along her nerves. Maison was a dream, she realized. He died, never to return to her. The pain of loss, from his second leaving, cut through her, almost as sharp as the first time she lost him. Lauranya shook her head trying, and failing, to stop the flow of tears.
“I’m sorry, mommy! I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Arie’s face scrunched, at her mother’s obvious pain.
“No, baby. I had bad dreams.” Lauranya croaked. “Dreams of loss and pain. It is not you.” She gently touched Arie’s cheek, giving the child a wan smile.
“I love you, mommy.” Arie tried to give her mother a hug. Lauranya accepted the hug weakly, loving her child but wishing for her dreams. Lauranya looked away for a moment with that thought. She knew not even Ori, the god of destiny, could have changed her life course after she had fallen in love with Maison.
“I love you, too.” Lauranya whispered, tasting salt. “What have you brought me?” She asked, sniffing the air as a fragrant smell cut through pain and dreaming fogginess.
“I brought you some soup. Mostly broth but I also have some tea, sweetened with honey.” Arie said, vibrating in place. She pointed carefully to the soup and cup she had set on the stand, before waking her mother.
“They smell divine.” Lauranya tried to sit up, but the pain of her joints had not been a dream. The burning ripping pain felt all too real, causing her to whimper as she struggled upright.
“Don’t sit up, mommy! Jacks said you were hurting a lot and I should try for a straw.” Arie scolded gently, as she pulled the blankets back over her mother’s chilled body.
“There are straws?” Lauranya panted, from the brief effort of sitting up.
“Reed straws…and plastic ones. But I thought you would want to try out the reed ones first!” Arie gave a conspiratorial whisper. Real plant or animal items were still a novelty to them both.
Lauranya gave a delighted ghost of a laugh, at the idea of trying an item of a God. Arie lifted the soup first, for her mother to taste. The bowl was filled halfway, with a clear slightly green tinged soup. next to Lauranya. A large wooden reed, as thick as a man’s pinky with many joints along the length, within reach for easy sipping. Lauranya took a cautious sip. The soup tasted amazing, rich with flavor and fat slipping across her tongue.
Arie moved the soup after a few sips, to bring the mug within her mother’s reach. A second straw for the tea. Lauranya sipped slowly. The tea tasted sweet, yet floral with spicy taste rolling from the tongue to the back of the throat. The honey coating in a soothing wave, easing her swollen throat. Her stomach did a slow roil with the first few sips, causing her to waive off any more.
“That’s not a lot, mommy.” Arie gave her mother a stern frown. The exact same one Lauranya had given her on those times Arie felt she didn’t have to try new foods or pick up her room.
“You will be cleaning up the contents of my stomach, off the bed and floor if I take any more.” Lauranya said with a ghost of a laughter, at her strong willed child.
“Yuck!” Arie had to think for a moment. “Would you like some cold water? Would that help more?”
Lauranya closed her eyes, letting out a tired breath. “It might, baby, but later. I just need more sleep.” Her voice a whisper, as an uneasy sleep claimed her again.
Arie tiptoed out with the bowl and cup. The door she left open in case her mother might call for her.
Lauranya dreamed the surreal again. She watched herself move the covers aside, her hands flexing and lengthening. Her nails extended into sharp crescent claws, shredding the bedding as she pulled herself into a more comfortable position. Dark hair sprouted along her skin. She rubbed her cheek along her bare shoulder. The fur felt warm and soft against her skin.
The fur felt even better than the one and only spider silk dress she had owned when living on the ship. The one she traded for higher favor, for consideration to be on this assignment with Tine, when she had still cared, her dream-self thought muzzily, enjoying the feeling of stretching muscles. The next thought was that she should have kept the dress and left Tine to his own devices on this Gods cursed planet.
She watched as her feet lengthened, changing in ways only dreams could. Good for dancing, she thought admiring the incredibly high arches. Her toe nails emerged as she flexed her toes. Crescent nails like her hands. She felt herself smile, thinking how nice the nails would be for climbing trees with Arie.
There had been one world, where Lauranya had worked on for a short while, where indoor parks held huge blue skinned trees. Thick trunks that split into multiple trunks at a low level, easy for children and adults to climb. The leaves were a deep green with veins of blue the size of a woman’s hand. The boys had been young enough to be tractable to their mother’s words, that letting them in the park to climb had been a joy.
Her dream saw her curled up in the trunk of a tree, her dark fur brilliant against the blue tree trunks with a tail flicking lazily in the warm evening air. Arie’s laughter infections, as she jumped and skipped along the low branches, alight with soft incandescent lights. Mother and daughter enjoying life.
The fever lingered as did the pain in her joints and muscles over the next week. Lauranya got out of bed, but only for a few minutes at a time. Her stomach took more time to settle, than the swelling in her joints.
Her dreams were far more mundane after the initial fever. Dreaming of life in the old apartments. Plain plastic and grey tiled walls with metal doors. Sterile. The brightest colors were where Arie had colored childish pictures on the walls and not been wiped off as of yet.
She went to knock on Tine’s bedroom door. The dream providing vivid details she would rather have forgotten like the rhythmic grunting, telling her he was busy with Micha. Lauranya’s dream self-noted she had not thanked Tine’s mother for the body slave. Anything to keep him from her, a blessing from Oba, for marital bliss. A thought wound its way that Tine could have used the training body slaves received to help with his singular lack of skills in bed with her, but he never bothered learning only receiving. Selfish man.
Lauranya shrugged, cracked open the door so that her voice could be heard but she didn’t interrupt. “Tine, we need to get to your lab for closing procedures, while Micha packs.”
“Be…done…moment…arily.” The grunting reply.
Lauranya saw herself roll her eyes, as she moved on to the twin’s room. The boys only a few inches shorter than their mother, yelling in their room with crashing sounds, creating havoc again. She walked in as they were jumping on and over their beds, slamming into walls as they tried to tag one another. Blankets and clothes strewn about the room, as if looters had torn through looking for anything precious but finding only dross.
“You two need to pack clothes. Any items you want to take on the shuttle today.” Lauranya said, ignoring the room’s mess as an unnecessary fight anymore.
“What Micha is for!” One snapped, evading his brother’s tagging hand slap, only to slip on a pillow, falling between the twin sized beds with a thud. Both boys giving shrieks of laughter, grating even in the dream.
“Micha is packing your father’s clothing and mine. If you want anything to go with you, you will need to bestir yourself and get it done.” Lauranya snapped, eyes flashing as she put hands on her hips. The boys had long since gone from precocious to stupidly dangerous in what they said.
“We’ll tell dad!” They shouted in unison.
“Yeah, dad said we aren’t sand piss so don’t need to do anything you say!” The closer one sneered at his mother, with the age old insult for a slave born pit fighter.
Lauranya moved with speed, catching the boys unaware. She caught the closer son by surprise. her slap hit his cheek with an open palm, hitting hard enough to stagger him against his twin. “You will pack and you will start now. Anything you do not pack will not go with you nor will I bring it. You can wear slave tunics for all I give to the void.” Lauranya chewed out, through gritted teeth. Her voice dropped a few degrees as she stood straight, looking down at her two unmanageable children.
Their eyes narrowed dangerously, like a pack of hunting dogs. They saw their mother as prey outnumbered, one to two odds. Lauranya saw that looked, meeting it with narrowed eyes of her own. She may not have been trained to fight but she knew the basics, something Tine had forbidden his sons from learning.
Lauranya shifted her stance, altering her hands and arms slightly. The boys looked at each other. They had charged their mother once a few months back, thinking their father would protect them and their mother soft. Lauranya had given them the physical punishment she saw fit. Neither had been able to sit for a day. The bruises stood out, even on their dark skin, for four days more.
The lesson had sunk in. “Yes, mother.” Their sullen reply. The boys pouted, looking at the floor. They would mutter more insults when she left; however Lauranya felt pretty sure they would have (badly) packed bags for the shuttle. That was all Lauranya cared about, too tired to fight to keep them from trouble anymore.
She turned on her heels, heading back into the living room, where she bumped into her half-dressed and livid husband.
“Why are you yelling at the boys?” His chin stuck out, as he pulled up his pants, tightening his belt. His hands caressed the metal buckle.
Lauranya tilted her head, with narrowed eyes at the implied threat. “Your sons seem to think themselves Gods. They are now packing.” She continued towards the bedrooms, moving past him, flinching in distaste as skin touched skin.
Tine snagged her arm on the way past, with one hand still on his belt. “Damn it, Lauranya! We aren’t arena slaves. The boys are only being…”
Dream-Lauranya did not let him finish. “Dangerous. They can and will be collared if they slack on their exams. Oh wait, they already are!” She faced him with clenched fists. “When they realize how important those tests are it will be too late! They are one outburst in class, from being reevaluated and downgraded. You” She poked a finger in his thin bare chest. “have given them an inflated self of importance. I wash my hands of them, on the next assignment. Their training and behavior is now on you.” She poked him in the chest again, her voice low and barely controlled. “Just you! You may explain to your family how you let the pride and joy of your loins become menial slaves.” She turned her back on him, walking into the split bedrooms, gently closing the door. No need to advertise to the other occupants on the same hallway level, another fight occurring.
Tine didn’t let the argument go. He poked his head into her bedroom. “Yes, I do spoil them but then again you spoil Arie.” His voice went softer, mellower. Conciliatory.
“Arie is just a baby!” Lauranya snapped her head up from her own drawer of clothes, looking him in the face.
“And what did your vaunted and scary grandfathers doing at her size?” Tine’s lips quirked, as his eyes bored into hers. He walked into her space, taking up the small area with arms akimbo.
Lauranya said grudgingly, turning to face him with arms crossed. “Studying katas and using small daggers for the children fights.” She let out a sigh. “I hate it when you bring up facts.
Tine chuckled. “I will try to spoil the boys less if you try with Arie.”
Lauranya thought on this for only a moment. The best deal of a bad situation, better than the whipping stocks for the boys. “Deal.” She said, tilting her head slightly in acknowledgement of his win. Tine gave her a quick hug, trying for minimal goodwill. Lauranya tried not to shudder.
She waited until hearing the shower head startup, before moving to Tine’s room, seeing how much still needed to be packed.
Micha had rolled out of the bed as Lauranya entered, struggling into her plain gray shift. Her thin arms were trembling hard enough that finding the arm holes in the light shift were proving elusive.
“Stop. Stop, Micha.” Lauranya said, in a soothing voice, stepping next to the girl. Micha turned huge eyes to her owner’s wife. Lauranya remembered frowning at how thin the girl had gotten. Cheek bones standing out starkly against pale skin. The shaved head didn’t lessen the impact of skin covering bones.
The teeth marks on the slave’s skin made Lauranya hiss in sympathy. The girl’s arms, neck and chest bore Tine’s ardor. Some were only red, fading, while others were bruising. Some were new bites on top of old bites. Tine had only bitten Lauranya once. She regretted her family not being able to afford to get the marriage contract nullified at the time. Tine’s mother stepped in with the body slave, to deal with his sexual proclivities and enjoyment, which his wife was unwilling to provide. Gods hell she would not, her dreaming self-thought with a snort of annoyance.
Lauranya helped Micha get into the shift, saying only “At least his teeth didn’t break skin this time.”
Micha nodded, looking to the floor. Lauranya stifled her sigh. Neither of them could do much more, but Lauranya would do what she could to alleviate some of the pain. Tine had never learned to treat his slaves like thinking tools who felt or as real people. A short sight of his upbringing as a free man.
“Okay, girl. When Tine has left with the boys, shower and clean up, put the bruise ointment on. That should help ease some of the pain. Then pack the basics into the travel bags for him. When I have left with Arie for the day, there are leftovers from last night. Eat all that you want and need.”
“The master has told me no food today.” The girl’s voice was as soft as her skin, eyes on the floor.
“Are you planning on telling him?” Lauranya asked, with a smile to take out the tartness of her rebuke. Tine abused the girl enough. No sense adding more. Micha gave a shy shake of her head and a tiny smile.
“Shall I pack for the boys as well?” Micha asked, looking nervously towards the shower.
“Those two are to pack themselves. Do not let them tell you differently. Hear me?” Lauranya said, waspishly with a glare towards the boys’ room. She shook her head, breathing through her nose to calm down.
“Yes, Lady.” Micha went still. Lauranya pinched the bridge of her nose, knowing she had startled the girl again.
The sound of the shower stopping woke Lauranya up, to her bedroom and the sound of rain pounding on the window. Arie hummed happily in the bathroom.
“Home. No more Tine.” Lauranya whispered. She snuggled into her covers enjoying the sounds of her happy child.
The hilt of the sword landed with a thud and force, breaking at least one rib on the young woman. The four armed Wolfen didn’t get the back cut to her leg as he side stepped into his opponent, but laid the sword flat on her back, splitting the skin in a long gash. Blood dried and crystallized, sealing the wound as quickly as it was made. Redeyes rolled with the blade slap on her back, a grunt of pain, stumbling two steps desperately getting her sword up to block the next blow. The block worked but he managed to land a closed fist punch to her face with his lower right hand. The sound of bone cracking accompanied the first punch. He brought his sword up for an overhead blow that if it landed would have caved in her skull.
Redeyes dropped her blade to dive under his downward sword stroke, coming up under his arms and into his space. She stood face to face with him, giving him no room to position for so close an in fight. Once inside his personal space, she fastened both upper hands on his throat, snarling as her broken cheek bones grated, her hands squeezing tight, feeling his pulse between her fingers. Her lower hands were trying to claw out his heart, held only an inch away from breaking skin and ripping out their target by the Wolfen’s lower hands on her wrists.
“Hold!” The General’s voice boomed across the vaulted metal room.
The Wolfen dropped his sword to grab the woman’s upper set of arms at the elbows with both set of his upper hands.
“Red if you kill him, you’re going to have to replace him.” Collins called, panting from the sidelines, wiping his face down with a synthetic towel. Iarris handed him a globe of water. Her fur as wet and matted as Collin’s hair; both smelling of sweat.
“With fucking pleasure.” The young God snarled or tried to, the words garbling. Her mouth sagged from the broken cheekbones and a half healed broken jaw bone from a previous pass that morning. A gift from Iarris, re-broken sparring with Nero. Redeyes caught a sideways glimpse of Cratt swinging a metal rod down towards her arms. She moved at the last second, throwing herself backwards, rolling, as the metal rod bounced off Nero’s chest. The rod made a resounding thunk like hitting a hollow plastic water barrel.
Nero grunted, dropping to the mat, gasping for air like a fish. Redeyes curled her lip as she stood up slowly, hissing in pain from the broken and cracked bones she’d received this session. Nero’s mouth formed words he didn’t have the air to speak.
“Can’t hear you.” Redeyes said sweetly, giving a lopsided smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Collin’s cuff against her ear caught her by surprise, sending her stumbling to land on her ass, her arms swinging behind to catch her backward momentum with her elbows.
She looked up, tossing bangs out of her eyes, to Collins squatting in front of her. “You’re getting better but you aren’t learning. And you’re being an annoying bitch.”
“How the fuck am I not learning? You assholes beat the hell out of me every damn day.” Slurring snarl. “Broken bones tend to make me bitchy.” A flash of fang in a human mouth.
“You’re avoiding the blows but not learning how to fight.” Iarris said, crossing her arms over her impressive chest. Her tail twitched in short sharp flicks while her lips pressed thin.
“Screw you.” Redeyes snapped, scrambling up. Her head hunched low between her shoulders and her nails flexing, both set of hands loose at her side. She glared at those standing around her.
“Stop.” General Cratt barked out, reaching a hand down to help Nero up. “You’re not concentrating on learning how to survive, only how to win.” Nero took the proffered hand, stumbling while standing up, a lower hand clutching at his sore ribs.
“And?” Redeyes snapped, not taking her eyes off of Collins. Collins gave a slow easy smile, standing up gracefully to saunter just out of arm’s reach.
“Fighting means you are looking to survive, not just kill the target in front of you.” General Cratt said, with a tilt of his head and a look. The look saying she should understand the difference.
Redeyes dragged her eyes from Collins to General Cratt, with a stomp of her foot “What? Aren’t you supposed to…” Collins stepped in to her off side, sweeping his leg behind her and pushing her backwards with his right hand.
She landed on her ass again, this time with a squawk. “Bastard!” She growled. Redeyes struggled to sit up on her lower elbows, glaring while her upper right hand brushed the sweat out of her eyes.
“Yup. Figured out why you landed on your ass?” Collins asked, leaning down with a casual smile and a gleam in his eyes.
Redeyes snorted, reaching a hand up for him to help her stand. “I took my eyes off you?” She asked, with a tilt of her head and rolled eyes.
Collins reached a hand out to help her up. “Nope, you let me get too close.”
“Ahh.” She said, grabbing his proffered hand. With a hard yank, she pulled him forward, piston kicking him in the stomach for all she was worth. Collins felt the yank and tried to counter by pulling back, but the kick caught him off guard. He flew to the side as she let go of his hand when the kick landed.
“Hurts doesn’t it?” Nero panted out, sagging against the General.
“You ship fucking…” Collins gasped rolling to his knees, a hand on the metal floor, the other reaching for the disc gun that wasn’t there.
“And that is as far as we’re getting today, cubs.” Iarris said, flicking an ear at the General.
Cratt took the hint from the Guardian. “Iarris, set Redeyes’ bones. We’re going to cover ship logistics and politics.”
Iarris walked between Collins and Redeyes, neither taking their eyes off the other. Iarris thwacked Collins on the cheek with her tail as she walked by breaking his narrowed eye contact.
“Pfft…not how I wanted your tail.” Collins spit fur out of his mouth, running a hand down his face to wipe off sweat slicked skin, now with traces of Katherian hair.
“Get it how you can, but back off.” Iarris said coyly, looking over her shoulder, with a wink and arching whiskers.
“Hmmph!” Collins did move back, his eyes on the Katherian’s trim ass, the workout pants clung to, emphasizing the muscular roundness.
Iarris crouched in front of Redeyes, reaching a hand to touch Redeyes’ check. Redeyes flinched. Iarris waited. Redeyes took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She pushed herself up from the floor with both sets of hands, letting Iarris work the bones.
“Sorry.” Redeyes muttered not looking the other in the eyes.
“I know this is still new to you.” Iarris said softly, as if to a small child, her hand gently touching where the bones had broken. Redeyes’ lips pressed tight, hunching her shoulders a little more. “This does get much easier.” For everyone, was left unsaid by the Katherian fighter.
“Promise? ‘Cause it’s been months and I’m still getting my head handed to me daily.” Redeyes mumbled, through gritted teeth.
“You’re able to sucker punch Collins. That’s pretty damn good.” Iarris said, delicately moving Redeyes’ cheek bones back together, counting to 30 under her breath.
“I heard that!” Collins grated, wheezing slightly still.
“At least you didn’t say I’m not fighting fair.”
“You can’t fight fair. You have to fight to survive and win.”
“But Cratt said survive.” Redeyes heard the whine in her voice. She pressed her lips closed. Her jaw flaxing in pain as Iarris pressed on the broken bones.
“You need to do both.” Collins said, coming to the right side of Iarris, in front of Redeyes. “Your life is expendable.” Redeyes flinched slightly but not enough to move the bones in her right cheek. Iarris held the ends together until the bones could hold their own shape.
If Redeyes moved, the bones would heal unevenly. They would need to be re-broken. A messier task than if she just held still the first time. Her bones, unlike a normal human’s, knitted back stronger along the break line. Redeyes was doing everything she could to not have to re-break just knitted bones. They’d gone that route once already this month. She’d passed out when Collins had to take a metal rod to her leg at an uneven healed break point.
“Our lives,” Collins said, motioning with an open hand, taking in more than the five of them in the room to all of those on the ship. “Are a onetime chance. You fuck up and loose or don’t see an opening, in a fight, a battle or tactics and we pay that price. You just jump bodies and timelines, the rest of us get a visit from Death.”
Redeyes hung her head, clenching her fist tight enough that her nails broke skin. The sound of crystallized blood hitting the floor sounded loud in her ears, another weird difference between her and every other being on this ship. The memories of her first few lives and the dead were still vivid.
“Fuck, I thought breaking free of the slavers was hard enough.” She looked Cratt square in the face.
“You got us free Red, but now you need to learn more than just how to rip out a throat or throw a knife. You gotta see the bigger picture.” Cratt motioned with his square thick fleshed hands, encompassing the whole ship, alluding to more.
“How…” She shook her head, dark blood red eyes boring into his human blue. “What am I doing wrong then?”
“You’re getting the moves but we need you to see the openings and the timing.” Nero answered before the General could, as he came from the side, nails clicking on the bare metal floor. He handed her a towel and water. She accepted both, nodding her thanks. No hard feelings for either of them.
Nero patted her awkwardly on the back. “Like Iarris said, it really will get easier for you.” Iarris put her hands on Redeyes ribs feeling for bone movement.
“Holy fuck!” Redeyes yelped, squeezing her globe of water so hard water splashed over the four of them as the globe burst. Cratt, just out of range, stayed dry.
“Think you hit the right spot.” Collins said, wiping water out of his eyes. Amused he cocked his head to the side, watching Iarris move strong hands along Redeyes’ bruised skin. Blues and purples from today’s hit, some already fading to a deeper yellow and greens.
“I really hate you at this moment.” Redeyes said, between clenched teeth, curling her lips. She squinted her eyes close, scrunching her face from the pain.
“Don’t worry. You get even with him by giving him all the shitty details when he meets you for the first time.” General Cratt said cheerfully.
“Oh hells!” Collins eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly as he connected the dots. “She remembered this far back?”
“Why else would she make you dive into the shit collector to search for those bodies?” Cratt said, tilting an eyebrow at him. “There are other ways to check for corpses.”
“And I thought you were just being a disc eating ship rapist for the hell of it.” Collins snorted, with a shake of his head, looking at the God sideways. He spun on the General “Why the rotting core engines didn’t you say anything?”
“Cause I know Redeyes. She had a reason we just didn’t know why she’s pissing in your playpen.” General Cratt gave Collins a human smile, showing all of his teeth. Predatory and amused.
“Good to know I have a sense of humor when I return to this time.” Redeyes gasped out, as Iarris held the rib bones together for the initial knitting.
“It gets better Red. Now that we’ve broken enough bones time to learn some tactics.” Cratt said briskly with a clap of his hands.
“Ship or hand to hand.” Redeyes asked wearily, touching her cheek. The bones still felt fragile and wiggled a little.
“Both. Once you’ve taken a ship you’re going to have to fight your way through it to kill the Dead Gods.”
Redeyes clambered to her feet to walk to the tables, stopping for a moment frowning. “General Cratt, why don’t we practice with swords when we have guns? Shouldn’t we be working on more than just hand to hand, sword work and the occasional use of guns?”
Cratt nodded. “You, in this life don’t know this but we’ve tried that route. Got a couple of ship worth of people killed too. We can use guns, but only on small ship skirmishs. As near as we can figure out, on the large world ships, where there are very strong necros or necros who are willing to work together can combine their powers summoning ghost to attack the power cells.”
Redeyes connected the dots. “When one power cell goes, it’ll explode and if we’re packed to closely, the force of one explosion can take out other power cells, causing a chain reaction.”
“Aye. We do their job for them, killing ourselves. Which is why we do sword work and small guns.”
“Ugh. Does this get any easier.”
“This is the easy part.”
“Shoot me now.”
“Soon enough someone will.” Cratt said, metal serious. Redeyes never lasted more than a few years in any body. Redeyes showed teeth in a humorless smile.
“Mom! Toilets are backing up.” Arie called from across the school room. Lauranya looked up from her computer with a sigh of mild annoyance. Her research was at a delicate juncture. The toilet issue unexpected but not unanticipated. Jury rigging had its advantages but reliability wasn’t always one of them and the timing, irritating.
Lauranya got up from her desk to view the extent of the toilet problem, in the nearest bathroom. Flooding would be the major health issue. She walked into the bathroom, surveying the damage. The first thing she noticed was that the distinct smell. Lauranya made a face, taking a half step back with the first whiff. Instead of a slight scent of humanity, the room held a strong odor of sewage. There was no flooding, but the water sat at the rim.
“Time to pee in buckets?” Arie asked, behind Lauranya, hands on her hips jutting to the side by almost a foot, in an exaggerated manner. Lauranya turned to stare at her daughter for a moment, before realizing why the stance was so pronounced. Arie was mimicking her. Lauranya swallowed a laugh, before answering. The child had grown so much in these few years.
“Probably, but we need to set up a hose to go outside.” Lauranya said, tapping her lips thoughtfully. She managed to keep a straight face, though her lips kept twitching as Arie pushed out her hips in the other direction with more mimicry.
“Why not the stairwell?” Arie asked, making a broad waving motion towards the other side of their home.
“The one we get our drinking and bathing water from?” Lauranya asked, encouraging Arie to think this decision to a logical conclusion.
“No! Gross.” Arie made her disgusted scrunched up face, aging her 80 years in the process, before she relaxed back into her child features.
Arie looked thoughtful before saying. “How about the one by the growing area?”
“We still draw water from there for the plants.”
Arie looked up with a confused look and a shake of her head.
Lauranya had just started to use questions that would lead to the correct answers if Arie did not respond correctly the first time, so she gave the child a few more minutes before responding, “Fecal bacteria.” Lauranya answered the obvious when Arie wasn’t going to get the answer quickly..
Arie’s eyes widen as she made the connection. “Raw sewage is bad. Got it!” Arie nodded her head emphatically, her blond hair flying around her face in her enthusiasm. “To bad we can’t keep the solids for the compost.”
Lauranya turned back to the toilet, overflowing, with a frown. Something niggling the back of her brain. Something important. “We…Let me look. Low water…” Lauranya muttered to herself, hurrying back to the room she used as her lab office. Arie trailed behind, used to her mother’s mutters and tangent half sentences by this point.
Lauranya tabbed to a new page. “Dry toilet. Primitive site. Two part.” Muttering, she leaned over her desk typing, willing the computer to find what she needed by sheer force of will.
“Ah! Here it is!” She stood up with a wide smile, lighting up the room.
“What is it?” Arie asked, looking on with a tilted head and curious eyes.
“For a primitive base, when supplies and growing mediums have been in short supply. There are toilets made to collect urine in the front part and solids in the back, separating the two wastes.:
“We could just potty in a bucket and throw it out…”
“No.” Lauranya said, giving her daughter a shake of her head.
“Why not?” Arie tilted her head, puzzled.
“Do you want to be the one to clean up the drips or spills of old waste?”
Arie thought on this, before responding. “No. We already make a mess.”
“I assure you, our mess is much less than if we were going in a bucket. However we do have the issue of where to go until I can fabricate the new system.”
“That means what?”
“We pee in a bucket for a short time.”
Arie made a face. “Yuck!” She had to think for only a moment before asking. “So what do we do now?”
“Well first we empty the backed up toilets with a hose.”
Arie scrunched up her nose, waving her hands as if something nasty had gotten on them.
“Yes it is. I should stop feeding you so you do not push out so much waste!”
“Mommy!” Arie squealed. Neither went hungry, but they talked about food all the time. Growing, cooking or new tastes.
Lauranya laughed at such young outrage. “Now I need to find a hose long enough to dump the waste over the side. And you need to get back to your lessons.”
“Okay mommy.” Arie gave her a mother a heavy sigh, but scampered back to the microscope with a smile. A feather, donated from a chicken, clipped down for viewing. Arie pulled the two sheets of paper next to her. One for writing her observations, and the other to sketch what she saw at different angles. The artwork and hypothesis were a little crude, but her work showed promise.
The hoses were found in the bottom storage rooms, with a generator for pumping. Lauranya linked the hoses together with clamps then started to drag the appropriate end to the upper deck to hang off the railing. The tail end of the exiting hose hung from the railing, swaying slightly in the breeze.
“No nothing could go wrong with a loose hose and human waste.” Lauranya said, talking to herself with a roll of her eyes. “I will tie that down before pumping. Not good to teach the child lazy workarounds.” Lauranya didn’t head back in immediately though. She stretched in the afternoon sun, soaking up the warmth, watching the brilliant white clouds float by on deep blue skies. She let loose a pent up breath. The air smelled warm and damp, so fresh. Even after so much time, fresh air and fresh water were novelties after growing up on the world-ships or under mining domes.
Shivers ran up her spine, along arms and legs as she looked on the vastness of her new world. Lauranya felt sharp cuts of cold along her spine in fear of the open water. She ran hands over cold arms, her mouth suddenly dry.
The rains had become intermittent, making the nice days outnumber the rainy ones. The waters below were still climbing. Lauranya looked over the stone hip height balusters . Small waves lapped against the building. Her eyes caught on a different set of waves. Small ripples, almost like when rain spattered on the top of water, than a large ripple with a smooth curve of glossy grey blue scaled skin breaking the water. The water smoothed out once more.
Distance played havoc with measurement, but Lauranya did her best to calculate a possible size. The sizes estimated were not reassuring.
“The new water habitats filled quickly.” She whispered shuddering before turning to hurry back into the perceived safety of the building.
Another round, with a different set of hose, singularly this time, to draw water from the stairwell into water barrels went faster than the waste hose issue. Twenty minutes at a time filled up the four empty barrels that could last a week for showers and water needs of the people, plants and animals.
“Mom! The fresh water hose is stuck.” Arie yelled, from the foyer. Her words to vibrating, as they echoed through the rooms.
“Stuck? Fresh water and not sewage hose? Where?” Lauranya called back, projecting her voice to match the depth and timber of Arie’s. She stood, walking to the balcony from outside her lab looking down into the main room.
“Fresh water. Oops. Not stuck.” Arie said, looking down and prodding the hose, coming in from the stairwell, with her toe.
“Okay.” Lauranya smiled and started to turn, when Arie’s next words stopped her.
“Clogged… Hmm.” Lauranya walked down the stairs and past the planted flats of seedlings, just starting to push green tips through the recently made composted dirt.
“It’s yes. And we need to inspect the hose for the clog.” Lauranya chewed her lip. “Do not borrow what is not yours, including trouble.” She said, looking at the dribble of water going from the hose to the barrel. “Okay. Turn off the pump and find a few extra towels. We’ll need to clear out the hose.”
They walked from the hose to the stairwell inspecting the hose every few inches. Arie carrying the towels while Lauranya crawl-walked, squeezing every few inches. Close to the stairwell she found a lump…that wiggled. She let go with a startled yelp, landing on her rump.
Lauranya licked sweat dewing her upper lip, frowning slightly. “If it’s not moving on, it might…probably has barbs stuck along the inner wall. Well we can try to save the fish first, but that probably is not likely. Maybe fish for dinner?”
“Fish for dinner? Sounds yummy!” Arie stood on the tips of her toes, bouncing.
“I’m sure it does, but first let me see what I can manage here.” Lauranya gently squeezed the hose to find the end of the fish or what was not pointing towards the barrel, roughly 8 inches. The squeezing caused the fish to thrash, jerking the hose from side to side. She tried to push it along gently, but the fish didn’t budge with Lauranya’s prodding.
“Hmmph.” A little irritably.
“Going to have to splint it mommy?”
“Splice and unfortunately, I think so.” Lauranya glowered at the hose with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. She put her hands on her hips to contemplate her choices. None of the choices were less than messy.
“I’ll get the gripping tape!” Arie yelled, spinning on her heels, running excitedly for the bag of fix-it materials.
“And I will get the clamps and cutters.” Lauranya rose to her feet from bent knees with shoulders straight and arms at her side, graceful in her slowness.
They returned with their supplies, Arie having added a bucket to put the fish in. Arie had added enough water to cover the fish once they’d freed it from the hose.
“What kind of fish do you think it is mommy?” Arie stared at the hose intensely.
“I don’t know dear. Do you remember from our studies which types might be this small and this lively?” Lauranya clamped behind the fish, an equal amount to its length, stopping the flow of water from even the trickle that had been flowing.
“I might. But won’t it depend on if this is full grown or a juvenile? “
“Very good!” Lauranya delicately cut the hose, behind and in front of the lively fish, depositing the squirming hose occupant into the bucket. Next she pieced the edges of the hoses together with fast setting glue. Clamps and tape holding the hose together until the glue could form a waterproof seal. A small trickle of water flowed out, which Arie promptly mopped up with a towel, underneath without being asked.
“We will need to let this cure for a couple of days.” Lauranya sat back to admire her handy work. The edges were slightly uneven but only if one knew where to look.
Arie’s attention was on the water splashing as the fish thrashed in the hose even worse than when just stuck in the hose.
“Mommy, doesn’t it know we are trying to help?”
“Thinks we are going to eat him.”
“Oh. We are aren’t we?” Arie said matter factly, a child’s mercurial thought from potential pet to food.
“Maybe. Some fish are too toxic to eat. We will not know, until we cut it out of the hose.” Lauranya stood up, stretching her arms above her head, standing on her toes. Joints popped in release.
“You’re really tall mommy!”
“Thank you, love, but you should have seen your grandfathers. Anyone of them would make me seem very small.” Lauranya said distractedly, observing the small wiggling bit of hose.
“As tall as the shuttle building?” Arie asked, looking up with wide green eyes.
Lauranya laughed out loud. “Almost, dear. Almost.” She picked up her supplies to put them back in the supply room. “Arie, take the bucket with the fish into the lab. We’ll do a dissection in a moment.”
“Okay!” Arie grabbed the bucket, managing to not splash on the gleaming wooden floors, by the gods own luck, as she lugged it up the stairs to the second floor lab.
Lauranya arrived at the lab a few moments after. Walking through the door, she noticed Arie crouched over the bucket staring intently down.
“It’s not moving.”
“The hose, the water or the fish?”
“The fish in the hose. It’s not moving at all now.” Arie peered closer, reaching to touch the hosing. Lauranya intercepted the hand, with a shake of her head.
“Probably dead. The water is no longer flowing over the gills, not to mention the water in the bucket is stale not fresh.” Lauranya said, sparing a glance into the bucket as she set up the counter for extraction and eventual dissection.
“Are we going to dissect it now?” Arie asked excitedly, looking up at her mother, her voice rising as she bounced slightly in anticipation.
Lauranya smiled fondly at her daughter. “Yes. We are going to dissect it now.” Lauranya motioned Arie to bring the bucket over to the sink, by the window. Lauranya pulled a cutting board, various scalpels and blank slides from drawers and lower cabinets.
“Can I look at it microsoopic?”
“Microscope and yes you can look through the microscope once I get the slides prepared. You will need to figure which portions are worth micro scrutiny and which for general analysis.”
Arie ignored that comment in favor of a more artistic endeavor. “Are we going to sketch?”
“If you like. We need to add to our native plants and animal book. ”
“Yay!” Arie dragged a tall stool over to the counter, watching as her mother took the hose from the water, with bare hands.
“Arie if you would…” Arie had a towel ready, handing it over as soon as Lauranya placed the hose down and turned towards her. “Ahh…thank you, my dear.” Lauranya placed the hose on the dissection tray, wiped over her hands, opening a drawer for her goggles. Arie followed suit, taking a few extra minutes trying to remember where she had last placed them. They were found in the bathroom. Arie had worn them while swimming and churning the dirty laundry in the tub. Soap bubbles still fascinated her. Lauranya merely smiled, hiding her giggle at Arie’s unusual method for inspecting washing clothes.
Once they were both set, Lauranya slipped the industrial scissors along the edge of the hose, wishing for the 100th time for good gloves. She took care not to cut the fish inside. The hosing took longer to cut from the thick water tight weave but from the thin flexible coating of plastic liner, and the fish wasn’t quite as dead as originally presumed.
Lauranya cleared enough hose away to see the tail end of the fish; however the hosing wasn’t falling away from the fish as expected. Frowning, she tried to pull the casing away with her fingers on one side and the scissors holding the other side down. The fish’s skin pulled taught almost ripping. Lauranya stopped, to chew on her lip.
“Yemoja!” Lauranya swore softly.
“What’s wrong mommy?”
“I think…think the fish has barbs in its skin that are stuck in the hose.”
“That’s going to make getting it out harder.” Arie said succinctly.
“Yes, dear. It will.” Lauranya tried for bland but a little sarcasm leaked through. Arie grinned at her mother not chastised in the least.
“I would like to keep the skin intact though that may…” Lauranya huffed in frustration gingerly poking the stuck fish with a finger. “Not be possible.”
She grabbed tweezers and long pins. She pinned one side of the hose then used the tweezers to open the other side up, tugging gently. As the hose opened she tweezed each spine from the hosing as gently as possible onto the dissection board. The fish, who did not agree with her ministrations, began thrashing violently. Luckily the spines were only on the back portion along the dorsal fin to either side; however the entire process took close to 30 minutes to extract. The fish stopped flailing closer to the start than the end. “Done.” Lauranya breathed, putting down her instruments to look at her work with satisfaction at the cutting board. There were a few tears in the skin, yet the fins and the body were extracted with minimal damage. The vivid blues and gold shimmered even as the eyes turned dull in death.
“It looks pretty!” Arie said in awe reaching a hand to touch the fish.
Lauranya caught the hand mid-way, with a gentle squeeze. “It does look beautiful. I wonder.” She muttered, bending down for a closer look.
Arie leaned over to look closer as well, her hand landing on a metal tray, knocking it over.
“Arie!” Lauranya grabbed for the spilled tools. Her hand reached for two of the spilling items but her bracing hand landed in a puddle of water made from the entrapped fish and sodden hose. Her hand slipped out from underneath, unbalancing her. Lauranya made a desperate grab for stability, grabbing the hose instead. Pins, spines and tines pierced her hand as she landed on her butt, knocking Arie over as she fell. The cutting board clattered to the floor.
“Ouch! Damn it.” Lauranya swore. “Arie are you ok?” She stood slowly, careful of things in her hand.
“I’m ok mommy.” Arie said with her hurt voice, rubbing her butt as she stood back up. “Are you ok?”
“Oww. Think so.” Lauranya pulled pens and the sliced hose from her skin, dropping the waste onto the counter. She looked down at her hand, pursing her lips. There were small pricks in the skin with red aerials surrounding a few. “Hmmm.” She made another face concentrating on the skin rash. Memories of her skin contacting with the poisoned wine from the shuttle flowed through her thoughts like molasses.
“Mommy?” A quaver to Arie’s voice that didn’t registering with Lauranya at first.
“What?” Lauranya snapped concentrating on how her hand felt, while gently running a finger over the redness. No spines could be felt. Maybe only a slight allergic reaction?
“You’re bleeding…want me to grab the clean rags and alcohol?” Arie looked into her mother’s face with huge eyes, the child’s face pale.
Lauranya looked down. The fish had hooked into the scar tissue on Lauranya’s calf. The spines were deep enough to cause small trickles of blood, painting her skin reddish pink, pooling around her heel.
Lauranya sucked in a breath. “I cannot feel the spines.” She whispered her eyes as wide as her daughter’s.
“Shhhh. I will need to pull the fish’s spine from my skin.” She gave Arie a comfortingly wide smile, but did not reach her eyes. A lying smile. “It will be fine, baby. Now go and get me those clean rags.”
“Alcohol as well?”
“The cheap drinking alcohol not the medical grade.”
“Are you going to drink it?”
“I might have a sip, but mostly the alcohol will be poured over the skin. It will be almost as sterilizing as the medical stuff.”
“Then why not the medical grade?”
“Because we might need the medical grade for another major surgery and not something as minor as this.” Lauranya’s voice held steady, calm and even. She looked down with her hands hovering just out of touching distance from the fish, twitching.
“Oh. Okay mommy!” Arie spun on her bare feet and ran to the medical room’s cupboard with the alcohol.
“Well lied.” A voice whispered in her ear.
“How bad is it Jacks?” Lauranya whispered, with a breath that would not have been heard past her lips.
“I don’t know. We never got to study the viral and bacterial, let alone the poison applications, of the fish.” Jacks took a moment before continuing. “I think you may have as much to worry about the poison in the spines causing the numbness as anything living inside you now.” Both not speaking of the viral from the whiskered cat.
“Comforting.” Lauranya wiped her cheek quickly, shaking her head.
“Comfort isn’t why you asked.” Jacks’ voice faded as small running footsteps could be heard on the wood covered hallway floor.
“Here you go, mommy!” Arie bounced back into the room, holding a dark brown bottle with no labeling and a handful of clean rags. All but one rag wrapped around Lauranya’s ankle, to catch the poured alcohol instead of letting it pool on the floor. The other rag Lauranya wrapped around her hand for protection.
Lauranya took a deep breath and releasing it slowly. “Okay. I want you to pour that over the skin. My skin not the fish skin. And I will start pulling the fish from me.”
Arie bent down, getting her face close to the wound and the fish but not close enough that Lauranya wanted to flinch back to keep Arie safe. Carefully the child tipped the bottle next to Lauranya’s scar, the chartreuse colored liquid came in a trickle at first then a large spill at Arie poured more confidently.
Lauranya let out a hiss as the alcohol struck the skin where the barbs had sunk in. “Okay sweetie, stop pouring.”
Arie stopped with a questioning look up.
“I need to pull the spines out then we can disinfect a bit more.”
“Okay!” Arie chirped, as she put the bottle on the floor next to her mother’s foot, before bouncing to grab the tweezers just out of Lauranya’s reach.
Lauranya grabbed the fish gently then whispered a quick prayer to Babaluaye while pulling out the spines. The spines held her skin with less ferocity than the tubing but they did not pull out smoothly either. Lauranya’s lips were bruised as she pressed her teeth together using the flesh as extra padding and pain stimulation for endorphins. She was drenched in sweat as the last spine pulled free.
This time she put the fish on the cutting board, moving the board to the back of the counter away from the front edge.
“Okay love, now you may pour more of the alcohol.” Lauranya grabbed the counter in anticipation. She hadn’t been wrong in the strength of the alcohol’s burn. Each spine prick lit up like an electric current. The pain from her hand was nothing in comparison.
“Yemoja!” Lauranya gasped a prayer to the mother of mankind.
“Mommy?” Arie stopped looking up with quivering lips and tears in her eyes, her mother’s pain almost palpable.
“You are fine dear.” Lauranya sucked in another breath. “I think we are good on the alcohol though. If you could put it back?”
“Sure!” Arie screwed the top on quickly. “Mommy are we still going to look at it through the microscope?”
“Yes. We both are. I am going to take samples and many pictures. I have a vested interest in this species now. I need to know all the quirks that this fish has in life and death.”
“Because it’s new?”
“New to us but no. I do not want you to get hurt if this gets pulled into the hosing again.” Lauranya’s voice bland. leaving out the numbness of her skin from the spines.
“Should we put something over the end of the hose?”
Lauranya opened her mouth then snapped her teeth closed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Yes, should have thought of this earlier. I will find a loose woven piece of material we can attach to the ending after I take pictures.”
Writing is a catharsis. Just put a sentence down, then another. It doesn’t have to make sense, yet. Write what you feel. Write what you need to say. Write till you’ve said all you can. Write until there is nothing left for you to say.
Time gets away from me…from most people. Something beautiful one day has turned twisted and gnarled the next. Nothing of permanence. I try to grasp this concept as one tries to grasp fog or water. Lovely for that brief instance before fading or trickling between tightly cupped hands. Safety, love, respect, even danger (with the right movie playing at 3 am) are impermanent. Very few people are stuck in amber. I try to remember that, feeling of of sadness or joy and how it changes(ed), when I write. Capturing that feeling of right now while knowing the future is never what we expect.
“Mommy, Mommy?” Arie’s small voice cut through Lauranya’s grief. Lauranya looked up, wiping tears away with a hand. Her daughter was a blurry bundle of blond energy. “Mommy, I brought you a tissue!” Arie held out a tissue only slightly sticky from the trade bar chocolate.
Lauranya swept the child close, hugging her tightly.
“I love you!” she whispered fiercely.
“I love you too, mommy!” Arie squirmed from the tight embrace, tugging on Lauranya’s hand.. “Mommy come see what I built!”
Lauranya allowed herself to be pulled from behind Jhen’s desk to see the child’s loc–n–bloc creation. The blocks had been stacked in a tall tower shape, with the blue blocks on the bottom and red blocks on top.
“See? It’s the God’s tower in the water.”
“Water at the bottom,. Lauranya whispered. She turned to look out the window to the tower. The scientists had rolled their eyes and wrote unheeded reports on the used materials for a 30-story building just for the guests and Gods visiting, when those same resources could have been better used for more research funding.
“Out of the mouths of babes.” She smiled. Lauranya ran to the desk for paper and pen. She searched the drawers frantically, her fingers crawling over various paper clips, binders and small loose…things.
“He’s got to have one damn pen that works!” she growled.
“Bad mommy!” Arie said at her mother’s bad language, putting hands over her ears.
“Oops. Sorry, baby. Mommy’s a little…” a little what? Sad? Angry? Scared? “A little distraught.” The big word wouldn’t scare Arie but would convey urgency. “Yes. Mommy should not swear. It does no good and limits my vocabulary.” Lauranya took a deep breath and smiled reassuringly.
Arie giggled and turned back to the loc- n- bloc filling in the rest of the city. Lauranya scribbled numbers. She reached to turn on her phone to do calculations then stopped. No telling if the ship could track the phone; however best not to take chances.
Dr. Jhen had taken his laptop not the main computer with him to the port. Lauranya fired up the desktop computer. She did not remember Jhen’s login, so she went in through the back way to boot up the system.
She breathed a thank you for the foresight of her grandparents. “Thank you, G-pa for insisting we learn more than one field.” She could hear Nisuo’s deep but thready voice. “You will never know exactly what a God or Overseer wants, but the more you know, the better you will be placed. Learn everything!” His whip and sword-scarred face burned fierce in her memory.
She looked up from her math to hear the engines of the last shuttle taking off. She looked out the rain-smeared window, watching the vapors plumes across the sky, raising the shuttle in a bright arc until the clouds swallowed it whole.
Lauranya took a deep, steadying breath. “30 levels, 6 inches a day… slope of the hills… length and width of the valley. Need topical maps.” she muttered pulling up the various maps on two screens. Lauranya tugged at a loose strand of hair while numbers resolved into an answer.
She ran a worst case and a best case scenario. Neither set of numbers were comforting, but they were a start. The building would withstand the rising water. The top six floors should be safe from flooding, even in the worst case. Should be. She was betting their lives on her numbers and the information on hand.
“Two weeks for the water to reach the first floor of all the buildings. Eight weeks to flood the living quarters. Weather model says lighter rain and melting snow caps for the next two years.” The hair tugging continued as she thought aloud. Worst case, she had two weeks to compile everything she and Arie would need for the rest of their life.
“Looks like we’ll finally get to see how the Lords and Gods live on the top floor.”
Lauranya threw the remaining trade bars into the loose woven throw blanket and bundled up to take with them to their quarters. She then bent to pick up Arie, after a moment of pleading the loc-n-blocks joined the bars.
The green and silver nanny bot lit up when Lauranya and Arie came dripping through the door.
“Good morning, Dr. Lauranya and Miss Arianya!” the nanny bot chirped cheerfully. Lauranya could swear she heard Jacks laughter at the bot’s overly cheerful tones. He had programmed the thing after all. A fleeting smile as as she remembered the short curly haired scientist and his warm brown eyes, followed by a lump in her throat.
“A prototype.” he had said with a dismissive wave when she protested the gift. “A hobby, which will probably be destroyed when a real Overseer makes landing.” She had smiled and acquiesced, accepting the gift to help Masia with the raising Arie while she and Tine’s were at work.
Arie wiggled out of Lauranya’s arms to give the familiar nanny bot a hug and a kiss. The nanny bot’s long metallic ring-jointed arms gave the child a loose hug back.
“Nanny, I will be out for a few hours. Keep Arie safe and occupied until I return.” Lauranya spoke slowly and clearly as if to a slow adult.
The bot swiveled its dome head to Lauranya. The eyes glowed green in understanding. “Yes, Dr. Lauranya. I will keep Arianya safe and occupied.” The robot chirped. The head swiveled back towards the toddler who was busy unwrapping the couch throw filled with the loc-n-blocs and bars. “Shall we continue with your lessons in numbers and letters, Miss Arianya?”
“No. Want to play.” The child said firmly.
“You may have five minutes of play then we will do our lessons.” The nanny bot responded. Arie nodded, use to this answer.
“Nanny bot, there are trade bars for dinner and there should still be water on tap. Have her fed and in bed at the usual time.” Lauranya said, her brain starting to spin with supplies and transportation.
“Trade bars are not the most nutritional…”
“Stop.” The bot stopped mid-sentence. “All nutrition is subject to availability from this point on. Only bring up food if what is on hand is poisonous or inedible.”
“Acknowledged. Dr. Lauranya.” The bot chirped.
Lauranya turned to Arie. The child was frowning at the exchange between her mom and the nanny bot.
“Mommy why are you mad at nanny?” She asked, tilting her head to the left.
Lauranya opened her mouth then closed it again, thinking. With a deep breath, she tried again. “I’m not, sweetie. I am upset and probably yelling at an object that has no feelings to get hurt.”
“That’s still not very nice.” Arie said with the certainty of a child.
Lauranya knelt down, wrapping her arms around the child. “No dear, it is not. Arie returned the hug tightly. “Sweetie, I need to get a few things set up and I may be gone for a few hours. Nanny will watch you while I am gone. I need you to be good.” Before Arie could ask, “Yes you still have to do lessons but after lessons you may play with the blocs or watch a movie.
Arie squealed at the treat of a movie, giving a tighter hug to her mother. “Okay mommy. Don’t’ worry. We’ll be fine.” Arie smiled, giving her mother a kiss on the cheek, then went to see what nanny bot’s screen was showing.
Lauranya slipped out of their rooms quietly, just in case Arie had another question that needed answering. Time, they did not have.
“Food, shelter, clothing. Food and shelter first.” Lauranya could feel her heart beating faster and the need to run building. She leaned against the hallway’s wall, getting herself under control. Where to start her mind kept circling on the impossible task of surviving in a drowning world like a mouse in a cage.
“Cages! I need to see what is in the labs. Seeds. No animals but generators. Then the tower. Then I start moving things.” With a nod, she pushed off the wall. “Right. Lab is first. One step at a time.” She stepped quickly. They were running out of time.
The labs were locked. However, Lauranya had her key pass. No one had bothered to mothball the buildings or shut down the electronics. The water would destroy any attempt to preserve, so minimal effort was made. Lauranya’s hands shook for a moment. The Gods wouldn’t know for years of the intellectual property loss. The scientist had been the largest asset to be saved but even that was a lie. The other deaths weighed heavily.
The solar generators could last for a couple of generations in space; however when enough water hit them things would start to short out. The generators were never meant to be waterproof, just water resistant. She chewed her lower lip. What if the generators shorted sooner rather than later. Electronic doors would not open. Should she prop the doors open or leave them closed? She hesitated for a moment, thinking to prop the door open with a chair, but the thought of a whiskered cat wandering in out of the rain was enough to check the locks behind her.
“If something big gets in here while I’m collecting items, I’m dead. So unlocked but take out the electrical locks can be manually opened.” She headed to her office first. She sat down, flipping on the computer, experiencing a serious sense of déjà vu of opening Jhen’s computer, causing another moment of hyperventilation. She drove her nails into her thigh to keep from losing it again. “No damn time! Concentrate. Survival first.” A deep breath through her teeth and the pain from her leg refocused her on the tasks at hand.
The computer flared to life. She had disabled the voice program months ago. Having a nanny bot speak was grating enough, having her computer imitate her husband’s voice made her skin crawl.
“Computer list all solar generators in the compound.” She thought for a moment. “Unconnected and connected.” Lauranya started to flip through the monitors for the labs. All the large animals had been put down yesterday. No help there. Would not have been able to house the cheo goats anyway, they were too big both in eating consumption and room for movement. Too bad about the chickens or the rabbits though.
Lauranya stopped her screen on the incubators. The lights were still on. She gave a puff of laughter. The eggs were still viable then. “Computer list the egg types in incubator 1101, 1102 and 1305”.
The screen scrolled through the genetics of eggs listed.
“Chicken, 3 different types listed, over 25 eggs, but only 5 ducks eggs. Cannot fault Tass for wanting to experiment on an actual water based bird. Competent scientist just excellent ass-kisser, just a lousy co worker.” Lauranya rolled her eyes, unconsciously muttering about the well-worn dislike of the scientist. “Crap! Do we have enough food for the chicks? I need to find out.” She tapped her computer again. “Computer, list all feed for chickens and ducks. Also all edible seeds in storage that can be used for crops. Nutrition density seeds first with care instructions.” A tap of her finger on the wooden desk. “Also list soil density needed and soil nutrition needed to maintain with water usage required for maximum growth.” A quirk of her lips. “Though water probably will not be a problem.”
Her fingers tapped on the keyboard without striking hard enough to type as she thought. Lots of water would be available but then moving the water to the plants or even to the building would be an issue. Clean water for her and Arie would be an issue. They would need clean water on tap for both drinking and cooking. Hygiene would be an issue without water as well. The ground floor generators would be drowned in 4-5 weeks that precluded using the ones in place. Lauranya chewed the inside of her cheek, her head starting to hurt. Another stray thought. Medication! What was left? What had the captain and his crew not taken? How was she going to apply what was left? She was not a physician.
“Computer, list all skills needed for …” for what? Surviving a drowning world, being lost without technology or at least limited technology….who was going to fix the broken things? “Breathe damn it. Breathe.” She reached into her pocket. Drat! Her anxiety meds were in her overnight bag, which was still in the concourse at the shuttle port. She took more deep breaths. One-step at a time.
“Waiting for command.” Scrolled across the screen as the computer beeped at her.
She tapped the appropriate keys to keep the beeping at bay. “Computer print all items pertaining to and instructions for growing food plants in a greenhouse type environment…” She stopped mid-sentence a sob breaking free. There were no people, a drowning world, and such a long shot to survive. Would the Gods’ accommodations actually be waterproof or just water resistant? Could she find and grow enough food? Medicine? What would they need for the years, hells the months to come?
This time she did start to cry, burying her head in her hands. Was she even doing the right thing for her daughter? Would it have been better if they had drunk the champagne? The thought of her daughter dead, frothing at the mouth, choked her even more, but the image of what had been done to the others filled her with a fury.
“No! The Dead Gods be damned!” She wiped her eyes angrily. Lauranya clenched a fist. “So mote it be. We will survive!” They would make a go of it at least trying to survive. The practical side of her brain kicked in. In a worst-case scenario, there should be something on hand to slide them gently into death’s arms.
She took a deep cleansing breath and continued to dictate to her computer.
Lauranya stepped into the labs. The computer had listed the edible seeds stock inventory as ¾ full. The planting from the last year had gone amazingly well but this year’s planting had not started. The spring rains had never abated.
There were enough of each seed to plant two acres each and still have seeds to eat. Well, those seeds that could be eaten, she amended. The fruit tree seeds were not going to be edible, no matter how long she boiled them.
She looked in the animal lab wistfully. Camdia had done her job though and had euthanized and disposed of the bodies. The protein would have been useful if not for the strong euthanizing drug in their system, so no salvaging the meat was available.
All four incubators showed green lights. Lauranya grinned, walking up to the incubators to visually confirm the power on green lights were working. Bless Camdia and her forgetful genius! That girl could map out genetic codes on reproduction, but she was absent minded on anything not in her area of specialty.
“Thank you Camdia! May Yemoja, the all mother, hold you close.” Lauranya whispered. She flinched and looked around guiltily if someone overheard her prayer. “No one here but you, woman!” Lauranya shook her head, hissing her breath out between clenched teeth. Her back ached from the last time she had prayed to the forgotten Gods and not the Undead god of her world, and gotten sent to the Overseer for correction.
She touched her ear bud, connected to the computer’s interface. “Computer I will need all growing …raising instructions for chickens and ducks from incubator.” She stopped for a moment looking at the hatching estimate. “One week from hatching to full growth.”
This lead to the next train of thought. “How do you even cook one of these birds?” She spoke into the empty office.
She flinched when the computer responded. “There are over 200 recipes for chickens and ducks.”
“Damn…Never needed to worry about turning off the computer’s voice for the ear bud.” She shook her head, but continued without disconnecting the voice. “At least it is not Tine’s voice. Computer, add all recipes pertaining to chickens and ducks with grains from the seeds listed at this location.” She continued to explore the fowl lab. “Add that to the manual being printed.”
“Would you like recipes for the grains, legumes and root vegetables with the spices on hand?”
“Yes.” She said absently, and then stopped. “Spices on hand?” She queried with a frown.
“The hotel has a rarity of spices on hand. Some of which are in seed or cove from that could be grown for further replenishment of stock.
Lauranya’s mind raced. If they left spices, could the ship crew have left other food stock?
“Computer, is there food stocked in the hotel as well?”
“All lower kitchen food stocks including spices were removed…” The computer started.
“Damn you for raising my hopes.” Lauranya said through clenched teeth, her hands turning to fists at her side. She felt the prickly sensation around her eyes, as tears started to form. She missed the first few words of the computer’s next sentence.
She almost sobbed, whispering instead “Repeat.”
The computer droned on, “However, the upper suitee portion of the hotel is fully stocked with spices and food items. Shall I list all foods and spices on stock?”
Lauranya stopped with her mouth open, and then closed with a snap. “No, wait.” She thought for a second. “How long will the food last one adult and one child? Are the cooking facilities only in the lower portion of the hotel or in the upper portion?”
The computer gave three soft beeps while computing. “The food stocks will last one child and one adult for three years on three meals a day. There are cooking facilities both in the lower and upper portions of the hotel. The upper kitchen is not dependent on the lower kitchen for operations.”
“Computer, can the kitchen cooking facilities be attached to solar generator for use?”
“With the use of one connecting solar power generator, the entire kitchen facility will be operational.”
“What other equipment does the kitchen facility have?”
“Food preparation stations, cooking station, freezer sections and pantry. The pantry and food preparation areas only require lighting for use.”
Why did the captains leave the food? Like here did they just assume the kitchen had not been stocked? All the slaves who had filled the pantry and freezer gone with the first transports off so no-one to correct this assumption.
Lauranya sagged with relief, leaning against the wall. Her hands shook for a moment, and then steadied. Three years they could survive, while she and Arie learned how to raise plants and birds.
Lauranya passed through the labs, confirming no other surprises until she got to the personal offices next to the children’s lab. There she paused for a moment as she heard a high-pitched squeaking, like a rusty wheels spinning repeatedly but un-synched. Lauranya hesitated but followed the noise moving as quietly as she could on the tiled floor.
The sound got louder the closer she got to the far side of the labs. Here she found the second bit of good news in the source of the squeaking wheels. The kids would come in with their parents and given small tasks with personal pet projects. There were eight cages, each cage holding either one rabbit or a rabbit and her litter. There were five singulars and three mothers with litters.
“Yes!” Lauranya gave a small whoop. “Bless you, Camdia, again for not thinking outside your orders.” She leaned close to one of the cages for a better look. Fat and sassy, the six-legged mammals seemed not only well fed but happy to see her. The closest one rolled onto its back with all six legs up and loose, as if asking for a stomach rub, with a toothy grin. This reminded Lauranya of her own pet rabbit before it had been contributed to the family dinner one lean year. “We’ll get back to you eight as soon as I can.” Lauranya promised, with a smile. She checked food and water levels. All seemed to be stocked well enough to last another few days if necessary.
She continued on to the warehouse storage. The warehouse was right behind the labs, with a walkway wide enough to accommodate two lift jacks at one time. The sound of rain beat steadily on the metal roof walkway between the labs and warehouse. Any other time she would have enjoyed the effect of the rain, but now it just drummed out in a staccato pattern that reminded Lauranya she was running out of time.
The concrete had been sealed, leaving the floor shiny and reflective. The overhead lights pierced the gloom, but did not really alleviate the shadowy corners at the ends and at the bottom of the high reaching rows of equipment. Lauranya swallowed. The shadows could hide so many things, and usually nothing good. Taking a deep breath to clear her mind and steady her nerve, she headed deeper into the bowels of the warehouse proper.
The warehouse, even after the ships had cherry-picked the contents, was a vast treasure trove of survival items. She went to the area listed for holding the solar generators. There were four. “Damn you, to the hells!” Lauranya whispered. The computer had listed over thirty. It seemed the various transport crews had helped themselves to the generators as well. Lauranya had to crawl to them, as they had been pushed to the very back wall, of the holding pen. Of the four left, one looked to have been cannibalized for parts, the interior wiring and electronic boards showing through a gaping open panel. The remaining three did not seem to be missing any parts. One was dented slightly on the side, but not serious enough, Lauranya hoped, to be damaging.
Each one weighed 90 lbs. There was no way she was going to get these to the hotel by herself. She stopped for a moment, chewing on her lower lip. “Right. I need moving discs. Now, where the hells are the discs stored?” She muttered to the ghostly silence.
“All frictionless discs are in the first row by the office door, third shelf up. There are also keys to unlock the lifts, and tarps varying from 6’x4’ to 12’x20’.” The computer chirped into her ear, causing Lauranya to jump up startled, smacking her head against the metal shelving row above the generator section.
“You bloody sand wasted piece of…” Lauranya clutched her head, then clenched her jaws, her breath whistling through her teeth in pain.
She crawled out of the pen to locate the discs she needed for moving. The discs were exactly where the computer had stated. She gathered six– two for each generator. The discs did what they were fashioned for, making a heavy load easy to slide over any surface with the touch of a finger. These she moved to the warehouse bay door to the left. She found the barrels with the markings for seed grains.
“Why the hells did you not take these, Captain?” She looked for a forklift to move the grain plastic barrels to the hover lift. “There’s enough here for years of growing…ahh…growing. You need dirt or hydroponics and most small ships will not have those. Only the world ships. And I am betting you didn’t think you could eat those or have room for a growing medium.” She stopped with her hand on the forklift, closing her eyes. “Dirt or hydroponics. How do I grow these now?” she said, realizing the same dilemma that kept the seeds from being stolen in the first place. She shook her head. “Seeds and eggs with power generators. I will find dirt next!”
With her computer’s help and judicial application of machine help for moving equipment and supplies, she spent the next few hours sorting useful from not so useful into sections near the warehouse doors. The most useful items went next to the bay doors, while those not immediately necessary further back from the door. The incubators she would leave until she had a space cleared out in the hotel main floor.
The first trial run of packing the lift, she over-loaded the seed side, causing a tilt on turning. The seeds did a slow tumble to the left, with the solar generators with only a thump.
“Esu!” Lauranya snapped irritably, and then started crying. “No Overseers and I cannot do a single thing right.” She angrily wiped the tears away, pressing her lips into a stubborn line. She straightened her shoulders, with a deep breath. “The road to the end requires many steps.” she whispered her grandfather Savo’s favorite quote. It took her two tries to reload the lift correctly with the heaviest items center middle, picking up the various items that had spilled.
“Doctor Lauranya, I have a problem to report.” The computer chimed into her ear.
“That’s a surprise…?” Her voice was dry in response, as she concentrated on each item’s placement.
“Excuse me, doctor?”
“Nothing. What is the current issue?” Lauranya swallowed her sarcasm.
“The map of the suites shows all rooms to be filled with furniture or bedding. There is no room for your influx of equipment.”
That stopped Lauranya cold. She had not planned on there not being room. “Computer, is there enough space to move the furniture into a room or a set of rooms?”
“Not without much lifting.”
The computer projected a hologram in front of her eyes with the upper floors schematics and furniture.
“Lots of furniture. Inefficient use of space.” She tapped her upper lip with one long finger. More lifting, it looked like. “Well I will have a lift with me.” Another thought. “Computer, keep track of all items I am moving. I will want to move the equipment into the main lobby while moving the furniture into the rooms.”
“Yes, Dr. Lauranya.” The computer intoned.
“Arie and I will take the upper suites and I will fill the lower suite with furniture. Sheets, towels…those will need to be found as well. Cleansing suds for us and clothing. Add that to the list of items to find, computer.”
“All cleaning supplies and fresh linens can be found on the first floor in the laundry rooms. To a lesser extent, there are also cleaning supplies and fresh linens in the laundry room of the upper floor.”
“Oh! Yes that is perfect.” She stood for a moment gathering her thoughts and rearranging the order of items needed to be collected. “Computer add to the list all medical remaining and take notations. I will need to move the supplies to the upper floor, second room from end right. That can be our medical.”
“Acknowledged, Dr. Lauranya.” The computer flashed a holo to her right with the list are ready compiled a line drawn through the warehouse items on the lift.
“Second floor can hold equipment, cables, computer and generators here.” She said pointing to one suite of rooms. Another thought. “Computer, are there discs on the furniture or do they have to be lifted?”
“Final inspection has not been completed by the majordomo, so all furniture items are on frictionless discs.”
She breathed out. “Something going right for the moment. Ok, we will start with the leftover moving items, and I will start arranging furniture over there. Have a list ready with each moved item and their location so I can put them on the moving lift easily and quickly in order of need. Priority to food, generators, medical, and animals. Each moved needs to contain a portion of each.
“Acknowledged, Dr. Lauranya.”
With a shake of her hair, she returned to the task. The lift was loaded without wobbles. She used three tarps to cover the generators and other items from the downpour.
She pulled the lift with her to the bay doors, opening them only a fraction so she could look outside, no whiskered cats in sight. She opened the door, pulling the lift behind her. Once cleared of the door, she reclosed it.
She was soaked to the skin within seconds. She came to realize her office flats would not work after a few feet on the water slick road. She was stumbling, catching herself against the lift, as one foot or the other would slip out from under her on the running water covered concrete. She did not swear at the slips just grateful the water was still running downhill and not pooling around her ankles or higher.
It was a short walk brought to the hotel, but Lauranya kept stopping every few feet to check the lift, not trusting her packing for this first, most important load. What should have been a quick four-minute walk was a good 15 minutes.
Lauranya tried to not think how much more dangerous and time consuming the trips would be when the water was pooling at her feet and rising fast. She concentrated on her footing and breathing pushing her anxiety aside.
The service door was wide enough to hold three lifts at a time and twenty bodies. The door was a palm reader, which had Lauranya worried for about 30 seconds. “Computer have biometrics been set for the Lords building?”
“Not yet, Dr. Lauranya.”
“Ok, let’s give this a try, before I have to gladiator stomp this thing.” She placed her hand on the door. The idea of her trying to kick in the metal door make her smile for a moment. the door plate beeped thrice then opened to let her in.
“Generic hands will open it.” Lauranya was both grateful and appalled at the lack of security. She pulled the lift into the dry service elevator over the rough stone tiles on wet squelching shoes. Cold air blew on her from ceiling air vent, causing shivers.
“Please no key.” She whispered, reaching with shaking hands to hit the upper most floor button. A heartbeat in time, that felt like an eternity, later, the button lit up. The locks had not been set. She leaned her forehead against the smooth steel walls. The service elevator started to move up and music started to play. Soothing classical. Lauranya rolled her eyes at the sporadic touches for the building. The music reminded her to add another list for compilation. They would need music on file.
“Computer, download all music into the hard drives. Duplicate all information requested not just music, no triplicate into multiple files areas.” She shook her head. “Redundancy must have more than one.” Another thought. “All entertaining and educational videos as well.”
“Yes, Doctor.” The computer chirped compliantly.
The ride up gave her the time to chew on her lower lip thinking. Her brain kept turning over the thoughts of what might be missing, like a burrowing rodent tunneling through her brain.
“Shhh…calm…shhhh.” She whispered to herself as she would to Arie. Her hands were shaking so she gripped her upper arms to quell the hands. The hands still trembled but not as badly.
The double doors opened onto the bottom floor aerie suitees entryway. Even with her anxiety spiking, Lauranya stopped and stared. The entryway was the size of the lab building. The windows stretched from floor to ceiling, showing a grey drenched view with rain streaked glass. The stone floor was muted sandstone pavers, covered with natural fiber rugs in geometric patterns in floral and mechanical interwoven. The overstuffed couches were in dark brown and red colored leather. Lush and luxurious furniture and materials, and Lauranya had to move it all.
She set the grav lift to the side and went to explore the rooms to assess the extent of moving that she would need to do in the hours of the day remaining.
Brother shook the rain from his fur futilely, stretching his front paws out and back legs up. His tail curling to the side, the tip of his tail twitching, never still. He gave a yawn. The assignment to watch the colonists had been tedious at best; however the rain made it an assignment to detest. However, it was needed. So here, he sat watching the others living and now their leaving.
The colonists had taken longer than expected to realize their settlement was in a low-lying area. This past week had been the most exciting to watch vaguely. Like watching neon-ants scattered when their pebble mounds were kicked open, lots of motion and hand waving, sometimes even fights. The men and women with the whips had taken the first three shuttles out, with many of the others in tow. After that, the loading of passengers and items had gone slower and somewhat smoother. There was no more scent of blood and fear.
Brother, watched, captivated by the dichotomy of the family units. He had seen pale skinned parents with children of much darker pigmentation or the opposite. Some parenting unites were made up of one light and one dark with their children either dark or light. In his one hundred and fifty years, he had seen fair parents produce fair children and darker parents produce darker children. Children with parents of light or darker skin usually had a combination somewhere in between. For the colonists, there did not seem to be the norm. Brother’s curiosity was piqued. There had to be a reason for the unusual genetic combinations unfortunately it wasn’t as if he could approach one of the colonists and ask how this happened. It was as if nature had been denied her normal randomness to follow an unknown but set law of genetics at someone else’s’ behest.
Brother was looking forward on riffling through any books or notes left behind. Sister and the council wanted to know why the Dead Gods had come here and if they would be coming back. Brother just had his curiosity to settle. He shook his ruff again and settled into a slightly more comfortable position on an uphill brush covered vantage point.
The last shuttle was leaving today. He saw the last of the men women and children start to bring out their bags, handing them off to the men and a few women of the ship. He flicked an ear as he saw the bags tossed to the side. Every other loading he had seen the bags had been thrown into the ship, but not this one. An odd thing. And odd things should be watched closely. Therefore, he watched and waited.
There was a steady stream of people entering the shuttle port, in twos and threes, some family units with children, other’s single adults. He watched the last two people outside, one small child jumping into puddles whose infectious laughter even from where he as camouflaged, her blond hair in wet tangles down her cherub cheeks. She tried to outrun her mother with squeals the howls of outrage at being caught but the slender woman with matching green eyes and longer blond hair in the same sun streaked shade as her daughter. The captured child’s howls cut off as they entered into the port.
Brother waited patiently for the ship to take off so he might start to examine the works left behind. Ten minutes passed when the odd happened. The woman with the small child came running out of the port. She stopped for a moment looking around frantically before darting to the non-living facilities. Brother stilled, including the tip of his tail. The ruff on his spine starting to rise at the smell of fear and fresh blood reached him faintly.
Moments later, men and women boiled out of the shuttle port, running to the living quarters. There was hand waving and yelling for a few minutes then those who had stormed the living quarters came back out grim faced and empty-handed returning to the shuttle port. Within minutes, the shuttle took off.
Brother slipped from the brush, eeling under wet bushes and chin high native plants, careful not to disturb the forest floor detritus, making no sound as he went to step on to the concrete grid worked roads.
He went to the shuttle pad first. Something had happened here. Something unusual. Between one-step and the next, he shifted from a large feline four footed shape to his human two. Clothing did not shift so he stood naked at the entrance of the shuttle building. The doors opened as swiftly for him as any colonist; however it was the smell that made him recoil a half step, shaking his head. Even in his human skin, Brother could smell 20 times better than his non-shifting companions of two legs. Here he smelled Death, and it had come neither gentle nor kindly.
He walked through the glass covered vegetation area first. No death, only plants dying slowly. Yet the scent accompanying Death’s was not that of decaying vegetation but an almost overwhelming chemical smell of things not natura,l emanated from the floors wall-to-wall seamless rug. He walked on this rug, soft on bare feet yet there as a slightly crunchy texture underfoot to the carpet.
He sniffed the air, turning towards a door to the right, pushing it open. A small death in this room. A man with pulped facial bones. Not an easy death but the killer was desperate by the looks of the wounds and the man unprepared for the violence that befell him. He sniffed the air. Blood, feces and the scent of a woman and a child. The blond woman, Brother thought. There was nothing else of interest in the room where human waste was deposited, as softly as he had entered, Brother slipped back out.
The next door to open was on the right and most of the death smells emanated from this room. Brother opened this door cautiously, fearing a trap. The door opened easily if messily. The pulled skin and muscle with much blood, from one small girl’s hand, slicking the tan room rug so the door slid easily was the first sight that greeted him. The multiple bodies with self-inflicted death wounds or foaming mouths were the first hint of poison.
Brother walked gingerly over the dead to the table filled with empty bottles and the remains of various food items. Not touching anything laid out, he leaned his head over to sniff a small cookie. He wrinkled his nose and sneezed at the amount of poison lacing the treat. A growl broke from his throat. Poison, a coward’s tool.
With narrowed eyes, he slipped from this room back to the foyer, only to freeze feet from the door. He dropped to the floor, crawling behind a container of plants raising only his head to observe. The blond woman with the small child was exiting from the building across the way. Her main hand held her daughter’s hand as she furtively looked around ready to jump out of her skin at the slightest sounds. Her other hand carried a blanket, oddly bulky. She and the child hustled into the building where most of the others had lived.
Brother watched, the door close behind her, thinking. She would know why these people were dead and why she had fled from the ship that would have taken her off the drowning world. However, was it worth her knowing about the islanders or guessing about the sea dwellers? Should he offer her the island for sanctuary?
His sister’s voice came unbidden to mind. “Observe…do not interfere.” Brother let out a soft growl, shaking dark waving hair in irritation. If he had been on four feet, his tail would be lashing. He did not like letting the helpless die, but he would not interfere in the Torch’s orders. It was important. Even if he knew there was no way the two could survive on their own.
Brother slid to the non-living quarters building, searching for a way in. The doors would not open. He searched his memory of watching the normal day to day activity. Everyone who had entered had used a small rectangular item. He jogged back to the shuttle port and the room of the dead. He searched the bodies finding a couple of small rectangular cards that matched his memory for those entering the other building.
He slipped out of the shuttle port checking for signs of the blond woman and child, the whiskered cats weren’t likely to be moving this way, yet. Yet being the key word. He trotted back to the other building, sliding the card in the sideways motion observed. The doors slide apart with a woosh and push of cold air.
He glided along well-worn carpet of unnatural fiber, rougher on his bare feet than the shuttle port carpet, though soft enough his footsteps made no sound. He moved around desks and offices looking for paper or odd notes that might help answer questions from the islanders, either belaying fears of preparing for an invasion.
Brother made a face. The islanders had a few of the disc guns left and two of the cannon’s left from the ship, but they all knew the outcome if the Dead Gods really wanted them. The only ones who might survive would be the water shifters or himself as he blended in with the native wildlife. Parents would slit throats of their children and their own before allowing capture back to the life of a slave.
He didn’t know how to log onto a computer but he had been briefed on what to look for. The small memory sticks that held precious data.
Grenich could probably open the files. The old Silver could work wonders on electronics. He had asked Brother to keep an eye out for the small half circle pull tabs, showing him what they looked like either inserted or laying out on desks and in drawers. Those he found, were placed these in a small plastic bag, gleaned from another desk. Keyma had the tube to actually hold anything of interest and electronic for the trip back.
Grenich had been very emphatic about keeping the discs dry. Brother winced at the remembered pain of a pointed finger from the Silver’s three fingered hand driving into his chest, leaving small crescent cuts at how the pull tabs were to be kept dry at all cost. Brother had gotten the impression that Grenich’s threat to skin him had not been in jest.
Brother had found over a dozen when he stopped between offices with a disgusted look on his face as a sudden thought made him stop dead in his tracks and he thunked his head into a near wall. The sound carried slightly farther than his voice
“The dead, just like the cards. I’ll need to go back to the shuttle port.” His voice was quiet but no less chagrined in the empty hall. He rolled his eyes at his own oversight of the obvious. He continued searching through the offices, leaving the shuttle port for the last place he searched.
“I don’t think I’ll tell Sister about this.” The chagrin in his voice quiet in the empty hall
A quarter of the way through he stopped. He heard a door open, so distant from his current position that even his elevated hearing heard the noise but softly. Brother dropped the rapidly filling pouch onto the floor to shift to his four footed form. He picked the pouch up in his mouth, silently padding back down the way he had come to observe.
He heard the woman’s voice before he saw her. “No damn time! Concentrate…survival first.” A deep breath sucked in through her teeth. Brother listened two doors down from the office she was in as she talked to herself. He could smell both fear and sorrow from her but her voice held determination. He could hear her listing what she needed and could hear what the computer chirped into her ear. The computer’s voice was very mechanical in syntax even though it was a good mimic of person, like Horran’s computer on the island.
When the woman left her office to go to the warehouse, Brother followed behind hiding on soft padded feet in the shadows, lurking in the hallways and under desks, making no more noise than fur rubbing against a wall. She never looked back so engrossed on her survival tasks.
He watched her load up her lift the first time, seeing the imbalance, he had wanted to shift and help her load it correctly but stifled that thought. He watched as she broke down as the lift tumbled down, then wipe her eyes and stick out her chin in the most stubborn way and clench her jaw unconsciously.
Brother chortled to himself as she picked everything up and reloaded the lift with far more care this time.. The woman was a fighter. If there was a chance to survive she would exceed that slim chance and excel.
Brother stopped following her when she left the warehouse, melting back into the shadows to finish his search in the other offices and labs. He had seen the results when Sister’s visions and comments had been ignored. The persons usually brought about mayhem by doing what they had been told not to. Brother knew if he helped the woman something would break the threads for her tenuous survival and possibly the islanders as well. As much as it went against his desire to help, he would not break that thread.