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.”