Three weeks later, 79 docked in the Standards. The repairs had gone well and they’d had their thinned forest skimming mechs checked and tweaked a little bit. It looked like they were going to be paid more for this trip than they’d thought after having lost two passengers, though they had less compensation for repairs than they'd like. The crew was pleased, but Talain minded the date. He always had to be on the lookout for certain tides; today might be one of them.
At the moment he was in the Ponto, in one of the large rooms just below the surface of the white, gray, and occasional silver contraption usually referred to as an abomination when out of earshot. If Talain had them, he would have raised hackles every time he came close to the Ponto.
They had an extensive, complicated training chamber, though; something to keep him occupied while the paperwork went through for the prisoners, the escape, and the repairs so they could get their paycheck. He hit the thick gorko-like cylinder in front of him with bare fists and feet.
He was so preoccupied with the date and trying to figure out ways to use his harvostaroj to his advantage in battle that it took him several minutes to register his knuckles had started bleeding and half the cylinder was gone. He swore quietly and moved on to the obstacle course, running a hand through his too-long hair that remained muddy, wanting to cut it and needing to wash it.
Talain’s mind worked even more so than usual (it was overly thoughtful when he wasn’t working.)
Any good psychic would only be able to pick up the occasional word from his thoughts, there were that many of them going on all at once. In his country, at least, no one was afraid of a psychic. Most psychics were polite enough not to listen in, and any known psychic was marked with a symbol of their choice derived from a triangle after about nineteen jaroj, though that was world-known. Usually the mark was on their face or the back of their hands. Some psychics didn’t get their markings, though— they were generally untrustworthy or so well-known they didn’t need the markings.
All any psychics would have caught from Talain would make little sense to them if they didn’t know him personally. Hound... big... why not me?... Moons... red, red...unhelpful...
He got to the end, jumped off an awkward wall of rock and jogged in place-- he’d landed wrong, his ankles and knees getting much of the shock.
"Your hands are still bleeding," Ferlinik said, pushing herself off the base of the rocks. Her arms were crossed and she looked almost amused.
Talain stopped jogging, “I know.”
“Why not bandage them?”
“I do not bandage myself with every skrape.”
"You are not clever.” Ferlinik uncrossed her arms and stepped forward; her features softened. “You just shouldn't overwork yourself, Talain.”
“Why?" he asked. "Why not? I am stronger for it," he said, carefully talking in something more like what he’d heard as her native dialect. He never knew where it came from, but he guessed a peninsula in the north.
“If you think getting an infection is going to make you stronger... you are wrong," she added. "You aren't clever for subjecting yourself to more pain. You aren't smart for making yourself bleed and then ignoring the red. You must take care of yourself, just as they teach outside of the Bridge. If only you remembered the advice you surely had before coming here."
Talain grew defensive. "But I remember nothing."
"No. You remember things your mind tells you you should remember. You remember how to fight, how to defend, how to speak, how to run, how to act in social situations—most of the time. You remember you aren't supposed to let anyone know who you are, and that is the hardest wall for you to climb.“
"You are not one to judge that, Yellow Woman," Talain hissed.
Ferlinik crossed the short distance to where Talain stood, harvostaroj curled at his sides and hands linked behind him. She put her hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eyes, reaching out to hold one of his harvostaro with her own. Talain startled; most people didn't get this close to him. Her harvostaro seemed so fragile, Talain noted.
"You do not remember the advice of people like your parents, but you remember the sins. You do not remember the name of your ancestors, but you remember what you are, your own name. Your memory seems selfish." Talain was silent, eyes wide and body tense. Ferlinik sighed. Too far, she thought. "Come, why don't we eat? I won't bandage your hands, but at least let me clean them. There is soup in the 56 barracks."Talain didn't move for a moment; then he leapt noisily over some equipment, going north. To the 56 barracks.
Ferlinik glanced at the spot on the floor left behind by Talain's bleeding hands. She lifted her gaze to the east for a short time before calmly walking after Talain, walking around equipment and obstacles. She shook her head and walked past Talain, who was trying to hang off a metal bar with his harvostaroj, but fell off.
"Walking trees..." he muttered. He rubbed his hands over the sore areas and followed Ferlinik.
Niki pinched Talain's arm and he recoiled. "Ow! What was that for?"
"You haven't flinched the entire time I've been bandaging you. I had to make sure you were still in there." Talain glared daggers while she finished wrapping his hands in a soft cloth that slipped until you got it damp with gasha honey, which Niki had in a bowl by her elbow.
They were in the 56 barracks and most of the crowd had either gone to the bunks or to a night shift. Ferlinik had asked for soup and gorko to be warmed until they could eat it without getting blood everywhere. The man she spoke to nodded but looked ready to spit in her food if she hadn't been so polite but commanding at the same time.
Ferlinik didn't hold a high ranking with anyone on La Ponto, but her natural air of motherly command seemed to get to everyone well enough that she didn't need a high rank to be heard. Finishing up with Talain she went and got the soup and gorko from the man, who left as she was thanking him.
"Must have had a long shift," Talain said.
"No doubt. I think one of the other food-workers must have been a spy or something; usually they have short shifts of giving out food, and longer ones of preparing them, which they only tire of if they somehow got into food-working by mistake."
Food-working was a little-known profession, as most people tended to make their own food when they so felt it and families didn't assign roles like that in La Standardoj. Food-workers held a special talasorcxado that let them prepare food easier and better than another person. The trouble with food-working was that some people had to make food even without having that skill, even and maybe especially at La Ponto.
Talain immediately carved a ball of orange gorko out of the box he was given and plunked it in his soup. The broth's surface moved slowly; the soup was cold. Talain had dealt with worse, however, and so had Ferlinik, though she still turned her fingers up at how poor a job had been done keeping it heated up.
“Do ya think Majk’s talaŝorcado is hunting? He never seems to tire, that’s for sure,” he asked. He stirred the disintegrating gorko into the rest of his soup and chewed on another piece from the gorko-box.
Ferlinik took a gulp of water from her flask. They’d run out of water on the way back fromUVabout three days from shore and Majk nearly was poisoned by trying to stick his head out and drink skywater. “Maybe. That would be a sad talent to have, though, don’t you think? The talent to find, to kill.”
Talain said nothing. If he had any talent at all, magic or not, it was probably that of hunting. He’d tried other things while in other ports, trying to learn from those peoples he didn’t know as far as he knew. No such luck. The closest he’d gotten to finding a talent was building houses without using stone, a common skill, but unremarkable in his hands. He did find out the use of a nail close at hand, though, and kept one in an apron or pocket when he wasn’t alone with the crew.
Talain thought about the kinder woman who’d first joined their crew. Off the ship, he still thought of her as a mother to all instead of his inferior. “Ferlinik, why’d you become a helmono ĉasisto?”
She paused in putting away her flask. Then, finishing the task, she tapped her harvostaroj lightly on the table—something she did because of Talain’s reluctance to have ‘useless appendages,’ though of her own accord.
“I felt like I had to. For my landon. For the sake of keeping the peace, whatever there is left of it… I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t subject again to some… bad things.”
“Bad things?” he asked. He began eating slower, less hungry than he’d been before. Besides, the gorko was dry by itself and needed to be chewed slowly. He rubbed the short bridge of his nose, up to where it ended halfway to his eyes, when Niki started talking again.
“There’s a star out there, somewhere, that has what we have and doesn’t care. The wonder of the universe so big, and yet we have all this hate…” she said, seemingly to herself. Then she looked Talain in the eyes. “I’m older than I look. Years ago I was taken from a hateful place into a loving one. Before that it was one prison to the next. I couldn’t defend myself. I didn’t know I could, it had been like that since I was about eighteen and I still don’t understand why. Before that I’d lived with my sister.
“We took care of ourselves and didn’t interfere much in the lives of the city we lived near. We’d exchange foods from our garden for clothes in good seasons, and crafts we made for food in the bad ones.”
“Bad seasons?” Talain interrupted around a mouthful of soggy gorko. He’d tried manners before. They were disregarded on the account of having no use whatsoever to him.
“When my sister couldn’t get the garden to grow into food, or when one of us got sick for too long and we couldn’t take care of it all— whenever we couldn’t make as much food as we needed to eat.”
Talain nodded and let her continue. “Her talasorcado, in case you hadn’t figured it out, was gardening. I didn’t think I had a talent, though people sometimes looked at me funny when I talked in the town.
“One day, though, they took me away from my older sister. And then they tried to burn me while I was forced to sleep naked in the slavo of some cold cellar. Somebody stopped them, but it wasn’t me.” Ferlinik shook her head, as if to shake the memories from the surface. “I wish I’d been able to stop them. So I’m here at the bridge now.”
“Was one day jaroj after you’d been separated? Did you see your sister again?”
Ferlinik looked at the table. That was answer enough.
Before the chuckles could die about Majk possibly having an “extra child” to visit when he got back, Talain threw out a jab aimed at Fredi, the one who’d made the quip.
“What about you, Fredi, what’ll you do with the two months you won’t have to be zipping us around after vagabonds and miscreants?
“I’ll tell ya what, I’ll do five things: sleep, look for a wife, sleep, learn some flight magic and sleep some more!” There was even more roars of laughter. They’d all had a bit of purging syrup an hour or so before and were in high spirits as they felt their systems being cleansed and restored.
“You do that, Fredi. I thinkImight be the only one who has a goal he can accomplish here—“
“Now wait a minute, we haven’t heard Talain’s plans yet. What are you going to do?” Fredi said.
Talain stopped to consider for a moment. Then he said, in all seriousness, “I want to find a freshwater oasis.”
There was a pause, then the other two men started laughing again. “Right,right,Talain, you’re gonna find freshwater—onwhatplanet? You know water has to go through the trees, right? You didn’t forget that?” Fredi croaked.
Talain thought that there must be some other factor besides the purging syrup making Fredi act like that when he said, “You’ve heard about the theories about it collecting somewhere, haven’t you?” To change the subject, he added, “Where’s Niki, anyway?”
Majk, also sensing that Fredi wasn’t all there that night, made a grab at the subject change. "Who knows? She's probably buying yellow dye and flowers and perfume, for all we know."
"I think yellow perfume would be piss, Majk.”
Fredi grunted, but stayed silent.
"That would explain what she'd be doing during off-shift, now, wouldn't it?"
Talain waited until Fredi and Majk were drinking before he added, "She pisses into cups."
Grinning, Talain instructed them that they'd have to clean up the spatters themselves, as he had business to take care of. Spluttering, Majk tried to say something about Talain's many mistresses. He didn't deny or confirm that, as usual, and just slipped out into the night air.