Friday, May 25, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 16. The Life Lottery Intake

Amazingly, the EMBer women released their captives as they had promised when the EMBer man herded Jack and me onto the plank-way. They were that honourable.

We—I’m sure Jack was too—were looking for escape straight away. I thought we would run and jump over the boats alongside, maybe. But there was still the same crowd probably being herded from the boats by the same, if weary, green-clads. Nowhere to run.

“We will be all right,” Jack muttered.

Hen stood alongside us with her on the boat, us on the plank-way. “You’re strong, Kosi. Follow Jacqui, she knows the byways.”

“That’s enough of the good advice,” one of the EMBer women said. “And call the boy by his proper name. He is Ozymandias O’Loughlin, heir of his House.”

Ozymandias! Poor Jack. No wonder he changed his name. I sneered at the EMBer’s complicated hair-do of golden hair. Totally un-soldier-like.
She stepped forward and gripped my arm. “Bene. Lydia. You look after the boy.”

Bene and Lydia presumably stepped to Jack’s sides and took his arms. How would we get away? The man collapsed the stick and holstered the taser.

“Best foot forward,” Jack said.

“No need for cheekiness. Your House needs you,” said the man.

You’re out here. And being an EMBer no less,” Jack said.

“My House has three heirs,” the man said bitterly.

Jack laughed. “Poor diddums.” He sobered. “The Fetcher House owns my loyalty and nothing can change that.”

I listened with only half an ear. The things happening around us were by far the more important. The boats alongside showed signs—abandoned clothes, food containers and even the odd shoe—that they’d been pressed into service for over-night camping.

We reached the tail end of the green-clads. An old one-stripe soldier juggling a tablet and stylus dropped back. “This has got to be Kosi Lionhair? She matches her headshot. We have her listed as travelling with us?”

“That can’t be right, er um Corporal,” said the golden-haired EMBer. “She was sentenced yesterday by the Family Court. Three years hard labour in the service of her father.”

Hard labour in my father’s control? Worse and worse. I trod on Jack’s heels to get his attention. We had to get going!

He warned me with a look over his shoulder. He hissed. “Keep track of what’s going on!”

Huh? “What I was doing?” I tried to remember what passed between him and the EMBers. But I couldn’t concentrate on them now quibbling about my future.

“Her father cheated his urb,” said Corporal Fussy. “He has three supernumerary children. We’ll take this one out of circulation at least.”

A fly-car screamed out of the west. I turned with it following the curve that ended with it hovering over the plank-way behind us before delicately setting down. The plank-way sank only about another five centimetres.

Behind it again, very quietly, very slowly, Hen’s boat drifted away from the jetty. Hen was at an upright wooden wheel at the back. She turned the wheel by pulling at the spokes. It was the way she steered the boat. I remembered her stories about her house-on-a-boat. I hadn’t believed them. I swallowed down the sudden gob in my throat. She was taking Du, another of Father’s supernumerary children, to safety.

Then she waved, her arm moving to and fro. She seemed to be saying, “Go well, Kosi Lionhair.” I nodded. Not that she’d able to see my expression.

A lone green-clad stepped from the fly-car. You could tell she was a chief. She wore three gold stripes on each of her shoulders and a temper everywhere else. She strode at groups and lines as if they didn’t exist and for her they didn’t, because everyone in her path moved aside.

“Is this the Life Lottery Intake?” she asked a green-clad who looked skittishly at the Embers in our party.

The green-clad chief hissed and strode on toward Corporal Fussy. She started her tirade before the corporal could salute. “Why are you arguing? EMBers are nothing to us. And why are you still here? We missed our place in the elevator queue. The clock is ticking. We’re contracted for this delivery.”

Anybody could see the new personage wouldn’t stand to be crossed, and that the corporal stood up for herself against the wrong person.

“I’ve been trying to fill our quota,” the corporal said. “You told me no fewer than a thousand. You told me it’s not the last sweep, so to do it properly. That that would give us the best chance for more work.”

The chief looked at Jack, me, and at the four EMBers. “These six should make us our quota.” She waved a hand.

The nearest green-clad personnel obediently enclosed our group. Our EMBers looked bemused as if this wasn’t happening. A mere misunderstanding they seemed to be signalling with their eyes. Didn’t put me at my ease.

“But Captain, the rules!” the corporal dared to say.

Or she really really wasn’t thinking. Because out of the frying pan into the fire? Or maybe she had her fate picked out and she just needed the captain to seal it? And was that the case with the EMBers as well?

The captain hissed again. “We should’ve been embarking them this morning. You’re stood down!” Next, she rattled out a bunch of instructions. “Secure these EMBers. Take their weapons, if any!”

The EMBers released Jack and me like hot cakes to fend off the green-clads jumping into action.

“Ah. A taser. I’ll have that,” the captain said. “Call down the transporters and get this mob boarded finally!”

Jack grabbed my hand. We dived into the crowd. I think he hoped to get to the front and up some handy backstairs into the Fetcher House.

The crowd gave us not a centimetre to manoeuvre. Every person in it hated the green-clads with growls and hissing and heat. Their anger just about cooked me. We were crushed among them like anchovies in a barrel, being moved by and with them into one of the standing-room-only transporters.

We managed only to stay together. I hung onto Jack like a limpet as Hen used to say when she had to disentangle me from her before she went home. When I was seven. And Du is only five now. So, what I’m doing here—whatever that will turn out to be—is being a good big sister.

Just got to make it come out good for Jack and me as well.

I pointed my chin at the ceiling and shouted. “Breathe in everybody, couple of kids coming through!” The surprise of it worked. I dragged Jack with me until he got the idea. Most people get skinnier and taller when they breathe in, giving us some room to move.

We popped out near an Emergency Exit.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 15. On Hen's Boat

When I woke the room was dark with a finger-thick torch beam flashing around. “Who’s there?” I whispered.

“Zee,” she said, pointing the torch beam at her own face. Wet.

From crying, rain, or had she been in the river? 

“What’s going on?” Jack said out of the dark near me.

“A bunch of EMBers turned up,” Zee said. “Bounty hunters.” She swallowed a sob.
“They’re up on the deck, holding Hen and Rokha. Your father was awarded 3 years of your labour in return for the 30,000 credits you stole from him,” Zee said, sounding … spiteful?

“The EMBers will free Hen and Rokha when they get you, Kosi,” she added like she’d decided something.

I sat up in a hurry. My head connected to the ceiling, thunk. “Ouch! I only took a hundred credits!” My heart thudded nearly in my throat. Zee seemed to be saying I should just go and give myself into the EMBers’ hands?

“Thirty thousand is probably what it cost your father to hire Hen,” Jack said. “You’re trying to influence her, Zee. Unfair. What about me?”

“Rokha reminded them that you’re a licensed Fetcher.”

“Hurry up, girl,” a stranger called from the deck.

“You all have already decided what my mind has got to be?” I said. I trembled hard enough that the bunks shook. Thankfully Du did not wake up.

“Not me,” Jack said. He put his hand on my arm to keep me company. “But Zee is Hen’s daughter in the same way that you are. And she went with Hen to find Du,” he said softly.

I cried. “How could I help not being there?”

Hen said what you decide to do is up to you alone,” Zee said grudgingly.

Typical Hen, I thought. Always training me for my future. Behind me, Du slept on, snuffling like a little rabbit into the pillow. My little sister, too young to live without Hen.

I got my voice steadied. “I’m glad we went to bed with our clothes on.” Even Zee, though she was years older than me, was apparently was too young to live without Hen.

I swung onto the ladder and pulled my pillow around in front of Du to stop her rolling over the edge of the bunk.

“Here’s mine,” Jack said, shoving it across.

“You’re not going as well?” Zee said. She sobbed. “Everyone will give me hell.”

“It’s my decision as we just said,” Jack said. “Kosi has got a much better chance of getting away with me there. A Fetcher will always know more byways than the uppity Earth Maintenance and Base engineers. And I have studied the byways diligently, as you will know.”

Zee stayed in the bunkroom to be with Du when she woke. “Go up the forward ladder-stair. Maybe you won’t be grabbed as you come out of the hatch.”

Jack went first. 

Two of the EMBers were women. One each held Hen and Rokha. The lone man threatened us with a taser on a stick.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 14. Being a Big Sister

Du ushered us through a door under a ladder-stair. She took her thumb out of her mouth long enough to say, “This way into the kitchen.”

Jack frowned my smile at Du’s self-importance from my face. “This is the forward ladder to the forward deck,” he said, maybe to make up.

Plugged up again, Du silently pointed out the sink, stove and fridge all in a row along the left.

I gazed over the long narrow window over the top, covered with a strip of yellow fabric. Small door in the nose of the boat. At the right, a U shaped bench around a table. Yellow tea-towel cloth serving as tablecloth lay diagonally across the tabletop. A single decorative object in the middle. A matching tea towel curtained window.

The sink was deep. The stove was enclosed in a cage presumably so that pots and pans couldn’t fall off when the boat was moving. A fridge next to that. I laughed inside because Hen had described her house to me, without me knowing, in a story. I puzzled about the curtains here and in the front room. Hen hated shutting out the sky.

Oh yes. The boat was tied up along the plank-way. “The curtains are so people can’t see in?”

“I reckon,” Jack said. “What we’re going to do now is … um … have some supper. You two sit at the table and I’ll see if I remember everything. You tell me if I don’t, Du.”

I slid onto the bench. This kitchen was how I knew it was Hen’s place. She loved plain and everything in its place. One decorative object to meditate on, in this case a bit of grainy wood in the middle of the table. I blinked and blinked. I couldn’t cry, I had found her again when she wasn’t mine anymore.

Then I thought, silly me. I remembered one of Hen’s mottos. I let the rest of my tears slide down inside me, down my throat. People belong to themselves first and foremost. Hen belongs to herself. Something she would be telling Du before long.

Du climbed up beside me. “First the placemats,” she said.

“You find them,” Jack said. “Three places.”
“We’re eating alone?” I said.

“We’re together,” he said with a look toward Du counting out placemats from a purpose-made slot in the bench-back. “I’ll tell you later.”

“Later alligator,” Du said, sitting back down and sliding the placemats in place. “Spoons? For soup?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Jack said. “Boat is lying still,” he explained. He found a jar of soup in the refrigerator. Was there always soup, I wondered? He poured it into a pot on the stove. Lit a place underneath the pot with a real flame.

“A blue flame! I never saw fire except for a yellow candle flame,” I said. “What’s it burning?”

“Some kind of gas, in a really really strong steel bottle kept under the stove.”

Du dug in my ribs with a pointy finger. “Soup bowls,” she said.


“Soup bowls, in the seat back. Show you?” she offered.

I kneeled up on the seat. Du was there before me, walking on the seat. She put her finger in a hole in the panelling and lifted it. A deep purpose-made box held the bowls. I handed her three, one by one. Slotted the panel back. The whole back of the seat held compartments. Each panel had on it an image of the thing it contained.

Jack poured luke-warm soup into our bowls. He shrugged, glancing at Du. It couldn’t be too hot, he meant. I was so hungry I didn’t care. Only that it had real baby carrots in it. “Where …?”

Jack shook his head.

Probably he thought I was going to ask where Hen was. “Where does Hen get these carrots from?” I said.

“From the boat market,” Du said. “The boats come from a long long way where they grow things. And where the ducks are.” Her mouth trembled.

Jack hissed.

I nodded. Guilty as charged. I’d have to try harder to be a nice big sister. “What about a drink?” I said. “Are there cups for water in this seat?”

Du brightened. She leapt up and handed me cups, one by one, as she got them from a further slot.

Washing up was more of the same with Du putting everything back, one by one. Jack took us to the bathroom. “You’re sisters. Get yourself ready for bed.”
Very crafty.

“Shower-baths are not in my routine,” Du said primly.

Hen-and-Du already had a routine? The envy-animal in me licked its lips with a green tongue. How many days since Hen found her? I pressed the envy-animal down.
“What about you show me your routine?” I helped her wash her face and hands the way Hen used to help me. Washed my own. Borrowed Du’s toothbrush.

Jack had the bunkroom door open. “I’m thinking it would be better for anyone coming in late, like Zee and Rokha, if we all slept on the top bunks. Du near the wall of the boat, you in front of her. It’s quite wide, that bunk. I’ll go at right angles to you. Near your head. To talk,” he mouthed at the end. 

Du stopped complaining when Jack said of course no undressing, and guided her up the ladder. I followed her up and arranged her pillow. Jack went to the bathroom. I made myself comfortable to wait.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Kosi Lionhair: 13. Hen's House

Houseboat by
The narrator, upon searching for images of houseboats, discovered she favours vintage Dutch barges. Probably because they featured in the stories of her childhood, and even stayed over in a leaky barge that was kept on land.  

“This one,” Jack said.

I started running because I saw Hen with a small person clinging to her side. “Du?” I called, planning where I’d put my feet once I was on the deck. I couldn’t fall now.

Hen and Du stood in the shadows under an awning in the middle of a deck crowded with stuff. Coils of rope. Sausages of rolled up fabric (sails?) Bits and pieces of all kinds of materials.

Jack pulled at my shirt. Same handful. “Watch it,” he said.

I looked where he pointed. The edge of the plank-way trembled under my feet. Next step was in a gap a metre wide. Dark green water. “Deep?”

“You bet. That black siding is the hull of the boat. We need to get on board over there.” He led, dragging me by my hand as though I was the little sister. I promised both him and me silently, only where boats and water are concerned, Jacqui-Jack.

A walkway connected the plank-way with the boat’s side. Our feet thumping onto the walkway vibrated the walkway. We jumped down on a plank deck, thud, which vibrated under me with a deeper note. I walked toward Hen, didn’t run, there was just too much unfamiliar gear on the deck.

Hen pulled me and Jack under the tent with her. Hugged me. “I’m so very happy to see you, Kosi Lionhair!”  She hugged Jack. “You’re a champion, Jack Fetcher!”
Jack grinned.

The little person, who was Du, pulled at Hen’s clothes. “Me! Me am a champion too?” she said.

Hen dropped one hand from hugging me and cupped and stroked Du’s head. “You too, my lovely. This is your sister Kosi. Remember me telling you about her?”

Du stuck her thumb in her mouth and looked at Jack and me like we were invaders.
“Down the ladder-stair, you three,” Hen said. “Jack, show Kosi where to put her feet. And, Jack? Please take Du. I need to talk with Rokha and Zee. Maybe even cast off and put out into the river.”
Still the same Hen. Good at conveying an emergency without saying so. Well, it had been an emergency the whole time since Jack and I dived through that crowd on Level 1. How could that affect us out here?

Du started struggling in Jack’s arms as soon as we all heard the hatch above us close. She actually whined, something I’d never heard her do before. “Hen! I want Hen!”

“Miz Henry is busy, it sounds like.” Jack cupped a hand around his ear to listen better.

I did the same and listened too. So did Du in the end, thumb still in her mouth.

Two pairs of footsteps arrived running along the plank-way. Splash-ash. Splash-ash. Splash-ash. Two voices. Rokha and Zee speaking in quick short murmured sentences.

“Did you warn the rest of the boats?” Hen said. Her voice as clear as if she stood next to us. 

Jack pointed at a vent on the wall among a dozen pictures of all kinds of places and things. With a glance I recognized a couple that Hen brought to the Tween House for me to borrow, the waterfall with trees and plants and mosses surrounding it, and the scary cactus in a sandy desert. Hen’s voice was calm. Zee was nervous, with quick spurts of murmured words.

“Jack,” said Jack’s BigEar. He turned away to talk.

I recognised Rokha’s voice. I looked around the room, like an Aladdin’s cave, with coloured cloths hanging from the walls, over chairs, and one rich red fringed rug draped over a table just the same as the meal-time table in the Tween House.

“My cubby,” Du said, seeing where I looked. She dropped to her knees and crawled under the table. Sat there staring at me through the fringing. Glowering. Finally lying back on a couple of cushions, like a princess. But staring me gone.

And there were the framed prints. A kangaroo. A pair of galahs. Also statuettes, also of animals, and the tableaus. They were the little trays with a scene to take apart and build up again. I looked for the little space elevator. 

Hen had so many of the little scenes, I realised now, that some had to be stored in boxes on shelves. And one wall was all shelves. But overflow stuff stood on every surface, at the edges of the floor, on the table. Dress-up things hung from the ceiling and the walls. Loops of calico bunched things and bows of silk frottage tied them to make a passage through for walking among all the gear.

I smiled, despite the flavour of emergency in the air. This room resembled the disaster in Hen’s stories that was always waiting to happen if I didn’t keep the Tween House tidy. Then I saw my absolute favourite object when I was an angry seven. Hen let me borrow it for months.

Du sat up as I crossed the room in two steps and picked up the glass sphere with snow in it. Hen encouraged me to shake up a storm in it whenever I felt stormy, so that snow puffed and twirled and whirled inside it. I cried when she took it home again.

“Mine,” Du said but she didn’t sound convinced.

“I’m your sister?” I said. “Sisters share.”

“I’m Brother’s little sister,” she said around her thumb.

And my little sister.”

“Only Hen is mine.”

I tried to recall what she’d been like before.

“I’ll show you through,” Jack said. “You want to come, Du?”

She’d been coming already, slipping her hand into Jack’s hand. “My Jacqui.”

I rolled my eyes. Mine. Mine. Mine. Was that all she could say? “I’m your sister whether you like it or not,” I said.

We went through a door in the left corner of the room, into a grey-lit single-file corridor. The left side of the corridor followed the shape of the hull to a narrow floor.

Jack stopped. “Watch my hand? Here’s the light switch.” He flipped it. The corridor became gold-lit. “Did you two ever meet at your house?” he said instead of telling me the light was powered by the sun or some technical fact.

Good thing he was in front, I was so embarrassed. I fizzed hot all over. Of course Du didn’t know me. We’d never met. And she is only five years old, I reminded myself. You thought you owned Hen then. “No windows,” I said to distract myself.

“Portholes in the room we just left, that are covered with the shawls, and portholes in the kitchen up front. This is the bunkroom, where visitors sleep.” He opened a door beside us. Three sets of double bunks crowded the room. A washable rug outlined the place where people would have to take turns dressing. “Seen it?”

I nodded. No windows, I didn’t say. Just like the Tween House.

“I’m not a visitors,” said Du in a confronted tone of voice.

Jack smiled over Du’s head. I might’ve been able to appreciate it if I wasn’t confronted myself. I didn’t smile back.

Jack shrugged. “This is the bathroom,” he said, opening the next door.

Shower basin toilet. A square of washable tiles to stand on.

“Hen’s room,” he said, indicating that door. 

“And mine!” Du said.

Jack frowned at me to warn me not to react. “And finally the kitchen and stair to the front hatch. The layout is back to front to most other boats, Hen told me. She hasn’t told me the reason. Maybe you can get that story from her?”

I shrugged. “You seem to know her as well as I do. Ask her in a different way. She likes people to think for themselves.”