Saturday, May 16, 2015

5: Possum Wrangler

Comfortingly, the room is the same when she awakens. Through the window it appears to be night on Cresia, purple grasses, jagged mountains. The walls are patterned mosaic, lit by a dim amber lamp, the canopied bed large enough to leave her feeling small.
Not that Tirna has felt at all in control since she got here.
Or for the last long year for that matter. Led around by instincts and urges, dreams she could never quite recall.
A year of insecurity and uncertainty and constant stress and suspicion. Now she's finally at the end, finally knows what, or who, was drawing her onwards.
Honestly, it's a relief. She would rather be home, but for now this is an acceptable substitution.
Tirna stretches slowly and then slides carefully off the bed to go explore the rest of the main room, step into the closet. For a moment she hesitates, fingers running over the Rainbow of hanging fabrics. Then the wrinkled orange wrap is shed with a mixture of reluctance and relief. She slips into a fresh pair of loose turquoise pants and a matching wrap top, securing the generous folds of fabric with a woven belt.
The fine material lays like mist against her skin, cool and comforting.
Tirna returns to clamber up on the bed, arranging herself cross legged and starting a well-practiced pattern of breathing. In and out, slowing as her eyes close.
Riv rises from the lines of blue along her arms and back, soft tendrils of blue waving gently like a forest of seaweed caught in a slow current.
After a few minutes an unfamiliar, smallish voice asks timidly, "Is it wet?"
The blonde woman does not answer right away, in fact it doesn’t seem like she’s even registered the question until one of the inky tendrils pulls and prods at her shoulder.
She comes out of the meditation reluctantly, one hazel eye slitting open.
"Where?!" A diminutive form hides in the shadows near the closet door. Wide eyes glance about the room as they suddenly fling their arms into the air and hold them out to the sides.
It’s hard to compare this startled creature to the swaggering flamboyance of the forgebot, but D’Armstadtium has worn many faces since they first met, and she would certainly not put it past them to be toying with her perceptions now.
Perhaps it’s better to simply play along.
“You mean Riv? He can be, if the need arises. His link with physical reality is more a pleasantry than a requirement.” She considers this new visitor carefully. “And who are you?”
The shadowed figure sounds vaguely female. She hesitates, then slowly draws her arms down, letting them hang oddly straight by her side. After a moment, confused, "What?"
"You asked about Riv. I asked if you were the last person that mysteriously appeared in this room unannounced. Apparently you are not."
There is a thoughtful silence.
Slowly this time, burying an edge of irritation. "Why are you here?"
"You are new." The shorter figure steps closer. Wide eyes without pupils reflect amber light. She is gangly, thin, clad only in a light shift that drapes over bony limbs. She has no hair, only a reflective, stippled skin, something rather like the protective coating on landing gear. She looks young, someone under the age of their first inking.
Tirna nods, looking the intruder over. As if this is the only reasoning she expected. "How did you get in here?" The twisting fingers of blue have grown and put out more branches as their host talks. A maze of twisting indigo rising from her arms and curling over blonde hair, wavy now without constant straightening.
The girl flicks her eyes between Tirna's and the rising form, stays where she is. A thin tongue licks over lips. "Is it wet?"
Thin brows pull together, and the woman glances down at her arms. "I just said... no, not right now." A confused look is shot towards the girl. "Why does it matter?"
The child's posture changes immediately, shoulders hunching, hands flying together and clasping, unclasping. She murmurs her response, chin tucked towards her chest, "Shouldn't be wet."
A series of rapid blinks. "Alright then"
The Cresian pauses awkwardly, then holds out her hand, beckoning the youngling closer. "What is your name?"
There's a swallow and a tense pause as eyes raise, chin still lowered. Lashes obscure her expression, though it is clear the girl is focused on something somewhat above Tirna's head.
The crosslegged woman catches sight of a waving tendril. "Riv? I think you're worrying her."
The inky extensions pull back slowly. Sinking and flattening back into the swirls of blue on pale skin.
The girl hesitates, then slowly steps closer, pausing at the foot of the bed. Her skin and shift are shades of charcoal, eyes the darkest black. Webbed fingers reach for a tall post in the corner, cling to it as she swings herself behind, peers around the intricately carved wood.
Tirna tries to watch her without being obvious about it. Tries to exude a sense of calm, like the girl is a small skittish animal.
"Hello Brolly, I'm called Tirna."
She swings around to the other side, half of her face hidden, still peering. "Are those like wings?"
"The blue? That was Riv. He's part of me, but separate. Sometimes he can be wings." She turns slightly to follow Brolly's movements, uncrossing her legs and tucking them under herself.
This earns a small smile, a nod. She swings around again. "Does he eat?"
"He gets what he needs from me." Tirna is happy to answer the youngling's questions, make her more comfortable. If this isn't the forgebot playing games with her perhaps this child knows a way out.
"Do you like him?" Fingertips play over the surfaces, run over curves. Brolly doesn't wait for an answer, instead immediately declaring, "Sometimes I don't- Well sometimes I like people but sometimes they laugh at me. And it's supposed to be good to laugh but I do not think so."
A pause. "Not always." She has swung back out properly in the light, all angles and gaunt edges. A small leap pops her up onto the foot of the bed where she sits cross legged.
The slender Cresian doesn't look directly at her, half her attention focused out the window on starlit mountains. "Riv isn't a person, exactly. I manipulated and battled and bled for the right to pair with him. So yes, I suppose I like him."
Brolly thinks on that for a moment. Then,
"You're married?"
Tirna buries the edge of a smirk. "A pairing is more profound than a simple mating bond."
The girl blinks.
Well, let's just leave that alone for now then. "You said people laughed at you Brolly, which people? Are you being held here as well?"
"Held?" She looks down at herself, as if half expecting to find something girdling her waist. She looks up again, bites her lip with strangely curved teeth. "What?"
Tirna frowns, thinks for a moment, then pares her question down. "Are you here, with these gyrators, because you want to be Brolly?"
The girl yawns, then brushes the back of a hand over her face. "I don't understand."
"Where did you come from?" She keeps prompting gently.
Brolly flops sideways, turns onto her back, stares up at the patterned ceiling. "It was raining." She tables her hands on her chest, slips fingers between fingers, removes them, repeats. "And D'Arm said she needed an umb-"
A pause. "A me."
The frown has not entirely fled. "Why?" Tirna has never nurtured any especially maternal feelings, but she leans forward to look the scrawny child over, wondering what she could have been needed for.
Teeth bare as the girl grins. She sits up, presses her feet beneath her and stands, wobbly, on the shaking mattress. Both arms fling out to her sides as she announces, "To be dry!"
Tirna stares up in outright confusion.
"You kept her dry? From the rain. How?"
Brolly's triumphant expression abruptly fades and she crouches back down. Nibbled fingernails pick at bare toes. "Well it was different. Before."
"D'Armstadtium changed you." She's got a hold on it now, confusion lifting.
A nod, silent. A flicker of a glance, then back down to her toes. "Does Riv keep you dry?"
"If I needed him to, he would." There's the flicker of something here, either sympathy, or perhaps empathy at a shared plight. A possible future.
Tirna rolls her shoulder and flicks a wrist, the signal that draws Riv to the surface of her skin, pushing questioning tendrils through the ink. "Would you like to say hello?"
Brolly raises her chin, hesitant, rest of her body tensing. She looks from Tirna's eyes to the waving blue. "Does he talk?"
The woman stays still, arm outstretched. "Not in words. Only in actions, intuition. He does have his own intelligence."
The girl rocks forward onto her knees, reaches out an open palm, leaving a space roughly the length of her body between them. "Riv?"
The waving tendrils remain stubbornly short until Tirna tisks and rolls her shoulders again. "Go on." Then one bit of inky darkness stretches reluctantly across the space to curl over Brolly’s palm and around the back of her webbed fingers.
Riv feels like a soft brush of fog one moment, thickens into the smooth scales of a snake, warm fur the next. Weight and density and texture constantly in motion.
Brolly giggles, hand uncertain in the writhing blue, wavering but not pulling back. "Well I'll be an upside-drowned Possum-Woggler!" It's announced in a generally pleased, much louder tone. Perhaps it's an unusual greeting of some sort?
The outstretched tendril is more lethargic than its companions, one might even say resentful. Tirna glares and it becomes a bit more active, flattening out to press over grey skin, brushing up her wrist.
“Riv is not used to...making friends.”
"It's upside-down Possum Wrangler, Bumbershoot." The voice is deeper, comes from the bare wall D'Armstadtium went through previously, though it doesn't sound like the last version of his voice, or any previous.
As her eyes sweep to the source Tirna finds it belongs to a much taller figure than the slip of a girl. Pale, middle aged, and with far too many arms. At first glance, six. Four are crossed, the two top-most fiddle with an elaborate series of intertwined dreads. He is dressed in a simple pair of dark trousers, no shirt, and goes barefoot, like the girl. Silver catches the light, beads and jewelry adorning his wrists, hair, neck, eyebrows. A belt around his waist carries holsters but no weapons.
Tirna stiffens immediately, back snapping straight as if her spine has abruptly become a steel rod. The curls of blue along her arms and shoulders bristle, the one draped around Brolly’s hand gaining weight and substance, metallic hardness.
Hazel eyes narrow at the second intruder of the day. “Can anyone simply drop in here whenever they want?”
The man with the rather unseemly pudge blinks, "Only when you're awake."
Brolly glances between them, tugging her hand back into her lap, biting her lip.
“And what’s holding you to that rule?”
A hand drifts out of his hair, knocks on the wall beside him. "Mr. Fancy Pants."
This is not serving to clear matters up at all. “The ship?”
He laughs, a coarse, bark of a thing. "His majesty is the ship."
Brolly begins bouncing in place gently, head turning back and forth to watch the verbal sparring.
Tirna has never been fond of dealing with minutia, with roundabout explanations and making pleasant conversation. In her world, on Cresia, you either say something, or you deal with it.
Who is?”
The man turns to the girl. "Is she daft?"
Brolly blinks, then shakes her head no. She twists back to Tirna and stage whispers, "He means D'Arm."
The blonde frowns, looks up at the ceiling, the walls. Riv pulls back to hang in a thick haze over her shoulders. “How can someone be a ship?”
"How can someone be two someones?" One of his hands raise curiously and points at Riv. Then another hand follows, gesturing widely, then another, "How can someone be an umbrella? How can someone grow extra arms? Or reach into your dreams, or survive Gyre Space without losing their mind?" He takes a step closer. "How can someone comprehend what is incomprehensible?"
His arms all hang for a moment, palms up, shrugging, and then fall back crossed over his chest. "It's much easier to ask questions than find answers."
“It’s much easier to deflect than give up the high ground of philosophical superiority.” Tirna draws her feet underneath herself, a much more secure position from which to spring suddenly into a crouch.
The man stares at her, then flicks one hand into a casual wave, ducks his head in the semblance of a bow. "Ermengarde."
Brolly claps her hands together. "Merny!" She looks at the woman. "This is Tirna and Riv."
A pause, an afterthought. "And I'm Brolly."
The Crecian didn’t even realize that was a name until more followed it. She sits awkwardly through the introductions, still tense, still uncertain.
“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you. However since I happen to be a prisoner lured across half a galaxy to be held against my will on a living ship, I must admit I’d be lying. I would prefer to have never seen anyone but other Cresians again.”
There's an awkward silence.
Good, it was time for someone else to be uncomfortable for a change.
“I assume that you dropped into my little fishbowl because you wanted to play with your captain’s new pet. Fine then.” Her hands spread out, a mock welcome. “What trick would you like to see me do?”
The man with six arms coughs into a hand and shrugs all three sets of shoulders. "I was just going to offer to take you to breakfast, but..." he waves a hand in her general direction, leaving it incomplete.
"I can do a trick!" Brolly takes this opportunity to leap back to her feet and throw her arms to the side once more, mouth firmly closed.
Nothing particularly interesting happens.
Tirna startles, watching her with wide eyes until it’s clear that this is the trick.
Ermengarde makes a face, casually covering his mouth.
The woman blinks, then shifts towards the edge of the bed, sliding down and onto her feet carefully. “You’re keeping out the rain?” Call it a lucky guess.
Brolly nods fervently, mouth still closed, turning to watch the woman.
"It's a very good trick. She can do it for a long time." Ermengarde has yet to remove that hand from his mouth, eyes twinkling.
“I bet it would be more effective if someone gave her a rain poncho to hold out.” Hazel eyes study the girl. “Perhaps a grey one.”
Ermengarde crosses around Tirna with a wink and heads towards Brolly, lifting her up with a, "Hoop-ah!"
The girl dissolves into giggles as four hands grip and two tickle. "You can't eat breakfast if you're doing your trick can you?"
"Ah ah! Ahahahahahhahahaa!" Brolly squirms and wriggles.
Tirna shakes out her shirt and smooths the loose pants, regaining some semblance of calm composure as she watches the antics. “I think I might like some food as well.”
Brolly continues to squirm but her captor doesn't tickle for too long. She falls limp, still giggling. "And Riv too!" She wriggles, stage whispers, "She feeds him!"
Ermengarde tosses her under an arm and passes to the empty wall. He spreads a hand and presses it flat. "Hey, idiot! Let us out."
The woman in turquoise linen trails after him, staring hard at the wall.
It peels apart, pulling and shifting into an open archway. Brolly is facing backwards, looking at Tirna, reaching an arm out to her. "Riv, you come too."
The blue haze was in the middle of sinking back into tattooed skin, hesitates at the reaching hand.
Tirna sighs, shrugs, her voice drops, just for Riv. “What use is it hiding? It’s not like they haven’t already figured us out.” A small curve of a smile. “If only in part.”
“You might as well play nice.”
The mist thickens into a single long tendril, reaching out to wrap once again around the child’s hand.
“We could use a friend.”