A Walk in the Woods: Episode 4

Nick takes his turn at breaking trail through a bit of forest, nowhere in particular on the Gen side of the border. He's dressed in his Gen-style winter coat, warmly lined with fleece.

Katsura follows, hoping Nick will let her do the hard part again before he gets too tired. She isn't as warmly dressed -- she left the donated clothing behind at the disaster site. But she can keep warm without good insulation, by augmenting.

Nick is well aware of how fast and far he can go before he has to rest, and how close to the limit he can push when speed is essential.

Nick: Do you zlin anyone behind us?

Katsura: No, no one this side of the ridge ahead. Not for kilometers.

Katsura, like many Farris channels, can literally zlin for kilometers in a sparsely inhabited area like this one, but she can't zlin through landscape.

Nick: Good. By tomorrow, we should be far enough away from any pursuit to risk stopping at a town. You should have some less conspicuous clothing, and we could use some more supplies.

Katsura: Yes. Good thing we still have some Gen Territory money with us.

Nick: Quite a bit, actually, if the stash in my satchel is still intact.

Nick hopes it's enough to pay off a donor or two, or Kat's going to be bothered with entran soon.

Katsura wonders if Nick saved it because he hadn't decided whether to return to Nivet or not.

Nick actually stuffed the cash there because it was convenient; he had to clear out a black marketeer's illicit earnings in a poker game before he could get the fellow to concentrate on his proposed exchange of beans for bandages and other supplies. He wasn't actually gambling, however: they were his cards.

Nick: How are you holding up? Any entran yet?

Katsura: Not so far. But I'd like to do another outfunction later today, just in case.

Nick: Once we can stop at towns and villages, we might be able to do better than an outfunction.

Katsura: Maybe. But I'd rather work on you whether you need it or not, and do outfunctions, than get shot. I really think we should avoid letting anyone know I'm a Sime.

Katsura looks ahead.

Katsura: Let's get over that ridge, out of the wind, and take a break. You should eat something.

Nick nods, and lengthens his stride a little. He tops the ridge at last, leaning into the wind, and pauses a moment to check for the optimal way down.

Katsura's laterals clear the ridgeline and she suddenly leaps ahead in high augmentation, springing down the steep rough slope like a mule deer, and disappears into the brush.

Nick doesn't bother to ask what's going on, but drops everything but the satchel and charges after Kat at a pace which most Simes would consider dangerously reckless.

Pinecone stumbles on through the mysterious spirit world that he's been in since he woke up from the fever. Everything is dark and incomprehensible, and he's fallen over so many things now that it's an immense weariness to get up and go on, but go on he must.

Pinecone sees at the very limit of his vision two bright lights, the only light -- if he could recall it, which he can't -- that he's seen since the vision began. He knows it does not matter much, because soon he won't be able to go on at all, but he decides to head for the lights. Why not? In any case, one of the lights seems to be heading for him.

Katsura heads toward the Sime in attrition, projecting ~~ abundant selyn ~~, ~~ eagerness to give ~~ and ~~ general salvation ~~.

Nick follows the crashing sounds and footprints, trying to ~~ support ~~ while doing his best not to slip. He's at least partly successful on both counts, although he excels in neither.

Katsura is glad she isn't wearing her retainers, although she's been keeping them close at hand, just in case.

Pinecone is steered ineluctably to the nearest source of light and life.

Katsura notes that the Sime is not only a new changeover, but suffering from recent starvation, exposure and sleep deprivation.

Nick's boot slips, making him lose his footing and land on his rump, which is fortunately covered by his heavy Gen-style winter coat.

Katsura is aware of Nick's pursuit and tumble and wishes he'd be more careful. He's not hurt, but he could be.

Pinecone sees streaks of lightning in the distance, but the closer light, brighter than a million suns, is nearly within reach.

Nick swears (bilingually), pushes himself to his feet, convinces himself within two steps that he's not hurt, and continues the pursuit at only a slightly less reckless pace.

Katsura would tell Nick to be careful and follow at a safe pace, but he's probably out of earshot by now.

Nick wouldn't have obeyed anyhow: he's seen what trying to work without support does to a Farris channel.

Katsura spots a scrawny, dirty and ill-clad boy through the trees, hyperconscious and stumbling toward her with his last bit of selyn. She dashes across the clearing and takes his hands. ~~ all the selyn you want, here and now ~~

Pinecone thinks he'd be blinded by now, but on the contrary, everything is light. As visions go, this one must be very powerful, so he goes into the heart of it. He lashes out with his handling tentacles and his laterals grope, seeking a Gen arm to draw from.

Katsura captures the tentacles with her own and entwines laterals, ~~ inviting draw ~~ as she makes the fifth contact.

Pinecone takes the visionary light into himself as he too begins to glow with its glory.

Katsura serves the best First Transfer she can, and savors the unusual character of the Sime's response.

Nick finally catches up just as the transfer finishes, and reaches to ~~ support ~~ Kat's Farris-short recovery, and the kid's longer one.

Katsura: A changeover, Nick, not a junct like the last time.

Nick is ~~ glad ~~ that this kid isn't destined for a disjunction camp.

Katsura: He might have died of attrition in minutes, I think. I didn't have time to explain to you what was happening.

Pinecone abruptly returns from his vision to seeing the ordinary world again.

Pinecone: Where am I? What is this place? Who are you?

Nick steps closer, trying to draw the kid's attention away from Kat, in case he's afraid of Simes.

Nick: My name is Nick, and this lady is Kat. As far as where we are goes... can you tell us where the nearest town is?

Pinecone: Nick, I do not know where the nearest town is. Or any town. In the land of the Free People there are no towns.

Pinecone stops short and looks about him.

Pinecone: But this is not our land. This is the Wild, and I do not know where I am. Where do you come from, Nick?

Nick: Cottonwood City, most recently. But I've lived all sorts of places.

Nick's Genlan has a comfortably lower-class accent.

Pinecone: And Lady Cat, you are one of the Snake People? They are not permitted in our land -- but this is the Wild.

Katsura: No, I'm ambrov Sat'htine.

Nick: Kat is a channel. Do your people have any contact with channels?

Pinecone shakes his head ~~ uncomprehendingly ~~.

Pinecone: You have the sign of the Snake on your arms. You are of the Snake People, Lady Cat.

Katsura slowly extends her tentacles.

Pinecone switches to nodding his head.

Katsura: So do you, now. But you didn't kill, and you need never kill.

Pinecone freezes, then looks down at his arms. He draws a deep breath, then lets it out.

Nick projects ~~ calm ~~, hoping to keep the kid thinking rationally.

Pinecone: I see you are right. I too have joined the Snake People -- but this is the Wild. ~~ reassured ~~

Katsura: You can go south, to where Simes and Gens live together without killing, in a place called Nivet.

Pinecone: It is true that I have not killed. Among my people, the Hunter's Quest is before the first beard. Is it not so with you?

Katsura is really glad she has an expert in out-T culture with her.

Nick strokes his beard in a ~~ contemplative ~~ fashion.

Nick: It is true that our people accept adult duties when they become adults. We don't call it the Hunter's Quest, however.

Pinecone nods.

Pinecone: Before the first beard, or the first blood, we go on the Vision Quest. Those who return, bring home new knowledge. Those who do not -- join the Snake People, or the Other People.

Nick: Who are the Other People?

Pinecone frowns in ~~ puzzlement ~~.

Pinecone: Why, the Others. Those who are not seen and not named. Those who have -- gone.

Nick: Gone where?

Pinecone shrugs, more ~~ confused ~~ than ever.

Pinecone: I do not know, Nick.

Nick: Are you here on a Vision Quest?

Pinecone: I am, or I was. But my vision was formless. I did not see the power animal that would have given me my name among the Free People. I saw only the light.

Nick: The light that you took in?

Pinecone nods.

Pinecone: That I took in, yes. I saw myself glow with it. But now the vision is lost, and I am lost, and I do not know what the vision means!

Katsura: The vision is not lost.

Nick reaches out with his nager and helps bring Pinecone duoconscious.

Nick: With practice, you will be able to see the light at will.

Pinecone looks around and zlins at the same time. ~~ wonder ~~ awe ~~

Pinecone: Is this what it is, to be one of the Snake People, Lady Cat?

Katsura: This is a talent that all Snake People, all Simes, have. There are other talents too.

Nick: Yes. You will be stronger and faster than your parents.

Pinecone laughs softly.

Pinecone: Perhaps that is why the Snake People are forbidden: they would catch all the game and gather all the plants, leaving none for the Free People!

Katsura wonders whether she should explain transfer and the Kill, or leave it to Nick.

Katsura: There is a great responsibility that comes with the talents of the Snake people. Every month you will need to take in the light again. We call the light selyn, and taking it in, transfer.

Pinecone: ~~ inquiry ~~

Nick: The light must come from Gens like me -- people like your parents.

Katsura: You must go to a channel like me to receive the selyn. If not, you will die, or you will find yourself unable to resist the drive to kill a Gen.

Pinecone: To kill! Then these... can kill?

Katsura nods, solemnly.

Pinecone: Then it is because of that... I see.

Katsura: A channel can take selyn from Gens without harming them, and then give it to other Simes like you. If you take it from a Gen yourself, the Gen will die.

Pinecone nods and takes another deep breath.

Pinecone: Then you will take me with you to the home of the Snake ... the Sime People?

Katsura looks to Nick.

Katsura: I think we must.

Nick nods, trying to figure out how to do so without walking back into Firlith's clutches.

Pinecone: Yet if I do not need the... selyn... for another month, then there is no haste. Is the Sime land far away?

Katsura: Not far. A few days' walk. But Simes are not usually allowed anywhere outside of our country. So you are in danger from people who will murder Simes if they find them.

Pinecone: What is this murder?

Katsura: To take a person's life. To kill a person.

Katsura uses the Genlan term in its more general sense.

Pinecone: Oh. As in war? The Free People have made war, but not since I was born.

Katsura: Something like war. But people have agreed that if the Simes stay in their own country unless they are invited out, they will not be attacked.

Pinecone nods.

Pinecone: I understand. But Lady Cat, what are you doing here? This is the Wild, not the Sime People land.

Katsura looks to Nick again.

Katsura: It's a complicated story. We hope to go back home soon, but meanwhile we hope people will not realize that I'm a Sime. So we are out here in the wild.

Pinecone: Ah. You wear the blanket to hide the snake sign, then?

Katsura: It's what most people wear in our country. Nick wants to get me some clothing like people here wear, so I won't look so conspicuous. So he wants to find a town.

Pinecone thinks.

Pinecone: It is part of our lore that if you go downhill you will find a stream, and if you go down the stream you will find a larger stream. Does that help?

Nick: It is true that most towns are along streams, in the areas we're familiar with.

Pinecone: So. I have no blanket to hide the snake sign, and although you do, the Town People do not wear these blankets. So we all need Town People clothes. Like yours, Nick?

Nick: Yes. It is the Town People we must reach. Do you know where they live?

Pinecone shakes his head.

Pinecone: I have never been out of the Free People's lands before. I know nothing of the Town People or their lands.

Nick: Not even in what direction they can be found?

Pinecone: No. But I have been taught tracking and stalking by my uncle.

Nick wonders if Pinecone was just a poor student in geography, or whether children among his people are deliberately kept ignorant of their surroundings, the better to prevent the escape of a new Sime.

Nick: Then I'm sure you will be a great help to us all.

Pinecone laughs.

Pinecone: Still, even the greatest tracker cannot track when there is nothing to track! So perhaps we will go downhill after all.

Katsura: I think we should all have something to eat first.

Katsura can zlin that Nick is hungry and it's apparent that the young man hasn't eaten for some time.

Nick looks at their scrawny traveling companion, and ~~ agrees ~~.

Nick: Yes. And perhaps something to drink, as well.

Katsura takes two bars of channel chow out of her pack and offers one to the young Sime. Let Nick find something more appetizing than Donor biscuits from the remainder of the real food.

Pinecone politely accepts the object, concludes that it must be food -- though it resembles no vegetable he's ever seen. He bites on the bar and forces himself to swallow it.

Nick manages to find a somewhat squashed roll of dried fruit.

Pinecone: Perhaps this, this root has gone bad? ~~ politeness over disgust ~~

Katsura wishes they had a pot to melt snow, and to heat water for trin.

Nick lets his ~~ appetite ~~ improve the food.

Nick: Try it again.

Pinecone: I will, Nick.

Pinecone does.

Pinecone: It is not spoiled, I see. But it will never replace green spears or yellow root.

Nick: No. Real food is much better.

Katsura: It doesn't taste very good, but it is very good for you, and a small amount will nourish you for a long time.

Nick looks at Kat.

Katsura obediently bites off a bit of her bar.

Nick: Speaking of which, I dropped our bedrolls when you took off. We'll have to go back and retrieve them.

Nick is ~~ slightly apologetic ~~.

Katsura: Ah. I'll go get them. You stay here with our new acquaintance.

Katsura is careful not to say "stay here and rest".

Pinecone shakes his head ~~ sorrowfully ~~.

Pinecone: I do not know where my bedroll is. When the vision of darkness came upon me, I -- lost it. ~~ shame ~~

Nick offers ~~ comfort ~~.

Katsura: We can follow your tracks to find what you left behind.

Katsura pats Nick's shoulder and heads uphill.

Pinecone slaps himself on the head ~~ ringingly ~~.

Pinecone: Of course. I shall show you my skill at tracking today!

Nick: Be careful. That's a good way to injure your arms.

Pinecone spirals around until he picks up his own trail.

Pinecone: And look! Downhill! We shall all go this way?

Nick looks in the indicated direction.

Nick: It looks like a good way to start. When we've recovered your things, we can decide how to continue. Am I right that neither Kat nor you, now, would be welcome among your people?

Pinecone: No. We are the Snake People, and forbidden.

Nick: How do your people view strangers who are not Snake People?

Pinecone: I do not know, Nick. We have seen none that I remember. We have only stories of them.

Nick: Can you tell me some of these stories?

Pinecone: We say that the Town People eat too much, and they are slow. And the Other People eat too little, and so they cannot be seen. But there are no stories of the Snake People: we are told how to recognize snake sign, but that is all.

Nick: What is snake sign?

Pinecone points to his tentacles silently.

Nick: What do your people say about snake sign, and those who carry it?

Pinecone shakes his head.

Pinecone: I do not know. The, what did you call them, adults? -- they know more than I do.

Nick is trying to determine if it is safe to have two Simes close to these Free People, or whether they should make tracks in the other direction.

Nick: Have you never listened to them talk about it?

Pinecone shakes his head again.

Pinecone: I am most sorry, Nick. ~~ shame again ~~

Nick ~~ soothes ~~ the shame away.

Nick: I don't like to go where I'm not welcome, and from what you are telling me, your people may not be happy to have a stranger among them.

Pinecone: I think that unless you were in need of food or drink or healing, perhaps not, Nick.

Nick: I wouldn't want to bring your people any distress. Perhaps we should avoid them.

Katsura slogs downslope with the bedrolls and other encumbrances. She calls out ahead so the men will know it's her and not a wild animal or Gen Patrolman.

Katsura: Okay, I've got it all.

Nick: Good. We should find our friend's things, and then discuss what to do next.

Pinecone smiles.

Pinecone: Very good.

Katsura nods, ties the bedrolls to the pack, and shoulders the load.

Nick notes that Kat is now carrying everything but the satchel, but after a moment's consideration decides not to argue the point.

Katsura zlins the two -- Nick is doing okay, tired, a bit chilled, but no longer hungry. The young Sime seems remarkably well, considering.

Pinecone: I think we will find them soon. It is not hard to sneak up on a bedroll. ~~ humor ~~

Nick chuckles.

Nick: Tally-ho, then. Let the hunt begin!

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