|Never never will Jeb accept that Mongoose is gone ...|
As I struggle to stand upright someone hugs me to him with strong meaty arms.
The man catching me against his chest is broader and he has neither Mongoose’s smell nor his voice. It isn't Mongoose.
I wrench loose.
It’s Uncle Puma. I catch his expression—glee? Can’t be—as he blinks it away. “I’ve counted through this crowd a couple of times to no avail, as I’m sure you have searched through the crowd in the over-world,” he says. “So you might as well accept that Mongoose is lost.”
Never never will I accept that Mongoose is lost.
“We’ll also need to do without Thyal, a far greater loss in my opinion, and a half dozen more, your friends Ant, Wren, and Meerkat among them.”
A lot of unnecessary words when I have already read his meanings in his touch and his eyes. I control my voice. “I’ve been busy.”
It sounds like an excuse. Why does Uncle Puma always make me feel like I haven’t done enough? I use a well-worn strategy to get his attention off me. Indicating the doubling I ask, “What’s happening?”
“According to a stage-hand we happen to have amongst us, the area we are in is partitioned with a reflective membrane,” Uncle Puma says.
“A stage-hand?” I ask, implying the what and where.
Uncle Puma shrugs. “Just another mystery. It appears that many of the people here travelled from Earth with our ancestors. If they are to be believed, they were woken by impossible creatures and driven into this place.”
“To be eaten,” says a person alongside. “By them.” He indicates the ceiling. “The shadows up there among the mosses. Eaters. There, and there. Your friend Lithe now our friend too organised us to keep tabs on them.”
“There’s one going down!” shouts a spotter.
I stare at the place where the woman is pointing, halfway down the tented ceiling and I see a black, vaguely humanoid shadow creep down a slanting way among the growths.
“Surrounding the spotters, are the people responsible for moving them every time Lithe and Red-tail decide to move the crowd,” Uncle Puma says. “There’s been no one eaten since we organised.”
“I wonder if anyone has counted them, whether they know if there’s a new one?” I say.
“What are you saying?” says our buddy alongside.
“If there is, Arley’s skin will be lying empty somewhere.”
Uncle Puma seems to expand. He becomes the same obdurate angry statue as always when someone displeases him. But with the chief in him still, he doesn’t ask about Arley, the life-suit or why and how it happened to have joined us. Or why his niece Jeb the half shaman knows about it when he doesn’t.
Instead he picks up on my mood. “And that’s a worry?”
“There’s a human-entity in the workings as well. An Earth-born pattern. She intends using the skin aka the life-suit to give herself substance. Then she wants …”
The crowd jostles us from our conversation. An outcry takes my attention. A shadow flits into a free-standing structure below and Red-tail runs toward the spotter-group nearest a hodgepodge of powder-blue bars and extrusions in the only wide corner.
When I shift my perspective, because I’m tempted to follow Red-tail, I see two pastel-blue U-shaped galleys in the structure that they are part of that could be upside down ramps and galleys. Similar to the galleys, ramps and fireman’s pole in the over-world, except that here the structure stands as if in storage.
The shadow flits about against a rectangle within it, then goes to ground.
I feel hot and cold all over in waves when I suddenly see a fold in the ceiling, almost grown over with vegetation, that runs down to that plain dark rectangle, large enough to be—yes!
Feverishly I think it through. If I believe the double-pyramid to be a separate structure from the Ark Ship, where could it be expected to have got stuck or wedged within the Ark Ship’s doughnut?
The double pyramid has six points where its triangles come together. One is the shuttle port dedicated to hauling us into the scene below this floor in what Kosi calls Reception. The other is above us.
Leaving the four points at the widest parts of the double-pyramid to secure the thing within the torus of the Ark Ship. I’m all but gasping on my eureka moment. At Red-tail’s directions, the spotter groups are arranging themselves in a half-moon around the structure.