Part Four: The New Buds
Over the ice-encrusted swamp Blue and I traveled. Wrapped snugly in our coats and boots, made from the leather of animals I’d killed for us over the summer, we tugged sleds behind us. The sleds were laden with fruit-filled jars covered in blankets and coats. The blades of the sled, made from bog iron, cut over the ice.
“I can hear them,” Blue said, slowing down. She dug the iron rod on the sled into the ice, bringing it to a screeching halt. I stopped my own sled and watch as the predator, wearing sweet little booties over its feet, sat down.
I sniffed at the air, smelling the rare and unfamiliar scent of smoke on the wind. I knew we were getting close. “Do you still think it’s best that you go alone?”
Blue unbuckled the harness around her, dropping it. “Oh, definitely. Have you seen me recently, dear?” She swirled around, her long coats flipping outward fancily, before focusing on the face pointing towards me.
I smiled and chuckled. “You’re silly.”
“Didn’t say I wasn’t. I’m just so excited, Creature – I’m finally going to go see Chirchirrup again! Isn’t it wonderful?”
Retaining the smile I’d had, I used my gloves to say, “I’m really glad for you.”
Though what I had said was genuine, Blue caught my disdain. “You miss your home, don’t you?”
I couldn’t deny it, but now was not the time. I shook my head and pulled the reins on the predator, drawing it closer so I could pet it.
“Now is your time, Blue, so don’t let me ruin it. Even if my people did come rescue me, now I’d be quite attached to you and yours. Besides, I have another nine months or so before the rescue ships even have a chance to come by.” The predator nuzzled up against me, so I rubbed the side of its face with my gloves.
Blue came up to me, reaching up with two long tentacles to hug around my waist. “You know… I’ll miss you nearly as much as Chirchirrup when you leave. I’ve lived a very exciting life, but you, dear Creature, are an important part of it. If you didn’t look so weird, I may even consider you a child of mine.”
I tapped her. “What a load of nonsense. You’re lying.”
“I’m not!” she said, letting go. “I mean it. You’re important to me.”
“Hmph.” My real voice still caused her to flinch, but she didn’t change her focus from the face pointing to me. I bent down and said, “You’re important to me too.”
After listening and getting over the initial fear from hearing me speak, Blue loosened up. “Well, you won’t be able to do that for a while. You’re already a strange, one-faced creature leading a predator on a string, you don’t need to add your people’s speaking to those disqualifications to be a friend of the Protector.”
“After all I’ve told you, about my people living on planets like Osmina, traveling amongst the stars so far apart, and all the life off Osmina, you still believe in the Protector?”
Blue focused on a face pointing away from me. “Of course, Creature. Even if it seemed like you had reason to leave me alive and become my friend, what was it? You risked your people for me, Creature, and no Osminog would ever do that. Could it not have been the Protector who made you leave me alive?”
I thought back to when I had first seen Blue and Chirchirrup, how I had held my axe and considered killing them. I supposed, in a strange way, that I should have done it. I had been deluding myself, though, that humans were ever the type of creature to survive the tests of the Next Level. We were curious, and that was always going to be our downfall.
“I suppose it’s not for me to decide, is it? I’m just a Sky Creature, after all, not a god.”
We both laughed in our different ways, remembering the time when I stupidly tried to pretend that I was a deity of the Osminog.
“No… but really, what am I supposed to believe? Being a Sky Creature isn’t a station far below god, is it? Not from where I stand, anyway.”
I smiled. “Sure, whatever. I’ve been thinking, Blue, and I doubt I should be very far behind you in the scheme of introductions to your people. A Sky Creature probably would interest them, be important to see. Besides, look at your new spots. What’s Chirchirrup going to think?”
Blue used a tentacle to adjust her coat, making sure she could see out one of the sides not facing me. “She will be amazed, dear Creature, and I will be welcomed back as the prophet of the Protector. Or perhaps the bringer of the Sky Creature. Either way, Creature, you look like a strange, one-faced predator, and my people aren’t as brave as the Mudflappers were. Stay behind until I signal for you.”
“They’ll scatter if they’re prepared for an attack.”
“They’ll scatter if they’re not. Follow far behind me and I’ll call for you.”
Blue set off, the predator pulling me after her, and I knew I couldn’t catch up very easily with the sleds to pull. I took the metal spike out of the ice and pulled my sled in front of Blue’s, unhitching myself so I could tie her harness to the back of my sled. Predator nudged against me, prompting me to give it some of the blubberballs we had stored in the back of the sled. I refused, however, knowing that the winter blubberballs in cans were far less preferable and far harder to feed one at a time as treats. I finished hooking up the sleds, then returned to my harness and pulled the predator to walk towards the smoke.
I thought about how I would be picked up this summer. I’d have to start running the computer, emitting signals from it by hooking it up to the battery and solar panels, but that would take away from the time I would need to spend directing my new horde of Osminog who would want to learn everything from agriculture to metallurgy. After that, assuming that there were still humans to pick me up, could I convince my people to continue being stewards of the Osminog?
I lifted branches and followed the snowy footsteps that Blue had left behind, seeing her speed without the sleds picking up, the footsteps filled in soon after they were made. The predator sniffed the air, recognizing the smoke as similar to the place we called home. It seemed excited, probably ready to snuggle back into its bed near the fire after these couple days of travel. I wanted to go back to my little house on stilts, myself, but I knew that we would never get a better chance to speak with Blue’s tribe.
I heard the Osminog clicking and whirring beyond the next line of brush. Some level of excitement had been reached, and I could only guess what it was about. I went forward, pulling the sleds, trying to be as quiet as possible. My feet crunching over the snow and my arms bending the boughs of trees laden with ice weren’t going to make that an easy feat, though.
Eventually, as the hubbub beyond the trees got louder, I got closer. I pulled a bough out of the way to look at what was happening.
Next to the fire was Blue, who had removed her coats, many Osminog lying down next to her. The Osminog were difficult for me to tell apart, only the spot patterns and sizes differentiating them, but I suspected the young adult next to Blue, clutching her tentacles, was Chirchirrup.
“This is indeed a holy event!” a bearer called out. “Never before has a suspect come back from banishment! The Protector has smiled upon you, Six of Blue!”
“It’s you – it’s really you! Mother, how can you ever forgive me?” Chirchirrup called. “I didn’t believe it was you last winter, treated you like a stranger, and yet you healed me and prayed to the Protector who sent me back with fire as a gift.”
Blue stood tall, showing off the spots that I had painstakingly tattooed upon her, carefully putting the ink made from soot into her skin. The tattoos had remained in place, permanent markings very similar to the spots worn naturally by most Osminog.
I rolled my eyes as Blue took up her coats, placing them atop the bearer despite the difference in their sizes. She bent to Chirchirrup and caressed the face nearest to her. “The Protector has smiled upon us all, young one. The Sky Creature has been sent to us to show the way forward. We have great and powerful news to tell you all, but you must not fear the Sky Creature when she arrives. She will be bringing with her strange packages of goods, including fruit that remains pure long past the time it was picked.” Blue lifted up the coat on the bearer. “She will bring these warmth bringing items I have called coats. She will bring heavy tools to make places to live, to make plants grow in the spring, and to keep the predators at bay.”
Here, Blue stepped around the fire, leaving Chirchirrup to address more of her rapt audience. “She will also be frightening. The Sky Creature is a magical being with only one face, a face that twists and turns unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Her face is always focused, no need to switch, only to turn her body.” Here the Osminog audience gasped. “She will walk on two tentacles that bend awkwardly, like tree branches rather than Osminog tentacles. She will smell of a predator, sound like something not of Osmina, and have a mind that can outsmart you in every way. She will carry a string in one of her tentacles, on the other end of the string being a predator – the feared predator, the razor-toothed skirwhir!”
The Osminog in terror grasped each other.
“Mother – Mother, what are you saying?! You’re not feeding us to predators, are you!?”
Blue changed her face to focus upon Chirchirrup. “Oh, no, child. I would never do that to you, never bring a predator that would eat an Osminog. I have brought the Sky Creature, a being of noble values and individual strength. She will teach us how to put all the predators on a string, how to control them and become our own Protectors, lessening the burden upon the Protector God.”
The biggest bearer stood. “This sounds good, Six of Blue – too good. What is the cost of listening to this Sky Creature? What are we to sacrifice?”
Here, Blue walked over to the bearer. She held the bearer’s face in her hands, the large bulk of the Osminog at its prime not scaring her. “Long ago, what happened to the God of Justice? She split, did she not? She became the God of Predators and the Protector God, into the gods of land, water, and sky, into plants and prey, leaving only a shadow of itself behind to watch its children. The Sky Creature that now walks Osmina is from the era of the God of Justice. She is one whole being, prey and predator in one. That is why she is so frightening, so powerful.”
“Stop avoiding the subject!” the bearer pushed Blue, causing Chirchirrup and a couple of others who seemed to believe Blue to rise. “What is the cost?”
Blue stood slowly from the mud, age showing in her body. “To gain her rewards, the rewards of the God of Justice and Balance, the First God must regain its power. The Protector and the Predator will become one.”
Here, the Osminog all gasped.
“What are you saying, Mother? Who will protect us from the predators if that happens?”
“There will be no need for a Protector. There will be only one god, a god who we must call friend, for we will become agents of balance. We will become the greatest predator of them all, though we remain as weak as prey.”
The Osminog all seemed upset, some of the younger ones crying.
Now was the time, I thought, to step forth. I brought the predator and my sleds forward, the Osminog all screaming.
I looked at the faces of all the Osminog, saw their fear and how it juxtaposed with Blue’s calm love and desire for a better life.
“The Sky Creature – it only has one face,” one of the Osminogs whispered.
I looked at Chirchirrup and saw the austere wonder with which she looked at me. She looked at the goods on my sled, the axes and the metal posts, and I knew that she recognized the objects from her stays with Blue the year before. She would associate me with that power, with having saved her tribe from sickness and cold.
I looked at the audience, scared of me, and clasped my hands together, letting the predator go. They screamed, so I said loudly with my gloves, “Listen, young Osminog, and I will show you the way to retain your kindness in the face of advancement, as stewards of the worlds.”
As the Osminog huddled near their fires, staring at me, a young child not old enough to have developed teeth to talk pulled its little body next to me. Its tentacles stuck to my leg, and it blinked its eyes.
Whatever I did now would affect these people for generations to come.
I looked up to the sky and, as I examined the chill clouds pouring snow, knew that I would never see Earth again.
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