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Thread: Fit for Life

  1. #101
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Hope


    Only Rigel heard what Anaph whispered to himself as he rushed to Antonio: “If I’d been here sooner...” Rigel walked beside him, heading for Austin. The first thing he did was scoop up the gun.

    Everyone kept back as Anaph knelt beside Antonio, who was holding very, very still, breathing shallowly and slowly. Anaph held out his staff for Antonio to grab with his left hand, which Antonio couldn’t lean on without moving. Antonio nodded thanks, and began breathing a little deeper.

    For a long minute they all watched Anaph run his hands over Antonio, very slowly, covering the entire area around the tusk. Rigel pulled Austin to him, rocking him and whispering in his ear. Austin calmed enough to watch Anaph as well.

    Anaph shook his head in amazement. “Life has favored you”, he told Antonio. Looking over to Rigel, he explained: “Nothing internal is punctured or torn. There are scratches, but nothing big.”

    “No way!” Chen cried. “You’re saying that tusk went in one side of his abs and out the other, and didn’t rip him up inside?”

    “Yes – because it’s true. What must be done now is to determine how to slide the tusk out safely.” Anaph gazed at Chen evenly. “Set aside your disbelief, and think.”

    “Can’t you use your staff to make the tusk fall off?” Chen asked.

    “It would shift, and tear Antonio’s insides.”

    “So we have to move Antonio, not the tusk”, Ryan concluded. He knelt by Antonio to see just how he was sitting.

    Breeze surprised them all. “I know how”, she said. “We have one deer hide that’s still whole. If we can slide it under him without moving him too much, then we can use it to pull him off.”

    “And if it catches on something on the ground, he’s screwed”, Ryan fired at her.

    “So we have to... make the ground slippery”, she answered.

    “That’s easy”, Casey pointed out. “There’s a lot of blood from these beasts.” Antonio grinned painfully at the idea of using the blood of the beast that had nearly killed him, to try to save him.

    “Let’s do it”, Rigel decided. So Breeze went to get the deer hide. Rigel lifted Austin and got him out of the way; the kid was still crying, silently now. Casey moved in and started pushing blood across the ground with his hands. When Breeze returned, Rita came along with some of their grass sheets, to catch blood in from the still-bleeding gr’ventut. By the time Chen and Oran had worked out with Antonio just how to get the deer hide under him, the ground around him was a bloody mess.

    The first idea didn’t work: they rolled the hide up and tried to roll it out on the way under Antonio. The failure came when he couldn’t even lift one knee high enough without hurting. Next they wanted to try just dragging it under him, an idea Rita vetoed.

    “You’ll drag him with it”, she told them. “But look: fold it in two. Slide it halfway under him. Then carefully slip the top layer over then unfold it.”

    Centimeter by centimeter they advanced. Devon and Ryan carefully lifted Antonio’s left leg, and slid the hide under. The bottom side was slick with blood, so it moved under him easily. Once it was halfway, they pulled the top half in between his legs, letting his left knee sit on the hide. They’d almost finished pulling the other half through when Antonio gasped sharply. “Just finish!” he hissed between clenched teeth when they stopped.

    Ocean wanted to give Antonio herbs for the pain. Antonio didn’t want them: “If I can’t feel anything, how will I know something’s wrong?”

    “And if it hurts so much you pass out, it will rip your intestines in two”, Rita admonished. “Ocean, don’t give him enough to kill the pain, just enough to ease it some.”

    The curve of the tusk – an uneven curve, at that – made the process difficult. Rigel vetoed rolling the carcass the moment it came up; one bit too much roll, and Antonio would be dead. So they went centimeter by centimeter. The worst was in the middle, where the tusk was lowest – Antonio nearly passed out then, but Ryan held him. It was Ryan’s idea to pull the hide away from the tusk and let Antonio lean back on him, in order to keep from tearing Antonio open as the tusk got lower. Ocean didn’t like it, Anaph didn’t like it, but there were no better choices. At the end, when the tusk curved higher, Chen grimly cut to enlarge the hole in Antonio’s side, so the last bit of tusk could slide free.

    Then it was over. Ryan eased Antonio back onto the ground. Rigel could have sworn he heard twenty sighs of relief.

    “We have to wash the wound”, Ocean said to Anaph. “Can you do anything?” Rigel was pleased with her more practical, less worshipful attitude toward Anaph.

    The Druid shook his head. “There is too much life. I can’t keep it separate.”

    Ocean nodded, whether in understanding or merely acceptance. “Then we need hot water.” She turned to look at Rigel, who sought out Oran. “Any ideas?” he asked their fire-master.
    Oran nodded. “We can get water hot, no prob. There are some low spots in this rock; all we have to do is fill them with water and then drop in hot rocks from the fire.” He shrugged and frowned. “I don’t know how to get it from there to where you need it.”

    “Then we move the patient to the water”, Ocean responded.

    It took longer than anyone liked. Eventually, though, they had a small pool of steaming water, into which Ocean had Breeze crumble three different kinds of herbs. Once they were wet, she asked for another hot rock.

    “Last one”, Oran announced. The first four were sitting by the fire to dry before going back in.

    A minute later Ocean pronounced it sufficient. Antonio lay on his side, on the grass so they wouldn’t soak the hide with dirty water. Carefully she wiped the skin around the wound where the tusk had gone in, on Antonio’s right side. Even more carefully, Chen spread the edges of that wound so she could trickle water in to clean inside as best they could. Antonio passed out before the water ran out – that was a good thing because he held still a lot better, but a bad thing because he couldn’t tell them if anything really hurt.

    Most of the group had stayed to watch. Melanie asked the question they all had: “Is he going to be okay?”

    Anaph and Ocean both shook their heads. “We didn’t get all the dirt out”, Ocean replied. “Without all the dirt gone, he could get infected. We don’t have anything for fighting infection deep inside like that.”

    “There are ways to help”, Anaph added, to provide some hope. “We can keep him alive longer with them. But what we need”, he said more to Rigel than anyone else, “is to keep going. There is no help for him here.”

    That was all there was to say, so most of the group headed back to sleep. Anaph walked to the edge of the short cliff and stared out over the savanna. After a little while, Rigel followed him. Anaph glanced at Rigel briefly, but went back to staring.

    “You wished you’d been there quicker”, Rigel said softly. “Why’d you say that?”

    “You heard me...”, Anaph whispered with a shake of his head. “Lord, I tripped. I came running, but I tripped. Had I arrived when I should have, Antonio would be whole.”

    Rigel pondered that, and they stood in silence. Some time later – Rigel had no idea how long – there came the sound of someone clearing a throat. They both turned to see Chen standing there, looking miserable. Rigel waved him to join them.

    “What’s on your mind?” he asked.

    “I abandoned my post.” When Rigel didn’t say anything, Chen went on. “I got cold. I went to get my shirt. The beasts attacked while I was away. If I’d been there, Antonio would be fine.” A smiled played at Anaph’s lips at that.

    Rigel smiled wryly. “Who else’s fault is this?” he asked. “Anaph says it’s his. You say it’s yours. I’ve been thinking it’s mine.
    “Let’s forget about fault. Chen, don’t leave your post any more. Me – post a bigger watch when there’s a threat, and a gofer to get things for the people on watch. Anaph, tell the trees to put their roots where we won’t trip on them.” The last statement broke the somber mood.
    “Now, Anaph, what did you really mean about keeping going?”

    Anaph smiled. “I can hide nothing from you.” He turned away from the savanna and pointed north. “I know Austin’s vision: Lumina will be a Healer. Somewhere up there is a place, or a thing, or an event which will wake her to her new self.” He turned his head to look at Rigel. “If we can find it soon, Antonio can live. If we fail....”

    “He dies”, Chen finished.




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  2. #102
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    I finally had a chance to spend some time out here and get caught up on your double installment.

    Action packed and very believable. Mayhem and Gore, complete with cunning, killing machines.

    And a bit more of the transcendental that permeates your good story, lol.

    Onward and Upward, reaching for the Mountains, and the resurrection of independent thought and life force for the healer designee of their group.

    Thanks for two more captivating installments.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  3. #103
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Don't worry, it will get dull eventually.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  4. #104
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    Re: Fit for Life

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    Dawn came, and with it a warm breeze from the east. Rigel opened his yes and groaned inwardly. He hadn’t slept a single hour straight; every little sound had brought him awake.

    Nor was he the only one: Chen had stayed up the rest of the night as well. He’d been more productive, though; first he’d taken limbs down to plug the gap in the gr’venstut fence, then finished a new boar spear to replace the broken one. After he’d dropped that off with Tanner on watch, he’d disappeared from Rigel’s sight.

    Now he returned, squatting beside Rigel. “Couldn’t sleep either, lord dude?” Chen asked.

    “Yeah. At least you did something useful.” Rigel sat up and stretched. “All I’ve got is an aching back.”

    Chen smiled. “I’ve got something to help your mood. Come on.” He led the way to the east end of the camp. There he showed Rigel a dead tree with an X scratched on it with charcoal – and three straight sticks with their tips embedded in the wood. He left Rigel to inspect it, and walked off a ways. When Rigel turned, Chen was waiting.

    “It’s not the best”, Chen said of the bow he held. “I don’t know if the wood is right. The deer hide cord isn’t great. We need to tan stuff, but we can’t while we’re on the move. I think intestines would make a better cord, but I’m not sure. But it works.
    “The hard part is the arrows – unless they’re really straight, they’re worthless. I made eighteen. Three were straight enough to use.
    “I feel like an idiot – I should have done this when we got here. If we could have shot at those beasts when they were farther away–“

    “Sure”, Rigel interrupted. “Then there wouldn’t have been a fence. That second one would have had you if not for the fence.
    “Chen, look at me: it isn’t your fault.”

    “Like hell it isn’t! I left my post!”

    “So what do you want me to do – tie you to a tree and have Austin whip you? That would make a lot of sense, huh?”

    Chen’s giggle was a bit hysterical. “I know what Austin would want to whip me with.”

    Rigel smiled. The humor was a cover for Chen’s feelings of guilt, he knew. He was afraid he was going to regret it later, but he made a decision. “Chen, how fast can you travel alone?”

    Chen blinked at the sudden change in topic. “I – four or five times as fast as with the group. What....?”

    “Ocean said there’s water. But we’re not on that route any longer. We need it, though; Antonio is going to be drinking half a day’s worth for the whole group every day.”

    “You want me to find that water.” Chen stared at the bow in his hand. “What if there are more of those gr’venstut out there? This isn’t much of a weapon.”

    “I know. Just – think about it.”

    Chen gave his answer after they’d all eaten, and Tanner and Ryan had hoisted the stretcher with Antonio on it. Rigel thanked him, and kept looking back over his shoulder for the next two hours, watching that tree-dappled outcrop. He’d just about given up when he saw two figures jog down the slope and head out on a diverging course from theirs. If there’s anyone out there to hear, he prayed, keep them safe.


    If a day spent moving as fast as they could manage without wearing themselves out, carrying a stretcher with a friend who was dying unless help was found in time, knowing that one of your own people could save him if they could only find what she needed, worrying about the decision to send two valuable members of the group off on their own, could be called boring, then Rigel had a boring day: he kept looking ahead, but the mountains never seemed to get closer; he kept trying to figure out what he should be doing differently, but no ideas came – and the land they were crossing all looked the same, and kept the same gentle uphill slope.

    When dinnertime came, Rigel called a halt. Devon and Dmitri came to him. “We’re not stopping”, they told him. “All the girls agree – if we can still move, we keep going. For Antonio.”

    All the girls. Rigel had to give them credit; if the girls were going to keep moving, none of the guys would admit to any idea of stopping. He though it over anyway.

    “All right. We stop an hour before sunset, though. The only protection we’ll have out here is a fire.” And where, he wondered, will we get any wood?

    So dinner was cold. Rigel made everyone spend ten minutes stretching before he let them move again: a cramp or pulled muscle was something they couldn’t afford.

    They’d been on the move for nearly an hour when Casey, on the move as their scout, came back at full race pace. He looped past Rigel and slowed to come back and walk beside him.

    “Rigel – you have – to see”, he panted, “the place – I found”.

    Rigel laughed. “Okay – catch your breath first. So – is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

    Casey punched him playfully. “It’s bigger than – a breadbox.”

    They walked together in silence – well, except for Casey’s breathing, which steadied out rapidly – for a minute. Casey broke the silence. “Rigel, did you know that running naked is fun?”

    Rigel laughed in spite of himself. “Is that your great discovery? You want me to come watch you running naked?”

    “I’d like Mel to”, the young runner replied. “No, the discovery” – he started to point, but turned back to Rigel. “We should turn now! Go past that clump of bushes toward the crooked peak!”

    “Spill it – why do we turn?”

    “It’s like a road! Smooth, solid, and going toward the mountains – lots easier!”

    Rigel understood Casey’s enthusiasm “Austin – go tell the front we’re turning. Casey – go lead ‘em.”

    “Yes, sir!” Casey was off like a bat. It turned into a race between him and Austin, but Austin had lived on the streets too much to have endurance: he took the lead early, but died before halfway.

    The path was everything Casey had said. It wasn’t, though, a path, something Ryan made certain to tell him right after they turned onto it.

    “I know”, Rigel responded. “And if we hear any thunder or see rain ahead, we get out. But right now, this is a smooth path and we can move faster and safer.” Ryan looked unhappy, and left, to go ahead and listen, he said.

    One eye on the sun, Rigel knew he should be calling a halt. But there hadn’t been anything resembling shelter; the closest had been an overhanging bank that might have had room enough for four of them. He was hoping desperately for something more, pushing back the time he’d planned to call a halt.

    Sometimes hopes are even rewarded. He hadn’t heard from Casey for a while, and was growing worried. They rounded a bend, though, and suddenly all worries vanished: ahead was a big pile of logs and sticks slammed against a stump in the riverbed. In front of the pile was Casey, hard at work with Oran’s fire-starting rig. A thin stream of smoke was rising. Looking at that smoke, Rigel noticed that in the pile behind Casey there was a hollow, one much larger than that pitiful overhang far behind them. Other logs, ones they would be able to lift, lay free on the ground in front.

    He didn’t even have to call halt; Rigel just watched as everyone reacted as he did to the sight of fire and shelter. In short order they had Antonio resting peacefully under shelter; Ryan and Tanner were turning loose logs into an extended wall, Rita was supervising the organization of the camp, Melanie and Breeze were plugging gaps in the walls – both natural and man-built – with smaller sticks, and the rest were grabbing firewood. The definition of that word, here, was “anything I can carry back to burn”.

    Dinner was venison roasted on sticks, nearly the last of what they’d packed fresh. It had a lemony flavor from the herb Ocean thought would preserve it, but even Crystal, who wasn’t fond of lemon, didn’t complain: fresh meat was too good, compared to jerky or pemmican. After dinner, Casey and Dmitri fed the fire until they decided it was big enough to scare off animals.

    Rigel sat with Antonio, watching the few stars they could see southward through the shelter opening, until Antonio slept. Then he spooned Austin. He fell asleep before he’d finished wiggling into a comfortable spot.


    They cruised the next day. Despite protests that the ‘lord’ shouldn’t do labor, Rigel took a turn at carrying Antonio’s stretcher. His notion was that the more people who took turns, the fewer who would get worn out. A gliding sort of movement was necessary to keep from jarring Antonio too much; Rigel found it oddly hypnotizing. People gave up trying to convince him to not help when he took his third turn.

    The dry stream bed wandered back and forth, but only once did it turn sharply enough away from their goal that they left it. To everyone’s delight, it turned out to be one of those loops where the river travels a major portion of a kilometer, but to walk across that loop was a matter of not even fifty meters. Those carrying Antonio went farther, to get up and then down the banks, but the delay was only minutes.

    Rita and Ocean handed out lunch on the move. They set up their supplies on Antonio’s stretcher, at his feet – he demanded payment, which Rita provided in the form of a lusty kiss. Rigel figured they covered and extra two kilometers or more by not stopping, and thanked the two for the idea.

    “We want to get Antonio to help”, was their explanation. And help was ahead, somewhere.

    Clouds appeared ahead late in the afternoon. No urging was necessary to get everyone to take to the high ground again. They marched due north for three hours, until the clouds had disappeared and Rigel – and Ryan – judged the threat passed.

    Anaph provided a special dinner treat for Antonio: he’d been feeling, he told Rigel, far more rabbits than should have been living in the area they’d passed through. So when they’d settled for the night, he went out a ways with Austin, and came back with a half-dozen rabbits.

    “You should have seen it”, Austin reported. “We just sat down, and he made funny sounds. After a while, two bunnies hopped up. They sniffed at us. When they got close to me, I hit them on the head hard, and then cut their throats. We did that three times!”

    Austin cooked Antonio’s rabbit himself. Antonio got all he wanted; everyone else got tidbits.


    “Lord Rigel?” Dark had come, and with it a depression Rigel couldn’t shake. Their camp wasn’t as good as the night before, but it was safe enough: they were on a piece of land surrounded by a tight loop in the riverbed. It was a little larger than the grove camp had been, and the opening was a little wider than on the granite bluff, but they hadn’t seen or heard sign of any gr’venstut. Anaph reported only distant cats, barely close enough to exchange identities with, and they hadn’t seem concerned. But something had driven him to solitude, and now Austin had disturbed it.

    “What?” Rigel snapped, and immediately regretted it. He turned to see his young attendant looking shocked and hurt. “Sorry, Austin. My mind was somewhere else.”

    Austin came and knelt behind him, beginning a shoulder massage. “You have many worries, lord.”

    Rigel sighed both in agreement and from the pleasure; Austin was very good with his hands. “What’s up?” he asked.

    “Look east”, was the cryptic response.

    There was a glow on the eastern horizon, one Rigel hadn’t seen before. Over the edge of the horizon a sharp curve peeked. “It looks like the moon! or a moon, anyway”, he corrected himself. But why haven’t we seen it before?”

    “I don’t know”, Austin replied. “I don’t know stars and stuff.”

    If it was a moon, it was a very strange one: it hardly got any higher in the sky, at least that they could tell, all night. Could a moon do that? Rigel wondered. Ryan would probably know, but he wasn't being very friendly lately. Some time later, Austin made a different guess. "It's a big round mountain with ice on top, reflecting the sunlight."

    That came along about the time Austin had Rigel stretched out and stripped, and was sitting on Rigel’s rear, driving his thumbs into Rigel’s lower back. Rigel had no desire to answer; he was more than content to just enjoy Austin’s attention. Austin moved to his knees, still straddling Rigel, and continued downward. Rigel found it weird to be getting his rear end massaged by a guy – or to have it massaged at all! – but it was too nice to object to. He didn’t object when Austin rolled him over, either, but he did a moment later as Austin straddled him and began to sit on Rigel.

    Rigel grabbed both of Austin’s hands. “Yo, buddy – you know where your butt’s gonna land?” Rigel’s estimate was that it would land on his crotch.

    Austin looked hurt. “I’m not after that!” he protested.

    Rigel relaxed his grip and softened his tone. “Okay, but just that contact is too much. And now it’s not just our age – I’m your lord, and you’re my squire.”

    Austin rocked back, caught himself, and swung off Rigel to sit on his knees. “You mean your attendant.” His tone betrayed what he wanted the answer to be, but didn’t dare believe.

    “No, my squire”, Rigel assured him. “I’ve been thinking about it for two days. You were really brave, diving in there to kill that gr’venstut. You saw something that needed you to do it, and you just went and did it.”

    Austin looked stricken. “I wasn’t fast enough.” He bit his lip.

    “That doesn’t matter – what matters is that you saw something no one else could do, and you just did it. That’s not something a lot of people have. It’s something a knight needs – so I’m making you my squire.”

    “I thought Chen was your squire.”

    “Who says I can’t have two?” Rigel grinned. “You both deserve it. Besides, I say so – Squire Austin.”

    Rules or no rules, Austin threw himself on Rigel and delivered a magnificent hug.


    Rigel held a short ceremony in the morning, making Austin officially his squire. It was brief, and congratulations had to be brief: they had kilometers to cover.

    The sun was nearing straight overhead, and Rigel was thinking of calling a break. There was no way they could all keep walking all day like they’d done the day before; fatigue was setting in, and fatigue meant accidents. Water was a concern; greater, though, was the pair he’d sent to look. His thoughts were put on hold once again by the appearance of Casey coming at a run.

    “Lord Rigel – we can’t – keep going – this way”, Casey panted.

    That was enough for Rigel; it was too good an excuse to pass up. “Break!” he called. “Rest and stretch!” He turned back to Casey. “What’s ahead this time?”

    “Dead end. Landslide – across stream. High banks – couldn’t climb.”

    It made sense. There were no signs of recent disturbance in the stream bed, but there should have been if the clouds that made the flash flood that caught Austin had rained here, too. When they’d seen those storms, they’d covered the face of the mountains – so where was the flood here? But with a slide blocking the path, it wouldn’t have come. Maybe, Rigel thought, there’s water behind that slide!

    Chen and Oran were south – that decided which way they would go. But getting out of the stream bed was a different matter. With a dead end ahead, they’d have to go back to a place where the stretcher could be gotten up safely.

    “How far back was the last easy place out of this stream?” Rigel asked Austin.

    “Like three hundred meters. Where that bank collapse was – we could even that out.”

    “Worth a try”, Rigel conceded. He raised his voice. “Everyone, we have to backtrack! This is a dead end. Ryan, bring ‘em along easy – Casey, Dmitri, Austin and I are going ahead to make a path.”

    “What do you mean ‘make a path’?” Tanner asked.

    “That collapsed bank back a bit is the closest place out. It’s either that or almost a kilometer” – Rigel was guessing, at that – “and I really don’t want to walk that far. We’ll smooth that collapse into something to carry the stretcher up.” Thought of the stretcher brought pain; there was no point asking Antonio his opinion, because there was inflammation in his wounds and the fever he had made him unable to keep track of anything beyond the pain and his thirst.

    Austin had been right: it was easy to turn the collapsed bank into a path out. They jogged to get there, worked with determination, and were stomping to pack the dirt just as Crystal came around the corner.

    Rigel watched her. She seemed to have lost her urge to have sex with every male alive, that had consumed her the first few days in this world. His guess was that had been a stress reaction. Now she’d become fairly dependable, and definitely creative. Her bout with vomiting and diarrhea had dimmed her spirits briefly, but she was bouncing back well. He shook his head vigorously: for a moment, he’d seen her in a rich gown, walking a path lined with men holding swords overhead.

    Dmitri and Casey, shorter than the others, took the front of the stretcher. Tanner and Ryan carried the back. Rigel and Austin walked along the sides to steady it. Rigel made them take it slow, calling out each step, until they had reached the top and three paces beyond. Only then did he allow the others to make the climb. The only mishap was when Breeze grabbed hold of Anaph’s staff for support, making them both tumble. The moment brought humor, though: he fell on his back, she fell forward, and her face ended about three inches from Anaph’s crotch.

    “Hey! He’s mine!”, Austin called, teasing. It was a morale-boosting moment, but for Rigel it was something bigger: Austin had reached the point where he could openly joke about his orientation. He wished he could somehow reach Governor Templeton and tell him what a damned fool he was, and that his unwanted son was now more a man than his father would ever be.


    Trudge, trudge.... The land rose. It developed swells and dips that became ridges and dells, which in turn became hills. Rigel tried to aim them up where they’d be able to glimpse behind that landslide. He wanted it to be full of water, good clean water.

    Crystal stumbled, so he called a break. Breeze was next. Casey came jogging back with a report of good ground up the ridge ahead, and asked, “Do I have to go back?”

    “I’ll scout”, Austin offered. “I’m not fast, but I can jog.”

    So it was Austin who came to report that he could see the landslide, now below them, that had turned their highway into a dead end. He hadn’t gotten a look behind it, but had come back to tell Rigel it was there. Rigel’s spirits rose, and he went jogging ahead with Austin and Dmitri to have a closer look. From where Austin had been, the slide was indeed all they could see, so they climbed higher. Rigel scaled a steep rock face for a view.

    There was no water, just mud.




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  5. #105
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Aw!, Kuli! That stopped too soon!

    You are, quite artfully, drawing us in even closer! I am truly Diggin' this! THANK YOU!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  6. #106
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    Aw!, Kuli! That stopped too soon!

    You are, quite artfully, drawing us in even closer! I am truly Diggin' this! THANK YOU!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    It may seem like too soon -- but just wait; things will fit.

    Now I have to get serious about the next chapter. If you've been paying attention, you know a lot about it already.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    It may seem like too soon -- but just wait; things will fit.

    Now I have to get serious about the next chapter. If you've been paying attention, you know a lot about it already.
    Definitely looking forward to More!

    And, I meant "too soon", not because things weren't fitting, but because I was enjoying reading it so much!

    And, yes, I've been paying attention! (At least to the extent my "older" mind is permitting me to. )

    Can't wait!

    But, don't "hurry", either!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    And, I meant "too soon", not because things weren't fitting, but because I was enjoying reading it so much!
    I know. But it needed to end there. There was another place it could have, but this seemed better. Besides, the chapter was already long enough.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    And, yes, I've been paying attention! (At least to the extent my "older" mind is permitting me to. )
    So, what's the focus of the next chapter?

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    Another great installment in the journey of their new lives.

    Thanks for continuing to create this saga for us.

    It's most entertaining.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I may slow down for a while -- writer's block set in.

    Meanwhile... can anyone tell me the main focus of the next chapter? You have all the clues you need.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    I may slow down for a while -- writer's block set in.

    Meanwhile... can anyone tell me the main focus of the next chapter? You have all the clues you need.
    Gunna guess that they find where they "need" to be and Luminara comes out of her... state? ...And learns how to heal people. I have a feeling that Antonio can't hold on too much longer! Infections are nasty things.

    Maybe I should read into it further, heh. That just seems like the obvious thing.

    And, I must say, I can't wait till Austin turns 18

    Thanks again for this awesome story!

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I'd say Anon hit the nail on the head, or is that he'd like to nail Austin's head - er or the other end?! lol

    Yeah, what he said! Merry Christmas. You've been writing at such a frenetic pace, I can appreciate you finding yourself temporarily at loggerheads.

    Take care. Enjoy the season.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymous View Post
    Gunna guess that they find where they "need" to be and Luminara comes out of her... state? ...And learns how to heal people. I have a feeling that Antonio can't hold on too much longer! Infections are nasty things.

    Maybe I should read into it further, heh. That just seems like the obvious thing.

    And, I must say, I can't wait till Austin turns 18

    Thanks again for this awesome story!
    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    I'd say Anon hit the nail on the head, or is that he'd like to nail Austin's head - er or the other end?! lol

    Yeah, what he said! Merry Christmas. You've been writing at such a frenetic pace, I can appreciate you finding yourself temporarily at loggerheads.

    Take care. Enjoy the season.
    Sorry; that's two chapters away (unless the story jumps up and makes it three).

    Sorry; Austin is booked with Rigel when he turns 18.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    Sorry; that's two chapters away (unless the story jumps up and makes it three).

    Sorry; Austin is booked with Rigel when he turns 18.
    Haha, I know, that's what I meant. I'd like to watch :]

    Hmm. I'll have to re-read the last few chapters before I can figure it out, eh? I'm always horrible at guessing what's coming next in a story

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymous View Post
    Haha, I know, that's what I meant. I'd like to watch :]
    Remember, Austin is only 14 -- it could be a while!

    But if it happens, you know where the reserved seats are.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Thanks Kuli, fantastic fantasy !! Great story!
    I hope they can reach the "magic?" place and save Antonio.
    Hugs, Happy Christmas
    Harry

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by harry113 View Post
    Thanks Kuli, fantastic fantasy !! Great story!
    I hope they can reach the "magic?" place and save Antonio.
    Hugs, Happy Christmas
    Harry
    All the younger kids will sing songs, the older ones will have an orgy, and he'll come out fine.


































    --- --- --- --- --- ---

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I didn't think I'd hammer it out this soon, but I have another chapter ready.

    If you're reading this and the chapter isn't here yet, it's under "post post" editing before I hit <submit>. And that can take an hour or so.....

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I have to hit the hay. I'm dead on my feet, and I'm sitting!
    I look forward to reading it in the morning.

    Take Care.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kulindahr View Post
    I didn't think I'd hammer it out this soon, but I have another chapter ready.

    If you're reading this and the chapter isn't here yet, it's under "post post" editing before I hit <submit>. And that can take an hour or so.....
    You've just guaranteed I'm going to be up for another hour!

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Trek


    “Whoa.” Chen had tested five arrows Oran had made, and all five flew straight and true. He turned to his younger partner and stuck out a hand. “You de master!”

    Oran shook, a little embarrassed. Chen had helped him make his own bow, then shown him the “disgustingly random” art of arrow making. Chen had made five, and one flew true; Oran had made five, and all flew true. “I can just tell when the wood is right”, he protested.

    Chen clapped him on the back. “That’s a talent and a half. I waste hours of time making arrows that won’t fly. I use the wood that looks good, and it’s still hard. Let’s make some more – but you pick the wood."

    With Oran picking the wood, Chen could relax and enjoy making arrows. Neither knew how to chip rock for arrowheads -- they didn't have the right kind of rock anyway, Oran said -- so they made the ends and sharp as they could and fire-hardened them. They had no feathers to make fletching, so they used flakes of bark from a tree Oran thought was an ash. Oran figured out how to use the slight curve of the thin bark to make the shafts spin – spin made them more stable in flight.

    “You got twelve?” Oran asked many minutes later.

    Chen counted. “Twelve good ones – and four throw-aways.” They looked at each other. “Practice?” they said in unison. They fired ten arrows each.

    Bow, arrows, supplies, short spears – everything was ready, they’d figured out how to carry it. Oran led off at a jog. As they passed the fence of spikes, Chen saw the rest of their group, tiny in the distance – eight kilometers away, if they’d made good time.

    He didn’t pause to wave; it was crunch time, time for him and Oran to show what they could do.


    If it hadn’t been for his experience as scout for the past days, Chen wouldn’t have been up to the exertion. But he fell in with Oran, who set a ground-eating pace – about a fast jog. Every few minutes – Chen found out later that Oran was counting a thousand paces – they walked until their breath settled down. It became a rhythm, one that before the first hour was gone pulled Chen in. Suddenly it was easier, and he found himself grinning at Oran as the meters flew by under their feet.

    The two had developed a bond while scouting together. It was enough that they rarely had to speak; obstacles were pointed out with a flick of a hand, a changed of direction suggested by a tip of the head. The silence became a bond between them greater than speech for most people. Their strides came to match – and if they’d stopped to check, their heart rates and breathing did, too. It was something very much like symbiosis, letting them function as more a single organism than a team.

    Oran called an early walk; he’d forgotten how many thousands of strides they’d come. He had to stop and think, because each thousand was about a kilometer, once the walk was added in. Sixteen, maybe? He asked Chen. “How many breaks is this?”

    “Sixteen”, Chen answered. “How far is that?”

    “It should be sixteen kilometers. We’re doing about twelve kilometers per hour. Ten on the rough stuff.” Oran dropped most of his gear and began to stretch.

    “This is a stretch break?” Chen started dropping his own gear.

    “Yeah – and water. We should have taken a swallow before. And we need to shed a layer – it’s warming up.”

    Chen watched his companion bob and lean. “You like this, don’t you?”

    Oran grinned. “Oh, yeah! I’m all ready to really go – walks between every twenty-five hundred paces. We’ll really eat it up.” He bounced on his toes while swiveling his shoulders back and forth. “Now get with it – stretch.”

    “Yes, massah”, Chen quipped. He knew Oran was right, so he started copying what his younger friend was doing, and took instruction on the ones he’d missed. Most were actually familiar, but Oran wasn’t just stretching his running muscles, he was stretching and limbering up every major muscle group.

    Outer shirts shed, gear loaded up, and one swallow of water down, they were off again.


    Hand horizontal over hand vertical, Chen made the near-universal sign for “Time out!” somewhere after noon. “Okay”, he puffed, “I was doing fine on the easy slope, but this angling across it is killing my ankles.”

    Oran fell back to walk beside Chen. “We’ve done sixty-two kilometers by my count. We can walk the rest of the day now.” He stopped to look around. “Hoist me onto your shoulders – I want some height.” Chen obligingly shed his gear, knelt behind Oran and put his head between his fellow scout’s legs. Those legs clamped on his neck, and Chen lunged forward and up. Oran’s feet hooked behind Chen’s back, for stability.

    “There’s a high spot ahead, maybe six or eight kilometers”, Oran reported. “How about we go there, then decide what’s next?”

    “Sounds good to me.” Chen was tempted to just drop Oran, but weary legs could give way, bringing injury, so he set him carefully back down. Then they walked.

    “Shall we?” Oran asked. He knew Chen was hurting, but that rise to the west-northwest looked inviting.

    Chen grunted. Climbing the first rise had been enough for him. On the other hand, there was plenty of daylight left, so... “All right. But we jog a hundred, walk fifty – screw the distance counting.”

    Oran grinned. “I can figure it from that, too. But we jog this whole downhill – it’s not even three hundred meters.”

    After the ten-minute break on the rise, from which they’d looked over the countryside, Chen found that he’d regained some energy. The downhill jog was easy, in fact for a while they broke into a run – at Chen’s pace; he knew that Oran could have left him in the dust. It even felt good.

    They walked the last two hundred meters. Oran had slightly strained a calf muscle when a piece of ground gave way over some rodent colony just as the ground began to really slope up. What Chen wanted to do was crawl, but he had his dignity.

    They reached the top together. Gear fell off them together as jaws dropped together.

    Ocean had been right: there was water! Not just a creek, or a pond, but a lake that stretched across the early foothills.

    “I say it’s three kilometers long”, Oran commented finally.

    “At least”, Chen agreed. “And thirty kilometers away.”

    Oran shook his head. “That’s illusion. The haze makes it seem farther than it is.”

    Chen frowned. “I don’t see a haze.”

    “That’s what’s tricky about it – you can’t actually see it, you just see its effects.” Oran pointed. “See that pair of ridges? Look between them – the features on the ridges are clear, but in the hollow everything’s fuzzy. That says there’s a haze, and it hangs thicker in the low areas.”

    “Wow.” Chen was impressed, and said so. “I’m impressed. How long have you been doing this stuff? Serious outdoors stuff, I mean.”

    Oran sat and wrapped his arms around his knees, enjoying the sight of the lake. “I did the whole Appalachian Trail when I was thirteen, Georgia to Maine. The next year I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada. After that I did the coastal trails through Oregon and California. I met with Scout troops along the way and taught merit badges – hiking, backpacking, camping, orienteering. I was in Order of the Arrow almost as soon as I was in Scouts.
    “I can’t imagine a summer without backpacking and hiking, or canoeing. I think I can make a canoe, if we ever find a place to settle down. Living outdoors is my place. I belong out here.”

    Chen thought about that for a while. “Sounds like you grew up fine. How’d you end up in the Project?”

    “Grew up fine?” Oran’s tone was bitter. “I hiked the Appalachian at thirteen with a cousin and his girlfriend, just to get away from home. I got to sleep in a tent with them fucking every single night.
    “I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with two high school guys from a place called Sweet Home, in Oregon. Somewhere near Mammoth Lakes, I got up early, packed my stuff, and ditched them.” He looked up at Chen. “After three times waking up from a bare ass bumping my face, I’d had enough.”

    “You hooked up with two guys who were fucking?”

    Oran shrugged. “Butt-fucking, face-fucking, crotch-fucking. Face-fucking kinda fascinated me, the first couple of times. But butt stuff made the tent stink, and crotch-fucking left a cum smell.”
    “I left the trail two nights later and hitchhiked into a town. I was lucky, they had a good sporting goods store – I think it was a Joe’s. I bought a tent of my own. Then on the way back, the fat lady I got a ride from was hitting on me – that was so gross I didn’t really sleep that night.” He flashed a grin. “I didn’t get the tent set up right, either, ‘cause it was dark when I got back on the access trail.
    “Then up in Oregon I met this group of guys from a couple of high schools. They were all runners, and a lot of fun. Two of them were gay; no one cared. They were both really funny, though, and made us all laugh. I hiked with them all the way to Mount Hood – that’s where they left. They got me to working out with them, and I loved it. On warm days we did a mile in the morning, naked. Watching people’s faces as we raced along was awesome.
    “Washington I hiked alone right up to the Suiattle Pass. That’s kind of a death climb, a thousand meters up, up, and up. I took a day off before I started, and that’s when I met three college guys who were hiking the trail for charity. They had pledges for seven forty-five per mile. Mountain House, the big outdoor supply outfit, had donated all their food. We hit it off great. My first night with them, Grant shared my tent, because they had three people in a small two-man tent. We became really good friends.” Oran fell silent for a while.

    “Anyway”, he went on, “the next summer I did the coast trail thing. Then about a week after I got home, my dad was yelling at me for wasting my time with ‘sissy Scouting stuff’. I told him he should try it, he wouldn’t last a day. He really got mad then, and my mom tried to calm him down.” Oran’s face froze up. “He hit her. She ran to the kitchen, and he went after her. He broke the broom across her face. There was a pan of little sausages cooking, and she threw that in his face. He screamed and kicked. It broke some ribs. Then she took the big meat cleaver and hacked at him. He got it away, so she grabbed a butcher knife and stuck it between his ribs.
    “My dad was dead, and part of me was relieved. They put mom in prison, though.” Tears flowed down Oran’s face. “The jury said it was murder, but she was just terrified and defending herself. He’d beat her before, but the cops never believed it.
    “So the court sent me to live with an uncle, who tried to molest me. I rigged booby traps in my room to keep him away. He kept trying, though, outside the room. I told the cross-country team captain, and he told his friend the wrestling team captain – then a few days later my uncle started being really, really nice to me.
    “But he got caught shipping drugs inside hollow-walled planters. The court yanked me out of there and stuck me in a foster home. It was an ex-Marine family, and they did everything like it was a Marine base. One night I got pissed and told my foster dad that he must be awfully insecure if he had to have his rituals the same every day. He threw me out.
    “There was another foster home where I barely got fed and never got new clothes. I told a teacher at school, and one day a couple from Children’s Protective Services showed up. They wanted to see the records of the money spent on me. It all looked good, they even had receipts, but it was all a lie. That Friday four cops showed up and arrested my foster parents for a bunch of stuff. They arrested some store owners, too, and some other foster parents. The store owners had been issuing fake receipts and splitting the support money.
    “I didn’t wait for the court to send me anywhere else; I took off. In Nevada I fell in with an awesome guy named Javin, who asked his parents, and I got to live with them. I went to high school and loved it, and was really happy.
    “Then the court caught up with me. They said I was delinquent. That’s how I got in the Project.”

    Chen didn’t know what to say, so he just sat down by Oran and let his left knee lean against Oran’s right. They sat, just being together, until the sun was gone. Then they started to get ready for the night.

    “Hey, look”, Oran said. “What’s that glow?”

    “Looks like the moon’s coming up”, Chen replied – and then did a double-take. “Dude, we haven’t seen a moon at all so far. How’s that possible?”

    Oran stared for a while. “I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I’m going to sleep.”


    Chen groaned.

    “Sore?” Oran inquired.

    “Yeah – my pillow kept wiggling. Screwed up my neck. Awfully skinny pillow, too."”

    “Well, something heavy got on my arm, and it fell asleep. So you have to carry everything today.”

    They had snuggled together for warmth, lacking any other source, or shelter. Oran had kept watch for two hours, then traded with Chen. When Chen came back to trade off again, though, he’d fallen asleep before Oran was fully awake -- and Oran fell back asleep, so he never went on watch.

    “You know we’re lucky nothing wanted a snack”, Chen observed, pressing himself into Oran’s warmth briefly before sitting.

    “Yeah. But I was hiding behind you, so I was safe”, Oran cracked.

    “Oh, no”, Chen disagreed. “You’re younger and they always go for the more tender morsels.”

    Oran laughed. “When’s your birthday?”

    “March twelfth.”

    “Mine’s August twelfth. So you’re a whole five months older than I am.” He began stretching, scanning the territory around them at the same time.

    Chen laughed. “Okay, so we’re both tender morsels. Hey – has Austin hit on you?”

    Oran blushed. “Yeah.” He pursed his lips and considered. “He got some, too. So?”

    It was Chen’s turn to blush. “I just wondered, but... yeah, I gave him a shot of what he wanted.” For some reason that made Oran feel closer to Chen. He reached down and gave the slightly older guy a hand up, and pulled him into a quick hug.

    “What was that for?” asked Chen, as he, too, began stretching exercises.

    “I just appreciate you, I guess”, Oran replied.

    Chen grinned. “I’d appreciate you more if you didn’t fall asleep instead of going on watch.” Oran started to protest, but Chen kept going. “But since you appreciate me, you’re forgiven.”

    “Stinker”, Oran responded.

    “Morsel”, Chen popped back. They grinned at each other.

    Several minutes later, stretches complete and gear loaded, Oran began bouncing on his toes, watching Chen make sure all his gear was on securely. “How about we go get some water?” he asked when Chen was ready.

    “Water it is”, Chen replied, and off they went, walking for a hundred paces before they switched to a jog. With the lake in view as an incentive, both were eager, and their pace showed it.


    “I could cry”, Oran declared some three hours later. They stood overlooking the lake – and unable to reach it.

    Chen looked disgusted. “Yeah. It’s a beautiful lake, though, isn’t it? And if we hadn’t changed course because of those gr’venstut, we would have hit it almost head-on.” He kicked a stone and watched it sail out over the drop-off. "I never thought there would be a cliff!”

    The lake spread before them, easily three kilometers long, probably a half kilometer across at the widest part. Entire groves of oak, mixed with fir and cedar, dotted the far shore, where the grass along the edge was lush and green. Four streams ran in, one each from the south and west, two from the north where the ground was higher. The trees were thicker to the north, too, groves nearly touching or even running together. It was the border zone between savanna and forest.

    But on their side, the shore was marked by a sharp cliff, which they agreed was between ten and thirty meters high. The difference was because the land rose and fell along this shore. They found a spot that stuck farther west than the rest, so they could look for slides or rock falls that might provide a way down.

    “Nothing”, Chen said, kicking another rock out into the air. He counted, estimated in his head. “Four-eight, fifty meters. What the heck made this side of the lake pop up?”

    Oran looked thoughtful. “Maybe the lake is here because this side popped up. Maybe those streams met here and kept flowing east, but then this got high and the water stopped against it.”

    Chen looked at his companion with new respect. You’re not just a set of legs and eyes, huh? he thought. “You might be right. It doesn’t help us, but you might be right. Well”, he sighed, “nothing for it. Back south would be dumb–“

    “...so we go north”, Oran concluded. They walked, discouragement having sapped their strength. Within an hour, though, they were jogging, eating up the kilometers, following the edge of the cliff... never finding a way down.


    Oran stumbled. He rolled and came to a sitting position, feeling his ankle. Seeing Chen’s concern, as he came and squatted, Oran told him, “No biggie. I learned a long time ago to just drop and roll the moment my foot hit something bad. It’s like instinct now.” Chen glanced at the ankle. Oran shook his head. “I’d better walk for a while to feel it out. But it feels okay.”

    Twenty minutes later he wasn’t so confident. “I can’t move as fast”, he reported. “This will slow us down. Damn it – Rigel’s counting on us!”

    “Bud, we’ve moved so fast we could catch them by walking”, Chen responded.

    Oran considered it. “Maybe. But we have to keep going – up ahead there has to be a way down. Okay, maybe not to the lake, but to that stream. I really don’t think what did this cut the mountains in two.”

    Chen had to agree, so they continued north, walking half the time, jogging half the time. As before, they traveled without talking.

    “Um, Chen? Don’t look now, but off to my right there’s one of those big cats.”

    Chen could see something in his peripheral vision, and it was moving, so he took Oran’s word that it was a big cat. “What’s it doing?”

    “Pacing us.”

    “I hope it’s not shopping for dinner!”

    Whatever the cat was up to, it didn’t seem intent on bothering them. It seemed content to pad along with them. Bit by bit it got closer, then held a separation of thirty meters. It continued, hour after hour, until they reached a point in the foothills where the land along the cliff was jumbled.

    “We could climb down this”, Oran judged. "Those blocks are like steps."

    “We could, but no stretcher could”, Chen replied. “We have to find a place everyone can go.”

    Oran muttered something Chen couldn’t make out, and turned away from the broken slope. The cat stood there less than ten meters away. “Chen – turn around slowly.”

    “Holy shit”, Chen breathed. Just then the cat turned and began walking away.

    “Maybe it came close and decided we weren’t dinner”, Oran guessed. But the cat had turned and come back. It looked at them both intently, then turned and started padding away again.

    “Chen, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Oran.

    “That it wants us to follow it?” Chen responded. “Why should we?”

    “It hasn’t attacked us?” Oran suggested. “Chen, this isn’t normal for a cat. I think it’s safe. And remember Anaph has been talking to them."

    Chen considered. “Okay – but if you’re wrong, I will torture you for eternity.”

    “Promise?” Oran teased. And they set off after the cat.

    Walking in unknown woods can be slow going. The cat, though, led them on paths where the only hazard was branches hanging low. Other animals avoided them.

    And in time, the cat stopped, looking ahead, as if to say, Look here, at what I’ve brought you to.

    Oran and Chen took it that way, pushing past the cat through ferns and low branches. What they saw made them want to cheer.

    “Oran, this is it!” Chen said, and walked forward.

    Oran stood looking. It’s beautiful! he thought. It was a beauty he could almost taste; he breathed deep, taking it in.

    A stream tumbled down between rocks, moss covering many, little plants sticking up downstream from some. Low brush and ferns grew right down to the water’s edge, except around the pool below the series of small falls. There, a sand bar covered with moss provided plenty of room for a dozen people to gather, and the rocks immediately upstream made a place where people could kneel down and fill containers with water.

    “Now we just have to tell Rigel”, he breathed, and went forward to join Chen.






    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    God Morning, Kuli.
    A great adventure for Oran and Chen - and companion trailblazing big Cat!

    You brought back memories of my Scouting days, though I never did the Apalachian Trail, I did a fair amount of hiking in the Adirondacks.

    Thanks for the installment and the memories.
    And, Merry Christmas!


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I'm not sure how the cats got in the story. They were predators out there, and that was about it.

    Since they've shown up... it's an interesting new plot bit to play with.



    BTW, if I could send messages back to my younger self, one would be to put up with the rich snobs and do Scouts anyway.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I used to be in scouts.

    Left because my troop was full of immature brats who didn't listen to a word that was said. The last night I went to a meeting, some kid was playing around with a really heavy door that led into the room where we kept all of the camping stuff. After I told him to leave it alone (I was his patrol leader), he ended up slamming his finger shut in the door, so I brought in the first aid kit from my car and left. Never did get that kit back, come to think of it :P

    I really do miss the camping and the hiking though! It was fun and kept me in shape, lol.

    Anyways, another great installment :] I like the idea of the cats helping them now. It gives the group (and the readers) a little sense of security. Maybe some sort of weird permanent alliance will work itself out! I'm sure Anaph could arrange it. Now he's gotta work with those gr'venstut!

    Cheers, and Happy Holidays! Be safe!

    -Anon

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymous View Post
    I used to be in scouts.

    Left because my troop was full of immature brats who didn't listen to a word that was said. The last night I went to a meeting, some kid was playing around with a really heavy door that led into the room where we kept all of the camping stuff. After I told him to leave it alone (I was his patrol leader), he ended up slamming his finger shut in the door, so I brought in the first aid kit from my car and left. Never did get that kit back, come to think of it :P

    I really do miss the camping and the hiking though! It was fun and kept me in shape, lol.

    Anyways, another great installment :] I like the idea of the cats helping them now. It gives the group (and the readers) a little sense of security. Maybe some sort of weird permanent alliance will work itself out! I'm sure Anaph could arrange it. Now he's gotta work with those gr'venstut!

    Cheers, and Happy Holidays! Be safe!

    -Anon
    I did plenty of camping and hiking without Scouts. When I started working with a troop as an adult leader, I sat down and read the entire manual. I compared the requirements for stuff with what I'd done in the outdoors, and concluded that I would have been an Eagle by 15.


    I'm not sure what to do with the cats. They weren't part of the original story line. Now I have to decide where they fit in, which means deciding for sure why they're helping.

    They plainly know something of Druids or something like them, because they sort of recognized what Anaph was. They seem to be able to read minds or emotions from people who can't read them back. Evidently they have a social network that extends hundreds of kilometers -- or a memory of two-legged people with whom they were friends before... which just begs the question, by extending the cause backwards.

    Maybe I'll just decide that they're all actually in a computer simulation game and one of the 'players' is getting frisky.



    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Whatever the nature of things, here comes another piece... once it's edited. I managed that in 50 minutes last night; I'll see if I can shave some off that.


    [edit]

    {initiating}

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    “Is this awesome, or what?” Oran asked when he caught up with Chen.

    “It’s ‘or what’”, Chen quipped. “Camping here will be great!”

    Oran stared at him. “Um, stop and think about that.”

    Several minutes passed as Chen frowned and looked around. “Oh”, he said finally. “Critters come down to the water at night, huh?”

    “You got it. We want to be back up on the high stuff. Out of the woods.”

    “We hiked down in here, and now we have to hike out”, Chen complained, theatrically.

    “You’re overdoing it”, Oran told him. “Before we turn around, let’s fill up on water.” He went over to the edge and dropped down in pushup position. He lowered himself till his lips touched the water, and drank.

    Chen drank from a bottle and refilled it. “What’s with the pushup?”

    “Keeps from getting wet and dirty”, Oran answered. “Besides, chicks think it’s kool.”

    “There are chicks out in the wilderness, to care?”

    “Hottest chicks in the world!” Oran exclaimed. “Slender, fit, never airheads.” He popped up by thrusting away with his hands and taking one step forward.

    “You know something?” he asked Chen.

    “About what?”

    “The water. We’re not filtering it, or boiling it, and it’s probably cleaner than the stuff out of the pipes at home.”

    “I was wondering why we weren’t getting sick.”

    Oran frowned. “Some of the places we got water, I’m surprised somebody didn’t get the trots. We’ve been lucky. But this is good water.”

    Chen stood and sealed the cap on his water bottle. “Well, let’s grab some firewood. I’d like a good fire to keep things away. We can both sleep for a couple of hours that way.”

    “Two fires”, Oran recommended. “One on each side of us.”

    “Worried I’ll sleep near the fire and you’ll freeze?”

    “You know you will”, Oran claimed, with a straight face. “Really – the Indians did it that way, so you get heat from both sides. And animals are less likely to bother us.”

    “That makes sense. Well, we can make more than one trip. Sure wish we had an axe, though.”

    They picked a spot on what appeared to be a giant boulder – bigger than a pair of school buses. A ridge of dirt led up one side, like a ramp up to a castle. Small depressions here and there around the mostly flat top gave them a choice of good spots for their two fires. With only one way up, the choice was easy: one fire went in the best spot near the entrance, and the other in the best spot across from it – they didn’t get one directly across the circle from the other, but it was good enough that they could sleep in between. Yet perhaps the best thing about the spot was that they could see many kilometers in every direction except into the mountains.

    Darkness had fallen by the time they had what they considered enough wood. They sat for a while just looking at the sky.

    “So many stars.” Oran lay back and stared upward. “I can’t tell if there’s a Milky Way.”

    Chen was staring in a different direction: east.

    “Oran, look over there and tell me what you see”, he requested, pointing.

    “A spot of light.” Then, “Oh! It’s a fire.”

    “And not out of control, so it’s a made fire.” He turned to Oran with a grin. “That’s them!”

    “Two days away”, Oran estimated. “For them, I mean.” Suddenly he looked worried. “Does Antonio have that long?”

    Chen stared at the spot of light. “Oran – that moon’s not going anywhere.”

    Oran rolled with the change of subject. “It’s farther west than it was.”

    “That’s not what I mean. It’s going to be in the sky all night.”

    Oran turned and looked at him. “You’re not thinking....”

    Chen nodded. “I’m thinking we’ll get a couple hours of sleep. Then I’m going to run there. I can do it – I’m adjusted now.”

    “Oran thought about it. “We’ll both go. I’m a better runner–“

    “With two ankles that have been hurt once already. You stay put here – I’m going. So let’s sleep.”

    Oran didn’t look happy, but he heard the tone of command in Chen’s voice – and Rigel had put Chen in charge. They added wood to both fires, curled up together, and were asleep quickly.

    Oran awoke suddenly. He didn’t know what had disturbed him. Out of habit, he didn’t move, pretending to still be asleep, while he listened hard and sniffed as well. The world was silent. He smelled forest, a mix of scents of moss and fern, brush and tree; he smelled woodsmoke – heavy woodsmoke. That meant the fire was dying, but he wasn’t ready to say that was what woke him up. He was toasty warm, even though the fires were low–

    He froze: Chen was in front of him, snuggled up tight. Oran’s front was supposed to be warm, but his back was warm, too – and there was pressure against it. With willpower he kept his breathing regular, but willpower couldn’t keep his mouth from going dry.

    He poked Chen. “Don’t move”, he whispered. Chen poked back with an elbow. “Can you manage a look behind me?” Oran requested.

    Chen pretended to toss in his sleep, ending on his back. Then he exploded to his feet, backing away. “Oran, get away!” he yelled.

    Trusting him, Oran rolled away from – well, from what he saw in a moment to be one of the big cats. It might even have been the same one that had led them earlier. His heart pounded, his breath came fast as he hopped to his feet and stood by Chen. It wasn’t just one cat, either: two more lay on the ramp connecting their boulder to the hillside. Oran swallowed hard. He forced himself to take deep, slow breaths to calm himself. That’s when he noticed a different pressure.

    “I gotta piss”, he announced, turning to walk to a sharp edge of the boulder. He and Chen had thought it was convenient to be able to urinate over the edge, so they didn’t have to walk far from camp; now it was a temporary refuge.

    Okay, we’ve got cats, he thought, or maybe they’ve got us. I won’t believe that one led us here to be a meal. No, they understand, and they’re trying to help. They have to be. If they’ll run with Chen....

    Cats, Chen was thinking. Anaph can talk to cats. Maybe he sent them. Yeah – that would explain the one leading us to the falls and pond. And with them doing guard duty, I won’t have to worry about Oran while I run!

    “Oran.” “Chen.” They spoke at the same time, and laughed.

    “You first”, Chen conceded.

    “They’re friendly”, said Oran. “They can run with you, and be sure you make it to Rigel and Antonio.” He looked hurt when Chen burst out laughing.

    “Sorry, buddy – I’m laughing because I was thinking that they could stay with you, and I wouldn’t have to worry.” Chen laughed again. Oran saw the humor; he only laughed a little, though.

    “I start now, too”, Chen said. “I’m refreshed. The moon’s bright.” He looked over at the big cat which had snuggled up to Oran. “I guess we’ll see if any will come with me.”

    Oran surrendered to Chen’s plan. “I’d rather go, too, but maybe you’re right. A day or so off this ankle will help. Um, make sure you’ve got everything. Don’t forget to stretch.”

    The parting was uncomfortable. They’d spent so much time together that separating felt like some sort of wound being inflicted. Oran grabbed Chen, and they hugged for what seemed like hours.

    “I’ll be back before you know”, Chen promised. With that, he turned and was off at a jog.

    Oran sat and watched him until he disappeared in the gloom. Run well, he thought, flinging the wish after his scouting partner. Then he stoked the fire by the ramp, and returned to the spot where he’d been sleeping. The cat snuggled up against him again. While he was wondering if that should be scary or comforting, he fell asleep.


    Chen ran. He saw that spot of light ahead, though it had dimmed. He’d jogged until out of Oran’s sight, then walked briefly, stretched again, and started off at a jog. After only a few dozen strides, he began to pick up the pace, and soon was moving at a real run.

    Off to each side he could see one of the big cats, running with him. It was an eerie feeling, having them as companions. Knowing he was flanked by animals each of which could tear his throat out without exerting itself fed a stream of fear – but then he recalled a friend’s dog from when he was in middle school, a dog nearly as big as these cats, and with just as ferocious a set of teeth. If the dog didn’t frighten him, why did the cats? The answer was simple: the dog was a pet, and these were... well, he couldn’t really call them wild, not if they cooperated with and helped people. But just because they weren’t wild didn’t make them tame, either. There was a book his mom had read to him, a story of some kids and another world, and people kept saying, “He’s not a tame lion”. These weren’t lions, weren’t as big as lions, but he was certain that they weren’t tame cats.

    Why would they help?
    He wondered as he ran. Why be friendly to humans? And if they helped, how intelligent were they? Earth cats, after all, weren’t very bright – they were brilliant at being cats, but were lacking in the I.Q. department. These, though.... They talked with Anaph – like telepathy. Except he said it was pictures and sensations and smells. But wouldn’t it take some serious brainage to do that? He ran on, examining those thoughts. There’s something here important, he decided, something we have to know. Bloody! They might know why we’re here!

    That thought was enough to stop him in his tracks – almost literally. He had no idea how long he’d been running, and with a moon that hardly moved, he had no way of estimating. Stupid, he chastised himself. You should keep track. On the other hand, though, time really didn’t matter: he knew where he was going, and his job was to keep moving until he got there. Since he’d stopped, he did some stretching and took a swallow of water.

    Then it was back to running. After some time – how much, he had no clue; he’d been thinking about what would happen if there were any more cliffs or such – the cat on his right moved out ahead of him. In another minute it changed course slightly, so Chen followed.

    Did they know what I was thinking? he wondered. Or were they going to lead me anyway? And does the one still on my left mean there’s danger in the hills, but not from the south?

    No images came to his mind in answer. To his left, though, the cat still running parallel to him looked over briefly, then glanced toward the forest. For Chen, that was enough to prove the cats were in his thoughts. At least when they’re loud thoughts, he qualified.

    He tried to count paces, but lost track before he reached a hundred. Must take practice, he decided. Or maybe Oran’s one of those weird math freaks? He just knows how many steps he’s taken, and doesn’t really count them? Chen tried to imagine what it would be like to have such a talent. That was an effort that carried him several kilometers.

    The ground sloped up. They’d come to a ridge there was no way around; Chen hoped the cats were taking him up the best way. As it was, before they crested it he was putting his hands on his knees as he climbed, our of sheer weariness. But the top brought more reward than merely being able to go downhill from it: there, before him, much closer than before, was the spot of light – and the flickering showed plainly that it was a fire. He stood catching his breath and taking gladness from the sight. A shiver reminded him of Oran’s admonition: never stop so long you get cold! So Chen took a deep breath, and jogged down the hill after the waiting cat, the other still to his north.

    Somewhere between that ridge and the next, Chen began to understand why Oran made the patterns he did – run so much, walk so much, jog so much, and run again. It made for a rhythm, and that rhythm brought its own sort of energy. He’d fallen into a pattern of jogging sixty paces, running three hundred, walking thirty, and repeating. His mind became lost in the rhythm, and the ground flowed under his feet. It began to feel as though he were just moving in place, pushing the world along under him, making it spin to his will and thus deliver him to his goal.

    Another ridge came and went, spinning its way under his feet as Chen spun the world. From the top there was barely a glimpse of the ridge that had the fire. This time he barely slowed; it was over the top and down again. But down this time wasn’t straight down: an animal path led crosswise to the slope, and his cat leader followed it. Farther north, he noticed, and ran on.

    It was getting light before he topped the next ridge. Early morning sunlight streamed through the air above him, the beams visible in cloud or smoke – maybe Oran would know the difference, he thought. When he topped this ridge, the one that had held the fire was so close he could almost make out figures there: Rigel, it appeared, was wasting no time getting the group moving. Turn west, Chen willed them.




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Whoa -- was that chapter a bomb, or something?

    I'm almost ready with the next one, and the one following is knocking on the inside of my skull, begging to be written.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  29. #129
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli, I am just now on page 3...101, 128 is fast approaching the pressure is on man, the pressure is on...you are doing great ..thx for the read my man, thanks for the read..

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    I started the chapeter earlier, but didn't get a chance to finish it till now. A very interesting chaper, as the scouts become teamed with the cats and explore, analyze, and return for the others.

    It's a great saga.
    Thanks,


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  31. #131
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Kuli, I am just now on page 3...101, 128 is fast approaching the pressure is on man, the pressure is on...you are doing great ..thx for the read my man, thanks for the read..
    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Kuli,
    I started the chapeter earlier, but didn't get a chance to finish it till now. A very interesting chaper, as the scouts become teamed with the cats and explore, analyze, and return for the others.

    It's a great saga.
    Thanks,
    Anaph, with a vision into the future, says there may even be unexpected sex soon!


    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  32. #132
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli, believe it or not, I am not actually reading it for the sex. You have an entertaining writing style...the sex is a small part of the story to me.

  33. #133
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Healer


    “That moon is weird.”

    Rigel and everyone else nearby turned in surprise: Antonio had been feverish, and no one had expected anything coherent from him until – and if – they reached whatever it was that was supposed to turn Lumina into what Anaph called a “Healer”... whatever that was.

    “It just sits there”, Antonio continued in a plaintive tone. “I don’t like it. Make it move!”

    Rigel closed his eyes and sighed. From the way he was talking, it didn’t sound like Antonio was quite lucid. His speech sounded like that of a ten-year-old.

    Ocean had come to Antonio’s side. “Just stay with him”, Rigel requested. She nodded and began talking to Antonio in simple words.

    Rigel was anxious to get moving. Through the night, their only real protection had been the fire. Fuel hadn’t been a real problem; they’d continued up the ridge from which they’d seen mud instead of a lake, to a place where it broadened. There, Casey had found a fairly level spot some forty meters from where one huge tree – Ryan identified it as a Picea pungens, a blue spruce, which grew in the western Rockies... back home. “A variety”, he’d said, noting certain minor differences, such as increased needle length. The rest of them were more interested in the fact that it had been forty-eight meters tall, and when it had fallen it took out two dozen lesser trees. They all lay in a heap, branches and trunks alike splintered and shattered – a tremendous pile of firewood.

    So they’d posted only one guard at a time, and Rigel had told them they were standing shorter watches – which they could time fairly well thanks to Antonio’s star-gazing. So instead of eight hours of rest, they’d had six. That was two more hours for getting Antonio closer. If we’re even going the right direction, Rigel had commented to himself, not wishing to start any doubts among the rest.

    He’d joined Dmitri on the last watch, and they’d thrown on just about every last bit of wood. Dmitri had pointed out that they might as well use the wood, since they’d hauled it, and Rigel had realized that a big bed of coals when everyone got up would raise spirits.

    Finally the morning’s slowpoke – it had been a race between Breeze and Melanie – was ready, and off they went, westward. The wind was capricious, bringing them the smoke of their own bonfire to them every now and then. There hadn’t been any dew – that made everyone happy, because dew meant wet feet and even more deterioration in shoes and socks.

    The moment everyone was moving, Casey took off forward, scouting the way. He didn’t range as far as Chen or Oran did, out of sight of the group; his task was to look for obstacles or uneven ground: if he found some, he would signal, and Dmitri would go up and wait to show the group the best way. So far he’d encountered only one hostile animal, a creature that looked like a raccoon – if a raccoon had ever lived that had a mane of quills like a porcupine and fangs like an English boar. He’d dealt with it quite handily, then sat skinning the thing while the group caught up.

    Rigel watched him go, then fell in beside Anaph. “You’ve been quiet a lot lately”, he began. “What’s the deal?”

    Anaph regarded him with an assessing demeanor; Rigel felt like he was being judged. “I have been learning”, Anaph intoned.

    “Like what?” Rigel inquired.

    “Why there are white flowers, and why there are yellow; why there are short fat worms, and why there are long jointed ones; why the same grass grows tall and rough when the seed falls here but short and lush when it falls by water; why the dung of deer and elk is consumed by beetles, but that of the gr’venstut and cat lie where it falls.”

    Rigel considered that. It sounded like an advanced course in ecology, to him. “How do you learn? I mean, are there voices, or what?”

    Anaph shook his head; it reminded Rigel of a certain teacher in seventh grade, who could make a kid feel like a total imbecile with that bit of body language. “It comes as images, connections, understandings – not with words.”

    “You don’t have to be so high and mighty about it”, Rigel responded. “Come on – can’t you put aside the Druid schtick and just be Anaph?”

    “Lord Rigel, you do not understand. I am being shaped for a purpose – molded, taught....” Rigel stopped hearing, instead watching Anaph’s eyes. Those eyes looked haunted, troubled, even tortured.

    He interrupted. “Anaph! You swore to me, and it’s the person who swore to me I want to hear!”

    Anaph’s voice was tortured. “I cannot be that person any longer–“

    “Do your voices tell you that? The ones teaching you things?” They’d stopped walking, and as he confronted Anaph Rigel noticed that their Druid’s staff had changed: around the top, as thought they’d grown as part of the wood, were markings he thought might be letters. “Did they do that to your staff?” he demanded.

    “Yes. I receive more surely with th–“

    Rigel grabbed the staff and ripped it from Anaph’s hands. Various expressions warred on Anaph’s face; he stood paralyzed.

    Rigel was far from paralyzed. “All right”, he said, addressing the staff. “That’s my man you’re messing around with. Leave him alone! I don’t know what your plan is, and I don’t care! But if you expect any help or cooperation from us, you stop changing him! Let him be a kid – stop turning him into some kind of pompous ass!” Rigel turned and faced back the way they’d come, where smoke still rose from their fire. “You either let go of him now, and teach him information without playing games with his mind, or I go back and throw this staff in the fire!”

    Anaph cried out and stumbled toward him. Rigel threw the staff out of the way, but Anaph wasn’t after the staff. “Rigel, lord Rigel, it’s gone!”

    Rigel caught him and held him upright. “What’s gone?”

    “The weight! The chains!” Anaph breathed in gasps. “What’s been forcing me to... to be someone else.”

    Rigel grinned triumphantly. He retrieved the staff, and addressed it again. “I know you’re the Snatcher”, he told it. “We’re grateful for the new chance at life. But you’ll get a lot more out of us if you let us be ourselves, instead of trying to turn us into puppets or something.” Then he tossed it back to Anaph. “Here – catch.”

    Anaph caught it a little nervously, but brightened in a flash. “It’s quiet! I get to be me.”

    At that, Rigel stood still for a moment while Anaph began to walk again. Those were the same words Austin had said.... and just how would it be worth anything, he wondered, to get a second shot at life, and not be able to be yourself?

    He ran to catch up.

    “Rigel – the cats!” Anaph said excitedly barely a minute later. “There’s someone coming!”

    “Coming? Where?” Rigel’s mind had been totally somewhere else.

    Anaph pointed almost straight ahead. “There! A cat leads, and someone is running.”

    Rigel looked hard. After a couple of seconds he caught sight of a moving figure, running their way. “Only one?” he asked, worried. But there would be no answers until that runner arrived.

    Before he reached them, the runner’s run had become a jog, and then a slow walk. He was still breathing hard when Anaph identified the runner as Chen. In half a minute more Chen was there, breathing evenly.

    “Water”, he asked, holding out an empty bottle. “I’m dry.” Rigel handed over his own. He almost gasped at the way Chen poured water down his throat, and then splashed some on his face.

    Chen saw Rigel’s expression. “Not to worry, big man – we found it: pure, clean water, and we could drink and more.”

    “How far? Where’s Oran? How did you get the cats....?”

    Chen took another swallow. “About two days – but not if you start early like this. I ran like a madman, but you’ve got a stretcher to carry. Oran is back where the water is – he hurt his ankles a little, and I told him to stay off them. There are a couple of cats with him, too. And I don’t know what’s with the cats; they showed up about the time we were giving up on the lake, and–“

    Rigel whooped. “You found a whole lake?!” he asked incredulously.

    “Yeah, but you can’t get to it from this side – it’s a cliff with no way down. So we headed for the mountains – we didn’t think the cliff could just keep going through them.”

    Rigel's excitement died. “So does it?”

    “No. But a cat came and led us somewhere else. It’s into the forest some – a waterfall and pools, totally beautiful.”

    Rigel noticed that the cats had quietly slipped in and were walking beside them, one by him and one by Chen. That made him nervous, in spite of how they’d shown they were friends. But Anaph, across the smaller, lighter-colored cat from him, made his skin crawl by calmly reaching down and scratching the massive beast behind the ear.

    Anaph saw him looking. “She likes to be scratched!” he said delightedly. “I think it’s something the staff gave me – I can just tell.” Rigel heard a rumbling sound. “She’s purring!” Anaph exclaimed. “Rigel, she’s purring!”

    With no idea what to say, Rigel just grinned and gave Anaph a thumb-up sign.. Chen saw then, and did a double take.

    “Whoa – I just ran with them. Or they ran with me”, he corrected himself. “Petting one?” He shuddered. But that reminded him of Oran waking up to the cat sleeping against his back....

    The order of march died as everyone moved close to listen to Chen’s stories of the scouting duo’s adventures.



    Casey stared as the big cat which had just zipped past him stopped and looked back. “What?” he demanded.

    The cat yawned and walked ahead. Casey watched it go, then stop and look at him again. He threw up his hands, turned, and ran back to the group.

    “Rigel, there’s a big cat up there being strange”, he announced.

    Chen laughed. “Is it walking ahead, stopping and looking back, and then walking again?”

    “Yeahhhhh....”

    “No worries”, Chen assured him. “It’s doing your job for you – except better.”

    Casey scowled at that. “How is it better?”

    “It already knows all the best routes for getting around out here – we don’t. So just follow it, and do like you have been.”

    Casey looked to Rigel for confirmation. Rigel nodded. “It led Chen to us; now it’ll lead us to Oran.” Casey didn’t look too certain, but he went.



    Morning water break brought a problem: Chen sat down, and couldn’t get back up. His muscles had stiffened so, and he’d burned so much energy, that he couldn’t even crawl. It embarrassed him tremendously, but there was nothing else to be done: Tanner and Devon fashioned another stretcher.



    With the last light of day drawing near, Rigel surrendered to the inevitable and told Casey to find a spot to camp. He didn’t have to search: the cat led him to a spot between two old fallen giants of the forest, where dead wood splintered like something a tornado might have down was strewn among the trees. Just before sunset, Casey managed a tiny flame, which he fed quickly until it was a small blaze nearly covering the large piece of bark he’d used for a base. He picked up the bark, and slid the little fire in under the heap Dmitri and Melanie had put together. Flames met dry wood; within minutes the little fire on the bark had given birth to a small bonfire.



    “I want to have your baby”, Rita said jokingly to Chen. Their returned scout had just shown her a way to boil water without a pot: one water-proof pocket from his water-proof pants, stitched to a loop of green branch, held over some coals scooped away from the main fire.

    “As long as water fills it, the cloth can’t burn”, Chen explained. “Do this too much, and the water-proofing will fail, but for emergencies, it works.” The present emergency was Antonio. His feverish state had returned, worse than before. Cleaning his wound this time required more than just clean water, it demanded herbs, and to be most potent, that meant boiling.

    “Hey, smarty, how do you pour it?” Breeze asked.

    But Chen had an answer. He reached out with a stick and caught hold of a thread floating about in the not-quite-boiling water. “Hold the handle steady and slowly pull up on this. Once you’re pulling you can tip the handle so the water will go where you want. The thread hooks to the lowest spot in the pocket.” He flashed a grin. “I told myself a hundred times to cut it, because it snagged on things in my pocket.”

    “Yeah, but it isn’t even the same thread”, Breeze reminded him. “The thread you wanted to cut is back in a wreck.”

    “Probably in a police lab”, Dmitri disagreed. He, along with most of the group, had been drawn to the sight of water getting boiled in a cloth pocket. “The crash was a long time ago.”

    “Why in a lab?” Breeze asked.

    “Because... Think about it: we’re here, our bodies are back there. We don’t remember actually crashing, just almost. So back there, our bodies were dead before we crashed. No, listen!” he said to still Breeze’s protest. “The Snatcher wanted us here whole, and useful. That means no pain and agony to give us nightmares. Now they either erased our memories of actually dying, or they snatched us before we died. But erasing our memories has got to be tough. Well, when you’re doing something like that, you want to keep it simple, because complex means mistakes. But if they can snatch us at all, it doesn’t matter if we’re dead or not. So they pulled us out of our bodies and brought us here.” Dmitri paused for breath. “That means when the cops investigated the crash, the specialist figured out we were all dead before we even crashed. That’s something that will scare people. So all the stuff from the wreck is in a lab, where they’re trying to figure out what killed a whole bunch of kids, without leaving a trace.”

    Rita shook her head. “Maybe – but the first thing they’d look for would be a trace.”

    “Which means all our clothes and things are in some lab anyway”, Dmitri replied.

    “It doesn’t matter”, came Ocean’s voice. “What matters is here. Rita, how long?”

    Rita stuck a finger in the bubbling water and tasted it. “A long minute. Is your bowl ready?”

    Ocean nodded. “Devon fashioned one out of gurstut hide. Anaph says it’s clean enough.”

    Chen looked up at her with interest. “You’re not talking like a brain-fried fanatic.”

    She dipped her head in embarrassment. “I was pretty bad. But this morning it felt like something let go in my head. I’ve felt more and more normal all day.”

    “You know what happened with Anaph, right?” Chen asked.

    Ocean laughed, a sound that was delightfully free of the fanatic edge it would have had just the day before. “Everyone does!” She shook her head in wonder. “Rigel is strong, and very brave. He had no idea what he was doing.”

    “And you do?” Breeze challenged.

    “Yes, girl, I do”, Ocean snapped. “I’ve been a prisoner in my own mind for two weeks! They could have just snapped him up–“

    “Never”, Rita interrupted. “They’re turning him into a leader – our leader, maybe more. They won’t tamper with him except little nudges. And if they get him unhappy.... Look, you don’t know Rigel; I’ve known him since we were little. When he gets pissed and lays down a challenge, that’s it – he doesn’t budge.
    “In middle school our basketball team was supposed to go to the championship tournament. Then grade slips came out, the ones they give two weeks before a term ends. One of the starters and two of the second string got pink slips. That meant they couldn’t play, unless they got their grades up. It meant there wouldn’t be a chance of winning.
    “Rigel swore to a girl he wouldn’t let it happen. He talked to the teachers, and got them to write special tests for the players, in their different classes. He studied and learned the material they would be tested on, and taught it to them. He hardly slept for ten days. But they passed their tests.
    “He didn’t get to go to the championship game, though – he wore himself out so much he got sick and was in the hospital. The only reason he got to see the game at all was because the girl he’d made the promise to, her dad was chief of chest and lung medicine, and he let her bring in a computer and set it up. Rigel watched on the internet.
    “The Snatcher knows him well enough they aren’t going to risk him meaning what he says.”

    “Maybe they know him well enough”, Chen mused, “to get that he understands us better than they do, so when he says stop something, they listen.”

    Rita thought for a moment before nodding. “That, too”, she agreed.



    “Late to bed, early to rise”, Devon semi-chanted as he picked up his end of Antonio’s stretcher next morning.

    “Do it too often, and your brain fries”, Ryan answered from the rear end. “Ready... and... up!”

    Rita and Ocean’s efforts had helped Antonio enough that he’d slept. What he needed, though, was water to cool him down, and they just didn’t have enough. He was already drinking five or six times what anyone else did, but it wasn’t enough – and they needed water to wash him, to cool him from the fever.

    Chen’s news had made possible what they could do: the rule was half a bottle each for the day, and less if anyone could manage; the rest was for Antonio. So he lay in just underwear on the stretcher, strapped down with hide cords, and Ocean walked along spraying water from between her lips to make a mist that helped cool him. Chen had helped rig a canopy made of shirts, to keep the sun off – there wasn’t a north side to it, because the sun was in the south.

    This day, Casey wasn’t alone up ahead: anyone not helping with Antonio was out following the route the cat showed, checking for the slightest problem. They stamped huge clumps of grass down flat, tossed loose branches blown from the forest out of the way, whatever seemed helpful.

    Late in the afternoon they had their only problem: a mound had grown, over half a meter tall, right in the middle of what Chen swore was the path he’d run along. The cat wouldn’t go near it, so they circled, and circled, and circled around. Anaph walked close to the cat, bearing his staff like a spear ready to strike at anything crawling on the ground.

    “Hive beetles”, Anpah told Rigel when their detour was nearly over. “I caught one on the end of my staff, and told it to die.”

    Rigel blinked. “You what??!”

    “I told it to die. Oh – it isn’t easy. I could barely do it to this one beetle. I couldn’t have done it if it stayed on the ground, I had to get it on the staff.”

    O-kay......” Rigel drew out both syllables. “But I thought you swore to serve life.”

    “Oh. Um, that doesn’t mean I can’t kill anything. I thought we needed to know what the danger was. Cat couldn’t tell us -- all it knows is its mother taught it to avoid these! It didn’t seem safe to go looking, so I walked with Cat and hoped. I saw a swarm of little crawly things, all alike, and they were like this one. Well, except alive. Cat dodged away; I stuck my staff in front of them and pulled it out when one climbed on. Then I ran. It crawled toward my hand, so I stopped and told it to die.”

    Rigel nodded, accepting if not understanding. “So, a ‘hive beetle’ – kind of like ants, with a nest and all?”

    Anaph nodded. “When it died, I felt it die. Then I understood it. That served Life because now I understand. I know the danger and that helps us. The nest won’t miss one little beetle, and knowing what they are makes us safer.”

    Rigel decided he understood the reasoning, but only if – “Why does the cat avoid them?” he asked. "I mean, what's the danger the mother knew about?"

    “They’re like army ants, if they get upset. Cat might have made it through alone and alive, but with all of us they would have swarmed. The bite is kinda poisonous. A lot of bites would knock us out. Then they’d eat us, even our bones.”

    Rigel looked at the little dead beetle with more respect. “Well, since someone went to the trouble of giving us new bodies, I say let’s not get eaten.”

    That brought a laugh from Anaph. “I have better reasons for not wanting to get eaten”, their Druid declared. Rigel, agreeing, laughed with him.



    Early evening brought them to the boulder where Chen and Oran had camped, but there was no sign of Oran. Chen was more than a little worried, and even more confused. “He would have left some kind of message!” he swore.

    Casey was watching their guide, the one Anaph called Cat. “I think he did”, he called. “Come look.” Apparently understanding Casey, the big cat walked back to the middle of the boulder, and began sniffing. It followed whatever scent it had found, in a line toward the connecting ‘ramp’. When it reach the top of the ramp, still on the stone, it sniffed along backwards and off to one side, then to the main line again and backwards and off to one side.

    Casey’s grin was triumphant. “See the shape it makes?”

    Chen and Ryan got it at the same time. “An arrow!”

    Casey already knew the next question, and was seeking an answer: he had dropped to his knees and was sniffing where the cat had. “Chen – can you smell it?” he asked.

    Chen looked amused yet serious, and joined Casey. He looked up with a grin. “Lord-type-Rigel, Oran draw an arrow by peeing on the stone.” He rocked back onto his heels. “Something made him decide to move. He wanted to leave a hint. For some reason he didn’t think stones or sticks would stay in place, so he made a mark nothing would bother. He knew the cats would smell it.”

    Rigel was going to ask what could have made him do such a thing, but stopped at the sight of Anaph holding the dead beetle in an open palm. “This is why they moved”, he announced. “Those beetles we saw building a nest came through here. The cats knew it meant danger, so they got him to move.”

    “How did he know to pee for a trail, though?” Casey asked.

    ‘Maybe the cats took him to see what the beetles were doing where they marched. Maybe they set an example.”

    “What matters is finding Oran”, Rigel stated. “So – lets go where the arrow points.”

    The arrow pointed to the forest. Once it had the scent, their guide cat followed it easily enough. The edge of the forest was slashed, clearly a marker from Oran. They followed a game trail, ducking occasionally. In barely a minute, Chen had figured it out: the trail was looping around, and he bet it would take them to the pool.

    “Hey everybody!” The call came from ahead – and above. The little column stopped to look. A short twenty meters ahead, over ten meters above the ground, Oran stood on a massive branch, waving. A large cat sat farther out on the same branch, another almost directly above Oran, and two more on different branches close to the trunk of the tree. “I’ll be right down!” Oran seemingly stepped into space, but swung instead of falling, as he grabbed a vine hooked on a branch. He slid down it to the trail ahead of them and came jogging to meet.

    Rigel ordered them to move as well, and to keep moving when they reached Oran. “Where’s this pool of water?” he demanded of his scout.

    “Just keep going. Wow, it is good to see you! I’d just decided I’d need to build a fire for you to see, a signal. Then you showed up. That’s a lot less work I have to do.”

    Rigel laughed in spite of himself. “You made it through the night okay, I see. In the tree?” Oran nodded. “What made you move?”

    The teen looked serious; he even swallowed hard. “Something that crawls through the grass and eats anything. The cats took me west. One ran and brought down a deer without quite killing it. Then they sat and watched. So here’s this deer trying and trying to get up, but its back leg is bitten and broken, so it just falls. And the grass farther west is wiggling a lot, but there’s no wind. Then something crawled up and all over the deer, and it screamed. I didn’t know deer could scream. We watched for a while, and the deer got smaller. I saw bones. Then they ate the bones.
    “We went back to the boulder and I grabbed things and moved, fast. I went back for a second load. The cats wouldn’t let me go back for another. They showed me the tree, and the vines. So I hauled everything up, and we stayed up here for like ever.
    “Rigel, did you ever take a dump off a branch?”

    “Um, no”, Rigel replied.

    “It’s weird. I mean, shitting in the woods is kinda weird anyway, though I’m used to it, but when you have to drop one and it’s just air down below.... It’s kinda scary, even.”

    “I’ll pass on trying it myself”, Rigel said. He meant to say something else, but he’d just caught his first glimpse of the pool, and it stole his thoughts away. Water! But he suppressed his urge to rush: Anthony’s need was greater. He motioned the stretcher forward.

    Tanner and Ryan carefully lowered the stretcher to the sand. Rita, who’d been following the stretcher, pushed through and headed for the pool, bottle in hand. The rest of the group came off the trail, stepping down the short drop – only a few centimeters – from dirt to sand. Rigel motioned them all to wait,

    But Lumina didn’t wait. With a childlike look of awe and curiosity on her face, she slipped away from Devon, past Ryan and Tanner, evaded Rigel’s grab, and walked right to the water’s edge. But she didn’t step into the pool, she didn’t even stop at it: her attention was up the tumbling watercourse, toward the falls. She clambered over rocks, slipping on moss, ever higher. Rigel, along with everyone else – such as Devon, who had shed clothes and was going after her – thought she was going for the falls.

    Maybe she had been. But she froze short of that, gazing down into the water raptly, letting go of her handholds and plunging face-first between two large rocks. Devon cried out in anger and fear. But she wasn’t hurt. Moments later, just before Devon reached her, she stood up from the gap where she’d tumbled. In her hands she held a silver band with two ends that didn’t quite touch. The ends were worked in intricate, sharp-cornered designs, both identical; the designs faded into a smooth, flattened bar curved just right for the human neck.

    Devon tried to take it from her. He had hold of one end, and she the other, when he slipped. All he had to hold onto was that silver band. Rigel knew silver wasn’t that strong, and waited for it to bend, and Devon to fall – but it didn’t bend; instead, with a delighted, joyful look on her face Lumina pulled on the end she had, and drew Devon back up. He couldn’t believe what had just happened; he let go of the band and just stared at Lumina.

    While he looked at her in shock, and Dmitri was scrambling to help him, Lumina lifted the band high. Tiny shafts of sunlight struck it; flashes of light reflected about the hollow around the pool. The ends flashed brilliantly, with hints of blue in the light. Lumina looked as though she wanted to rise up and float in the air, straining upward with every fiber of her being, physical or otherwise. But what she did was lower the band, turn it, and press the ends against her neck. Having seen its strength hold Devon, no one expected what happened next: the ends parted, the band slipped around her neck, and the ends closed.

    Lumina changed before their eyes. Her familiar posture of a child needing someone to hide her blended into something with more confidence.. Her shoulders rose and went back, straightening her. She stood taller, no longer slumping apathetically. Her eyes were alight again, interested in the world.

    Briefly, she turned and glanced at her companions, then turned and walk on up to the falls, and stepped under. She rotated in place once, slowly, before coming out and back to the group, hopping from stone to stone, totally alert and aware and in control for the first time since their arrival. She stopped briefly at the spot where she’d found the silver band, to pull something else out.

    The first thing Rigel noticed, besides the fact that his college friend had returned to them, was that her dirty, tangled hair had straightened out. The second was that her bare upper body didn’t look like something dull and uninteresting any longer; the sight stirred urges in him. Then everyone was gathering around, with happy cries of “Welcome back!” Lumina took it in very dignified fashion, and let it die down.

    “I can’t hug all of you at once, so I’ll wait”, she said. “And thank you – it’s good to be whole again. Thank you for dragging me along and taking care of me.”

    “It’s a torc”, Rita observed, looking at the silver band. “Those ends are Celtic knot designs.” She reached for what Lumina was holding in her left hand. “That’s another one!”

    Lumina caught her arm and gently pushed it away. “It is, but it’s not for you. Ocean? Please come here.” As Ocean responded, Lumina held up a second torc, similar to the first though with smaller ends. “I’ll explain some things before I give you this”, she told Ocean, who was still coming.

    “I don’t know what’s been happening with me”, she began. “It’s like my mind crawled off into some gray place where nothing could get at me. If nothing can get at you, you can’t be hurt, right?
    “I have a few flashes of the world – an attack by a cat, Austin running from a wall of water, Anaph bringing sod to life. Mostly what I remember of all of you is you moving around, and light and darkness going by. Pretty sad, huh?
    “When we got to this pool, I liked the sparkly flashes of light on the water. I really liked the waterfall – I wanted to go dance in it. But on the way I something shiny in the stream, and I had to have it. I just thought it was pretty.” She looked around, catching eyes of most of the group. “I didn’t know what it was at all.”

    “So what is it?” Ryan inquired. “A cure for catatonia?”

    Lumina laughed, and it was a musical sound. “Yes, that, but much more. When I put it on, I woke up from my mind-numbness, I understood all at once how stupid I’d been, and what a coward. All of you dealt with – with all this”, she indicated with a wave of her hand – “but I hid.” Her free hand rose to touch the torc at her neck. “This brought me back. It’s a healer’s torc, Ryan – a cure for catatonia, and for being so lost in my own mind I didn’t know the way back if I’d decided to come.”

    She motioned to Ocean to step closer. “And this is its companion.” She raised the lesser torc high for everyone to see. “Ocean, this will aid you in working to heal. I know you’ve been doing that – my eyes and ears weren’t shut off, and I’m remembering what happened while I was such a lug. But if you accept it, you’ll be committed: healing will be your primary task. Task probably isn’t even the right word – it’s not a job, like being a nurse with a daily shift, but a calling, like being a nurse twenty-four seven.”

    Ocean licked her lips. “What will it do for me?”

    “You’ll learn faster. Instead of having trouble remembering things, you’ll have trouble forgetting things. You’ll feel something is wrong if you start to make a mistake. There’s more, I’m sure, but those are what I know right now.”

    “Damn – our doctors at home could use some of those”, Tanner whispered to Dmitri.

    Ocean took a deep breath. “I think I can do that.”

    Lumina’s smile was luminous. “Then, Ocean of stars in the night: do you freely accept this office of healing, to serve all in need, for the sake of Life?” She held out the torc, open end toward Ocean.

    “I accept it”, Ocean declared, stepping forward – and the rigid ends of the torc almost flowed as they widened for her neck – “and I welcome it!” – and the ends flowed back, closing to almost touching. With a gasp, Ocean reached up to touch it, her eyes wide, though only Lumina saw that. “Oh!” came as a cry of wonder, then, “Oh! Oh, Antonio, if I’d known....” She sounded wretched.

    “Unlike the stupid law where we grew up, that said ignorance is no excuse, you can be forgiven for not knowing”, Lumina said, taking Ocean’s hand and turning her around. “You got him here alive, and that counts a lot.”

    Lumina stood like a duchess, confident, sure, capable, full of authority. She raised her hand and Ocean’s with it, and looked at Rigel. “Everyone, this is Ocean of stars, and she’s called to heal. Lord Rigel, do you wish to take her to your service?”

    Something about that question bothered Rigel. He figured it out quickly. “What about you?”

    “A healer swears to no one’s service.” Lumina’s gaze locked with Rigel’s in a test of wills.

    “I can’t accept that”, Rigel said after a truly long silence. “You can’t be with us if you won’t take orders”.

    “While I am with you, in your household” – Is that what this is? Rigel asked himself – “I will obey as do all the rest. But I cannot swear to your service”, Lumina restated firmly.

    Dmitri cleared his throat. “Yes?” Rigel asked.

    “I know a thing from my heritage. Priests did not swear to a lord; it was not done. But priests could be attached to a household: they became part of the household like anyone else. But they did not swear but to the church.” Dmitri glanced back and forth from Rigel to Lumina. “If that is of help.”

    Lumina’s firm, almost rigid face relaxed into a slight smile. “I think I hear wisdom.”

    Rigel smiled, too. “So do I. Will you then, attach yourself to my household – and swear to no one without asking me?”

    Lumina laughed. “I swore already when I put on the torc. I’m sworn to health, to wellness, to wholeness. If you want a name, I’m sworn to Raphael, Asclepius, Grannus, Luxovius, Eir, Imhotep, Nintinugga – or ‘the Life Force’, if you want.”

    Rigel sort of scowled and twisted his face in dislike. “Pick one.”

    Lumina pondered briefly. “Raphael.”

    “Fine”, Rigel told her.

    “But don’t be surprised if I switch to Asclepius.” Lumina stuck her tongue out at him.

    Rigel had to laugh. “All right. But don’t make me learn all those names!”

    “You got it, boss-lord. I hereby petition your humble lordship to accept me as attached to service of your House.” They all heard that capital H quite clearly.

    Rigel laughed again. “Well, your snotty Healership, I accept, and welcome you.” He did, too, with a big hug. “Can you help Antonio?” he whispered while they were close.

    “Yes”, she whispered back. But not instantly.”

    Then it was hugs all around. Everyone was amazed at Lumina’s return from – as Tanner put it – madness. Tanner congratulated her on choosing Raphael instead of a pagan deity; Lumina managed not to giggle until he was out of hearing. She had to tell Breeze not to treat her like a goddess, and agreed to meet with Melanie and Crystal later.

    Rigel started grabbing people and sending them to make a real camp at, in, or around Oran’s tree. Ocean and Rita ignored him and Lumina both, intent on preparing something for Antonio. Then Casey took off upstream, where Lumina had gone. Rigel yelled, but Casey didn’t respond, so he went after the wandering scout.

    When he caught up with Casey, the younger guy was prying at a rock. He was soaking wet, and paying little attention to the cold water. “Rigel, help me”, he said when he noticed his leader’s approach.

    “Help? What?” Rigel asked, confused.

    “Help me move this rock!” Casey clarified impatiently. “I can get it started, but it rolls back on me.”

    Rigel decided it would be simpler to just help, and not ask. He shed his pants – he’d been shoeless all day – and stepped into the water. “Show me where”, he said.

    “Watch – I’ll lift, and when it starts to go back, just grab it somehow.” Casey took a deep breath and heaved.

    Rigel saw immediately that Casey’s plan wasn’t going to work quite as directly as the teen hoped. He stepped over another rock and pried at one behind Casey’s. It popped loose just as Casey lost his grip and his rock fell back where it had come from. “You didn’t help!” Casey accused.

    “Try again”, Rigel instructed as he tossed the rock he’d pried loose, into a deep spot. He noticed that the sound of the stream changed. This time, when Casey lifted, the rock moved farther; this time, Rigel stepped his left foot over behind Casey, leaned in and heaved with him. The rock hesitated, kept going, and popped loose. The loss of resistance propelled them both forward; Rigel ended up on top of Casey.

    “I hope there was a good point to this”, he said before he let Casey up.

    “Here’s your point”, Casey said half a minute later as he dredged something from half-burial in loose gravel and sand. “Look.”

    If Rigel had known what a jig was, he would have danced one. It wasn’t stainless steel by far, but it was an axe. What he did was grab Casey and hug him tight. “I name you Squire Casey of the Axe!” he declared.

    Casey laughed. “Can I go try it out?” he asked eagerly.

    Rigel shook his head, with a smile. “Let’s clean it up and check it out first. If it’s sound, then you can put it to use.” Their inspection was aided by no less than five others who saw what it was. When they’d agreed it was sound, though the handle was soft in two places, Rigel held up a hand. “I present to you Casey ‘Axeman’. Casey, go help at the camp!” Casey went off at a run.

    “Bronze”, was all that Ryan said when he saw their newly acquired tool. “And bronze-age torcs.”

    “Awesome!” was Oran’s comment. He grabbed Casey, and the two went off talking about the best use for their new tool.



    The camp grew in the tree – or the tree grew into a camp, depending on one's point of view. Chen and Oran had decided that its wide branches gave enough room for everyone, if they were careful. Once Casey showed up with the axe, though, their plans changed: small trees growing next to their tree came down; some were cut into thick poles that were then split. Slender poles and split sections went up the tree, hoisted by one of the vines Oran had already found useful – and strong. Hide cords bound wood together, and the tree sprouted small platforms, and kept sprouting them until dark.

    Oran and Chen astounded them all by showing how to build a fire in a tree: make a solid platform, cover it with moss, cover the moss with sand, cover the sand with clay, and put a fire on top. It wasn’t a big fire, but it was very nice for those exhausted by setting it up to sit by once it was lit. More importantly, it allowed for a hot dinner, in honor of which Anaph went back toward the boulder with Casey, and again called rabbits. But most importantly, it allowed Ocean and Rita to boil water and mix their herbal medicines for Antonio.

    Lumina did nothing but watch, and listen to their detailed descriptions of everything they’d done for Antonio and how he’d responded, and how he’d been the rest of the time. “Quilnus”, she said at one point, touching a leaf Ocean had brought. “It helps with sleeping, and keeps the heart from beating rapidly.”

    “Yes!” Ocean responded delightedly. “It grows in the shade near flowing water!” She looked at their healer. “I know that from the torc.”

    “So it gives you knowledge, too?” Lumina asked.

    “Some. Mostly I don’t have any trouble at all remembering the things I know, when I need them. It’s great!” Ocean beamed, but it was no longer the fanatical sort of thing that had made her an annoyance to much of the group.

    It was no accident that every person present – the whole group together again – saw what came next. Antonio’s platform was the lowest one, because Oran and Chen knew it wouldn’t be easy to lift him high. But they’d also been curious about what Lumina might do, after all that Anaph had said, or let slip, about her becoming a Healer. So they’d deliberately arranged “living quarters” so everyone could look down on the “infirmary”.

    Lumina waited until Antonio’s breathing smoothed, and his pulse – which had been pounding and racing – dropped to an even, steady pace. He’d stopped twisting from pain earlier, after Ocean carefully washed the wound, as deep as she dared, with a hot brew she and Rita had made. He’d been awake to drink the tea made of quilnus and two other herbs, but fell asleep quickly. When he appeared to be sleeping like a baby, Lumina raised her hands upward, eyes closed, more as though concentrating than in any way praying. The torc around her neck began to glow a faint, pale blue, and as she lowered her hands, they seemed to light up, too.

    But when those hands came to rest on Antonio’s chest, there was no doubt that Lumina now deserved her name: the moment they made contact, no one could miss the brilliant silvery light.





    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  34. #134
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Kuli, believe it or not, I am not actually reading it for the sex. You have an entertaining writing style...the sex is a small part of the story to me.
    There's been sex, but I figured you guys wouldn't want to read details about <shudder> girls!

    There's also been some I can't put in the story as such....



    I keep thinking my writing style is too sparse, and needs to be fleshed out. Nice to know it's worth something the way it is!

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  35. #135
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Hey, Kuli,
    it took me most of the night, between other things I had to attend to, but I got a chance to read through your chapter.

    Again, a very nice installment. I like the way Lumina and Ocean have become enlightened, and the way you are building the traditional roles/rules around the roles as in Chivalraic times.

    It goes well with some of the books I've been reading, with that respect.

    Thanks, again, for taking so much time to entertain us.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  36. #136
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    Re: Fit for Life




    Truth is, Kuli is quite the literary man.

    Sad truth...he doesn't realize how good he is

    Our blessing, no artistic temperment to deal with eh?

  37. #137
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Hey, Kuli,
    it took me most of the night, between other things I had to attend to, but I got a chance to read through your chapter.

    Again, a very nice installment. I like the way Lumina and Ocean have become enlightened, and the way you are building the traditional roles/rules around the roles as in Chivalraic times.

    It goes well with some of the books I've been reading, with that respect.
    I look at Lumina and Ocean as having been freed. Lumina is back to being the competent, confident college sophomore I sketched her out to be. Ocean is back to her basic New-Agey self.

    As for "Chivalraic times"... I'd better not say anything.


    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Thanks, again, for taking so much time to entertain us.
    Did I mention my OCD?

    I'm addicted to this story -- I have to learn how it turns out!

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  38. #138
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli, If i may call you that. I have just last night started reading this story and believe me if I say I am not reading this for the sex in it. So far there is none to speak of. But I am reading for the literary content. And I am surprised. Love the story, carry on like that.


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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    I think you must realize that we're all pretty much involved in the STORY. A bit of sex here and there is like a seasoning in a masterpiece recipe, a certain something extra, but not the mainstay of the recipe.

    We share an obsession, it would appear. Did I mention I'm a voracious reader? I told my wife that we needed to go easy on the Christmas budget, not to get me anything, since we need to pay bills down. I got 6 or 7 books, because I've read everything in the house.
    A lot of popular contemporary literature and some more classical.
    All of Nora Roberts and her pseudonym J D Robb
    James Patterson - just about everything
    Patricia Cornwall
    David Barry's Peter Pan Series - just got book 4
    Jim Butcher - all of Harry Dresden series and Codex Alera series
    David Baldacci
    John Grisham
    My kids are giving me Lynn Kurland
    Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series - very good, even has some gay action.
    Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child
    Iris Johannsen
    Catherine Coulter
    Terry Pratchett - a trip in himself!
    Harry Potter, of course - with the kids as they grew up
    George RR Martin - still waiting for the next installment, if ever.

    And of course, as a kid I read JRR Tolkien, Mark Twain, etc.
    In my spare time, I work for a living, lol.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  40. #140
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post

    Our blessing, no artistic temperment to deal with eh?
    I do too have an artistic temperament! In fact, I can get very artistic with my temperament.....

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  41. #141
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by erasfred View Post
    Kuli, If i may call you that.
    Only if you keep spelling it right.

    Quote Originally Posted by erasfred View Post
    I have just last night started reading this story and believe me if I say I am not reading this for the sex in it. So far there is none to speak of.
    Oh, there's been lots of sex!
    I just haven't put any of it down -- I'm keeping it all for myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by erasfred View Post
    But I am reading for the literary content. And I am surprised. Love the story, carry on like that.


    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  42. #142
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Kuli,
    I think you must realize that we're all pretty much involved in the STORY. A bit of sex here and there is like a seasoning in a masterpiece recipe, a certain something extra, but not the mainstay of the recipe.
    But is it gay enough so far?

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    We share an obsession, it would appear. Did I mention I'm a voracious reader? I told my wife that we needed to go easy on the Christmas budget, not to get me anything, since we need to pay bills down. I got 6 or 7 books, because I've read everything in the house.
    A lot of popular contemporary literature and some more classical.
    All of Nora Roberts and her pseudonym J D Robb
    James Patterson - just about everything
    Patricia Cornwall
    David Barry's Peter Pan Series - just got book 4
    Jim Butcher - all of Harry Dresden series and Codex Alera series
    David Baldacci
    John Grisham
    My kids are giving me Lynn Kurland
    Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series - very good, even has some gay action.
    Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child
    Iris Johannsen
    Catherine Coulter
    Terry Pratchett - a trip in himself!
    Harry Potter, of course - with the kids as they grew up
    George RR Martin - still waiting for the next installment, if ever.

    And of course, as a kid I read JRR Tolkien, Mark Twain, etc.
    In my spare time, I work for a living, lol.
    A lot of those I don't recognize. You're right about Pratchett, though!
    I went on some binges recently: in October, I re-read all my Katherine Kurtz novels, which is just about everything she's written. Late October into November, I re-read all my David Eddings. Then it was Stephen Brust, Raymond Feist, and a whole pile of Arthur C. Clarke. Along the way I read some physics and history for seasoning.

    My writing used to change any time I read something new. I think it's gotten pretty constant, now -- I've been reading some C. J. Cherryh and Piers Anthony, while writing here, and I can't see any shifts in my style because of it.

    I've been thinking about re-reading some of my Lawhead collection, but that's a bit too close to what I'm doing in some ways, and I'm afraid it would shift things.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  43. #143
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    Re: Fit for Life

    BTW: next chapter is prolly half done -- hard to say, really.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  44. #144
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    Re: Fit for Life

    So Mr. tempermental but prolific writer man....stop the f***ing posts for a bit and write.. damn write...Alright?

    Oh, and don't worry about gay enough, you are doing fine...don't you read the fan mail?...no, don't answer...just write lol

  45. #145
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    Re: Fit for Life

    WOW! Just "catching up" from my week "away"! I'm Astounded, Amazed, Enthralled, and ... O.K.! ... it's late ... I'm running out of Words!

    MORE STORY, Please! And if there's sex involved? Well, who am I to say "No"??

    Write On!! And, THANK YOU!!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  46. #146
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Thanks Kuli for weaving this enthralling story.
    Please continue
    Harry

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli. See i do get it right This story even with the sex that you keep for yourself is gay enough and realy rocks.

    As I already said keep it up

  48. #148
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Fort Tree


    Rigel sat on a high branch in what Oran had dubbed “Fort Tree”. Anaph sat beside him, their legs dangling. Below, Casey, Dmitri, and Austin wielded the three bronze axes they’d found once Ryan decided that two torcs and one axe meant an accident, and an accident meant there might be more things in the stream. They also had three short bronze swords – but no way to carry them except by hand. Those, Rigel had assigned to his three squires, Oran, Chen, and Casey, but until they had a way to make scabbards or something, that was pretty much honorary. But he had been happy to learn that Chen actually knew something about sword fighting.

    Antonio had slept peacefully, as had they all once they got used to a dozen cats perching in the tree with them. There hadn’t been much talk at all about Lumina’s laying hands on Antonio and the silvery glow that had come with it. The exception had been Tanner and Dmitri arguing over whether such a thing could be from the Holy Spirit. Anaph had laughed at that, and asked where else life could come from but the Life-Giver?

    But Rigel still had questions. “Was that what you expected from a Healer?” he asked their Druid.

    Anaph smiled a weary smile. “I didn’t expect anything. I just knew she was going to be a Healer. I knew she’d be able to do things I can’t; I didn’t know how that would work or what it would look like.”

    Rigel considered that, and accepted it. “So what did she do there?”

    “I asked her. She said it energized his immune system. You know the white blood cells that attack invaders? She said it boosted them from lone soldiers to teams in armored attack carriers. She doesn’t expect it to take care of all the infection and stuff all at once, more like it totally tipped the scales on the battlefield.”

    Rigel frowned in thought. “So... Antonio’s body is still doing the healing, but his systems got an upgrade?”

    Anaph chuckled at the comparison. “Good way to say it. She says the energy makes the herbs more efficient, too.”

    “What are the herbs doing?”

    “They help with pain, swelling, fever, and fight infection.” Anaph pointed down then, toward a toppling tree: Casey had decided they’d be safer with a big clearing around the tree, and then with logs at hand, with help from Chen he’d worked out how to turn those into walls. Now there was an actual Adirondack, a three-walled shelter with a roof of tree branches, next to the game trail they’d come in on.

    “If they keep on like that, it really will be a fort.”

    “That’s a good thing, really”, Rigel replied. “We’re going to stay here awhile. We need to actually hunt some gr’venstut–“

    “That meat is gross”, Anaph said. “I tried some.”

    “Yes, but the hide is tough. Rita says they can make pots from it. Chen says he can make shoes, and hats, and quivers for arrows, and belts to carry gear. We need to hunt some deer, too, for their hides and more meat. Ocean wants to gather a good supply of herbs, and Breeze wants to collect all the fruit and edible plants we can find. And Antonio needs to finish healing–“

    “Two more days.”

    “–and then get strong again. And I think we could all use a couple of weeks just being where we have all the water we need. And you, my Druid, need to adjust to being just yourself without the Snatcher interfering.”

    Anaph grimaced. He’d had a couple of nightmares the night before, and had come to snuggle against Austin for support. Having the couple he knew were pretty much lovers right behind him like that had made Rigel nervous – which Anaph had understood, and apologized for. “Yeah. I don’t know why they made me a Druid. It’s kinda kool, but... it’s still strange.”

    “You were into that some before, though, right?”

    Anaph shook his head slightly. “Not in real. I played a fantasy game called Servant, and my best character was a Druid. I dreamed about the powers – it would be ‘way kool to be a Druid Lord Adept.”

    “Maybe with what they’ve given you, you can be that kind of Druid”, Rigel suggested.

    “I sure didn’t like being their kind of Druid!” Anaph confessed. “All stuffy and pompous.”

    Rigel grinned at him. “You sure were!”

    They just sat, then, watching the workers below hack the limbs off the fir tree they’d dropped. Every bit got used, which pleased Rigel a great deal: logs for walls, smaller logs for roof, throw-away tree trunk and large branches for fire wood, branch ends thick with needles for beds, the not-so-green branch portions for roof, and some nice, straight branch pieces for stakes sharpened and pointing outward along the border Casey and Oran had determined as the fort’s edge.

    Anaph saw Casey slip as the three laborers started lifting their new log. “Maybe we should help”, he suggested.

    “Sure”, Rigel agreed, and grabbed the vine they’d pulled close for a quick exit.



    Ocean was bathing Antonio’s wounds when Rigel finished helping put up the walls of a second Adirondack. “How is he?” he asked her.

    “Lots better. Rigel, it’s amazing – herbs were kind of a hobby all my life, but now I understand them. Everything I ever read about them, all the ways they’re prepared and used, I remember it like I just studied for a test.” She didn’t turn to talk, but kept her attention on her patient. “And now I recognize herbs from here! I’ll see a plant I’ve looked at a hundred times already, and suddenly know a name for it, when to pick it, how to prepare it, everything. It’s like I had a computer chip stuck in my brain with everything I ever wanted to know about herbs!”

    “But were afraid to ask”, Rigel quipped, and got a grin for his efforts. He eyed her torc, wanting to examine it. “Do you think maybe that torc has computer stuff in it, that gives you that knowledge?”

    Ocean looked thoughtful. “Maybe, but how would that make me remember everything I ever learned already?”

    “I don’t know”, Rigel admitted. “I don’t know a lot of things about this place. I don’t know why we got snatched, I don’t know how we’re supposed to live once winter gets here, I don’t know why they’re trying to change my people, I don’t know why I got picked to be leader....” His voice trailed off, troubled.

    Ocean turned now and looked at him, putting a finger under his chin and lifting a little. “Did you hear what you just said? You called us ‘my people’. That’s why you’re our leader: you’re loyal, you care about all of us, you keep things orderly. You protect us against the Snatcher – and that was both incredibly brave and incredibly stupid.”

    Rigel shrugged, embarrassed. “With Anaph? What it was doing wasn’t right.”

    “What Austin’s father did to him back home wasn’t right, either, but how many people stood up to him? Really, Rigel, with what you know about the Snatcher, how it was changing me and Anaph, didn’t you stop to think it might be able to just fry your brain?”

    “That would have been one way out of my problems.”

    Ocean laughed, accidentally spilling some of her steaming cup – when did we get cups? Rigel wondered – of herb brew. “You weren’t thinking that then, lord Rigel. All you were thinking about was that someone was messing with one of your people. That’s what makes you a leader. And it’s what makes us love you.”

    That idea shocked Rigel. He stared at Ocean as it percolated through layers of assumptions. “Love me? Who?”

    “All of us, big man.”

    “Ryan isn’t on that list right now.” Saying it made Rigel hurt inside, bad and deep.

    “Yes, he is. I know, there’s trouble there somewhere. But he still loves you. It’ll work out.”

    Rigel hoped so, but wasn’t able to really believe it. He’d never gone so long with so few words between them. It felt like a piece of him was missing, and other pieces numb. But he set that aside – again – to get on with keeping the group going.

    “Hey, what was that business with you and the stars and all, that Lumina said?” he asked, remembering why he’d originally come.

    She chuckled. “You don’t know? That’s my name – no, really”, she said in response to his look of disbelief. “Oceana de Estrellas da Noche: Ocean of Stars of the Night, or in the Night.” She grinned. “It’s a mouthful, I know. And it’s Spanish and Portugese mixed, I think. But here, it sounds so romantic!”

    He had to laugh with her on that, because she was right: the way she said it, it rolled out like music. But he sobered suddenly: she was so much older than the rest of them, where was she going to find romance here? If he was attracted to anyone at all, it would be Lumina or Rita – or to a small degree Austin, who kept up a really light stream of hints and teases. Who would be attracted to someone that much older?

    But she was hardly alone in that. None of them really had time for romance, despite the coupling he knew was going on many nights – frantic coupling among the younger set, working out their fears, he suspected, though they would never have admitted to any such thing. He hadn’t indulged, however much he’d thought about it – but after Lumina’s revival, he was feeling definite urges. He’d never been one for beating off much, so he really needed to start thinking about where to turn.



    A day went by. Antonio improved, talking and even sitting up to eat. Casey and others built another Adirondack. Chen and Tanner hunted, and brought back a deer – killed by Chen’s arrow. Anaph communed with the cats, and said nothing about it to anyone. Austin, Casey, and Chen practiced with their bronze swords. And Rigel tossed in his sleep, with dreams of a castle, or more than one.

    The next day saw no new Adirondack, just a log stockade outside the three existing ones; the stockade went almost right against the back walls of the shelters – Oran said they’d fill the space in between with moss, while Casey argued for dirt. They went with moss – dirt was too much work. Chen and Tanner brought in another deer, while Anaph and Casey brought back a dozen rabbits. Ocean, Crystal, and Breeze gathered whatever Ocean said could be eaten: berries, roots, ferns, even some leaves. With cats on guard and a quarter-circle of wall and shelter, they ate on the ground, all they could eat.

    Then after dinner, as the first stars in a sky filled with them were showing themselves, Lumina came to Antonio. She looked at his wounds and nodded. As before, she raised her hands high, then brought them down, not on his chest this time, but between the two wounds, where the gr’venstut tusk had gone in, and had come out. Her torc glowed its bluish light. No one breathed as they watched her hands come down. They breathed as one at the brilliant silvery light which burst forth.

    This time, things didn’t end there: Lumina left one hand there on Antonio’s abs, but with the other reached up to her torc, and somehow, from somewhere, she drew forth what seemed to be a sliver of that silvery-blue light. She brought it down first to the exit wound, dipping it low and drawing it up, dipping it low and drawing it up, four, seven, ten, twelve times. She moved to the other wound, repeating the motion, twelve times again. She reached back up to her torc with that silvery-blue sliver of light–

    Devon saw her arm tremble as she lifted her hand from the second wound. After all the time he’d cared for her, kept her from hurt, he couldn’t see her in need and not act. So he was already in motion when her hand failed to reach the torc, already dropping to his knees and skidding as she collapsed. She fell into his arms. Casey had seen Devon move, and followed his gut: he, too, dashed forward. He was too late to catch her, but he saw a sliver of light fall from her hand, and reflexively caught it. It stopped glowing when it touched his hand, and he froze, terrified he’d done something terribly wrong.

    “Here”, Lumina whispered. “Give it”. So Casey handed it to her, helped her hold it, lifted her arm. Almost before her fingers touched the torc the needle – that’s what it was, without the glowing light – vanished, returned to wherever it had come from, however it had come.



    “Fool girl.” Those were the first words Lumina heard after surrendering to unconsciousness once the torc was whole again. It was morning, the words were tender though chiding, and the speaker was Ocean.

    Lumina managed words through a dry throat and mouth. “Antonio?”

    “Right here.” His voice was weak, and he was leaning on Dmitri and Devon for support, but he was on his feet, and came over. Ocean stepped aside for him. He just gazed down at Lumina.

    “You did a bad thing for your patient, Healer”, Ocean stated. “He’s been here the whole time, refusing to leave till you awoke. He should be resting.”

    Lumina felt chagrined. “Antonio, I’m sorry! I wanted to finish it all last night....”

    “But you should only have done one wound? You went beyond your strength? Is that it?”, asked Antonio.

    “She didn’t quite go beyond her strength”, Ocean responded. “But she came close.”

    “Would she have lost – I mean, stopped being a Healer?” Antonio asked.

    “No, not that”, Lumina whispered in reply. “The torc would have upheld me.”

    “And it would have been a very long time bringing you back, girl”, Ocean scolded. “And if you’re on a stretcher, you won’t be helping any others who are.”

    Someone cleared a throat. All five turned, to see Rigel. “How’s the patient?”, he asked.

    “Which one?” Ocean responded, with a withering look sideways at Lumina.

    “Well... both”, Rigel replied. He came to stand by Antonio. “Not up to walking on your own?”

    “Not quite. Ocean says I need at least ten days till I’ll be strong enough.”

    “Wow – Ocean, why so long?” Rigel inquired.

    “His body is worn out, right down to his cells. The infection drained him, and the healing drained more.”

    Rigel felt confused. “Wait a minute – why does the healing drain him?”

    “Mostly the healing makes his body do what it would anyway”, Lumina explained, her voice quiet. “That means it’s using the nutrients and everything it normally would. My part is just... commanding the forces – the energy boosts his immune system, and sets all the cells to doing what they normally would, just faster.”

    “A lot faster”, Antonio affirmed, touching his side. “It’s like she put in stitches five days ago.” The wound was red, with a narrow ridge of scab material. “It itches like mad, too.”

    “I can give you something for that”, Ocean told him.

    “So if the energy came from Antonio”, Rigel pressed, “why did you collapse, Lumina?”

    “Different energy. His was biological. Mine was... something else.”

    “And she used too much of it”, Ocean declared emphatically. “So what she needs now is rest. And visiting time is over.” She started Rigel moving, and others followed.

    “Sorry I frightened everyone last night”, Lumina said.

    Devon turned and went back to her. “Lumina”, he said softly, tenderly. “It wasn’t last night – it was two nights ago.”

    Lumina gasped, her hand reaching to cover her mouth.



    Ocean became their medic for the next week while Lumina regained strength – a bit faster than Antonio did, but not by much. During that week, the preparations Rigel decreed continued: deer carcasses collected hanging from one branch of the tree and were steadily turned to jerky or pemmican; berries and other edibles from the plant kingdom were dried, ground, and added to pemmican; Oran and Chen made arrows and taught others how; Breeze and Crystal helped Ocean in gathering and preserving herbs; clothes were repaired as well as possible.

    The Adirondack effort slowed. Rigel decreed that storage platforms be built in one, and that took up the efforts of the builders. The palisade wall grew until a half-circle around the base of the tree was enclosed – they had to do something with the logs from the trees they were felling to get material for the storage platforms. Rigel had them spread the dirt from digging a trench for the palisade inside the curve marked out for the rest of the wall.



    Midway into the second week, the moon that had marched so slowly across the sky disappeared. Ryan calculated an orbit of over thirty-four days – he was betting on thirty-six, but wasn’t certain. “But that’s really the apparent orbit”, he explained one day – and lost everyone immediately after.

    On the last night they had the moon, Lumina conceded that Antonio was fit enough to hunt. Rigel had pressed her because he wanted an early-morning gr’venstut hunt, which would be made easier if they could travel by night, when the beasts would be sleeping.

    So they set out at midnight: Antonio, Chen, Oran, Tanner, Devon, Casey, and three cats. The one Casey called just “Cat” paced along near Casey, while the other two roamed, watching for danger and seeking signs of their quarry.

    By noon Rigel was fidgeting. It wasn’t really late for them to return, but he’d hoped they would have. He busied himself helping Ocean mix herbs for tanning – one set of herbs which would, she said, be mixed with urine to soak the hides to make removing the hair easier; another set of herbs would be mixed with brains. He found himself watching Breeze and Crystal as they mixed and ground their herbs, wondering how they would handle that last step – in fact, he wondered how he would handle it! For that matter, he wasn’t any too certain about scraping hair off a hide that had been soaked in urine, but he assured himself it couldn’t smell worse than a locker room toilet stall that hadn’t been cleaned for a week, and he’d learned to put up with that. But he had no reference point at all for what brains would smell like! Finally he broke down and asked Ocean if she knew.

    “Not really”, she replied. “But that’s part of what the herbs do. The lensilla has a strong scent once it’s mixed with something acidic, which brains are. It smells a bit like lilac. We’re using the lemon balm – Ryan called it Melissa officinalis – also. It will make the mix smell better, and the oil from it will help keep the skin from rotting. The lufimelit – that thing that looks like a nettle – doesn’t have much of an aroma, but it reduces the scent of the brains. It also helps preserve the hide, and keep it flexible.”

    “Ryan doesn’t have names for all of them?” Rigel asked. His question brought an empty feeling as he remembered he wouldn’t be using such a bit of knowledge for teasing his friend.

    “He swears the lensilla doesn’t belong to any Earth plant family. He’s certain the lufimelit is in the family Urticaceae, but says there’s no way it’s Urtica, the nettle genus.” She grinned across at Rigel. “He was terribly upset when he found things he said look like it should be in the orchid family... subfamily Apostasioideae, to be exact.”

    “A cross between a nettle and an orchid?” Rigel wondered aloud. “That sounds like some science-fiction genetic engineering.”

    Breeze giggled. “That’s what Ryan said.”

    Rigel was looking at Ocean and didn’t really hear Breeze. “Wait a minute – if Rye doesn’t know what they are, where did you get the names for them?”

    Ocean touched her torc. “From here. It’s like I have someone’s study notes, and stuff pops up when I need it.
    “I’ve thought about that some. The names are too easy for us to say to be alien. They sound like some kind of Latin, even, like is used for naming plants. Could the Snatcher be humans like us?”

    She never got her answer. It was two hours after noon, and the hunters were back, finally, announcing their arrival with hoots and shouts. Rigel jumped up and went to meet them.

    “Wow”, was all he managed when he saw their haul. Chen and Oran had fashioned a sort of hybrid travois that had runners. Tanner, Antonio, and Devon were pulling it, bearing a heap of gray hides.

    Chen grinned at him. “Nice haul, eh, lord?”

    “Tell me about it!” Rigel exclaimed.

    “You should have been there”, Antonio said, exulting. “We found some gr’venstut bedded down at the edge of a small grove. We looped around and came through the grove. Chen, Oran, and Casey climbed trees they could see the critters from. Devon, Tanner and I found spots we thought they might charge through, where there were logs to five behind in case. When the critters started waking up, our climbers popped arrows on them. That made them face the danger and roar, so arrows went down their throats. Then the little herd charged. They couldn’t see us or smell us, so they just charged blind.
    “Anyway, none of us got hurt, and five gr’venstut will never hurt again.”

    “Skinning them took longer than finding and killing them”, Oran offered. “And throwing up.”

    “Hey!” Casey hollered. “Don’t blab!”

    “You’re his squire – he needs to know”, Oran declared, all innocence.

    “Up yours! Anyway, they stink.”

    “Five hides weigh enough to need a... whatever that is?” Rigel asked.

    “Travois”, Chen responded. “Like a cart with no wheels. And it’s not the hides” – he reached down and flipped an edge up – “it’s the heads.”

    “Why the hea– no, don’t tell me: for the brains, right?”

    “Got it in one, m’lord Rigel dude! Though I’m not sure these critters have enough brains to tan their hides – you got some to spare?” Chen asked, all innocence.

    “Yeah – yours”, Rigel popped back.

    Chen laughed. “Everybody wants a piece of me”, he complained with a grin, “but I got none to spare – sorry, boss-lord.”

    “Enough with the jokes”, Antonio cut in. “Where do these go?”

    “North Adirondack, for now”, was Rigel’s answer. “Then we have to dig Chen’s clay-lined pit.”

    “And start peeing in it”, Casey appended. “And throw Oran in – it’s his kind of place.”

    Oran didn’t take that well. His fist didn’t reach its target, though: Chen intercepted it halfway. “Second scout, would you like latrine duty for the next week?” he asked quietly.

    Oran slowly relaxed. He looked over at Rigel. Rigel shook his head and pointed to Chen. Oran sighed. “No, first scout”, he replied. “Sorry.”

    Rigel quietly moved to take Casey’s elbow. “Chen, could you come with us? I want to have a quick squires’ meeting.”

    “Sure.” The lack of any strange version of “lord” told Rigel that Chen understood this was serious.

    Rigel led them high up in the tree. It wasn’t as tough a climb as it had been; the two most difficult gaps now had ladders which were tightly lashed to trunk and/or branches, and the others had guide ropes on one or both sides.

    “All right”, he began the moment they arrived, not even waiting for them to settle. “Item for the squire’s code: no taunting people. Maybe you want to call it teasing, but this isn’t the mall – we’ve got lots of stress here, and what you may mean to be playful can hurt, at a bad moment.
    “You’ve all made me your lord. That means nobility. Well, you’re squires, and that’s nobility, too. Being noble means you’re to act nobly – and teases or taunts or insults aren’t noble.
    “If it’s some in joke, something between you and someone else, that’s going to get a laugh no matter what, that’s fine. But anything else – don’t go there. I don’t need tempers flaring, and I really don’t need fights.
    “Chen, you’re not excluded. So far you’ve only barely crossed the line. But as an example: you called me ‘boss-lord’ back there. You keep coming up with twisted ways to make fun of my title. That’s a bad example, for one thing, but it also totally gets on my nerves. At least twice I’ve felt like hitting you.
    “So, all of you – wise up with the mouth. You’re not just squires in name – you’ve got swords now. So act the part.
    “Got it?”



    “This operation should be somewhere else”, Devon told Rigel. “It stinks.” They stood by the clay-lined pit that had consumed so much labor, now filled with urine and animal hides.

    “Too much risk of animals messing with it.” Rigel watched as Oran, naked, waded in and used a stout branch to lift out a hide. “Just be glad Ocean found that soapweed -- at least we can clean up.”

    Devon grimaced. “It doesn’t smell too great, either.”

    “That’s why they’re adding the lemon mint oil. And they can add it because of the gr’venstut rawhide bowls.”

    “I wish we could stick with rawhide.”

    “It would start to stink, too. Now come on, let’s take our turn.” The two stripped and went to where Oran had just draped the gr’venstut hide over a branch frame, for scraping. They picked up the scrapers Chen had made by cracking rocks until he got shapes he liked, and set to work: scrape in the natural direction of the short, tough hair, not against or across it.


    “Chen, you’re not that good a shoemaker”, Oran complained after a trial of “custom” shoes left him with blisters. “They twist my toes and make me walk crooked.”

    “Don’t tell me you actually believed the advertising”, Casey teased.

    Chen frowned at the shoe Oran tossed him. The next one hit him on the head. He glared at his fellow scout. “You did that on purpose.”

    Oran was unrepentant. “About as much as you made bad shoes on purpose.”

    Bit by bit a smile tugged Chen’s face into a happier configuration. “Point. Okay – what should I do different?

    “Don’t make shoes”, Austin recommended.

    “I’m not giving up!” Chen retorted.

    “Didn’t say to – make sandals. Look”, Austin said, picking up a damp piece of gr’hide – a term Oran had coined when he got tired of saying “gr’venstut” over and over, “you take a soft piece. Put it on the ground, and step on it. Stand there, and it shapes to your foot.” Chen took the piece back and regarded it thoughtfully, then shook his head.

    “If you do it that way, the sole will be soft and wear out like crazy”, he objected.

    “So use two layers – one of your toughened ones on the bottom, the softer shaped one on top”, Oran suggested.

    “And make the sandal straps part of the bottom one!” Casey added. “I mean, just cut out one big piece in the right shape.”

    “Then glue it together”, Oran concluded.

    “Glue? What, you’re gonna drive to the mall and score some glue?” Casey said scornfully.

    Oran started a sharp reply but held it back. “No, we boil down scraps of hide – like the pieces that tear off when we scrape the hair off. Ocean probably knows things to add.”

    “Bones”, Chen said, remembering something an uncle had taught him. “Bones, and the softer stuff that’s hooked to them... um....”

    “Cartilage?”, Oran suggested.

    “Yeah. Leather, bone, and cartilage. We boil it till it’s gooey. I bet you’re right, that Ocean will know. Anyway, it’s not the greatest glue in the world, but it’s one we can make.
    “And if we run laces from the sole through the inner sole... yeah, we can make sandals.” Chen looked up at Austin. “Thanks, squire.”

    “No problem, squire.” Austin grinned. “And thank you, squire”, he said to Casey.

    “My pleasure, squire, squire”, Casey responded, nodding to Chen and Austin in order.

    It took two days to make the first set, for Rigel. They called them “Squires’ Sandals”. The foot portion was made the way the three squires had discussed: a heavy sole, with straps coming up over the foot, and smaller ones piercing the inner sole to hold it in place. But Ocean had added her own touch: straps of soft deer hide ran up to wrap around the calf nearly to the knee. “You can attach shin guards if you want”, she’d pointed out.

    But that first set had no glue: that took much, much longer, even with tricks Ocean knew. It also took large amounts of firewood, and for boiling the bone, fine ash from the fire. Work on other tasks slowed as time was spent finding and hauling firewood.

    “We should move on”, Tanner urged one day during the evening meal. “The weather isn’t going to stay warm forever.” Rigel let the discussion run without him, certain it would end up where he already had: they ought to stay put until they were well-outfitted with everything they could make.

    Rita finally summed it up. “We stay here until we all have sandals – that’s the hardest thing. We keep making anything else we need, then when we have sandals, we go.”



    Departure from Fort Tree, three weeks later, looked a lot different than arrival: Every foot had a sandal, with leggings up to the knee. Each back had a backpack, either original or of deer leather stiffened with thick gr’venstut leather strips. Every head had a leather cap, with a neck cover that could be lowered. Each person carried three days’ worth of water and two weeks worth of food. Most carried bows, and some were actually fair shots. The three bronze swords had scabbards, with belts to hand them from; the three bronze axes hung from belt loops. Most valuable to all of them, perhaps, were the haired, cured deer skins for sleeping. Oran no longer had the only fire-making kit; Chen, Casey, and Breeze each carried one as well, and had shown they could actually start a fire with it. They each carried a small bundle of tinder and kindling, too, to make starting their fires faster. But those were really only for emergencies, because Ocean bore a double-layered pot of gr’venstut hide half-full of sand, and burning coals.

    Austin did the honors of closing the gate behind them – the fort boasted five Adirondacks and a complete palisade wall. He shut it from the inside, then climbed the tree, walked and scooted out a branch, and dropped to Rigel’s shoulders.

    “Gate secured, lord Rigel”, he reported when he was on his feet. Casey helped him get all his gear on, then they took their places in line.

    Rigel looked over the fort and tree that had served them well. Leaving Grove Camp had felt a little like leaving behind safety, but this leaving seemed proper – “meet and right”, as the old liturgy at church had said. Locking the gate seemed right, too, though he doubted they’d ever be back. Maybe it will serve someone else, he thought.

    Then he looked at the group, waiting, expectant. He found he was proud of them all, proud to be their leader – and honored. Druid, Healer, scouts, hunters... they all had places, they all contributed, none of them slacked. They’d adjusted to this new world, adopted it, even adopted each other. They weren’t just a group of cast-offs snatched from certain death for purposes unknown, they’d become... what was the word Lumina had used? A House, capital H, loyal to one another, loyal to him – his House, with his people.

    Seriousness gave way to radiant pride, optimism, determination, and more on Rigel’s face. He raised the staff Anaph had given him, drawn from a living oak tree, and spoke.

    “Let’s go.”




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  49. #149
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli ...

    Through your excellent "word smithery", Rigel, and Company, are becoming "My People", too! I've come to Care about them, and am looking forward to hearing about how they are fairing, and the further adventures that await them!

    Seriously, when this reaches it's conclusion (which I am NOT looking forward to), I do believe you should consider this becoming a published Book!

    Eagerly looking forward to MORE!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  50. #150
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    Kuli ...

    Through your excellent "word smithery", Rigel, and Company, are becoming "My People", too! I've come to Care about them, and am looking forward to hearing about how they are fairing, and the further adventures that await them!

    Seriously, when this reaches it's conclusion (which I am NOT looking forward to), I do believe you should consider this becoming a published Book!

    Eagerly looking forward to MORE!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    It occurred to me that if I'd been really thinking ahead, this would have been the end of Part I: they've been Snatched, dropped in a new world, faced it, fought it, been changed, and become bonded, so they're not just a bunch, but a band.

    In that theme, I think I'll put a big II at the top of the page for the next chapter...

    which I'd better start soon!


    Though I have a job to do first: I need to go through all the chapters and make a compendium of all the herbs I've mentioned so far.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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