The Companionates: River of Night
There was a shrill, savage hooting. I leaped and looked around, as everyone surged away from it, staring and pointing—at me? I hadn’t been doing anything strange.
At something above me?
I looked up to find a com floating—out of my reach—overhead, its suspensory field drawing my hair crackling up and sideways. I’d never taken a message on one and couldn’t imagine who would be calling me, or why. Straining up on my toes, trying to reach while looking nonchalant, I felt my pulse hammer in my ears. It was just too high. I settled back with a thump, flat-footed in my new, stiff boots.
The com whistled lewdly at me.
At the far wall two truhuman clerks were laughing. One waved the black, fist-sized control unit at me and yelled something I couldn’t hear over the roar of voices that filled the hall. He jumped in the air—miming connecting with the com. The idiot must see he’d set it too high for me.
Angry, I leaped and grabbed, fumbling to figure out the “on” code, but the thing went silent, then buzzed and pulled itself free, spiraling up toward the ceiling.
The two men were laughing so hard I thought they’d sit down.
Pair of shits.
My empty sack—intended for belongings I didn’t have—had slipped sideways to hang awkwardly from the crook of my left elbow. I pulled it back to my shoulder and tried not to look as hot and foolish as I felt. The com floated off across the hall, where the clerks must have pulled the same trick again. I could see the crowd flee, leaving one fesyl standing alone, bewildered, hands over her ears.
I stood still, waiting for my neighbors to lose interest in me, pretending to watch the symbols scrolling up the near wall, each black squiggle chasing a pictograph. It must be a launch schedule of some sort—or a status board—but I couldn’t make any sense of it. Some signs appeared again and again and others whipped down and across the screen, momentarily wiping it clean.
There was no real reason for me to waste time on it. I was in the right line, I knew that. All I had to do was wait until I was ordered to board along with the rest of this loud and nervous hoard. I looked around cautiously, and found no one was watching me anymore.
Scuffing at the layer of dirt on the much-scratched plating, I envied the clump of five behind me in line. They were gossiping and making comments, their eyes cutting about in parody of their own excitement. From the heavy dialect and the in-group jokes, they were crechemates lucky enough to be assigned together.
I fluffed the fur over my left breast—the strap for my carry-sack rubbed it—and moved forward a little in the line. I was on my own, scared, and too green to admit it to myself. Fesyl from Lornfune are seldom contracted as individuals. Whoever had bought my contract would have paid extra for breaking up a team, so they must have really wanted me, and it should be a good position. The credits I’d send home were needed—Lornfune is poor.
That was small consolation to me.
I’d said goodbye to my cubs—not that I told them it was that, but they knew something was up—and handed them over to their new guardians, remembering how appallingly ignorant I had been when I began my own turn at guardianship. I must have sweated a filter-full my first day.
I’d remember Kirt and Pru long after they couldn’t think what I looked like. I couldn’t remember my own mother, and had seldom thought about it until this moment. I wondered if she’d missed me, or been glad to finally be off on the adventure of life outside the habitat.
Copyright 2016 Catherine Mintz. All rights are reserved.