The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 24
“Them always go to where they can stay warm. You better take her with you. I ain’t going back with nothing, an’ my stash gone and my leg ain’t right,” he said gloomily.
“What you have to do is get to your feet and lead us back,” said Ta’zara.
“I think we need to go back to the dome. Me’a is going to be very, very interested. She needs to know this,” said Pausert. “And I think you may become a hero to the gatherers, Nady.”
“Being a hero don’t buy no drinks. Those crystals was worth a five night drunk!” complained Nady.
“If I’m right, you’ll be bought drinks for the rest of your lifetime. You just worked out how to save gatherers from porpentiles.”
“Huh. Most of ’em would rather be dead than lose their stash,” said Nady, but he tried to stand up. And sat down again, with a gasp of pain. “Ya should o’ left me under it. I’m bust.”
“And that would have helped you how?” said Ta’zara dryly. “Let me have a look…”
“I’d have died rich,” said the old gatherer, grumpily letting Ta’zara push him into lying down. “Now, even if I get back, I’ll starve. Kiki will go off with someone else because I can’t afford to feed her.”
“You can’t take riches with you,” said Ta’zara. “The Leewit, do you need the leg exposed?”
With her klatha senses, the Leewit felt the sharp broken edges of the bone in Nady’s leg. Ta’zara had splinted it and numbed the nerve. The Leewit moved everything carefully until the bone edges touched, going into place like that last piece of jigsaw puzzle. She knitted little lattices between the broken edges. Healing should be faster and better with the framework she’d created.
Except that it wouldn’t. She realized that it wasn’t that Nady had merely had a porpentile fall on him. It was that the bones themselves were brittle, short of calcium. This break was just something inevitable, just happening a little sooner than it would have anyway. Part of her said you’ve used enough energy, leave it. But another part of her knew there was more to healing than just treating the immediate problem.
The Leewit had the teacher-pattern in her mind to guide her, to help understand what she was finding: The problems centered on the gatherer’s liver. That problem was affecting a lot of other things — among them the hormones that controlled his calcium levels. Nady was slowly stripping calcium off his bones when he needed it. And was not — as other humans did — replacing it. It all came down to a compound his liver was still breaking down. To the klatha healer one cell was just as big as one organ. She could fix the damaged cells, but there were millions of them — in this size-less dimension, as hard a work as fixing something far bigger. She’d die before she got done.
The teaching pattern led her. She made his own immune cells know the compound that was destroying his bone — change its shape by joining on to it — and that, it seemed, would send it to his kidneys and out, without doing the damage it had been. Satisfied, she gradually pulled back from the klatha healing trance… but as she did, she grasped from the teaching pattern what she’d done. What the substance was.
It was Nady’s drug habit, a euphoric drug of some kind. It wouldn’t poison him now — but it also wouldn’t work to make him happy anymore. The teaching pattern was… almost smug. It had taught the Leewit how to deal with many poisons now. The Leewit herself was not smug. It worried her. She wasn’t quite sure how or why, but it did.
“Can he walk?” asked the captain.
The Leewit realized that he had his hand on her shoulder — lending her strength. Like touch-talk klatha, strength-lending seemed to function best with actual contact. He looked tired, but she didn’t feel as tired as the last time. Well, maybe she was getting better at it. She wasn’t ever going to tell anyone, but this was hard. Or maybe it was the captain’s klatha strength she’d leaned on. She’d asked for his help before, but not this time. It was a weird thing, suddenly getting what Goth thought was so wonderful about the captain. She’d said when the Leewit asked, but it hadn’t made sense back then: You never have to ask him twice.
“Nope. But it doesn’t hurt, does it Nady?”
The old gatherer blinked. “No. It feels fine…” He would have tried to stand up and undo her work, but for Ta’zara thinking faster than either she or the captain did, and pushing him down.
“We’ll carry him. It’s a pity we have nothing for a stretcher, but he’s a skinny drink of water,” said the captain. “We can’t be that far from that cave, and at least he can tell us where to go.”
“And keep an eye for more porpentiles,” said the Leewit.
“I shall watch for those too,” said Ta’zara. “I will carry him first, Captain. Lift him onto my back. He can tell us where to go. ”
So the captain did, ignoring Nady’s protests. At least the porpentiles were unlikely to trouble them.
Pausert was glad to let Ta’zara take the first shift of carrying, as they headed on down the pass, so he could suck at the glucose tube in the rebreather. That gave him time to recover, and time to think. The answer to the shortage of catalyst was that the porpentiles weren’t splitting into baby tumble-flowers, that was plain. But how should that news be handled? “Nady. The porpentiles — do you get them elsewhere? I mean elsewhere on the planet.”
“Wouln’ know,” said the gatherer. “I never been past Mount Lofty.”
“You said the surveyors found tumble-flowers elsewhere,” said the Leewit.
“Yeah, but then yer can see one of those easy enough. Them survey blokes wouldn’t see a porpentile unless it jumped on ’em.”
That could well be true. “So they could just live here in these mountains?”
“Could do, I suppose,” said the gatherer. “No one cares really.”
Soon they swapped over, and the captain had to concentrate on his feet on the rocky trail rather than the problems of Cinderby’s World. They took two more turns each, before the airlock to the cave came in sight.
Once inside, it seemed that the decision on how the news should be handled was made by the only member of the party who wasn’t dead-beat from carrying extra — either a pack or the injured gatherer — and that, of course, was Nady. He had plenty of energy and breath for it. He was certainly eager to use both — and he was quite a story-teller, with a tale of something that held his audience in mortal fear. He had all the other gatherers around him — and after a few moments the Leewit said to Ta’zara: “Go stop him jumping up.”
So Ta’zara did, pressing a hand onto his shoulder every time the gatherer tried. Nady still had his audience in the palm of his hand. Captain Pausert smiled to himself, enjoying just sitting and resting, listening to a tale that was already a lot more dramatic than it had been, growing and growing. He had been quite right about one thing. Nady would probably never pay for another drink in a bar on Cinderby’s World.
As an option, keeping it all a secret was off the table.