Saturday Story: Rajworld Part 3

In which our intrepid explorer braves daily life and receives a new companion.

Chapter Three: Mapping and an M-dog

 

“It appears we came back perhaps a touch early, dear,” Rigi’s mother said. Rigi looked at Lyria and her sister gave a tiny shake of her head. Don’t make noise, don’t eat too loudly, Mother’s not happy.  Their mother, being a neo-Traditionalist, did not believe in raising her voice, especially not at the table. She still managed to let people know how she felt.

Rigi’s father sopped up a bit of spicy sauce with his bread. “I’m inclined to agree, my love, but no one knew there would be a secondary migration this year. Apparently the grasses are greening up better than usual.”

They’d been trapped inside the protective walls and shields of Sogdia for the better part of a week, with warnings not to leave the house unless it was absolutely necessary. Rigi saw part of a holo about the wombeast and kitfeng migration, and everyone knew that the terror birds followed the migration in large numbers. A few terror birds had actually gotten inside the shield at the space port and had scared everyone, leading to the stay-home order. They’d eaten one of the Staré guards, a sixth Stamm who had been looking the wrong way, according to Rigi’s father. He had not been able to take her to learn shooting because of the migration. He had not gotten the m-dog yet, either, although from what Rigi understood, m-dogs took longer to build and fit than did m-mules.

“That may well be true,” her mother said. “However, I am not entirely pleased with coming back so early. The girls and I could have stayed at Keralita for at least another two weeks without difficulty.”

“Would that it were so. There are complications I’d prefer not to discuss around the young ladies.”

Her mother pursed her lips but Rigi knew that was the end of the topic. Rigi wondered if it had something to do with what she and Tomás had found. Probably not.

“Father, is it true that Home has put limits on the kinds of fabric and textiles that can be brought to Shikhari?” Lyria had plans for something, Rigi knew.

“Yes, it is, but they apply to military-grade materials and not to basics or luxury fabrics. I hope you are not going to ask for one of those brocade outfits the Minister of Culture on Home was wearing in the fashion holo.” He winked at their mother. She wrinkled her nose and ate more tam. Rigi didn’t care for the purple vegetable. It tasted like liver smelled, and they already had liver once a week when her father was not home. Rigi had decided that when she was a grown up, she’d not eat liver again unless her only other choice was starvation.

Lyria started to make a face and stopped before her mother complained. “No, Father, not brocade and certainly not like that. It looks too snug and hot for the warm season.” Rigi bit the tip of her tongue to keep from giggling. What Lyria had said when she saw the holo had been far less kind. “Ugh! He looks like a wombow painted to look like a carpet.” Rigi thought Lyria’s description was pretty accurate. Even Mar had been unimpressed, and she thought everything from Home was wonderful.

Rigi wished Benin Shaka Petrason would go back to Home. School had not started and he’d already irritated her, trying to pick a fight with Tomás. Benin was already as big as Tomás, maybe even a little taller, but still two years younger. If Tomás fought him, he’d get in trouble for touching a younger student. Rigi thought it unfair since Benin kept trying to start the fight.  Lyria said that Pahl was spreading stories about Rigi and Tomás, something that made Rigi laugh. That was so silly. Who wanted a boyfriend? Tomás was too much fun to be around to be a boyfriend. And her mother had firm thoughts about young ladies who spent too much time sighing over boys, thoughts she had already told Lyria more than once. Maybe Benin would find a girlfriend and leave everyone alone. Or take some of those common-sense pills she’d heard her father muttering under his breath about once.

“Rigi, Uncle Ebenezer sent a message that he’ll have some files for you tomorrow. He would like you to look at them and then return them. You may use my holo and comm if you need to,” her father said, pulling her back from star-wandering.

“Thank you, Father.”

Her mother shook her head. “The governor’s sister, Mrs. Debenadetto? She has some rather odd beliefs about children communicating with adults outside their blood relations.”

“Does she? Should I ask Kay to chaperone Ebenezer so he doesn’t get led astray?” He had a little smile on his face.

Her mother tipped her head to the side and frowned just a touch. “Timothy, that’s not what she means, and I do not think that Ebenezer needs to be led astray. He could find a way to stray in if he were locked inside a three by two cargo box. Kay is such a wonderful soul to try to keep him out of trouble.”

A blend of snow and rain fell the next day. Rigi looked out the transpara-metal windows and gave thanks for heating and for being indoors. Someone with a wombow cart trundled past. The driver wore so many layers that she couldn’t tell Stamm or sex or species, and the wombow dripped, head hung even lower than usual. Rigi snuggled into her house jacket and waited for Shona to unlock her father’s house office. The cook and guard found the correct key, touched it to the lock, and the door opened. The comm and file-reading equipment turned on as well. “Thank you, Shona.”

“You are welcome, Miss Auriga. Be filled of care,” he cautioned, puffing watchful-wary and lifting his split upper lip to reveal dangerously sharp and strong teeth. He’d learned Common late, and tended to be very literal the few times he spoke. He had stronger forelimbs than Mar, with longer claws, and a thicker tail. Rigi had seen male Staré tail-fighting, using them as heavy clubs, and had decided that sneaking up on Shona and trying to surprise him would be a bad idea.

“Yes, Shona.”

Rigi sat carefully in her father’s big chair. It made her think of the pictures of the royal throne on Home, large and imposing with strange shapes carved into the dark back and legs. The bottoms of the legs looked like wombeast paws in front and terror-bird talons in back. She opened her small e-pad while she waited until all the system checks had finished, then logged into the family files. A new, large, file flashed for attention and she reached up and patted the projection with one fingertip. The icon wavered and reformed into words.

“Dear Miss Rigi,

“The mapping project has gone better than anticipated. The materials you and Tomás found are highly reflective to surface-top scanning, although not to the standard extra-atmospheric search and documentation techniques. That alone suggests things best saved for more specialized equipment and precise techniques. Mr. De Groet and I have also been consulting with a few natives concerning the location and Kor especially has interesting observations. I prefer not to go into more detail at this time.

Please look at the attached images and give me your impressions of what you see or thing you see. I have asked Tomás to do the same.

I also ask that you not discuss this with others yet. Mr. De Groet, Lexi, Kor, and I are concerned that others’ enthusiasm might overrule their patience and good judgment.

Sincerely,

Uncle Eb”

 

Rigi nodded her agreement. She tapped the display projection once more and the words changed into a general picture of the ruins, taken from above by a plain visual light imager. As she and Tomás had noticed, not as many trees grew inside the wall as outside, and even the bushes looked a little different, smaller and more scattered. But what was what inside the circle of wall? It took her a moment to find the controls to enlarge and bring the picture closer. She expanded it, finding the residency first, then the temple. Once she had those she could find the name stone and the gate in the wall, and the “garden.” She stuck her tongue out a little and bit it lightly as she hunted for the right command button. There it was. She tapped the dot and arrow, and the image shifted. Now the “garden” appeared on the top, in the planetary north. “Huh.” The temple, residency, and name stone formed an equilateral triangle.  She looked south of the name stone, trying to find anything that might match. Nothing caught her eye.

She tapped for the next image. “Oh!” This was something that looked into the top of the dirt, and two more shapes did appear that matched the residency and temple. To the east and west, long rectangular shapes blocked in the name stone. The garden disappeared in a dark, ragged-shaped area that filled the entire curve of the wall and extended a little farther than the grass above it did. No wonder nothing with big roots grew there, if that was solid. Rigi made a few notes on her e-pad, then moved to the next image.

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” The men had taken big lights into the temple. Carvings and paintings covered the ceiling as well as the walls. Some of them looked like giant wombeasts, another seemed to be a Staré but with a terror-bird head, and a few had to be the colorful birds from the Bataria Archipelago. The ones near the ceiling on the walls had bits of black on them, but most of the colors remained brilliant, far better than what she remembered. Well, the adults had real lights and imaging equipment. Along the bottom of the walls, where she’d never looked because of all the dirt, Uncle Eb and Mr. De Groet had cleaned the floor and she saw a procession of carved wombeasts alternating with people who looked like the Staré but with slightly different faces and ears. They seemed taller and thinner, too, and more had multi-colored pelts. Or it could be moss and that stuff that grew on rocks, what was it?

The floor also had patterns of colored stone in it, and hollow strips. A little note read “possible wooden inlay – note char deposit.” There had been wood that had burned? That was strange. Did that mean the black was carbon deposits? Rigi made a note. But some of it looked like it had splashed onto the stones like a coating, and there was the wall with its smooth outside and rough inside.

The last image came from the edge of the garden. Someone had dug a hole in the grass and dirt, and she saw black and red. The next image, visual light only, Lexi held a portable hand lamp in his forefoot and was shining it down at an angle. The red and black glittered a little, as if they were rough and shiny. Rigi frowned. What was rough and shiny? Something she’d seen, something curved and that her art teacher had—glazed pottery from Ixtok! Rigi made a note and bounced a little. Was it part of a great big tile floor of some kind, like the tiles in the courtyard of the House of Refuge? Ceramics were some of the hardest, most durable things ever made, everyone knew that, and that would explain why no roots had managed to get through it.

Rigi closed the images and called up a clean display. Her father had left his headset activated and she put it on her head, adjusting the recorder a bit for her smaller jaw. She told Uncle Eb what she had seen and thought about the images, suggested that the red and black might be ceramic of some kind, and thanked him for sending the pictures and file. She checked that no other sounds had come through, then sent everything back. Once the system confirmed that Uncle Eb’s file-reader had caught it, she erased the copy in her folder, logged out, erased her e-pad, closed the door, and went to tell Shona that she was finished.

He was in the kitchen, preparing things to marinate for the evening meal. Rigi liked watching him work and had found a corner of the room where she could be out of the way but still see most things. He worked at lightning speed, or so it seemed to her, slicing a slab of dark red meat into thin strips with a big cerro-metal knife, then dipping them into a pale gold marinade before laying them in a large ceramic pan. Once all the meat was in, he poured the marinade on top and put the pan into the resting oven. Rigi waited until he finished cleaning the knife and the work surface before speaking. “Shona, I’m finished in Father’s office.”

“Good, Miss Rigi. I will lock once more.” He held his forefeet under the warm-air blower to dry.

“Thank you, Shona.”

Two more days passed before the security guardians lifted the caution and everyone could move around Sogdia, if they wanted to. Rigi wanted to go out but her mother and Mar refused. “The cold and damp will make you sick. Not until I can get you new boots,” her mother said as Mar pushed on the toes of Rigi’s old ones. “You cannot wear your open shoes in this weather, and walking in those will give you blisters.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Behind her mother, Rigi saw Lyria sticking her tongue out at her and mouthing “I told you so.” Rigi wanted to return the gesture but not with their mother standing in the way. She’d get another scolding about being ladylike and how proper ladies ignored accidental slights and insults. Lyria’s out-stretched tongue struck Rigi as neither ladylike, nor accidental, and she stored the memory away. Lyria was already unhappy because their father had re-locked her computer, limiting her access to approved, age-appropriate materials. Rigi wasn’t certain if that was a victory or not.

Two days before school resumed, her mother took them shopping for new clothes. Rigi could wear some of Lyria’s old things, but not all of them. Leggings and shoes came first, and the sales AI recommended getting a size larger, “for grow room, Mesdames.” Mrs. deStella-Bernardi agreed and three pairs of new footwear appeared in the fabricator queue. Rigi was not quite old enough for real leather shoes, “And your school restricts leather to the eighth achievement level and higher, Auriga. These look just as good, and will wear better, provided you slow down and do not scuff. Now, socks,” and a dozen pair of varying thickness joined the queue. “The thick ones are for right now, and then the thinner as you grow. I fear you will be like Aunt Kay and my mother, Auriga, moderately tall with, as they used to say, a good foundation to stand on.”

Lyria giggled and pointed to Rigi’s toes. They poked out of the test sandals for her old size. Rigi put her old shoes on as her mother fussed at Lyria. “Young lady, despite what the current mode is encouraging, there is nothing wrong with being tall and strong. Do not dishonor the One who made us as we are by teasing Rigi for what she cannot control. The wheel of fashion will turn again. You do not recall it, but 160 cm and 100 kilos was considered the perfect body type when you were five.” Lyria and Rigi both blinked and stared at each other. Short and so round was in style? Eew, Rigi thought. How could she go through the woods with Tomás or play skip-ball and comet chase if she weighed a hundred kilos?

Two new school dresses and one for worship days finished Rigi’s list. Her school computer and other materials had already passed inspection, and her father had brought home enough other things to keep her and Lyria working for at least a year, if not a decade. Rigi followed her mother and sister into the next shop, then sat on the small waiting bench as they looked at dresses suitable for worship days. Lyria wanted one that drew attention to her chest. Their mother refused. Lyria found another one with a high collar and very tight upper body, in brilliant yellow with orange stripes on the short skirt. “I can wear it with leggings, Mother.”

“No. You will not be able to breathe properly, and that skirt is far too short. Even with leggings. And you know that orange is not appropriate for a young woman of your age. You are not a rainbow nester.”

“Humpf.”

As the older ladies “discussed their differences,” Rigi decided that she liked the plain black dress with deep sapphire trim on the collar and down the front. It looked like something she could sit in for the several hours of worship.  Decision made for the future, she counted buttons and fastener knots on the dresses she could see. After reaching three hundred and something, she began looking out the front window and door. People, humans mostly, came and went. This row of shops did not have anything for Staré, and while they were not forbidden, custom kept them to a different part of the district. Rigi liked going there and watching the crafters work, making furniture and garments, and selling sweets and treats. Her favorite dress had come from a Staré shop, made to look like one in an ancient book that her father had liked. Her mother had not complained, but Rigi knew she had doubts about it. Rigi thought it wonderful and had worn it until she could no longer fit her arms into the sleeves. When she was older she’d have another one made.

As she thought and planned, she heard a familiar voice grumbling and growling. “No, Mum I am not wearing that. You can buy it but I will not wear it. I’m a man and men do not wear tunics.”

“You are not a man, you are twelve years old, and you will wear what the school requires.”

“No! It makes me look like a big-foot.” Rigi’s eyes went as wide as they could possibly go. No one used that term in public, not where others could hear you. Benin continued, “I want leather shoes and proper clothes from Home, not this stuff.” He came into her view, walking backwards and shaking his finger at his mother.

“You will have no such thing. Not while you are still growing. Now stop acting like a big-foot’s brat and walk properly. You are a Petrason and a Chin so act like one or I will have your father remind you.”

Benin slumped, turned around, and slouched ahead. His mother, small, pale, and so proper that Rigi wondered if she squeaked when she walked, followed, her head high and nose tipped up a little. She wore the latest mode in brilliant colors, with little mirrors and shiny bits in the fabric of her tunic that glittered and danced in different patterns of light. Holo-projectors on her shoes made her feet look smaller than Rigi’s closed fist. Her mother had once referred to Mrs. Chin-Petrason as “No better than she should be,” a phrase Rigi had only heard her use two other times, and tried to avoid Benin’s mother at parent association gatherings if at all possible. Mrs. Chin-Petrason always seemed more interested in trying to get Tomás’s father to talk to Benin for some reason. Maybe it was a mother thing.

The fabricators had finished making Rigi’s shoes, boots, and leggings by the time her sister and mother had settled on a tunic and skirt that neither of them really liked. Rigi hoped she’d inherit the outfit—she thought it looked perfect, almost as good as her long-lost dress. The three ladies had a little bit to eat and some hot coffee with a splash of cowlee milk. Errands run, they stopped by the place of worship so their mother could leave the monthly offering and see if anyone needed assistance. She found no names on the list for once, and the three sang one of the songs of praise in thanks, then went home.

“Timothy, is something wrong?” Rigi and Lyria blinked to see their father home so early on a work day, especially since he had brought his official vehicle and left it parked in front of the house.

“No, dearest. Miss Rigi’s new friend has arrived and I need to pick her up so we can imprint it properly. The dealer wants it imprinted and paid for as soon as possible.”

“What new friend, father? Can I come too, please?”

“No. Only two people can be there, Auriga and I. You’ll understand this evening.” Her father’s tone warned that Lyria should not push. Instead she pouted as Rigi quickly changed into play clothes and put on her new boots with thick socks. They felt good, very good, and she wiggled her toes the entire trip to the receiving building at the spaceport. “When we go inside, Rigi, stop at the white mark until I say you can move.”

“Yes, sir.” She tried not to bounce as Jaihu guided the small flitter through the rainy misty air to the entry path for the spaceport. Big cargo transports crawled along the roads and rail-path below. It looked a little like a tree with roots feeding into the trunk, all the routes meeting at the spaceport. The big cargo movers grumbled along on treads, traveling ten or fifteen kilometers per hour from the loading sheds to the spaceport. Once a week a trans-system ship entered orbit and sent its cargo drones down to unload and reload. Passenger ships came through at most once a month, or so teacher had said. Rigi wondered why people couldn’t travel with cargo, but had not asked. That would probably be covered this term. A few passenger flitters darted in and out, many with trade company markings on them. Jaihu directed the flitter to a building at the end of the cargo-opening row and parked so lightly that Rigi never felt the landing feet touch.

“Well done!” her father said, smiling.

“Thank you, Jaihu,” Rigi added with her own smile once she got out.

The dark grey Staré gave her a hand-bow. “You are most welcome, Miss Auriga.”

Her father put his hand on her back and steered her toward a white door in the side of the pale brown building. She waited as the scanner confirmed his identity and opened the entry, then stepped inside. She could see a faint glowing line and stopped just short of it, waiting as he’d told her to. “Good. You will see a single light come on, and something move. Do not cross that line until Mr. Smith and I call for you. The m-dog is dangerous until the full imprint process is finished and I do not want you to interrupt the program by accident. He will attack you, and I will not be able to stop him.”

“Yes, sir.” The skin of her back and neck shivered without her meaning to, and her heart began to beat a little faster. Rigi wiped her hands on her coat and tried not to breathe too loud.

He called, “Smith, is it ready?”

“Affirm, Timothy, come forward to the edge of the light cone.” A triangle of light appeared in the middle of the floor. As her father walked to it, Rigi saw a dark lump inside the light, and thought she saw a man in the black beyond the brightness. “Stop there. Step a little to the left, yes, so you are in a direct line with its optical sensors. Good. As soon as you see a red flare in the optical spheres, step forward one pace. Ready.”

“Ready.”

The stranger counted to four, then recited a long string of sounds that made no sense to Rigi. When he finished, she held her breath as her father hesitated, then stepped forward one pace. Part of the lump moved, swinging up, then tipping as if to look at her father. He stood still as the angular black and grey moved up and down, like the size scanner in a bulk clothing store. Two pieces of metal slid across the floor, scraping the hard perma-crete surface. More of the shape lifted up. More scraping and the entire m-dog stood facing her father. He had not moved. The machine took a step, wiggled its body a little as if trying to balance, one hind-foot moved, then a forefoot, and the other hind foot. It circled around her father. Nothing happened. The front of the angular piece opened and she saw light shine off polished metal. It closed again. A voice synthesizer said in Standard, “Identify.”

“Bernardi, Timothy, secondary.”

“Bernardi, Timothy, secondary. Confirm.”

He recited some numbers.

“Secondary confirmed and logged. Initiate primary.”

Her father turned and waved for Rigi. She walked to him on her tip-toes, trying not to make a sound. The m-dog turned and “looked” at her anyway. The optical registers had red lines dancing in their middles. It scared her and she wanted to run. But you never ran from an m-dog, never ever unless you’d programmed it to play and the handler gave you permission. Every child learned that. Her father held up his hand as she reached the edge of the light and she stopped. He beckoned her with two fingers and she took a small step forward, just into the light.

“Identify.” The m-dog “looked” her up and down.

Rigi’s throat closed and she started to cough, then caught herself. She swallowed hard. “Bernardi, Auriga, called Rigi, primary.”

Her father nodded as the m-dog said, “Bernardi, Auriga, Rigi, primary. Confirm.”

What should she say? She started to panic. Her father shook his head a little and mouthed something. What was it? He mouthed it again and looked a little concerned. That was it!

“One, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one.”

“Primary confirmed and logged.”

The stranger called another string of syllables, then said, “Initialization complete.”

The m-dog tipped his head to the side. “Rigi, confirm initialization complete?”

“Confirm initialization complete.”

Something pinged, then chirped, and the m-dog made a bark-like noise and its tail wagged. Rigi’s father and Mr. Smith both sighed and her father’s shoulders drooped a little. “You can pet it now, Rigi.”

She walked up to the m-dog. It was huge! His shoulders came to just above her waist, as big as some m-mules. The head looked as big as hers. She reached forward slowly, her hand shaking. She touched the dark surface on the top of his head, between the optical sensors. It looked like flat-finished metal but felt smooth and almost soft. She stroked it again. The dog’s tail wagged a little. She stroked firmer and said, “Good dog.” More wagging. “Does he have a name?”

“His files call him Aurelius, but that may be too close to your own name, Miss Rigi,” Smith said. “You might want another one. The more you use it, the more quickly he will answer to it.” Rigi walked around the m-dog, looking at it. He wasn’t really black, but a dark brown, soft and comfortable to the touch like his head. The metal joints of his legs had been finished as bare metal, and she remembered reading something about m-animals having to have a certain amount of them bare so people could not confuse them for living animals. A picture from one of her religion study files came to mind, of a man with a shiny bare head wearing a dark brown garment. What was his name? Frank? No Francis, that was it. But the m-dog did not look quite like a Francis. “Martinus,” she heard her voice saying. Yes, he looked like Martinus sounded, round in places and heavy, serious mostly. “Your name is Martinus.”

“Good choice,” Smith told her, smiling and nodding. He turned back to her father and said something very quietly. Rigi ignored the adults as she petted Martinus.

“You look like a Martinus so I name you Martinus.”

“Weef,” and he nodded.

“Dogs say woof, Martinus.”

“Weef!”

“Woof!”

“Weef waff!”

“Woof! Woof woof woof.” She corrected.

“Wooeef?” The head tipped to the side as if asking it that was right.

Oh well, it was close. Rigi petted his head. “Wooeef. Good dog.”

Her father cleared his throat and she looked up. He had a large box of things, including what looked like a power cable and leash hanging out of it. “Time to go home, Rigi. Don’t worry about him with the family. As long as you tell him a person is OK, he will leave them alone. I’ll explain what to do in other cases later, once you finish bonding.”

Mr. Smith explained. “You bond by playing with him, taking him for walks, and just being with him for the next day or so. He weighs about a hundred kilos, so don’t let him get in bed with you, or sit on furniture.”

“Or sit on you, Rigi,” her father chuckled. “Come along Rigi, Martinus.”

The m-dog wagged his tail again and followed her and her father out to the flitter. “This is my new m-dog, Jaihu,” She told the driver as Martinus scanned him, then nodded twice and wagged a little.

“Very good, Miss Rigi. What is his mass?”

“One hundred kilos.”

“Thank you.” He entered the information into the power regulator system as she and Martinus climbed in.  He lay down on the floor and she started to set her feet on his back, then decided that would be rude. And she didn’t know if he was water and dirt proof.

That evening she plugged Martinus in to fully charge, then went with her father into the front room, the company room. She felt very grown-up as he presented her with the m-dog’s leash, manuals, care pack, and basic repair kit. “Now, Rigi, you will see that there is an appendix to the manual, one that is for you and me alone.” He looked her in the eyes, talking the same way he talked to adults. “You need to do two things. First, you need to give Martinus an emergency name, one that only you and I know. When you use that name, it will tell him that the situation is so serious that you are in grave danger and that he is to be ready to attack anyone or anything you command him to attack. Once he starts moving, you cannot call him back until he has stopped the danger, one way or another. You will never, ever use that name for fun, never use him to scare anyone. Am I clear?”

She nodded, equally serious and a little shivery. “Yes, Father. He is not a toy or a play ‘bot.”

“That’s right. If you have him attack someone without very, very good cause, you will be in a great deal of trouble because you have committed as much of a crime as if you went after the person yourself. Martinus is considered part of you by the law courts. Only if you think your life is in danger should you even consider using his emergency name.

“Here is the second thing. Martinus has a secret. Inside his body is a bolt-shooter.”

Rigi blinked. “Oh, like the one in Uncle Eb’s m-mule!” As soon as she said it she realized her mistake and clapped her hands over her mouth.

Instead of being angry, her father just nodded and smiled a tiny bit, raising one eyebrow a touch. “I’d wondered about that. You are not in trouble for accidentally telling me, Rigi. But do not let anyone else know. He will explain why, he or Major Parananda will, at some time in the future. So yes, there is a bolt-shooter, probably smaller, as you would expect. The manual tells you about it. Again, do not ask Martinus to use it unless you are serious, as serious as this.”

He stood, went over to one of the cabinets of objects and art, and did something she couldn’t quite see. Part of the bottom swung out toward her and he removed a pair of flat black cases with handles on top. He brought them over and set them on the low table in front of her chair. “Open the bigger one first.”

It held a bolt-shooter. A long-barreled one, in pieces, and she felt her mouth hanging open. “That is a bolt-rifle. It is for dangers that are at some distance from you, and for hunting.” He rested his hand on the smaller case. “This is a personal bolt-shooter. You cannot carry it yet. You are too young. If we ever go out into the wild lands, then I will see about getting an exemption for you to carry it as a spare. In the wild lands, you carry the rifle. I will teach you how to shoot it. No,” he sat in the chair. “Your mother will teach you the basics. She’s much better at the fundamentals than I am.”

“M—Mother can shoot?”

“Very well, better than about half the men I’ve watched. She’s patient and careful, but still fast, or was. It’s been a while.”

Rigi blinked. Everyone said that neo-Traditionalist women depended on their husbands for everything, including protection. But her father never lied. Rigi felt very confused, and decided that maybe this once everyone was wrong. “Does Mother hunt?”

“She could if she wanted to, but she’s never wanted to that I know of. I think, just between us, she doesn’t want to have to clean the insides out of an animal she killed. It’s a bit messy.”

Rigi wrinkled her nose. Her mother did not care for messes.  She looked at the rifle and then closed the case and latched it. Her father showed her how to store the weapons and hide them. “It is not that I do not trust Mar and Shona or your sister, Rigi. But there are people who say your mother and I should not have weapons, and some who would worry that we have weapons in a house with young ladies.”

Like Mrs. Debenadetto, Rigi thought. If she thought Rigi and Tomás should not be around Uncle Eb, then she would be very unhappy to know that Rigi had a bolt-shooter. “Um, Father, do I need to keep Martinus secret?”

He chuckled and rested his hand on her head. “No, not at all. Don’t brag about having an m-dog, but he’s a bit hard to hide. You can’t disguise him as, oh a bush in the garden or a piece of furniture. If people ask say yes, he belongs to the family. Which is true.”

“Yes, sir.” She looked at the bottom of the shelves and considered names. “Father, for Martinus. How about Luther for his emergency name?”

His eyes narrowed and he gave her a hard look. “Do you know anyone by that name?”

“No, sir. I think it means someone who makes musical instruments in a shop instead of fabrication station.” She’d read it in a school file about the old days, before fabricators.

He relaxed and smiled. “Close. That is a ‘luthier.’ But Luther will work. The manual will tell you how to set Luther as the emergency name. If you ever find out that someone you know or might be around frequently has that name, you will need to change it. Clear?”

Rigi considered what the problem might be. No, calling to someone and accidentally setting her m-dog off would not be a good thing. “Clear, sir.” She hugged him. “Thank you.”

He hugged her back. “You are welcome. Oh, you are getting so grown-up Rigi. But not too grown up.” He let her go. “Now. Check Martinus’s charger and batteries, and then to bed.”

She sighed. So much for staying up with the m-dog and playing with him. “Yes, sir.”

 

(C) 2016 Alma T. C. Boykin. All Rights Reserved.

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