Rigi tries to survive school, and her sister, and discovers her m-dog’s secret.
Chapter Five: Reports and Planning
A week later, Rigi drooped her way home from school to find a large file from uncle Eb waiting in her account. Rigi went downstairs to the kitchen to find Shona between tasks. “Shona, could you please let me into Father’s work room? Uncle Eb sent a very large file.”
Shona wiggled his upper lip for a moment. Then his ears twitched and his eye ridges rose, imitating a human expression. “Yes. Your father caution large thing come for you. So much knowledge is heavy, so use his reader.”
Rigi started to correct his words, then an idea popped up in her mind. Shona was middle third Stamm. “Shona,” she followed him out of the kitchen. “Is all knowledge heavy?”
He stopped and turned to face her, hunkering down to look at her face better. “No, Miss Rigi. Some is very light, drifts through and goes away. Old knowledge, important is heavy, sits and holds down,” he rested his big forefeet on her shoulders and pushed. “Must be strong to carry.” He lifted his forefeet, stood, and let her into the work room.
“Thank you, Shona.” She gave him a hand-bow. He returned the gesture and left her. She logged in and blinked at the enormous file size. “Oh dear.” Rigi decided to read the letter first.
“Dear Miss Rigi,
I hope this finds you well. Do not be afraid of the file. It looks large because it is several parts. The last three are technical reports and soil chemistry and compositional crystallographic studies. Terribly boring. You only want the first part, the general report. Mr. De Groet and I would like you to read it, you and Tomás both, before we start publishing work.”
She expanded the symbol and indeed, one small file sat in with several larger ones. Rigi opened it and started reading.
The finished map of the site, now called Stela One, contained a lot more building shapes than just the two that Rigi and Tomás had explored. The wall also had a gate, in the place where it looked as if it had crumbled. A visual-light image of the location, now cleared of plants, showed bits of carved white stone with black splashed on the outside. The “garden” indeed had once been a red and black pavement of some kind, possibly with patterns in it. De Groet and Uncle Eb had not fully excavated it, because of concerns about protecting the surface. In addition to the four buildings around the Name Stone, or “stela,” a number of smaller buildings sat in rows at the end of the circle wall opposite the “garden.” They looked like little boxes in a line, some connected, others individual, all below the current surface. Tomás and Rigi had found a town! Or so it looked to her.
She skipped over some technical things and got to a bit about the black polish. “The black surface material on the wall has not been chemically analyzed, pending full documentation and in situ measurement. It is different from that found on the remaining structures within the wall, and appears to be protective. The inner surface shows marks resembling chemical or thermal damage. The black material on the standing buildings consists of thermally altered material, potentially evidence of vitrification or some other extreme thermal event. The preservation of the frescoes and other decorative markings is thus quite remarkable both for their condition and for the sheer fact of existence, if indeed they were exposed to temperatures high to melt stone, ceramic, or metals.” Rigi stopped, backed up, read the lines twice more to make certain that she’d understood what the words said, and stared at the screen. Tomás’s and her guess had been right about something splashing, but not about what it might have been. “No attempt was made to determine composition, in part out of concern for the frescoes and other painted surfaces in the proximity of the material, given that it appears to have bonded to the underlying material and possibly to the stones themselves.”
Rigi read on. “The material of the stela comes from a different source than that used in the extant structures. The carving lacks the precision and tightness of the figures on the wall and on the structures. Given the equal weathering, it appears to have been done by a different population group, or with less technically capable tools, in a material of equal hardness. The grain of the stone, while looser than that of the buildings and wall, is not exceedingly rough or large, and shows equal weathering of exposed surfaces, or less. The native rock of the stela is found twelve kilometers away in an outcrop that, upon inspection, shows some signs of quarrying using both advanced techniques and very primitive fire-and-water drilling. See Appendix L for more information on the source site. Given these observations, it is theorized that the stela was erected after the site had been constructed, by different workers, for a thus far unknown purpose.”
Rigi wrinkled her nose. Her writing teacher always said not to use passive verbs. They made the report boring. And too many “maybe” and “perhaps” and “it appears” and “might possibly” phrases did not help. If that was how all xeno-archaeologists wrote, it was a wonder anyone read their files! Oh well, maybe they had to do it that way for some reason, like import forms had to be written a certain way, and all m-animal books followed the same format, down to the kind of pictures.
She sent Uncle Eb a reply with her guess that it was a village or small town of some kind. He answered before she could log off, thanking her, and added that they’d found out what the pale rainbow thing was made of. “You will be surprised. Micah certainly was. Lexi and Kor seemed interested but not surprised. Aunt Kay will be sending your parents details about the mid-warm outing. Love, Uncle Eb.”
Rigi returned the files, cleared her folder, and logged out, then told Shona she had finished. He gestured for her to shoo, because he was busy cutting a quarter wombow into sections for preparation and storage. This time of year they got meat by the quarter animal, along with the three other families in their food buying group. But that meant someone had to finish butchering the beast. Rigi had been told on several occasions to stay away, for reasons that never made sense. Oh well. She went upstairs and stopped, staring at the chaos. Dresses, leggings, jackets, waistcoats, it looked as if a clothes tree had dropped its leaves. Mar would have a fit if she saw all the clothes tossed around!
Rigi saw some of her favorites in a heap off to one side and stomped over, grabbed them up and piled them onto her bed so she could fold them and put them away again. What was Lyria doing?
“Stop what? If I don’t fold them properly they’ll wrinkle.”
“I’m giving those away. You’re too old for those.”
Rigi’s jaw dropped until it hit her collar. “When did Mother and Mar give you permission to go through my clothes?”
“They will later, after I show them how much better things are. Now put those back on the floor. My heavens, Rigi, you dress like an eight year, you really do. It’s high time you started looking like a young adult instead of a baby.” Lyria sailed in and reached for the clothes. Rigi threw herself on top of them. “Now stop that. They don’t fit, they’re stained, and you should have given them away at least a year ago. Quit acting like a child.”
“You quit acting like mother when you aren’t. Mother says my clothes need to last until the cool season at least, and they won’t if you get rid of my play clothes and I have to wear school clothes outdoors.”
“Then stop playing outdoors. You are twelve years old Auriga, old enough to act like a lady.” Lyria shook hear head and left the room, only to return with an armload of things that she dropped on top of her younger sister. “These are far more appropriate.”
Rigi took one look at the first skirt in the pile and made a face. It was too snug. She wouldn’t be able to play or to run. Under the skirt was a top that had no sleeves and that looked tight and stretchy, a bit like what she wore in exercise class. Ick. Rigi burrowed out from under the pile, collected her proper clothes, rolled them into tight bundles and managed to cram them into the storage cubbies under her bed. She inspected a few more of the garments heaped on her bed and made another face. No one wore those colors together.
“Mrs. Debenadetto gave those to you, so you can dress your station and you don’t have to look like a child.”
Rigi looked from the ugly, no-fun clothes to her sister and back. “Did you ask her to get them for me?” Because if she had, Lyria and Rigi would both be in serious trouble with their parents.
“Not exactly. She was asking about your school work and how you got along with the other students. Mrs. Debenadetto says part of why you have been having trouble with your year-mates in because you don’t dress like a twelve-year, and she had these that she’d brought for a niece, but the girl grew too soon and can’t wear them. She gave me some, too. You need to send her a thank-you message. She expects you to wear them tomorrow.”
“Yes, you will wear them.”
“No I will not.” Rigi crossed her arms and glared up at Lyria. “No, they are uncomfortable looking. No, because Mother will not let me go out without sleeves. No, because they are not part of the school uniform. No.”
“Yes you will if I have to dress you by force!” Lyria reached for Rigi. She didn’t wait to see what her older sister intended, and ducked low, ran past her, almost fell when she slipped on more clothes, and pelted down the steps. She skidded to the end of the steps, used the bannister to sling around like a satellite, and—
“Young lady what is going on? Is the house on fire?” Her mother handed Mar two shopping bags and planted her hands on her hips.
“You come back this instant and put on the clothes and write to Mrs. Debenadetto,” Lyria yelled, pounding after her sister. “She went to all the trouble to send those home with me and—”
“What—Are—You—Wearing Lyria Maria Stella Bernardi?” Her mother pushed Rigi out of the way and grabbed Lyria as Mar dropped the bags and emitted a wave of upset/dismay/bad/rude that brought Shona out of the kitchen with a knife in his forefoot.
Rigi hadn’t really looked at her sister that closely. Now she did, and she gasped, covering her mouth with her hands to keep from saying those words her father and Shona sometimes used. Lyria had on a very tight bright green knit top that exposed a lot of her chest, snug red leggings that did not meet the bottom of her top, and a tiny yellow skirt over the leggings. The skirt did not cover what skirts were supposed to cover. Rigi heard her voice saying, “You look like one of those women that work down by the spaceport that Mrs. deHaan says are no better than they ought to be.”
Whap! Mar’s broad, firm forefoot struck Rigi’s rump. “Such may be true, but do not say such to kin-Stamm.” A cloud of disapproval engulfed Rigi.
“Show me, Lyria Maria Stella. Now,” their mother stated, hiking her skirt hem and pushing Lyria up the stairs.
“You need to take Martinus and play, Miss Rigi. Now.” Rigi didn’t challenge the order. The fun of watching Lyria get in trouble was not worth being caught in the storm, in case her mother remembered something Rigi had forgotten.
“Yes, Mar. Come, Martinus.” The m-dog had been downstairs, in the indoor-outdoor room, and Rigi changed shoes and went out to play chase-the-ball.
They stayed outside until Shona leaned out the back door and rang the silvery bell for supper. Rigi cleaned her m-dog’s paws, changed shoes, washed her hands and face, and joined her mother and Lyria at the table. “Your father has a work meeting and will be late. Let us give thanks.”
Rigi ate everything on her plate and a little bit more. Lyria picked at her food and kept looking at her mother from under her hair, as if she wanted to argue but didn’t dare break the Supper Table Rule: no fighting at the table. Rigi decided to ignore the sulk. “Mother, Uncle Eb wrote today and said that Aunt Kay would be in touch with you about the mid-warm trip.”
“Thank, you, Auriga, for telling me. I’ll make a note to have anything from her jumped to top of the queue. Did you and Martinus have a nice play time?”
“Yes, ma’am. He still can’t say woof, though.” Rigi frowned. “Was he programmed wro— ah, incorrectly?” Mother liked the proper word.
Lyria stared at her plate as if trying make the yam and heart-meat blend levitate by the power of her mind, like the man in the adventure holo could. “Lyria, eat. No, Auriga, I suspect that because he is a personal m-dog and not a defense m-dog, he has been set to be less intimidating. I confess, when your father first mentioned thinking about an m-dog, I had visions of the black brutes that guard the weapons’ depot. No such robot would ever set foot in my house or be around my children, and I so informed your father.” She smiled. “Martinus is much friendlier.”
“Oh yes, ma’am, he is.” He almost made up for being shut out of all the other students’ lives, almost.
“Lyria, are you ill?”
“No, ma’am. But what do I tell Mrs. Debenadetto about the clothes?” Lyria’s lower lip stuck out and began to quiver. “She’ll be unhappy when Rigi doesn’t wear at least one of the outfits to school.”
“You tell her exactly what I said, no more and no less. Her gesture and thoughtfulness are much appreciated, but that Auriga is far too young to wear that style well. The school also places strict limits on what students below the sixteenth year may wear.” She ate the last bite of her keen-rice pudding. “And that your parents, being neoTraditionalists, prefer to guide our children until they reach the age of reason.”
“But Mother, Rigi looks like an eight-year, not a twelve-year.”
“Auriga looks healthy, happy, and comfortable. Your sister’s maturity is my and your father’s concern, not yours. The topic is ended.”
Her mother turned to thank Shona for the meal. As she did, Lyria gave her a look that made Rigi wonder what sort of trouble her big sister had in mind.
When she crept upstairs after supper, Rigi found her clothes heaped up on her bed. She sorted and folded them, set the next day’s school outfit to the side, and re-packed everything in her clothes boxes. Nothing seemed to be missing, and a quick peek under the bed showed everything hidden as she’d left it. Why were her sister and Mrs. Debenadetto so concerned about Rigi looking like herself? She wanted to grow up, yes, but not tonight! After thinking about it for a moment, she shrugged and sighed. Maybe it was a growing-pains sort of thing, but in Lyria’s head instead of her legs. That made sense. Headaches always fuzzed Rigi’s thinking, so why not her sister’s as well? And none of it got homework finished.
Three weeks later, Uncle Eb sent word that he and Mr. De Groet had submitted their report on the Stela Site for publication with one of the xenoarchaeology journals. That same day Aunt Kay contacted Rigi’s parents with her plans for the mid-warm outing. Rigi had just come in from walking Martinus. They entered the shoe-and-coat room on tip-toe because of unhappy sounds from the open kitchen windows. Rigi sniffed as quietly as she could but didn’t smell anything burned, the usual cause of Shona’s irritation. Well she had plenty of irritation as well, and after glancing to see if her Mother or Mar were near, she kicked her shoes off as hard as she could. They hit the wall with a satisfying thump thump. Martinus scrambled a little on the smooth synth-tile floor and brought one of them back, tail wagging. Rigi smiled despite her frustration. “Good boy.” He gave her the shoe and she petted him, then set the shoes in their spot and put on her house shoes.
Mar appeared from around the corner. “Mar, have you heard anything about more transports on the wrong roads?”
Mar blinked and the tips of her ears came together, then went straight again. “No, Miss Rigi, but perhaps Shona has.” She peered into the kitchen and Rigi heard a question sound, a complicated exchange of sounds and scents, and then Mar bowed a little and turned to Rigi. “Yes, he has. He encountered two, one of them blocking his route to the fresh-spices market. He says that Eenjan lodged a complaint through your father because one almost struck the edge of the property at the roads intersection,” she pointed the direction Rigi had gone earlier. “Did you have difficulty?”
Rigi patted Martinus’s head. “Not difficulty, but we had to come back a different way because a finished-timber carrier blocked the road and the walker-ways in the orange neighborhood, that way.” She pointed to the back of the house.
“Many strange things today,” Shona said from the kitchen door, puffing agreement/concern/irritation.
“Yes, Shona.” Rigi’s own day had been passing strange even before she came home. The power had gone out at the school for the first time that she could remember. It only lasted a few minutes, but all the adults except Mr. Wried acted tense for the rest of the day. Three of the girls had spoken to her for the first time in over a month, and then Benin had approached her in the passageway between classes.
“What’s this about you finding a city, you and that crazy friend of your dad’s?”
“Neither Uncle Eb nor I found anything like a city.”
He’d gotten closer to her, too close, and she slid her bag between them. “My father says don’t get too cocky about telling anyone. He’s going to make whatever you found disappear, one way or another.” Benin leaned even closer, making Rigi want to sneeze. His perfume smelled like excitement/confusion/baby/festival/dead animal. “No one built anything here, ever, got it?”
A group of thirteen-year students grumbled through the hall, making Benin back off. Rigi darted behind the cluster of bigger students and into the girls’ bathroom. She’d been going that direction anyway, and even Benin would not dare follow her in.
He gave her angry looks several times during the rest of the day, but didn’t say anything more. Otherwise he and his friends left her alone. They also left the rest of the students alone, glaring but not pushing or talking. That seemed very strange to Rigi. She wasn’t the only one, she noticed, because most of the other twelve-years seemed to watching the boys as if waiting for them to explode or do something else. As soon as the dismissal chime sounded they twelve-years fled as a group, then scattered, walking as fast as they could in case Benin changed his mind. Tomás caught up with Rigi and Mar less than a block from the school. “Rigi, wait!”
Should she stop? He’d been shunning her all term and she didn’t want to talk to him. She glanced at Mar. Mar gave her a stern look and puffed warning/behave. Rigi stopped. “Sorry Mar, Rigi,” he panted. “This is the first afternoon Dr. Ashkali has let me go on time. He’s brilliant but he can’t hear the chimes and he keeps going and going.”
“Is that where you’ve been?” It wasn’t because of Benin?
“Yes, it was, and is.” They resumed walking. “I’m in a special advanced geography and navigation class, usually only for sixteen-years. I passed the tests to get in, and Dr. Ashkali said I could join. He even teaches Staré, by remote vid of course.” They looked all ways several times before crossing the street, and Mar hurried both of them, almost hop-running in her haste. “It’s great and I’ve learned a bunch, but he needs a visual alert or something.”
“Did your parents allow you to go with Aunt Kay and Uncle Eb this warm-season?”
He nodded and smiled. “Oh yes, especially after Uncle Eb talked to Father about where he wants to take us. He and Lexi, and Kor, too, into the edge of the Kenusha Plains.”
Rigi felt her eyes bulging and blinked, hard, then changed her expression. Mar worried when she made that kind of face. “The Kenusha Plains? Really?”
“Warrior’s Honor. Aunt Kay has an art commission and some other things, and Uncle Eb, well, I don’t know what he’s found but it will be interesting. A friend of his has a camping lodge that he’s letting Uncle Eb and Aunt Kay borrow in exchange for some work, I think one of her paintings as well.” He looked around and asked, “Is it true you got an m-dog?”
“Oh yes! His name is Martinus. I think he’ll be coming with us, so you need to meet him. He’s not quite as fierce as the military m-dogs, or Uncle Eb’s m-mule.”
“Miss Rigi, m-mules are not fierce,” Mar corrected.
“Uncle Eb’s is, Mar,” Tomás said, winking at Rigi. “It is old and has a few programming faults, so it reacts in unusual ways. Uncle Eb knows what to do, but he’s the only one.”
“Ah, and so the faults make it appear to be fierce.” A bit of satisfied/no longer concerned drifted from Mar.
After the confusion and puzzlement at school, and the heavy transport in the wrong place when she was walking with Martinus, Rigi wondered what other odd thing would happen. She walked up the stairs, m-dog close behind, and thought. Martinus settled onto his charging mat without sparks or similar excitement, the computer worked when she logged in for messages and homework updates and she decided that she’d seen all the oddities of the day. Her basic history class was strange enough to fill any gaps. She’d learned how to take notes, but she missed having the review holos, and her grades showed it. Rigi called up her notes and the section lesson sheets and began trying to make sense of everything.
“Ow.” Her neck kinked. Rigi closed her eyes and rubbed the knot, then began moving her head back and forth to ease the muscle cramp. She heard a flitter, and voices from outside, more voices, and then the flitter departing. Rigi looked at the time count and blinked. She’d been working for over an hour!
The front door opened. “ . . . Young lady, I do not care. And what your father and I teach you about our religion is no one’s business but ours and the Matron and Guardian.” Her mother sounded very calm, warning Rigi that her patience had reached the end.
“No buts. Butt is the archaic term for a cask of wine, the proper term for an archery target, and a rude term for anatomy. I have spoken. I will tell your father what Mrs. Debenadetto said, and it is his decision. And I believe that lessons on discretion and proper conduct are in order, Lyria Maria Stella.”
Rigi got back into the chair and put in ear-buds. They activated and she called up one of the supplemental talks, this one about worm-hole use laws and royal prerogative. She didn’t need extra points yet, but they wouldn’t hurt. And she could pretend that she didn’t hear what her mother had said. She wondered what Lyria had told Mrs. Debenadetto. Loud footsteps stomped across the floor behind her, and she acted as if she were engrossed in the lecture. Soon she was, enough so that—
“Yipe!” Rigi found herself beside the chair, not in it, heart beating as fast as a flitter-bird flapped. Lyria stared and then started to giggle. Rigi took out the ear-buds.
“I’ve never seen you jump like that. I just tapped you on the shoulder and whee!” Lyria pointed up, “You were almost a meter in the air. Mar says that supper is in five minutes.”
Rigi caught her breath and logged out of the lecture, blinking because she’d moved on to the next one without realizing it. She used the wash-room, tidied her hair and dress, and followed Lyria down to supper. They waited for their parents to sit, then sat. Rigi smelled something with poultry. Her father gave thanks and they sang the thanks for food chorus, then he took the cover off the vegetables. Her heart sank. It was tam. They’d gone two weeks without tam. She really didn’t like tam.
Rigi quickly chewed her way through the mushy, liver-flavored vegetable, getting it over with. She took her time with the poultry. Shona had made a sauce using lemon-heart, ginter, and n’card’mom, and served the poultry with dryland rice, and he’d gotten teff bread to go with it. The little pockets in the bread let her sop up all the sauce, and Rigi’s parents let her use her fingers for teff bread. A small serving of the first yellow beans of the season finished the main meal, and a little dish of orange cream brought it to an end.
As Rigi savored the poultry, her mother said, “Kay sent me the travel file for their trip this summer.”
“Hmm?” Her father never spoke with his mouth full.
“They are going to the edge of the Kenushu Plain. Kay has an illustration contract, and they have obtained the use of a camping lodge. Lexi and Kor are going with them, and Tomás’s parents give their strongest approval.”
Her father nodded. “That’s good to hear. I understand that Kor is one of the best tracker-hunters from the northern areas, and he’ll know when and where it is safe to go out, and what to do. I do hope between Lexi, Kay, Rigi, and Tomás they can keep Eb out of trouble.” He winked at Rigi, who winked back.
“Mother, Father, why does Rigi get to go without me?”
Rigi’s parents exchanged one of those looks and her father answered. “For one, you were not invited. Two, you have shown no interest in camping at the edge of a nature reserve without running water and other luxuries. Three, Rigi is doing very well in her classes. Four, your sister would benefit from time away from her year-mates. There are other reasons as well, but you do not need to know them. Fear not, Lyria, you will not be locked in the house while your sister is away.”
“Although, if things continue the way they have these past two weeks or so, I am tempted to do just that,” Mother added.
“Dear, before you do, could you give Rigi those lessons that she needs?”
“I would be delighted to. I went by and got recertified today, all stances, both weapons. The range-master wants to observe for the first week or so, which seems quite reasonable. Given Auriga’s age, there will not be any fee for her.”
And so it was that the very next afternoon, Mother met Rigi at the back door. “Change into play-clothes, and bring the case from the book-room, please.” Her mother wore dark brown, with close-fitting sleeves and a straighter skirt than usual, very practical to Rigi’s eye. “Martinus will come with us.” Rigi changed, opened the secret panel and pulled out the beam-shooter cases, and she and her mother and Martinus took a rented road-car to the shooting range.
The range-master, a broad gentleman who reminded Rigi of Tomás’s father, stood behind and watched as Mrs. deStella-Bernardi had Rigi load and unload the hand shooter. “What are the four rules, Auriga?”
“Um, never put my finger on the trigger unless I am going to shoot, the weapon is always loaded, never point it at anything I’m not willing to shoot, and ah, um,” she looked at the target and the pile of dirt and water tank behind it. “Oh, always keep in mind what’s behind my target.”
“And if you think the weapon is unloaded, Miss Auriga, then what?” the man asked.
“Then I act as if it is loaded until I confirm that it is not. Unless it is in pieces.”
“Good. You are cleared to shoot, Mrs. deStella-Bernardi.”
“Thank you, sir.” Her mother turned to Rigi. “We’ll start with the hand shooter, because we are on the hand shooter range and I do not want to confuse you by adjusting the settings on the rifle yet. Pick up the hand shooter in your right hand. Good. Now use your left hand to hold the base of the ammunition container and your wrist. No,” She leaned over and moved Rigi’s hand a little. “You are trying to steady your hand. Good. Now line up the sights, yes, look through them to the target. Good. Release the safety using your thumb, yes, now,” she stopped and looked at the range-master.
“Range clear, fire when ready.”
“Pull the trigger.”
Rigi pulled. She thought she saw a bit of a flash ahead of her, and a dot appeared on the rings ahead of her. “Good. Line up the sights with the center of the target and fire again. Good, and again, yes, and once more. Good. Activate the safety.” Her mother leaned over her, confirming the safety was on. “Now, look at the target.”
All four holes were within the outermost ring. None were close together, though, and Rigi drooped. She’d been trying to hit the center. “I’m sorry, Mother.”
Her mother laughed, as did the range-master! “Miss Auriga, there is nothing to apologize for, nothing at all,” he told her, leaning forward to pat her on the shoulder. “You did better than many experienced shooters. All your shots are on the paper, to use the old phrase, and you are not flinching or anticipating yet. And you are safe. You just need practice, and to learn how to see properly.”
By the time they finished at the hand-shooter range, Rigi could keep within the second ring. “Good. Pack the hand-shooter, Auriga, and we will try the rifle before we leave.” Rigi removed the gas canister, put it in the holder, made sure that the shooter’s barrel had cooled, and set it in the case, shut the case and locked it. Then she followed her mother and the range-master to the bigger range. They were alone, and the adults talked quietly as they walked.
“She needs to give the command, Ma’am. Let her see and she will understand why she shouldn’t ever do it unless there is an emergency. We actually have a bay for that, and I’ll let you use it. We’ll count it as part of the safety test.”
“Very well, Mr. Arkangil. Rigi, here.” She pointed to a space between some partitions. “Set the case on the counter, and I’ll assemble the rifle for you this time, so you can see how it works.” Rigi blinked as her mother’s hands seemed to flow of their own accord, fitting pieces together and a rifle appeared on the counter. Her mother held up the gas canister, the range-master nodded, and she inserted it. A yellow mark appeared on the stock. “Hmm. Only a few shots left. I shall have a word with your father about taking proper care of beam-shooters.” She stepped back. Rigi waited for her nod to pick up the rifle and put it to her shoulder, like the pictures in the safety book showed.
Rigi kept her finger well clear of the trigger. “Good girl,” she heard from behind her. “Line up the sights, Auriga, and look through them to the center of the target.” It was much farther away, a lot smaller, and Rigi squinted and wiggled the rifle a little until she got things where she thought they went.
“Range clear, fire when ready.”
“Undo the safety.” Rigi pushed in the little button. She felt a hum through her cheek. “Fire.”
Rigi pulled the trigger. This time she thought she felt something in the shooter move. “And again.” She lined up and fired. “And again. Good. Safety.”
“Safety on, Mother.”
She set the rifle down and her mother handed her a distance viewer. Rigi looked and saw three holes, much closer together. “I thought that might be the case. You are just like your father, I fear. Do not plan on using the hand shooter for hunting.” As her mother talked, she picked up the rifle, brought it to her right shoulder, bumped the safety off, and fired twice. Two holes, like the number eight, appeared in the center of the target. “I’m out of practice.”
Rigi stared at the target, then at her mother. “That’s perfect! That’s a perfect shot.”
“No, Auriga, the first one was. I flinched on the second round. And we are out of shots. I am going to have a word with your father.”
“Shall I take Miss Auriga to the test bay while you finish cleaning up, Mrs. deStella-Bernardi?” He sounded very respectful, Rigi thought.
“Yes, please. Auriga, you and Martinus go with Mr. Arkangil. Do exactly what he says.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rigi and Martinus followed the big man to a small, very long building. He unlocked two doors, turned on a light, and brought them inside. The building had thick walls and felt much smaller inside than it looked from outside.
“This is our special weapons bay. Most of the time it is for people who get hunting shooters and have no idea how powerful they are, or who come with exotic or home-made shooters and want to test them where other people will not be endangered if something goes wrong.” He crouched down on one knee and looked her in the eye. “Now, I understand that your m-dog has a special feature, one that you have not seen in use before. Am I correct?”
“Yes, sir.” Rigi put one hand on Martinus’s head. Even crouching, the range-master loomed.
“Your parents believe that you need to see what happens if you command him to use that feature. I think they are right. Until you understand just what he can do, you don’t truly own him.” He stood and got out of the way. “Have him face the far end of the building. There’s a target ready.”
Martinus did as she ordered.
“Give the command for him to use that feature.”
“First I need to check his charge, sir.”
Martinus had just enough extra energy that she could use the shooter, if she understood the book correctly. She licked her lips and tried to swallow. Her mouth had gone dry. She tried again. “Martinus, guard.” His eyes changed color and he shifted his weight. Her hand was not on his back, this time. “Martinus, target twelve o’clock.”
“Weef?” A quiet sound.
“Confirm target twelve o’clock.”
Something clicked, then whirred, part of his back slid to the side and a stubby shooter appeared. At the same time his head dropped lower, out of the line of the shot.
“Woof!” A single flash appeared and the target disappeared. A wall of dust filled the building, almost reaching her and Martinus.
“Luther, stand down, good dog.” The shooter disappeared.
“Martinus stand down, very good dog.”
Rigi did not look away from the m-dog until his eyes turned brown and his tail wagged. The range-master took something off his head, ear covers of some kind? He looked at the remains of the target, then at Martinus and Rigi. “Confirm safety.”
Rigi petted Martinus, and stroked his back. “Safety confirmed.”
“I’m glad we used the test bay. Young lady, that is quite an m-dog. The blast-absorber behind the target weighed almost six hundred kilos. Your father should have a word with the armorer about stepping him down a little.”
“Before I got to the Kenusha Plain this warm-season, sir?”
He squinted with one eye. “No, no, have the m-dog checked after.”
They went out to find her mother talking to an older, smaller gentleman. “Thank you, Sir, I am flattered, but I am not a good instructress.”
“Please, Ma’am, if you ever do find your domestic duties lessened, please see me about teaching.” The man sounded desperate. “I have met so few women who can teach.”
“I’ll speak with my husband. Thank you, sir.” They turned to Rigi and the range-master. “Well, Auriga?”
“Martinus is special. Thank you for letting me see how special he is.”
Her mother and the men smiled. “You’ll be in good hands, Miss Auriga,” the range-master said. “Or rather, in good paws.”
Rigi covered her face with her hands as the adults chuckled.
(C) 2016 Alma T.C. Boykin All Rights Reserved