Again, thanks to Dex et al for the m-prov of spinning wheel, WWI bi-plane, and snapdragons. *snort*

by Lise

Chapter Four

Kitty was sitting at the spinning wheel when Nate crept up behind her. He watched her pump the pedal, up and down, and then very quietly, telekinetically lifted her, the wheel, and her chair off the ground. She clicked the spool, paused in her furious pace to snap, "If you want anything to wear by next cropday you'll put me down."

He put her down, saying, "You used to be harder to surprise."

She snorted, stilling the wheel with her hands. "I wasn't surprised." She brushed a piece of hair out of her face. "I was ignoring you."

He dropped his load of shorn wool beside her, growling. "You wouldn't be so flippant if you heard about what I'd found."

Kitty started the pedal up again, spinning carefully. Nate didn't think she sounded interested enough when she replied, "Oh?"

He started walking away, calling over his shoulder, "A WWI biplane. I was thinking of crop-dusting--"

She was up and tripping over her sack before he finished. "Fuck you, Nate, where did you see it, where did you--"

He stopped, turning. The gravel under his feet crunched. Said softly, "In a museum."

They walked along, Kitty abandoning her weaving right in the middle of the alley-way. It could wait or, if she got really lucky, one of the other residents would spy a job that needs doing, and do it. She'd all but forgotten about it by now, because Nate was pointing smugly to an honest-to-god plane.

Kitty knew that Leonardo da Vinci predicted flying machines centuries before they were actually constructed. It still took her breath away to see one with hieroglyphics on the body.

"Irene really drew these hieroglyphs?" Franklin traced one of the symbols with his index finger, looking at the patterns. If he squinted, they almost moved-

"I'm afraid, my friends," Nur interjected, "That these hieroglyphs only stand for the battalion the fighter was stationed in, and the cult the pilot belonged to." At everyone's astonished look, Nur smiled sadly. "I can read them."

When Franklin turned around, Kitty was already gone.

Dinner was fish, again. As Alex speared his fin, and chewed it thoughtfully, the rest of the table was talking about the airplane. Apparently the engine was repairable. All the local kids had already gotten into the cockpit and pretended it could fly.

Alex looked around. Domino was in favor of scrapping it for parts, and Franklin wanted to keep it, "--for curiosity's sake."

"You can't keep it, when the parts it would give might heat a whole other bunkhouse." Domino spat out a fishbone. "It's got to come apart."

Franklin sighed. "I know."

A little quieter, Domino asked, "What did Kitty say?"

Franklin looked at Alex briefly, who was still chewing the fish. He finally said, "She said that the engine could be modified for another heater, for the greenhouse, and that Irene wrote about it's arrival."

Domino frowned. "You're not really beginning to buy into this bullshit, are you?"

"No." He sighed. "No. But Irene did see something, a flying machine, arrive at the Oasis, to 'do good'. And now here it is."

Alex watched Domino rein in her anger, to say, "And when did she translate this prophecy, Franklin?"

He looked at the table. "After it arrived."

There was an awkward pause, in which Alex said, "So, I have a question." The two of them looked up. He said jokingly, "Why have we eaten fish every day for the last week?"

They ended up taking the plane apart a few days later. Kitty's jaw clenched when they did it, but built something that would keep the banana trees warm enough to grow full sized plantains, and didn't say another word about it.

"More food, Nate." Domino dumped the net of fish they'd dragged back together into a tub for someone to gut and clean, and stood up straight, hands on her hips. "We gotta start bringing in more food."

He grunted. "Gonna have to train some of the younger kids, maybe."

She bit her lip. "There's Jonno, but he's only 15, or so. Got strong arms. Rich is almost experienced enough to head up a hunting party on his own." Domino sighed. "You know, Patrick's going out without anyone to watch his back."

"I know." Nate motioned her out of the gutting room, before it started to smell too badly. "I caught him yesterday. He didn't apologize." They started walking back to the house, and a bath. #I didn't ask him to.#

#Nate, if anything ends up happening to Patrick, we are so screwed. You and he bring in more food than the rest of the hunting parties combined.# She scuffed his shoe. "He's one of the only other people that seems to be able to navigate the shifts on his own, though God knows how."

"I know." They got to the house, and found Franklin on his knees, watering the peas that grew up the trellis. "Franklin, what in God's name are you doing?"

He stood up, looking a little exasperated. "Trying to make these peas grow. What does it look like, Nate?"

Nate sat down on the steps, picking a pea and eating it. "We have a bit of a problem."

"More hunters? Dom, I know that things are tight, but no one else is really ready to go out hunting." Franklin looked dubious. They'd been arguing around the fact for a whole day now, and still couldn't agree.

"Or more hunts." Domino glanced over at Nate, who was carrying a load of bricks over to the new shelters. "We could go out tomorrow."

"Can he--"

She answered flatly, "He'll be fine. Look, I know the options aren't great, but we're out of meat again. We've got to do something."

"Okay." Franklin sighed, glancing around. "Go. Be careful."

Domino knew that sheer need was the only reason Franklin had agreed. She hefted her sack of peas. "Who, us? Never!"

He laughed at her, waving her off. "And try for some red meat, if you can? We haven't had any in a while."

"Yeah." Domino grimaced. "Nothing but fish soup, fish fillet, fish cakes. Eels, and even though Nur said they were delicacies back where he came from, I still don't like'em."

Patrick came up just then, and asked Domino, "Are you ready to go?"

She dropped her peas beside Franklin's bucket, and nodded. "Just let me grab some weaponry."

Patrick held up a hand. "Already gathered. Rich and Jonno are waiting."

Franklin asked, "You and Patrick are going out tonight? Again?"

Domino shrugged, looking nonchalant. "Thought we'd get in a quick hunt."

Franklin stared at her. "With the kids?" She shrugged. "Does Nate know?"

She looked up at him. "No."

Domino and Patrick strode off, hefting spears and bows. Franklin saw them meet up with Rich and Jonno, who carried a net, and then disappear. He mumbled, carrying his peas inside, "Good luck."

Hunting and scavenging was a pastime that eventually, most of the more adventurous of the Oasis folk got into. No matter how dangerous it was out 'there', it was, from time to time, almost suffocating within the shields that Franklin created. Of course, the adventurous were far outnumbered by the scared, but even so, several people made routine runs outside the safety of the Oasis into danger. People injured, or who didn't want to go from within the safe confines of their houses, ended up farming, or tending the animals, most of the day.

The problem was, they were sending people out on more hunts, more scavenging missions, and still coming up with less. Nate, Patrick and Domino, as well as many of the others, spent more time out in the shifts than at the Oasis, these days.

Franklin walked up just as Kitty finished milking the last goat. She was staring at the shields with two pails of milk in each hand. He wordlessly held out his hands for them, and she handed him a couple, and said, "Mikhail wanted to know where Nate was this morning."

"They'll be back later today, I think."

She moved towards the kitchens, and he followed her. "What's wrong, Kitty?"

In the kitchen itself, Alex was seated on a stool, peeling tubers into a bucket, and chatting with one of the women. Kitty couldn't remember her name. She said, "I, nothing."

"Come on." He handed off his pails, as did she, and they nodded absently as the woman talking to Alex broke off to tell them that two of the sheds had fallen down earlier that morning, and needed fixing, and could they get someone on it? Franklin called Alex over. "Can you give us a hand?"

"One, for sure." Alex grinned, meaning his crutch. "What do you need?"

"Someone to hold things steady."

Kitty was about to say something flippant, or possibly cruel about Alex's usefulness, Franklin could tell, when Jonno rushed up to them. "Franklin! He's--"

Franklin had already forgotten Alex and Kitty, assuming the worst. Nate must have come back. Franklin asked, "Where is he?"

Jonno looked worried. "We're not sure."

Kitty and Alex glanced at each other, following the other two out the door. "How bad is he?"

Jonno was almost jogging, trying to keep up. "That's the weird part. He's not saying a word."

They spotted Nate staring at the beehives, and from what Franklin could hear, he was trying to negotiate with them. #Nate, they don't like to be disturbed--#

#Stop it!# Franklin heard, and then Nate darted off, into the field. Franklin looked at Alex and Kitty, and followed him.

Nate had his fingers closed around a delicate little snapdragon when they found him the second time. It opened, yawned, and he let it go -- closed again. Franklin murmured, "He's been out a while..."

Kitty stood back, while he said, "Nate, why don't you come on here so I can--"

"NO," he roared, and then bent his head over the flower. In a normal voice, he said again, "No."

This was a madness unlike any other, a calm, rolling, muscle-twitching kind of tension. Alex looked at the three of them, and at Franklin's unspoken command, quietly moved off, to tell everyone that the crisis was about to be averted. Franklin moved towards him, and Nate didn't even notice, gaze riveted on the mouth of the flower. Kitty wrapped her arms around her stomach.

Nate said, quite clearly, "Tiger."

His fingers closed around the flower, crushing it calmly, letting out a fragrant smell. His hand clumsily pulled it out by the root, the poor little plant. He cradled it in the palm of his hand, standing up and letting Franklin take his other one.

Kitty could feel her jaw clench, her eyes hurt. Franklin said quietly, and soothing, "Why did you do that, Nate?"

He stared at the flower, as if he'd never seen it before, and his eyes drew together, his face pinched up. He mumbled, "It's not practical, growing things you can't eat."

"Okay," Franklin said, and patted his arm. Kitty had to walk away, quickly, back hunched over and arms shaking just a bit.

He stayed in bed for a day and a half, and when Kitty asked him what kind of tiger he'd seen in the shifts, he had a momentary flash of some kind of teeth, and a shivery, nauseous feeling.

"Not a tiger," he said, puzzled. "More like. Claws."

Which made less sense, but Kitty frowned even more than before, and he saw her fingers shake.

Alex came into the kitchen, planning on getting a drink before bed, and called softly to the figure sitting at the table. "Kitty?"

She jumped, startled. "Alex! Oh."

"Are you okay?" He ran the tap, drank some tepid water.

She chuckled, rubbing her eyes. "Kind of. What about you?"

He shrugged, leaning heavily on his crutch. "Sore. Feeling sick, but better than I have in a long time. I get by."

He didn't talk about his illness; ever since Franklin proclaimed him all but incurable, Alex had kept his humor and his spirits up. She said, "I, admire your attitude."

"Well." He put the glass down. "Bobby's upset enough for all of us, right?"


She was obviously distracted, and he glanced over at what she was working on. Pages and notebooks were spread out in front of her, as always. The words might as well have been gibberish. Numbers, in the top corners of each page, written in pencil, mystified him. Alex asked, "What are you doing?"

She waved her hand, vaguely. "Oh. Nothing." Grinned wryly. "Same as always. Trying to figure out the order in which these damned predictions go in. Irene Adler. She." Kitty swallowed. "Well, you've heard the story, the Books of Destiny will be our salvation; Irene predicted the end. I have a--" she paused, "--a history, with her predictions. Theoretically, I'm piecing together what's going on."

He answered sympathetically, "Not working, huh?"

Kitty snorted. "Depends on what you consider 'working'. I can call any of these page one, and it doesn't seem to matter. There was an incident a few months back that I thought would help." Kitty blinked, willing the vision of Domino, laying in bed and bitterly talking about still-born children, out of her head. "It did for a while, except that then the timeline rearranged itself again."

Alex nodded, and tried to seem properly concerned while not overbearing. Franklin had filled him in about Irene, briefly, but there seemed to be holes in the story. He replied, "I had noticed, while we were travelling, that time didn't seem to go in a straight line. Nate and Franklin tried to explain it."

Kitty gave him a brief smile. "Nate and Franklin enjoy explaining it. Nate has his 'theories'." She slapped her hand on the table, suddenly, and Alex jumped. "None of this makes any sense. How am I supposed to figure these out if time doesn't stand still, right?"

Alex had never seen Kitty get this angry before. The Kitty he had known was barely a child when the shifts had hit-- she hadn't survived. This Kitty made him feel very young. Alex bit his lip. "What have you got so far?"

"That pile--" she pointed at a thin stack of looseleaf, "--is what I know about. The rest of this…"

Her voice was almost despair. Alex winced. "I'm sure it'll all work out, in the end."

It was an empty platitude, and they both knew it, but she smiled at him anyway. It reminded him, a little bit, of the Kitty he used to know. She said, "Thanks."

Alex found her working every night for four days, and then didn't see the pages spread out again for the next week. She might have been up, regardless, burning the midnight oil, but he was busy trying to help Patrick teach Jonno how to thrust a spear, and fell asleep right away, as soon as it got dark.

He couldn't go out hunting, with his leg, but he could help. He had to. The lean and hungry look people were giving him, the babies with such skinny legs, were behind his eyes every time he went to sleep. Alex slept soundly, regardless, but they were still waiting for him, when he woke up too.

Alex pitied Franklin, even as he looked up at him in awe.


continued >>

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