Chapter 8
27 Sp'gin (Tuesday)

1

In the morning, Darius crawled out of his tent at about 2:1:85 to find the rest of the party already sitting around the fire drinking regular coffee, except Tiejo, who never drank anything stronger than decaf. Tom was amazed to find himself agreeing with Tiejo twice in as many days; yesterday about the word 'Tiejoish,' and today that someone as hyper as Tiejo shouldn't have too much caffeine.

The others had finished their breakfast of bacon and eggs, but there was a plate waiting for Darius, sitting beside Emma. He picked up the plate and sat down next to her, then filled himself a mug of coffee and said, "Just ordinary cream this morning, eh?" She smiled. Darius continued, "Thanks for talking... it does help to get my mind off things, getting my mind onto other things. The spells come mainly when there's nothing else to occupy my consciousness, particularly when trying to get to sleep or just waking up. Well, it's worse at night; being tired doesn't help."

"A prime factor in your insomnia, I expect."

Darius agreed. "My brain just doesn't like to shut down. It grabs at anything it can to think of. Sometimes it's things that cause depression, and when that doesn't work, sometimes it throws depression at me anyway. Weird thing, I can get depressed because I can't sleep, and I can't sleep because I'm depressed. Anyway... thanks."

"Any time. I mean that. It was good for me, too."

"Well, we'll have more nights in the wilderness before we get to Near Port. And I've no shortage of emotional problems, believe me. Especially considering how much I forget. I was going to mention last night that I'm not good with crowds, even small ones. In fact fairly small, intimate groups are often the worst, especially if I don't know everyone fairly well. But perhaps we can talk more of that later."

"Perhaps. And we can work on getting to know each other, all of us. If you can consider us all good friends, that may help."

"It well may. I look forward to it. Mind you, I can even feel alone when I'm with my best friends..."

Ginger and Tiejo were each staring at Darius and Emma. Tiejo was grinning, but Ginger had a concerned look on her face. Tiejo said, "I thinks she can't like him so much, but if she did, they'd likes each other, but great friends will be anyway."

Ginger didn't understand or put much more stock in what Tiejo said than Tom did, and tried by turns futilely to make sense of his words, or not to even try. When she was concerned about something, she tended to try. She wasn't quite sure, but she thought the street rat must somehow have realized something about Emma that Ginger for one didn't think tended to be obvious about anyone, to the casual observer. What she was currently concerned about was that, whether Tiejo knew or not, Darius probably didn't. "Um, Darius... I'm not sure what... what you might expect to...."

He cut her off with a laugh and a wave of his hand. "Not to worry. Even without the problem I expect you're trying, awkwardly, to try to warn me about, there wouldn't be a problem. She's a nice enough girl, but... I'm not exactly one to take romantic initiatives, with anyone. Ever." Darius paused, and in reflection, allowed a wistful expression to cross his face. "Kind of sad, really."

"Um... well, okay. Sorry."

"Not at all. Thank you, in fact. Nice of you to worry about me. Or both of us, I guess." With that, he set to work on his breakfast.

They were packed, the fire doused, and they departed a few centhours earlier than the day before.

2

Darius and Cameron took the first shift piloting the wagon that day. Once they were up in the air and well under way, Darius sat in silence, trying to think how to begin a conversation, something he'd never been good at doing, with anyone.

Luckily, he didn't have to, for, after a few centhours, Cameron said, "So, you and Emma had a good talk last night, did you?"

"Yes. We seem to have a lot in common."

"That's good. Anyway, you two were talking this morning about all of us getting to know each other better."

"Yes."

"If you don't mind my inquiring, you also talked about emotional problems...?"

"I don't mind. As I told Emma, talking does sometimes help. Though of course, there are better things to talk of, as well. In any event, I thank you for being the first to speak; even when I want to talk, it can be damned hard for me to start."

"You're welcome. So, I guess we should just try to think of anything to talk about. Hmmm...."

They both sat without speaking again for a while. Suddenly, Darius said, "Y'know, I've often thought it'd be nice to have a sort of public broadcast system of some sort for music, in vehicles, especially if you're traveling alone. You could have some kind of t-mail bubble, probably green, at one end somewhere, that's just left active all the time, or at least until it runs out of magic. On that end there could be someone playing live or recorded music, and transmit it through the bubble on some kind of public frequency to anyone who has a specially designed bubble for receiving these broadcasts. You might even have a whole set of different bubbles that can pick up transmissions from different frequencies of transmitting bubbles, so you'd have different choices of what to listen to. Does this make any kind of sense to you? You're a Sorreter, do you think it's feasible?"

Now Cameron was grinning. "Looks like Tiejo isn't the only one with other-worldly ideas. I actually had an idea like that once, and I mentioned it to the others. Emma took a moment to think up the subword 'radio' to attach to the idea. Next time Ginger saw Zephrey, she asked him about radio, and he said the word was from Earth, but lots of other worlds developed it, using technology rather than magic, of course.

"That led to a discussion of why it is that most subwords seem to be derived from Earth languages, even if any number of alien languages contain words that mean the same thing. The discussion never really yielded any clear answers, but we all got the impression Tino had an idea he wasn't sharing; we often get that feeling about him, actually. Ginger thinks that's just an affectation on his part, to make himself seem mysterious. She thinks he's probably actually the least mysterious of us all, and just tries to compensate by trying to seem the most mysterious. But anyway, back to the original point, your idea is not without precedent."

"All well and good, but can it be done with magic?"

"Probably. Actually, I've always meant to try and work it out one of these days. I suppose I'll get to it eventually, if someone doesn't beat me to it. Meanwhile, we're not traveling alone. We can converse. Or just play recorded music we bring with us."

"Have you guys recorded any of your music to sell?"

"No, we really just prefer to play live. Although, if anyone wants to record one of our performances for their own personal enjoyment later, or to share with friends, we don't have anything against that. Though we wouldn't want them to sell copies of a recording, of course."

"Of course."

"Anyway..." Cameron tried to think of another topic. "Did you say you do some writing?"

"Yeah, basically dramatized accounts of my adventures. I don't think I'm very good at it, and it isn't exactly best-selling stuff. But I enjoy writing, anyway, and some people like it. On the other hand, I have a friend who's, in my opinion, as good as anyone who gets published regularly and sells well all across the Land, but he can't sell a thing he writes. Haven't seen him in years, though. I really must try to find him when we get to Triscot, and a couple other friends, as well."

"People you knew growing up?"

"Yeah... I never had many friends, but I had a few. I hear from one of them occasionally via t-mail. His name's Chris Dennis'son. My writer friend is Dave MakeRoad, who Chris mentions sometimes. Says Dave can't afford t-mail, which is why I don't hear from him. My only other really close friend was Rob MakeBale, who apparently is too busy to contact me. Chris hasn't mentioned anything about him in over a year.

"Anyway, I haven't been to Triscot often since I left home, and when I am there, I try not to stay too long. Just basically pass through on my way somewhere else."

"I can imagine there'd be some painful memories there. We all know about the last great battle of the Coming. I'm sorry about your clan."

"Well, I wasn't there. I was in Tanq at the time," Darius said ruefully. He kept his face fixed firmly on the sky ahead.

Cameron was silent for a centhour, staring off to his right, at the ground and trees far below, only half seeing them. Finally he said, "You know you couldn't have done much. Maybe taken out a few Orderlies, but it would have ended the same way, except you'd have been dead, too."

"I know. Of course, that doesn't always sound like such a bad thing." He let out a long sigh. "But I don't really regret my absence... too much. Anyway, I'm sure all of us here lost friends and family in the Coming. I'm sure you did."

Cameron nodded. "More than enough. Very few of them died without doing a fair bit of damage to the enemy, though. Except some of those taken out when the elves first entered the war."

"Another famous event from the war, albeit too one-sided to really call a battle," said Darius. For just a moment, he turned to look at the ex-Sorreter. "Anyway, I'm sorry, too." Facing forward again, he gave another sigh. "You ever read a history book from one of the Order's schools?"

"Of course. I think the urge to read accounts of historic events you've personally lived through can be sort of overwhelming; though I know some feel just the opposite. Still, you get to see how future generations will remember things. And of course, we have to make sure of their accuracy. There's a saying on Earth... something like, 'History is written by the winners.' Well, as long as the losers are still around, the least they can do is try to ensure the truth is preserved."

"Yeah. Well, in fairness, they don't do such a bad job of telling the truth. Maybe they slant it a bit in their favor, but generally the details are sound. And I believe some of their teachers try to give their students a broader view than presented in the texts."

"If the Chaos ends up writing history books someday, do you suppose they'll be biased at all in our favor?"

"I imagine it'd be impossible for them not to be. I mean, even if neither side exactly lies, we each have to try to let people understand why we did what we did. That will influence what facts are presented. All we can do is try not to let it influence how the facts are presented."

"I guess so." And they lapsed into another silence.

After a while, Darius said, "I guess you probably can't really talk too much about your own past. As a Sorreter, I mean. But is there anything you can tell me? Anything about any childhood friends, or... anything?"

Cameron sat silently for a minute, eyes closed and head bowed. Finally, he sighed deeply, lifted his head, and ran a hand back through his hair. His eyes he left closed, leaving Darius to watch where they were going. "I never really had any real friends, as a kid. I liked people too much, or rather, didn't dislike them enough. Or really at all."

"Um... I wanna say you sound pretty lucky, because most people meet at least a few people they don't get along with. But I don't understand what you mean; shouldn't you have had lots of friends, then?"

"I developed a theory to explain this to myself, I mean, why I didn't have friends. In the first place, why do we have the friends we have?"

"Well, because... because we have things in common."

"Exactly. This includes both the things we like and the things we dislike. And both of those include people. Once I had that in mind, it didn't take me long to realize that, in fact, the strongest friendships seem to be based on disliking the same kind of people."

"I... um, well, I'll admit that can be part of some friendships, but do you think it's really the most important part, usually?"

"Not on the surface, certainly. Not usually. But think, in an extreme case, of certain groups we don't even have on the Land. People coming together to persecute other groups. I suppose you've heard alien words like 'racism,' for example. The kind of horror stories that make you glad we won't be meeting any aliens for thousands of years."

"Such things have played a part in some alien stories I've heard or read, yes. Okay, so such people would be friends with their own kind, and the biggest thing they have in common is who they hate. But-"

"But I said that was an extreme example. Then of course, once enough generations had passed on the Land that we had lots of children at any one time, it didn't take long for the subword 'cliques' to be discovered."

"Granted, they do tend to be rather exclusionary, but I'm not sure that's the main-"

"The main thing is what they have in common. The reason they exclude and dislike others is they don't have those things in common with them. In fact, that pretty much hits the nail on the head. The reasons you like some people are the same reasons you dislike other people. It's natural not to want to be friends with someone you have little if anything in common with. But many cliques actively disdain and insult others. That often seems to be mainly what keeps them and their friends together, collectively making fun of others."

"Some of the worse groups, yes, but-"

"And other groups dislike those who make fun of them and ostracize them because those sorts of people... just aren't nice. So those who are derided get together for a sort of emotional protection, and disdain the groups that disdain them. They complain about what's wrong with people like that."

"Granted, but that's not always-" He stopped for a few seconds, then said, "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Wasn't it time to interrupt me?"

"Just that once, no. Because, I'll grant you, sometimes some of those people really do have more important things in common. Still, it's not often that such things are the only reason they're friends. I mean, most human beings do feel a need for friendships. Some people just have personalities and interests which are less common than those of other people, so it can be harder for them to find people who will like them, or who they themselves could like. Often they tend to become loners, and start to dislike almost everyone, and tell themselves they don't really want friends. There is some truth in that, but it's rarely completely true. So if and when they do make friends, it is most likely to be with people who are also lonely, different, disaffected. So you see, once again, the biggest thing they like about each other is that they dislike people. Once they have that basis established, they may discover other things they like about each other, or they may not."

"Okay. Fine. Any more examples?"

"Well, the crux of the whole thing, as I've said, is that you like people who are like you, and dislike people who are unlike you. Many people are content most of the time just not to associate with people who they haven't got much in common with. If you don't have to spend time with people, you don't have to dislike them, unless they go out of their way to bother you. And that's what some people do.

"Now, take us. Why are we organizing this Chaos movement of yours? Because we don't like the Order. We hope to find things in common with each other and become friends, but as of now, that's the biggest common factor among us."

"Okay, but...." And Darius really couldn't think of anything to say to that.

"You see," said Cameron, "I had things in common with some other kids. I had what I'd call friendly acquaintances. People I liked some of the time. But friends have to find things to talk about, and sometimes the subject is people they don't like. I could never really get into conversations like that, and I didn't like when my acquaintances did, either. The thing is, so many people seem to be so easily annoyed, it doesn't take much to get them upset with people. I'd listen to them talking about their problems with people, and it never really seemed that serious to me. I might sometimes be annoyed at people for something, but I never saw any reason to genuinely dislike them for it. So I'd start liking people less if they were getting seriously upset by trivial matters. And that would make them dislike me. They'd be downtalking people, even former friends of theirs, and I'd tell them how I felt about that, and they'd say things like, 'If you're gonna go around preaching like that, maybe you should just become a spirit-talker.'

"Well, I did. And living in Sorret, most spirit-talkers also try to become Sorreters, of course."

"Was your master anyone I'd know of?"

He shook his head. "Can't say, I'm afraid. Can't mention any names."

"I thought not. So, as you say, you had no friends because you didn't dislike anyone. But now you do have people you consider friends? Like your bandmates? And what about your master and any fellow apprentices?"

"Sorreters are really no different from anyone else. I had my friendly acquaintances among them, but I was never really close to any of them until the Coming, and then not until we really started fighting together against the Order- though I was still fairly young at the time, our side needed every able body it could get. Anyway, I developed true friendships then with people I would trust with my life- because we had to trust each other so. And I can't imagine anyone would be fighting a war if they didn't truly dislike, or rather hate, the other side. So you see, as far as my view of other people went, from not seriously disliking anyone, to suddenly fighting in a war, it was rather a big leap for me.

"Anyway, yes, later I joined the Band. And we do have things in common, notably music. But underneath, one of the biggest things has always been a dislike of the Order. Even if we've rarely talked much about it with one another, it was there. Aside from that, in the course of adventuring you sometimes get into fights, and it's easy to dislike someone who's trying to hurt you, cheat, steal, maybe even kill you. And to like those who are fighting beside you."

"I can't disagree with that. As for my own friends, I suppose we must have disliked some of the same people. And even when I didn't know or much care, directly, about people or things they were talking about without me, overhearing such conversations didn't really bother me. I understood. Aside from them- and later, without them at all- I really have turned out to be a loner. As you'd say, mostly these days I make, at best, friendly acquaintances. I'm not real comfortable with your theory, and I can't entirely agree with it- but I won't dispute it, either. Certainly I'll agree it's true for you."

Neither of them could think of more to say, until after a couple of centhours of silence, Darius suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, I just remembered! When I was talking with Emma last night, I happened to ask about her magical timepiece, and she said it was a birthday gift from you. So I asked if she got anything special for your birthday, and... she said I should ask you about that. She said, um, that it might be embarrassing for you?"

Cameron grinned. "Ah, that. Well, she got the idea when we were talking on New Winter Day, last year. Actually, the whole group was celebrating together, and the conversation turned to a similar holiday on Earth. I think it was Ginger who brought up 'Christmas,' I don't know if you've heard of it..."

"Sort of. I don't know much about it in any detail, but I do know that it's not much different from how we celebrate New Winter Day, except it has some sort of religious origins. I think it's one of the things that the northern villages have a better climate for than we have in most of the Land's villages, though."

Cameron nodded. "That's true, though I've never been so far north, I'm afraid. Of course, we're all heading to Near Port now, but it shouldn't be more than late spring or early summer when we get there, and I wouldn't expect us to stick around til winter. Still, I should like to visit the north someday during winter, to see what it's like. It really is funny the fascination Landians have always had with seasons that most of us have never experienced."

He shook his head, "But I digress. In spite of the religious origins of Christmas on Earth, it ultimately became rather commercialized, though in large part that was about exchanging presents, as many people do here on New Winter Day. And of course the reason for that is mainly to show your appreciation for the people you care about, and more important than the gifts is just spending time with those people. Anyway, there's also a certain degree of magic involved in Christmas. There were stories told of someone who would visit the homes of everyone on Earth who celebrated the holiday, all in one night, and give them gifts. He traveled in a vehicle called a 'sleigh,' which I think they may actually have in our own northern villages, for traveling over snow-"

"I really want to see snow someday," Darius cut in.

"So do I. As implied by saying I wanted to see a northern village in winter. Anyway, this sleigh-"

"By the way, what's the name of the person you're talking about?"

"He went by different names in different regions of the world. Not just different languages; some places where people spoke the same language had their own names for him. I don't really understand why that should be, but you know how Terrans are. Well, I suppose the most ubiquitous name for him, eventually, was Santa Claus, because that's what he was called in the country that eventually came to have the greatest influence on the culture of the planet. Not to say the other countries ever lost their own strong senses of their distinct cultures and languages, but..." He sighed and said, "Well, that's another topic again, and I don't know much about it. Anyway, it's not important. I should mention that Santa Claus, or whatever you choose to call him, may have had a basis in reality, as well as various legends from around the world, but of course he was essentially a fictional character. Obviously there was no real magic on Earth, and even with magic, it would be impossible to do the things he did, in a single night. The stories about him were mostly believed by small children, though there would also be stories about adults coming to believe in him. Of course anything's possible in fiction.

"But the point I was working towards was that his sleigh was pulled by a team of animals called reindeer. These were real animals, but the ones in the stories about Santa Claus were magical; they had the ability to fly, which real reindeer certainly didn't. Anyway, when I was young, I always liked hearing Earth stories about Santa Claus. I should mention that my clan has always included many Sorreters, and of course Sorreters must also be spirit-talkers, even if many these days engage but little in that aspect of the vocation, and aren't necessarily particularly religious. My family, however, were a bit more traditional; and anyway, we tended to enjoy the company of spirits, on occasion. So, some spirits who were close to members of my clan would visit sometimes, including holidays such as New Winter Day. And these spirits would tell us stories about Christmas on Earth.

"Well, I mentioned this last year when we in the Band were celebrating together, and sharing stories of New Winter Days we'd spent with each of our clans when we were young. Of course none of us have seen our families for quite some time, for various reasons. One being, as you mentioned, we all lost loved ones during the war. But then there's also the simple fact that we travel a great deal. But we've become something of a family, ourselves."

Cameron fell silent, and after a few moments, Darius said, "Okay. But I'm still waiting for the embarrassing part."

Cameron smiled and said, "Right. Well, I don't know if Emma told you this, but my birthday is actually on Quad Day." Darius nodded, and Cameron continued, "This means, of course, that even though I turned 24 this year, it was technically only my sixth birthday..."

Darius laughed and said, "And here I thought Emma was the youngest one in the group."

Cameron grinned again and rolled his eyes. "Oh, shut up. ...No, actually, she said pretty much the same thing, on my birthday. It was, in fact, the point of her gift. She reminded me of the conversation we'd all had a couple months earlier, on New Winter Day, in which I'd said how fascinated I had been by stories of flying reindeer, when I was young. She made a joke about how I was still young, this being only my sixth birthday, and that's what had inspired her gift."

"Well, so what was it?"

Still grinning, Cameron said, "She got me a labcoat."

Darius, who had until now only occasionally and briefly glanced at Cameron as he spoke, now turned his head and stared, narrowing his eyes in confusion. "Oh...kay, you lost me. What's a lab coat got to do with anything?"

"Sorry. That's actually a sort of joke, apparently. I'd never heard of this before, but a bit less than a century ago, an elven sorcerer created a new hybrid species, combining traits of leopelles and curlycoats. I don't know if you've ever heard of leopelles, but they're an animal the first fifty elves discovered when they founded Woodstockade in 773. Anyway, this new hybrid species was called leopcoats, which according to Emma, are sometimes called 'labcoats.' I should mention that leopelles are probably the closest animal yet discovered anywhere on the Land to Terran reindeer, though I'm sure they're not that similar. But... a couple years ago, after leopcoats began being imported to some human villages, a Sorreter decided to enchant a few of them to fly, like a carpet or something, though of course such a thing had never been done with living creatures."

"Bizarre," said Darius. "But cool."

"Yes. Anyway, Emma's gift to me was a ticket to fly on one of these enchanted leopcoats, on my birthday. She said she hoped it'd be something like one of Santa's reindeer. And that she was always happy to make dreams come true for little children like me."

"Awwwww, that's so sweet!" Darius laughed again, and though he said it half in jest, his eyes watered a little as he smiled at the story.

Cameron blushed, just slightly, still smiling. "Yeah. But also kind of embarrassing. Still, I must admit, it was fun, and it did make me feel like a kid again."

"I daresay it tops any birthday present I can recall ever getting," said Darius. "Not that my friends and family didn't try; I'm just hard to shop for."

Just then, Tom stuck his head up front and asked, "Either of you want to be relieved for a spell? I'm afraid they're getting tired of my complaining back there, about just about everything. They sort of volunteered me to take my turn piloting a wee bit early. It's up to you, of course."

Cameron and Darius looked at each other. "I'm alright," said Darius, and Cameron indicated likewise. "Still, one of us could take a break, if that's the general consensus."

"Seems ta be," said Tom.

"Well, I'd like to stay up here as long as I can," said Cameron. "Get myself good and tired, and catch a nap after my shift."

"I guess I'll let you have my spot, then," Darius told Tom. He climbed in back to be regaled by the others with a full accounting of Tom's latest rants. He did get the impression, though, that they didn't really dislike Tom. Which was important to him, after the earlier part of his conversation with Cameron.

Meanwhile, as Tom settled in up front, he said, "I'll say one good thing about flying: up here at this height and speed, it gets you out of the tropical heat."

"True," said Cameron. "Good thing, though, there's as much magic goes into shielding us from too much wind as goes into keeping us in the air and moving forward." Tom grunted noncommittally.

"Anyway, Tom... Darius wants us all to get to know one another, he said. So... have many friends growing up?"

Tom turned to look at him. "Why, I've always been surrounded by friends, wherever I go. Everybody seems to love me. Can't beat them away with a stick, and believe me, I've tried." He turned to face forward again, and Cameron turned to the right, to hide his grin.


chapter 9

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