Authors: Suzanne Francis
The Snake child will require a great deal of socialization in order to fit in with the other dark Soli. Expect aggressive behavior on the part of boys. Girls may be shy and withdrawn. Work to be taken home will likely be returned unfinished. A Snake child will become a service worker as an adult, so education should be strictly practical with plenty of physical activity.
Know Your Students -- a Junior Educator's Handbook to the Soli
, Severnessan Ministry of Stations
* * * *
The blackout rules made the streets very dark. Suvi could not even use the lamp on her motapede to see her way along Rikard Svaate, but as there were no caravelos on the road she felt safe enough. She passed barely visible houses, their windows blanketed or shuttered to keep in the light. No one wanted to give the Berengarthen aeroplanes a target.
Her hands, though they were clothed in heavy fur gauntlets, felt almost numb, and Suvi guessed the temperature must be well below freezing. She would have to watch for patches of ice on the road ahead. The crater-sized potholes left by the bombs filled quickly with water and froze, leaving some parts of the thoroughfare like a skating rink. She paused to wrap a muffler more tightly over her mouth and cheeks, and then set off along the road again, pedaling madly to restart the engine.
She heard the squeal of brakes seconds before she saw the caravelo. A dark hump appeared at the edge of her peripheral vision, and then she was on the ground, with her motapede lying on her chest. Headlights, diffused with pieces of blue paper, provided sudden dim illumination.
"Shit!" Suvi heard the cold thunk of a door slamming. "Did I hit someone? Where are you?"
"Over here." Suvi struggled to push the pede away from her.
His accent was strange. "Jeez, where did you come from?" A pair of hands lifted away the cycle and Suvi sat up, a little shakily. "Are you all right?"
"I... I think so. But..." Suvi patted her pockets frantically. "The medicine -- it was in a glass bottle. I hope..." She withdrew a brown paper bag and shook it carefully. The sound of liquid sloshing around inside reassured her. "No, it is all right, thank goodness."
The man squatted before her and produced a battery powered light. He switched it on, and flicked it over Suvi for a cursory inspection. The sight of her torn stocking and scraped knee made him whistle in dismay. "Damn, I am sorry. Do you think you can stand?" He held out a huge leather-gloved hand and she took it, feeling like a child.
Suvi scrambled to her feet. Her leg stung in the cold wind but held her weight. "I am fine -- really. It is just a scratch." She strained her eyes, trying to see her companion's face as he righted her motapede. The darkness didn't permit much. "My name is Suvi Markku." Suvi stuck out her hand. "And you are?"
"Jack." His voice was quick with impatience. "Well, if you are sure you are all right, Miss, I had better get going."
Suvi took the handlebars of the motapede from him, wondering what his hurry was. She pushed it forward and felt unexpected resistance. "Wait! My pede is broken, and I need to get home right away. Can you give me a lift?" She could see the man's silhouette framed by the moonlight as he strode away from her. He was very tall.
His muttered oath hung in the icy air between them like an accusation. "Sorry, but I am on my way to an important briefing. As a matter of fact, I am late already. Why don't you just leave your motorbike here and walk back? I can send someone to get it in the morning."
Suvi glared at him. "It is another four miles, at least. I can't walk that far in the dark and anyway there is a sick child waiting for this medicine. If you hadn't run into me I would be there already!" Forgetting her injury, she stamped her foot hard on the icy road and then grimaced with pain.
He became unexpectedly agreeable. "OK, OK -- don't bite my head off!" The man waved his hands and grinned. A very full moustache covered his upper lip, but the gap between his front teeth showed plainly beneath it. Suvi found it strangely comforting.
"Does o-kay mean yes in your tongue?"
He laughed at this and shook his head sheepishly. "Sure does, little lady. Now hop in the car while I load your bike in the back."
She limped towards the vehicle. Even in the dark, she could appreciate its size and luxury. In wartime Severness, only a very rich man or a high-ranking officer of the Harriers could afford to drive such a velo. As she pulled open the door, Suvi wondered which one Jack might be.
The velo smelled of kaffa and tabac.
"I don't think your bike is banged up too badly," he called, as he lugged it round.
Thick brown file folders, bound with string, littered the front seat. Suvi pushed them out of the way and then stared at the sheaf of papers that lay underneath. Some of the documents were quite clearly labeled "Priority Code Blue."
The velo bounced as her pede landed in the trunk. The man slammed the lid. She could hear the squeak of the snow under his boots as he walked back around to the driver's side. Suvi quickly re-stacked the remaining files before tucking the secret dossier into her coat.
"Where to?" The man joined Suvi in the velo, and peered at her through the darkness. "Were you going to Schippendorff?" He named a small collection of houses close to the river.
She shook her head. "Not to the Rose community, no. My home is a little before there, on Wharfan Svaate."
In the dim light of the dashboard, she studied his clothing. His dark overcoat bore no rank insignia. Rich, then -- not military.
So why did he have the files?
"But that is all bombed out warehouses and factories, isn't it?"
"Mostly, yes. But there are one or two dwellings as well. People nowadays must shelter wherever they may."
The caravelo bumped along the road in the darkness, seemingly finding every pothole. The silence between them seemed almost as cold as the outside air. Suvi broke it first. "But where are you from, Jack? Your accent is not one I am familiar with."
He kept his eyes straight ahead. "From offshore. My wife and I came here last year."
What sort of man would bring his wife to a war zone?
Suvi could think of no other questions to ask. Soon they passed into a built up area, once home to many prosperous industries. Most had been bombed into piles of rubble, but a few structures remained more or less intact.
They passed a dreary looking red brick building with boarded windows. Suvi cleared her throat. "You can let me off here."
The caravelo slowly ground to a halt beside some tall sliding doors, chained together and securely padlocked. Jack looked over to her. "Are you sure? This doesn't look like any kind of place for a young girl to stay. It must be cold and empty inside."
Suvi frowned. "I am twenty-one years old, if you don't mind. Thank you for the lift. May I have my motapede back?"
"Let's leave it in the trunk for now. I'll get one of the boys over in the workshop to take a look at it tomorrow. Someone will bring it round after it is fixed, OK?"
"Please don't trouble yourself. I feel bad enough for dragging you out of your way like this." Suvi peered anxiously at him through the driver's side window.
"It isn't any trouble. But where can they find you?"
"Tell them to knock on the side door and ask for Suvi. Someone will know where I am." She gave him a wry grin. "O...K...?"
Jack smiled back. "Whatever you say, little lady. It was nice meeting you. So long."
"Good-bye. And thank you -- for everything."
Suvi turned from him and headed to the side door, carefully avoiding the piles of twisted rubble that littered the outside of the three-story building. She didn't see Jack pull his coat collar askew and speak into it, as though he had a friend hidden in his breast pocket. "The pigeon has pecked the crumb."
The velo sped away with the crunch of spinning tires on gravel.
* * * *
Marja Kinnik met her at the door. "Did you get it? What took you so long?"
Suvi nodded and patted her pocket. A lie sprang easily to her lips. "I hit a bomb crater in the dark and took a tumble off my pede."
Marja spied the rip in her stockings and gave a cry of dismay. "Suvi! Are you all right? I have been so worried about Riku I didn't even think to ask..."
"I am fine. I got a ride back with a farmer. Come on, let's go give your boy the medicine right now. Then we can both stop worrying."
Marja and Suvi passed through a dimly lit hallway, into the main building. "How did you manage? I mean -- didn't the chemist ask questions?"
"I told him I had milk sickness and he hurried me out of there as fast as he could."
"But wasn't it expensive?"
"Don't worry. I think I have just found us a new source of income." Suvi patted the papers in her pocket but didn't say anything else.
The bottom floor of the warehouse stretched cavernously before them, but it was not empty -- not at all. The quiet murmur of conversation filled the air with the warmth of company. Great hanks of silk hung from the ceiling -- old parachutes, strung up like silk tents. Each glowed softly, lit from the inside by oil lamps.
Marja led the way between two aisles. She kept her voice low. "The Kopjicks have been fighting again. I think the Mister has been drinking."
Suvi tutted. "I will add some extra chores to the roster for him. If he is tired perhaps he will not be so argumentative. I need someone to set up more crates, anyway. There will be more people coming from the
and we have no place to put them."
Each parachute house had a number pinned to the side. Marja stopped at 22 and lifted the flap. Within lay a few bits of rickety furniture -- a once-luridly flowered armchair, now faded to tranquility, a table with one leg propped on a stack of books, and two pallets on the rough board floor. A small kerosene heater took the chill off, but left a persistent odor in the air.
A pale thin-faced boy lay on one of the pallets. He looked to be sleeping, but when Marja knelt, his eyes fluttered open. They were pale blue and watery with pain. "Mother?"
"Yes, my angel, I am here. And so is Suvi. She has made a special trip to Saximaa to fetch some medicine for you."
He blinked rapidly, as though the dim light hurt his eyes. "Thank you. Will it make me better? My head hurts so much."
Suvi stroked his forehead gently. "Yes. I hope so. But you will have to be patient, because Dr. Fredrik said it takes a long while to work." She spoke now to Marja. "Give him one teaspoon, four times a day. And there is some lilium in there for pain, but be careful with it. There are others here who might steal it if they knew you had some."
"I will give him some now, and then you keep the rest locked in the office. No one would dare take it from you, Suvi."
Just then, raised voices filtered through the silk. "It is ours, I tell you. There isn't room for the likes of you..."
Suvi patted Marja's arm and then left the tent, calling back, "Meet me in the office when you have finished."
She followed the sound of the argument across the warehouse floor, to a line of wooden crates along the far wall. Most had blanket curtains, and pallets inside. A sullen looking boy with unruly straw-colored hair paced back and forth. His belongings made an untidy pile on the floor.
Suvi frowned. "What is the trouble?"
An iron-grey head popped from behind the blanket. "I already told him, this place belongs to the Birdlings. We won't have no Snakes here."
The boy's pale blue eyes were pleading. "They told me if I came here it wouldn't matter what I was." He pulled up the sleeve on his tattered jersey, exposing a tattoo on his forearm. "I am a Snake, yes, but my folks were killed in the attack on Jaarvik Vilaag. The Grond sent bombers, destroyed everything in the town -- even the church and the hospital. I got nowhere else to go."
Suvi smiled and patted his shoulder. "You are welcome at Carina, my friend. Your Soli is not important here."
The old woman frowned and launched into another tirade. "Well, where I came from, in Ruvers Vilaag, we was all Birdlings, good and proper. No one associated with..."
Suvi cleared her throat and spoke gently. "That
the way, Goodwife Teggr, but here at Carina we have a different arrangement. Everyone, regardless of Soli, lives and works together. Spear and Dog, Rose and Star." Goodwife Teggr opened her mouth to argue but Suvi said firmly, "Even Snake and Birdling. You were told as much when
came here two months ago, begging for shelter."
She turned back to the boy. "What is your name?"
"Well, Calaan. This is Goodwife Teggr. Please offer your hand to her."
He looked quite shocked at this suggestion. "Shake hands with a Birdling? In Jaarvik we..."
Suvi kept her reproof gentle. "There is no Jaarvik here, or Ruvers. Only Carina, where all are the same. Please shake her hand, as a gesture of your understanding."
He frowned, but stuck out his hand. Goodwife Teggr shook it quickly and then withdrew into her box with an audible "Humph."
Suvi smiled. "Good. Now I believe there is an empty crate here, three along from your new friend." She walked along and tapped on the side of a rickety looking box. Once she had swept aside the blanket, the boy crawled inside. "You will need a pallet to sleep on. Ask the Goodwife where we keep them. Breakfast will be at seven o'clock tomorrow morning. After breakfast, come to the office and I will add you to one of the work details."
Calaan stared at Suvi. "Miss? Who runs this place? I'd like to thank them."
does." Goodwife Teggr's muffled voice came from within her box. "And a damned fine job she does too. A lot of folks would be dead now, if not for Suvi Markku." The woman crawled out, and rose stiffly to her feet. "Come on, young one. I will show you the storeroom. But don't forget I am a Birdling, and better than the likes of you."
"Yes, Ma'am." Calaan looked thoroughly abashed.
The Goodwife continued to lecture the boy as they walked away. Suvi watched them head for the stairs leading to the gallery that overhung the first level and served as the storeroom. Then she yawned hugely, and made her way back towards her own living quarters.