Authors: Suzanne Francis
As she did so, the moon rose majestically over the sea, horns pointing left.
, Tessa thought, and took encouragement from it. She left the car and forced herself to saunter round the house, as she did every night. The slap of the bay on the shore provided a satisfying racket as she pulled the shutters. One, inexplicably bent, hung at an odd angle and Tessa had to leave it open.
"Maybe I'll ask Jakob to help me fix it tomorrow," she said out loud. "If he's still talking to me, that is," she added with a rueful grin.
Her mobile chose that moment to spring to life, making her heart hammer. She flipped open the cover.
She would be just finishing work, and probably wanted Tessa to go for a drink. Tessa let her voice mail get the call.
She went straight through the house and crawled into bed, undressing underneath the covers and pulling on one of Suvi's voluminous flannel nightgowns. She found her book light, and her grandmother's journal. Flipping over to the bookmark, she stared at Suvi's neatly printed script.
"Help me," she whispered. "I want to understand." Then she started to read.
The Rat child will be difficult to teach. Most are defiant of authority and only reluctantly mingle with children outside their Soli. Fighting and disobedience are common. Concentrate on teaching practical skills that will be useful in the trades.
Know Your Students -- a Junior Educator's Handbook to the Soli
, Severnessan Ministry of Stations
* * * *
Suvi and Calaan coughed as clouds of dust filled the air. She saw to her dismay that they could not possibly escape the kneehole until a good bit of the rubble that now filled the office had been shifted.
"Are you all right?" Someone rattled the door handle. "Suvi?"
She spoke cheerfully. "We are fine. But it looks like there is a ceiling beam across the door. You won't be able to open it inwards."
Goodman Deitr spoke with finality. "We'll have to break it down then."
Suvi sighed. "Isn't there any other way? I'd really hate to lose that door. It's solid heartwood."
"Sorry, Suvi. I just don't see what else we..." He paused and addressed someone else. Suvi could not hear his words.
Another voice spoke. It was deeper; not one she recognized. "Maybe we can take the hinge pins off the door from your side. I'll climb through the clerestory and have a look. Just sit tight."
Suvi smiled, thinking they could hardly do anything else. Her companion wriggled about, trying to stretch his legs, and accidentally kicked her.
Calaan flinched. "Sorry. I know you mustn't like being this close to a Snake."
She patted his arm. "Don't be silly. I don't mind at all."
He gave her a look that Suvi could see bordered alarmingly on adulation. "What happened to the Harp boy you was going to marry? You don't wear no ring."
She sighed. "He broke our engagement, after I told him of my disregard for the Soli. I don't know where he is now."
Calaan stared at the faint tracings of the Soli on his sleeve, which matched the one tattooed on his skin. "Why do you think we have these things, if it isn't so that we may know our place?"
"I don't know, Calaan. But I believe that every man and woman should be able to find their own way in the world, no matter what Soli they belong to."
"What, like Rats being politicians and Spears being bakers?" Calaan chuckled at this topsy-turvy arrangement. "But, you know what? If it ever came true, then I would like to be a teacher. You reckon they would let a Snake do something like that?"
Suvi shrugged. "I hope so."
Calaan shook his head, and his voice deepened, just for a moment. "It is a fine thing, what you are trying to do here, but it won't change anything. Not in the long run."
They heard a thump that raised another cloud of dust. Suvi could see only a pair of legs, dressed in blue dungarees, cross the floor in front of the knee hole.
The man spoke briskly as he started on the hinges. "Shouldn't be too long now."
With much shouting and encouragement from the other side, her rescuer loosened the door from its frame and pushed it outwards. Light flooded in, leaving dust motes glimmering in broad vertical shafts.
Goodman Dietr knelt before the desk. "I think we will be able to shift this beam. But you had better stay under there for the time being, in case we dislodge any bricks."
He had three men with him, who set to work at once with saws. The other man, who had climbed though the window, waited in the open doorway. He spoke quietly. "I don't think you should do that."
"What?" Dietr had to bellow over the racket of the saws.
The man, who was tall, with curiously cropped blond hair, stepped back into the room. "I said I don't think you should do that. That beam is a load bearer. If you remove it you could bring the whole top floor down." He pointed to the ceiling above their heads. "See, there? That bracket shows where it was joined to the outer brick wall."
Dietr, a retired trolley driver too old for active duty in the army, frowned. "Look young fella. I know a little bit about building. We need to get Miss Suvi out from under her desk, and moving that beam is the only way to go about it."
Suvi spoke up quickly. "We are fine in here. Don't jeopardize the safety of the building, for goodness sake."
The newcomer squatted before their shelter. "Hello. Are you Suvi Markku? My name is Thommats Finn. My friends call me Tom."
Suvi extended her fingers through the debris. His handshake was warm and quite firm. "Pleased to meet you, Tom. Are you looking for shelter?"
He gave her an engaging grin. "Actually, I was looking for you. I was told to deliver a motapede here, but I had a deuce of a time finding this place. Then, just as I knocked on the door, the sirens started. Definitely not my day."
Tom stood, brushing the dust from his knees. "We need to get a rope under this beam, and then we can haul it up again." Dietr and the others bustled about, following his instructions. Suvi, who could see only the bottom half of the action, waited impatiently as the workers raised and bolted the beam back into place.
Finally, she and Calaan were able to leave their cramped refuge.
Suvi did a slow turn in the middle of the floor, looking at the damage. Broken bricks and concrete dust lay thick on the floor and bed. She gave a sudden cry of alarm. "Did anyone see Chelah?"
Calaan lifted the green blanket that covered the bed, and found Suvi's pet cowering beneath it. She skittered out and then ran straight up Tom Finn's leg and onto the top of his head.
He scrabbled wildly trying to dislodge her. "What the devil? Get it off me, right now."
Suvi pulled the degum away, wondering at Tom's obvious fright. Degums were common all over Severnessa. Many had been pets, left to run wild when Grond air raids destroyed their homes and owners.
As Suvi put Chelah back on the floor she kept her eyes on Tom. "Where are you from?"
"Schippendorff." Tom changed the subject adroitly. "Don't you want to see your cycle?"
Suvi nodded and then noticed Calaan, who stood nearby, still gazing adoringly at her. "You may as well get started with the work I gave you this morning. Dietr can show you where the tools are."
"Yes, Ma'am." He gave her a wry salute.
"Don't worry about cleaning up this mess." Suvi looked to the others who clustered round the door. "I will take care of it later. Everyone get back to their details. Tell Goodman Grein I have some plumbing work for him in ablutions Six."
Tom watched in astonishment as they scurried to obey. Suvi led him through the office door, heading for the main shelter floor. "What is this place?"
As they followed the line of parachute tents that led to the main entrance, Suvi answered his question. "You don't know? It is Carina. Your friend Jack brought me here last night."
Tom scowled. "He isn't my friend."
Suvi hazarded another guess. "Boss then?"
"Naw. I am just a mechanic at the garage on Rikard Svaate. A guy in a fancy car came by last night with a damaged motapede. Got me out of bed, told me to fix it and then bring it to a warehouse by the docks. Said to ask for someone named Suvi. I have been up and down this road fifty times trying to find you." Something about his accent didn't sound quite right, and mechanic was an odd job for a Rose. Normally they were builders, or engineers.
Still his grin as he watched her ride the pede across the yard seemed genuine enough. "How do you get all those folks to follow orders like that?"
Suvi shrugged. "Everyone in Carina works, if they are able. It is one of the conditions of living here."
Tom walked back to the main door, and looked inside. "Would you show me around? I'd like to know a little more about the place."
Suvi had a lot of things to catch up on, and the mess in her room was an added chore. "I don't really have time, right now."
He frowned in disappointment. "Come on. It won't take long, and afterwards I will help you clean all the bricks and dust from your room."
Suvi wavered for a moment and then shrugged. "All right. I will hold you to that."
"No problem at all," said Tom Finn, with a smile. "I will be more than happy to help."
* * * *
Tom wandered the main floor. "Where did you get all these parachutes?"
"They are ex-air corps. Once the fabric wears out, they can no longer be used for jumps." She brushed her fingers against the thin cream-colored silk that made one of the family tents. "They insulate well, so each family may heat a small space and still be warm. This building is very old and draughty."
"That is a good idea. But doesn't the air corps have any use for them once they rip? Like undershirts or something?"
Suvi looked vague. "Maybe. But friends donated these parachutes to the shelter. And they provide a useful service to us."
"What about those boxes along the wall? Do you have people in there too?"
"They are old crates once used for shipping artillery pieces. And yes, they are home to couples or single people with no other family. We try to make sure everyone has a space, however small, to call their own." She gazed thoughtfully at the Harp on her arm. "You know that everyone who lives here must work together, no matter which Soli they belong to?"
Tom seemed surprised by this. "Is that true? It hardly seems possible. Usually folks stick to their own kind. I've noticed that."
He spoke like an outsider, Suvi decided, for all he had a Rose Soli on his own sleeve. "It was the only way to make this place work. We could not have separate facilities for everyone."
"And everyone just goes along with that, do they?"
Suvi shrugged, thinking of Goodwife Teggr and Calaan. "Sometimes there are disagreements, but I think most people understand that the old ways cannot continue; not during a war, anyway."
They crossed into a warren of small rooms off the main hall. Each of the wooden doors had a number painted on it. "These are the ablutions rooms. We assign newcomers a number, and a time for bathing. Everyone takes turns keeping them clean. Hot water is often a problem," she added with a grin. "But cold showers are always available."
Suvi turned away to take Tom to the kitchen. Surreptitiously he removed an object from his pocket and held it up to his eye. When she called his name, he hurriedly replaced it, and caught up to her.
"This is the kitchen," she was saying. "The details on cooking duty prepare a hot breakfast and dinner each day. Right now, we have about two hundred people to feed, so it is a big job. When the electrics are working they use the stoves, but if not, we build fires in the brick ovens."
"Where do you get enough food to give everyone two meals a day?"
"We get many supplies by scavenging. There are a lot of ruined shops and houses around here, with things going to waste inside. We also get what we can from wholesalers and markets, mostly by not asking too many questions about how fresh something is or where it came from."
After they had visited the dining room, and the schoolroom, and Tom had seen the workshops, they returned to Suvi's office. They worked together in silence, stacking bricks, sweeping and dusting.
Tom re-hung the door and oiled the hinges. "There, good as new."
Suvi smiled gratefully and fingered the set of keys she wore around her neck. "You have no idea how much I would have missed it. This is one of the only doors with a working lock, and I have a few things that I need to keep safe."
He gave a low whistle when he saw a fancy yitar propped against the wall next to the bed, miraculously undamaged by the fallen brick. The neck had been turned with scrollwork, and a winsome mermaid decorated the head.
"This must be one of them. Is it yours?"
Suvi nodded. "One of the few souvenirs from my former life as a Harp. Many of my Soli are professional musicians. I took lessons for years, but I seldom have time to play now. I should probably sell it, but I guess it reminds me of home."
He ran his graceful-looking fingers over the strings and quickly adjusted the tuning. Suvi had time to notice that his fingernails seemed quite clean for someone who worked on engines for a living.
"Mind if I have a go?"
She waved her hand casually, not expecting much. "Be my guest."
When she had been in practice, Suvi was a mediocre player at best, but it soon became clear that Tom Finn could coax astonishing sound from the fourteen strings of the yitar. She listened entranced, as his fingers fairly flew on the fret board, in waves of double and triple harmonies. Suvi couldn't help thinking it was a very odd talent for a Rose.
She nonetheless applauded wildly when he finished. "You must come back for the banquet on Friday. There is entertainment afterwards. Would you play? The children look forward to it all month."
He seemed uncomfortable with the idea. "I don't know. Are you sure anyone would want to hear me?"
"What? You were amazing. I only wish I could play as well."
"Then what will
do for the show? I don't want to take your instrument from you."
Suvi blushed. "Oh, it's all right. I can sing. A little. Perhaps we could do something together. Can you play any folk songs? How about, 'Oh Rose, Oh Rose' ?"
He smiled. "Sure, I can play it. Every Rose knows that one."
"Well, go ahead, then. I will come in after the introduction." She stood still, waiting.
Tom's smile froze. "Um, maybe you should just start singing. I am not quite sure I..."
Marja Kinnock rescued him, when she appeared in the doorway. She looked tired, and worry had etched deep lines on each side of her mouth. "I am sorry to interrupt, Suvi, but I need Riku's medicine. He says his head feels like it is caught in a vise."
Suvi frowned as she unlocked her desk. The deep blue folder that held the stolen papers lay on top and she quickly shoved it to the back of the drawer before handing Marja the bottle. "He isn't any better?"
Marja shook her head desolately. "If anything the fever is higher than yesterday. He won't eat, and it is all I can do to get him to sip a little water now and then. I think he is going to..." She burst into tears, and sank onto Suvi's bed.