The Gospel of Gliding on Four

by E. Markham

Crallie and me is putting kleen on our hands and faces to make ourselves look like proper Shinys, when a street sweep rumbles across the top of the alley. There’s nothing good coming if them sweep-men catch us doing Shinys work without Licence, so we make-hastes it the other way.

When we turns onto the pavement, Crallie almost bowls this family. I swears at him quiet and dips me head in apologies, but the grownuns pull their littluns close like we is space-daemons. From the way they stares at our glossed white skin, all pearly glowing from the kleen, I’m guessing they’s be first time on the pavement and never’s seen a Shiny proper or no.

‘New-comes,’ I whispers and Crallie nods.

‘Welcome to Nightside.’ He makes a bow. ‘No need being scared of us Shinys. We not be bothering any. We be all service.’

I tugs Crallie’s sleeve ‘cause I can see they’s more afeard after his speech than before, and the sweep-men be on my mind.

He comes away and we moves on down the pavement quick, but he’s grinning happy. I shakes my head.

‘Bit of educating hurts none.’ Crallie’s voice is full of laughing, and right raucous when the card on his belt sings shrill with new credit. We knows nothing what they think they needs pays us for, but they’s paid all the same.

‘They be dodging sweep-men theirselves if they pay a Shiny by the bow!’

He waves a hand high with gratitude at the family and then pats his belly, mind all thoughts of our next feed.

We has danced a few steps on when along a ways I sees a plump woman passing papers to those who’ll take. I sees the smile turn frowning on Crallie’s face and hurry him past, but not so we don’t hears her. ‘Save this beautiful creature! Save the Spotted Blue Tooth! Action needed now!’

It be plain Crallie wants to stop and have his own words spoke, but I is taking the arm of an oldun and calling, ‘Service.’ Crallie can’t not but help me.

The oldun be letting us help him off the pavement up to his home door, and smiling gentle. Crallie passes me a look, and I knows he’s seen through me, but he says nothing yet.

Once we be back on the pavement he’s grabbing my shoulder hard. ‘It was a cheap thing, that.’

‘Maddening at the do-gooder be better than helping that oldun? Even if he got no credit to give for service, you know it be righter.’ I shakes off his hand, and hope he heard my sense.

‘She do better good saving Urcheens than worrying on the Spotted Blue Tooth,’ he says.

‘Woman being so round as that, not know an Urcheen’s life enough for caring. Well fed and good paid. Bet the only pavement she uses be for standing on yelling like that.’ I turns my eyes back at her. ‘Foolsy. Only ways to save the S.B.T. is closing the space port, and that’d be end-all of Nightside.’

Crallie nods silent and we heads on without much saying between us.

Keeping to the pavement and offering service here-there, at reaching the edge of Nightside we’s got credit for saving as well as eating. It be long days til we’s enough credit to buys us Shiny Licences, but I is well pleased.

‘We’s closer,’ I says, looking over the broad-paved barrier to City Proper.

‘Near proper Shiny in the Proper.’ Crallie’s got smiles again. ‘Good sounding words ey?’

As, happy, we turns off to get a feed, the roar of the port starts. Our one time-keep roaring a new cycle be started, and on the black sky, shuttle pods be silver-bright as they’s thrown up off the hook-shaped launch grooves. Then highs up overhead their engines blow in and takes them off-world.

In the dull light they bring to Nightside’s always-dark, I sees Crallie winking me. I knows his thought and winks back agreement. Soon as we’s got bellies full, we be going for a glide.

Happier even than we was, we takes an alley cut-through and meet the pavement where’s All-Souls Kitchen’s found. We’s passed the Worship House and almost at the Kitchen door when a vid-hover floats up. Quick we’s turning away so it not be stealing our credit for a glimpse of nothing we be caring on, and we ducks into the doorway.

Nothing is saying until we’s safe into the Kitchen, and have trays fulled up of Nutrio. Then’s we free to speak without no vid-hover tracking our words.

‘Foolsy vid. Musta thoughts we was proper Shiny,’ I says with laughing.

‘Outside All-Souls Kitchen? Nah. Be stealing credit’s all.’

‘Or worse,’ says an Urcheen girl next us. ‘It been out there hours-on, and all whose glimpsed it says the vid be about S.B.T.s and hows they glide.’

Faces round the bench turns and looks to Crallie ‘cause he’s the longest timer of all gliders, and knows the gospel.

‘They wants to catch us gliding the heavy vapour.’ Crallie nodded to the doorway. ‘So you watches the vid and next the sweep-men’s watching you.’

‘But they takes Urcheens for less than gliding,’ says the girl.

‘They wants to know about S.B.T. and gliding. Wants to know if S.B.T. really glides the heavy vapour so’s then they knows if our port be causing the dying.’ Crallie eats quiet then and I knows his mind’s all thoughts of the woman and her papers and how folk caring more for S.B.T.s than us.

‘I heard Spotted Blue Tooths learnt gliding from Urcheens,’ a real timid voice says.

I looks down table at the young Shiny who spake and says gentle, ‘What you be at Kitchen for? Ain’t no one missing you in City Proper?’

‘Bought my licence.’ Tears come up in his eyes. ‘Then they tooks a pod-shuttle.’

‘Be smiling on that,’ I says. ‘Most Urcheens be so ‘cause their grownuns tooks the pod without buying no licence for ‘em first. Then we’s working our ways up to proper Shiny. You got luck you have.’

He wipes his tears and nods silent.

‘So you knows nothing of gliding then?’ Crallie asks. ‘Well it’s we learns to glide from them S.B.T.s. They be all expert, and no Urcheen ever glides so good as one. Gospel.’

‘I heard you sees one gliding that be the last you sees,’ says the girl.

‘I heard they be guiding us into our gods’ sight,’ calls another.

Crallie shakes his head. ‘They ain’t no angel creatures. They’s just the only best gliders and they loves the heavy vapour likes all us gliders do. Asides that, be only one gospel you needs for gliding.’

‘Gospel of gliding on four,’ I says and sees Crallie nod. ‘You sees four of any rare thing before a glide and you dies quickish on the vapour.’

‘That be truest gospel.’ Crallie looks around all the faces. ‘Only the foolsy Urcheen doubts it.’

‘You seen a Spotted Blue Tooth glide?’ asks the young Shiny.

‘Not my luck yet.’ Crallie grins. ‘But I been having a feeling on it.’

‘Feelings and superstitions,’ growls a voice from behind me. ‘You says only foolsies doubt your gospel – I says only foolsies believe it!’

‘We’s not maddening with you, Moksos.’ I picks up my tray and licks the last Nutrio out. Then I winks Crallie and he follows.

‘Scareds,’ she says.

‘When we glides, we shows how scared we is. That be the only brave that counts.’ Crallie puts his tray on the wash rack.

We’s half to the doorway when I hears Moksos’ footfalls behind.

‘Moksos, we’s not…’ I begins, but sees her shaking head.

‘No maddening,’ she says, ‘but wagering rather?’

‘Wagers on what?’ Crallie asks.

‘All credit on if this gospel be true.’ Her eyes be gleesome. ‘I seen S.B.T.s – four today – so I glides and lives, then I gets your credit. They is rare enough.’

‘You seen four S.B.T.s?’ I is laughing.

‘One in that vid I glimpse outside. One in some paper a woman give me. One painted on a wall nears by. One on a wall befores that.’

‘We’s not foolsy enough to wager our credit. You wants to glide – glide. It’s none of us to care.’

Crallie and I leaves and makes a long way careful from the Kitchen over to the port, passing as we goes the painted S.B.T. Moksos said was nears. He don’t say any on it, but I sees Crallie frowning much after that.

We gets to the port and slips in where security and sweep-men don’t look. As we’s stepping toward the launch grooves, Crallie is grabbing my arm his eyes all sadness.

Putting his lips next to my ear so’s I hear over the roar of pods going up, he’s yelling, ‘My thoughts is all that I can’t glide now.’ He knows my question. ‘I gots the strongest feel that now I’ll see S.B.T. glide. But that’s so and I’ll ‘av seen four like Moksos.’

‘You be glimpsing the vid too?’ He nods and I sees he’s not tricking. ‘Then we goes.’

I has turned as I yells it, but he’s stands looking at the launch grooves. A pod’s dropping down the near vertical of the long-side, round the hook and flings up the short side, passed the groove-end, up into the sky. We looks down as the engine’s firing so we’s not going bright-blind, and then watches a beautiful cloud of heavy vapour rise up and settle back over the hook.

With hands Crallie says that I can be gliding still. I shrugs, but he’s encouraging and so we stuffs plugs in our ears, and walks to the groove we’s always using.

Crallie leads up as we’s ducking ‘tween holes in the groove wall, and we listens with our bellies to when’s the next pod going. Heart thumps strong to my ribs as I dives in a hole, and Crallie grabs me so’s I is not sucked back out with the pod-whoosh as it passes. Be a close one and Crallie’s face is all laughs at me.

We gets along to groove-end and takes a look for company. Across the groove’s Moksos, smilingly watching and I points her to Crallie. With hands we says that I’s gliding and Crallie not.

When he be holding four fingers, she’s is all laughs and mocking but I see Crallie’s got no care for it. I claims the next pod-whoosh, and as our bellies feel a launch coming, I puts my back to the air and waits.

First is the bone-shake of the passing by. Then as the suck begins, I throws myself back into it and whoosh up high. Time stills moments as I is not upping or downing, but then belly drops and me’s with it downing fast.

Below I sees the heavy vapour of all the night’s launches beginning a swirl. I is spreading arms and legs to catch it and it be rising to me, til that testing second when we meets. The vapour lifts me and I is caught goodly high.

Now’s my glide time, and I rides with practiced moves. Only then’s I seeing that I’m in company on the vapour.

From I not knows where, but there’s an S.B.T. gliding afore me. And some brain part’s thinking on Crallie’s words, and the rest’s all awed. It seen me there and I knows from how it be moving, little furry’s heading centrewards. I feels like it wants me be joining too, so I is a mirror to it and the vapour carries us both in.

I is all awed to be finding myself nose-on to a real gliding S.B.T.

I sees the little skin folds that helps it catch the vapour, and how its pale fur’s all regular with spots of darker. I sees big teeth that’s curving over chin and gleaming blue, but of most surprising, I sees its eyes all clear brightness and full of laughing. Gospel! It be laughing me.

S.B.T. moves outsward on the vapour and I’m awed all again ‘cause us can’t do it but little furry does. And I swears it winks me as it spins off the swirl edge and is gone into the dark beyond.

I floats down as vapour swirls to a settle and I rolls back to a hole quick. Crallie’s there waiting and his look is all awe and regretsome and I sees the starting of a craziness. I holds up my fingers four and shakes his shoulders til he’s looking proper. I thinks he’s calm but, I is wariness.

Then we feels the beginning of a launch,and he’s trying to be passing me, buts I won’t budge. The pod-whoosh almost takes me in the ruckus, and at the last it’s Crallie pulls me back that’s saves me.

We collapses, me on him, and I is angry, scaredy and laughing all together. I sees tears watering up his eyes and wants us gone back to where no craziness can take him. But all a sudden his face gone changed.

Beyond my shoulder he’s seeing something, with mouth wide open so I knows it be a bad awful, and I turns to be looking. Upping too quick and all bent wrong’s a shape like Moksos.

I sees and I knows like Crallie whats it mean. She been caught side-on by the whoosh and all twisting force been where shouldn’t never be. We’s seen it twice other and it’s death gone quick. I says a prayer for Moksos’ souls so to her gods send her.

Slow we makes a way out under the launch path and to the pavement. I is too strange-struck for speaking and I walks on, aiming nowhere, til I feels Crallie takes my wrist gentle.

We is both too roar-deaf still for hearing so he’s saying with hands and lips moving how’s it be I saved him then, and how’s he might be Moksos for wanting to glide with S.B.T. Now’s he never risk gliding on four.

I is nodding silent, thinking on how’s it that my heart feels full up on hope for me and Crallie now, like little furry’s told me we’s be better than good real soon and in City Proper.

Crallie says about the luck of my glide and I wants be telling him just how much luck I think it be, but instead I just makes this one hand word to him: Gospel.

The End