Saturday, October 10, 2015

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 29, Part 4 - "Two Lumps for the Gentleman"

Dear Gentle Readers,

OK, we pick up from last week. Clete has just been filled in on the personal histories of Feng and Mu. It was more information that he wanted to have. Yes, at first he was curious, but as time went on, he learned that knowledge carries consequences, but he is now dug in deep. Will this be a problem for him? Only time will tell.

As he heads over to Mu's territory (it's his assigned week to work in the Dragon Domain if you're curious, but that doesn't matter in the narrative at this point--if it did, I'd let you know in the text), he  passes through Metal and Earth, so it's time to drop in Na and Damei. In case you're wondering about them, after they started listening to Clete talk, they became less and less interested in maintaining the working-class Irish dialect they'd memorized from their favorite movie.

In fact, that's how it works on this island. They're so good a picking things up, that when a new person comes on with a new way of speaking, they're tentative at first, but eventually they just start talking like that person.

You ever hear of the principle of Chekov's Shotgun? If you put a shotgun in your first act, you'd better fire it in later act. Well, you might remember that Clete picked up a couple of lumps along the way in this story and they got shoved in his side pack. I mention this because I agree, I have NOT made it easy to go back look for a previous chapter to find something that happened earlier. This is the problem with blog serials. The time has come to start dealing with those lumps as you will see

... as the story continues ...

Personal Journal Entry

U.S. Time:              Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Island Time:           Dragon, Month 7, Day 13, Xingqi 3
Project Time:         Week 10, Day 4


Later that day I sought out Da Mei, to have some work done. My chat with Mu and Feng had given me a lot to think about. As I walked to the main Island path (what I call the 405), my hand rested on my belt pouch, which reminded me to look at the random artifacts and samples I had picked up in recent days. All my samples were clearly marked and I needed to take them back to the lab, but I had forgotten about the piece of wood that had come off in my hand in The Grove. And there was this rock-like, disc-like thing there also in the pouch. It was heavy for its size. I had acquired it on the night I was hallucinating out on the water on the night of Lost Souls. I could not remember exactly how I had come by it. That night was like a dream. I had a vague feeling I had claimed it from some wooden flotsam that was drifting by.

The thing looked like a rock, but like that piece of wood from The Grove, shiny parts of worked gold embedded in it was peeking out promising that something interesting might reveal itself if the material were removed. It seemed to be encrusted with years of lime scale. Eight was sitting in the outdoor work area.

     “Goedemorgen Miss Acht.”
     “Goedemorgen Professor.”
     “Is je moeder thuis?”
     “Ze is uit. Wil je dat ik haar halen? Ik weet precies waar ze is.”
     “OK, I’m going to have to stop there. I’ve run out of Dutch vocabulary. So where is your mom? I have another job for her.”
     “I’ll go get her right now.”
     “Hold on, you’re the apprentice metal worker right? Maybe you can do it. It’s just a cleanup job. It’ll be paid work.”
     “What is it?”

I removed my belt pouch and from it I pulled the two items I had collected.

     “During my work here I've collected these artifacts. I don't have the time to do it myself, but I'd like to have them cleaned up and assess them before I present to your Security Council."

She looked at the two lumps that fit neatly in the palm of her hand.

     "Is that gold peeking out? It looks like that part is highly worked."
     "I think they may be jewelry. So they’ll require a very delicate touch.” She put her tongue to the rocky piece.
     “Maybe a calcium compound?” she said. “Isn’t Wen supposed to be watching you … I mean, working with you today?”
     “She has kitchen clean-up right now. She’ll pick up my trail later. What did you mean by ‘watching me?’”
     “Nothing. Just used the wrong English word.”
     “So where did these come from?”
     “I don’t want to say too much right now, but that one came … from the sea. The other one came from The Grove.”
     “This was removed from The Grove?”
     “Is that a problem?”
     “Since it’s you, then probably no. There are some pretty strict treaty arrangements between us and The Outside regarding found items in each other’s territory.”
     “Well, clean it up and I’ll get it to the Sea Witch when I’m working The Outside. It’s odd isn’t it?”
     “Yes. It’s totally embedded in the wood. Also gold peeking out there. Looks like this tree grew around it. I’ve never seen that.”
     “I took a few photos of each so we’ve got ‘before’ pix.”
     “What do you have there darling?” The voice came from behind me. It was Mei, who then joined us.
     “I have a job Mama! A jewelry cleaning.”
     “Wow, those are some serious encasements. More like archaeology work than jewelry work.”
     “Neutral bath to start?”
     “Yes. Use the jeweler’s diamond needle rasps to remove the mass on that one, but that gold will be really soft, looks like 24K, so be very careful not to mar them. Maybe setting it among cool-burning charcoal to carbonize the wood after it’s thinned will probably make it easy to remove. Clete, do you think there are any gems mounted on these?”
     “I have NO idea.”
     “Be ready for that dear,” said Mei. Maybe cool torch on the scale on that one, might make it crack. Then you can oil it. Feather-light taps with a chasing hammer.”
     “So you can do it?” I asked.
     “I’ll take the job!” said Eight.
     “Standard per hour shop rate?”
     “Boss?” she said turning to her mother.
     “Give him the family discount,” she said with a wink to me. “I like your earring. First time I’ve seen it up close. Andou put that in eh?” She examined it closely. “You’re not red around there so you’re healing fine well enough. They say flesh wounds don’t heal well in the tropics. But I don’t know anything else. You’re tougher than you look Doc.”
     “Yeah, don’t remind me. It was a surprise present.”
     “You know, you could have just taken it out after he left and had Lum clean you up.”
     “He said it would be an insult.”
     “He would say something like that.” She laughed. “It’s not like you’ll ever see him again. You’re leaving here, never to be seen in these waters again. Quelle tristesse!” She struck a dramatic pose.
     “Actually, he and I might have some business.”
     “REALLY? YOU and him? What?”
     “Don’t know yet. I need to learn what he’s capable of.”
     “You know what he does, right? Shipping is only a sideline.”
     “I got the impression he is a man of many talents.”
     “That he is. And you don’t have to pretend to be sulky with me about getting pierced. I know you men like it when you injure each other and leave scars. Let me see that again. You’re scabbing around the entry. Give that stud a quarter turn. You probably haven’t been doing that. Want me to do it right now?”
     “Will it hurt?”
     “What do YOU THINK? Mr. Squeamish College Professor? Man up! When you’re ready to switch it out—don’t let the hole close up—I’ll modify that so that the coin hangs, dangles, and turns in the wind if you like.”
     “That sounds really "Takei." Let’s leave well enough alone.”
     “I just came to pick up some pipe. Ba, come join me if you get done with that early. See you Clete. When are you going to come over and visit us again? You never come here.”
     “As much as I like playing ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ oh, excuse me, ‘Cultural Imperialists and Indigenous People’ with you, I don’t know.”
     “Who’s indigenous? I don’t care where you are. Whoever is someplace, they’re only the last ones who showed up and won. Let’s just call it ‘War.’ You don’t like playing that game? When you think about it EVERY game is ‘War.’”
     “I’d love to ‘battle’ with you again, but time is getting tight. Got a lot to do yet.”
     “Do you like standup paddling?”
     “As much as the next guy.”
     “The way I look at it right here, the ‘next guy’ is HER, and she loves it. Maybe we could work a little business in with pleasure and not cut in your productive time. When you get assigned to The Outside, there are some sea caves you can only get to by paddling in on the surface. Even the small boat won’t do it. It’s fun. They’re on the other side of The Sacred Black Beach. We could go. The three of us. The water’s always very calm over there.”
     “You’ve got a black beach here? Granular volcanic basalt then?”
     “No. It’s degradation of the dark mineral material that the Witch’s Mountain is made of. I don’t know what it is. A lot of it was mined out of the Sea Witch’s Mountain a long time ago—centuries?—when they were digging the cave system for hiding treasure. That’s not the volcanic part of the Island. Haven’t it studied it very much. We don’t go there very often. It’s kind of taboo according to Sea Witch tradition. Just used for certain ceremonies. But we launch from there and that’s fine.”
     “I’m game. We’ll check it out. Is it abyssal there by the way?”
     “You mean, really deep?”
     “Uh, yeah. I have a problem with really deep water. I don’t like it. Gives me a strong visceral reaction.”
     “So it’s TRUE. You are a lightweight like they said. Why did you come to an Island next to a trench if you don’t like deep water?”
     “I didn’t come here for the water.”
     “Oh don’t you worry you little baby, Mommy will take care of you. You know, you need to get over that Clete. I mean really? You get a bad scare when you were little or something? I mean, how old are you anyway? We’re creatures who live at the bottom of an abyss of air right? Ever think about that? How scary is that?”

I looked up into the sky and looked at some very tall clouds overhead. I was sorry she brought it to my attention.

     “Yeah, well … about that … I’m not going to think about that. It could be pretty scary. AND if I go into a debilitating phobia about being in the open air, I’m blaming you.”
     “Ting Ting is right. Look Ba, Genius Man is so cute when he’s terrified. Clete, just be present in the now. Ba, bring the specimens over to the bench for a minute.” She got out her magnifying glass and scraped the rocky piece. “Maybe fire is not necessary. If heat, lube, and vibration doesn’t do it, mild acid soak. What do you think Doctor?”
     “What you got?”
     “Muriatic, sulfuric, couple others.”
     “I’m thinkin’ 1.5% to start then?”
     “Hmm. That precise? Could be a problem if it’s crucial.”
     “We have some manufactured acids in bottles, but we produce our own. I don’t really calibrate purity.”
     “You make your own?”
     “Sulfur deposits we got. Guano and urine we got by the ton. The cave I said I’m going to take you paddling to? It’s got bats who all they do is eat bugs by night and turn them into high-acid shit by day, which the beetles in turn convert into soil amendment. And we got salt deposits galore for processing. Na’s always got some dead marine animal she’s dragged in from the beach with guts filled with acid that we reclaim.”

I questioned her about the processes they go through, and she was showing me the furnace they use for that application. It was like getting the blacksmith demo at Colonial Williamsburg. We circled back to the workbench and were discussing acids and their uses on the Island when I noticed Ba just sitting there staring at me. I felt her eyes had been drilling into me.

     “’sup Doolie?” I frequently used that term of endearment for first-year or freshman students.
     “You got Mama distracted from her original work. That never happens.”
     “Your Mama is just being hospitable,” said Mei as she started to gather some of the tools Ba would need.
     “MA! I can do that. It’s MY JOB. I don’t wanna split the fee.”
     “What is the ‘family rate,’ by the way?” I asked.
     “Since we don’t have money, we take payment in slave hours,” said Ba.
     “If a job takes me two hours,” said Mei, “standard rate is two slave hours in return. Family rate is only one hour.”
     “So what am I subject to doing in a slave hour?”
     “ANYTHING I can think of,” said Ba.
     “I’d rather pay money.”
     “You’re so FUNNY Dr. Clete! But hoy! I’m just wondering something is all.”
     “’bout what?”
     “You. Why didn’t they assign you to live with us instead of Lee? You sure get along a LOT better with Ma then Auntie Lee. Auntie Na too. You’re kind of in the same business. Chemistry. Metal? Mining? Soil?  We could have just moved into Na and Yi’s place and given you ours. We all usually sleep in the same platform bed most of the time anyway. It’s cozier.”
     “You’ll have to ask the Security Council. They made the arrangements.”
     “Oh, I can tell you that,” said Mei. “She said it was her duty from a long time back. We all thought she was a terrible choice, don’t get me wrong Clete, I love her to death and I’d die for her, but she’s like an acid herself where people are concerned. But she insisted. Darling, I’m going to got get the medical-dental toolkit. It’s got all the tiny hooks you’ll be needing for this job.”

Mei walked away. Ba followed with her eyes until she got just out of hearing.

     “Dr. Wong?”
     “Another thing I’m wondering! How long is it going to take you to work up the nerve to kiss Ma like you did Auntie Feng? If that’s what you’re up to, I’ll give you some advice.
     “I notice it takes you a while. With Auntie Feng, you had to invent that whole phony lesson plan to do it. This is going to be a lot simpler.”
     “That was NOT a phony plan.”
     “Sure seemed like it to me.”
     “I don’t what you’re getting at. Where is this idea that I have designs on your mother coming from?”
     “Well, you have work to do but you keep hanging around her. Just like she has work to do AND she keeps hanging around you. AND you keep looking at her body like you want it. Her legs and her chest and her butt. Especially her chest.”
     “I am NOT!”

What I said was not true. I was looking, but at least not constantly. In fact, I kept telling myself, ‘Look at her eyes. Look at her eyes. Look at her eyes.’ I guess it didn’t work. I don’t care what part of the world you’re in, females observe males observing females. Ba was no different from other females. And for that matter, neither was I different from other males.

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

PS I apologize about the underlining. It means nothing. Some code is embedded in the text and it keeps transferring over to the blog as underlining no matter how many times I purge it.

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Be truthful and frank, but be polite. If you use excessive profanity, I'll assume you have some kind of character flaw like Dr. Wong. Tks!