Methven - Day Two - Part Four
"Gentlemen, this is all very entertaining, to be sure. However, we have other, more pressing topics to address."
"Such as determining our initial watch order assignments."
"'Watch order assignments'?"
"Yes, Mr. Wilde. Beginning tonight, we shall maintain a watch throughout the night."
"Would you prefer we be surprised by intruders in the night?"
She turned back to the others.
"Dibs on the Tongster!"
"Yo! Don' be stickin' me wit' tha Wildman."
"I have no preference for any particular cohort as my fellow sentinel."
"Gentlemen, please..every night, I intend to rotate your assignments so that you will stand watch with each of your fellows in turn."
"An equitable proposal."
She shook her head.
"It has nothing to do with fairness, Mr. Wilson. Paired with the same partner every night, you are less likely to be fully alert. I wish to avoid the lulling effects of routine."
"Thank you, Mr. Pith."
"So who gets which watch?"
"I will take first watch, Mr. Wilde. Carleton will stand the mid-watch. Bruno will take the last shift."
"Hard cheese for Carleton."
"He is accustomed to it, I assure you."
"And the rest of us?"
"One of each pair will take the next-later watch, the other the next-earlier. If you like, you may decide between you which one takes the earlier shift and which the later. I will then make entirely new assignments the following night."
There was a round of subdued grumbling at that, but nobody challenged her on it. She let us mutter to ourselves for something in the neighborhood of half a minute before pressing on.
"There is another fairly urgent matter which we must consider."
"With the exception of Mantami, none of you understands any of the languages spoken on Methven. That is an unacceptable handicap to our mission and one which we must remedy posthaste."
"And you're proposing to teach us conversational Methven?"
She shook her head.
"Indeed not, Mr. Wilde. Although it might well be useful were you fluent in the Methven mother tongue, it is a complex and heavily nuanced language, replete with idioms to which English has no cultural parallels. No, it will be far less difficult and much more productive to teach you the Traders Tongue."
"Why not teach us Vomisa?"
She shook her head again.
"It, too, is a recondite and intensely idiomatic language, Mr. Wilson. More cogently, it is spoken only within these mountains and, once my obligation to Mantami has been fulfilled, our journey will take us out of them as rapidly as we can manage."
"When you want t'start, boss?"
"Now is as good a time as any, Mr. Pith."
"What approach do you intend to employ?"
"We shall combine certain neural association enhancers with direct cortical patterning."
"Dude! Can you, like, say that in English?"
"I was under the impression that I had done so, Mr. Carstairs."
"Madam, the terms you employed were, in fact, English formulations. Their meaning, however, was far from clear."
"Perhaps I should rephrase. We will give you certain drugs that will predispose your brain tissue to accept and retain a considerable flow of information. Then we shall employ a device to transfer directly to your brains the exact electrical patterns which they will use to store your knowledge of the Traders Tongue. The effect will be to teach the Traders Tongue to you in a matter of hours."
"Yo, yo, yo! Ain't nobody messes wit' my brain, bitch!"
She smiled sweetly at him.
"I'm afraid that you have no choice in this matter, Mr. Lowe. However, since we have only two cortical patterning devices, you may, if you wish, wait to observe their effect on your companions before undergoing the experience yourself."
"Dude! Like, plug me in!"
"Thank you, Mr. Carstairs. Would anyone else care to volunteer to join him?"
She shook her head.
"Thank you, Mr. Pith, but you have the first watch and the cortical patterning would prevent you from fulfilling your duties."
"This device will render us unconscious?"
"Profoundly so, Mr. Wilson. Would you like to try it?"
Bill shook his head.
"I would prefer to observe the process work on someone else, first, if you wouldn't mind."
"Does the prospect disturb you, Mr. Wilson?"
He shook his head again.
"To the contrary. I find it intriguing. Nonetheless, I would prefer to observe it objectively before experiencing it subjectively."
She turned to me.
"That leaves you, Mr. Wilde. I suppose that you, too, have a reason why someone else ought to go first?"
"Not really. I don't like the idea of someone futzing around with my brain any better than Tong does. But..if it's going to happen to all of us, I don't see that it matters whether I go first or last."
"Commendably practical of you, Mr. Wilde. Bruno? Please prepare enhancer doses for Mr. Carstairs and Mr. Wilde."
"There is no reason to delay, Mr. Wilde. Is there?"
"Mmm..maybe just a small one."
She laughed a silvery, musical laugh.
"By all means, please answer, Mr. Wilde."
I trundled off to find a tree to water. By the time I returned to the fire, Bruno had rustled up two spidery metallic caps, at whose center gleamed tiny chips of a familiar murkily-glowing blue. To chase them, he had two slim vials of cloudy fluid, one of which he handed to Blandy as I approached.
"Welcome back, Mr. Wilde. I trust everything came out all right?"
"Har. Har. Look, I'm starting to have second thoughts about this, so, let's just get it over with, shall we?"
"By all means. Bruno?"
He handed me the other vial.
"Just go with the flow, Drewsie. It's pretty mellow stuff."
I looked him in the eye.
"Bruno, I think I liked you better before you had long hair."
He laughed and rubbed his shiny dome.
"It's getting really good in back, isn't it?"
I shook my head. This new Bruno was going to take some getting used to.
Blandy pulled the stopper out of his own vial and held it out to me. I uncorked mine and clinked it against his.
"Like, bottoms up or something."
"Yeah. Here's looking at you, kid."
We upended and drained them simultaneously. The stuff inside was thick and slippery-feeling and salty, with a not-unpleasant bitter edge to it. In a single swallow, it was gone.
Blandy and I looked at one another. As far as I could tell, there wasn't any immediately obvious effect from the 'enhancer'.
"So, now what?"
By way of an answer, Bruno picked up one of the arachnid-looking metal caps and fitted it over my head.
"You might want to lie down, Drewsie. I turn this on, your brain's going to Cleveland in a hurry."
"Thanks for warning me."
"All part of the service."
I stretched out on my back with my hands behind my head. The sky was turning noticeably reddish. I hadn't realized I was so tired, but, in retrospect, it had been a long day. It actually felt kind of good to stretch out and I really did feel like resting my eyes for a moment..
. . .
When I opened them again it was fully dark and Pith, Mantami and Bruno were looking down at me.
"Are you all right, Mr. Drew?"
"Never better, Mr. Mantami. Why do you ask?"
"It is a politeness. Nothing more."
"Well, thanks for asking."
"It is my pleasure."
I sat up and stretched. Muscles I didn't know I had were sore from the day's archery and fencing practice and they'd stiffened up from my recent inactivity.
"What time is it, anyway?"
"It is near the end of the first watch, Mr. Drew. Soon you must wake Mr. Tong to begin your own watch with Mr. Carleton."
"Thanks, Mr. Mantami. Say..how is it that you speak such good English all of a sudden?"
He shook his head.
"I am not speaking English, Mr. Drew. We are both speaking in the Traders Tongue."
Well, I'll be damned.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)