FHD Remix Chapter 45
Previous: FHD Remix Chapter 44: Battle of the Great Gate
Chapter 45: Market Square
[This chapter dedicated, at first inadvertently, to the Young Men's Christian Association.]
Menmo, between the gates for the first time, stares down through the hexagonal grate that closed over the moat. Huge vertical shutters slowly rise on each side as the Toga crank them out of the floor with pullers very similar to those used on the boat. Not even Tatakai knows how to open the inner gates.
Heavy mitts, not gloves, are on everybody's hands, and so, instead of the usual crossed arm hand signals, a Toga would use one arm to represent the thumb and selection of which hand, and use the other, in four descending gestures, to represent each of the fingers. It took four times as long to make each Toganese sign, and you could get tired fast by moving your arms all over the place like that. Some know of a song and dance in the ancient tongue English from hundreds of years before, when humanity, and not hellspawn, ruled the Earth. The dance used the arms of the participants to spell the abbreviation of an ancient organization, but nobody could remember the name of the organization or any words to the song, just the peppy tune.
As the delta radiation drains from gate tunnel, Menmo is able to furl her wings, crawls into one of the dozens of carts to quickly change out of her wing-ported white camoflage. She emerges indistinguishable from any other Toga, sad that she cannot identify herself to the people of Glie.
Tatakai and the Toga are used to it, but Menmo is stunned at how advanced the Wall is. At first glance, it seems to be a combination of arcane and medieval. Whatever constructed it was able to forge the entire wall as though from a single stone. Menmo realizes that the wall is able to pump the delta vector so deadly to the citizens of Glie. She knows it is a blessing of the Saviour that she is invulnerable to delta radiation. She tries to hum the tune in her head while waiting the last minute for the gate in front of her to open. Her voice doesn't work without delta radiation. The gate is operated by radiation controlled interlocks. It is not possible for anyone, friend, neutral, or foe, to open both gates at the same time.
Except maybe God.
Joe, now at the limit rope with about twenty other curious humans, along with Yurushi and Chishio. He knows they are there because of the halos over their heads, but can't tell which is which. The "Big Three" as they are informally known, eighty metres ahead, shift their weight to keep from stiffening up. It has been an hour and a half without any flashing from Tatakai's hands, and an hour and a half before the flashing stopped. As the sun reaches its timid zenith, it begins to illuminate the inside face of the gate. They have been standing there for an agonizingly long time.
"I wish we had helmet radios," Tatakai mutters. It is probably just her imagination playing with the sounds of the gentle winds around her, but she hears Shimoni answer, "So do I." No tracks lead to where they are standing. They've been buried since they arrived. The ravens have long since left, and Tatakai notices that in the noon sun, the door on her right is brighter than the one on her left. "Crud!" she exclaims in realization. The gate is actually open, but just barely a crack, the doors jammed against the snowy ground.
A gust of wind tries to blow her over, and she braces against it. Another gust. Oh, wait, that's Shimoni pushing, trying to get her attention. Tatakai turns. Shimoni leans close and yells through her coverings, "The gate is open, but it's jammed in the snow. We'll have to get them to close it until we can clear this side."
"That'll take days with just the three of us shoveling," she cries.
Shimoni leans back and laughs hard, then pivots around on her feet and points. The Toga are pedalling their quads with plows attached to the front. They're only a few metres behind them. Tatakai trudges up to the gate, and through the tiny gap between the doors, spots the Toga crowded into the dark space between the gates.
One of the Toga, mitts off, signs, "It's too warm in here to have the gate fully closed. We'll close it when the plows get here."
It takes another hour to get the gate open. Once it is open, it becomes impossible to tell who is who. Everybody bundled against the cold, the haibane indicated only by their halos. They ask all four hundred twenty of them if they've seen Menmo.
Instead of the usual tents, the visiting Toga hollow out the three long snowbanks heaved up by the domestic Toga, and peddle their wares according to the nearly forgotten contracts negotiated by the Communicator before Tatakai.
"I know the market conditions have changed drastically," one of the Toga signs with his arms. Indicating the huge stone blocks on almost half of the carts, many of which are hollowed out and ducted with almost hidden sheet steel baffles into very pretty wood stoves, he signs, "Stone is tremendously overpriced. Our cost on these is almost negligible." (The Toga, bored out of their wits while hiding from the enemy in the quarries just north of Glie, had nothing else to do but cut and decorate stone.) He then indicates the grain, "We're losing our shirts on the grain. The price barely scratches our cost." (They stole it from the enemy in a commando operation. Twelve Toga were killed in the battle. Five were captured and tortured to death. Tatakai knows all this from the ravens. But they mentioned nothing about the featherwing.)
"Too cold to haggle," Tatakai signs, "We're happy to have you back and would gladly pay double for everything."
The Toga pulls off his gloves and gets close to use his fingers, "So is it true?" signs the Toga, "Your wings of flesh and feathers?"
"Yes," Tatakai, still using her arms, signs, "But after all day under the covers and the outer coat, it will take me hours to preen them."
Yurushi sees the answer and chuckles inside his scarf, then continues to scatter salted gravel. With well over a thousand people scrunching around in Market Square, the ground is actually warm enough for the salt to be worthwhile.
The humans and the haibane, and the Toga are almost indistinguishable when they're dressed for the cold. The Toga are annoyed, but not angry as on previous occasions, when it frequently happens that a human trader looking among the wares tries to talk to one in error, thinking the person is a human friend.
This day and the next, most ot the Toga are not interested in the goods that the humans usually have to offer. They don't buy any of the appliances usually offered by the Glie-jin, allthough they take up plenty of clothing items, including everything Menmo ever put on her back during her life as a haibane. The livestock aren't even shown, as it is obvious that they'll freeze to death just getting to the market. What gets them excited are the ropes. The astute notice the pattern and speculate that the Toganese life has gotten a lot more mobile during their hiatus. The Toga do, however, place plenty of orders. They are impressed by Abandoned Factory's metalworking capabilities, the rebirth of semiconductor electronics (which, they'll soon rediscover, are useless in the radiation infested environment outside the Wall. The ravens will be left baffled, since the computers in the Beaver Butch work just fine.)
They place lots of orders: batteries constructed to be compatible with the outside environment (the ones offered by Shimoni and Chishio are too fragile), those pedal-quads the newborn came up with, and rifles. The example they present leaves Gibson and Yurushi scratching their heads, since it doesn't bear any resemblance to the Enforcers they saw in their dreams. They have over a hundred fired casings, and Tatakai drills with it, pointing it back towards the gate for safety's sake, cycles twenty of the fifty-four millimetre long casings through the action in a minute.
The anonymous Menmo is shocked at how familiar her old friend is with a weapon that was retired almost exactly two hundred years before her first action. She found it was the only working model of a stash of several hundred their patrol came across, a something-or-other "Mosin-Nagant". After watching Tatakai handle it so professionally, she figures [correctly] that the only reason any of her rounds hit, let alone all of them, was by Yesu's intervention. Nevertheless, she places an order for a dozen, hoping that he would share such blessing with other Toga.
On the way out the gate, the following morning, Tatakai finally realizes. She finds the shortest Toga, looks into her eyes, and recognizes her old friend at last. With an old-fashioned handshake, she says, "Good to see you again."
Menmo nods, then signs, like any other Toga, "A pleasure doing business with you, Battle." Tatakai turns to go back home, but Menmo taps her on the shoulder. As though to make sure she knows, she signs, still using the arm-waving variant of Toganese, "I wish we could have one more song."
Tatakai smiles, then signs, "I think we can," She adds four more gestures that Menmo doesn't recognize until several minutes after the inner gate closes. The characters are in Latin script: "YMCA".
Next: FHD Remix Chapter 46: The Traitor's End