“... You send your robo-scabs to Concrete Beach? ” Naltuk asked blankly.
The Spirit of the Blue Light glowed. “The founding members of Concrete Beach Party were quite adamant in their dislike of automated machinery.”
Naltuk could not believe this. It was blasphemy. “The songs of the old ones said such things about the machines? But why?” The machines were the harbingers of the blue light, of life, of harmony. And the old ones called them “robo-scabs”?
“I do not believe they held such animosity for all machines,” the Spirit said. “Merely the organizations which provided them and, in so doing, deprived the members of Concrete Beach Party of their livelihoods and purpose.”
And that right there was another thing Naltuk didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand. It was not the first time the Spirit of the Blue Light had spoken of the old ones and their ways with the machines.
The Spirit never said so outright, but the more Naltuk learned, the more the idea began to form at the edges of his mind -- that the old ones who had lived and died and failed had been able to control the machines. Not in the way of Banukai, who came upon them and entreated them for aid in her werak’s time of need, but as masters. Possibly creators.
It went against everything the shamans taught. Naltuk flinched at examining those thoughts too closely. It was blasphemy.
He wished he could still call on Ourea for guidance.
But he was shaman of Aratak’s werak now. It was his duty to communicate with the Spirit and to learn her wisdom, and so he would follow that path. Uneasiness must be tempered with boldness, he told himself.
“Are -- all the songs of the old ones like that?”
The globe of the Spirit shifted slightly in a way Naltuk had come to associate with thinking, still a calm blue. “No. The old ones had many varieties of music, many kinds of songs. I have a number of audio samples in my database left over from my colleagues.” A slight pause. “But I believe these are my favorites.”
Oh, no. He’d insulted the Spirit. He was the worst shaman in the Cut, he was going to find the nearest ice crevice and scream out his shame. “No, they are -- very unique! I had never heard their like before. I would be -- glad to hear more.”
“I would be pleased to share,” the Spirit said, glowing a little more warmly.
“Perhaps,” Naltuk said, taking a deep breath, “I could learn the songs of Concrete Beach Party. I could sing them to the ice so that they may always be remembered. As a sign of honor.”
“I will always remember them. But your offer is appreciated, Naltuk -- thank you.”
“You should take him up on that, CYAN,” a voice said from behind him. “His voice isn’t half-bad.”
Naltuk whirled around. “Ikrie,” he said.
“Don’t act so happy to see me, Naltuk.” Ikrie walked into the shrine of the Spirit and dropped a heavy bag on a nearby table. “Hello, CYAN.”
“Hello, Ikrie. It is good to see you. How were your travels?”
“Same as ever. Got something for you,” she said, digging around in her bag.
The Spirit was always patient and willing to share her wisdom and Naltuk could only marvel at all the things the Spirit knew that were beyond his understanding, but it hadn’t taken long for Naltuk to see she was also curious about the world outside.
(“Most of my sensors had been damaged over the centuries. After the destruction of the primary Firebrake facility --” the what? Naltuk had wondered, not for the last time, “-- my monitoring capabilities of the have been limited to an approximate two mile radius of the auxiliary encampment.”
Aratak had pulled Naltuk aside after that conversation. “The Spirit is wise, but her wisdom often times seems as riddles. It is your purpose to divine her meaning, no matter how little sense it may make. She is kind. Speak to her and learn from her.”
Naltuk felt as if his heart would rabbit out of his chest, though he had not done anything but sit still for the past hour and listen to the Spirit made of light. He felt strangely close to panic. “This was meant to be Ourea’s task. I am not worthy of this.” Not capable, he thought.
Aratak paused. “Yes. It was,” he said. “But Ourea is gone to the blue light. You are our shaman now.”)
Through extensive, tentative conversations with the Spirit, Naltuk had learned many things. He knew now how the old ones measured distance and time (“It will be 3,500 years until the next caldera eruption.” “Is that good?” “Yes. I believe Dr. Sandoval -- my colleagues -- would have been proud.”).
Though her wisdom was boundless, she was still locked in place and she had a certain curiosity about the world around her mountain that she was not able to satisfy on her own.
And so Naltuk’s communions with the Spirit began to take on the form of an exchange, much to his cautious bewilderment. He would ask the Spirit about the machines, the hunter-killers, the blue light. In return, the Spirit would ask about songs, stories, and news of the Derangement.
(He knew what had happened to her, why she had to be saved by Ourea and Aloy, the Outsider Chieftain. He knew the Spirit feared the Daemon still.)
Songs and stories, however, Naltuk could provide in abundance. But news of the world just outside the Cut had to be provided by someone with a little more range than he had at the moment.
No one much trusted snow ghosts who were unbound the laws of the weraks. They didn’t tend to live long anyway. But when the snow ghost in question came with a recommendation from the Outsider Chieftain, Naltuk thought with a side glance at Ikrie, allowances had to be made.
Ikrie finished fishing out a large object from her bag. The triangular metal object glinted in the Spirit’s light. “Found this one close to the border with the Oseram.” At a touch of her hand, the object bloomed open as if it were a flower.
For all her caution when it came to signs of the other spirits (subroutines, he thought, the Spirit calls them subroutines), the Spirit had almost an eagerness for these stranger metal flowers birthed by another of her kind.
“It is lovely, Ikrie. Thank you.”
“What does it say?” Ikrie asked the Spirit.
Turning the lightest shade of lavender, the Spirit recited:
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”
At least it was better than Concrete Beach Party, Naltuk thought, though he supposed both had their -- charms.
Ikrie picked up the metal flower and lined it up along the wall. They had a nice collection now, four in all. “Not that I mind looking for these, but have you ever thought of trying to speak to the spirit who makes them?”
The Spirit’s color immediately switched to yellow and Naltuk shot a look at Ikrie. What, she mouthed at him.
No wonder she couldn’t find a werak that would have her.
“The verses are soothing and I am glad to expand my poetry database,” the Spirit said. “But I am wary of making further contact with my kind without prior knowledge. I do not wish to repeat my error in judgement.”
Ikrie hummed. Naltuk said, “No, of course not. We are here to serve you just as you wish, Spirit.”
“And bring you pretty flowers,” said Ikrie. She glanced at Naltuk. “I have news, too. Big news. The Conclave is coming to the Cut.”
Naltuk immediately straightened. “The Conclave? The whole Conclave?”
“I don’t know about all of them,” she said. “But they set off from Ban-Ur not too long ago. They’re coming here.” She looked at the Spirit. “They’re coming to talk to you.”
“I see. Is this a cause for concern?”
Yes. No. By Banukai, Naltuk wished Ourea were still with them. “Surely they are coming to honor you. It has been long enough that songs of your existence have reached Ban-Ur. The great shamans would definitely wish to seek your wisdom.” But Naltuk thought of 'corporate overlords' and 'subroutines' and 'robo-scabs' and was left uneasily wondering if the shamans, great in their wisdom, would be ready to listen.
“I think you should send for Aloy,” Ikrie said. When Naltuk blinked at her, she shrugged. “In my experience, shamans don’t always get along very well when it comes to interpreting the blue light - and that’s when the light isn’t talking back. If there’s a fight coming and CYAN’s involved, I think we could do worse than have a hunter like Aloy in our corner.”
“There won’t be a fight,” Naltuk said.
“Sure,” said Ikrie.
“It would be good to speak to Aloy again,” the Spirit said. “If you bring a transmitter to the edge of the cut, I can send out a single that will reach her Focus, if she is near enough.”
“I can do that,” Ikrie said.
The Spirit was silent for a moment. “I know there is a chance such a meeting with the shamans of the Banuk will cause conflict, perhaps even strife. But it has been a long time since I was able to converse with others as I do now. After my hibernation, I calculated the chances were high that I would never speak to another consciousness again. I am glad I was wrong.
“I will speak to the shamans, should they wish to hear me. But may I make a request?”
“Of course,” Naltuk said.
“Will you stay with me through it? I found the support of -- friends -- to be invaluable in times of uncertainty.”
The Spirit could feel uncertain? Perhaps the bond of the blue light inside them all meant they had more in common than he’d thought.
“Of course we’ll be here. Whatever you need.”
The glowing globe spun a little. “Thank you, Naltuk. Then I shall send for Aloy and await our new visitors with patience.”
-- and then the Spirit said, “Do you think they will like Concrete Beach Party?”