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build that wall until it's done

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come back with a good haul of bullets. three in the leg. two in the chest.

builder works with more than wood. turns out she builds skin together. uses thread for sewing and cloth for wrapping. the whiskey stings like fire.

stop moving, it's sterilizing, she says. your blood's like water, she says.

builder always speaks out loud. she doesn't seem to mind reading replies scratched in fire-ash.
can't get to the fire from lying here.

you have to stop getting yourself shot, she says.  bundle up like you do in the village.

miss real writing tools. try getting hold of something to reply.
stopped by builder's hand on the shoulder.

don't get up, idiot, she says. tosses over a burnt stick for writing, it lands right beside the fur bedding. builder's got a perfect eye. pity she won't learn to shoot.

Can't fight bundled up

maybe if they didn't see your skin they wouldn't shoot at you, she says. sounds exasperated. your upper arms are almost passable.

Not going to fight with only two arms
How do you hold a laser rifle with just that

you don't, she says. sneak. trade. avoid the thugs. we've started farms now. we don't need that much more here.

How's the steelworks doing

you don't get round me like that, she says, but her hands twitch like she wants to be shaping something.

***

been to see the old wanderer in the swamp three, four times now. takes all the charms from the traps to get him to talk.

builder knows all about him. came along the last time.

he's the only other one? she says.

Yes

thought you'd be friends, she says.

He's a murderer
Warmonger

she's paring wood from a lump of it with a carving knife. builder's always busy.

thought you were all like that, she says.

Thanks
the glyph's scratched deep in the ash to the earth below

she looks up, looks properly. not you, she says. you helped build this place.

Thanks

here, she says. there's rope needs weaving.
hands over a roll of twine.

give out work. that's builder's way of saying sorry.

three arms braiding and there's a hand free to talk. odd how talking to builder turns into a habit. new brain-twitch: get stick, spill thoughts to native. spent too long on this rock.
 
The old wanderer remembers everything
The battles
The invasion
Why you hate us

you didn't know the stuff he was talking about? she says. thought you were being polite.

shrug. carry on weaving.

when did you come here? she says. why?

first time she's asked. wonder what answer she wants to hear. wonder what she's afraid to hear.
shame there's only one answer.

Can't remember

shouldn't hurt that much. found a spaceship.

builder hands over another roll of twine.

go to see the wanderer again the next day. no arguments about taking the charms. none of the natives want to touch them.

***

the new family are vintners. they take the empty hut and buy the whole village's goodwill with the barrels of wine on their cart. turns out there's enough sun here for wine-grape seeds.

don't understand the excitement. builder shares her flask of it. native tastebuds must be different.

sometimes it's best just to get out of the village. sun's worse than usual. tinker with the engine circuit hidden a short way in the forest, but something's messed up with it. working at it with this headache messes it up worse.

stretched out on a rock staring at space when the builder comes looking.

didn't figure it would affect you, she says. you're not that human.

loose earth for scratching.

Do you like this
Everything disconnected from everything else
Not sure about anything any more

builder sits on the edge of the rock. helps to get perspective, she says. you don't like it at all? she says.

Don't want to like anything here
Why haven't the villagers figured it out yet

builder's not sure.
think some of them might have, she says. if they have they're keeping mum.

she hands over a flask of water.

room for huts here, she says, looking around. we could be a city.

no time for rock-bound dreams.

Go away

builder gets to her feet. calibrator thread's lying in the earth. so small it should be invisible to humans. she picks it up.

left the rotor maze out too. idiot.

your wire thing goes here, she says. she twists the thread round the maze and puts it on the rock.

perfect eye.


spent too long on this rock.

***

this is the last hull reinforcement. should have been the last reinforcement two layers ago. this thing would stand a meteor storm.

brought everything this time. left a note. thought about covering the whole wall, but in the end kept it short. if it's not good enough, well, there's a whole stack of firewood in the room now. builder can write her own.

figure sitting on the rock by the spaceship. nearly shoot it before realizing it's familiar.
 
nice out here, builder says. she's staring at the desert.

What are you doing here

came to say goodbye, she says

Already said it
There's a note
You missed it

goodbyes are two-sided here, she says.

would it be stupid to stay on this rock

that would be really stupid

Come with me

she touches grey skin on the throat. never done that before. all four arms are suddenly useless.

she lets go. can't build there. looks like she's hurting.

there's two wanderers stranded on earth, she says. one of them started an interstellar war.

she says: what did you do?

can't
Can't
remember
Remember

i looked over your launching gear, she says. figure it's got a blast radius of about half a mile. wait until I'm past it before you launch?

can't pick up the stick. can't speak.

goodbye, she says.  

kiss on the tips of the fingers. builder thinks hands are special. grey or native skin doesn't matter.

wait until she's a mile away, two miles. she doesn't stop walking. she's taking the cart back. nothing gets wasted.

still sitting there with hands on the controls when she's been out of sight for an hour.

press the codes. rotor maze fires up.

launch.

***

slow going until the ship gets past their system. a long way away, long as wanderers measure, there's an outpost. make contact.

don't care if they recognize a criminal. would be a relief to know one way or the other.

when the outpost wanderer starts to speak, it hurts. language doesn't come. spent too long on this rock. spent too long parsing babble formed with tongues.

get used to it fast. can't stand the amusement.

Of course, there was no one there for you to talk to      Heads like rocks

There was one person

You talked?

She read

Humans don't read      Only wanderers read      We're the advanced species

had forgotten that.

really, how could anyone have forgotten that.

We can put your ship in the next convoy back to the main system      They can find out who you are      They can find out why you were there

all right
All right

Someone can mend the scars      You don't need to be stared at      Was that their primitive bullets?

don't want them mended
All right

We'll delete the coordinates

you dele
You delete those coordinates over my dead body

the other wanderer is baffled

It's a dead world

It's not dead

***

it's not dead. give her a few years and something'll rise there.  
lost the chance, though. likely won't be landing there again.

shouldn't be bothered about it.


got the coordinates, though.
still got more to say.