Cover of SALAK to RHA: Betwixt And Between“Give me the last essay. Let me see what your tutor was trying to explain.” He reached out to his Pet and was given the shell of the last essay scanned into the hand slate, complete with corrections, marks and terse commentary. After a glance at the essay structure, Severin grinned and closed his eyes on the silent laughter of his understanding. A moment later, equilibrium restored, he began to read aloud.

“‘Journey to secondary point of origin from Urdani Secundi via Challenger shuttle. Commenced journey down 0405 15-11-2778 from CanarZen Port. Journey time eleven days. Arrived Kamal, transferred to Merchant Shuttle....’ This is a timetable. The rest looks like a list of foods eaten and an appointments diary. This bit is supposed to describe your feelings about being home: ‘Arrived Salak Prime late. Walked through rain to Residency. Signed in and went to my room to dry and change uniform. Dinner at 8.45 with the UrLord Governor Commander Elect Torrent. 10.20, interview with Security Chief Çare Jones. 11.06, out to Taverna Vardis to inform Papa Vardis I had returned.’ Notice anything when I read bits out?”

“It’s not good.”

Severin laughed. “It’s accurate, but that’s about all. If anyone had asked me about your last homecoming, I’d have put it differently.”

Mershane sighed. “I know. Half-drowned rat found shivering on doorstep with pack of flesh-hungry cadets on back.” Mer looked up at his UrLord, eyes wide with remembered horror. “I was so glad to be home, but I had no idea they would follow me here. Not here.”

“They frightened you?”

“So, my UrLord. I did not know what to do.”

“You did exactly the right thing. Marilla had a wonderful time chasing them off.” He thumbed the record button on the side of the slate and made a suggestion. “Why don’t you just tell me what you did today, and we’ll work up the essay from there. Yes?”

Mer nodded and pulled himself up into a more companionable position where he could lean his head against Severin’s thigh and still gaze up at his UrLord. “So,” he began. “This day I thought myself into being with fishes, of fishes and by them. They are smooth and still and wise as water. In their eyes are the keys to understanding all the histories of all the worlds whose lives rose up out of water. Or so I thought as I watched them fin their silent and unknowable journeys. It came to me then that by being still and watching with them I could link my being and understanding to theirs and in the mirror of that generative fish mind learn to see myself.

“I lay in the water, cool and cooling, letting myself spread out into the water, one with the water, silent and seeking the fish passivity that would not come.

“I am a predator, but not to live. Fish are predators, but to survive. Each dance they do with life over the millions of years has taught them the enduring lessons of survival. They are not so placid as their soft mouths and fins would make one believe. Their eyes are black, not with mystery or wisdom’s depths alone, but with the shield veil of prey and predator. Their swift and beautiful movements are based on a trust betrayed, the memory of a brightness shattered by an all-embracing net of death, a friend that was itself a creature hungry for life, its own and theirs.

“I thought of men, and fish, and found them not dissimilar....” Mer paused, reconsidering the thoughts of fish that he had wrestled with in the shallows of the Governor’s pool.

Severin shut off the recording mode and said quietly: “That would appear to be a fair beginning, my dear. Go and transcribe that and we’ll go on from there.” He handed back the study aid and regarded Mershane’s confusion. “Not an itinerary, you fool loon; a description. A prose poem of the emotions, of experience. The words of your feelings, the expressions of your soul.”

“Pictures of words, then?” Mer was pensive. “But that is only how I speak to you....”

“When you write for the joy of the words, it’s like making music, it must flow from within. As the voice of your harp sings to you silently as you compose for it, so the voices of images will sing for your pen. Speak to the paper, the keyboard, as you would speak to me, to a lover, to an intimate friend, and you will not find it difficult to satisfy a literacy tutor. Go on, transcribe the feelings of the day. It is not a report of a field exercise. When you have done, read it to me aloud. If it sounds just like you’re simply talking to me, it should make the required grade.”

Still not quite convinced, Mershane-called-Bringer submitted to instruction with good grace, stretching long limbs out on the floor as he recovered his stylus and slate, content in being close and companionable with his UrLord.