Song In The Vents, Heart In The Mountains
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She would have hated this sphere, a long time ago. The early days were dimly remembered - why dwell on a nightmare? Felt like suffocating all these years later.

No, she still didn't like tight corridors, concrete, cold dead everywhere. She lived for open skies and a far horizon. But the creatures who should be less comfortable here than her? The goats thrived here.

They poked their way through racks of clothing, knocked them down, danced on the piles. Gürsel supped water from a fountain - they were so clever - Utku poked his nose around till a designer jacket sloughed off his shoulders, proof against the chilly wind.

Then they weren't so clever. Kept chewing clothes - wool, denim, some silvery fake threads - red, green, yellow, and on and on. And they kept spitting them out! Like they thought a blue shirt might be more edible than a white shirt! She snorted, brushed fingers on her lips to seal her chuckle behind them. Maybe they did it to make her laugh!

Contrary to what everybody thinks about goats - from vague memories of her birth years, to how folks treated her and the herd in their homes here - they don't eat everything. They can't. But they'll try!

Goats are browsers. Like… a girl she knew once. She went to town and window-shopped, the more different things she saw in a day the happier. Goats are content eating a grassy field, but they're happiest picking along the fence, tasting flowers and leaves and brambles and roots and everything else. Two horns or three, goats loved to window-shop.

Thinking of browsing. She was trying to lead them to the haritacı's camp, but they had stumbled across a vending machine, full. One of the quirks of this sphere. Browsing? Thirty different colors and brands behind that glass pane. And every one was edible.

They didn't need to prompt her this time, in that tug-and-push-and-bellow kind of goat way. She was a slight woman, unassuming and infrequently underestimated under her headscarf, but she possessed a wiry strength. Solitary, skittish, a mountain shepherdess: but never weak.

Bracing against the machine she reached up and pushed the top, higher than the goats could go, tipping the thing over on its side. A great crash echoed in empty halls, glass now at hoof-and-horn level. The herd set upon it and the crashing continued into shattering glass.

Then there was silence again, a kind of silence of whistling wind. That was good. She loved these creatures, but the noise they could make…

They were in no rush. Her turn. Perched on the machine like a tree stump in the vale, or boulder in the mountains, she set to work. Weathered hands put away thought-stones and cut packages open with a small knife. One, two, thirty, a hundred - tossing them down on the floor till the machine was empty and the goats feasting.

Oh, they loved this. One goat didn't even eat a whole package. They browsed from chips to pretzels to soft sweets and hard sweets. Some of it was expired, they didn't care. For her part, she munched on a bag of… something. What she'd give for fresh bread right now. They were a long way from Ten, sadly.

She'd make do. She drew a small bit of cheese from her bag, a horn-hewn jar of sorts, spread it over her stale preserved - "bread" - with the same knife. This was better. And she had time to think. The herd could be so indulgent.

So the goats are fine in this nightmare, infinite dead halls and cold artificial… she shuddered. And in turn they'd taught her to find a beauty here. "Dead" wasn't quite right, but it sang off her tongue and that was alright. She couldn't mislead anyone with language, right? She giggled at her own joke. Oh, but she was indulgent.

In other places, you could feel the mountain air and hear rocks crumbling into valleys, or wind rustling fields of wheat.

In dead places you felt air thrumming in hidden vents, creatures large and small skittering a kilometer away, hear plaster peeling off a thousand walls in slow-motion or wind rustling empty packages.

Unconsciously, her thought-stones leapt from their dangling strings to her hands. Her fingers danced to the local tune, weaving the stones through and below and above and all else. Polished stone, alternating cold and warm to the touch.

She carried on like this for a while, lost in thought and the dance.

Her and the herd. Shepherdess. Folks - when she rarely met them (often unavoidably) - lumped them together. But the goats taught her something. She was grateful.

She wondered, indulgently, if she'd taught them anything. She had her suspicions - if they could just speak, and tell her all she taught.

Silly. Just silly.

And she does speak with them. The same way she speaks to people. That is to say - she doesn't speak at all. A warm smile and a light touch works for creatures, four legs or two. Sometimes many more…

They moved on.

Clothes on clothes on clothes. She'd pulled a denim jacket from a janitor's closet once. Tough thing.

They found a dead man.

He was mostly a skeleton, almost like a mummy. Strange things happened to corpses in the sterile or cloying rooms of the spheres, not natural things. His final pose, twisted in a corner - she could feel the agony, tingling on the edge of her senses, buzzing in her fingers, making the thought-stones run cold.

Poor fellow. The herd would tell her if whatever fate befell him - her - was returning. She would do this soul an honor, like she had been taught from an equally eccentric traveler in a sphere so distant the recordkeepers had no file and the haritacı had no pretense.

She lit a fire, a distant sphere's branches coiled from her backpack to a pile on the ground, coils of smoke disappearing in the vents above. She took a big bone - a femur - wrapped it in stones, in parchment, soaked in goat's milk. Yeşim's, rest her gentle soul.

Slow-roasted over the fire. The stones-sang, the memory whispered in the hiss and crackle. This was a long way from high mountaintops and deep valleys. No shadows danced around the fire in the harsh lamplight of a man-made sphere.

But it worked all the same. In a half-trance, her arm guided a knife and hammer to the bone, chipping and carving. Here was a story - a monstrous thing with long matty hair, a belt of faces, pulling it off the dying man. Poor man!

But here was also a laugh round the campfire, a child, a few choice good things.

When she was done, a new bone-knife shone in her hand. A man's memory. No wonder other folks thought she was weird.

Respectfully quiet, the herd followed her. No more distractions this time. Straight on till morning.

The haritacı in this sphere - eight-oh-seven - were kindly for their kind. Friendly mapmakers. They pointed their crude muskets, but in an obligatory sort of way. They talked - they talked till one of them elbowed the most braided man and told him this lady doesn't talk back. She wants passage. She had been here before.

Here's six horns of goat-milk for your trouble - the three-horned goats shed horns. Some blocks of cheese. Traded for passage and a three day old half-loaf of bread from Ten. Bless them.

They interrogated her on their scouts, too. They always did - and this time she had answers.

Oh, but those muskets were less friendly when she produced a bone-knife. Again, seven-hundred souls in the haritacı camp produced a few knowledgeable folk. A face-stealer was about - she didn't blame them from edging back, keeping their weapons close. But she made no moves, made no speech, just smiled and frowned and kept to herself at the edge of the clothes-reinforced wall.

A friendly face warned her - through that door, your demons make a nightmare. Horrible things in the forest. She smiled and thanked with a gesture. She'd passed there before. What could it do to someone at peace?

After a while they believed the knife's story and got their closure. And she passed through their red door to eight-oh-eight. One more till the mountains. Wherever on her journeys, her heart yearned for the mountains.

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