Terry dozed in his bunk, really slept out but not inclined to move much while Mom fixed herself. The wind howled against the edges of the open cabin door though the breeze outside wasn't much. Not even enough to raise the sand off the dune they were buried in.
I can't just lie here rotting. He sighed and crawled out of the bunk, straightened his fearfully crumpled coat. “Tie your veil on,” Eshmaeel called from his own bunk. “Wear your hat, Terence.”
“I don't have a veil,” Terry snapped.
“Your neck cloth isn't a veil?” The boy sounded bemused. “It's rude to go bare-faced at home anyway.”
Terry shrugged and pulled his cravat up over his nose. It wasn't a swan'shead fold any longer, that was for sure.
As he stepped out the sand flowed away from under his feet and he floundered down the side of dune caught in the flood. His hat nearly strangled him on its cord and he found out why he needed to wear it, as he stopped, near the bottom, buried up to mid-thigh in loose sand. The sun beat on his head like a stone hammer. As he reached up to put his hat back on, first thing, he noted that his hair was already hot enough to be uncomfortable.
A little wiggling loosened his legs so he could clamber out of the dune and really look around. Off to his left, as far as he could see, was a forest of white stone mushrooms. “More like asparagus,” he muttered. There was no one to hear or critique him. Words from his seed floated in front of the monoliths. Shale buttes, mud stone, karst erosions.
In the distance the words changed, began to scroll carbonatious reducing environment, ferric oxide, iron hydroxide limonite, chlorite, biotite, haematite... “Stop it,” he snapped and the scrolling labels went away. “If I want everything explained, I'll ask.”
“MOM! You're repaired enough to talk?”
“Somewhat. Your seed is offended.”
“How can--” he cut himself off. “I'm truly sorry. I didn't realize it had feelings to get hurt.”
“Neither your seed... you really should bestow a name, Terence, it would make his existence ever so much easier. Ahem.” Even though Mom didn't have a throat to clear she still made a noise like it. “Neither your seed or I have biologic, hormonal driven emotions. We do have programmed cognates. People built us to be like them.”
“Of course. And you've been learning from my brother. What you and the seed have learned from us just boggles my mind and gives me the creeps. It's very fuzzy and feels dangerous.”
“I would not hurt you, Terence,” Mom said. “And only you can define what hurts, so that you may inform me. Basic, gross bodily preservation, mental preservation are one level. Anything beyond that, you have to tell me.”
“I see. Those buttes... it looks like there's very different desert past them.”
“Yes. Terence why don't you come back inside so I may close up and finish my repairs with you safe?”
“All right. Can I help?” He turned as he was speaking and looked back uphill to where Mom was buried in the sand, just in time to see her newly rebuilt front leg reach up to pull the flap of her skin off one of her screens, tuck it back in behind and hold it there for a moment, before flexing her front door shut then open again with only slight grinding noises.
Terry just fell straight back, scrambling away from Mom. He had never seen her from the outside, in good light and she looked like an enormous beetle/dragonfly cross. If he hadn't seen that she could squeeze down to a three by four metre room he would never have believed that the thing crawling out of the sand, the size of a small moon shuttle, was the same machine.
“Terence, don't you like the way I look?” How can a machine the size of a bus have hurt feelings? As she spoke the bug settled back down onto the sand with the door a few steps away, and he could see her outline shift as the thumb-sized cells changed colour and texture to match what she lay on. Then she shimmered and became just another bulge of sand dune. "I can change it."
He swallowed and shook himself. “Um. I was just a little startled, Mom.” Time to be honest. “Your bug-form scares the tar out of my lizard brain. Your camouflage is exceptional. If your cabin door weren't open for me I'd lose you completely.”
“Do you like it? My skin is a Ramtuff patent from only a hundred local years ago!” She sounds like a little girl preening. He managed to not think of what she looked like as he stepped inside and the vertical door -- thank the Page and the Patent that the designer didn't make it a horizontal mouth – closed smoothly behind him.