Place: Amnesia Spaceport
Perfect weather on Amnesia came in stops and starts, so on pleasant sunny days when unpaved bits had dried and the rains had been recent enough to keep the dust down, the streets of the spaceport bustled with extra activity.
Ness strolled the shopping district with Leopold, comfortable and familiar here, and the shadier denizens gave him plenty of room. Quite the contrast from the first time he'd set foot in the spaceport, naïve, new to the world, and telegraphing target to everyone he passed. That first visit had overshadowed his opinion of the place for some time—the place where an archangel had cut Shax down, the place where Ness had lost his angelic status and his first set of wings.
The memories of that terrible day persisted, of course, but the planet had many different associations now.
Leopold tugged at his hand, pulling him toward a café. They had been walking for some time. Ness reasoned that his son must be thirsty. He helped Leopold onto the self-adjusting stool at the counter, which wobbled up and down a few times, challenged by Leopold's shape and size, before it settled at the perfect height for him. Ness ordered a lemon water and a slice of cherry pie for himself, a soy milk and a muffin for Leopold.
Leopold was particularly fond of the muffins here.
Halfway through his muffin, Leopold murmured, "Papa, there's a man. He's been watching us eating. Do you think we're safe?"
"Is he trying to look like he's not looking?" Ness asked without looking up from his pie.
Leopold shook his head.
"I'd think we're fine, then." Ness checked out of the corner of his eye. Yes, there was a man watching, but he seemed more dejected than threatening. So dejected in fact that Ness couldn't simply walk by his table on their way out. "Sir? Are you all right?"
"I'm…no." The man's voice was soft and melodic, a trained voice, Ness thought. "I apologize for staring but I don't suppose you have any spare credit chits?"
Leopold put down his backpack and disappeared halfway into it as he said, "Are you hungry, sir? I have a cinnamon roll. It may be flattened."
The cinnamon roll, one of Ivana's, was in relatively good shape, safe in a plasti-seal. The man hesitated, but his obvious hunger won out and he accepted it with a nod. "Thank you, young…hedgehog…person."
Ness had taken the other chair at the man's table and let Leopold climb into his lap. "Are you between jobs?" He hoped that wasn't rude to ask.
The man made a non-committal head tilt as he devoured Leopold's offering. When he finished, he licked his fingers. "I was a storyteller. Pubs would pay me to spin stories some nights. Most afternoons, I could find an audience in the squares. Not a job to grow rich and fat on, but I was good at it."
That was puzzling. Ness turned it over and over and finally said, "But you still have your voice. You can't tell stories any longer?"
"They're all gone." The erstwhile storyteller's hands shook as he folded up the plasti-seal. "The place inside my head where the stories should be has been drained dry."
Leopold's peep was questioning, confused. "It's a story drought? But how can that even be? Can't you make new ones?"
"The doctors said the treatment would cure the recurring fibroid tumors. It was experimental. But it changed something in my brain." The storyteller shook his head. "There's nothing but an empty, gray space where the stories should be."
More of a story-pocalypse than a drought. Ness waved the attendant bot over and ordered them more food. "Have you tried to, ah, fill the space back up? Read stories to put back in the empty spot?"
"I have," the storyteller mumbled between bites of cheese bread. "I've tried to read all kinds of stories. They simply trickle out again."
Leopold sipped at the straw in his second glass of milk. It seemed a thoughtful sip. "You told your stories. You didn't read to people. Maybe hear not read?"
"That's an excellent idea," Ness hurried to agree. "Maybe the way your brain retains things has changed. Would you like me to tell you a story?"
When the storyteller gave him a hesitant nod, Ness gave a brief account of Shax and the anti-gravity cows, which had his listener chuckling. When he'd finished, Ness spread his hands and asked, "Well?"
The storyteller's eyes widened. "It's…it's still in there. I have it!"
"Perfect." Ness turned back to his son. "Leo, do you have your reader with you?"
He waited while Leopold fished it out of his backpack and handed it over, then he scrolled through some of Leopold's stories. The Once And Future King. Good, but too long. A Child's Garden Of Verses. Probably not quite right. Finding The Pirate Captain's Secret Baby.
Ness blinked at the torrid cover image. "Goodness, Leopold. What have you been reading?"
Leopold shrugged and somehow managed to look embarrassed.
Finally, Ness settled on a collection of fairytales. "I'll read you a few and then you can build from there. Just have the books read to you instead of trying to read."
"Thank you." The storyteller swiped at his eyes. "You're very kind. I didn't expect that from one of the fallen."
"We come in all sorts," Ness murmured as he searched the index. He flipped his wings to a more comfortable position, settled back and began. "Once there was a king who had three sons…"