Stone the Jack found her way down to the kennels, easy enough, following her nose. Dogs mostly, but also yaks and alpaca, goats and a pair of water buffalo, and, she peered in amazement, a small horse? No, on second look, ears too big, a mule, but glossy as any Eastern stallion she'd known in early childhood, far away. A round of barking from the stalls, quieted by a tall and bony young meed, with all rough and confident ease of an apprentice dogger.
"You one of Hinge's?" she called out, over a rash of yelps and howls.
"Sh, sh, sh, sh... yup, Bouillon, down puppies, you Hinge's friend come for the wedding?" This back and forth, in a disconcertingly deep voice, without clearly delineating his target, prominent larynx in constant motion, continued clucking and hissing until the dogs calmed to discrete barks. "That cat you dragged in belonged to my predecessor, you know."
"Ah, that explains why thee didn't mind being dragged in. Did thee just stay here when the other apprentice left?" she asked.
"Naw, naw, it got all the way to the south of the Chain, over a thousand K to come back. Apparently didn't like the taste of the mice there, and disappeared two months ago." He sat on a sack of straw, strands of twine working in his hands, to stare at Stone.
"I take it you checked the chip." Stone said this in as flat a tone as she could manage, avoiding his gaze. But he just grinned and nodded, once.
"I already got the report started, you can add your bit later," he offered.
"And the cat's name?"
He rolled his eyes, "Ginger. That may be the other reason thee came back. Apple knew diseases pretty well, but from what Hinge says, didn't really have a feel for the critters." A slow lift of his bony shoulders, his hands continued to twist fibers into cord.
"I'm calling him George. He didn't object," she offered.
"That's better, yeah, George, good old George, good name, more dignified, fits him. We both got a feel for animals," he proclaimed. "I'm not so good with disease. Injuries though... " a mock humble bow of his head, implying a deep connection with all animals. "Hey, do I get to examine you? I need to get my human exam quotient in, and everyone here is done, or done so many they don't have to let me." He waggled his eyebrows at her, intending to be suggestive, but coming off as hopelessly innocent.
"Sure. I got some very interesting scars." She felt so old, but glad of the protection of age, and safely flirted back. Not, she also thought, that I am old, but next to this young meed, well. "Not to mention some historical tattoos. Oh, reminds me, got a good dentist here?"
"Why does a tattoo remind you of a dentist... nevermind. Old one, but I hear she's a favorite with the town kids, so I guess. All she did was look at mine, which are perfect." He showed his teeth, pulling back his lips with one finger, without letting go of his project.
"Very nice." She didn't know what else to say to this, and waited in uncomfortable silence. "Um... "
"Hey, how many Travelers does it take to change a pot? Only one, but an Abby has to tell them how. How many Abby does it take to change a pot? Two, one to change it, and another to be told to check up on that one by the Program. How many Towners does it take to change a pot? Seven, six parents to teach the kid how to. Used to only be five, but ever since the Universal rule change... oh, heh."
"How did you know I am part of that?" She asked in strict neutrality, her mood closed.
"Hey, now, it's in the records. And I am sixteen... kinda pertinent, since that's the year my Mother birthed me. Didn't put it together with your name until Hinge started raving about how his best friend agreed to come to live here." He didn't notice her shocked face, as he scanned the kennels, but rumbled on. "Are you really his sister? You don't look alike, well, maybe your noses, sort of. Anyway, he told me a little about how you had four weird parents, and two were your bio-parents even, and only got help when you were already a kid, which is messed up. Anyway, I have a great bunch of parents, and I figure I got them all because of you, so that's cool." He assembled his long self in a more upright position, "Maybe I better get Master Hinge, since he told me to call him as soon as you showed up, so that you got all your orientation done and didn't go working or hunting today, so stay right here, ok." He shambled off before she could answer.
Stone leaned against the stone wall of the kennel, as a knee high, rumpled red dog gazed up at her in adoring curiosity. "Well," she told him, "this is interesting." A moment, then, "Bouillon? He's called Bouillon?" The red dog ruffed softly, standing, as if to politely ask a question, then sat back, licking thee's chops.