IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume II: Tests of Fire and Blood


Chapter 2

Who We Could Become


"Stop!  Please, stop the music.  Stop."

"Wha, what!  The music halted and Deirdre opened her eyes to Justín hanging onto the switch in a ludicrous lunge from his chair as he glared at her in disheveled shock.  "What's it this time?" he asked.  Slowly he pulled himself upright. 

"Malcolm--he, I, we're alike, I mean we were alike, I mean..."  She gripped her own emaciated middle like she held it in for dear life.

"Huh?  Alike?"

"Dyslectic telepaths--that explains everything, his hunger that wouldn't stop.  He said it right there--he felt everybody's hunger."

"We can't know that for sure, Deirdre. He could've meant..."

"I know," she insisted.  In a whisper she said, "God, I could've wound up like him, if...I don't know what if."

"Deirdre?"

"Yeah?"

In an exaggeratedly patient voice Justín said, "Please don't do this to me again.  Not unless it's an emergency--okay?  You're being awfully hard on me."

"It felt like an emergency to me."

"Even compared to..."  He sat there speechless, then blurted, "You mean you call this an emergency, the fear of fat for pity's sake, and we haven't even gotten to your first battle and already you, you're..."  He blinked at her, stunned, then suddenly yanked off the psychometric band.  "That does it,” he said in a too-calm voice.  “I'm going to sedate you." 

"No!  Don't!"  He reached for the syringe, but she slapped it out of his hand.  He tried to get up and go after it, where it rolled across the floor, but he went off-balance, catching himself on the chair; Deirdre grabbed him and even with the wounded arm she wrestled him easily back into his seat, albeit slumped and sagging to one side.

"No," she said again.  "I want all my memories.  I don't know any other way to access them."

He sighed and muttered, "They aren't even yours."

"They're mine now.  People gave them to me--bequeathed them.  Dead people--nobody left alive to remember them but me."

"Gave them to you," he said, then laughed weakly, hissingly.  "Would you save a dead man's bullet for a souvenir of the day you met?"

"I'll settle for the scars," she said with a wry smile, and just then he noticed the jagged one on her calf.

"Oh, I bet that'll be a fun memory when we get to it!"  He tried to straighten up in the chair, giggled when he failed, and said, "I hate this job."

"Then quit," she said.

He succeeded in the second attempt.  "No can do, my dear.  It's addictive, you see--much more than anything I take to get through it."  He settled the band back onto his brow, smoothing the hair out of his eyes.  "All these memories--I have come to hate them, really, but every time I try to do without them--and oh Lord, how I've tried!--my own life seems so, so flat."

"You choose your own poison, like the rest of us," she said and settled back into her own seat.  "Now turn the music back on."

"No more interruptions?"

"I'll try to contain myself," she said with a smile.

The music went back on and this time she tried to pay attention to it, define it. Now that she tuned in it sounded not so much like a melody as like chimes, high bells, or perhaps the calls of crickets, the chirps and whistles and chatter of all the millions of different kinds of insects that swarm the rainforest and sing their loudest in the thick perfume of night.

We walk, single file, down the narrow path to Father Man's place.  Far back down the line I hear a constant slap of foliage as Dr. Malcolm deGroot forces his way through this trail blazed by much, much smaller bodies.  Dark, dark, lies the night under the arching boughs.  You don't see the path, you listen to it, you trace it by the whispering patter of those before and behind.  You feel and smell it in the crush of leaves and the damp moss, framed by the overpowering sweetness of leftover fruit, rotting undiscovered after the mast, and already flowers open up to make more, releasing scent from invisible pockets of shadow.

I can't see it, the clouds and leaves conceal it, but somewhere up there, beyond the tallest trees, the moon swells closer and closer to full--a good thing, a beautiful thing, but in my heart it's the new moon, new year, the very beginning of time.  A fresh start, a new cycle begins, a new allegiance.  Tonight I become an Egalitarian.





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