IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume V: Sharing Insanity
No Time for Subtlety
Tuesday, December 8, 2708
(No more subtlety. I can’t afford that anymore—The Lumne Boys saw to that.)
Nothing subtle about this night’s work. The guard died quickly enough—he barely had time to squeak, let alone rip out an army-rousing scream the way I’d feared—but we can make it look like he took a long time about it, praying that I’d hurry and release his soul to Hell.
(The hour of Hell must arrive, whether I feel ready or not. He has waited a long time for this, living and living and dead.) I can do that much, simulate more evil than I’ve got the guts for yet. Speaking of which, don’t they look wicked, draped from branch to branch like that? They do send a message, don’t they?
(The message has gone out. We must do it on the 13th of the month, on Sunday—desecrate the moribund religion to rip wide the rift. My shivers, my doubts, don’t matter anymore—this is bigger than me. Who cares what I think?)
No, take the entrails down again; I’ve got a better idea. Although the traces of blood left up there afterwards do still add a touch, suggestive of wild spurting mayhem.
Here we go, drag his body in the dirt like he crawled a ways, trying to make it back to camp, slowly unraveling as he went. Put grass in his mouth like he chewed the turf. Drive his fingernails into the ground and get the soil under them like he clawed his way. The silence in the night will only make it more horrible; they won’t know that I only cut his vocal chords after the fact. They won’t find any forensic scientists out here to tell them the real order of events; they wouldn’t wait around for his investigation even if they could.
(They all know their roles, my Changewright disciples. At each psychosensitive point about the campus, they will make their sacrifices. Animals for them, rats and chickens and such, lest they lose their nerve, but it makes good practice, he says, for bigger things.
And it’s all about the terror, anyway. Kill a rat horribly enough, and even a gardener who kills rats routinely will shudder and feel the knife.)
It’s all about the terror. Let each and every one of them grab his own belly and wince, picturing what they think transpired here. Let them pay for making Kiril’s tummy hurt.
(Because they all have to pay. They have made me this. They left me nowhere to turn but evil when they gutted good. They…oh God! What has become of me?)
I listen for the nearest brook and follow the liquid sounds in the dark. Then I plunge into the cleansing cold while the frogs fall suddenly silent at my splash. I scrub up with chattering teeth, then rise up dripping from the water that I’ve stained.
(No turning back now, whatever Jake might say. Nothing can wash me clean of blood.)
They will doubtless track me here, but will soon lose me again. Without my flit I can barely manage a hover, inches off the ground, but that’s enough to leave no exit tracks upon the soft, wet soil. They will curse my unknown name and hope that I have drowned. They will, for twelve hours or so, believe that God avenges them, that they are in the right. And then I will strike tomorrow night. And every night thereafter, I or one of my soldiers, till we pick them off, one by one, till I leave them no more faith than me. Hell, I might even send in Hekut to do some really dirty work—the kid’s not going to Heaven, anyway. Maybe the more evil I fake, the better I’ll get at the real thing.
(“So much evil,” I murmur, before I catch myself. What Guaril and Tshura showed me, what they were forced to link to—even their captors have no idea!
Or is it evil? Is it something turned evil by suppression, longing to be good?
Does it matter? Yes, for you can redeem twisted good. Evil you can only kill.
“Zanne?” Cybil looks concerned, as she makes breakfasts from Apollo’s kitchen raid—only the unprocessed stuff, which means cakes of flour, raisins and nuts, more dried than cooked by a radiator. “Are you okay, honey?” We found an entire hall of unused guest rooms—hiding out in luxury (especially after the way we’ve been living) with deep mattresses and velvety blankets, nice once we removed the dusty bedspreads. Even a cot would have delighted us.
“Certainly,” I say with a smile, though I still fight to shake off the aftereffects of that brain-jolt and the subsequent drugging that might well have saved me from a stroke. “Just thinking aloud.”
I wanted to do this smoothly, subtly, waiting for just the right moment. But we might not have time.)
Wednesday, December 9, 2708
(I pick up buckets and head for the nearest stream. If I get up early enough, sometimes I can haul water for myself, before Sarge catches me and sends soldiers to do all the work.
I don’t feel real; I suspect that the herbed cream cheese that Sarge keeps spreading on bread for me holds more than garlic and oregano, and I think I found something leafy crumpled in the fudge. But he keeps dropping by the cart to supervise, to make sure I keep a steady nibble going. There’s no need for secrets between us anymore. “I want to provide for you, honey,” he’ll tell me whenever I curl up in pain and can’t take in any more. “You rest now; I’ll come back in a couple hours and see how you’re doing. You may not understand now, but you’ll thank me later. It’s only for a few more days, Kiril, till we find our way back to the road again.” That says volumes, right there.)
(I scan ahead for any guards in the halls. Now I can carry our dirty clothes to the Montoya Manor laundry-room. Nobody seems to notice or care about our additional expenditures of water and soap; that says volumes, right there, about just how dramatically shut down the minds of our opposition have become to anything not on the radar of the collective mind.
I step into the steam and scent of bleach to hear Courtney squeal, “He’s a Protestant!” as she and Apollo leap from a pile of dirty sheets, tugging clothes back onto their rosy bodies as fast as the sweat allows.
“Do I look like I care, darling?” I say, pointedly averting my eyes for their sakes as I load up a machine, trying not to grin with amusement that at least they’ve shed the nationwide plague of racism. “I was about your age when I lost my virginity, after all.” Then my half-suppressed smile turns into a frown. “I hope it’s been better for you than it was for me.”
Courtney starts to mumble something about not being a virgin but I take her hands and stop her. “Rape doesn’t count, dear. The only time that counts is the first time you consent.” She looks up at me then, tears on her face, tentatively smiles and nods.
“We’d marry if we could,” Apollo says, straightening and trying to look like a man. “It’s just...well, we could die tomorrow. Maybe tonight. Maybe guards will rush in on the laundry any minute and kill us for, you know, mixing it up between kinds like this.”
“We don’t have time!” Courtney protests.
“Whoa! Slow down! You are both way too young to even think about marriage!” Don’t make the same mistake I did, darlings. “So, how did you two manage to get your hands on contraceptives?” They both turn even redder than they’ve been. “Don’t tell me. You didn’t even think of that.” I sigh. “You’re both grounded.”
“Wait just one minute!” Apollo shouts. “You’re not my Mom!”
“Hush! Do you want to bring armed guards running on us already?” His face goes from cinnamon to gray in a flash, while Courtney’s looks like chocolate-chip ice cream. “I am the leader of this expedition so yes, I do have authority over both of you—and we can’t afford any pregnancies under current circumstances. So the two of you will go nowhere without adult supervision until we can get the means for you to make responsible choices.”
“But nothing. Games up, children. If you can’t handle waiting, you don’t have the maturity for sex. End of discussion!” And for a long time only the washing-machine makes a sound, as I wait to put my load in the dryer.)
(“Kiril, wait!” Uh oh, I hear Sarge running after me. Games up; I set the buckets down. But Sarge keeps on; he tackles me and wraps his hands around my eyes. “Don’t look, Kiril! Don’t look.” He buries my face in his chest and holds me trembling-tight as he shouts at the men, a catch in his voice, “For God’s sake cut them down before the child sees!”
Deirdre doesn’t know—we don’t have time for this.)
(As the kids and I fold laundry I can feel her. Belen Montoya. Her telepathy burns as brightly as a fever on the psychic landscape. She pleads for us to find her. But soon, soon! She’s dying.)
I step on a sharp rock. After an appropriately bad word I pick it out of my foot, wondering if it’s one of Nayal’s caltrops fallen where it shouldn’t. No, just a plain old natural menace, lying on the road. Then I realize just how cold my toes feel, never mind the bruise in the heel. Then it dawns on me...how did I wind up barefoot?
Oh pox! Did I leave those fine, tailored llama-skin boots by the creek last night? Idiot! I’ll never own the like again. And could they trace...but no. They already massacred that village. No reprisals will follow, merely discomfort for me.
My fingers strum the twigs of my homemade flit, still strapped onto my chest. Who needs feet, anyway?
Wait a minute. Did I forget, earlier, that I had this on?