The Outlaw God

By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume 2: The Tempest of Alroy

Chapter 6
Exploring New Territory

Monday, March 13, 2705, continued

"Ammunition dumps. Refuse dumps. Dumpy common-rooms—and what's with the tattered poster decor?” Randy leaned in the dark against a wall, tallying up his findings so far. “Abandoned dormitories, communal kitchens, stores of drugs, stores of magentine, stores of weapons banned since the Migration." He tried to ignore his low-blood-sugar tremor and spoke jauntily to himself. “ A number of taverns or bars. One shabby first-aid station that probably causes more infections than it cures—how much effort would it take to mop up all of that dried blood? Three childcare centers—disturbing implications, there, and obviously no safety-inspections. Latrine pits, regularly spaced—no safety-inspections there, either. Stores of fuels of various sorts—definitely not safety-inspected.” The candle had burned so low that the hot wax stung his fingers before he blew it out; in its glow he'd found and found and found. “Something that looks like an art studio, but I'm not sure. A filthy cock-pit in the old sense of the word.” He shuddered at the memory of blood and feathers in among the droppings. “A good source of compost, though, I'm sure. Did I mention the armories? Yeah, I think I did. And plenty of warehouses for what suspiciously looks like smuggled or stolen goods.”
He set off a very brief glow, just long enough to check out the tunnels ahead of him, and quickly snuffed it again. "Luck's with me, that's for sure. Whoever lives down here left things as if they planned to return some day. Perhaps they live as nomads? Perhaps they only hide here when the heat is on?" Hunger nearly bent him double; he'd used his Gift many times since the candle died, which left him weak and empty. The caffeine didn't help, either; he felt like a stack of parts, insecurely connected.
He pushed off from the wall. "On to further discovery!" he gusted. He tried to convince himself that he did well, spying out the stronghold of the enemy, but the fact of the matter was that he was lost. "Best motive in the world for exploration. Where do we go from here? Try thataway. I haven't checked that forking yet."
Already he'd scrounged up a rifle, fully loaded, and a couple of knives. They felt burdensome and uncomfortable about his person. He'd had the training, but he hated to fight, and had never killed in his life. Talking his way out used far less energy.
"By the way, God," he continued a prayer begun miles of tunnel earlier, "I'd like to amend the former request. If I can find another kitchen--this one with fresh stock, edible stuff--well, I'd like that even before I find a way out. Escape won't do me much good if I get any dizzier. Do that, God, and I promise I'll be good for a whole month...or, um, at least I'll...tell you what. I'll turn down Jake's next three propositions, I swear I will! The next four, if I find food within five minutes.
No sooner said than his groping hands accidentally opened a door and he toppled in. An immediate scent of fresh-baked bread made his mouth water. He cursed and sighed, then grinned in spite of himself and sought the food out in the dark. "Maybe...Jake could ask four times in a single day? If I'm lucky?"

* * *

The dufflebag of laundry on his shoulder reminded Jake of that other time, with a bag full of game-fowl slung across his back, when he'd vetted Randy's rookie mission in Corriebhai--that crisp winter day when they'd taken shelter in a copse of trees from a sudden storm.
He could taste the weather-change on the air, saw the chill wind rub his friend's face to a ruddy glow, felt the wind lift the hair off his neck...taste...see..feel...wind...this very minute!
"Vision," he murmured as he laid the bag down, stopping right in the middle of the road. Weather...a change in the weather. "Winds of change are blowing," he whispered. "And in the midst..."
Focus it clearer: a dark the midst...a copper maiden rides the storm, her black hair wild in the rain, her hands blue-edged on the rim of it bucks the gale, all else tumbled clouds and lightning...
Something? Rubber and terrycloth? No, don't be ridiculous--a flit. The vision must've wanted to underline the importance of filling in that blank. He picked up his dufflebag, but instead of heading for the laundry he turned towards Deirdre's place not far from there. When Lisa answered the door, before she could speak, he said, "Tell Deirdre she mustn't go anywhere, anywhere, without her flit.”
Lisa said, "Vision, huh?"
He blinked. "You can tell?"
"It's in your eyes. Come on in." Deirdre sat nearby, tied up for some reason, staring at nothing, though he got the impression that she listened intently to all that they said. "Whenever you speak oracularly your brows draw down and your eyes get wide. Normally you have sleepy eyes. Deirdre pointed it out to me once."
"Deirdre..." he began.
She turned to him in an automatic way. "I heard what you said." She wriggled out of her bonds like she shrugged off a sweater, as Lisa gasped. "I'll bring my flit wherever I go." She went to a closet, pulled out a small oval that had struts and handles folded in like insect-legs so that it could fit inside a largish purse. She carried it back to her chair and sat it in her lap. Her eyes didn't focus the entire time.
Jake turned to Lisa. "Something's wrong."
Lisa nodded. "Uh huh. Alroy hit her again. Volition-destroying drug this time."
He knelt down by Deirdre's chair and held her hand. "How do you feel, Sisterling?"
Lisa joined them. "It might be wearing off already. I think the best thing would be to have Zanne make her sleep till she pulls through, so nobody can make mischief with her."
He raised a brow. "Synergistic effects?"
"Zanne'd know about that. That's why I didn't handle it myself."
Jake turned to their patient. "Deirdre, would you like to sleep?"
Jake asked Lisa, "Why don't we just tell her to sleep?"
"Because somebody else could tell her to wake up. We have to put it beyond choice."
Jake laid his hands on Deirdre's arms. "Sisterling, when we make you sleep, I want you to have wonderful dreams. That's an order."
Lisa asked him, "Could you get Zanne for me? I don't want to leave her alone."
"You haven't fixed your console yet?"
"It's a mess. It'll take Don to fix it and, well..." she looked away.
"I'll go. On one condition."
"What's that?"
He only knew how ridiculous he sounded after he said it: "That Zanne doesn't use acupuncture."

* * *

"Daon?" Julie murmured as e turned hir collar up against a new gust of rain. And the day had started out so clear! Now it had all gone misty--the weather and hir thoughts. "Daon?" The word meant something. Perhaps everything.
"I'm on a quest," e told hirself. The quest of Daon.
Something didn't fit. Hir steps began to weave, but e hadn't drunk a thing. Hir thoughts whirled like a storm until thought became impossible; e just lurched forward, stumbled into an alley on impulse, tripped, and fell flat on hir face.
And saw treasure in the dust.
For a moment all e could do was stare, unfocussed, at the gleam of gold inches before hir eyes. But it cleared hir head, or at least it gave hir that illusion. Soon e could lever hirself up to hir knees, pick the tiny nugget up stuck to hir fingertip, smaller than the shot in a cartridge.
"Over there!" e spied another, a little larger. A wine-red mote clung to its edge. E picked that one up, too. And e gathered a third, a little ways away. The more e found, the more gold e could see in the dirt.
"It's one of those mythic trials," e told hirself, "that seem impossible, but the hero does them anyway and it leads closer to the quest when e does." E felt a power in the gold and the particles of color that clung to them. "The more I find of these, the better they will lead me to Daon."
Faintly, in the back of hir head, e heard a deep and whispery voice say, Remember me. Remember me. Remember me.

* * *

Merrill already stood on the landing outside his door as Jake came up the dim stairs. "I heard the steps creak," he said in a soft voice, "and Zanne identified you. Be very, very quiet when you come in."
Puzzled, Jake nodded and entered the apartment with the same stealth that he would've used for enemy territory. He found every window shuttered while Zanne brooded over a cup of tea in the gloom. She looked grim, but her husband looked positively drawn.
"Don's had a relapse," Zanne said. Jake felt his own body freeze against his will. "But we've got it under control. We know more now about medicine than we did five years ago."
Merrill appraised Jake's widening eyes with a weary interest; few had had the chance to see the giant oracle in a state of real fear. "It's a freak occurrence," Merrill reassured him. "When you tally up the neural assaults on Don, in such a short period of time, it's a wonder he didn't go down sooner."
"Like in the tunnels under the Molchis Club." Jake glared at him; he thought Merrill couldn't pale any further, but the man did. Zanne rose, a cast-bound hand to her mouth. Jake smiled grimly at them both; Alroy or whomever sure knew where to hit them--Jake had suffered at least as much neural stress as Don, if not more. He watched the couple realize that Alroy could inflict the same on them.
Zanne touched his arm. He glared down at her fingers, then her face. "We'll tell Deirdre not to use you for awhile," she said, ignoring the rebuff. "Keep a low profile, avoid intoxicants, resist oraclism and stay away from anything that even smells like Alroy."
"Deirdre's out of action," he replied and relayed his message.
Her face changed as she grasped for the distraction. "Hmm. I wonder if I even need to scan her? Perhaps you should just take my prescription over to her yourself. Or, if you're too busy, Randy can do it." She looked all innocence. "I think Lisa'd like to chat with him, you know, take some of the pressure off. They've spent a lot of time together, you know, since you've been away."
Jake clenched his fists as Zanne (who never really ignored a rebuff) smiled--but she couldn't know! She didn't, she wouldn't pry...but beginner telepaths slipped up sometimes, what if she'd just happened to zero in on Randy when...
He hadn't thought of Randy all day in a contemporary sense, just memories from the past--and him on a dangerous mission for Jake's sake! The oracular blind spot, extending as it did to lovers, had blanked all awareness of Randy from his mind--he therefore had to be in danger.
"Excuse me," he said. "I just remembered an urgent errand that I have to run, myself." He gathered up his cap and jacket, and ducked out the door before the two of them could even say goodbye.
Zanne sighed. "I guess I'll have to handle Deirdre myself." She turned to Merrill. "Can you take care of Don on your own?"
"I've done that for years," Merrill said with an attempt at a smile.
She rummaged for some small jars to put in her purse, along with a scale and some other tools. "I'd best mix something tailored on the spot--Deirdre's another one oversensitized of late."
Merrill didn't reply; he'd gone into the bedroom to check in on his best friend. They hadn't allowed Don full consciousness since he'd arrived, but Zanne knew how to manage this with comparative safety. Still, it had its risks. An I.V. maintained Don's liquid levels, but he'd already lost an astonishing amount of weight for twenty-four hours. If he shed any more they'd have to steal the equipment for parenteral feeding.
Merrill had forgotten how bad it could get--to stay sane he'd had to--but already Don's once muscular arms had pared down to something insectoid, the muscles twitching slightly even under the medicine as the spasms and fever burned more and still more off of him, burning protein when the fat ran out. The stitched-up wounds on the arms and chest made him still more grotesque. Merrill noticed that the hospital had had to restitch the deltoid; Don hadn't cared a whit about reinjury the last time they'd met.
"Alroy," Merrill whispered, "Whoever you are, you have given me a reason to kill."

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