The Outlaw God


By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume 2: The Tempest of Alroy

Chapter 16
On the Margin of the Sea

Wednesday, March 15, 2705, continued
 

Nothing but blackness, as thick as mold, as tactile as the curse of God--Deirdre knew nothing else. It grew inside her skull, everywhere. Her head throbbed with the darkness of pain, her feet stumbled over shadows.
 
Gradually the sound of the ocean outside separated from the hiss within her ears. She came to herself in a sleepwalker way; she didn't know how long she had groped along the sea-cliff, her feet sunk step by step into suede-soft sand when they didn't slip upon moss-slick stone. Rain battered her with drenches of dark, soaked into her skin with tangible gloom, made the cliff-wall that she pressed against slimy and unwelcoming. Yet she clung to it as a child clutches her mother in fear, sliding along as she went, because without it she'd be lost--and lost meant dead on the margin of the sea, in the Tempest of Alroy.
 
Every so often waves rushed upon her, dragging at her hips, luring her into the warmth of the water and the comforts of death; it made her ache when she resisted, but she glued herself to the cliff like a limpet, her fingers dug into the softened sides. Still, they lessened in intensity; had they not already begun to recede when she'd arrived, she'd have died for certain. Thatís when she realized that she didn't remember her arrival.
 
It dawned on her that she hadn't gone blind, that the lashing of the rain had kept her eyes closed. And the groggy feeling that dragged her down and made her steps uncertain came from having been knocked out.
 
She groped for her last memory, but found only an awareness of the weather-station on...Misty Island? Goat Island? Her head ached trying to distinguish the two. But she did find the information that she'd thought so vital--that this very storm, ha ha, was about to hit. That, and a vague sense of tumbling through gray, wet coldness, comprised the sum of her recollection.
 
The storm abated; she guessed that the edge of its eye swept over. One of many; clues in the crashing air-currents confirmed that by some unimaginable power Alroy had bound a number of hurricanes together into a giant at war with itself. They didn't feed each other--they tore at each other, fought like gladiators forced into the same captivity. Alroy would've found this easier than co-operative forces, she somehow knew.
 
That Alroy had something to do with it she didnít question. Later, with more sense returned to her, she might wonder at her certainty, question the how and why and where on earth she got the idea in the first place. Yet sometimes hunches came to her, like some ghost of oraclism, and they worked out more often than not.
 
The rain dropped to a mist, then nothing, then she opened her eyes. Every muscle felt so waterlogged with weariness that it dumfounded her to think she'd moved so far already. She had a lot further ahead of her, she estimated. She stole some precious seconds to rest on an outthrust boulder that looked out across the sea. The quarter-moon had found the storm's eye too, and flung down silver through it onto the water for her. With great relief she watched the black and silver swirl into each other; she'd begun to feel that the world held nothing in it but cold and loathing. She clung to the beauty now as a religious experience.
 
Yet the smell of the sea nauseated her. Dead things floated on it, not all of them aquatic; the odor underlined the nausea of concussion. She knew that she had to force herself up to seek help.
 
No. She cradled her head; she had it all wrong. She had to give help, not seek it. She couldn't count herself all that impaired, not for the scope of the emergency; whatever she needed could wait. She had a mission to...um...did she? She could fly faster than the wind--literally, if she exerted herself, and she had to. That wind out there, beyond the eye. Outdistance it. Warn people. Now she remembered the dead console and wondered just how many folks had no idea what hurtled towards them.
 
What about the telepaths? Could they take over the task for her? But how could they read or send much of anything on a public scale, through the emotional chaos of disaster?
 
Yeah. Warn. That's what she had to do--if she still could.
 
Some of the weight upon her localized into a lump that had burdened her for some time now, wrapped in the soggy folds of her shirt. She couldn't remember wrapping it there, but a touch identified it for her: the mechanism from her broken flit, the crystal and its amplifier. The chassis must've shattered when she got knocked out...or had she gotten knocked out? Something in her had remained awake enough to salvage the thing and climb beyond the reach of danger; she'd come to on her feet. Perhaps the mindchange had increased her resistance to concussion?
 
Now the rock led to a twist of the cliff that she found climbable. Something struck her as odd. Then she fingered the chalky stuff that came off so easily into her hand; this hadn't been cliff for billions of years, not until the hurricanes chewed their way in.
 
She pulled herself up over the top. She lay in the storm-flattened grass and scanned the dark; she could barely make out the shape of houses ahead. She estimated herself a bit south of Robinson Laboratories, which indicated that the storm swept east. "Naturally," she thought, then couldn't remember why.
 
She needed people. She needed to make a new flit--a simple matter, just put the mechanism into something large enough to sit on, straddle, or cling to. By itself she could hold it in her hand and lift herself a few feet off the ground, but she'd go slowly and the strain on her arm could pull a muscle.
 
A makeshift flit didn't even have to last that long, just enough to get her to Fyvel Pier where they made proper chassis, streamlined enough to slice the air like a shortcut between time and space. The monks of nearby Joy Regau exchanged such things for bread--wherever Joy Regau was.
 
And still the slime upon her aggravated the nausea of her battered head. It smelled of fish-corpses and the tears of impenitents. She tried to ignore it as she stumbled beyond the coarse plants that defy salt to live, into cultivated areas. At last she climbed up concrete stairs, gritty with wet sand.
 
In the predawn light a great house loomed above her, its terracotta tiles and wet, brown wood almost luminous after the dreadful night. Her presence of mind raised with every step; she decided that her concussion had less impact than she deserved.
 
She drew closer, and for a moment faltered. She saw that the smashed-in windows gaped, dark-mouthed, with teeth of reflection. Then she caught a golden glimmer within: a candle or an oil lamp. Someone remained inside to move on to the next step, the post-disaster roll-up-your-sleeves step.
 
Her awareness clouded once more; the blow to her head had more impact than she'd reckoned on, after all. She came to herself some time later, cognizant of a person that flurried around her...indoors? Bit by bit she noted a face tanned and lined with adventures, graying hair that might once have been golden, all attached to a short, kindly, fortyish woman.
 
At last Deirdre came to sharp focus standing in a small bathroom, her skin newly scrubbed, coffee in her tummy (caffeinated.) She wore the shirt of the flurry-woman's husband, a vest of neoprene over that for warmth, and tough, stretchy hiker's pants. Her cloak steamed over a towel-drying rack nearby. She found the bathroom a nice place, decorated with cobblestones and seashells and rather impractical wooden shingles, darkened with mildew but not unnatural. She had fallen into the hands of a marine biologist not averse to bringing her work home and planting it in the bathroom.
 
She picked up a large rubber thing from the pile of her dirty clothes--some sort of hollow valve or plug. She remembered something of the sort from her days as a Robinson Lab tank-scrubber.
 
Her hosts had already cut a slit into it for her. She put the flit-unit inside it and gave it a test-hop. Yes, she could levitate it. No, it wasn't large enough for comfortable sitting, but she could hold it to her solar plexus and fly on her stomach, so to speak, rather like swimming through air. She'd do best, then, to skip breakfast--especially with the dizziness still upon her. When her legs got tired she supposed she'd tuck her knees up.
 
The woman came in just as Deirdre toppled back to her feet rather clumsily. The woman laughed, then bound towels around the makeshift flit to give it a little more mass and keep the rubber from rubbing Deirdre's belly raw. She said very little.
 
When it came time to go the woman clutched Deirdre's fingers for an instant to say, "Blessed be Amy Robinson, and may her work continue."
 
Deirdre recognized the ritual of the Robinson Scientists and responded, "Peace to the grave of her mad, brave father." It touched her to find acceptance on that level from a complete stranger. And touched, she left. Whatever Alroy might stand for, danger still warmed people to each other.
 
She took to the sky as the storm began to work itself up again. Only airborne did it occur to her that they'd never exchanged names.
 

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