The Outlaw God

By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume 4: The Final Passion

Chapter 20
Scoop and Haul

Vigil Saturday, April 1, 2705, continued.

Rock whipped past the GEM as Zanne directed Jake on which turns to take through Alroy's tunnels. But there came a point where Jake ignored her, banking into a turn that nearly scuttled them into the wall. "Randy's this way," he said.
"How do you know?" she asked him, but he didn't answer. He gripped the joystick like he engaged it in a contest of strength, but his face looked mild--too mild. A diffuse heat of anxiety, simmering to the edge of hysteria, beat on her telepathic awareness, but it came out only as a wistful, maybe yearning look. So much emotion under such tight control built up such pressure that even without tuning in it swelled in her head till her ears hurt.
Did he reconstruct memories left from mind-contact with--who? Some of those stranger outlaw minds? Maybe Randy's own memories, dragged through these same tunnels? But wouldn't his oracular blind-spot encompass Randy as well? He could've gotten it from Lisa, though, could be following her traces. But if she, Zanne, a telepath, couldn't do this, how could an oracle...unless he had a bigger target--the biggest of all? Didn't it seem that Alroy held longest onto him?
To hell with ethics--she had to find out what went on with him. She leaned towards the dashboard and caught the easiest, most outward and least obtrusive thread of thought: that psychic spark which prodded the biologic conversion engine in the GEM's motor. Carefully she followed it inward to the rest of Jake's psyche, as stealthy as a whisper.
Twang went something in her head--a sting like a snapped elastic. She forgot anything she might've picked up and concentrated instead on trying to quell the quavering of her focus on the headlight glow in front of her.
"Whatever you tried to do, Zanne, don't."
"A girl can get curious, can't she?" She covered up by pulling her compact out of her purse, switching on its little light and attempting to repair, with shaky hands, what had survived of her makeup.
Jake growled for reply and paid attention to the maze before him.
"Lord, I'm such a mess!" She snapped the compact shut before she could get too discouraged. Now what, exactly, had she just attempted? Something to do with driving? Why'n'earth? Acupuncture? Acupuncture?
"Jake," she accused, "Did you just erase my knowledge of acupuncture?"
He shrugged, only half ashamed. "An accident. I just reacted."
"And so your antipathy bastard."
"So sue me."
She opened her compact again, winced again at all those scratches and a darkening bruise from her fall down the cliff-chimney, and tried to get the eyeliner right in a moving vehicle. "Do agents need a warrant for a telepathic probe?"
"With a Tilián citizen? You bet."
"Hmf. How obstructive." She wiped an errant bit of lipstick off the corner of her mouth. "What, precisely, did you do to me, dearheart?"
"Psychic self-defense, I guess. Just a reflex. Just whatever felt like it had to happen.” He thought of his battle with Zora, in this very tunnel-complex, and he shuddered. "It's not my fault if the return-blast followed the natural path to something I dislike."
“I meant you no harm, Jake. You should know that by now.”
“I...” His psyche felt like one great big sore spot. “Just don't pry, Zanne. Please. Not right now.”
She sighed, clicked the compact shut a second time and put it in her purse. "Very well, you may keep your secrets.” For now, she thought. My darling hulking genius, you know that no one can outwit you--except your own friendclan.

* * *

Deirdre, Merrill and Don took Zora on the cart while the others went to bury Gustav (Cicero not finding his GEM where he left it.) Don rode up with her, to monitor her to the best of his ability. Deirdre set a pace on foot that Merrill would've found exhilarating had he not gone so long without sleep. Ah well, at least they traveled downhill more often than up.
Merrill asked Don, "Is she still clammy?"
"Nope, feverish."
"Is that bad?"
"Not good." Don didn't want to tell the others that the blood came frothy from the wound, that the bullet had nicked her lung. He harbored some fear that his friends might not care enough if an outlaw woman who'd done them harm might die before they got her help. He had pressed a plastic bag, found in the cart's debris, to the wound; now the wound kept it sucked into place; he hoped that this would hold till they could drop her off at some hospital—oh Lord, one more thing to worry about--and slip away.
Not helping matters, Zora tossed and turned in her fever, moaning slightly, as the cart bumped and rumbled beneath her, her hands drifting in the air like the fiery leaves that fell around them. He flinched each time she jolted at a bump, watching for the blood to start again. Meanwhile the wheels groaned and the forest made its soft rustles and songs, but no other sounds disturbed them, though they listened and listened.
"I know this stretch," Deirdre said suddenly.
"Oh good," Merrill said. "I was just about to ask if you knew where you were leading us."
"We're not that far above Sandurste..."
"...And the Ghost Horse Inn." Merrill smiled with memories.
Don sighed in relief. "Good--we can get help for Zora there, no questions asked."
"More than that," Merrill said. "We can establish ourselves a base, now that we can't go home."
"They know us, there," Deirdre agreed. "They'll let us defer drawing credit till this business blows over. They'll keep silence for us."

* * *

For Lisa all things had become disconnected--the stone beneath her, the smoke above, her muscle's twitching attempts to push her forward, the pain especially. Pain swirled around her in wider and wider circles till it hardly touched her at all. Then she moved and it instantly zoomed right back. So she lay still and let it circle away again, her cheek against the cool stone floor, her mouth sucking the last air from along its surface. She felt so cold that the hot smoke pushing over her felt good.
Then she found herself back on the table, staring up at the firelight swimming on the roof. Her head pounded with thoughts, so many other people's thoughts that she couldn't single out a strand of it, though at least they no longer bound her.
"Torture broke my shields," she rasped, and coughed. The motion of her lips made her eyes open; she again stared at a few inches of rough-hewn stone, eyes stinging with the smoke. The thoughts trampled through her back and forth like she wasn't even there, nothing to stand in their way.
Smoke swirled around her, in and out of the circles of pain. At last she herself began to spin out of herself, in wider and wider circles, dissipating as she spread, up and out and further from everything.
Then she saw boots come down through the smoke like they dropped through a trap door. People ran everywhere, but these paced with purpose. Nobody else noticed.
The figure knelt down to crawl, sensibly like her (or hadn't she stopped crawling? She couldn't tell--everything seemed to move whether she did anything or not.) She blinked through the sting of smoke-tears to recognize Jake, his long hair singed on one side, his shirt soaked in blood and his jacket-shoulders all torn up. By the way he crawled on three limbs, his arm cradled stiffly to his chest, she knew that some of that blood, at least, came from him.
"Jake?" she tried to gasp, though her mouth hurt. Did he belong here, too?
At her voice he scurried to her and scooped her up in his good arm, up into the fullness of the smoke. Pain shot everything through with white light for an instant, made worse by coughing, then she woke back to the murk.
"Lisa!" he whispered. "Thank God you're alive! Can you crawl?" She stared at him. "I didn't think so." He hoisted her over his back and she shrieked, half from her own pain, half from feeling her weight on his bad shoulder.
"Quiet!" he hissed. He crept to where the smoke thinned out, then slung her over his better shoulder as he stood up and ran through the dark. He tripped on something in the chaos, caught himself against a wall and pushed on.
"Randy..." she managed to moan.
"Seems able to handle himself." Below the words came the thought so clear he seemed to have spoken He wouldn't thank me for rescuing him before you.
"Randy..." she mumbled, surprised by the blisters on her lips. "" She didn't remember that part with the lips.
"Touch my mind, Lisa." He'd gotten lost, now; whatever way he had come had become impassible. "Touch my mind, tell me where to go."
She tried, but it all broke apart. Too many images overlapped; she couldn't separate Jake's mind from all the fear-crazed psychic shouts around her.
"Lisa, please. I can't take it from you. Give me the way out."
She brushed his mind again and again, but she wandered in and out of it. He worried about Randy. He thrashed through memories of a crazy-quilt of military history, or something like that. His last meal consisted of a pickled egg way too long ago. He felt a stab of guilt about acupuncture. His arm or hers or somebody's arm hurt an awful lot.
"Never mind,” Jake said. “You're projecting all over the place." With dread he forced himself to rely on his oracular gift for unexpected paths--his bruised and ragged gift.

* * *

Blackie woke with the sun blazing full in her eyes. She moaned and stirred a bit where she lay in the grass. She recalled the bullet's impact; she felt the stickiness of blood in her clothing, the throb of a wound. And, somehow, the wound had exploded into shards that went everywhere.
But that bullet had struck another, linked with her mind. Saturated bandages caught the autumn chill all over her body; she recalled something else, about a mad night and a barbed wire fence. She moaned again and tried to rise, but the attempt dizzied her; she lay flat on her back and felt like she could faint still further, fall farther and farther and farther spinning down all the way to the hot core of hell.
She shivered uncontrollably, jarring her wounds in a steady buzz of pain. Hot sounded good right now. How had she gone so far so torn? She tried to think, but the attempt made her cry; her mind hurt worst of all.
"I need blood," she whimpered. "More than ever in my entire life, I do, oh I do need blood!"
She watched black dots swim in the sky overhead. She listened to the wind in the trees and the season's last birds, until some people of Alroy's came to fetch her like they always did before. She wondered vaguely at why they should bother this time, though--she knew herself too damaged for further use and too weary to feel the thrill of her danger.

* * *

Don moved around some bags of clothes and other soft stuff to try and cushion Zora further against the lazy jolts of the cart. Had her bleeding started up again? Maybe a little—that could turn bad real fast. Her lips seemed as pale as shell, but the orbits of her eyes looked dark and skullish as she dozed on the bedrolls, too weak to wake, too pained to drift off fully.
Don himself felt better by the minute--the more distance they put between them and Necropolis. More than half his trouble must've come from the time he'd spent "dead".
Once, some years back, he had "died" before. He'd been a rookie assisting to aid a dying colony on a less-hospitable transfer-world, under an agent named Clara--a brilliant, zaftig ethnobotanist with the darkest, most haunting eyes--of course he had fallen wildly in love with her. Of course she had not been impressed, but she'd used him, stole all his research with his blessing--while sleeping with the director of the Transfer-Station.
On the brink of that kind of despair that only the very young or very old can fathom fully, he made a last minute decision and faked his own suicide--a moment later and it would've been for real. Then he'd used his psychometry to immerse deeply into the weird energies of Transfer Technology and produce some mighty ghostly effects, abetted by his trace-telekinesis.
The shadow side of Clara's scientific prowess, it seemed, was a secret font of superstition that he could use to her torment as she had once used him. In the process he also uncovered a major scandal of smuggled drugs and poisons from that other planet, with her complicity. The triumph won him accolades afterwards--but more than that had happened.
The constant submersion into magentine influence, with all his intent towards becoming a ghost, had nearly made him one. His grip on his own body had become so attenuated that it took months in Carmina before he could even walk again.
He shuddered at the memory--did he incline to this sort of thing? He felt a great, gloomy emptiness inside, as lonely as some cavernous castle hall, unrelieved by the silken drapes and the flickering bas-reliefs of gold...
He snapped back awake and found his head sunk against the wood of the cart-side. Now what had he been dreaming? He checked on Zora again, but found no new profusion of red spread upon the rags that bound her.
He looked out on Merrill and Deirdre as they marched alongside, trying not to show their weariness but stiff with it anyway. They both seemed a bit gray under the skin, and Merril,l with his headwound and his stubble looked harder than some of the ruffians that Don had met lately. Only the autumn spice in the air, the mellow-angled light dappled through the leaves, kept them going at all.
Merrill said to Deirdre, "Didn't you tell me once that you had tested borderline on telepathy?"
"Not so much borderline as dyslectic," she said, her eyes on the road ahead. "Technically, I can contact other people's minds; I just can't consciously process it."
"Interesting," Merrill murmured.
"But not much use. They say the physical gifts tend to block the mental ones."
"Except with oracles."
"Yeah, well, they're the exception to everything. Figure out what makes an oracle tick and you'll win the Jimenez Prize."
"Mm. I've been thinking..."
"Always a danger, where you're concerned."
Merrill grinned a moment despite his weariness. "Granted. But hear me out anyway."
"I'm listening."
"Do you actually need consciousness to send a message?"
Deirdre laughed. "I might not predict what I send." A blush briefly colored the grayness of her face. “Or where.”
Zora opened her eyes. "Conc'ntrate on what you wanna send, and I can..." then she passed out again. Don smoothed her hair back from her face.
"So much for that opportunity," Merrill said.
"Sweet of her, though," said Deirdre, "to want to help. All things considered."
For awhile they made no sound except their feet kicking through the leaves on the road. Then Merrill said, "She had a point, you know."
"Who?" Deirdre asked.
"Zelda, or whatever her name is. If you concentrate really hard on something--and on the people you want to share the image with--you might just get through."
"You have something specific in mind, don't you."
"You bet." He stopped right there, letting the cart go on a bit without them. "Concentrate now, really hard, on all the memories you've ever had of the Ghost Horse Inn--you've been there often enough. Every possible aspect of it that you can—you never know what might match somebody else's view of it. Think about the rest of the Friendclan while you do. Since Zanne and Lisa linked up with you recently--and especially after the beating their shields have taken--they just might pick up on it and meet us there."
She nodded. "Sounds more plausible than some of the things we've done lately." She sighed. "And I'm half in a trance from sheer exhaustion, anyway--maybe that'll help. Okay, I'll try."
She closed her eyes and took slow, deep breaths. When she swayed Merrill caught her and held her nestled against his chest; he could see the twitching motion of her irises underneath her lids. No sound but the crackling autumn wind stirred around them.
Suddenly her eyes flew open and she straightened up. "Well, I certainly contacted somebody," she said.
Anxiety prickled in Merrill. "Somebody? Do you have any idea who?"
She pondered a moment, then said firmly, "Jake." She pushed her hair out of her eyes and then stepped briskly to catch up with the cart rolling ahead of them. "Yes. I'm certain I touched Jake."
"Curious," Merrill said.
When they caught up with the cart they told Don all about it. He nodded, then said, "I just hope he's gotten saner by the time he meets us at the Inn."

* * *

With a screech of sidewalls against stone, Jake pulled the GEM over; the cushion dropped so fast under them that Zanne felt like her coccyx thrust up through her shoulderblades. "What's up?" she asked as Lisa groaned at the jolt, lying on the seat beside her. "We have to get her to cleaner air--fast. She's too bad off to handle..."
"Shh!" Jake let the vision overtake him. Soaked to the skin, he found himself warming up by a roaring fireplace, drinking mulled wine so spicy it made his eyes water and so welcome he felt an involuntary smile warm his face. He felt like he'd been there before, and the feeling agreed with him. He settled back into the overstuffed chair like he curled into some Primordial Mother's lap--not like his real mother at all.
But that thought disturbed him and stirred him to look up. He saw a windowpane before him full of night and rain; the wet blurs rippled down in tlomi rhythm with the shushing of the striking drops.
Deeper and deeper the trance took him, till he perceived something more there, something that had always waited there beyond the window. Like a wisp of moonlight left behind after the closing in of clouds, he made out a glow; he traced a long, long jawbone, a quiver of a nostril, a wide and luminous eye, till he realized that he stared at a gaunt and glowing mare, more bone than flesh, neither bone nor flesh, but...
He snapped out of it like a lightningbolt. Sweat not rain soaked him, deep in the outlaw tunnels on the fastest track to air and light, but parked, with Zanne and Lisa by his side. "The Ghost Horse Inn," he said.
"What? Yes?" Zanne said. "What about the Inn?"
He started up the GEM again without looking at her. "We have to go there. After I rescue Randy I have to go there. You can take Lisa now."
"Okay. Why?"
"I haven't any idea." They drove awhile before he said, "If I'm right, we should surface near a pier I know in Rhallunn. Can you contact Don?"
"I...not to triangulate, but..."
"Never mind that; you had contact with his mind earlier; that should help."
"Jake, I have no idea what kind of shape he's in! We're only guessing that the others even rescued him."
He took them down the right bend of a Y-intersection. "Just trust. Contact his mind and tell him to meet us at that pier."
They rode a long ways, in and out of postered stretches and bare stone spaces, before Zanne said in a tiny voice, "Uh, Jake..."
"I need a mental picture to send him."
He slapped the dashboard. "Okay! I'll visualize it--one picture. But don't you dare look further than that."
"Do you think I'm a fool?"
He just glanced at her and made a growl of annoyance.

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