IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!



Chapter 9

NECESSARY MEASURES



[Cyran's ransom note regarding Deirdre Keller]


Sunday, February 16, 2708

Two paragraphs.  I keep reading the same two paragraphs over and over, trying to find some clue that I missed the last time. 

Soskia turns strangely cold to me whenever I try to find out more about this Egalitarian Liberation Front, this person Cyran.  Even when I ask whether Cyran is male or female she shrugs and fans herself, saying, "How in heaven's name should I know?  I don't keep track of riffraff."  Over and over she says that this is no concern of mine, leave it to the Purple Mantles. 

No concern of mine?  This woman is like a daughter to me, I told her.  I thought she realized that.  How could anybody not?

Sternly she warned me that people are starting to gossip about my unnatural relationship with a Mountainfolk girl.  It doesn't seem quite wholesome, she said. 

I thought I knew this woman.  I thought I knew this country.  I don't know anything anymore.  My ignorance burns deep in my belly till it's all I can do not to double over right in front of Soskia.

What manner of ambassador am I, that I don't even know who the Purple Mantles are?  She looked annoyed with me that I should make her uncomfortable by mentioning them,and cautioned me not to bring the topic up in public.  "They are a branch of Law Enforcement, or the Military, or something," she finally said.  "They take care of troublemakers."  Before I could inquire further she rang a little bell and maids brought in lunch for one.  The smell of food only made my stomach burn the more.  She stared at me pointedly as they arranged her balcony table for her.  I know when I'm dismissed, at least.

 

 * * *

         The transcriber turned a yellowed page carefully, for the paper had not fared well.  The diary rippled and crackled in a brittle way consistent with exposure to too much moisture and heat.  Well, that part of the Charadoc did consist mostly of jungle, didn't it?  Not that she cared enough to do the research.  She moved her peppermint toothpick around in her mouth, then clamped down on it firmly as she typed, making a point not to pay attention.

 

Monday, February 17, 2708

I did it.  I took the only steps I could.  I have abandoned my post.  Til will have to understand.  I cannot pour my energy into anything right now except finding Deirdre.

I managed it maturely, sending my decision back to Til so that they can choose a replacement ambassador.  Soskia wanted me to turn it over to experts, but what am I if not an expert, myself, an agent of the Tilián?  I told her that I would work within the system, with the Purple Mantles.  She hissed at me that nice people don't deal directly with the Purple Mantles, that I was making such a fool of myself over that finger-licking, sailor-loving little "chert" that she couldn't afford to associate with me any longer--especially now that I no longer have a position.  She then ordered the servants to throw my possessions out into the street.

Dazed, I sat there in the dust, thumbing through the dialect dictionary, before I even gathered up my other books from their sprawl, pages flapping in the wind.  Chert is a brown-to-red stone that forms outcrops in the mountains sometimes (not to be confused with the stone of the same name in Tilianach.)  It is commonly used as an epithet: "Dumb as chert."  It is also a slang term for Mountainfolk.

 

* * *

When we come within odor-range of a refinery town Cyran gives orders, and a blindfold binds me so tightly that I see sparks.  Then they yank a bag over my head, which I take for mere overkill, until they shove something burning under the hem.  I recoil in fear, but they hold me there, choking on the smoke.  It smells like marijuana--they want to distort my sense of space and time so that I can't count steps, memorize turns or directions, measure distances by minutes elapsed--nothing. 

"You idiots!" I gasp when they pull me free at last.  "If that bag had caught fire I wouldn't have been much good for ransom."  But this time Cyran makes no sardonic replies, e merely orders Kanarik to tape my mouth shut.  (I know this town!  Uncle Tangley died here.  The poison-palsy got him twitching and slobbering, his body grew twisty and spasmy till he couldn't work no more, and then he died.)

Hands bound, I reel into disorientation.  They jerk me this way and that till I can't tell my own left hand from my right. 

But I feel the soft dirt give way to cobblestones, then brick.  They should've gotten me shoes before this.  I trip on steps, and then we run across a boardwalk, then I stumble down steps on the other side.  I feel the hot sun give way to shade.  Now it's dirt again, with rubbish underfoot.  "Keep her away from broken glass," I hear Alysha order.  "We want to keep her able to travel."  We must run down an alley. 

Now in and out of houses.  I can't possibly keep track of all this.  Smooth adobe floors and woven mats, street again, more adobe, more street, a flicker of hot and cold underfoot for minutes, for hours, for who knows how long.  Sometimes we trip through soft natural soil, sometimes over planks of wood.  I hike for a hobby, I have the best sense of direction in my friendclan, but my head spins like a compass in a room full of magnets and I can't get my bearings on anything but texture.

(Aunt Jee will give us shelter.  Aunt Jee will remember Uncle Tangley telling me, "Kanarik, go find Cyran, the first chance you get.  Don’t stay in the factory, sorting out the ore—everybody who sorts ore gets the twitches, soon or late."  I could barely understand him.)

Hunger builds in me, the drug eating up my blood-sugar; we had no chance for breakfast today.  I tell myself, "It is only hunger, after all," and make myself run, though my need for food only makes the lightheadedness worse.  But who needs to think?  They make every decision for me.  I sink into a fog of feeling.

(Aunt Jee will give us rubyberry pie and the sweet milk of her goat out back.)

Again I bark my shins on wood, but this time hands shove my head down till I topple to my knees, then further, pushing me to the ground.  Ropes tie me up and down my body, then they roll me under the boardwalk.

(Aunt Jee makes more money now than Uncle Tangley ever could, making fools of the refinery bosses and getting paid for it, making fools of them on her pretty yellow sheets.  Aunt Jee is rich and keeps a goat of her very own.)

I lie there in the dust, spiderwebs across my skin, and I wait.  Footsteps fade.  I wait.  I try to count my breaths, but it's no use.  Time rolls over me.  I wait.  Have they abandoned me here?

I hear footsteps again, thudding the boards above me.  I push the tape off my mouth with my tongue and cry, "Help!  I've been kidnapped!  Here, under the boardwalk!  Help me!"

              Fists pummel me.  I hadn't waited long enough—I’d heard my own captors above me.  Behind the blindfold fireworks go off with every blow.  My final thought before passing out is, "When I'm unconscious I won't even have texture to orient me."





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