IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Kief in Charge
Friday, June 5, 2708
"You know the rules, Kiril," I tell her.
She hangs her head. "It's a soldier's responsibility to wash her own hammock when she wets the bed."
I nod, then ruffle her hair. "You'll get over this bad patch, Hon." Maybe this wouldn't have happened if I had let her sleep with me again last night. Or maybe it would've, and I'd have even more cause for regret.
Stoically she takes down the pungent hammock, then pauses on her way to the stream. "Promise me one thing, Deirdre."
"Depends." That I won't tell the others? They already know.
"That you'll never, ever leave Lufti and me again." And there she stands, stiff and soldier-straight, not daring to look at me.
"Why, Kiril--someday you'll want to go off by yourself, marry and have..."
"At least as long as the war lasts."
Um...the one that’s been going on for generations? "How about as long as you need me around? I can do that."
She chews on her lip a moment before nodding slowly, doubting my judgment on when that might be, but accepting that she'll always have to settle for whatever she can get. Then she disappears towards the sound of rushing water. At this belt of the mountain microclimates, you never escape the water.
I shake my head, watching after her, and then pick up the breakfast pans. Is that why Lufti snapped at me when I found him an interesting piece of quartz yesterday, demanding of me, "What is this--some kind of parting gift?" Kids! Why can't they grasp that guerillas have to separate and regroup all the time? Kief over there never seems to have had any trouble with the concept.
The pans clean up too quickly. I go inspect the tarp over the foodstuff and make sure it won't let in any rain, should such occur. And then I inspect the hammocks, to make sure the knots hold securely. And then I inspect the coals of last night's fire. Again.
"Quitcher pacing," Kief scolds genially from the hammock where he lazes; I realize that I'm doing nothing else. "Rest while you can, if you haven't got anything productive to do."
I sigh and accept it when he sits up in his hammock and gestures for me to join him there. I swing my feet thoughtfully, rocking us back and forth, before saying, "Guess I'm just worried about Fatima and Kanarik. Just how long do you think it'll take to settle Kana in?"
He shrugs amiably. "Who knows? 'Tima didn't give us a location--nor should she."
I sulk as we go back and forth between the trunks. "And until she gets back we’ve got to stay glued to one spot."
He chuckles and says, "Not necessarily," as he lights up a cigarette for himself, then me. "We could dart out, do a little action, and dart right back in, and she'd never know the difference."
I puff thoughtfully. "Do you think that'd be wise?"
"Wise! Do you always have to do what's wise? How about what's fun?"
"My idea of fun isn't exactly..."
"Oho!" He suddenly squeezes me. "I’ll bet you're more the make-love-not-war type." He takes the cigarette right out of my mouth, snubs it along with his own, and stashes them in the crotch of the tree. "Never mind those," he says. "They'll taste much better afterwards." And then he lays back and pulls me down right on top of him, kissing me and tangling our limbs.
"Uh, no, Kief, actually, I...uh, please..."
He stiffens, frozen, though the hammock still sways. "What's the matter? I'm not good enough for you?"
"Oh no, Kief! If anybody..."
"If anybody?" He sits up so suddenly that the hammock nearly spills us both. "Holy Mother of God! You're not a, a..."
"Virgin," I say in a very small voice, still draped awkwardly across his lap. "Uh huh."
He spits a really foul word, retrieves our cigarettes from the tree and practically shoves mine in my mouth. Then he repeats the word more softly as he lights it for me. I try to keep from igniting the hammock—difficult, when he rests his arms thoughtfully on my back. "It's no good," he says at last, sighing smoke of his own. "You can't have your first time with the officer over you." He states this with the finality of some kind of incest taboo. "But hell, Deirdre--a girl ought to have made love before her first kill. This isn't natural."
I twist to the side, smoking gloomily while a bird makes a mocking song overhead. "Tell it to Kiril and Aichi."
"Aichi is different. And Kiril ain't no virgin."
I nearly drop my cigarette. "How can you say a thing like that!"
"She served on a ship, didn't she? All cabin kids get 'initiated' soon as they leave harbor..."
"That's just some filthy rumor!"
"...and besides, I've caught her in the bushes playing 'married' with Lufti. She even had some scrap of pretty red silk for a veil, a bit of gold lace on it and everything." He chuckles at that. "Kids!"
Before I can register my full shock he smacks me on the rump and says, "War it is, then!" and rolls me over him out of the hammock. "Since you're not up for making love. Call up the troops!" He hands me his cigarette, grabs up a pan and starts to hammer it with a spoon. "Everybody back to base!" he shouts while I wince at all the noise. "We've got a raid to plan!"
"Uh, Kief, raid what?" I ask as our soldiers trickle in.
"That's what we've got to decide," he says cheerily, taking the smoke back. "Doesn't do for rebels to sit on their tails too long."
I try not to glance sidelong at Kiril and Lufti in their playful dishevelment; the ball that Lufti carries might not explain everything. Kiril catches my odd look, though, and casts her own eyes down. "Hammock's drying," she says. And where did Lufti find a ball, anyway? Doesn’t he, come to think of it, have an uncanny knack for finding things?
"So, my splendid revolutionaries," Kief says with the cigarette dangling precariously from his lip, rubbing his hands together as he paces around our circle. "What's within raiding distance?" Unconsciously he imitates Cyran, even to an uncharacteristic sway of the hips.
Chulan raises her hand. "Those hooligans who've been terrorizing Cumenci come to mind."
"Good pick. What do we know about them, then?"
Damien says, "Well, we don't have any centralized location to attack, for one thing. They make the villagers lodge them in their own homes--even Aron's folks."
"How guerilla of them," Kief says, and smiles. "But they have to assemble regularly, or that gang that your crew slew, Deirdre, wouldn't have had set days when they could and couldn't harass the roadside stand."
"True," I say. "They report in every morning in the plaza before the mansion of the Master of Cumenci Plantation--but in broad daylight. Better we should attack their equipment than them. Most of it stays put at night."
"That's right," Chulan says. "The whole battalion has jeeps--gotta be something special in the works." Or maybe they’ve got more factories than we suspected—working overtime.
Kief says, "Then the sooner we knock some steam out of them, the better." Lucinda nods firmly beside him, though her eyes look troubled and unfocussed.
I suggest, "Let's not do anything too obvious. Night raids, a couple of us at a time, sabotage the jeeps one by one in a way that might have happened anyway--a broken part, a run-down battery--just often enough to keep 'em guessing. They won't know whether to come after us or not, while we tie them up more and more with repairs."
"But they'll wonder," Damien puts in. "Could they call it bad luck--all of it? Does that make them luckless in enemy territory? Or is it sabotage? Or divine disapproval? How can they fight if they can't make up their minds? And where will it strike them next?"
Kief puts a hand on his shoulder. "You have a role in this, Bard. I want you to infiltrate Cumenci and teach them songs to murmur, as by chance, whenever soldiers might overhear--songs about misfortunes heralding the wrath of God."
Damien starts to nod, then stops. "But what if Fatima gets back while I'm away?"
Sternly Kief says, "Are you a lover or a fighter, boy?" and his grip tightens. "You've got to put all your energy into one thing."
Damien hangs his head but says no word.
"Are you going to dedicate your life to avenging what they did to Kanarik, or are you going to bring her flowers and tell her that she lost her arm over a war that you don't think worth fighting?"
As he glares up, I notice the first downy hint of a mustache on his lip. "I'll do it," he says quietly