IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Tuesday, June 30, 2708
(“Debbie, did you read the tract I left you?” Minnie has taken to calling me Debbie, ever since she discovered in her Bible a female general named Deborah.
“Yes, and my name is General Layne Estelle Aliso, not Debbie. I was not named for anyone in your Bible, but for Layne Hendersnaad, a persecuted scientist, and I much prefer science to this claptrap.” I toss the offending paper on the table between us.
She just smiles, in that annoying, saccharine way that she has. “Aw, these prison ladies, always angry at first.” She pats my hand, and I don’t dare claw her, with the guard watching. “You’ll come around, sweetie. They always do. Sooner or later you’ll realize that you wound up here because your way isn’t working.”
I stare at her narrow sleeves and drawl, “Need I remind you that I await my trial, that no one has convicted me of anything?”
“Now Debbie, they wouldn’t have arrested you if you didn’t do something wrong.” She smiles still more brightly. “Honesty’s the first step in the right direction.”
I sigh. Three times a day. She gets to visit three times a day, when other visitors must cram into a one hour slot a couple times a week. If we did this to prisoners of war, the rebels would accuse us of brainwashing. Or cruel and unusual punishment. When I get out I will definitely have words to say about violations of regulations.
Just in time her cousin comes in with a slip of paper. “Message for you,” he growls, “from your aide de camp.”
I scan it quickly, then read it over again. Did they? They DID! A couple of officers sent troops to the passes that I marked out. “Thank God!” I breathe. I read more and frown, ignoring Minnie. The rebels were better supplied than usual, rested up, and many broke through, knowing the mountains better than the city conscripts, but we got some of them, at least, and completely destroyed a couple bands. Not nearly as many as we would have gotten had we swept into that valley when I said to, but at this point I’ll take any victory I can get.
“...Oh glory halleluia! Oh how the angels sing!” I realize that Minnie has been going on for quite some time, now. At my puzzled stare she claps both my hands in hers and exclaims, “Didn’t you just hear yourself, Debbie? You said ‘Thank God’! Your heart’s already a believer, even if your head hasn’t caught up with it yet.”
Ohhh no. I pull back my hands and sink my face into them. Now I’ll never hear the end of it.)
“Ohhh no,” Damien groans, when he realizes which troop we seek. “Not Majid!”
“Cyran told you last night,” I remind him as we march. I had rather dreaded telling him before.
“I don’t remember anything about last night except that we’re going to head to my village and then to Kanarik.”
“Majid’s not so...”
“He hates my guts, and I never even so much as smiled at his girl.”
I put a hand on his shoulder, the blanket-turned-serape feeling thick and comforting (at least Cyran let us keep the clothes on our backs!) “Don't worry, lad; Cyran and I won't let him eat you alive.”
Studying the lay of the land, Cyran says, “He claims to have seen you, you know.”
“Seen me what?”
Cyran smiles, and for a moment e sounds and looks exactly like a gossipy schoolgirl as e leans over and says, “Making lllluv with your eyes. At Tulipita.” A flock of land-gulls cackle overhead as if they laugh at us.
“Was I singing?” Damien cries, and his voice cracks the way it hasn’t for months. “Because if I was singing, well, all bards flirt with the crowd. It’s part of the job. It doesn’t mean anything!”
Cyran shrugs, hir eyes twinkling. “He saw what he saw,” and won’t reply to anything more that Damien tries to say, e just keeps on smirking.
(She told me what she saw, but I’d thought about taking it to the experts for quite some time before she came to me. I have to do this. I’ve already committed myself past recall anyway. He’ll never forgive me. I don’t care! I do care, but about him, not about what he thinks. He’ll kill me! No, he won’t, he’ll just turn those wounded eyes on me and I’ll kill myself. No I won’t. He needs me. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? I keep on tangling myself in these thoughts as my feet persist in storming down the street to Jake’s house.
Trust the feet, Randy. Your body already knows what’s best.
Yeah. Like that worked before.
This time it’s true and you know it.
His oraclism knows too. I wouldn’t call it a coincidence, after all, that the incident took place right when Lisa happened to take an evening stroll in the same neighborhood. Maybe that’ll help, that deep down he does understand.
I don’t even knock. I pick the lock that Jake had put in back in Alroy’s day, then barge on in, glare down on his startled face where he sits, and toss the brochure on the table right next to his bacon and eggs.
“Read that,” I say. “Latest recommendations for the care and well-being of oracles.”
“Lisa saw you the other night.”
“Saw what? I stayed in Friday.”
“No. You didn’t. You’ve been sleepwalking all over town. No wonder you always have shadows under your eyes. You aren’t getting proper sleep, and oracles need sleep more than anybody.”
I sit down at his table and butter myself some toast. “You need someone to stay with you. Someone to steer you back into bed when you sleepwalk, be there when you have a vision-crisis…” I smile at his breakfast, “And make sure you eat right. Just how much saturated fat did you think you could pack into one meal, anyway?”
“You’re one to talk,” he says, grabbing the toast away from me. “But what are you saying, Randy? That you want to move in with me? I already told you…”
“I don’t just want to move in with you—I am moving in with you. I have already made arrangements with the landlord, the movers…and the court.” That’s when he lays the toast down and gapes at me, as I stand and pull more paper—with government embossing--out of my pocket to toss with the brochure. “Either you take me, Jake, or somebody court-appointed. It’s a new recommendation, and if an oracle repeatedly shows an inability to take adequate care of himself—as I had more than enough evidence to prove—it goes beyond that.”
“Now wait just one…”
I grab his wrist. “Jake, Lisa saw you walk into traffic. A GEM nearly hit you. Then it caused an accident with another GEM by swerving away. Thank God nobody got hurt! Archives has it all on record with policia, with signed witness statements all around. I’m paying the damages—I made those arrangements as part of the deal. Face reality, Jake: you need me.”
“Are, are you saying that now you’re legally in charge of me?”
I keep my face stern. “Unless and until you tell the court that you’d prefer someone to replace me, yes. I am now your legal guardian, and I am moving in with you.”
“Don’t I have any say in it? Nobody supoena’d me or...”
“The law’s different for oracles, Jake. Haven’t you kept up with the changes?”
He looks dumfounded at that.
“Your blind spot,” I say with a grim smile. “You probably got notifications in the mail and deleted them without even thinking.” I lean over him. “Things have changed since we took down Alroy. The court knows, now, that you and people like you could pull the wool over everybody’s eyes in person, to conceal whatever you don’t want to face, yourself. You could even drop off the map if you wanted to, and really become a danger to yourself and others. In such cases they ask a board of your fellow oracles to review the case their way. And the board agreed—unanimously—that you need me.”
He makes a small sound as if about to speak, but he has no words. He just stares up at me, with desperation and alarm all mixed together. I relax my grip, to hold his hand.
“Is it really so hard, Jake? Nobody will think anything of it, now. More and more oracles have friendclan sibs move in with them all the time. It doesn’t mean anything, you know—at least not to the general public.”
“Hard?” he gasps, and then suddenly pulls me down to him and kisses me ferociously. Then he says, “Randy, it’s everything I ever wanted, and thought I could never have!”)
“Whoa!” Kiril cries and grabs me, just in time to stop me from walking straight into a boulder. Where did that come from?
“Sorry,” I say, confused and indeed alarmed at myself. “I don’t know where my mind went.” Everyone stares at me. “I’m all right, really I am. Just daydreaming on my feet. I’ll be more careful.” I blink, shake my head, and immediately feel dizzy and wish I hadn’t. Ohhhkay. So once again my neurological difference causes a weird reaction. Apparently Cyran’s magic tea has not worn off on schedule. I shrug and keep going.
And what about greenfire, Deirdre? Are you quite sure you don’t have any longterm effects? I take a swig of water, but it doesn’t refresh me; not bitter enough.
Screw that. I don’t have time to worry about maybes. Not when Damien points and asks, “Is that a grave?”
Soon we have no doubt, and soon after we find more than one. Shallow of necessity in the stony ground, more like cairns of rock and scraped-together dust, each with twisty little crosses fashioned from the branches of pine or shrub, whatever came to hand. The crosses will not last a month, if that; already the wind that whistles through them shakes them where they stand, and some have fallen down.
The government dead have dogtags looped upon the crosses. The rebel dead have luck-dolls, or rosaries, or knotted prayer cloths, whatever they might have carried of an identifying nature. And I can’t read these identifiers trembling in the wind. Cyran, walking through, nods at some, but says no word. Somebody cared with equal diligence for both sides.
“More of theirs than ours,” e says at last, while setting a cross upright in its kerchief of St. Jude. “Majid has done well.”
The more we march, the more we find. It doesn’t look at all well to me.
(Did I do well? I must have. Sh...somebody needed this.
The student graveyard feels so peaceful. The sun glints off the mica in the headstones, like tears within the rock. Or the twinkle of laughter, or...I don’t know.
Ponderous footsteps come up behind me. A heavy arm soon drapes my shoulders. I smell the liquor on the chaplain’s breath, but that’s okay, I understand. The craziness in this school gets to us all; I act as much to help him as anybody, even as my faith opposes his.
“You were close to Corey, weren’t you?” he asks.
“Yes,” I barely breathe the word, leaning into him. “Yes, I was.”)