IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
“Justín...” Deirdre moaned, trying to stir herself out of the trance. “Justín...wake up.” It felt like she pushed against the very stuff of the universe to make it to the switch, to turn the music off, like trying to move in a dream that drags at you, but once she stopped the hypnotic tones that other world became the dream, and this the reality. “Justín, I have to ask a question. I have to know something.”
Barely audibly, Justín sighed, “What now?”
“How come I picked up Sanzio’s thoughts but not Branko’s? How come I could hear that monster’s thoughts miles away and missed the thoughts of people who traveled by my side—people I cared about?”
Justín groaned and then leaned forward to her, arms crossed on his knees, giving her the darkest look he’d shown her yet. “I don’t think you’re ready to hear the answer, Deirdre. Maybe you never will be.”
Her heart beat faster, already suspecting something. But she said, “You have no right to make that decision for me.”
“Very well—but you have to take responsibility for your decision. Promise me that if you can’t handle what I tell you, that you will submit to sedation and give up all this nonsense. Then I can plant a hypnotic suggestion to make you forget what you don’t want to know anyway. All right?”
She hesitated, surprised to find herself trembling. “All right,” she said.
Justín sat up, took a deep breath, and said, “It all comes down to affinity. Dyslec...”
“Do you want to hear this, or should I get the hypodermic?”
“I...tell me the rest.”
“Dyslectic telepathy, unguided by the conscious mind, tends to scan around randomly till it picks up on minds compatible enough to make an easy connection, and then pulls in what it finds.” He ignored her faint whimper and continued. “Some theorize that it particularly zooms in on information that the telepath needs, but since this impetus comes from the unconscious mind, those ‘needs’ can include matters that the telepath has suppressed or avoided understanding—like what makes her enemy tick.”
“So...that means I’m not a torturer at heart? That I just needed to know how a torturer thinks, even though I didn’t want to?”
“On the contrary—you could very well become another Sanzio D’Arco if you don’t face what you have in common with him. Or have you forgotten what you did to that combustor in the service of the Revolution?”
Deirdre felt all the blood rush out of her head. “You...you know about that? Already?”
“I get glimpses in all directions, past and future. I know something about it.”
Deirdre swallowed twice, nauseated, but when Justín reached for the needle she said, “Okay, that’s good—I learned something. I like to learn new things. It’s good for me. It’s...please turn the music back on.”
Thursday, July 23, 2708
Rashid makes us halt by a certain tree, and Cyran lets him. He calls Malcolm and me over to teach us some of his herblore; I for one feel glad of a break in the march and sit at the boy’s feet like a good student. I like to learn new things—it makes me feel like I’m back at Til Institute, safely wrapped up in a class.
“This tree only grows in the heights, but you can use its roots for eye-worms picked up in the rainforest. See how the branches spread, spiral fashion around the trunk. See how the fat needles grow in sprays of six." I nod and take mental note.
He whacks his machete into the ground, parallel to a great root, then digs in to pull up a severed side-root that looks like a very fat parsnip with an apricot tinge. "They're kind of a tuber—I don't know of any other tree that grows something like this."
He hands it to Malcolm, but stops the man from brushing off the dirt. "Don't clean it till you need it. Here, let me show you. You peel off a few strips of the skin to let some of that dirt in, and store it like that, but leave most of the skin intact. You know what an enzyme is?"
Malcolm smiles. "I think so."
"The soil around these trees carries an enzyme that meets with the skin and the pulp to produce the vermifuge you need. My m...." He pauses, swallows, then says, "My m, mother used to think that maybe it comes from some fungus that likes the roots."
A shudder runs through him and then Rashid gets professional again. "Store it till it gets good and withered, give it time—you always need to gather this in advance, just in case, not wait for an emergency. Then, at need, you can wash it, grind it up, mix the powder with clean water, boil it, and then cool it in a covered container. Make a lot of it when you do, using enough to color the water a clear golden-amber. Keep the bottle sealed air-tight, and never touch the dropper to anything but the liquid. You put two drops in the eyes twice a day, till the worms crawl out. Then you continue treatments for a full month more to make sure you kill any eggs. It’ll sting; the patients will balk–but make sure the stuff gets into their eyes anyway. You can keep someone from going blind this way, though they probaly won’t see as well as they used to."
Malcolm hands the root to me. I sniff it to memorize the smell: sort of like a yam with a horseradish bite. After he lets me study it well, Rashid takes it back from me and wraps it carefully in St. Luke before stashing it in the new mule's kit, beside his new and unadorned tent. I don't think he believes in prayers anymore.
* * *
(I can see him, my Merrill, upstairs in the window, lit by the table-lamp, turning the pages of a book—he does love books. I go in, up the stairs. I know that he hears my steps, that he pauses in his reading, and then makes himself continue. He’s not reading for pleasure, my husband; when does he ever do anything for pleasure anymore? He studies for his next mission, in Dhurbah. And I am sure that he has purchased books for me, for my mission in Vanikke.
Then I smile in the dimness of the corridor above the stairs. He at least had some fun in that Boy’s Night Out recently! Don told me all the things that Merrill left out. Would it surprise him that I’ve been there, myself, that I like the Rat’s Nest much better than he suspects? They have a Moulin Rouge bar, there, that appeals to me. Gorrrgeously decadent.
We will have to share much more in the future.
I open the door and go into the light. He pretends not to notice, deeply immersed. I unwind the black scarf from my head, fluff out my curls, and drape the cloth across the back of the couch. He still pays me no heed. I toy with a curl on his neck and he freezes, then oh so casually marks his place and closes the book.
“Yes,” I say.
“Yes?” He swivels around to me, and his face looks weary.
“Yes, I want you to go with me to Darvinia, before we start our missions. The timing’s not that critical, I’m told. We both need a vacation.”)