IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
V: Sharing Insanity
Kiril Takes Charge
Thursday, December 10, 2708
(Nobody need know, under the blanket. The magentine feels cold to the touch, but it will warm up soon. Angular, hard, like this school, but soon it will glow with a lovely, crimson color, feminine, forbidden. He wanted no menstruation here, nor birthing burst of red. I should have been born here, but he saw to it that it couldn’t happen. Well, he will have bloodshed anyway, of another sort.
There. Now it glows. Now I can do as the char-man says. I think hate into it. All my lifetime’s years of hate!)
Almost midnight, I think, witching-hour, but I need no broomstick for my work. Why didn’t I think of this before? Why send others, when I’m the one who can sail right in and right out again without leaving a single footprint behind me? Sure, it may mean a chain of sleepless nights after days upon the march, but the remedy for that grows everywhere that the brambles allow.
(How long will it take Deirdre to get here? What if she doesn’t come at all? What if she sends someone else to harass the troops tonight and nobody sees the sign I left? What if daylight finds me shivering out here in this tree and all the camp suspicious of me?
And what are we doing with trees already? The brambles have failed at last; the main road must lie close. I can’t put this off any longer.)
Why send others to do my work when I can fly? I can fly! I do a barrel roll for the sheer joy of it, leaves and sky whirling into each other till just for one scary-thrilling second I don’t know which way’s up.
(After such bad sleep for so long, I don’t think God’s own trumpeting angels will wake Sarge tonight—not after ladling so much herbed cheese sauce from the special pan onto his noodles, nor after treating him privately to the cookies I made just for him with the chocolate icing so thick it could almost pass for fudge. Long after I crept from the tent I could hear him snore, even when I passed the perimeters of the camp, ducking between the sleepy guards. And I still have cookies left!)
(As Til has trained me to do, my cold feet bared for the work and silent, I slip past guards, their attention as dim as this forbidden corridor, guarding a sick woman who can’t possibly cause problems. The little clicks of picking the lock sound loud to me, but I know they’re too far off to hear right now)
Now I soar straight up towards the luminous mountains of clouds with night-black lakes between them, depths that sparkle with stars like shimmering crests of waves upon dark waters. Did ever a captain of the Egalitarians lead with finer skills than mine?
(But what if it doesn’t work? What if his nightmares won’t let him sleep for long, no matter what I do? What if he wakes up confused and alone in the dark and cries out for me?)
(“Hush!” I whisper to the confused woman in bed, my hand against her mouth. But she glows with surprise, so saturated with magentine that I can see pale flecks of pink, blue and green luminescing beneath her withered skin, wherever the flesh stretches thin against her all-too-obvious bones. Alarmed, I fan a telepathic block around us—stronger than I ever have before, because I draw not only on my own magentine, but that in her body as well.
She nods. She wants to keep her secrets, and relies on my concentration to help her. Mind to mind, we tell each other everything we must.)
I divebomb the forest below me so low that I bite a mouthful of leaves, then spit them out, laughing, as I waver on the air. Not bitter enough for me, these leaves. I shiver with excitement and try a few more aerial stunts, all on my way, not losing much time at all.
(I shudder where I crouch in the old tree’s cleft, but drawing the dark army blanket close doesn’t do any good; this has nothing to do with cold. How long is this going to take? I should’ve filched a watch so I can know when to give it up before it gets too late.)
My pulse rings in my head with eagerness when I see the enemy camp; I still all the laughter in my throat to glide in the perfect absence of sound. Now I swirl around their tents in vulture gyres, choosing my target carefully, my dark clothes and cloud of black hair virtually invisible just above the firelight’s reach. Don’t laugh, don’t sing, just feel the magnificence of this moment in silence. Now rise again for the larger view, check out all the likely paths and perils beyond the perimeter.
What’s that? A glimmer only I can see? Back there, hidden in the woods—no one on foot would have caught it: another arrow drawn in rice. Cautiously I light upon it.
(Heart in my mouth I cower, waiting. Gee, but it gets dark under trees this thick; I forget sometimes, traveling so long on roads, surrounded by campfires every night. Sometimes I think I’ve almost forgotten how to be a rebel.)
That’s when the most hideous thought of my life hits me. Kiril could betray me.
No, she couldn’t! I ruled this out already.
Oh yes she could. She could easily have forgotten how Egalitarianism feels by now. You think it wouldn’t appeal to her, the warm campfires and the soldier’s camaraderie? You think she’s immune to temptations like that? Haven’t I seen her snuggled up against THE SAME FREAKIN’ MAN WHO GREETED ME WITH GUNFIRE ON WHAT SHOULD’VE BEEN A SECRET RAID?
But Lufti said...
Lufti’s out of his raving little mind. Anyone could pull one over on him, if it jibed well with his fantasies. Kiril might have feigned distress to Lufti, then sent him to fill my ears with lies—she might be laughing at me, even now—she and her hidden cohorts in the woods.
No! It couldn’t go like that! Not my little Kiril!
Little, hah! Any fool can see how well the sow has prospered at the enemy’s hands. Why should she return to hard rations and a dubious future among the rebel ranks?
I stalk where the arrow points, knife loosened in the sheath, while I listen for the slightest move. How dare she turn on the best general that her sorry little country ever saw! And after all I’ve done for her...
“Over here, Deirdre!”
I tackle her before I even see her, I feel her body thick and squishy in my arms, against my flit-hardened breast, with so much loathing trembling in me at that flaccid touch that she pops right out of my arms like the greased pig she is.
Mindblast! I roll away in shock, then leap after her again. So, the filthy little slut’s a telepath, is she? Well, I’ll teach her to abuse her Gift like that! I grab her in a flash and get my knife to her throat.
“Deirdre!” (Deirdre!) “Don’t!” (Don’t! What’s wrong with you? Don’t do this! I love you I didn’t do anything wrong I love you something’s wrong with you DON’T DON’T DON’T! PLEASE! Oh God...) “Don’t please, Deirdre—stop!” Again it hits me—all the hurt and shock and fear conveyed in trembling innocence precisely in how she says my name—it gouges into my brain so violently that I let go of her to grab my own head, falling to the ground; somehow I keep just enough presence of mind to strangle back a scream till only a rasp of it hisses between my teeth.
(“HATE!” Jake screams in the middle of the night. “He’s cracking the world open with hate!”
“Shut up!” I dive for him, clapping my hand over his mouth. As the others stir I grin nervously at the sudden lighting of a lamp. “Just nightmares, folks. Nothing to worry about.”
When I draw back my hand, he gasps, “And love—love can be a weapon, too!”)
“Deirdre?” She does it again—this is her weapon, her witchcraft! In my name! I want to kill her for doing this to me, but some other Deirdre wrestles with my will and leaves me helpless in a sweating heap. I grit my teeth and force my hand towards the knife I dropped, but it shakes so badly that I can’t pick it up.
She takes my hands easily and holds them gently between her breasts. When did Kiril get such motherly breasts? I shudder as that other Deirdre takes over by degrees, though I make her fight for every inch.
That other who remembers the ideals that Til raised me for.
“Deirdre,” she says so sadly that I find my own eyes water, “what have you done to yourself?” The full reach of my madness dawns on me. I fall into her embrace and sob, just sob, into the softness of her shoulder, no words sufficient for the horror of what I almost did. “Deirdre, there’s nothing left of you but bone.”
I shove her away so hard that she smacks into the tree. “Oh, right! Bone—what, am I supposed to gorge myself like you?”
“Quiet! The enemy’s not that far away!”
The enemy. Hers, mine, our enemy. The other Deirdre, the one who’d cut up Kiril if she could? Better I should cut her out of me, myself.
“Deirdre—NO!” But I’ve got a firm grip on the knife now, but she throws her weight into me and knocks me flying, the steel spinning out of reach to glint brilliant silver in the shadows...how splendorous. I lean on my hands admiring the sheer beauty of the knife lying just out of reach and tears start to spill down my face again, all by themselves. That’s when Kiril becomes the adult one; drawing me back into her embrace as the sobs break out once more and the shivering, oh, the shivering, inside and out! She strokes my hair as I stutter into hers about just how confused I feel. Then she makes me drink water and waits for me to calm myself.
“How long have you been flying?” she finally asks me.
“Not long; we’re not camped far away...”
“Not in the air—I mean how long have you been chewing leaf? When did you last sleep?”
I strain to think. “Sunday—I slept all through Sunday.” I laugh. “And on the seventh day I rested!”
“Oh Jesus!” She sits down heavily. “That means you were flying before then, too.”
“You got a problem with that?” I snap.
“You bet I got a problem! If I was a medic I’d ground you!”
I glare murder at her, then take a good hard look at everything I’ve done this night. “Oh God, Kiril, you’re right.” I sit back, hard. Then I grip her arm. “You’vegottounderstandthefeverstheydraggedmedownandaIcouldn’tafforddownIjust couldn’t…”
“Slow down! I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
I try to get a grip. “I’ve got draggin’ fever,” I say, simply. “On top of a concussion." I swallow. "I didn’t have a choice.”
“Oh lord,” she moans. And then she wraps her warm, fat arms around me and I shudder against her breast, sobbing my heart out.
But then she pushes me back gently, her hands still on my shoulders. “Listen to me, very carefully. We’re running out of time. There’s a Purple Mantle somewhere near on the main road who’ll hook up with us as soon as we find our way back.” The child doesn’t even realize from moment to moment who she says “we” for. “We’ve got to take this whole troop out before that happens—no more of this cat and mouse crap, Deirdre.” That’s a different “we”, right there. Language fascinates me. Are there as many Kirils as there are Deirdres?
“Are you listening to me, Deirdre?”
“No more mouse crap.”
She sighs. “You are going to be absolutely no good until you crash, aren’t you? Okay. Go back to camp.” (Oh mercy, I heard of something, once—very dangerous, but possible—that could do what I need done. But can I face it?) She takes a deep, frightened breath and says, “Sleep for two days and two nights—I can stall the troop for that long. And then come in with all your forces—I’ll have the soldiers ready for you.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
That’s when Kiril spills tears of her own, making no sound, just staring at me like I decompose before her eyes. “Go get some sleep,” she says at last. “May God grant that you know enough to trust me when you wake.”
I climb to my feet. I try to shoot out of there in a fury, up into the clean, black sky, but I merely hover up a few feet and crash down to the ground. I laugh—I bounced! I must look funny, sprawled about like this.
“Oh Lord—now you’re too spent to fly for real. Here.” She shoves cookies into my mouth, thick with chocolate icing. “Eat it all—you need it. I only hope to God you’ve got enough greenfire in your blood to keep you awake till you get back to base. Listen carefully—you Tilián got special trances to memorize things under all chances, right?
“Trigger the trance. Tell me when you’re ready.”
(“Randy?” Jake murmurs. “You still awake?” He sounds drowsy. I don’t know whether he wobbles on the verge of sleep or a trance.
“Yeah,” I whisper.
“Magentine’s not supposed to glow.”
“Of course not,” I reply, but only the soft rumble of a snore answers me.)
I feel weirder by the minute, very awake and very sleepy all at once; it takes no time at all to let the rhythmless rhythms of wind in the trees trigger the tlomi-trance, combined with a few taps on my palm. “Ready,” I breathe.
“You will go back. You will sleep all tonight, and tomorrow day and the next day after that, and that night, too. By the next morning I will have the troops softened for the final attack. All of them.” Her wet eyes burn in the night. “Let’s finish this.”
I nod. In the trance I remember who I am and that I do trust her.
“Now come out of the trance, Deirdre. Go home.”
And with that, fueled on sugar, I rise up into the sky and drift back to the camp like a bit of fluff on the wind.