IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume V: Sharing Insanity
Thursday, December 17, 2708
“Feeling better?” Zofia asks me as she brings me dinner—dinner!—in bed.
“Never felt bad,” I lie. “What’s this? Looks like rations for two.”
She picks my arm up off the mattress and encircles my wrist with her fingers. Then she slides her hand up to my elbow and back without finger and thumb ever parting. Then she drops my arm and stares at me, medic to medic.
“You’ll spoil me till I’m not fit to command,” I grumble, but with my mouth full.
“I’m trying to make you fit to command,” she says, and takes the salt-paste out with her.
Army rations—luxury stuff. Is that real bacon in the beans? I can taste my food again—good sign.
Good sign of what, Deirdre?
Nothing that I have to worry about today. I stretch and set aside my dishes...
...next to a fat stack of paper. Oh yeah.
* * *
(A fat stack of homework faces me) (…faces me.) (…faces me.) (Life goes on in this school…) (…as if nothing happened.) (Everyone looks dazed, though.) (Yes, noticeably.) (Are you picking up on my thoughts, too?) (Barely, but I think so, yes.) (It was all that) (time) (in the cellar.) (It’s wearing) (off) (fast, though.)
(The lab stinks like garlic and acid from our experiments, but it wears off fast, with the windows open and the fans on. I shiver in the cold that we have to let in, worried that someone else in Montoya Manor might hear the whirring of the fans, but of course I must smile and act casual—no need to scare the poor darlings out of their concentration. Especially not Apollo and Courtney, whom I have drafted as lab assistants, the better to keep an eye on them.)
(“It’s wearing off fast, though,” Don murmurs. Jake and I look up from our homework. And eerily, we know exactly what he’s talking about.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” I ask. I do—I didn’t expect to be the one who sees it.
Jake looks at me keenly. “What, Randy?” he rasps.
“That everybody in this whole godforsaken school’s now linked, on an unconscious level. We’re just immune enough to make it conscious.”
Jake blinks at me. “I’ve never heard you say godforsaken before, Randy.” A chest-cold roughens his voice. “Cusswords, yeah. But not godforsaken.”
The hair raises on the nape of my neck. Quietly I say, “And I almost mean it, too.”
“Immune,” Jake says, rolling his pencil back and forth thoughtfully. He looks half-dead; small wonder he caught cold, speaking of immunity and weakening thereof. “What, beyond simply knowing that a problem exists, has bolstered our resistance? It didn’t before.” He looks up. “But we can all see things now that others cannot.”
He glances around him, at the others in the library, and by doing so he draws us to do the same. Everyone else keeps their eyes fixed straight ahead of themselves. Some of them bump into things, just a bit. Something seems a little bit slow in how they move, how they turn to answer a question, expressionless till eye-contact, only smiling when face to face with another.
Don says, “They act like nothing happened, nothing at all.”
“Yeah,” I say. “ At least when Wallace called us in, he and the others felt horror at a few bloody sacrifices in a goat pen. But now, with the whole campus splashed in gore, even a human corpse in the mix, they take it all in stride, just another mess to clean up.”
“They’re working hard to stay oblivious, though,” Don observes. “Maybe that’s why we can stay aware—we’re not trying not to.”
Jake slams his palm on the table. “We don’t have time for this mouse crap!”
I look at him, and can’t help but giggle. “Mouse crap?” Don cracks up, too, and finally even Jake joins in.
But then Don sobers, looking around again. “Did you notice,” he asks,
I shudder, then gaze out the window for a respite. The sunset has taken on a glorious palette of corals and golds. Only the three of us regard it. Can the others even see it anymore? The sky, after all, lies beyond the campus walls.)
I need the information. The sun sets outside; I had better review that great lump of paper before I have to read by lamplight.
(I don’t know what Lufti sees when he watches the sunset with me. Stormclouds gathering. Stormclouds washed in fire and blood. Listen to me—I’m starting to think like him. Bad sign.
But there’s something pocalypsish about it. Father Man goes on sometimes about pocalypses in his sermons—weird, fearsome stuff that makes no sense. I used to shrug it off as crazy talk, but kind of thrilling, you know, spooky story stuff that worms its way into Father’s ravings now and then.
But then I asked the Chaplain if he’d ever heard of a pocalyps and he read to me stuff out of the Bible that sounded every bit as weird. He said that it all had to do with Earth a long, long time ago— things about one-third of the ocean dying, and wormwood being a name for Chernobyl, whatever a Chernobyl is. He said that I shouldn’t worry about it, that those prophecies have nothing to do with us today, there's been a new Heaven and a new Earth since then, that's what Novatierre means.
But I don’t know that for sure. I don’t think the Chaplain had half the brains of Father Man, scrambled or no. Chaplain’s dead, but nobody can kill Father Man.)
(“We need more information,” Pauline tells me, carefully dripping hydrogen sulfide onto a powder. “I have found files, but with missing parts. Some pages end mid-sentence, and the next starts on something new.”)
It’s all here, in full apocalyptic detail. The entire requisition schedule for every troop under General Aliso’s command for the next three months—and by implication, every troop’s movements. Well, the supply-lines won’t know where to go, now—but we will. Except of course they must have figured out by now that we’ve seized the information; contingency plans must unfold even as I read. Even so, something so massive can’t shift direction in a day; guerillas have always had that advantage. And the fundamentals of the plan most likely will not change.
(And suddenly I know exactly where to find those missing files. Inside the highest tower: a dreary, utilitarian structure. The stockholders, for reasons unknown even to themselves, ordered it built around another, much prettier, smaller tower with a tiled blue dome and delicate ornamentation. The location unfolds within me as if I read it from a book. The information rests within that dome.
And then I “read” further. I reel against a cabinet, choking, so sharply do I see and smell and feel the burnt and smoking hole in Belen’s memory. She has no idea, now, how to get inside.)
I read further to unfold those fundamentals. That entire army that had gathered in that school will fan out for awhile, securing various strategic points (or trying to!) and picking up replacement troops, on their way to reconverge...
...at Abojan Pass. They will reconverge at Abojan Pass.
* * *
(It’s a shame to have to do this. But I try to be a just man, whatever the gossips may say; I can’t exempt myself from my own orders. I admire the shirt that the girl brings back so proudly, the silk spotless and smooth in my hands, full of that fresh-laundry smell that reminds me of home.
“Stay,” I say softly. I lay it down at the farthest end of the room, take off the clothes I’m wearing and lay them on top of it, then gesture her over to the bed, smiling.
She smiles back, a little startled; I have a reputation for never seducing maids. She hesitates at first her hands pausing at her buttons, and then she undresses more steadily when I nod yes, she understood correctly. Now she giggles nervously as she strokes my shoulder, her glances shy, her pubis brushing faintly against mine. Her shyness very nearly softens my resolve. I laugh just as nervously and wish that I shared her expectations. Then I whip the knife from under the pillow so fast that her eyes barely have time to widen before the lids flutter and close again. I step back from the gushing blood.
I have this much grace at least, that I can make a death as fast as I can make it slow. The blade went straight under her sternum and into her heart; it only took seconds.
The blood keeps spreading; I have to keep stepping back. I grab a blanket and wrap it around my spattered body, so that when I pick up my clothes, with my clean left hand, not a stain falls on them. Then I have to tread in the flow to get through the door to the bath. Thank God we’re moving out this very night, and I don’t have to worry about sleeping in that bed.
I will just have to get used to washing my own shirts again. But it’s not like I never learned how.)