IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
VI: The Rift
March 10, 2709
predawn light slowly
illuminates the view of peaks beyond peaks beyond peaks, first a
lightening of the deep blue-black, then the flush of turquoise,
then the rim of
coral glow. (It looks positively
chilly out there–not at all a sunshiny summer day in
Sargeddohl, is it?) The
mist-softened mountains wear deep, muted,
shades of indigo and teal. (I
deep into the leather upholstery, grateful at least for the
chance to relax on
this long drive back to The Charadoc.
Meetings can get so tedious!
Thank heavens for this fur and feather cloak from dear
Cherone, all snug
and fluffy against the year-round snow–well, snow it would be
if we didn’t
drive over such a desert, and at such an ungodly hour.
Cherone really knows how to treat his
really, I have been
away too long for late starts and early evenings; we have some
time to make up
. Ah, what’s a business-woman to
health in my
veins–real health. I almost forgot
very sense of it. (I can hardly
to enjoy darling Layne Aliso’s hospitality on the border’s
other side. Madame General is not
nearly as uncouth as
rumor makes her out to be–quite the reverse.)
I feel alive again–strong, and eager for
action. (Not to mention a
contact for a military contractor to cultivate.)
The air feels so crisp, so refreshing!
And the first birds sing.
one knows of all the
sacrifices that I make for my company–nothing, really, that a
lady should involve
herself in at all, if she can help it, if she has a living
husband to shield
her from the nastier details. Yet
sometimes one needs a hands-on approach.
There’s just no getting around it.
my neighbors fancy me
vacationing at some beach resort too exclusive for them to
know the name–it
wouldn’t do for them to learn that I must deal with smugglers
on a regular
basis. Yet Stovak has iridium,
Charadoc does not, and I need it for my catalytic converters. A shame, but there it is.)
comes up beside
me. We don’t need to say a word. E can tell by looking at me how I feel
today. And I can sense hir
only the dreary
revolutionaries didn’t tie up our military resources, we could
civil unrest problems by a salutary conquest.
Oh, I know it sounds dreadful, but I don’t mean it
cynically. They would thank
us! All they need is a strong
hand to sort out
their affairs. And as for the
myself, well, why not? The
have the technology to use their own iridium, and we do. We’d be helping them out.)
out at a distant
stand of pines on a mountain’s rainy-side.
The green/black smudge of vegetation fans out here and
growing around rock outcroppings, till it looks like an eagle,
maybe, only kind
of elongated and with two tails. (I
out the window, and watch the fence-posts go by.
They look gray and weathered–not something I
see much of back home, but rather charming, in their own
way—rustic, if you
will. Not milled posts, either,
lopped pine branches cut to post-length and otherwise left
unfinished. Ah, the appeal of the
primitive! I should build a
summer retreat up in these
mountains with a similar decor. And
wonder what makes those curious blue glints in the shadow
behind that shelf up
there, all in a row like that? Ice
twilight? That might make a nice
aesthetic touch, too, something like that.)
looks sort of like a
flying woman, doesn’t it, that patch of woods?”
I realize that Cyran regards the same feature that I do. “It reminds me of you, Deirdre.” I don’t break my silence.
wake up a bit and notice
a startling detail. No barbed
connects the fenceposts. I sit up
and look directly out the window. The
has not merely fallen off–someone has deliberately stripped it
God have mercy–that’s
her car down there–and she doesn’t know!
She doesn’t know!)
smugglers have brought
us an interesting bit of intelligence,” e says.
“Are you ready to go back to work?”
I still don’t say anything, but I nod.
Cyran points to the
road below, and on its more distant reach I see a long luxury
vehicle comes our way, its length
impractical for the mountain’s tight curves; I sure wouldn’t
want to be the one
driving it. I haven’t smoked for
duration of my sickness, so when the wind puffs up I can smell
the rich bread
scent of stapleseed–a vehicle of The Charadoc!
your target. We need it stopped,
preferably with hostages
taken,” Cyran tells me. “Do you
I do,” I say,
stretching, feeling the straps of my flit upon me.
“It looks like a good day ahead.”
if Layne doesn’t
still hold the pass since last I came this way?
What if rebels haunt the mountains, now?
We are wide open to attack!)
can’t get to her in
time! I can’t warn her!)
really should keep you
grounded until Makhliya says you’re up to weight, but she does
say I could use
you in a pinch at this point.”
me all you want,” I
say, and laugh. “I’m pinchable.”
bends back and peers at
my buttocks like a parody of a man, then winks and says, “You’ll
need a bit
more on you for that–fortunately we don’t fight with our rumps.”
think some do,” I
say with a smile. I watch the car draw closer,--swiftly
for such a tricky road. In a hurry, are we? Still
smiling, I step up to the brink.
I dive head down, breathless in the icy rush!
I do a barrel-roll just for the joy of it,
and glide to a spur of the mountainside feet-first. (I run
skidding down the
mountain, caution flung aside like the gravel spraying from my
my fellow soldiers
issue out of a tunnel below, taking their zigzagging goat-path
down to the
road. I skip from boulder to
taking giant leaps, barely skimming the rocks with my boots,
arms floating on
the air for balance, running perpendicular to the cliff.
I know the psychological effect: the enemy
perhaps has gotten used to a woman who can fly, but someone
running down a
precipice like a level trail would give them a new twist of the
even if functionally less formidable–it must look eerie.
The difference means that a witness might not
know whether it’s me, or some other rebel who also has an
uncanny trick or
two. And if there’s two of us...ha!
trip, fall, tumble
bruise and bruise and bruise then THUMP! against an
outcropping. I shove myself back
up with bleeding hands
and go on more cautiously–but I go on!
Am I a Peshawr or a stinking, sniveling coward?
Well, come ON!)
first shots fire,
aiming for the tires, but it takes a learning curve to hit a
God, God, guns
again! Oh God I can’t do this, I
pretty pink ring had
better do as advertised–the training alone cost three times
its weight in
the leader of the
charge combust before my eyes! “HIDE!”
I shrill. I shoot off from the
soar directly over the car as my folks dive behind any rock
did I dive behind a rock, curled up and
cowering–what is WRONG with me?) The
slowest three also go up in flames, shrieking–whoever the
combustor might be, e
either hasn’t the control to target the head, or doesn’t bother. But nobody can combust anyone that
pounding, I race to
keep up with the vehicle, streamlining and diving to increase my
because the minute I slip from soaring directly overhead, she
will see me and
she will burn me. Somehow I know
she–no time to question it. She
dare lean out the window, because as soon as she does,
concentrating on me, a
hidden sniper will pick her off.
freezing air streams
past so fast it blinds me–I can’t see the car anymore!
And I know I plummet at fatal speed, and
can’t gauge my distance, and...
what? Divebombing the car means
dying to stop the
biggest threat we’ve faced so far—an armed combustor.
the road twists and
turns–I can’t guarantee even succeeding at a suicide mission at
my foe doesn’t fry me, I’ll crash into the mountainside.
It all means nothing–nothing!
along, dearie. I know precisely
who you are, and now I know
what you are. Just come within
you nasty little chert, one teensy miscalculation and I will
deal with you as I
should have done a year ago, before you terrorized my country
and ruined poor,
then a weird calm
enters me. Somehow I know that I
sense the car beneath me, as surely as know the gender of my
enemy. My ghosts must guide me. Tanjin?
Are you there, Tanjin? My
rational mind shuts off and I glide on pure intuition, and the
feels silent, so silent, only the growl of the motor precisely
disturbs it as I twist and turn with the invisible road, feeling
the pummel of
the wind and my own hair lashing at my face.
to that think I welcomed
you with open arms! I should have
you off the pier–I should have ordered my servants to beat you
down with oars
until you drowned!)
car picks up speed–I
can hear the skidding of its wheels. I
hear the gravel spraying off the road as the overlong thing
comes time and
again to the very brink at every curve.
That helps, telling me where the curves are.
I can almost feel the driver’s terror mingle
with my own, as we both swallow it down and do the job we have
am Cherone Peshawr. I have a job
to do. I climb dangerous
mountains for fun! No one has
ever questioned my courage. Why
can’t I unclench a single shuddering
plunge so fast that
hard air pushes the skin of my face back painfully.
I’m pretty sure we’ve gone beyond anyone who
could snipe on my behalf–but does she know that?
I exert my will to slow me down, lest I
overshoot the car. I have to clench
fists and force my arms forward against the G’s, inch by inch,
have to shield
my eyes, pry open my lids...
have had about enough of
this. It’ll be a shame to ruin
craftsmanship, but I can afford the repairs.)
...There! Directly below me as it should be. Now if only I can...
Shots! Straight up through the roof! They’d have connected, too, had I
ounce more. Can she see me through
holes, now? Can she guess?
she gives me an idea
for how I can end this. Fighting
momentum, feeling my breastbone just begin to warm, I force my
hand to my own
holster. The cold wind whips the
away from me nearly as fast as she can apply it–she didn’t
that! I force my arm against that
wind, my latest pistol pointed down. I
feel warmth bloom just over my heart and at first it feels good. Then not so good, but still our
the heating down, and the sweat that it engenders quickly turns
to frost upon
my unaffected brow. I take aim, not
where the bullets came from, but precisely over that point where
driver would have to sit. Cyran
hot, now, feeling
like a sunburn getting worse. I
and I don’t hear whether the chauffeur has time to scream or
not, because the
car goes so quickly out of control, spinning off the side and
through the wireless fenceposts, to turn and turn again in the
air before the
first impact against the mountainside, which bounces what’s left
still farther into
freefall till not even I could save her.
follow for awhile
nonetheless, just because I’ve built up too much momentum to
keep the road
under me a moment longer. But the
falls faster, turning into a toy, and then a dot, and then a
dustlike speck. I follow, fighting
to decelerate, till I can
slowwwly pull myself upward again, groaning and sweating in the
ice-wind to do
it, until I can finally glide into normal flight, or its
approximation, as I waft back to our base.
My chest-muscles sting when I flex my arms to help guide
and I break out in a brand-new sweat just to think of how close
(Useless! All of my education, all of my
of my work-outs and aspirations–useless!
I couldn’t save my aunt. I
couldn’t do a thing but watch her die. I
couldn’t even find the ice in me to use the distraction of her
death to spy out
the rebel stronghold while all watched the battle between Aunt
Soskia and that
flying chert. I can’t believe that I
her hot at that Chinese New Year’s party, just a year ago. Am I the sorriest excuse for a man
mountains, or what?)
wrapped in blankets
and sipping broth from a cup (“No fasting for you,” Father
insisted, “You have
a medical dispensation.”) smelling the herbal sharpness of the
salve between my
breasts (they’ve come back!) I endure Cyran berating me for the
loss of a
lucrative hostage, in the same silence with which I began the
day. E never tells me who she was,
in me shudders with relief that I won’t find out.
see others gather
for the Ash Wednesday rites, I get up and join them.
I can at least show penitence, if nothing
else. When it comes my turn for the
smudge upon the brow, people start to suppress giggles all
around me. Finally Hekut calls out,
Father–she nearly made an ash of herself already today!”
Mykolas grins right back (it feels good to
see laughter sparkle in those eyes!) but he thumbs a cross onto
more skulking. Every time I think
I’ve reached the limit, I
get more motivation to kill. How
loved ones must I lose before I pull myself together enough to
ready. Rested, fed, healed and
absolved. There’s a war out there
that needs a soldier
with my skills. Time I got back to
(We burn. We burn, oh dear Lord, we still do burn!)
ENDS "THE RIFT", VOLUME VI OF IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE.