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IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE

by

Dolores J. Nurss


Volume VII: The Burning


Chapter 39

Invalids


 

 

Tuesday, April 29, 2709, continued

      

Tuesday, April 29, continued


     "Get the medic." "She's burning up!" "Maybe I can brew up something that can help; do you have any..." and just like that the words slip away, buoyed up by the froth of the hot ocean into which I sink.
      (What have you been brewing up?" I ask Anselmo as we load the shovels clanging back into the truck and I notice the tank that he has in there.)
      It's not so bad, once I let the waters waft me where they will. Uuuup and dowwwwn and uuuup and dowwwwn...
      (Up and down the waves lift and settle, lift and settle, and normally I don't notice it out at sea anymore, but sometimes my Black-Clam jinxed senses don't give me any peace. With the rain long past, we've wrapped up George and Wallace all cozy in their blankets, right here on the deck where we can keep an eye on them, and the ocean rocks them peacefully, miles of blue serenity all around us, but no peace calms those gaping faces staring out at some awful nothing.)
      (Up and down I jolt and jitter, crouching on the donkey's back, jarring every bruise and welt till I want to scream so loud that God goes deaf...but I haven't got the strength even to whisper. Yet why should I protest the scourge that saves me? Papa and I talked about this, how pain pries open the gates of truth, he can't even spare himself. It purifies me not just of lies but also of all the deeds that the lies inspired)

      But then yes it is, it gets very bad indeed, and worse than that, and more worse still till I throw up all over the nice clean straw, and again when somebody rushes a bucket to me, and again, and it gets into my hair and makes my mouth sour and then that makes it happen one more time, before it leaves me empty and shivering in the heat as somebody wipes up my face with almost painfully cold water, yet it feels good, too, that clean chill. Someone else presses a cup to my lips and I drink refreshment, shuddering all the more, spilling some of it to burn like ice, till at last I can lay back down again and who cares about the hair?
     ("Biodiesel," Anselmo answers. "Lots of engines can run on it, the way they run on the lower grades of taroleum." For a moment he smiles, saying, "I first made it as a teenager, trying to earn a science prize. But Margie Greenshaw just had to have a canyon right in her back yard, steep enough where she could safely take telescopic pictures of a family of changing-tigers and document their fur-shifts for a full year. Who could beat that?" He nods appreciatively, then frowns. "I wonder if she got through okay? I haven't thought of Margie in years."
     I shiver, remembering so many bodies by the side of the road. Everyone in this poor, sick land must ask the same question: I wonder if he, she, they, still live?
     I think of people whom I've killed along the way and who might miss them, who pangs to hear each footfall towards their door, only to ache with disappointment once again. Oh Gates, must You pry open this truth, too?)

     I don't want to shiver. Shivering hurts every joint in my body. But shivering is a truth, my old friend Zanne would say, a reality that I can't escape. Trying to resist it only makes it worse, and I feel too spent to attempt it very long.
     (I hurt worse when I fall off the beast into the dirt. Worse still when rebels run to grab me up and pull me out of sight, gripping my lacerated arms, dragging every bruise and burn and wound across the rocks, banging me up against roots, hauling me through fallen branches. But I've held back screams for worse than this.
     "It's Jaydee! He was right there out on the open road."
     "Hurry--bring him in here before anybody sees.")

     Somewhere I hear another arrival, cries and bustles as Makhliya hastens away. I'm not the only one who moans.
     ("I heard he shot ol' Whitesleeves himself to escape."
     "I hope he killed the devil!"
     I remember my instructions well. Papa does indeed have a devilish cunning. "This base..." I rasp out, "compromised. Couldn't help..."
     "Shhh, shhh," a soft voice soothes me. "We understand. Just tell me how bad it is, soldier.")

     My limbs shudder so much that I'm not sure whether it's still shivering or crossed over into fits. "I've never seen Deirdre this bad," Kiril says so softly that I barely hear the words. Then louder she says, "Makhliya, hurry up with the intake over there, will you?"
     "Don't order me around." The medic sounds distracted. "Call me only if she stops breathing or throws up blood."
     I could get over this, I tell myself, if I'd just allow myself a little more of the greenfire leaf. I could make myself useful...useful and hateful and somebody I don't even know anymore...do I really recall attacking Kiril? I sink into despair.
     Maybe that's called for, despair, maybe that's the penance that could set me free. Whatever furious ghost has been shaking my bones relaxes, little by little, to let me doze off a bit, in an achey sort of way.
     And then I see my ghost: her thick brows over blue eyes in a dark face, staring at me helplessly, almost accusingly. This time her long hair looks as streaked with gray as mine. My cracked lips move almost of their own volition. "Why do I always ask you to remember me," I find myself whispering, "when I don't even want to remember myself?"
     "I don't know!" she cries back. And we weep into each other's arms.
     Suddenly I'm drowning in wet sheets! I thrash my way out so desperately that I knock Kiril to the ground, but she gets up again. I open my eyes briefly to see her hair straggled in her determined face as she holds me down with one arm and with the other fans the sweat that pours from me.
     (I open my good eye to see the Abomination hovering over me, dressing my wounds. Ohhh, I know all about you now, you distillation of foulness! I...I..." The person leans forward, barely able to hear me, but it's not Cyran, it's someone else with long hair, and that's all I can see between my blurry lashes. Oh hell, now I have to force out words again. "I held out as long as I could...didn't tell everything." He or she nods; that's how Cyran trained us: If we can't hide all, at least hide some.
     And my father said the same thing. If I went back looking this bad, they'll expect that I gave something away, and if I deny it they'll know I'm lying, so satisfy their doubts with a tidbit. "Told about the base...not the network. The manors and plantations...still safe.")

     Steps come back after awhile, as my shuddering begins to let up a bit. Once more I feel cool hands examine me, pull open my eye, take my pulse, all the normal medical things.
     "Her fever's breaking, Kiril. She'll be okay--if she lets herself recover." I recognize Makhliya's no-nonsense voice.. "She's just been through too much, and never quite gets the chance to fully recover." As she washes me off I start to feel not just better, but heavenly. "Did getting this far involve leaf?" Then not quite so heavenly.
     A silence, and then I hear Kiril's smallest voice say, "We had no choice."
     Makhliya makes an exasperated sound and mutters, "They never do." I open my eyes just as she pushes her thick, glossy curls out of her pimply face--she is way too young to sound so contemptuous of her elders! And...way too pregnant to work out in the field--her belly stretches painfully between us, her blouse not quite covering it.
     White-haired Romulo seems to think the same thing. "Sit down, now, Makhliya. You've done all that either one of them needs for now." The star-scar in his cheek moves with his grimace of concern.
     "No, we've got to move them out of here. We're compromised."
     "We've got to move them out. You've got to find a comfy place to sit and prop up your feet before you push yourself into early labor."
     I hear humor in her voice when she says, "You're starting to sound like a medic, yourself, Love. But I do have to take care of just one more thing. Everyone please leave the barn for a minute." Then I feel her hair on my shoulder, her breath on my cheek. She had liver and onions in her last meal but I have nothing left to throw up. I hear her murmur, for my ears alone, "It's bad enough that you're swimming with parasites--that alone would make leaf dangerous for you. But that's not the only thing going on with you, is it? I know you're different, Deirdre, on the brain level. Some experiment--every medic knows. You're too high-strung for greenfire, woman. Your system can't handle it--it's going to kill you if you chew any more."
     I nod, but I don't believe her. She only knows what medicine I've taught her. And nobody understands the neurology of Fireheart Friendclan. Not even Don, and he's one of us.
     ("I don't understand," Don says. "Jake, can you help me out?" But Jake just stands there, wide-eyed, lips parted, staring at the old and young man on the deck, as the rise and fall of the boat tips him higher and lower in our view. Yet just when I get ready to answer he does instead, low and soft.
     "It feels...It feels like getting thrown out of a train. There's the vertigo, then you crash into a different reality from what you expected, tumbling every which way as you try to orient, bruised against everything you hit the whole time. All your senses bruised. All your borders...torn, like skin. You feel stunned. You bleed power. It's...awful."
     I stare at him. All I can do is whisper, "Jake, I am so sorry!"
     "Me too," he replies.
     Don accepts the information uncomfortably. "I still don't understand. I've seen you shocked out of trance before, Jake. You didn't take it this hard."
     "I'm trained. They're not." He turns to the riggings and gestures us over with his head. "Now let's put as much distance as we can from that...that desecrated island."
     Only after I've got my hands full of ropes do I realize that we never got around to burying the final hermit.)

     But no, the parasites in my blood haven't finished with me yet. I feel a new rush of fever crisp away all of my borders as I tumble into a hell of my own making, howling with the ghosts of my murders and regrets. My rattling bones bruise me from the inside out as I hear someone nearby me groan, barely audibly, the words, "I embrace the pain. Pain brings out the truth."

                  

 




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