THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
VII: The Burning
The Newest Recruit
Thursday, May 1, 2709
Mahkliya comes running in, drying her hands while trying to hold a medical bag at the same time. Her foot hits a wet spot left over from the last clean-up, skids to a hard fall on her belly and screams louder than Jaydee, clutching at herself, her knees drawing up
Dear God she's going into labor! And Jaydee hasn't stopped vomiting blood.
"Somebody fetch Katya!" someone cries.
"It's no good! She's passed out cold."
(So easy, to put the bottle in her pack, when all the rebels know Katya's weakness. So easy and so hard, the pain worse and worse with every step before I could collapse back onto my mat. I barely had the strength left to bring Deirdre her landmine, too.)
Now cussing, shouting, accusations layer the audial hell of the screams and groans. "It wasn't me! I wouldn't have let her anywhere near…" and all the while I lie there as helpless as Katya.
As if we didn't have enough excitement already, Sonia comes running in, sees Makhliya writhing and howling on the floor, clutches her own belly and screams in sheer bloody terror.
"It's okay!" Kiril shouts, trying to pull her out of there. "She's just scared. She's...oh God, she's a telepath. She knows. Chulan, get her out of here!"
A plan! A plan, you idiot--agents always have to have a plan! But I can't think through the ash that the fever left in me.
(We've got a plan. I help the men clean up the ashes from the barbecue, its sweet smokiness all around me. The kitchen window glows golden in the purple twilight, but I feel more at home out here than bustling about with the women over dishes. Although, come to think of it, with the night's dropping temperature, my hands wouldn't mind a dip into warm, sudsy water right about now. But I want to talk with Anselmo. I find charred chunks of wood in the soft, gray ash, chunks that we could grind up for biochar. I plunk them in the bucket before carrying the rest of the ash over to the metal barrel, for lye to make fuel and soap.)
A pla...but of course--I've had the antidote in my pack all along! (We can administer the antidote--sooner or later someone always accepts it just to stop the misery, and when they turn out okay the holdouts will cave even if they don't trust us.) Head swimming with my lunge for my pack, biting my lip to try and stay conscious, I plunge my arm to the bottom and pull up the cylinder while everybody else flutters around Jaydee and Makhliya without doing any good. With shaking hands I struggle to open the xerophane packet within, take a good, big sniff of POWER CONFIDENCE OH MY GOD THIS FEELS GOOD! Every muscle clenches like a full-body orgasm as I clutch my chest to keep my leaping, dancing heart in place, laughing at the metaphor shooting through my brain because the painful beats feel like a stomping tarantella indeed! Then I climb to my feet and push the others aside. Leaf was never this WOW!
"Feed Jaydee ice chips," I snap while going over to check out Makhliya. "And yes I know you must have ice if you have ice cream so give him some right away even though the jackass is going to die from eating jam full of glass particles, not nice ice particles that melt in your mouth though they look the same and sparkle more than conchy dust but without the same oomf but still enough to kill you hehe we all have our silly vices, don't we? But yes, ice! Ice! On the double--it'll make the dying more comfortable. Romulo, stop squawking like an idiot and come over here and help your goddam wife! Help her to stay up in a squatting position, yeah, just like that, the way nature intended. Kiril, go get cooking-oil--you always know where the...oh, right here. Thanks! Of course it's right here we're in a pantry, where else would it be? Romulo, kneel right behind her, take Makhliya in your lap with your knees spread apart and pull up her skirt for me…"
"All boys out of the room!" Romulo barks before complying.
"Oh don't be an idiot--we're rebels, we've seen everybody's everything." (Once we get enough Vanikketans stabilized, we can gather people into communities again, according to their own self-descriptions, and yes, catering to their prejudices, if that's what it takes to keep them alive.)
I pull Makhliya's knees apart as I kneel on the wet floor. "Hold her up, boy. Be there for her. You're going to receive your firstborn on your thighs just like a Biblical patriarch---you can change your trousers later. Everything changes, m'boy. Everything from this day forward."
(But then we'll make these communities as interdependent as the farms in All Kinds Sanctuary, so that they can stop killing each other and start to see the benefit of working together.)
I grab the oil from Kiril, my trembly fingers struggling with the cork till she frees it up for me. "This new one's going to need you, Romulo, like nobody has ever needed you before. And Makhliya will need you like she's never needed you before, too. And that is good, that's wonderful, and you won't regret one second of it and you'll regret all of it and that's okay too, nothing teaches humility like parenthood or so I'm told," I babble as Makhliya grunts and groans and pushes and sweats and Romulo holds on for dear life, his face as pale as a Mountainfolk face can go, under his shock-white hair.
Makhliya lets out the most gawdawful scream, and Sonja makes it stereo from the othe room in sympathy pains. "Oh my--she's crowning already! Baby wants OUT! Sorry little fool. Doesn't know what she's getting into."
I rub oil on Makhliya's taut skin, massaging, trying to help it stretch more without tearing because I don't feel anywhere near steady enough for an episiotomy today. "Actually, haha, I don't know anything about parenthood whatsoever, I wasn't even raised by parents so you're on your own, kids!" I just keep on massaging and stretching even though Makhliya curses and knees me in the jaw but I'm way past feeling it. "You're going to have to figure it all out by scratch and you'll make lots of mistakes and cry in the middle of the night and make more mistakes compensating and somehow your daughter will grow up anyway and you won't know how she managed it. And...here she comes!"
And I start giggling uncontrollably because while Makhliya screams her loudest yet, her baby's head squeezes her rectum and bladder like a toothpaste-tube and a squirt-bottle, and then one great gush of blood ushers out a brand new egalitarian but hey, everything's a mess anyway, what with bloody vomit and all that, oh what a messy world for this dau...oops son, definitely male, I got it wrong, oh well, and no matter because he's taking his turn to squall his lusty little lungs out so that I don't have to smack him which is a good thing because the way I feel I might not gauge how hard very accurately, and sure enough in the other room I hear sudden peals of laughter from Sonya, so maybe she's not scared anymore, either.
"Congratulations--it's a boy!" I cry, holding up the newest Egalitarian. "Hey, Hekut--you know how to sterilize a knife. Hurry up and get it done, and soak some thread in disinfectant while you're at it, and I'll show you how to cut an umbilical cord."
I supervise Hekut and then stagger to my feet, filthy and laughing and amazed at the new family also laughing and crying in each other's arms.
"Romulo, you're going to need to wash them both off," I say, fighting my reeling head. "Lufti, go fetch them hot soap and water. Akhbar's ointment, too--put a little dab in the hot water and stir it in."
I inspect the genitals as Romulo wipes them clean. Uh oh. "Hekut, I'll want sterile sutures and needle, too--and you'll have to stitch up her tear as soon as Romulo cleans her up a bit. Speaking of which…"
"Me?" Hekut cries. I...I...I don't know how to sew!"
"Perfect," I say, a little annoyed with myself for shaking too much to do the deed, myself. "We want big, clumsy stitches, not seamstress-strokes like a well-brought-up little embroiderer like Chaska...where is she, by the way? No matter. Here--looks like just two stitches will suffice. Romulo, I'll need you to hold her steady."
Hekut hesitates, grits his teeth, then pokes the needle through. Makhliya screams and Romulo holds her down, glaring. "One more, Hekut. One more and then you're done."
"No! No way!"
I shove him back at Makhliya's privates. "Get used to it, Hekut--soldiers always get wounds to stitch up...there you go. And here...a bit more Akhbar's. There, you've got it--done!"
While Hekut's retching adds to Jaydee's mess, the baby latches onto Makhliya's exhausted breast with no problem, and now suckles happily. Long beyond modesty at this point, Romulo adds his own soiled clothes to the stinking pile of Makhliya's as he tenderly washes her and himself and their son in the warm, soapy water that Lufti brought in, ignoring everyone else who comes in to give the pantry a much-needed second cleaning. Jaydee has stopped vomiting with the help of the ice chips, and lies pale upon his mat, as weary as if he, too, had given birth. Chaska holds his hand and talks with him. All good.
With things in hand, I almost swoon just turning around to fetch a change of clothes and a scrub, myself, when I find Kiril in my way, glaring at me.
"Deirdre, where'd you get the leaf?"