Dolores J. Nurss

Volume VIII: The Final Conflagration

Chapter 15

Eye of the Storm



Wednesday, May 7, 2709, continued

       I haven't got the strength to worry when Alysha leaves us. I just lie there, listening to her gathering up her things, then I hear the soft fall of her steps, and then the sound of her fades to a rustle through the leaves, then nothing. Nearby Pearl munches on grass, contented to not worry about anything either, tethered on a long rope, close enough to a rill to get water when she needs it. And that's all of my world for awhile, just water trickling, bird-songs, the shushing of a rainforest breeze, and the soft sound of a horse munching grass. I really don't need anything else.
       I open my eyes. Leaves flutter dreamlike from the boughs above, and the occasional bird darts past. The forest has that glow of the sun slanting sideways underneath the canopy, a bit before the twilight sets in, everything looking faintly gilded and unreal. Or maybe it's just the fever.
       Somewhere a starlight gardenia has already opened up, anticipating the night. Somebody's garden? No, I forgot, it grows wild around here, native to the Charadoc. Whatever the case, it smells like an unexpected grace, wafting over us with the breeze.
       If I don't move, then nothing aches. If I don't think, then nothing hurts. I lie in the eye of my hurricane, my fever and my failures whirling all around me, but right here, right now, I feel peace, I feel a beautiful, precarious stability.
       That's not the way of an agent. I should try to trouble myself about something, do my duty or whatever that means. "Do you think Alysha will be able to find help?" I ask Cyran.
       "I'm betting my life on it," e replies wryly. "She knows these woods like a blind man knows his own home."
       "Then I won't worry." I let myself slip back into sleep, blanketed by the tropical air, cushioned on the grass.
       ("Let me help," Wallace says unexpectedly.
       "You're helping," I say. It takes four hands at least to put this tent up; Toulin doesn't have the tech to make the kind that pop up by themselves.
       "I mean with the Mad Boy."
       I stare past his shoulder at a bloody sunset, edged by black trees with tiny flecks converging on them as the birds sing home their flocks to roost together. A vivid image hits me: children piping bird-songs to each other across a snowy distance, to find each other in a forest for the night. But that feels like something from months ago.
       "The Mad Boy's in a war zone," I say, learning it by saying it. War zone? "And he's even worse off than you and George. He's not just on the edge anymore, he's not even holding on. He's been in freefall for half a year now." The temperature drops steeply with the sun; we can see our breath in puffs of blue twilight. Already a red glow off to my right shows where Randy heats rocks to warm us once inside.
       "I've worked with troubled youths before, Jake."
       Speaking of warmth...
       "It's something that I'm good at."
       I steady my breath for a moment, gently disengaging myself, at least in part, from the other consciousness. "Right now the boy in question has just begun foreplay. With a girl. If you took over it could get very tragic, very fast."
       Wallace turns red, averts his eyes, and goes to fetch water. And I start staking the tent's corners, with Don's help.)
       (Star of my light, star of my life, let me bathe the mud from your weary body. Let me soothe your feet in the creek's cool moss. Let me find that secret little stub of scented soap that you've been saving for our wedding and let us wed right now, here beneath a starless sky where you alone illuminate the dusk as the perfume of starlight gardenia fills our senses when I work the lather through your hair, every bubble a rainbow world emanating from a mind that can feel what I feel and feed back what you feel and then PLUNGE! down to rinse out the miles and worries and the griefs and the grinding determination, and SOAR! back up to air to gasp and laugh and all of a sudden your mouth on mine, our tongues cuddle together, your arms and legs pressing me close with nothing between us but the creek's sweet ferny water squeezed out with urgent tenderness so together oh such exquisite warmth!)
       (Nobody asks why Randy and I slip away, after he tucks the rest in with a pan full of hot rocks. He doesn't ask either, here deep in the evergreen forest, where the only warmth we can find comes from each other. His eyes glint in the deepening night with all he needs to know.
       Let the world spin on awhile without us.)
       (We ride in silence into the night, Anselmo, Ozwald, you and me, as the last blue fades behind a lace of silhouettes on the horizon, until it's all black, except for a thin fan of light on the road, glowing from the replacement headlights given to us by the good folks of Bishya Kibeho. It's a mostly sound road, just a bit potholed here and there, but you must understand, Tshura, that road maintenance has seen some disruption this past year. You do remember, don't you? Sometimes you seem so present and sometimes I can barely feel you at all.
       I saw into him, Tshura. For a brief instant, when Finn hugged me and sobbed and wouldn't let go, I fell right into his memory of who he used to be: honor student, a mathematical wonder, school champion in the national junior engineering tournament, captain of the chess team, a boy with many friends and a favorite of his teachers...at least before things started to change, over differences that he couldn't see.
       "He wasn't crying out of fear," I whisper out loud. "He mourned. He finally had the safety, the peace to let himself mourn."
       "What was that?" Anselmo asks.
       "Oh nothing. Listen, darling. Why don't you give me the wheel, while you climb in the back and get some sleep? I have a feeling that I'm going to be awake for awhile.")

       It seems like no time at all before I open my eyes to full-on night, the hum and chitter of nocturnal creatures, the occasional glimpse of a star between the leaves above, the deep green flavor of the humid air. I tense when I hear a wagon creak our way, the weary sound groaning and whining slowly louder as it nears, till it stops, yards away from us. I had no idea that we lay so close to the road! Pearl neighs softly and another horse answers. Damn it, Pearl!
       I see a light through the trees, beams sweeping this way and that before fixing on us. Then the light goes out. Boots tramp towards us. I ease my good hand towards my knife, remember that the shoulder's once again no good, and shift to the nearly healed injured one, hoping that the pain won't stop me.
       A gruff old voice calls out, "No need to ask questions, I already know you're neither and both!" I ease up into a silent crouch. "And it's an honor, sir, ma'am, whatever--it's a bloody honor!"
       Alysha calls out, "I found help, Cyran. It's going to be all right."



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