Saturday, July 29, 2017

27: kindness and the lack thereof

The child trudged right past the guards.  They didn’t bother to search her anymore.  Down the stone steps into the cool darkness she carried the tureen.  The guard at the bottom of the steps noticed the change, alone with the prisoner he had more time on his hands and stopped her long enough to look in the pot before letting her pass.  She set the pot on the table before the woman in chains and fished out a spoon from her clothes.  The woman’s eyes got wide.  She moved forward quickly rattling the chains in the echoing tomb and opened the lid to see the broth inside.

“Soup.”  The child jumped.  The woman hardly ever talked.  Or moved for that matter.  The girl had just gotten the idea from watching her that she didn’t much care for the nuts and burnt crunchies Ch’Byartha usually gave her.  So she’d brought some old broth with mushy veggies in it.


“The child does not have a straw, would it?” the woman asked.  Her voice was whispery, hoarse.

“No,” she answered, “Dinna know y’d want’n.  Could bringya one next time ifya wanna?”

“The child is kind.”  The girl shrugged and turned to go as the woman picked up the spoon.  This place gave her creepies.  Whether the tomb or the woman or both, she didn’t care.  “Will One’s Guide bring the food again?”

“Who?  Ya’mean the old blind guy?”

“One does.  The Blind One once served as a guide for One.”

“Izzat why’re gonna kill’im?  Izzat why’re torturing ‘im?  ‘Cuzza you??”  The woman recoiled.  Sat back and looked even smaller than usual.  She probably didn’t weigh any more than the girl herself.

“The Guide is a prisoner?”

“Yeah!  Dey took’im!  Dey beatin’ hell offa’im!  Izzit cuzza you?”

The woman stared at the floor while she thought.  “One fears it is.”

“Canyoo do sumpin?”  The child’s eyes felt hot.  “You gotta do sumpin!  Izyerfault!”  The woman looked at her with those eyes.  The creepies got worse but she was mad and sick at the same time!  She felt awful.  Had felt awful since they had taken Ch’Byartha away.  She would sneak close enough some nights to hear his screams.  Here them crack things.  She didn’t know what to do.  But if this woman knew something that would get him let go…  “Please!  You gotta do sumpin!  Dey killin’im.  ‘E was gunna take me wiff’im.”  She started to cry the first real tears she had cried in years, since learning to cry the fake ones which caused strangers to give her bread. 

The woman turned to the guard.  “Is it true what the Child says.  Is the Guide being tortured for information?”

The big guy smirked.  “Guess you should’a told the Major what he wanted to know.”

“One told the Major everything.  The Major was not satisfied.  Will the Guard now take One to the Major so One might free One’s Guide?”

“Aaaah, no.  No, you can just sit here till the Major wants to see you.”

“It is unknown when the Major will come again.  One’s Guide is suffering now.”

“Yeah, not my problem.”

The woman put the cover back on the tureen and placed it carefully next to her chair.  “Is this viewpoint likely to be shared by the Guard’s companions outside?”

“Yeah, nobody letting you out of here.”

“One regrets the Guard’s lack of compassion and One apologizes.”

“For w-“  It was dark.  The child’s vision was blurred with tears.  Most of what happened next she could not see well but not for either of those reasons.  It was over far too quickly.

“Will the Child show One to the Injured Guide?”

“Wha?” she rubbed her eyes.  All three guards were laying in a heap on the floor.  The woman was standing before her holding one of the legs of the table and offering her hand.  The chains dangled broken from her bloody wrists and ankles. 

“Please, take One to the Guide.”  As they left, the woman retrieved the tureen.

26: the Kinslayer

Long before the Kinslayer arrived where the slain kin had danced the hive of the meat animals lay, the heady, damp spoor of them caused the Need to whip up like a brewing storm.  So many manys of scents!  More than the stinger’s camp.  More than the hive in the trading post.  The senses of the Kinslayer were nearly overwhelmed.  One had to stop and pant and concentrate upon the Purpose or it would slip away.  Be buried like one grain of sand in a shifting dune.  Sift.  Sift the scents.  Find the Necessary one.

In the cooling night, the heat bloom of the hive of the meat animals became visible like moonrise as it crawled on.  Staying low as the winds threatened to whip it away.  Testing continually for the spoor which mattered.  The Necessary one. 

The drone of a stinger’s machine bird caused one to bury deep and hold still until it passed, even stopping One’s internal organs.  There were dangerous animals in this hive.  Those-which-hunted-harvesters.  One must truly focus.  Choke down the Need.  Quiet One’s internal turmoil of Need and Purpose for the most base purpose and need: survival.  All went bl-

-ack and then all came back slowly, quietly, carefully as One’s processes came back to life.  Senses stretching to detect threat.  If there were the metal birds, there would be the undrinkable lizards, the metal ears, the long eyes, all the tricks of the Hunters-of-Harvesters including the Hunters themselves in their metal animals, armored, stinging, dangerous.  Shepherding their flocks of Harvester-hunting-machines.  One crawled low and slowly through the troughs between dunes.  One went wide around when One encountered a machine or an animal-within-a-machine.  One was careful.  More careful than one could ever remember being.  The Purpose had given the Kinslayer…a thought it had no cast, dance or sign for.  Purpose.  Mission.  Primary Order.  Need.  All these and none of these and more than these.

Just before sunrise, the hive of the meat animals became visible.  A dying oasis.  Muddy standing water and drying trees surrounded by the stone nests of the meat animals and a camp of the Stinging-hunters just outside.  The Kinslayer ached to begin the search.  To move into the hive and find the scent of the Necessary one.  It rivaled the Need.  It rivaled the Fear of having rebelled against the Collective.  It rivaled the Fear of the Factor.  One was Enemy-of-kin.  One was Kinslayer and Harvester-no-longer and all because of the Purpose.  The Need-to-find-the-Necessary-One. 

One needed to be patient.  The Effective Clutch, broken now, would inform the Factor of the existence of the hive of the meat animals sometime in the next cycle.  The Swarm would then assemble for an all out assault.  It would take time.  The Kinslayer had maybe two or three cycles to search before the Swarm came.  All depended upon the Kinslayer. 

The sun broke the edge of the desert.  The heat came like an angry Factor.  The light meant no cover and dryness for One’s crop.  One must conserve.  One must be patient.  One buried One’s self and calmed One’s processes.  All went bl-

Monday, July 24, 2017

25 No one of consequence

The new prisoner was trundled in and his manacles were locked to a heavy, weighted iron chair.  Then the guards left.  The Major affected not to notice for at least ten minutes.  Then he hit record on his pad, set it upon his desk and rocked back in his chair.  “Who are you?” Major Nakba asked the blind man.

“I am Ch’Byartha, Major.  I work in the mess tent.”

“Yes, I know.  You showed up on our doorstep about two weeks ago looking for work.  Before that you were a scullion in the House Al-Ghafil near the citadel.  Before that you were a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and a street performer on the wharves.  You bought passage here on a skiff owned by the Lightfoot Street Mercantile Collaborative in East Avalon, where you were also a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and a street performer on the docks.  It is who you were before you washed up among the flotsam and jetsam that collects in such places I am most curious about.”

“No one of consequence, I can assure you.”

“And the prisoner we have in the Mausoleum.  Is she no one of consequence?”

“To some I suppose.”

“To you?”

“Hardly even that.”  The cook’s voice was even and smooth, he didn’t miss a beat.  If he was lying, he was skilled.  Exactly as one might suspect an actor or confidence man might be.

“She seems to think you are someone.  What was it she was apologizing for when you brought her meal yesterday?”

“Damned if I know,” he shrugged.  “Sounded as if she was dealing with some guilt issues.  A heavy conscience is difficult to bear.  Perhaps she sees what she wants to see, someone to confess to and unload her burden.”

“A very pat and probable theory.”

“A simple one, major.  The simplest answer has the best chance of being the correct one, I find.” 

“Do you?”  The Major sat silent for a bit to see what the blind man would do.  Silences, long, awkward and the more uncomfortable the better, were some of his favorite interrogation tools.  The human imagination, especially a guilty one, was his greatest ally.  They could concoct greater horrors than he could if he just gave them time.  Anticipated pain hurt more than the real thing.  And apparently, guilty consciences felt a need to unload their burdens.  This one however sat and smiled like a saint with a golden ticket to Elysium and the utmost confidence in the train schedule. 

Which meant he was guilty as sin.  Even the innocent sweated in interrogation.  Take the right tone with a dog and it still tucked its tail and bowed its head as if it has peed on the rug.  This one was wagging his like he was deaf as well as blind.
“I’ve heard,” said the Major, breaking the silence first, as abruptly as he could to see if the man would jump.  He did not.  “that those who survive Fever, sometimes go blind as a result.”

“I’ve heard that too.”

“Did you?”

“Go blind?”

“Contract Fever,” the Major answered.

“Not that I recall.”

“Have you sailed the Sea before, Mr. Ch’Byartha?”

“A time or two.”

“Have you ever been to the Last Caravanserai?”

“I don’t know, what does it sound like?”

“Do you know any royalty?”

“I know some who act like they are.”

“Did you sail on the catamaran sloop Advisor with the Viceroy’s daughter in the spring of last year?”

“If she’s pregnant, then the answer is, ‘no.’”

“Are you the Merchant Prince Kurga Din Allorowro Vela D’Pomani D’Moro?”

“Lord, I hope not!  I should never learn to write down a name that long.”

“A pity, his family is looking for him.”

“If I see him, I’ll be sure to tell him.”

“You are a witty fellow.”  The Major stood up, walked around the desk and sat on the arm of the interrogation chair.  His bulk loomed over the prisoner.  His face now only inches away.  “A sense of humor can be of great use during torture.  At least in the early stages.  You will tell me what I want to know.  Eventually.  We can force you to admit the truth.  Lies can be peeled off as easily as skin.”  He ran one finger along the manacled arm.  “Boiled away.  Cut from a guilty conscience slice by slice.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that.  What I do doubt is your great concern over the identity of a vagrant beggar, suspected pickpocket and confidence man, and street performer who now moonlights as a scullion.”

“I tire of your games Mr. Din Allorowro.”

“Then perhaps you should ask me something you actually wish to know.”

“Who is she?”

“Oh dear.”  The blind man looked genuinely disappointed.  “Yesterday I would have told you that with relish.”

“And today?”

“I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a bad time.”

“I will have the answer.  How devoted to her are you, merchant?”

At last, the blind man betrayed a hint of fear.  The patient hunter was the most successful.  “I would guess we are both about to find out.”
[author's note: (which i cannot write without feeling pretentious and over-inflated)
[Note from me: i feel the most satisfaction and joy from writing conversations.  i like telling the story through conversations.  i think i'm just naturally inclined toward being a playwright.  Which is weird, cuz i don't go to plays at all.  Though i like movies.
That's it.  Nothing earth shattering.  Back to your lives, citizens.]

Friday, July 14, 2017

24: Blind guides

“Where ya think you’re going?”  The guard sounded big but not particularly bright.

“Meal time for the prisoner,” Ch’Byartha said. 

“Where’s the runt they usually send?”  Meaning Ch’Byartha’s child friend who got a job in the mess tent with him.

“Sick day, apparently after children, the disabled are the most menial members of the community.  I suppose if the blind guy were sick too, the elderly gentleman cleaning the officers’s toilets would be next in line.” 

“Check him.”  Another guard patted Ch’Byartha down, presumably looking for weapons or tools the prisoner could use to escape, they needn’t have bothered.  They poked around in the bowl of dry, crunchy bits he had personally chosen for her, knowing her fondness for soft foods.  “One coming down,” he called down the mausoleum steps.  Ch’Byartha felt the air cool as he descended.  Reaching the bottom, he stopped to listen and get his bearings.  A chain clinked and rattled.

“It is…most pleasant for One to see One’s Guide again,” a hauntingly familiar voice echoed.

“Eh miss?  Must have me confused with someone else.  I’m Ch’Byartha, at’cher service.”

“One could smell the scent of the Guide on the child.  One was surprised.  Possibly happy.”

“Well now, that’s a fine thing in unhappy circumstances, it tis.  And I’m glad I can cheer ya up even by being mistaken for someone else.  Reckon there’s not much more’n i could do for ya but to bring yer grub and letcha dream o’ some other fella.  Where ya want it?” 

“Put it on the table,” said the guard behind him.

“And where would that be?”

“Two steps forward, Guide,” the guard said.  Oh, Ch’Byartha thought, that isn't good.  He should have let his little ragamuffin keep bringing the dish.  Damn his pride!  He just had to know for himself!  He craved to hear her with his own ears and know she was suffering for what she had turned out to be.  His revenge demanded she see his blindness.  Let her see it!  Let her know where her madness had led!  What it had done to those who followed her.  Those who…  Cruel joke it would be if it only made him a person of interest to the Legion!  ‘A fool and his folly,’ Ch’Voga scolded in his head.  Did everyone’s conscience take on the voice of someone they knew? 

“Ha!  A fine guide you would make, peepers!”  Ch’Byartha let out the breath he had been holding.  Thank Yah!  The guard laughed and obviously thought it ridiculous that he could be anyone’s guide. 

“Yes,” he said, “the blind leading the blind.  They shall both fall into a pit I believe.  Well, there ya are lady, don’t choke.”  He turned to go, retracing his steps. 

“One is … sorry.”  He stopped.  He didn’t want to stop.  He needed to get out of here now.  He knew he did.  His rage needed to not hear this.  But he stopped.  “One does not have words.  Pain.  Compelling pain to rival the Need.”  Her voice, was it breaking?  Had he ever heard her string this many sentences together?  “One failed.  One failed all.  One needed purpose.  One sought to fill this new Need.  One sought to recover .. one’s close kin.  There is a word, one cannot think of it now.  One made sacrifices one should not have made.  One made all-who-followed-and-trusted-one sacrifice everything.  If one could have saved one’s kins perhaps… perhaps it… may have been less hurtful.  One suspects not.  One would rather the Guide had eyes or the Lord Counselor had life.  One is filled now, one’s crop is full of gall.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

23: Share

The effective clutch spread out just below the rise of the dunes.  Not silhouetted against the moonlit sky.  Downwind so as not to give away its presence.  Partially buried the clutch waited. 

A single animal came over the rim of the dune, bones and rags pushing against the relentless wind.  It staggered forward on the downslope.  It was not well.  The clutch let it pass.  It took some time to leave their sight again, the stars seemed to move faster in the sky.  But it was determined, relentless.  It crested the next shifting dune, only the wind keeping it from falling over.  The dune passed over the buried clutch and it emerged again to discuss what to do.

Consensus formed, the effective clutch moved as one.  It quickly overtook the staggering animal, this time surrounding it and then one revealed itself.  Even so, the creature was so far gone it took some time before it registered one’s presence as surprise and cast FEAR at one. 

‘Stockmate,-where-find-thee-food?’ one danced as greeting to the long lost harvester.  In this context, in the limited language options of harvesters, it was a more general question about history than food. 

HUNGRY! the long lost kin cast back.  SHARE!  It wanted to pierce one’s crop and feed first.  The effective clutch did not have much to give having been sent as a foraging party for the collective swarm.  The swarm had been initially very successful.  First overrunning and draining the staggeringly rich meat animal hive in the walled trading post.  So many animals.  So few stings.  The swarm had drained it of all resources in a few days and was on the move again.  Not long after there had been more meat animals in troops and herds and even one boat the harvesters had been able to capture.  It had been a fortuitous beginning to the swarm’s mission.  But since the boat the desert had dried up.  The occasional mindless animal, lizards, birds, rodents but no meat animals, no large prey.  No herds.  The effective clutch was wandering far afield from the chosen path of the swarm, which the effective clutch had first scouted, in search of ichor. 

Instead the clutch had come across this lone harvester, counted as lost when the Factor had given it to the One-who-traded-corpses-for-words.  The Factor had offered it the choice of its own clutchmate or the harvesterkin and the One-who-traded-corpses had taken the clutches’ stockmate and vanished into the desert. 

SHARE, one cast back in agreement and the lost kin was on one.  Falling before one, tooth extended, the piercing, the pain.  One rubbed the head of the kin to reassure it.  A rare gesture to be sure but not unheard of.  If the starving kin noticed it made no sign.  It drank until there was nothing left and then reluctantly released.  One knelt down before it.

SHARE, it cast gently, share story.  Not food. 

The story would take all the kin’s forms of communication, sign and dance and cast in turn to convey.  It was too complex for any one.  The harvester had been the prisoner of the One-who-traded-corpses.  The One-who-traded-corpses had kept it weak and barely fed on camels, an animal the harvesters were very familiar with.  It had cast in the manner of the meat animals much, it had signed and danced too but mostly cast.  Always casting.  Always inquiring.  It had grown more and more desperate, more and more frustrated.  It had made the Lost Harvester very nervous, then anxious, then terrified.  It clearly wanted something but the lost harvester had no idea as to what.  The kin had attempted to escape often, only to be thwarted or recaptured.  It had even tried to drink the One-who-traded-corpses to kill it and be free or die in the attempt.  And still its captor had neither released the kin nor finished it off but let it drink some and then subdued it.  The One-who-traded-corpses had dragged it here, far from hive on a metal camel, to the outskirts of a meat-animal city.  One last exchange of meat animal casting and sign and dance, one last desperate plea the lost harvester did not understand and then it released the lost harvester.  Starving, no possibility of making it to the hive but free, the lost harvester had walked for days.  Now though, it was safe.  It danced a dance of joy to be found.  To be part of the collective again and part of the stock again.  It could show the swarm where the meat animal city was.  There would be ichor enough for months!  One’s mates in the effective clutch came near.  The lost harvester doubled its dancing to see the other two.

And while its back was turned One struck it and killed it and retrieved its ichor.

Friday, July 7, 2017

22: The Union knows

In the middle of the Legion camp, stood a cut stone mausoleum.  Inside, on shelves built into the walls were piles of sand and of rags and bones and flesh becoming sand.  In the center, upon a folding metal chair sat a tiny woman, completely eclipsed in Major Nakba’s shadow.  Major Nakba was asking the little woman, “You understand the predicament you find yourself in, don’t you?”

“One understands one is a prisoner.”

“One understands correctly,” he said, “But do you understand that this is as civilized as the interview process will ever be?”  She said nothing in response so he continued, “From here we move to more primitive forms of coercion.  Then we start doing permanent damage.  I have men under my command who enjoy such work.”

“One is familiar with cruelty.  One had hoped Legionnaires more honorable.”

“With those who live peaceably under its wings, it is very honorable.  With those however who do it and its people harm, you will find it is most unforgiving.”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.” 

“Yet you break its laws?  You enter a controlled sector without authorization.  You engage in unsanctioned commerce and slave trading.  You make contact with enemies of the state.  You expose the entire coastal region to dangerous pathogens.  You have done nothing but harm since you left the Westvale, Ch’Loi.  Yes, the Union knows who you are  The Union knows what you’ve done.  And now you are refusing to cooperate with its agents.  What more are you hiding?”

“One wishes no harm upon the Legion.”

“Please forgive my skepticism.”

“One does.”

“Do not mock me, my patience is the only thing between you and your fragile little body being thrown to the wolves.”

“One has broken laws.  One is aware of this and freely admits it.  There are penalties, protocols, forms, this is straight forward.  Yet one is not being prosecuted by a court.  One is being questioned by soldiers.  Threatened with violence.  One perceives one’s motives are in question.  One can only reassure one’s captors that one means no damage to the Legion.”

“You can tell me what you were really doing out here all this time and let me decide if you are a threat to the Union or not.”

She had never really looked up.  She kept her focus on the stones of the floor the entire time.  It made it difficult to know whether she was thinking or resisting.  He gave her time to find out.

At last she said, “One came to retrieve something it had lost.”

Cryptic but a start.  Major Nakba decided to play along.  “And did it?”

“No.  One failed.  One lost much more instead.”