The Story so Far:
While Ripero is struggling in the wilderness to get help for his gravely wounded companion, Alanee, far from her home beneath the eternal sun of the Hakaan, is coping with a northern winter in the City, as much as she is dealing with the man-child Hasuga’s strange whims; so when he invites her to his garden, she is shocked to find not an ice-bound outdoor winter scene but bright summer, apparently laid on for her benefit…
“No, No! You are an infantryman and I am a dissident. You march past me while I am hiding in the bushes, see?”
“Alright.” The sun is a warm blessing so badly missed: bees and birdsong, the things of summer. Alanee would stretch out on the warm grass, accept them. “Can’t we just enjoy your garden for a minute?” She has endured ten minutes of marching up and down to Hasuga’s increasingly complicated commands, making him laugh at her comic contortions. Now she is hot: she would rest.
“You’re not being a proper soldier. Proper soldiers don’t enjoy gardens!”
“I’m sure some of them must.”
“You’re like ‘Mother’. She gets tired quickly. I used to get tired, but I don’t now.”
“I’m not tired, I’m hot. It was mid-winter last time I looked.”
Surely – surely not? The cool breeze across her cheek just then would have to be coincidence, wouldn’t it? She looks at Hasuga, catches his artful smile.
“I’ll do my best.” She says. “You’d better hide.”
The grass is so inviting; verdant and soft as swan’s-down. These performances, Alanee tells herself, are just the things a mother might do for her child, were the child to have every bit of his own way. This child? Well, this child would be certain to have his own way! Ludicrous as her position feels, she had better get used to it. She waits at the far end of the garden while Hasuga pretends to hide behind a rhododendron, then begins to walk as a soldier, she imagines, might walk.
“No!” Hasuga hisses from behind his bush. “You’re a soldier. March!”
Obediently, stifling her laughter, Alanee goose-steps. But why is it so hard to keep her feet? Her balance feels confused …
Ripero has been working his way south, following the river valley, for some eight hours now and he is tired. By turns he has stumbled among the great stones that line the water’s edge, or clambered higher to beat his way through the trees: whichever route he chooses the going is difficult, near to impossible at times. He is fairly certain there are wild creatures in the woods; many, by their sound, he would not like to meet – yet the trees offer cover, and cover offers safety. So he uses them when he can, remembering his father’s dire advice when they hunted the pack-wolf together: “You never hear the one that kills you.”
The sun is low in the western sky and the valley deep in evening shade. Soon Ripero will need to find a place to sleep. His first intention, to travel both by night and day, is unfeasible: the way is too dangerous; he might injure himself in the darkness. Besides, the promise he gave when he left Dag by the river side, was empty. He knows, knew by the look of the man that he was dying. By now, perhaps, it is mercifully over
At first she thinks she must be drunk – but how? She has taken nothing this morning that would make her so. Can this child-thing get inside her body, affect her equilibrium? She falls; climbs to her feet – and as quickly falls again. It is as if the ground beneath her is sometimes there, sometimes missing, like stepping into space…
Tomorrow, he tells himself, he might try the ridge – climb out of the valley on its western side: he is pondering this when he hears the noise. Somewhere, not too far ahead, something is scrambling towards him along the bank. At the moment it is beyond the next bend, but approaching rapidly.
Fearing a wild animal (but no animal, surely, could sound so clumsy?) Ripero hastens over the rocks that separate him from the trees. Here wild rhododendrons offer a good hiding place: he climbs the steep bank into their midst, and when he is sure he is no longer visible from the river, he crouches down to watch, and wait
From around the bend there emerges into view an improbably slight male figure dressed in the olive fatigues of a soldier. More improbably still, this soldier is attempting to goose-step parade-ground style, with his gun at slope and arm swinging. It is a preposterous task over such boulder-strewn terrain and he falls repeatedly, banging helmeted head, arms, legs, every part of him against the rocks. At the bend he even falls in the water; yet rises again, blunders on once more in military stride, with a look upon his face so confused he might be a stringed puppet rather than a real person.
She is giggling helplessly now. Her ineptitude is comical – arms and legs everywhere – trying to stand, let alone walk – but nothing works.
Ripero adjudges the interloper mad and therefore dangerous, because he has no doubt that the weapon he carries is real and what can be more dangerous than a madman with a gun? He resolves to remain hidden until this demented creature has tumbled from view. All the same he is curious to know why the soldier is here, why he behaves as he does. Whether it is this curiosity that makes him lean forward or just the weakness of the branches that hold him is uncertain. That his cover should give way from beneath him with a splitting sound, is unfortunate; that the soldier should look up at that particular moment – that will be fatal.
Alanee, her balance gone, lies helpless and not entirely uncomfortably upon the grass. She turns as she hears the ‘dissident’ Hasuga rushing from the rhododendron bush to attack her: she points two fingers in imitation of a gun.
“Erm…..bang?” She says, a little timidly.
The blast takes Ripero full in the chest. He is dead before he falls.
Hasuga finds his balance almost miraculously. Alanee, after a moment of sheer terror when she sees him stumble – she wonders again what her fate would be if he came to harm in her charge – laughs in relief.
“I got you. You’re a dead dissident!” She sits up: “One more blow for the free world! What,” she ventures an impudent poke at one of those strong shoulders, “don’t you like to lose?”
“You weren’t trying!” He accuses her. “You were – what did you call it – sunbathing?”
“No, I fell over. I couldn’t keep my feet for some reason – it was so weird! Sunbathing is when you lie like this and let the sun warm your skin.” She draws her robe up to her thighs and stretches back on the grass, grinning up at him wickedly. “Anyway, I still won.” She catches sight of the long finger of the watchtower high overhead, stabbing at the sky. “And you’re overlooked. Do they spy on you?”
He is looking down on her with an expression of intense interest. She thinks she is being examined, but not in a way that makes her too uncomfortable, though she does tug self-consciously at the edge of her robe.
“Yes, perhaps you did win.” Hasuga acknowledges.
“No ‘perhaps’ about it. Bang! Right in the chest!” She raises the ‘gun’ hand and blows across its imagined muzzle. “You’re dead.”
“So I am.” He sits beside her, feels his chest with probing fingers, as if the hole were really there, smiles beatifically. Yet in his eyes there is distance, as if he is considering some deep, essential equation. Then he says: “I have waited a long time for this game.”
“Are you sure? It seemed pretty lame to me. Better than your last attempt, but not very imaginative – not brilliant, do you think?”
“It was not Braillec, but it will suffice. I suppose you could do much better?”
“Braillec?” There is some serious undercurrent to this conversation which does not complement Alanee’s mood. She decides to try her feet again.
“I suppose,” She discovers she can stand without trouble, so she begins to walk back towards the Palace interior: “I suppose we are both getting too old for games.”
“Childhood games?” He tags along beside her, his expression mischievous. “Can you offer alternatives?”
The question stops her in her tracks. “Is that what I am really here for?” She asks quietly.
“What do you mean?” Hasuga’s riposte has a startling innocence that puts her at ease. He actually is a child, then: has no-one explained the changes that are happening to him?
He walk with his curious prancing stride saying nothing. Alanee knows that inside that giant dome he is finding his own answers.
At Hasuga’s instigation, they return to his room.
“I sleep at this time. Mother puts me to bed for an hour. Mother isn’t here.” He says, this time with affected innocence: “Would you like to put me to bed?”
His inference is unmistakeable.
“No.” Alanee is abrupt. “At two thousand, you’re old enough to put yourself to bed.”
Without waiting for a riposte, she leaves him there. Whatever her fate as a result, she is sure there is one path she does not want to take, and she will not give him the satisfaction of seeing her blush. In the elevator as she returns to the Palace lobby, his voice follows her: “I could make you come back!”
“You could;” She replies: “but you won’t.”
Calling the Inner High council to emergency session has driven Valtor the Convenor to the verge of a nervous breakdown.
“Sire Trebec sends his apologies.” He announces to those he has managed to assemble in the Inner Chamber. “Affairs in Braillec demand his presence.”
“Sires greet you.” The Lord High Domo says, immediately Valtor has withdrawn. “Let us dispense with formalities. Lady Ellar?”
Ellar takes a deep breath. “In what order may I take this?”
“Chronologically is usually best.” Portis advises.
“Very well Sire. Two days since, we introduced Lady Alanee to Sire Hasuga. Hasuga chose to make it a game (without either my own or the Mother’s prior knowledge) in which he tortured her to a dangerous degree. Proctor Remis knows the ramifications…”
“Reports of serious abuse are still coming in,” the Proctor interjects. “especially from the Hakaan, There may have been several deaths.”
The Domo grimaces: “The usual filters?”
Portis says: “Did not work, My Lord. Either because the emanations were very strong and compulsive – much larger than anything we have experienced hitherto – or because we were taken by surprise: a little of each, I suspect.”
The Domo: “Very well. Go on, Lady Ellar.”
“Yesterday I received a constant stream of distress signals from the Mother. I obtained an intervention order to bring her out last night. She is in my chambers now.”
The Domo raises a slow eyebrow: “In your Chambers?”
“I did not know where else to take her, My Lord. She is quite possibly beyond recovery. Sire Hasuga has…” Ellar bites her lip. “forgive me, Sires, if I utter any perceived blasphemy. Hasuga has been questioning her in a quite specific manner; questions she has never been programmed to answer.”
Cassix intervenes: “Then forgive me too, for I heard this story first. Put simply, Hasuga was asking about copulation. As you know, those groomed to be the Mother have traditionally been taken as innocents from their community. He probed her brain for knowledge she does not have.” .
“He has scourged her mind,” Ellar explains. “Raked every thought from her – left her with no more than a shell of her former intelligence.”
“Who is looking after Hasuga now?” The Proctor asks.
“No-one.” Ellar replies. “Hasuga is effectively looking after himself.”
“And what emanations have we had from Hasuga today?” The Domo’s voice has lowered.
“Mercifully few.” Portis replies. “An extremely strong one this morning, product we believe of a game involving himself and Lady Alanee, but it was directed, and we cannot trace its outcome. Otherwise…”
The Domo wears his most brooding of frowns. “‘Otherwise’? Go on, Portis, please? Let us know our fate.”
“Otherwise a constant stream of inquisitive thinking about sexual issues, very little of which can get past the filters, fortunately. His mind seems focussed. I understand this evening he has summoned his physician, for whatever reason. One hopes that will lead to a diversion.”
The Domo nods. “Very well, we must deliberate. Lady Ellar, please withdraw.”
Cassix, who sits by Ellar, places a restraining hand on her arm. “Sires, I would like to move Lady Ellar’s election to High Council.”
This gains a startled look from Ellar and an arrowed glance from Portis: “Out of the question! Election to High Council requires study of certain books and articles – years of learning. We can’t just promote someone upon an impulse!”
“Desperate times require desperate measures, Sire. Lady Ellar has proved her gifts for intercession in our relationship with Hasuga on several occasions. In order to speak freely on these matters she has to share our immunity to the limiter; and with respect I suggest we need her contribution.”
Ellar feels the Domo’s stare: “It is a substantial break with tradition. Lady Ellar, is that your wish?”
“I had not thought of it, My Lord, but my limiter is a constant burden, it is true. Any assistance I can render, of course… I would be honoured…” Ellar stumbles to a halt.
The Domo glances around the table. Seeing no dissent, he nods. “We will put it to full Council. In the meanwhile, please stay as a witness. Portis will arrange restriction of your limiter.” He turns to Cassix: “Reassure me, Seer, that my worst fears are not realised?”
Cassix spreads his hands: “We all knew that when we advanced his age we would enter this pass, yet without the advancement we would have lost him altogether. None of us could foretell…”
“You are the Seer, Cassix.” Portis interrupts curtly. “Is that not your task?”
“You levelled that barb at me before, Sire. I gave you my answer. No-one, not even a Seer, may predict Hasuga’s path. To do so would be blasphemy: I am not a blasphemer.”
The Domo raises his hand. “Matters are as they are. We have lost our influence upon Hasuga’s emanations, and there it is. He may play with the people in a completely ungovernable way now, and all we may do is watch – is that our position, because that is very much my dread? Lady Ellar, you seem disposed to speak?”
“My Lord, we never had that influence. All a Mother could ever do was contain the wilder aspects of it. All we could ever do was hone the result. Our problem is more in the nature of the emanations, and there we may have far greater leverage, if that is a permitted word, than ever before.”
The Domo glares at her. Portis’s look is nothing short of baleful. “The woman Alanee you mean; the great experiment? Now we have her in place I see her as the author of most of our troubles, and very far from being their solution.”
Ellar persists. “The Mother system that served us through the age of innocence cannot function now without some other support. All adolescent children are sexually inquisitive, all adolescent children rebel. A ‘Mother’ is not equipped to deal with either, I have testimony to that sleeping in my chambers now. But the evidence would suggest this Alanee woman can have enormous influence. In that respect I think our experiment is a success. Hasuga spends a great deal of his time watching her. He unquestionably favours her.”
“And the type of influence you advocate is blasphemy!” Portis’s anger explodes.
“Could it be;” Ellar murmurs quietly; “the time has come to re-define our interpretation of that word?”
Portis’s response is very like a harrumph. “Bold sentiments for so new a High Councillor!”
“We all have to adapt somewhat.” Cassix reasons: “Hasuga to puberty, ourselves to the management of his powers in a new way. The ‘Mother’ system may need to be re-programmed, but let us not forget how we all rely upon Hasuga’s will reaching the people. If we introduce the right influences that may happily continue: if we do not; if we hesitate or choose another way…”
“Yes, what then, Cassix?” The Domo’s tone is dangerously low.
“Then we shall have failed the people. I ask you to consider: allow the Lady Alanee full knowledge, so she completely understands what she does. Then let her fulfil the natural role Hasuga will plan for her. That was, after all, our intention.”
Remis raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Was it? Give him a concubine, you mean? And invest her with enormous power. Power over us all, I dare say.”
“No, no; that’s extreme.” Portis demurs. “She is mortal. She can always be stopped.”
“Who knows where it will lead? I doubt even Hasuga does at this stage.” Cassix draws a sharp breath from one or two around the table. “This is destiny, Sires. As far as we can tell, the woman is unique: her force of personality is much too strong to allow Hasuga to use her as you infer. Let her have that power. See how she employs it.”
The Domo shakes a weighty head. “Destiny! Habbach preserve us from destiny. And if this woman should lie with him? What then? What would a child of our Lord Hasuga be? What might that bring?”
Cassix demurs: “I’m informed she shows no physical interest in him.”
“Things have a habit of changing.” comments the Domo. “Very well, Cassix, let us ride your wagon. But I greet this new age with a leaden heart. Does everyone agree?”
Nods of assent come, reluctantly, from every side of the small gathering.
“Then we adjourn.”
The meeting, however, continues in the corridor outside: Portis with Proctor Remis, in subdued tones, agreeing to contact Trebec urgently: Cassix and Ellar also conferring quietly, not wishing to be overheard.
“Thank you for your recommendation. Will the High Council truly count me among their number?”
“I shall see that they do. Now, how do you intend to proceed?”
“I’ll brief the Lady Alanee.”
“It was a very loose agreement. Were I you I would take Portis with you when you confront the woman. Be sure you have agreed the format for the meeting, and everything that should be said.”
“I would rather you were present, Cassix.”
Cassix shakes his head. “We are sufficiently factionalised as it is. This one is a bridge we must build. Take Portis; he is wise enough to see where his path lies.”
Cassix bids Ellar good night, walking away with the words of the High Councillors still rotating in his head. And he wonders, in passing, how long it has been since anyone mentioned The Dream.
He would go to his bed, the Seer, with all the burdens he must carry: but the Continuum calls him – that furious tumult in his sky grows with every hour now – so that he is drawn through the Inner Courtyard by some invisible thread. The stairway to the Watchtower will be a long one tonight.
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