Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Excerpt: Home Is A Difficult Journey

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“My Love! What is that sound?” A rumbling much like Earthan thunder shook the flooring under us.
Ryee did not answer, but pulled out his terminal cube and began frantic interaction with it. Suddenly, Yeff soldiers flooded our Healers’ Chamber and rushed us into a dimportal!
“Hey, where’s this? Where’s Ryee? Jo! They forgot Jo!” Laura asked first one soldier and another.
“Laura, they cannot answer you—we emerged in the Tunnels, a place of safety—”
“The Tunnels! With those giant wasp things?”
“Laura, B~ea will ne harm you; you are telepathic since receiving your aandat, so they will sense you mean them no unwell. Direct your worry to the cause of this!” The soldiers led us from one tunnel to another, and suddenly the light failed us. I noticed a chamber containing most of our children, but did not see Mother or my young Vadia. My heart filled with worry.
More rumbling beneath our feet threatened to drop us on the hard, sandy flooring. Without power to constantly feed sand to the surface, more of it dusted all horizontal surfaces when covers were disturbed. From the amount of it scraping under my feet, many covers had opened.
Suddenly, the deafening roar of weaponfire caused utter bedlam! Dissolutors cracked, dispersers hissed, sublimators whined, and fusilators droned. Ugly weapons of war, fatal to all in their path. The soldiers ran with us first one way and then another, and in one corridor in weaponflash we could see the carnage of a brief encounter: blood of dissolution left when molecular bonds broke in searing fury. Vapors and slime of dispersion, chemical separation of organics into simple elements. Powdery residue from sublimation, key elements removed. Small charred clumps left of fusilation, molecular bonds strengthened to the point of compaction with intense heat. The odors of death brought me close to fainting.
“Adia, honey, you okay? We gotta run now; I’ll help you. Okay?” I felt her trembling hands close tightly around my arms as she pushed me along. Dear Laura!
“My sister, I continue if you will but support me a while.”
A soldier lifted me.

I opened my eyes to light, warmth, and a room filled with wounded. The soldiers moved us many times; Laura and I slept by each other as the hour grew late, not daring to speak of our missing families until the crisis passed. Many times weaponfire gave us almost into panic until our soldiers led us to safety again.
I opened my eyes to Ryee’s weary face. “O my Love!” I cried and he embraced me tenderly.
“There is ne time, Ay—the Zbbat attacked, and we go to disable their ship—”
“Let me go with you!” Dark tones of futility echoed through our Link, the tight fit of his desert suit, his memories of the sands of D’gharr. He did not look well, and I feared both our lives would end this day. “If I die, you die—let us die beside one another.”
“Ne, Love. You are more strength to me here than out there.” He embraced me quickly, then he took J~oie’s arm. Father joined them and another group of soldiers; the men ran into the darkness that abruptly began about ten meters down the tunnel.
“I’ve got bad feelings about all this, Adia.” Laura broke into tears. I carefully took her into my embrace to comfort her without danger of water poisoning from her, then we both allowed ourselves to release a small portion of our worry.
Twice more the soldiers moved us, and they encouraged us to sleep; we could not go to other areas where wounded lay. The wounded here slept, long after regen, so we arrived too late to help them. Reluctantly, I closed my eyes and let rest overcome me.

From Laura’s Journal:
The soldiers moved us again while we slept. Slowly, I forced myself fully awake and sat up. I searched the faces, and was frantic to see few familiar ones. The tunnel beneath the Palace was dark—and cold. If Ryee and Jo were out in the desert, the chill might be dangerous by now, not to mention the Zbbat.
"Pas! Have you seen Jo? Or Ryee?"
He shook his head wearily. "There are so many wounded, and more to come—"
I couldn't wait for the rest; panic for my Jo overwhelmed me. As quickly and carefully as I could, I ran, tripped, and stumbled through the flood of people, made my way in the dim light.
"Laura!" I jerked my eyes towards the voice. Father! My mind suddenly filled with images and memories of the raging battle that had stopped as abruptly as it came. By the time we found each other—he was ahead of me in the tunnels—I knew how desperate the situation was for my husband, my brother.
"Let me go find 'em! The cold won't be as bad for me as it would for y'all, let me go!" I cried, ready to get down on my knees and beg if necessary.
His jaw dropped. Well, it was more like his orange eyes flew open, but it seemed like a human would look with his mouth open. "Ne, Laura, you must ne think these desperate thoughts! The Zbbat are quiet now, but if they move, they give ne thought to killing, even women and children—"
"But you know I should be the one to go! I'm the only one on the planet—no power to keep you fellas warm since they used the nullifiers—I gotta find Jo!"
No time to argue; I continued to fight my way through the crowd coming towards us, and Father had to come with me to keep talking to me. He looked exhausted, and knew he couldn't stop me. "It grieves me, but I let you to go, Daughter. If my sons have hope, it is you."
He led me down a side corridor, and some men slept. We gingerly stepped around them, into a room with lots of what looked like camping supplies; stacked boxes of some purple material about the shade of the sand outside, odd-shaped containers in bins grouped together by shape and color.
"Daughter, you need this." He handed me a cloth something. When I unfolded it, it was a black one-piece suit, thin, but heavier than my desert suit. Built differently—this thing wouldn't rip if I raked it against the rocks on purpose. It wasn't very comfortable; felt like it had sand in it. I pulled it on over my clothes, and it got warm. Stiflingly so.
"Whew! Father, it's hot!"
He looked at me intensely, studying the way it fit me. The built-in gloves and boots weren't meant to go on five-digited creatures like me. My feet tried to cramp. Father bent down and straightened the saggy boots, finally got the divider between where Yeff toes would split in the space between my big toe and the rest. Wasn't much better, but how long would I have to wear it, anyway? The dear man worked with it several minutes, pulling here and tugging there, and soon I was almost comfortable except for the building heat. I sweated already.
His suit fit perfectly, as if made for him. "Quickly, down this tunnel, Laura." We ran out into an empty tunnel. From somewhere, about five soldiers ran with us.
We ran in dim light that became absolute darkness. I wondered if we'd run into something, and it was hard not to slow down, but I did keep up. No sound but the gentle padding of our Yeff boots on the sand-covered floor, and my loud breathing. I was out of shape, big time!
After awhile, I realized some of the soldiers had taken another tunnel; there were less sounds of feet hitting floor. Where did the others go?"
They go to relieve soldiers in need of rest and healing. Rustling above us made me look up. Those wasplike things Ryee told about, that lived in the tunnels? Creepy! Still pitch dark. Raising my head made me dizzy. The suit stifled me; I wondered how much longer I could make it.
Are you well? Father slowed his pace a little.
"I can make it." If only I had some water!
"We have no provision for obtaining water without energy. You cannot function without; perhaps we should rest a time—"
"No, Father, let's go. I'm not going to get dehydrated from running, for Pete's sake; it's got to be at least forty degrees Fahrenheit in this tunnel."
I felt his hand on my shoulder, and more strength seemed to go to my legs. "You shouldn't help me that way when you're so tired!" He said nothing else until he pulled me into a turn.
We must not communicate until we reach our brethren ahead.
One tunnel after another; I was so confused, I couldn't have
found the way back to save my life!
Finally we reached a small room, very dimly lit. "My soldiers, any sign?" He asked quietly, in spoken Yeff. “D~esah, report, please.”
"My liege!" The man bent the knee. "There is ne activity—they are within their ship and we are secure."
"What of my bae? Has anyone found them, or the others who were separated?"
"There is ne word." De~sah bowed his head in the dim light.
"You have served me well." Father put a hand on the young man's head. "Go to rest now."
"Thank you." Slowly, he went past us to the tunnel we just came from.
Father gave me more equipment, a device to tell me where warmth was so I could detect the guys, know which way to go. Also, a chemical light.
"Like a battery-powered flashlight?"
"No. The reaction gives off no energy to power a light source. Rather the reaction is the light source. No heat."
I thought of lightning bugs, and he smiled briefly. I guessed that was my yes. We were trying to decide which direction I should go first, when there was a noise in the tunnel; several soldiers carried a still form of a man. My heart leaped!
"Ryee!" Father cried. We ran to them as they lay him down on the floor and heaped blankets on him.
I hoped they would carry Jo in as well, but no luck. Ryee's forehead was cold as ice, and he didn't even shiver. The soldiers put extra heated uniforms under the blankets.
"He is unable to speak; from which direction did you find him?" Father looked at the men.
"Towards the city wall—the opening nearest the water." One wheezed.
"Show her. Yea~ Laura is to search for my other bae."
Their eyes got big as saucers, and I thought it'd knock their hoods off the way they startled. "Well, c'mon, fellas! Time's a-wastin'!"
When they showed me that hole, about eight feet above us, and no ladder or anything, I whistled. Then I had to apologize for hurting their ears; wish I could remember not to do that. Before I could ask how in the world I was going to get up there, they lifted me up on their shoulders and got into my mind so my body stood up. Balanced like an acrobat! Terrifying but neat.
I climbed out and looked around. No light. But when I pulled out the flashlight thing, I could see the tracks Ryee made on his way to us. I worried about Ryee, but Jo had to be in worse shape if he was out here in this cold; my fingers got numb even in that hot suit. A Yeff would surely be freezing by now. Better hurry.
The tracks wavered at this end, but got progressively neater as I walked. At first, I was afraid to run, but then I decided to get it over with. If the Zbbat were going to lob a weapon at me, I'd be harder to hit if I ran. And the light! Surely they could see that. I ran faster.
Up ahead, one of the moons rose. Light suddenly flooded the desert, and I enjoyed the scene as I tried to push more speed into my legs. Enough light spilled over the dunes that I put the chemlight in my pocket. And there, ahead of me just a few more feet, was somebody. I prayed that it was my dear Jo. A little closer. Yes!
From the look of the sand around him, Ryee had held him before he left. He lay like a dead person ready for the funeral, arms neatly folded across his chest and legs straight. I felt right sick to my stomach thinking how close to dead he looked, but when I got my shaking hand up to his forehead, there was just a little warmth.
Frantically, I felt his head for bruises, his arms, chest—two broken ribs, how was I going to move him?—his legs. Was he in regen? I couldn't tell anything. No one to help me. So many swollen places, probably internal injuries, definite head injuries as well. I didn't dare move him, but how could we stay out in the open? Prey for the monsters!
I felt for his breathing, and found that he barely got some air. Reached in his pocket, found his breather, wedged it into the collar of his desert suit. Cold; a regular desert suit designed to lose heat, not hold it in.
Slowly, I struggled with the hot suit I brought with me, and managed to get his stiff feet into it without disturbing him. As best I could tell. Then, I tried to lift one leg just enough to put the suit under him, pull the front over his thigh, lower it easy.
"Pah ne veh." An asthmatic wheeze. I couldn't remember the meaning of the words, but any fool could hear the sound of agony. See the trembling of excruciating pain.
When I had his leg down, I moved up near his head, listened to his moans and wondered if I could touch him anywhere without hurting him. "Jo?" A shadow hid his eyes from me; couldn’t tell if he opened them or not.
He flinched his right arm. "Lau—" He gasped. Shivered.
"It's all right, Jo, I'm here. Bear with me, Darlin', I'm trying to put this hot suit on you so you can be warm. You understand?" He wasn’t going to get very warm unless I got on with it. It'd hurt bad, no matter how gently I moved him. I took his hand, pressed my cheek against it, then put it down to get the other leg in the suit.
He moaned weakly again, and I cried because I couldn't stand to hear it. No matter how careful I tried to be, every motion gave him painful spasms. Then I had to roll him over to get the thing under him, and he tensed up. I imagined it hurt too bad to even make a sound then, and I rubbed his back with one hand while pulling the cloth up with the other. I held him in my lap and rested him on his right side. Finally I slipped both frozen arms in it and touched the seam to make it seal up, light spilled over his taut face, and he opened his eyes. A stare of black-eyed misery froze me. "O Love! Danger—" He gasped. "Leave me! Zbbat!" His voice trailed off as his head flopped back against me. He panted for breath, despite the red cylinder which I held against his neck. A familiar pattern of breathing that sent chills up my spine. Rapid deepening breathing to a crescendo. Steadily declining the same way. Then seconds, long seconds of silence. Cheyne-Stokes breathing. I stared at his quiet chest until the cycle began again, stroked his auburn hair off his cold forehead. Even his nose was cold.
"Hey, Jo, it's okay, really it is." I sounded more saccharin than comforting. "I mean, I haven't seen anybody. The soldiers said the Zbbat were staying put." Now that I held him, I moved the light closer—and noticed his greenish color. I watched in absolute horror as I realized signs of impending death!
"My ba. Well?" His eyes wouldn't stay open any more, and his breathing suddenly grew shallower. I lifted him higher, and he went limp with the pain. Too limp. His cheeks blew in and out with every breath, and his tongue crept out of his mouth slightly. Even his eyelids sagged away from his golden eyes now greenish with lack of nitrogen.
"I saw him down in the tunnel. Father's helping him. What happened?"
"Car-ried me." His lips barely moved. A flash of his memory came to me, no picture, just fear and a little summary. The Zbbat came on us before we could act. Ryee killed him, and his anguish over it was great. Jo half-shivered again, and I put my arms around him. I felt clumsy; my arms numbed despite the heat in the suit, and my legs were half gone, too. If the suit wasn't keeping me warm, how would it be enough for Jo? I massaged his right arm, trying not to disturb the broken ribs on the left. No way to get him back to the tunnels so he could die with family near; the thought made me sad. Family is everything to a Yeff!
"You need rest, Love. Did you regen at all? Or can you?" I touched his forehead again, and knew he couldn't. No hope left.
He frowned. His sunken eyes had been half closed for a while. "Ne—strong." A sigh. I put my cheek next to his as I gave up on massaging with my clumsy fingers and planted my right hand on the back of his head. Slowly, I forced myself to face hard facts. Jo's struggles for breath contorted his face, flared his nostrils, kept constant tension in his entire body when I first found him. Now, he lay against me. Appeared to sleep between fitful bursts of shallow breaths. Weak grasping at my arms. Piteous, barely audible moans. Losing the battle. Nothing I could do for him now.
"Jo, Sweetie, want me to give you sleep, anything I can do?" My voice broke off into a high chirp at the end. So much for being strong.
"Sing." I could barely hear him.
"What you want me to sing, Love?"
A single tear rolled down his cheek. "Death—" He knows.
I forced sound past the lump in my throat. A whisper. "I love you, Jo. I'll try." The corners of his mouth flinched upwards, then dropped. My lips quivered as I took a deep breath, wished I could give some of it to my poor husband.
I couldn't remember any Deathsong. Never learned any. Didn't want to learn any. Jo's last request, and I couldn't even fulfill it; as my heart sank, all I could think of was that old Skye Boat Song. Maybe Jo thought about it? He nearly died in my arms then, when Ryee and Adia vanished on Esteerr. I sang:
“Speed, Bonnie boat, like bird on the wing—“
He closed his fingers around my arm for a moment. He liked it.
“Carry the lad that's born to be king...”
I looked up to see one of those six-armed, six-legged things standing over us. I screamed, but poor Jo didn't move. Suddenly, it fell apart in silvery goo. If it hadn't happened in an eyeblink, I think I would've thrown up! Before I could react, the breath left Jo's body, and I looked down at his green face. Let the thing kill me. Everything I’m living for's dead in my arms. Oh, Jo!
The one with the weapon didn't move to hurt us, it seemed, but picked us both up gently and walked towards the tunnel. As he walked, I studied him, and decided he was a different species than Zbbat. Going to take us back and demolish all of us at once? I saw his hand, and gasped loudly despite myself. The thick, green-skinned shapeless outgrowth of this monster's body had a mouth with teeth! As he rested it atop Jo's head, I prayed he wouldn't do anything violent. My precious husband suffered enough. Tears fell on his face, and I quickly swept them off. What did it matter now? He wasn't in there, in that tortured body. Probably watching me make a fool of myself from the Spirit World.
As if I were alone with Jo, I stroked his cold face.
"It doesn't hurt any more, does it, Sweetie? I miss you so much, but that's selfish. Maybe I'm coming to join you in a little while. Maybe in just a minute. Oh, Jo, if not, how can I live without you? You made me so happy, Love, so very happy. No one else could take your place." My words seemed so stupid, so inadequate. How do you say in minutes what it took years to feel? How do you talk about the things you wish you'd said earlier, the things you wish you'd done differently, the words you should've said when he needed to hear them!

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