The last scene in this chapter. About a thousand words. Next week, we begin Chapter 3. Also, for those of you playing along at home, there is a call for critiques of the cover of the first book in this series. Please feel free or obligated to participate.
The Gabrielle Dolly
“Dolly,” Pete said in a resigned tone of voice and stood aside, holding the door for her. The word — two spare syllables — lifted the dolly’s heart. Among all the people of various species she knew or was acquainted with, Pete alone used the descriptive term as a name. As an intimate, use-name. (Her formal name being that of her karmic predecessor, Gabrielle Francesca East. Which nobody, it seemed, was quite ready to acknowledge for various and sundry reasons political and moral.)
“Hey, there, Petra,” the dolly said. “How’s it hangin’?”
“You ought to know,” Pete said, stepping away from the door, leaving it ajar for the dolly to follow her into the room beyond. The dolly followed with characteristic swagger and strut and closed the door behind her, standing in the doorway for a nonce.
“What do you need?” Pete asked, somewhat brusquely, but not lacking in warmth. “I haven’t slept since day before yesterday and have orders to get back to campus tomorrow. Can this wait?”
That stopped the dolly dead in her tracks. It had never occurred to her that Pete might turn her away.
“I guess,” she said in a deep, Eeyore voice. And sniffed back a tear. She turned and reached for the door knob. By the time she touched the knob, her body was wracked by violent shaking. People around her said of the tendency that she vibrated like a whanged tuning fork. “Sorry to bother you,” she said in a shuddering voice.
“Dolly!” Pete blurted out. “Wait!” And, with — the dolly thought — an unerring sense of The Right Thing to Do, folded the dolly up in a big hug and just held her for a long time until she stopped shaking. Gradually, slowly, Pete eased the dolly down to sit beside her on the cot. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
That opened a floodgate, all the backed-up slights and injuries — real and imagined — of the past six months came out of the dolly in a river of words, with no punctuation or stops. “…whenever I make a mistake they pile on not like with the others they jump right on me with all four feet and stomp me into a sad little pile of shit in the mud never give me a chance to explain or ask what I did wrong a lot of the time I never even know I just sit there and try not to cry yeah I know they’re tryin’ ta teach me stuff but I don’t really get what they’re teachin’ and it’s aggravating one time I just went off on Meru and she just stood there and took it smiling the whole time like that was what she wanted me to do all along but I never felt like I was enough in the right to do that again…”
When she’d wound down a bit, Pete murmured in her hair, “They’re just trying to toughen you up. By this time, they’re pretty certain that you’re worth the further investment they’re going to have to make in you to make a trooper of you.”
“But they’re not going to, are they?”
“Make a real trooper of me?”
“I don’t know. I know that Aphrodite has plans for you. And she assumes you’re on board with them — whatever they are. As though GFE agreed to this whole program — the Genesis project, reincarnating her anima in an artificial body, giving you all this special training, as well as what they gave you in the anti-whatsis.”
“What if I don’t?”
“What if I don’t want the plans. If I’m not on board with whatever ‘Dite and GFE cooked up back in the eighteen hundreds?”
“Well… I’m not a lawyer. Don’t even watch law shows on TV, let alone play one on screen. So take what I say with mega doses of salt, please. But I don’t see anything binding you to those plans. They didn’t ask you if you wanted to be…”
“Well, actually, they did. Or, rather, I did. I was pretty insistent. As soon as I found out about the Genesis project, I wanted to be a Real Grrl in the worst way.”
“Okay. But, did you sign anything that said…”
“‘I will be your slave for life?’ No. Not even close. If Aphrodite wants to manipulate me into…”
“Being Childe of the East? Really? You’d be, in effect, running Upothesa.“
“Not really. And get thee behind me. No. Childe is pretty much a figurehead position. A sinecure.”
“I kinda doubt that. You forget, I was there in Hong Kong when the last Childe — Charming Billy — bought the farm. No sinecure there. And your karmic predecessor: she really ran the organization.”
“No. I’ve read her diaries. She managed the people closest to her on the food chain. The managers and coordinators and bosses of the various top of the marque companies. But, effectively, her power and reach didn’t go more than a few levels down the chain. Most of the time, she was out on the Bella Donna with Book and her crew, trouble shooting and running errands for Hephaestus and Aphrodite. Even then, in the first half of the 19th Century, the enterprise — the whole shebang — was too big, diverse, and atomized for one person to even know what was going on, let alone control matters in any real way. Her job was more like Drummond’s than Charming Billy’s.”
“Billilaal–“ the dolly, in her life as a doll, had once asked of Pete, “What does it mean?”
“Thistle down,” Pete had answered with characteristic brevity.
“What?” the dolly had said incredulously, almost a shout of disbelief.
Pete nodded, having learned to expect just that reaction from the dolly and thus being unsurprised at it. “Sure. In the mountains, we use kapok, mostly, but all manner of seed pods for insulation. Thistle down has the attribute of lightness as well as loft. It swims on the breeze in early spring. That part of the Pasu which insulates the outer layer — the frekun ang from the inner core — the Pa’a-um, is called so after thistle down that keeps the body warm. But not without the strong protective outer layer of the frekun ang.”