LAST WEEKEND OF NANO and pride demands I hit at least 50Kwds by Monday, so we are hard at work. Meanwhile, I’ve settled (Did I mention this before?) on a title for this work: The Origin Protocols. For the nonce, though, I’ll be referring to it here as Discovery, that being the working title.
Previously… The Gabrielle dolly is having breakfast with her training platoon in the messhall at Camp Meander, the Troll Guard training facility in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, when she learns that the excitement which had been attendant on her Genesis (the night before, six months removed) was at an ebb and the Regiment (Arcadia) was being recalled to campus after having been sent to Meander on puzzling orders from Chancellor Marduk.
Wandering around at liberty after breakfast, she runs into an old acquaintance: Lieutenant Petra Alexandra Troll, who excites in her a desire to return to campus and to see her crush, Mitchell Cary Drummond. For Dolly, to conceive a desire is to act upon it.
I Know That Bike
Lance Corporal Li’h Loah
Little Low, as the dolly called her (her Pasu name, Li’h Loah did not translate directly to English, but could be taken to be the equivalent of Lily — a generic flower name given to girl babies (she had never taken a Man name)), was standing just outside the wide, air-curtain door to the mess hall, watching — along with all the other Guard troopers and officers in the breakfast-time crowd — the goings-on in the circular drive out front of the hall. She was, of course, too far from things to actually hear even a fragment of what was being said, but that didn’t stop her — and, indeed, the entire crowd — from speculating. And she had her PDA out and was madly thumb-typing messages to sources and connections near, far, and wide, seeking deals, laying and taking bets, spreading news, hearing gossip.
It was what she lived for. When she was not in training rotation as a member of the NCO cadre at Meander, her occupational specialty was company clerk. As she was attached to the Special Operations Teams, she didn’t clerk for a company, but she had all the responsibilities and — like most of her colleagues in larger units — a great many talents at scrounging that made her valued by her superiors in her position, despite her tendency to breach discipline.
As she was watching, a figure transited her field of vision. It took her an instant or two to realize what she was seeing. Among the crowd of mostly frekun ang troopers clumped on the pavement around the bollards that fended traffic off from the mess hall doors, it was hard to see anything less than six-and-a-half-to-seven feet tall. But movement helped. This was someone frekun ang shaped,but billilaalu tall, moving smoothly from left to right in her view, briefly visible in fits and snatches behind obscuring foreground figures. Then she realized:
It was a frekun ang — Lieutenant Petra Alexandra, to be precise — riding a motorcycle.
And Little Low wondered when Pete had gotten a bike. Then, as Pete cleared the crowd in front of the mess hall and rolled on down the drive to the street, Little Low recognized the bike.
“Hey!” she shouted. “That’s my bike!” She set off running down the sidewalk by the driveway. While her shout went almost unnoticed her broken-field run through the crowd did not. Although custom and her status as billilaalu made the frekun ang in the crowd yield precedence to her, there were enough of her own along the way to slow her down.
By the time Little Low broke free of the crowd, Pete had turned onto the main street and was headed, under power once more, back into the residential area, with its maze of streets, paths, mews, and alleys. Although the Meander campus was generally open and spacious, it was close enough that one could easily lose sight of a distant, moving object behind trees and buildings.
Little Low ran down the length of the driveway and bucketed across the street to a barracks lawn across the way while Pete, free of the crowd, accelerated two blocks down the main drag and turned down a residential side street and disappeared behind a block of apartments.
Winded, Little Low thudded to a stop in the middle of the next block and stood bent over, hands braced on thighs, trying to catch her breath, thinking what do do next, how had Pete gotten down here from the East College campus on her bike and why.
She didn’t make the connection to the dolly. Though she did have occasion to wonder whether there was any connection to the loud clap of thunder which had echoed across the parade ground a few minutes before. Little Low knew, from long experience, that the sound had accompanied the out-porting of God and his appurtenances. Being who she was, she had a powerful curiosity bump and wondered about these things.
What Comfort They Could
The Gabrielle Dolly
The dolly just sat there, stunned, tears sheeting down her cheeks. She thought there was nothing more. Could be nothing more. But then Pete went on, in a very small voice.
“They tell me I couldn’t possibly remember. That at barely three, uprooted, on the road, surrounded by fear, disease, starvation, and death, I could not possibly remember… but I swear, I do. I remember my father as he was in those moments. He would have been forty-four that summer, the same age as your Mr. Drummond. He was big as a mountain, I remember. Tall and blond with eyes of impossible blue! And his voice! I remember he sang the songs of our people as he walked. I didn’t know them, then, just the sound of his voice… rich and golden like the sun. It was the sound of safety. It was my Pa’a-um, that voice. The spring in the mountain valleys — the pass at Baroghil is over 13,000 feet, so I’d guess the floor of the valley is five to seven thousand feet — the air was light and sweet, and the sun was bright, but no burden. The scent of water on the wind was a… I think the word is benison…? You don’t know?” She shook her head. “I don’t suppose it matters. But I could live in that place the rest of my life and consider myself blessed.
“Except that we left over six hundred bodies in that valley. Some were buried properly — very few of those. Some in shallow graves, some tumbled into ravines, some… near the end, Father said they could only leave the dead by the roadside and run for their own lives. Somewhere about the middle of the valley, my mother’s heart gave out. They scooped a shallow grave out for her and buried her with wildflowers, the way my people always have. By then, she’d already buried half of her own children.
“The soldiers. The bandits. The native Men of the valley, who were suspicious of all of the strangers on the road. They hunted us on foot and from vehicles on the ground, and when we took to the hills, they hunted us from helicopters… the great Russian Hind helicopters, the terror machine of that whole war. Even a small band of peace-loving Pasu, frantic to get away from the war zone… even we were targets for the Hinds. They would hover over the road or loom up across low hills and cliffs, and rain death down on us like evil gods of hellfire. Death in the bullets of machine guns or cannons. Death in napalm and white phosphorus. Death in nerve gasses: CX and malathion. They would swoop down on fleeing women and children and they never, never showed any mercy. We had no weapons to fight back. The mujahedin had Stingers, but those were hundreds of miles away and not until much later. We could only run and hide. Or die.
“Toward the end, my father put me in a sling on his chest and carried me, dragging two other children — both no more than five summers old — by the hands, traveling at night, eating new leaves and bark from the trees, and the meager roots that had survived the winter, drinking melt water, traveling at night by moonlight and starlight. It took him all spring and into summer to get to Jirhum Ra. When he got there, they said he was a stick figure of a man, and I was a little bundle of bones, barely alive. In fact, they thought I was dead at first. Along the way, he’d buried the last two children, not even sure they were his own, he was so muddled by hunger and fatigue. He buried them almost within sight of the Great Peak that looms above Jirhum Ra. If they could have lasted another week or so, they might have survived. But in the end, it was only he and I who made it.
“He found a relative — a cousin of my mother’s who had fled the mountains for a life in the city years before — and he fostered me with her. As soon as he saw me settled in, he took the sword. He enlisted with Regiment Boeotia and was gone. I never saw him again until last night. But I heard of him.
“Those of us who take the sword leave life in the Pa’a-um behind, but the center does not forget us. Word of his deeds came back to us in Jirhum Ra from time-to-time. We heard of his rise in the ranks to become the highest enlisted soldier in the Regiment, to become the foremost Command Sergeant Major in the entire Guard. I was proud to know he was my father. When it came time for me to take my wanderjahr, I chose to come to America, for I had heard it was a whole continent like Jirhum Ra. Here, I ran into a boy whose family had lived near us in Jirhum Ra, who had enlisted in Regiment Arcadia and come to America that way. He persuaded me to enlist in the Guard. I did so in honor of my father. That boy was Bob-O. I never went back. I sent my hair back, as is the custom, and from then to now, I have never thought of my home or the home of my family that is no more.”
The dolly remembered his eyes. They had been impossibly blue. She had looked into them. And she recalled the timbre of his voice — hearing it in her head — and she could tell that, twenty years before, it could have sounded in joy like sunshine to a worshipful daughter whose world is encompassed by the love of her father — her Pa pa. The dolly remembered, somewhere in her studies, a minor bit of lore, that in many cultures around the world, the syllable pa being the easiest for an infant’s mouth to form, the name Papa is the easiest for a baby to say. So, almost universally in the tongues of humanity — of, not just Men, but all hominids, Men, Trolls, Elves, Brownies, Sprites, Fairies, and Imps, that word is the name that children call their fathers. In her brief life, the dolly had learned much of things she would never know herself, and the love between a child and a parent was something she knew she would always regret not knowing.
And she remembered again the feel of Pete’s gun in her hand. The recoil. The heat of it. The bite of the gunsmoke in her nose. The sound of the bullet strikes. The still form in CADPAT BDUs lying on the snow-swept stones of the Regimental parade ground before the barracks.
She collapsed against Pete, clinging to the Troll, and wailed something that might have been “What have I done?” muffled by the fabric of her tunic.
The two of them wept, Pete for her memories of a time long gone and forever lost — if, indeed, it had ever been — and the dolly for the promise of a man she might have known and loved as a father, and now never would and the grief she had caused her friend. And for the fact that it probably could not have been any other way. They held each other for a very long time, and took what comfort they could from it.