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Authors: Sheri S. Tepper

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BOOK: Raising The Stones
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It was the first money Maire had ever held in her own hands. She remembered looking at it on her palm, sitting there looking at it as though it might hatch into something else. So peculiar a thing, money. A few coins, three strips. And yet it would buy a dress or a pair of shoes or a ticket to the crowded women’s balcony of the concert hall.

Maire didn’t buy anything, however. Instead, she took the money to Lilla, an older Lilla now, but with her face still unlined and fur still dark on her head and neck.

Maire whispered, “I want to pay for your escape. Yours, and Bel’s, and Bitty’s.”

Lilla stared at her from unfathomable eyes. “Escape?”

“Into Ahabar. Don’t look at me like that, Lilla. I know that Gharm escape into Ahabar. Women go away into Ahabar, too. I hear them talk of it when they don’t know I’m listening.”

“We could be killed trying that.”

Maire wept. “You could be killed staying here. Fess was.”

“My daughter,” said Lilla with great dignity. “My daughter, Fess Salion, of the Green-snake Tchenka.”

Maire didn’t understand the word
, but she gathered what it signified. “You do have names.”

“Of course we have names. Did you think we had no history, Voorstoder.”

“The men say …”

“The men say lies,” Lilla hissed, going back to her sweeping. “They suck lies into their lungs and breathe them out like smoke!”

They did not speak of it again, but Maire went on saving all the money her father let her have. When she had what she thought was enough and more than enough, she put it into a crock and set the crock on the front stoop of the Gharm quarters. Lilla said nothing, but the crock was gone in the morning. That year, in the spring, all the Gharm at the Manone place vanished.

Dad raged. Mam wept. Maire kept silent, shaking her head as though in dismay.

“Disloyal scum,” Dad screamed. “Traitorous animals.”

“Wise,” whispered Maire to herself, needing desperately to reassure herself. “Courageous.”

Later that summer, her father bought other Gharm, two men and a woman with children. Maire never spoke to one of them, or uttered a single order or instruction. The Gharm could not fail or disobey orders they never got. It was the only way Maire had of rebelling.

Thereafter, she spoke to other women, carefully, taking her time about it. There were those who used the whip, those one didn’t dare speak to. There were those who sympathized and helped. There were Gharm, arriving in the middle of the night, tapping with ghost fingers on the windows. There were Gharm, hidden in cellars and under haystacks, sent on their way again, fed and clothed and provided with money.

“Have you any idea how all these Gharm are getting away?” Dad demanded of her.

“I try not to think of such things,” she told him. “My music takes all my time.”

“They’re our servants, you know,” he’d instructed her. “We have a contract, signed by them, agreeing to serve us for a thousand years, and there’s five hundred yet to go.”

“I’ve heard of it,” she said, for she had heard of it until she was weary of hearing.

“They’re bound to us,” he’d gone on, trying to get something out of her, meeting only a level unseeing gaze and no emotion whatsoever. He wondered aloud to Mam when the last time was she had kissed him and called him Dad, and was reminded of the whip and the little Gharm child, Fess. Well, he said to Mam, she couldn’t still be grudging him that. That had been years ago.

“I don’t know,” Maire’s mother said. “I don’t know anything about it. Her songs take all her time, and she doesn’t talk to me.”

Even with Lilla and her family gone, memories were bitter in Scaery. When Phaed Girat came courting, all the way from Cloud, she thought things might be better in Cloud, or at least different. She was not the first, even among women much older and wiser than she, to marry for such a reason. Seventeen lifeyears old was not too young to marry, and Phaed was a handsome man with glittering eyes and a manner to him like a cock strutting. He loved to hear her singing, so he said, praising her to the skies. She sat in the parlor while he said pretty things to her, she veiled to the eyes and with Mam just outside the door, he on the chair across from her. Sometimes he told her instructive stories.

“Long ago, Almighty God took us to a new land where we found the Gharm,” Phaed said. “Our God was stronger than the little gods of the Gharmish people, for they had Gods as small as themselves. We took the land and renamed it Voorstod, for this was the name of our prophet. We drove the Gharm into the deserts and into the frozen wastes, and we used the world according to God’s word. Almighty God had told us to be fruitful, to fill up the worlds, to multiply, and so we did until that world was used up, as we had used up other worlds, before.”

When Maire spoke with the Gharm who were escaping, softly, secretly, they told the tale differently. They told of land misused and overpopulated until it was a slag heap where the rain burned when it fell and nothing would grow but thorn. The Gharm starved in the wilderness, and the Voorstoders had short rations in the towns, and the land lay dead beneath their feet, for the Voorstod God was a rapacious destroyer who created nothing and ate everything, planets as well as people, and who cared only about beings in the shape of men.

“In time we had taken what the place had to offer,” said Phaed, in the manner of one instructing a child, “But Almighty God had prepared for that by providing us with a Door which would take us to another place. And when we got ready to go, who should come crawling after us but the Gharm, begging to go along.”

The Gharm knew about that Door. The Door had been bought with lives, a hundred thousand Gharm lives given to slavers. One learned of roundups, of forced marches, of cages, like those used for livestock, full of the Gharm.

“We would rather have died there,” said the Gharm, whispering to Maire in the night. “But they captured us, and sold us, and those they did not sell, they brought with them to this place.”

That wasn’t the way Phaed told the story. He could tell it over and over, or, if he’d had several glasses of spirits, he could sing it. No matter how he told it, or sang it, or rhymed it, it was lies, so said the Gharm. The Gharm would rather have died on their ruined planet, but they had not been given the choice. As for the contract, it was the greatest lie of all. No Gharm had ever agreed to such a thing.

All of this was what Maire had tried to tell Sam, that time he had asked about her songs. “There were all the things of the land in my songs,” Maire had said to her son when she had told him the story of Fess and Bitty and Bel.

“There were forests and seas and the sun on the water. But there were no Gharm, Sammy.”

Sam didn’t know Gharm. When he’d been tiny, Maire had held her hands before his eyes and told him he didn’t see the Gharm. What he didn’t see, he couldn’t hurt. He didn’t know Gharm.

He didn’t know Gharm, and he hadn’t understood. She had told him things she had never told anyone, and he hadn’t understood. Not about Fess, not about Lilla, not about the day she’d gone away from Scaery to marry Phaed Girat and had seen the hem of her robe moving across the little dark spatter on the floor. Not how those small dark spots had become the symbol of their marriage, of everything between the two of them.

“No Gharm in my songs,” she said to herself now on the porch of her sisterhouse in Settlement One, where she stood listening to Saturday Wilm’s voice floating on the evening air. No Gharm, no voices crying between the stars, no magic, no more music. Her throat was too full of baby Maechy, lying still in the street. Her heart was too full of the spatter of Fess’s blood that no one had ever washed away.

China Wilm heard
Jeopardy come in and clatter off to his room. She filed the last of a corrected pile of hybrid-yield reports and turned off the information stage after sneaking a quick look at its time pulse. Daywatch seventeen point two. Workdays, which began at this time of the year around daywatch five or six, were considered to end at daywatch sixteen or seventeen. Daywatch seventeen was time to knock off, pushing dusk, but still early enough to walk down through the settlement and take a look at the old temple.

She hadn’t been particularly interested in the temple until Jep brought her the wood sample and asked what it was. His question made her remember something she’d read about dendrochronology, an ancient system for determining the age of buildings by dating the wood in them by seasonal growth rings. Why not, just for fun, find out when the temple had been built? Nobody knew, which made it a rather exciting idea. She could build up a tree ring sequence from local samples. It would make an interesting activity to fill in her spare time for a while, maybe she’d get an item for the Archives out of it, get her name recorded for posterity.

Besides, it would help her not think about Samasnier Girat. Some days it took a good deal of energy not to think about Sam, but she was determined to keep him out of her head, and out of her bed. As it was, without him, things were peaceful. With him, things were impossible. She had been through it before, more than once, and was determined not to go through it again, even though she was eaten up with curiosity over this new game Sam had, if it was a game. Walking around half the night, shouting at nothing out on the hills. Challenging dragons, Africa said. One of the herdsmen had encountered him early one morning on the western ridge and reported that Sam hadn’t known him, hadn’t even seemed to see him, but had gone by him with a heavy club, a broken-off branch raised to strike, veering away only at the last minute as though deflected by something, or someone. The herdsman had come back to the settlement at top speed, not bothering to inquire after reasons. He’d told Africa, of course—Africa was his Team Leader—and Africa had told China, wondering what it meant. Not that she expected China to know what it meant. China had never known what Sam meant.

China gave herself a quick looking-over before she left her sisterhouse. Her hair lay properly, in a fluffy black cap over her unlined brow. Her face was clean, and her clothing was neat if not stylish. Not that anyone in the settlement was stylish. Stylish was a word grandmothers used about clothing in some other place, some Phansuri city, in some former life. Even at Central Management they weren’t stylish, though China had heard they were sometimes sexy. Which meant naked, China assumed. Skin showing. Maybe tits, or upper legs. China sometimes tried that in front of the big mirror, a gauzy scarf here, another there, lots of self showing. Sam would go crazy. Do it in public, though, and earn the disapproval of the entire settlement council! Time for baby making, yes. Time for sexiness, no. Though some people were. Sam, for instance. Very, very sexy.

Samasnier, Samasnier Vorcel Girat, she chanted to herself. Samasnier was hyper, that was his trouble. Over the top. Maybe Topmen needed to be hyper, but Sam overdid it. China could have been lastingly in love with Sam if he just hadn’t been so picky and strange. What did he want! He wanted to know what life was about? He wanted to know why? Why everything? He didn’t know the answers; he wanted her to know the answers, but she didn’t. Now he was going out in the night, dressed up in a funny hat and a belt he’d made for himself, being weird. He thought nobody knew, but everyone in the settlement knew. Strange, wild Sam. And if the herdsman had been right, perhaps it was more than merely strange. Maybe it was crazy.

The trouble was, nobody wanted Sam to be crazy. He was too good at his job. That business with Hever, for example. Anybody else would have had Hever’s legs off in a minute, but not Sam! If anyone from Settlement One told anyone from Central Management that Sam was crazy, they’d take Sam away, and nobody wanted that to happen. Even if they fixed him and sent him back, nobody wanted that, because fixing him might change him somehow. Fixing people did change them. Sometimes they were just dull, after. Easier to stay out of his way, when he was out there on the hills, yelling at nothing.

She put thoughts of Sam aside and stalked down the pathway toward the temple, pausing to wave at the Theckles, sitting on the porch of their singlehouse. Mard Theckles had been the oldest of the original settlers, fifty at least when Settlement One started, including among the younger people for his years of experience on another Hobbs farm project. His brother, Emun, had joined Mard here on Hobbs Land when Emun had retired from Enforcement a few years ago. Emun had worked on Enforcement for fifty years, maintaining the pseudoflesh soldiers there. The thought of that buried army, like something ready to hatch enormously from its moon-egg, was enough to give China the cold grozzles. So now she waved at the sibs (who were North Province Phansuri, bigger and slower than most Phansuri), and tried not to think about where Emun had spent most of his life.

Past the Theckles’s place were only two more clanhomes, Tillans and Quillows, then the small equipment yard, one slab-walled mushroom house and two fragile-vegetable houses, their transparent sides reflecting the sunlight into her eyes, before she came to the temple. She was surprised to see that the building had already come to look dilapidated. Ancient Monuments Panel had had other things on its mind, perhaps.

She went through the narrow door to stand on the lip of the inner declivity, a dipping arc with the arches rising above to make up the other three quarters of the circle. Above her, straight trunks of wolf-cedar stretched side by side from arch to arch to make up the corrugated ceiling. How Jep had managed to get his roof sample, and how she was going to get one, was a riddle, however. All the logs were well out of reach.

She strolled down into the mosaic-lined trough, bending over to get a closer look at the designs. She had never before noticed the fibers protruding through the clay into which the stones were set, like a fine fabric nap around every tessera. She put her hand upon the nap and drew it away covered with dry segments. The same fine dry fur protruded from the rocky walls. Whatever this fine fur had been, it was now dead.

Back on the circular walkway, she examined both sides of each arch for possible footholds. It was only when she came to the easternmost pair that she found the way up, a set of foot-holes running up one side of the arch, as though certain stones had fallen from the arch leaving treads no wider than a single human foot, the climb made possible only by the pierced decorative border carved into the stone of the arch. One could hold on to that.

BOOK: Raising The Stones
9.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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