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Authors: Suzy McKee Charnas

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BOOK: Walk to the End of the World
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It was funny to see them joyfully gyrating their lean arms, while they must be thinking, where’s that Hemaway whitehead sprung from without us being piped a warning by Penneltons close to the City? And they would snap out sharp notes to get their fems moving faster, ordering them into new positions, anything to indicate active supervision and to avoid being docked work-points.
Kelmz played his part to the hilt. Once they dawdled past a gang lifting loaded laver-carts covered with wet canvas onto the loading lane of the causeway. The hoist squealed hideously. Kelmz glared in passing, as if he really would have liked to stop and lambaste the Penneltons in charge for not taking proper care of the equipment that came with their work-turf. No wonder he was servilely saluted on every hand; he made a convincing pillar of order.
Late in the afternoon, they ducked into another shelter for a light meal and a rest before the night’s hard run. Eykar lingered outside, which put off the moment when he would be shut up at close quarters with the fem again.
Kelmz had noticed Eykar’s uneasiness about the fem. Sitting between the Rovers and watching her unpack the food, he said to Servan, ‘You do your friend no favors, keeping that bitch with us. No one would notice if you ordered her to slip in with some gang down there at the ponds.’
‘She’s my property,’ Servan said. The soporific pace of the afternoon had wearied him, and his throat was dry with chanting. ‘Tell you what; since she’s on your mind, why don’t you take her for an hour or so? You’ve been on a wild-beast chase all your life. Try a
fem instead, a little dip into mystery, an adventure for your soul.’
‘I’ve done my duty in the breeding rooms,’ Kelmz said. He slapped down the sandal he had taken off and began rubbing his foot. The Rovers imitated him. ‘I’m no cunting pervert.’
‘But you think Eykar is?’
‘No.’ Kelmz studied the fem’s bent back. The Rovers, catching his antagonism, stirred and muttered low in their throats. ‘But he seems to have plenty on his mind without worrying about a famishing bitch too.’
‘You tend to your Rovers, Captain. I’ll tend to my friend.’
Servan ate quickly; there was little enough. He took the bowl the fem had prepared for Eykar and the smaller beer jug and went outside. Eykar was standing at the parapet (not leaning, he never held himself slackly) watching the light fade. He took his final portion of food with a nod of thanks, and ate. He had a tired, thoughtful air that Servan remembered well from their Boyhouse days and was always moved to puncture if he could.
‘Kelmz is worried,’ he said, ‘about you and the fem.’
‘I’m worried about Kelmz,’ Eykar said wryly.
‘Feeling responsible?’ Servan leaned on the weathered stone wall.
‘He’s with us because I asked him to come.’
‘As I recall, that was your way of saving his life, wasn’t it?’
‘Perhaps that was no favor.’ Eykar swept up laver-flakes neatly on his seedbread. Like all Holdfast men, he was an efficient eater. ‘I didn’t realize the strains he’d be subjected to. In particular, the manna you gave him that night - was it only the night before last?’
‘Without him, the others might have ducked out at the last minute, and the whole situation could have gone against us.’
‘That’s why I didn’t interfere.’
‘He’s a tough old brute. A little DarkDreaming can’t hurt him.’
‘It already has.’ A volley of piped notes rose from below. The fem-gangs too far from Bayo to go home and sleep were being herded into lean-to shelters out among the ponds for the night. ‘I don’t think Captain Kelmz of the Hemaways as he used to be would steal Rovers from another company. He knows it can upset their balance
to be switched around that way and increases the chances that they’ll go rogue and have to be killed.’
Servan shrugged. ‘He’s just facing up to the reality of our situation.’
‘No. I think he’s given way to something after a lifetime of fighting it off — a fascination with the idea of the beasts; isn’t that what his DarkDream shows? I think Rovers have always stood in his mind for tamed beasts. Now he’s looking inward instead. His tie with these Pennelton Rovers is very impersonal, have you noticed?’
‘What do you care what happens to that old wolf?’ Servan said, kicking idly at the wall. ‘He’s no lover for you, man; remember the age-line.’
‘Servan, you’re a walking prurience, you never change! I just don’t want the man to come apart in the middle of all this. You’re not still after his blood?’
‘No, not right now.’
‘How long is “right now”? You used to remember old grudges any time it suited you. Frankly, if anything happened to him I doubt that you or I could take over those Pennelton Rovers the way he did at Bayo.’
‘Oh? You were impressed? Do I have cause to be jealous?’
‘If you had ever run Rovers yourself, you’d have been impressed too.’
‘I was, actually,’ Servan said, with sudden generosity. ‘It was well done.’
‘Can I count on you not to murder him in a fit of pique?’
Servan threw out his hands in an exasperated shrug. ‘He caught me off guard in Lammintown; I was annoyed, but I’m not sulking over it. What do you want, a promise? All right, I promise, I won’t lay a hand on him. Feel better?’
‘That’s no promise,’ Eykar said. ‘You’ve always put your hands where you like, and you always will.’ He bent to rinse out his bowl in the wash bucket beside the shelter wall. ‘I would not be charmed, Servan, by even your most artful apology for murdering Captain Kelmz.’
‘You don’t trust me,’ Servan mourned. ‘Come on, leave that, the fem will do the cleaning up; God’s own Freaking Son, what do you think I keep her for, her beauty? Let’s walk a bit. I’ve brought some beer.’
They strolled toward Bayo, facing the direction from which pursuit would come if their game had been discovered. Servan had thought several times that afternoon of how it would be to walk right into Bajerman and a pack of Penneltons; while Eykar, no doubt, had been worrying about Kelmz or thinking of the fem.
‘Tell me about Endpath,’ he said.
‘It was an uncluttered life,’ Eykar said. Living there had clearly not affected his reticence.
‘You seem to have kept fit.’ Servan saw, with a flash of heat, Eykar’s gaunt frame as he had seen it in the Bayo showers, spare and white and hard as marble. Eykar always had fought what he regarded as the weakness of his body with a self-discipline that would have killed a weak man.
‘Endpath duties are light,’ Eykar said, with a tinge of iron. ‘I had time to spend.’
‘How?’ Servan pressed.
‘Servan, you must create Endpath sometimes for your dream clients. I’m sure you’d do it well. Why cramp your style with reality?’
‘Well, let’s consider the future, then.’ Servan swung the jug as he walked, liking the sloshing weight of it. ‘I must say I think your goal is rather limited. There are big things to be done in the Holdfast by young men who aren’t cowed by the cloth-cocks and their Rovers. For instance, you and I could make something of the Juniors’ resentments. If we were smart enough and fast enough we could turn the Holdfast upside down to our own profit. You saw how the Chesters took to you back on the ferry.’
Eykar said contemptuously, ‘I saw how easily you maneuvered them, yes. But it was to you and Kelmz that they responded, not to me.’
‘Oh, they could learn to love you,’ Servan smiled.
‘I’m no leader,’ Eykar said. ‘And you —’
‘I have potential,’ Servan protested in a pained tone. ‘As for yourself, Eykar, you’re a weightier man than you give yourself credit for. Look what happened when the Board sent you off to Endpath to kill and die. If I know you at all, you turned the whole thing into an exercise in personal austerity.’
‘I did my poor best,’ Eykar replied, ‘lacking your inventiveness and your talent for being entertained.’
Servan sighed. ‘You think of yourself as weak, but if you were any stronger you would punch holes in the ground with every step you take. What you decide to do, you do; or what in the coldest quarter of the moon am I doing out here with you now, listening to the lavers grow?’
‘Amusing yourself, as always,’ Eykar said, with his rasping laugh. ‘I did worry about you those first months at Endpath, whether you were amusing yourself, or were able to; needlessly, of course.’
‘Needlessly! You’re extraordinary. Those old Hemaway turds meant to burn me, did you know that?’ Servan began to work the stopper free from the neck of the jug.
‘I wasn’t kept informed,’ Eykar said caustically. ‘As soon as I’d put you into their care, the Teachers locked me into iso. Days later, they sent me to Endpath. I had no chance to ask questions.’
The stopper came loose. Servan would have put it into the pocket of his shirt, but the Bayo fems had neglected to provide a pocket, they themselves having no pockets and nothing to keep in them. He tossed the stopper in his hand, thinking about those Boyhouse days. They strolled on through the evening without speaking for a while.
In the Boyhouse, Servan had quickly acquired a reputation as a bully, a sly heckler of the Teachers and a thief; in fact, he had been fighting boredom, nothing more. Then Eykar had been placed in his class, and the situation had changed. Servan had grown ambitious. He had begun using his mind, to the astonishment (and discomfiture) of his Teachers. Yet no matter how neatly he could skip and dance around them for the dazzlement of the new boy, Eykar had pressed straight ahead, undistractable.
Eykar had wanted to know everything in those days, but only if it were true. Was it true, for instance, that beyond the borders of the Holdfast there was nothing but the empty scrubland called the Wild? If so, why was the Board committed to the Reconquest of such useless, hostile territory? If they were committed, just where was the Reconquest happening, and what was its timetable? He had gone after information like that along with incredibly picky points of doctrine, as if to him everything was just as important as everything else, and he’d been impossible to divert or even confuse for very long: fascinating, a real challenge.
Eventually, Servan had to meet him on his own ground in order to meet him at all. Subjects that the Teachers refused to discuss, Servan
took up with him gladly, if irreverently, and this brought them together. The element of competition between them didn’t surface openly until the embarrassing incident of FirstDream.
At the age of thirteen, after years of drill in the proper subjects for dreaming meditation, all the boys in a class were given manna for the first time by supervising Teachers. It was a crucial test. Some boys died under the influence of the drug; it was said of them that they were still their dams’ cubs, not men enough to bend the manna to the schooling of their souls. Instead, the manna broke down their feeble counterfeit of manly will, and their souls bled back out into the void. Others could not shake off the phantoms of dreaming-shock after waking, and they were never again free of a craving for the drug. They were turned over to the company officers to be trained as Rovers. Those who were orderly in thought and virtuous in spirit, thanks to their years in the Boyhouse, emerged stronger than before and inspired by the visions they had seen.
Then there were the borderline cases. Eykar struggled with fever and phantoms for days afterward. Servan almost died.
The Teachers pulled Servan back into a lower class, claiming that they meant to overcome his sensitivity to manna in easy stages. Clearly, by degrading him they also intended to punish him for his long history of tricks and insolence.
So he spent several years in the forced company of his age-inferiors. He was put through the ordeal of FirstDream again and again, with no better results. All this he minded less than the endless drilling. The harder they tried to sink him into the morass of solemn virtue that formed the Canon of Dreaming Images, the worse his behavior became out of sheer frustration; meanwhile, Eykar’s natural brilliance was beginning to be recognized, however grudgingly. A great future was predicted for Eykar, despite the stigma of his known parentage. He went on seeking out Servan to debate with him, which only underlined the disparity in their situations.
Eventually, in order to alter his apparently fixed status as permanent boy and non-dreamer, and also to get a rise out of the Teachers, Servan suggested that a Teacher go through a dreaming session with him, giving him word- and touch-cues for the proper images, to guide him past the voidish mishmash of fantasy that he was so prone to.
There was an uproar. They thought Servan wanted a Teacher to
show him how to DarkDream. They told him twenty different reasons why one did not learn manly self-reliance by submitting to the mental control of others at one’s most vulnerable moment – during dreaming. Then they sent him into iso.
Inevitably, sulking, hungry and alone in the dark little cage of a room, Servan made up his mind to try DarkDreaming and find out what it was about. On his release, he made secret trips to Skidro, where he located a DarkDreamer who agreed to dream-gift him in exchange for information about certain of the Boyhouse Teachers.
Then Servan asked Eykar along. Naturally, the invitation threw Eykar into a spasm of indecision. In the end, the chance to find out the ‘truth’ of DarkDreaming proved irresistible, and he went with Servan to meet the DarkDreamer – as an observer only.
The DarkDreamer had not been strong enough. Servan had slipped from his mental grip and had begun the descent into manna-madness. Eykar had interrupted the process and forced the DarkDreamer to help him carry Servan back to the Boyhouse and into the care of the Teachers.
‘Must have scared you to death,’ Servan said, ‘the whole thing. I should have checked that hack out better before putting myself into his hands. How did you know I was in trouble?’
‘By your breathing. I don’t know what he used, but it was much stronger than anything we’d had in the Boyhouse; Board-quality manna, judging by the effect.’
Servan hugged the beer jug to his chest with both arms. ‘It was a near thing, let me tell you. I was out for two whole days, and when I came to I was ready to be a good boy. They couldn’t believe it; those old Hemaway screws kept nagging and bullying until I got fed up and told them a few things about some of their own brothers. I’m sure they knew that some Teachers were DarkDreaming pretty regularly themselves, but they had to put on a show of outrage when I named names. They started shouting about burning me, as a throwback to the Freaks. In the middle of it all, with old Varner roaring away at the top of his lungs and blaming everybody around him for the whole situation, I passed out again.
‘The next thing I knew, a bunch of sweaty Rovers came and dragged me out of bed and down into the courtyard. You remember that courtyard, the scene of so many of our debates? Well, the whole pimply population of the Boyhouse was turned out to watch those
famishing Rovers truss me up with ropes and sit on me so the Teachers could cut my shoulder and use acid to obliterate the boy-mark. Christ, you must have heard me, even in iso!
‘They tied me up in a hammock and ran me to the edge of the Holdfast and dumped me on the ground. Not a word, nothing. They left me in the Wild to die. That was the first I knew that they’d decided not to burn me after all. I can remember the taste of blood and dust in my mouth to this moment.’ He swigged deeply at the beer. What he remembered best was the silence of the Wild, a silence towering up into the crown of the sky above him and spreading under him down into the heart of the earth.
BOOK: Walk to the End of the World
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