Monday, February 28, 2011

Chapter 14 - The Midlings Meet

Within an hour of calling for an emergency meeting, Evera's top nine generals were assembled on foot around the cavern conference room table.  Unaware of what prompted the meeting, and with multiple attempts to breach the perimeter all night by persons unknown, the room hummed with their anxiety. 
The first order of business required each of the generals to give a report on the state of each assigned sector of Midling Territory and  furnish any ideas they might have about who was attempting the incursions and why.  When this was done, Evera announced that Airun was alive and living within the compound of Supreme Scientist Hashimoto McKinley. 
"I propose that we go in to get him."
"That is ludicrous."  Alif slammed his fist against the solid oak conference table.  "Airun is my brother.  More than anyone, I want to get him out of McKinley's compound, but it would be suicide.  We may not be outmanned but we are outgunned."  He looked at Evera, his faded gray eyes blazing, "This is proof that you don't deserve to lead the Midlings. You'd let emotion influence you into leading us into a fight we couldn't possibly win."
Evera stood and made a half circuit around the table looking at each one of her generals in turn. When she reached Alif she stopped.  "You're wrong," she said. "There is one person who wants Airun back more than you.  Me."  She held his gaze for several long seconds matching his fire and ire until he broke the stare and looked down at the floor.  "I'm talking about getting Airun, our rightful leader back. I'm also talking about protecting our own interests."
Someone yelled out, "In what way?"
Evera straitened her back and stood as tall as she could.  She didn't look around to see who had asked the question, instead she let her gaze travel around the room meeting each and every gaze.  "I have a better question. How long do you think it will be before the Scientists decide to come after us?"
"If you hadn't let Honor pass through our lands we might not have this problem."  Evera didn't look for the source of the voice of dissent but when she looked into the intent faces of her people something in her spirit fell.  Their eyes were stoic but their expressions were unconvinced.  She wondered what happened to their confidence in her ability to lead them.  Evera lost her words, and began to wonder as well, if she'd let her friendship with Honor endanger them all. 
Old Mother spoke up this time. "You're all fools if you think that Honor's passage through Midling Territory is the source of your problems.  McKinley is brutal.  I know him well because he is my junior brother." The room buzzed at this revelation.  "He wanted to kill the Believers and when his efforts made them stronger instead, he decided to use them.  Defile them.”  She let those words hang in the air before continuing.  “When he's done with them he'll use you too, if he can.  If there is something that he wants from you, you won't be safe either."
Evera completed her circuit around the table and stopped at the head, but she didn't sit back down.  Instead she extended her arm motioning for Old Mother to take her place at the head. 
"I have some ideas about how we can handle this situation with Airun, but I want to know how you all feel.  I won’t make a move unless we can come to a unanimous decision.”  She glanced around.  “Anyone?"
The following silence so complete that the cavern room sounded as if it has been plunged into a vacuum. 
A compact elder named Eesa finally spoke up, "We are Midlings and this isn't our fight."  The room vibrated with the cacophonous din of agreement.  Eesa held his hand up to silence the room so that he could continue.  "We Midlings have always stayed out of the fight pretending and hoping that the Scientists would remain preoccupied with the Believers and leave us alone."  This time no one spoke but all eyes were on him.  "I was Airun's second in command and I happen to know that his vision was to move us forward, to pick a side, to join the fight."  Eesa scratched at the edge of a ragged pink scar that extended from his right temple to the opposite jaw.  The old wound had healed badly leaving the skin puckered and tight.  He looked fierce.
Alif shook his head, his dusky blond locks swinging into his face.  "My brother was a statistician of the highest caliber. He wouldn't have gone into enemy territory for a single man."
Eesa leaned forward and pointed at Alif.  "That's not true. He would have gone for you.  No matter what."
Alif's head dropped, his chin touching his chest. "He'd have been wrong."
Old Mother spoke up, her voice full of anger.  "How many men and women have the Midlings lost in the past five years, who've become Scientist drones?" 
Eesa said, "Twenty-three."  His voice trembled with anguish and he twisted his hands.  "They took my daughter, used her as a guinea pig in one of their experiments and then discarded her.  She's an empty shell now, doesn't even know her own name. Sometimes I think it would have been better if they'd killed her.  And my brother, they did kill him.  And now Airun, the best leader we Midlings have had in two generations, and he's been made into a doped up man-servant."  He let his hands fall to his side and looked up to meet his fellow Midlings.  "Twenty-three is too many."
"Yes," said Old Mother, "It is.  And how many times has the Midling perimeter been breached tonight?"
Bit, the young woman she'd met earlier in the forest with Alif raised her hand.  "Eight times.  Assailants, all unknown."
"Well then, let's use our common sense here.  It doesn't take a genius to understand that your days, perhaps even hours, are numbered.  It no longer matters why they're here.  They'll be coming for you whether you're ready or not. So hadn't you better be ready?"
"I never knew that Airun had plans to pick sides.  Is this true, Evera?" asked Bit.
Evera nodded.  "Yes. He said that it was a necessity... an obligation."
"He said that being a Midling, one who took the middle course, was once a smart tactic used to stay alive and out of the fray.  But that now, it only amounts to cowardice.  We are still human and we have a duty to all that is good and right in humanity. That's what he said."
"He was right," said Eesa. 
Bit considered this a moment. "I trusted Airun and I trust you Evera.  If we must join the fight, then I'm in."  Bit went to stand behind Old Mother.  Eesa joined them as well but no one else moved. 
"I have something else to add here that might make a difference."  All eyes came to rest on Old Mother's face.  "If all goes as planned, Airun will not be the drone you expect him to be."
"What do you mean," asked Evera. 
"I managed to slip him some of my herbs while he was in my home in the form of a tea."  Old Mother folded her hands onto the table in front of herself, and smiled with a pride that melted years off of her tired face.  "I was once a Scientist and my specialty was herbology.  If I got it right, and I always get my herbs right, your Airun will be shaking off the last of his mental shackles as we speak."
The vacuum silence returned. 
"Just think about what this might mean, people.  We will have a man on the inside."
"Not just any man," added Evera realizing the significance of the bold plan forming in her mind.  "Airun on our side and on the inside."
Four of the remaining seven generals joined Evera on her side of the table. 
"Why should we trust your word?" asked a man so large Old Mother wondered how he'd managed to make it through the door into the cavern meeting room.  "You're a former Scientist and an herb witch.  You could be trying to trick us out into the open."
"I may not like this plan," said Alif with a smile as he made his way onto Evera's end of the table, "but I'd vouch for Old Mother here with my life.  She has never failed us and she has never lied to us." 
"Besides, I have nursed and raised many of the orphan Midling children, including you," said Old Mother pointing to the giant sized man.  "Isn't your name Mount?"  She chuckled as his eyes went wide.  "I watched you being born into the world and I cared for you after your mother died until an older Midling couple who couldn't have children of their own adopted you.  I named you."  Mount's mouth fell open. "Get over here to this side of the table and pick your jaw up off the floor before you trip."

The much needed levity prompted a wave of nervous laughter from both ends of the table.  Mount moved to stand behind Evera, leaving one other person, a tall lithe woman named Jenita.  She stood with her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes narrowed.  Evera approached and placed a hand on the woman's shoulder, "What can I say to convince you?"
Jenita was silent for a long time.  Evera had begun to worry that there would be nothing she could say to convince the towering brooding woman, and then she spoke.  "I want in this fight, but..."
"What is it?  Tell me what has you so worried?"
"I have a man too.  His name is Seth."
"Yes, I remember him.  He's been gone from us for many years."
"We never did find out what happened to him."
"I will pledge myself to this mission, to retrieve Airun and to go up against the Scientists in any way possible."
Evera looked to the rest in assembly, a smile on her face.  "Thank you Jenita.  It’s important that we are all on board with this plan.  It’s important to our success."
"I want something in return."  Evera sobered and nodded.  "Promise me that when we go in, we find my man too."
Evera looked to the group again, nodding.  "We find all of our people, those that are still alive.  Absolutely.  Anything less than that would be an injustice."
"And if he is not alive, I want revenge."

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