Friday, April 15, 2011

Chapter 17 - Malak: When the Tide Changes

Malak removed the bandage from his hand and inspected his palm.  Considering how deep some of the glass shards had gone, he figured he was healing pretty well.  Using a cotton ball, he dabbed antibiotic balm over the wound and carefully rewrapped his hand with clean gauze.
Now nine a.m., had this been any other day, he'd be heading down to his diner, The Hole, only four short blocks away.  Today though, this was not only laughable but futile. The menu matched the general atmosphere created by the name of his corner joint, as the fare was memorable only in that it was as terrible tasting as it was questionable.  Though fish was the tastiest item on the menu, it was rarely, if ever, fresh.  And the meat, while not always meat, when it was, came from sources better left undiscussed.  But, this was the least of Malak’s worries.
Word travels quickly in Sinistral especially if it’s a bad word. In his case the word was Supreme Scientist. The fact that the Supreme Scientist had visited his establishment, and in the company of screeching security drones, no less, made The Hole as off limits to the general public as a septic tank. The Hole was now so avoided that vehicular traffic on the street had even reduced.
Malak slumped on the couch, and summed up his current business situation in three words OUT OF BUSINESS.  He thought about this for a moment, as if he hadn't been doing so for the past week, and laughed. "Well, I've been saying that I need a vacation.

Malak flipped through the only magazine he owned, a salvaged, two year old travel brochure he'd rescued from a trash heap because he liked the picture of the ocean on the cover.  He thought that he might actually be able to enjoy the time off, pretend it was a real vacation had he not been alone. But Malak was more than alone, with no wife or children and few friends, he was downright lonely. On top of that, he had no place to go and even if he did, he certainly didn't have the means to get there.
He'd once been part of the tight knit group of Believer guardians, but that had been years ago before he’d lost his charge. He still lamented that loss as if it had just happened, and until a week ago, when Honor happened into his diner with her hectic shifting and her anger and determination, he hadn't dared to hope that he could redeem himself. He hadn't dared to hope that his people might one day find salvation. He hoped now, with every fiber of his being, but as regards his part in the saga of his people, little had changed.
He'd had no word from Alia since she tore down that back alley with Honor a week earlier. He did feel safe to hope that they hadn't been caught though, because if they had been, the news would have reached him by now.  The Scientists would have announced Honor's capture as a successful strike against the Believers.  For the first time in a very long time, the Believers had reason to believe the prophesy might be true, and the very sight of Honor, the very feel of her energy as she walked through the door that day was enough to make him believe that perhaps one day his people would throw off the shackles that bound them.
However, unlike many of his fellow Believers, Malak’s hope was not to overcome and subdue his oppressors, enslaving and degrading the Scientists as they had mercilessly done to the Believers. He didn’t want revenge, but equality and justice.  He hoped for a return to the world they used to inhabit, a world in a time before his own birth.  A world he only knew about through stories the elders told.
There was a time when belief was validated by science and science was reinforced by belief. There was no disjointed understanding, no separation, no barriers between the two nor their practitioners. Malak had always imagined that that must have been a grand era. What the elder stories never told though, was what happened to cause the lasting division.
Malak abandoned the travel brochure when his stomach started to growl. With his heart set on the two real chicken eggs he'd bartered a pair of shoe strings and a single leather glove for the previous night, he headed for the kitchen.  The vid-phone sounded and Malak considered ignoring it for several rings, but he decided to answer in the end.  He pushed the yellow button which engaged audio, but not the red video button, because hadn't even washed his face yet.
"Good morning?"  When no one spoke, "Speak your mind while you have the time."
After several more long seconds of silence Malak impatiently decided to disengage the line.  Those eggs seemed to be calling to him, but the nagging feeling struck him.  He compromised with himself, and decided to give a last warning.  With his finger resting lightly on the yellow button he said, "I won't wait all day. Tell me what you want."
"That you Malak?"
Malak closed his eyes, dragging that deep urbane voice through his rolodex of memories.  He was close, but his mind wouldn't catch onto the face it belonged to.  "Yeah.  It's me, Malak."  He swallowed hard, and though he wasn't sure why, his heart thumped against his ribcage like a sledgehammer. "Who wants to know?"
"It's Airun.  Do you remember me, brother?"
Malak pressed the red video button so hard he nearly sprained his finger.  "Of course I remember."  Malak pressed his hand over the place where his heart galloped like run away horses. 

Airun was the first Midling that Malak had ever met who was wholly sympathetic to the Believer's plight. He'd once told Malak that he intended to bring his people into the fray on the side of the Believers. Malak admired Airun, the youngest Midling leader in history.  His thinking was so revolutionary that many of his own Midling people had parted ways, leaving to create their own small community by claiming their own corner of wooded land.  And in a fairness Malak had never seen in any leader before, Airun had let them.
Since their first meeting on the edge of Midling Territory where Malak used to hunt wild forest pigeon and rat, Malak and Airun had traded information, supplies, and friendship.  Then one day he disappeared. Malak never knew what happened to his friend and none of the other Midlings trusted him enough to share what they knew.
"I thought you were dead." 
"Not far from it," said Airun in hushed tones, eyes darting.  He turned to look over his shoulder.  "I've been subdued under the most ruthless chemical restraints Scientist genius can manufacture."
Malak's eyes widened. "Ah.  You've been a slave.  All this time."  He shook his head in disgust.
"Too true, my brother.  And you'll never guess who master has been."
Malak's eyes narrowed as the answer came to him unbidden. There was little that the Supreme Scientist could do that would surprise him. "McKinley."
"Right again."
"So you've managed to escape?" Malak ran fingers through his tousled red hair. I don't know of anyone who’s ever managed that."
Airun glanced back over his shoulder again. "Not exactly. I'm still on his compound. It's just that the restraints no longer work."
"What?  But how?"
"That, my brother, is a long story and I haven't the time to tell it right now."
Noting Airun's serious tone, Malak leaned forward to listen more closely.
"The tide is about to change Malak, but I need your help to make it happen."
Malak smiled, hope welling up inside his heart so high he felt as if he might levitate on the spot. "Tell me what you need. I'll do anything."
"I hoped you'd say that."

Two hours later, full of cheesy scrambled eggs, toast, smoked turkey bacon flavored protein strips and black coffee, Malak strode the four blocks to The Hole.  The sun was up, shedding yellow light on the crumbling gray city he'd been calling home for all of his forty years.  It had never looked as beautiful or hopeful as it did now.  Malak smiled and greeted the few people he passed on his trek. He didn't ignore those people who, in an effort to avoid him, crossed to the opposite side of the street. He called out to them, waving wildly, happily, joyfully.  He said the same thing to them all.
"Peace and salutations! May you be prepared to swim when the tide changes."
When Malak arrived at The Hole, he unlocked the steel security gate and swung it open. The inside smelled of a decade's worth of stale used cooking oil, of mold, of the sour depression he hadn't, until the day Honor entered his establishment realized, he wore like a caul.  He stood within the rectangle of the entrance, taking in the lay of the place for the last time.  He mentally reviewed the years he'd spent managing the run down joint; it hadn't been all that bad, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make himself look back.  He was too excited about what lay ahead. Malak closed and bolted the door, then went into the kitchen to get the rusted canister of kerosene he stored beneath the sink. He kept it for emergencies, when the electricity, fickle on this side of Sinistral, was out, or on the occasions when he hunted at night and needed a lamp.
Starting at the locked front door, Malak poured a zigzagging line of the flammable fluid through his shop, around and atop tables and chairs, on top of the stained Formica countertops, through the curtained doorway that led into the kitchen, all around the electric and gas appliances.  Malak engaged every gas burner and turned them on high, blue and orange flames leaping upward like frenzied feathers. Malak opened the back doorway and just for a second gazed down the alley.  The glorious memory of Honor running down that alley, a dream and a revolution in motion caused Malak to laugh aloud.
For the first time, in a long time, Malak felt free, hopeful, really and truly happy.  He could feel.  Malak removed the dishtowel that hung over the lip of the sink and dropped it on top of the fired up burners.  He didn't wait to watch the ensuing flames.  Instead, he stepped into the alley, closed the door, and left his old life behind.


  1. Great to see Malak's still around. After "Belief" I feared McKinley had done him in (or worse). Keep up the good work, K!

  2. Thanks laz. Malak is definitely NOT out of the game yet.

  3. Malak is a complex character. I'm glad he's still around.

  4. Thanks Ann.
    While not a main character, I have to admit that I really like Malak. I've been thinking that I need to do more with him. He is certainly getting his chance here.