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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chapter 19 - A New Direction

Days and nights in the Sinistral sewers were unlike those above ground. Without the light of day, the waxing and waning of city rhythms, the people below ground chose their own time, their own way of living. It wasn't until Honor began her passage down the single empty tunnel leading away from Siti's tent that she realized this.
Since arriving in the sewers Honor's time and movements had not been her own.  Honor slept because Siti said it was time to sleep. Honor woke because Siti informed her that a new day had begun. Honor ate three daily meals because Siti prepared them and urged her to partake. Honor attended the prayers, because Siti reminded her of her duty.
Now that Honor gave it thought, she realized that a slow insidious depression had begun to take hold. In Soroton, with it's stinking overflowing sewers and gray crumbling tenements, there was at least the sun. Nothing could drown out it's yellow rays. And at night, there was at least the pale gray glow of the moon and the coppery radiance of Segher lighting the skies. In the sewer, the only thing above head was stained gray cement, a constant reminder of the struggle, a jail of sorts.
When Honor turned right into a narrower passage, she did so, not because she had any particular recollection of what direction she should take, but because she could hear voices. She followed those voices through tunnels that grew more and more crowded as she went, lined with dingy tents, rope lines heavy with damp clothes to dry, steaming barrel barbecue pits, elders sitting around rickety propped up tables or standing in loose clusters chatting and joking and sharing kettles of steaming brew or bags of jerky.
She caught the attention of more than a few as hers was sure to have been the youngest face in the tunnels at that hour. Some of them whispered and pointed in her direction, but Honor easily ignored them. Honor had received similar treatment on the streets of Soroton, especially after she'd beaten Lulu and shifted.
Shifting.
That's what had started all of this. The shifting had made her question, for the first time in her life, why she was the way she was, how she was able to do the things she could do, where she came from, who (italics) she came from. She still wanted those answers, but in the matter of a few days the plan to find those answers had changed into a plan to save her brother. And she'd learned that she was the unwitting subject of some prophecy to free the Believers. She marveled inwardly, unsure of the whether this was good or bad, that life could twist in on itself so completely in mere seconds, and also that she had so very little control of her life. It was only now that she realized the wisdom in some of the things Old Mother used to say to her.
"We all have a part to play in the great story of life," she'd say, "and while you may alter the path, your destination remains the same."
Honor passed a gray jumper clad Underground security official at an unmarked junction. He held out an arm to block her passage. "It's late for you to be out isn't it?"

"I've got somewhere to be." Honor pushed passed him, head down. "Besides, with no sky overhead, how do you truly know the lateness of the hour?" she threw over her shoulder.
He followed behind her until he matched her steps. He checked his watch. "It's after 2300. Where does a young girl have to be at this time of night?"
"Is there a law that says I can't be out at this time?"
"No law." He was quiet a moment but still kept pace with Honor. "Everyone knows this is the time for the elders."
Honor stopped and turned, studied the officers face. She smiled as more thoughts of Old Mother came to her. Old Mother would have said of this officer that his face was as silky as a baby's butt and near as tender. Saying this aloud would have embarrassed Honor as much as the officer, so she said instead, "And how old are you?"
He blushed bright and rosy. "Old enough to be an officer."
"Well," said Honor as she started forward again, "I guess that means we're both old enough go be out." Honor started walking again, turned right down a particularly narrow tunnel.
The officer kept pace but didn't say anything and for a moment Honor forgot he was there. She tried, but was unable to remember the way out. She thought that some of the landmarks were familiar to her, like the patch or crumbling bricks at one junction, and a bit of soot blackened wall at another, but then, she'd turn a corner and see another area so similar as to confuse her. Her level of frustration rose steadily like the tides of a wind worn ocean.
"You're not familiar with these sewers."
"How'd you guess?" said Honor making no effort to hide her annoyance.
He didn't answer but his steps dropped off. "You know, I might be inclined to help you, if you were just a little bit nicer."
Honor stopped. "Explain nicer."
"Well," he said glancing upward as if for inspiration, "your tone, for example. Do you have to be so mean?"
"I can talk nicely." She smiled, even though she didn't mean it. She wanted out.
"And," he said hooking his fingers into the belt loops of his jumper, "if you have a few pieces you might want to part with..."
"You're a guard. You're supposed to guide and protect."
He shrugged, lifted his hands palms up. "You need help. I can render it. What's wrong with me profiting a little bit?"
Honor clenched her fists and her jaw.  "That's just plain low down."
"It sure is," said Taha as he strode up behind the security officer. "Magellan, are you trying to take money from Honor for doing what is only your job to do in the first place?"
Magellan shrugged. "Take is the wrong word. I am only asking for a," again, he glanced heavenward, "show of gratitude."
Taha stared him down. His face growing darker and harder the longer he looked. Suddenly, sixteen year old Taha didn't look so young. He approached Magellan and stopped so that they literally stood toe to toe. "If I catch you doing anything like this ever again, I'll twist the tale so bad you'll not only lose your post but you'll be kicked out of the sewers."
Magellan backed away until his back came up against the crumbling bricks of the sewer tunnel. He knocked over a waste pail and slipped and nearly fell into the smelly wet debris that spilled out. "Shouldn't you be getting back to your tunnel?" said Taha.
Magellan righted himself, nodded and slinked off disappearing as he rounded a corner.
Taha turned to face Honor, his eyes locking onto her bag, her face, her heart. Honor was clearly uncomfortable beneath his gaze. He seemed to reading her.
"Looks like you're going somewhere." He fingered the strap of her bag. "Like you're not coming back."
Honor swallowed all the words she wanted to say but couldn't because they sounded like pathetic excuses. She swallowed back the angry retorts that always came too easily, that she didn't owe him any answers, that she didn't care what he thought. But she wanted to be able to give Taha acceptable answers. And, she really did care about what he thought. Taha had been kind to her, even when she'd been ugly. He'd been cheerful and patient even when she was purposefully contrary. He'd refrained from name calling when she dug deep to make sure he understood that she thought he was too young and inexperienced. Knowing it might sound lame and untrue, Honor said, "Truth came to me tonight in a dream."
Taha said nothing for a long time, his eyes locked with hers. Then she felt it, the tendrils of his mind touching hers, gentle and unassuming, pressing only as far as she was willing to give. Honor gasped, shocked that Taha, like her, had this gift. His gift was strong yet subtle, like a mother's hand. Instead of shutting Taha out of her mind, Honor opened the door so that he could see what she'd seen as she slept, feel the intensity of terror she felt through Truth. When Taha had seen everything he withdrew and said without a moment of hesitation, "Alright, let's go."
Honor had done better than she thought. It took only for them to round one corner and then they stood facing the large metal door behind which was the hidden staircase through which she'd first entered the sewers.
Honor and Taha passed another underground security on their way into the stairwell and within  minutes they'd exited the hidden entryway and finally found themselves aboveground.
Out in the open, Honor threw her head back. The brisk night sky was clear but for a few straggling clouds. The silver moon and golden Segher looked impossibly huge as they hung in the sky. Honor felt like a caged bird that had been set free.
Taha grabbed Honor by the hand and guided her down the street making sure to stay in the shadows. "If what you've showed me is true, then we don't have much time."
"I didn't know that you could coast," said Honor changing the subject.
"Coasting isn't so special." Taha ducked behind a trash barrel when he spotted two Authority guards walking their beat on the opposite side of the street.  "At least half of the Segher kids I know can do it to some degree," he whispered.
"You're good though."
Taha smiled that crazy crooked smile of his. "Don't sound so surprised." Taha peeked around the corner of the trash barrel. The two guards parted company, one turning left down the next street. The other continued to go straight. "There's lots I can do." He shook his head. "I can feel it in my bones that I am going to regret going it alone to the Esclaves. Something is just not right about this." Taha rose from his crouched position and started again, turning right at the next corner.
"So why are you doing it?"
Without slowing his pace, Taha glanced over his shoulder at Honor and said, "That dream feels real and if time is as short as it appears then we don't have the time to assemble everyone, our supplies, agree on how to execute the change of plan. Right now, immediate action is our ally. I think. I hope."
"How long before we make it to the Esclaves?"
Taha pointed to a modern high rise that stood like a chrome and glass monument about ten blocks northeast of their current location. "They live there." 
Even from such a distance Honor's head fell back onto her shoulders as she tried to take in the entirety of the impossibly tall building. "How many stories is that building?"
Taha shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know," he said as he continued to pull her along.
Honor stopped, pulled back. This time she was the one who was pointing. "What is that?"
Taha glanced up, his eyes catching on silver-blue light glinting off the glass of one of the apartments of the metal super structure. Soon Taha realized that this flash of light was in motion, bouncing and darting like an enraged lightening storm.  Then the flashing seemed to catch, holding for several seconds. What followed was a booming cacophony loud enough to be heard from any vantage in the city.  The red and orange blossoming cloud of fire that followed was painfully beautiful.
Taha looked at Honor, his eyes great round discs.
"Truth," she said, her voice full of both fear and knowing. Taha said nothing to this, only grabbed Honor's hand, dragging her forward.
They ran and ran, stealth be damned.


4 comments:

  1. Exciting! Can't wait for the next chapter! Awesome job, K!

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  2. Thanks laz. I think I went long on this one. But "stuff" is about to happen.

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  3. Great setup! I hope the next installment is soon.

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  4. Thanks a ton Ann. I'm working on the next chapter right now...its been a difficult write so I hope I can live up to my own expectations.

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