Promoted to Exile: Fifth Tourmaline (conclusion)
The G.R.A. did only one thing, really. In imposing its ideology, the alliance severed ties, and severed them all. Pride in the least thing…in a well-tied shoe, one might say…would not be permitted, because you would care for the shoe, and not for the one who’d ordered you to tie it.
Herward guessed he could be taking things too hard. He was behaving like Anton.
If he looked at it as his advocate would have him do, he ought to say the affair had called attention to his availability. They wouldn’t like him entrenched in his work, proprietary in mood, growing secretive because he liked his reputation, lying, at length, to protect it. He wondered then, whether he could make Major Wrik appreciate his sergeant…if he could say these things to Byrnes, and she repeat them.
She was not the offender, but Kent and Hyde needed it.
They were all, therefore, digging holes in shifts—her squadron and Hyde’s. Whoever could get deepest in thirty seconds set the bar for the next exercise. He let them control that, the punishment they laid on their rivals. He’d give them a couple of weeks; then have them do some night tunneling.
They would have to violate the border. This was exactly Herward’s calculation…and keeping boldness in mind, he was giving the order without Wrik’s okay. It would teach a couple of things. If he saw his people sly, reluctant, he’d feel confirmed the tunneling stories were inventions or embellishments.
He thought their sergeant’s wholehearted gullibility confounded expectations…that at least. They could laugh if they liked. He credited the Hidtha with drawing the obvious conclusion from all this digging. If tunnels of their own were in danger…or, merely, they were affronted by an aggression they could not understand, he would see them act.
Even that act, Herward meant to choose for them. It must be the taking of a prisoner, his plan refined to a reversal. He was confident he could escape.
His orderly brought a stack of letters.
Paper mail, now the official communication, put eyes on the streets and took the unemployed off them. The G.R.A. slowed society down, enacting short shifts and telephone switchboards, so that again people depended on what they could not personally control. Their minds dwelt on their place in the queue, the amount of time they’d spent there; decimeters of space the possession that ordered the new hierarchy.
One letter that was not official, but had been stamped over three times to pass this channel, asked to be returned if it had not reached his desk. To Mary Wainwright. The woman got currency from the interest the Ftheorde took in her. She’d been a nuisance to Anton. He’d gone to live in her room because of her persistence…because she saw impoverished genius in his scratchpads of verse.
A knock at the open door. “Sergeant Herward, you have a visitor.”
Her habit—Mary herself ushered in by the orderly—had been to talk as though others must be party to her projects, and to her tragedy. Half a year after her husband’s death (Anton, fittingly, notwithstanding) she meant, with her fragility and strength, to push on. He could feel a little sorry for her. Only, it was a thing about her everyone who knew Mary had to know—that she did push on, that what she insisted on doing for herself, she made apparent she could not do alone.
The Ftheorde was not used to a talkative woman…or he regarded all the fair-skinned inept in this light.
“I haven’t opened your letter,” Herward told her. “I only got it a moment ago.”
“I’m working again,” she answered. As he would have been surprised if she had not, adding, as though he could divine the letter’s contents, “I’ve been to the coast. I had to interview Dr. Swisshelm…mainly, I was trying to get his advice. He doesn’t like it, me going to the peninsula.”
Herward for a minute tinkered on his keyboard. She might think he was making notes. Had to, he thought. And interview. But she’d said she was working again…and her work had been writing books. Always with her husband. Now alone.
He had said to Vonnie, I need your help.
And so it was landed in his own lap, this ingenuous self-sufficiency of Mary’s, that would make it necessary for a helper to intervene.
“You have your visa in order. Wrik would like me to organize an escort.”
“The major told me I have to speak to you.”
She thrust a paper at Herward. He expected to see (though visas were not sheets of paper) an authorization, something from higher up, for him to have the orderly file.
He saw canted scribbling, written in what he knew to be Mary’s hand…Anton always inviting him to laugh at her. “She wants a poem. She wants to pretend she’s only interested in editing me.”
“Let her. There’s such a thing as found poetry. Why not?”
The pretense is the same, Herward had said to himself then, giving Anton this attention.
Mary’s Hidtha was dictation she’d taken from the Ftheorde. He believed this true, could not suspect one so well-armed in reckless self-negation, of guile…
But her note was not—as she might simply have composed it—a document at all.
“Are you strong enough,” he asked her, “to camp outdoors for two or three nights? We’ll be climbing down. We may need to use ropes. Maybe not.”
He thought not. She nodded, pale, but not more so, and asked him nothing about the checkpoint. If he planned to take her there, he would only pass her across to his own sentries, count on the cold having worn her down, have Byrnes take her back to base. But to excite the watchers, he would put Mary in fatigues, and the three of them would appear to the Hidtha a forward patrol.
Promoted to Exile
(2017, Stephanie Foster)