Tourmaline: The Enemy (part one)

Digital drawing of woman in billed cap and scarf

 

 

 

The Enemy
(part one)

 

Frederick as a voice passing her door, fading down an empty hallway. Frederick glimpsed on a public screen, holding up a cardboard sign: ALLIANCE OUT. Or a face that seemed entirely his, belonging to Mrs. Leonhardt’s new boarder, a young student.

Not a face to be loved by a seasoned soldier. Pitied.

But Palma would have to dream that Frederick had fathered a child.

A paper had crossed her desk, lost for a year in the Public Controls Office, stamped returned for some fault of Anton’s in his biography. If she chose not to fall for her own clever brain, and asked herself first, would Anton lie, lose patience, do what he resented with carelessness, even from resentment sabotage his own application…?

She might conclude that he would not. Not embarrass himself with misspellings, notably Leonhart. An agent of the Four had planted the document to bait her. Flattering. Poor Anton, always a little sad, a little exasperating, a source of trouble no assistant of Palma’s would know quite what to do with.

And might scan his Citizen ID. Getting the history, assume, as Mayshel had done—

“He was, like, a protégé of yours? So I didn’t send it back to the PC. I thought I’d let you look first.”

The notion, of being brought to ruin by Anton, raised the twitch of a corner smile.

The G.R.A. had placed Palma at the Assimilation Office. Their desire was to end the program, shut it down. They feared (they might) that she would recruit Utdrife, instead of homogenizing them. The Alliance wanted to know if the woman who had endured street battles, siege, torture, starvation, a handful of molars lost to malnutrition, three years in prison, the murder of her partner, the hard weighing of choices that had made her anathema to her old comrades, their consequent bounty on her head, would yield to sentiment, to guilt.

Or they thought their pebbles against her armor could wear her down.

Anton would fail them, Palma believed it. He was not suicidal. His mind was misfit, but his condition self-involvement. The grandmother and the tiny apartment, the harsh boarding school…

And yet, an intelligence, a talent. Worse for him.

She could see an Anton of fifty years, or seventy, grumbling his paranoia over how often they’d used him, not how. Not the torture, the friendships with Vonnie and Jovie, with Herward, Sulya—pushed at him, then severed, whenever he’d softened and formed the urge to be helpful.

But this heartbreaker the G.R.A. kept engineering, couldn’t break a heart that told itself people…people heard of by others, in the news, people seen normal and respected in their careers…would seek him out, to befriend and hurt him…

Palma laughed aloud. Anton had been happiest when his existence had forced the Ftheorde’s judgment, Mary Wainwright’s advocacy, the prison warden’s time, her own emergence from mourning. He was on a dangerous high now, finding himself chosen to kill Jocelyn. But martyrdom? How could he revel in it, watch the reports on television? How could he pester people at the market, throw tantrums at cafeterias? Be asked by the circle attending him, what’s needed, Anton, what helps? (“Nothing. I don’t care.”)

 

 

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And what if a security guard happened to shoot him, that moment too late?

 

Those things slated to be revealed in testimony at the Jocelyn trial, may now never be publicly known. Anton Leonhardt had a long history of mental illness…

 

Palma had tried to be kind to Anton, finding him little accomplishments, being a patient voice on the phone for him, a buffer between Anton and those he would alienate, steering him to places he might feel safe…

She decided her window-shopping afternoon could end here, at the park. She found a bus kiosk, and a seat. If the kiosk stayed empty, if the bus were delayed, wonderful. Almost no one looked at this woman, her greying hair, her garments of unbleached linen, shifts without feature, made by the Utdrife of Mary’s cooperative. But Palma’s shoes were purple, damask-stitched with gold thread.

The designer had been allowed to sell them, his first collection in six years, and she had paid a thousand units.

Across the street a woman left a coffee shop. Palma watched hesitation at the signal, a squint taken of the plaza. She lifted her phone to tap the park’s surveillance feed. Emptiness, was all the cameras had to report.

The woman rolled the top of a sack, fussed a moment finding room for it in her bag, rolled it tighter, annoyed a bicyclist trying to mount the ramp. She was another grey-bobbed figure with a youngish face. Stocky, not thin, but caring nothing for opinion, she wore the chunkiest of cable knits, knee boots with the zippers half-down.

“Sulya! Come talk!” Palma called.

“Goodness. There you are, General.”

“You know that isn’t necessary. Don’t be passive-aggressive.”

“Tell me don’t breathe, why not?”

Palma laughed. Sulya had for years been an enemy; on Palma’s own orders she might have been gunned down, crossing such a street, entering such a park…but Sulya had never been a lost cause.

“Now. Let’s talk about Anton.”

“Oh, Palma. What would you like to do, save him?”

“I was just imagining him in old age. Yes, I would. I also think we have to.”

“Waylay him and stuff him in a box marked Cadwilliam, care of Jovie or Vonnie Swisshelm? No, scratch Vonnie. She’d never open it.”

“But truly. Don’t we have to see Jocelyn dead, before Anton can try it himself?”

“You and I? Sounds awful. Two spent women who don’t much like each other, team up to avenge…” Sulya waved a hand. “Imagination fails.”

“No, it doesn’t. You were on the side of wrong. So you had to stop yourself carrying the joke any further.”

“Go on, lay my soul bare. It’ll only disappoint.”

“Sulya, I’m completely serious. We should kill Jocelyn.”

 

 

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The Enemy

Virtual cover for novel TourmalineNedforum (part one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2022, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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