Anton, anchorless, eager to attach, is adrift in a country newly occupied by the ultra-socialist midcontinental regime, the G.R.A.
The coalition employs its theories to do more than redistribute the nation’s plundered wealth, following the ouster of the Jocelynists. The G.R.A. means to eliminate all divisions, all loyalties, all shared objects, neighborhoods, dialects, faiths, and replace them with dispassionate numbering schemes, assigned housing, distributed food, make-work for the majority. The Hidtha, driven from their old lands to the peninsula, form a ubiquitous underclass, with no desire to conform, but a willingness to seize from equally despised oppressors, opportunity.
And all those Anton finds himself befriended by, the resistance general Palma, the G.R.A. soldier Herward, the detained aid worker Mary Wainwright, and the pedigreed Swisshelm sisters, have a use for him.
Anton nearly smiled.
The glass kept steaming up, over and over. Because in a downstairs chamber something, he did not know what, boiled. Had it been sour cabbage, he would have felt envious, hungry as he’d always been. But he never smelled anything cook in this house. On an early winter day, he’d arrived…it had been frigid like this every day since. He’d been forced, given orders, to keep to his room. He had no idea what went on below.
This huddling figure he saw, dressed in black wool, ought to be Palma, coming in at the door, at the foot of the fire escape. She would give him something to do, and a reason for going out. An identity, as had been her promise…under the cover of which, he could go out. This stretching of his legs was at the moment all in all to Anton, and he strained to catch the sound of her heels, clattering up the last flight.
These were not proper stairs, but salvage from a breakers’ yard; the steps were metal, open to the shaft of the stairwell, and induced in Anton a nervous fear. Minutes went past. He knew this from the ticking of his watch, without taking his eyes from the beading condensation. He supposed she’d been able to enter.
Since he did not make arrangements with Palma—Palma made arrangements with him—it occurred to Anton that particular door might be kept locked. Next it occurred to him that Palma, having told him to record traffic on the causeway, note insignia and colors in his diary, might have guessed him to have more sense. He decided he would go out without specific permission, just to creep as far as the last attic step. Listen there. Descend to the ground floor, if it seemed safe to do so.
Palma was standing in the cold brick lane, her coat in anticipation folded over her arm, her beret still cocked over her chopped hair, scarf hanging loose.
“That’s a warm-looking sweater,” he said.
She shoved at the power closet’s door, and Anton scuttled backwards. The buzz of electricity made him nervous as well. His bare wrist touched something that seemed to coil away, and he started. The closet affected Palma not at all—she had left him, not caring for his remark, not answering. There was only Anton, bathed there in a red glow from the rows of monitoring lights.
He found her in his room. She’d taken his chair, and was reading his diary. But anything he’d written there was for her.
“No,” she said. “This won’t be good enough…not by any means. Will you think?”
“Tell me how I’ve gone wrong.”
“This sketch…what does it say underneath?”
He was confident, at first, that he could mollify her. He knew of no reason, other than the cold, other than that she’d had to walk here, why her mood must be so tetchy.
“Green,” he said, taking the book from her and reading off his notations. “Yellow.”
He’d been about to say, “black”; but Palma reached across and tugged the diary from his fingers. She did this as though having lost all patience. It dropped to the floor, between his shoes and hers.
She tapped it from sight under the daybed, and drew a deep breath. “If you are going to bother making pictures, you must please make your figures large enough…” She broke off. “I don’t think you’ve got it.”
Anton interrupted her in turn, feeling, for the first time with Palma, unconciliatory. She knew she’d left him here, with only tinned meat and biscuits to feed on. He’d been getting his water in a cup, tipping in the window and breaking the ends from icicles, letting them melt…sucking them when they wouldn’t melt. It was not so much, he thought, to have said, “I have brought you your name.”
Palma might have done him this small kindness at once.
“I’m doing a poor job, I suppose. But let me tell you who they were. I can. Why you wouldn’t know it yourself, when I’ve given you the colors…”
“Tell me! I may never see you again.”
He opened his mouth…and then thought, she doesn’t mean it like that. Her voice had sounded scornful. The scorn had been shaded, not overt. His director seemed moved most often by irritation, otherwise by the pity one might feel for an imbecile.
“I’m doing a poor job,” he said again. “Who will I be?”
The card had his photograph printed on it, a seal in red stamped over this, a signature, his own, mysteriously. Another signature, the name of an official (one of theirs), safe to be checked. Yes, he eyed it all carefully once more—the name on his identity card was given as A. Leonhardt.
“Why…” But what was the reasonable question?
“They’ve decided on this,” he said.
And in accord with habit, Palma answered by skipping to the next topic. “I have your instructions. I hope you’re paying attention. The word is a very easy one. Tourmaline.”
“You say easy.” And as it was useless with Palma, he would not go further. She might not find it so, if she were the one having to work it into conversation.
The other thing had been to have supper at one of the kitchens, to walk out into the town, to find a place at a common table, if any supper were being served that day. But, she’d said, to be finished by sunset…and to keep clear of the illegal cabarets.
They were touching, packed that tightly, twisting shoulders to avoid intimacy; by this, still effaced and invisible to one another. They were queued so far along the street, he doubted he could respect Palma’s curfew. He doubted he would be fed at all. Here were three who’d given it up, seated themselves in an entry alcove, bundling under a shared blanket. This business, like all he knew of along the waterfront, was shuttered, its windows filled by tidy sheets of something black that might be cardboard, or might be steel.
By snipers hidden, looters had been shot so relentlessly… A mile overhead, the invaders might have lain on their bellies, in their slow-moving balloons. They were painted in a pattern of clouds. There was not a scrap of glass on the street. There was no ash, no paper. No grafittied symbol of defiance, no unlocked door.
To bide the time he began a story: The character fashions false news. I have tourmaline to sell, sir. I have had tourmaline stolen from me, ma’am. I remember tourmaline from the old days, child. The character has learned to compensate at such times he must do without tourmaline, the thing wanted and not wanted. Today, the character would rather eat.
That anyone would speak or shout, that any of these colorless bodies clad in dark olive, their ears wrapped in scarves, would uncouple from the train, and lose his place…meant of course, that they had all lost their places. Someone, meters ahead, out of sight but screaming, had missed…finding herself not next, but first. Her foot on the doorstone with the kitchen being shut, bolted for the night. They were a mob now. The snaking line compressed and throbbed. Something flew. Anton flung a hand to catch it, or deflect it. He was struck across the diaphragm. He felt the heel of a shoe ram the back of his knee, and sank, but could not come to rest, the crowd so dense he was jostled from collision to collision. The voices fell away.
Palma had given him (rather, the character to be called A. Leonhardt, he amended) her explanation for what the G.R.A. did. Were now doing. The sound was in fact loud, but sub-audible; the tiny hairs that transmitted sense to the nerves inside the ear told the target he was being yelled at, rebuked by a stern father. The effect was a terrible unease.
“My advice, Anton, is the same as always. You are not you. You have a friend who writes under a name. I could accept your politics if I were willing to publish lies in my own paper.”
He had tried for two years—that had been in the capital—to win her respect. But Palma had not said all of these things. Anton had no friends and had never claimed to. He had no politics, but she had accused him of it. This pedantic speaker, then, this old man, was signaling him, covering Palma’s well-remembered dismissal. The added bit…Anton wondered if he had forgotten it already.
Some other Anton grunted in reply. A woman danced in front of Anton, laying a hand on his sleeve. On the four fingers were rings, silver rings stacked and set with green stones. I am being mocked, he told himself.
The sound cannon seemed to have left off. The rings glinted.
A tin of metal glinted.
“You deserve it, don’t you? They didn’t have any business, shoving you.”
He found himself nodding, silently dropping the potted meat in a pocket of his coat, and taking too long to say the polite thing.
“Come on, Dad.”
She started down the way that led to the wharfside. She’d crooked an elbow, and taken the old man’s arm. They might be wrong, and he ought not trust them.
“No,” he said. “Wait.”
The other Anton, a thin young man with dark-circled eyes, sheared off, speaking no word; he had not bothered, even, to peer face-to-face at his doppelgänger. But Anton found there was a second girl. She came out from behind the old man’s raincoat.
“I have biscuits in my room. We might make a meal of it.” He patted the tin in his pocket. “All of you.”
He added, “I don’t mind.”
He minded intensely. Being cleaned out of store…just to learn if they would rob him properly, once he’d shut the door and was alone with them. Or they might not rob him, but he would starve for obligation anyway, and could not send the distress signal to Palma. Her scorn would be blistering. Why he would not fend for himself, if it were only food he needed…fend for himself! Like the others did.
The woman was telling him their names, chattering on the way up the hill (the man, and his younger daughter had got ahead, and seemed to be leading Anton to his own house). She had some story as well—he couldn’t listen for agitation—one in which her father figured. He had once taught the difficult grammar of the peninsula’s tribal language. A private tutor in a private home. The doctor had fled on one of the last boats leaving.
“So we’re out of employment, all of us.”
And she said it too. He was embarrassed at this inadvertent comedy. He had been going to ask her, again, what was her name.
She asked, “What is your name?”
“Anton.” And then he felt this refusal of a surname might be rude. He was sure it couldn’t be…but let it drop. In that way, he had not learned who she was.
“Where the adjectival phrase takes the place of a noun, where we grammarians employ the hyphenated construction…which is, of course, a bit of shorthand for us…I mean for us alone. They, while officially, the nomads use our own alphabet…”
Professor Swisshelm removed his plug of tobacco and placed it, to be used again, on a glass saucer, the sealing cap of a canning jar. Where had he got tobacco? His daughter had served a surprising omelet, made from real egg. She had given her guest a cup of cocoa, thin and watery…and rather shame-making, as they’d all sat watching Anton drink it.
“In fact, generally they use no written means of communication at all, the Hidtha. Most are illiterate. Ah! I was going to say…it is all in the context. The curious aspect is that the noun, rather than the adjective, changes case depending upon the actor.”
“So, they are natural philosophers. A thing has only those properties it takes from its observer. Please, professor, will you write some of these phrases down, that you think I ought to know?”
It approached the blatant. Anton had been suffering through this lecture, weighing possibilities. Most obvious, that Swisshelm was nattering, because today he had an audience…and one bound in duty. In all cases of tourmaline, Anton must listen with the closest attention. It was a luxury to have anything on paper, and Swisshelm might refuse.
“I will do you one better,” he said.
Some lightening in the lowering damp of the coastland suggested spring. Anton’s mood was not lifted. It made sense, he was telling himself, to study the book in depth.
Peculiarities in the Hidtha: the Autochthonous Speech of Our Eastern Peninsula.
“Yes, keep that. I have three or four.”
These interactions with the Swisshelms had continued spoiled by a mordant undercurrent of humor. But Anton had nothing to do in the evenings. He might learn one or two phrases.
The Hidtha, when one saw them, seemed all to have become militarized and modern. They wore green fatigues, black berets with the yellow insignia. They were frightening people. And nominally, allies.
She caught him up, trotting to the top of the hill, with a face so familial that he knew, however humiliating, the foolishness must end. No, this was not humiliation. It was another thing, and deeper. Palma had never liked him. In a moment, he would insult this woman, asking her to tell him who she was, and that welcome he saw in her eyes would fade.
“I have never managed to get your name.” He tried a bit of a smile.
She laughed. And then said, “That book of Dad’s. Since the G.R.A. have come here, you know, they’ve never lost a battle. It’s true. I say it on the street.”
She made a performer’s gesture, sweeping an open hand in a half-circle. The humor, he thought.
“The glossary might be helpful to you. Just to get started. A lot of the book is taken up with interviews Dad conducted. With some of the old herdsmen who are dead now.”
This spotty chit-chat had got him to the door of his building.
He tried to get at it early in the morning, the tedious reading, after she’d gone home. He found himself distracted by a number of worries, by a ringing in the ears, by the fresh-air smell that pulsed with the wind through the closed window. He opened this…the day was not warm. He lay on the bed, let a hand drop to the floor. Some object moved as his finger struck it, and he heard the dismaying sound of a tiny thing tinkling off to a dark corner. The corners of this house had been gnawed by rats, their holes an oblivion between walls. He’d managed, groping after his camera’s focusing knob, that he’d tightened the wrong direction—it had arced away suddenly—to lose a needed thing, an irreplaceable thing. He could guess what she’d left him.
On his stomach he hovered a reaching hand just above the fringe where the rug ended. At the second pass he got it…and with it, a tangle of hempen string, a clot of greasy dust.
He would walk out to look at the sea. Unless he found there was a patrol today, blocking the causeway. From time to time, for reasons of their own, they did. The ring fit his third finger; and so for safety, he wore it.
Three or four vocabulary words, used in a sentence, enough to go on with. Dd was the sound of a rolled r. Feidda. Ei: ay. Feidda. I am going on a journey.
ehca bei feidda djoui-acht
At present, should he encounter one of the Hidtha, he would make a ponderous speaker—and they would be patient men if they bothered listening. But one saw them at dawn, moving under cover of the seaside’s climbing fogs.
This morning’s had yet to burn off.
Anton found it difficult to dress for the weather. Having so little heat in the house, he wore his coat and cap most of the time; and feeling chilled to begin with, could detect, coming outdoors, not much difference…other than an increase in damp. But when he had walked to the shore, then along it, the sun began to penetrate, and he thought he would carry his coat over his arm.
Nearing an outcrop of rock that formed a cove with a brutal undertow, Anton saw the usual small craft, that rowed out to the anchored boats. His ear was attuned for the first time to snatches of the peninsular speech, the patois of the fishmongers. He was able to make out “today” and “goodbye”, no more.
Someone came to walk at his side, and kept pace with him, a man with a metal box for carrying ice. Anton spoke first, these motions too deliberate for him to suppose his acquired companion did not bring a message.
“You were saying something just now.”
“Oh, well, I was talking to myself.”
He laughed, in a way he would not have found convincing. He had just recognized this messenger as the other Anton. And realized, that in taking off his coat, he’d taken his hand out of his pocket, flashing tourmaline.
“Say that again.”
Anton cleared his throat. “Ehca bei feidda djoui-acht.”
Sarcasm. Goodbye, the other Anton said, and ground the shape of a turning foot in the soft pebbles of the beach.
“Do you have two sisters, Anton?”
If he had named the family, called out Swisshelm within earshot of the three-wheeled motorbike, its camera, the officer on patrol who had ridden to the causeway’s end, he would not much more greatly have breached the rules.
The officer’s face was an expressionless mouth between dark lenses and chin-strap.
This Anton, a better agent than A. Leonhardt—for he’d made note, without staring, of tourmaline—also was resolute in keeping his face forward, and his gait steady. Only he had twitched a shoulder slightly at the words. But the officer might notice even that.
These days the invaders used the university’s auditorium and its larger lecture halls to show films; this present round to explain the new rationing scheme. Gaining his ticket had demanded a long walk of many blocks.
Anton came to a table, one of six placed in a hexagon skirting the naked base of a statue. He’d never seen it, and didn’t know what it had once commemorated. He shuffled at last to a place across from a Helper, and was sent to a different table. Here, he was classed in some way he thought designated him an outsider.
“Nedforum,” the woman had written in her binder. The name was beginning to stick. It was a way of pronouncing NED4M, that designation for the capital, its location and rough population: Northeast Department, four million.
The invaders’ plan called for each population center to be also a center of industry; to move the people into quadrants and to balance their numbers. This second Helper handed him a clip-on badge, and told him he might wear it at the waist, or at the collar.
And because they were finally being given enough to eat, the people had become now gentle as lambs; they walked miles and waited hours…they even laughed and sang in the queues.
The Swisshelms were at home.
He knew it. He’d followed them from the kitchen to their door. He had atoned for the emotional impulse, for having called out to Anton. He’d kept clear of their house for a month. He saw the family bunched together, ahead by a few dozen ration-seekers, coatless, the daughters bright in their spring dresses.
He hadn’t spoken. That was taking care…they ought to appreciate it. He hadn’t come close enough to their heels to look as though he were walking with them. He would not have expected her to leave the door standing open. That might not have been wise.
But he found she’d locked it. She had smiled at him once, bending to turn the knob, lifting her eyes and brushing away a strand of hair. She had locked him out.
Emotion caught Anton again. This treatment was the reason he’d spoken out of turn…the only reason! Yes, the aloof smile. The phrase embodied how they’d cultivated and rejected him. He banged at the Swisshelms’ door.
They had wasted his time. He’d forgotten tourmaline, thinking he’d found it. He ought to have been out making contacts.
But he was not making a troublesome scene. He had only shouted something crude; and then, feeling so much a fool…being one in such an exposed way, had gone on with it, pounding the door with his fist, ready to kick in its glass, calling her bitch, bitch, bitch.
I am not going to tell you that you ought to have made certain of it. That won’t do you any good.
She wrote in resolute black, and drew arrows; her comments in the margin, full sentences and apropos.
POORLY DO YOU KNOW HIM,
BURIED IN A MASS GRAVE;
SOME RECORD-KEEPER MUST AT LEAST
PUT A FALSE NAME ON A PLAQUE
Anton’s lines were all in green, and the censor had allowed it.
He could set down volumes of complaint, mad complaint. He could post a faithful stream in verse; address her on the envelope by the name he knew.
Palma understood that he was blaming her, but found self-reproach immaterial, beside the point. She wanted to force the truth from Anton, make him see with clear eyes. If his need was to believe in a strong leader, she would heal him.
Mission. He had not come to understand it.
It was his lamentation and his pride Anton spilled to her, in colored ink he imagined to be code. Theirs, between them. No—she wrote it—you ought to have taken your pride from obeying orders and having faith in me. I can only hem you round with mechanisms. The mechanisms are in themselves sound.
And when they had decided he was harmless to them, unstable, and could not be given work, he might be released. Mrs. Leonhardt would take Anton to her bosom. She wanted only the return of a son…he need not be the one she’d lost.
Frederick came in, making with his grenade belt and the rifle slung over his back, the usual jangling. The G.R.A. had never taken anyone’s guns, finding it handier, more demoralizing during this truce, to make the resisters police their own neighborhoods. They could be starved for supplies, encircled, blamed and agitated against, while the line between prosperity and poverty grew more distinct. They would fail one day, and the G.R.A. would rescue them.
Palma, like the others, kept her door stoppered open. She had pretty clothes and never wore them. She had keepsakes of her mother’s and would let the rent-man smash all to the street below. No one would pay the new rates, to hold their rights to their own expropriated property.
At somewhere near the three-months’ mark, on schedule, after the food shortage had been ended, the new landlords had doubled the rents. You see, she wanted to write to Anton, will you see, how this cheeseparing efficiency informs their process. They would like not to work too hard, so they break us in cycles. You say heart to me, and I say, there is no such thing.
However, the capital had a heart.
And when the G.R.A. wanted to clear this district of squatters, having made these of its inheritors; when they wanted to knock down the houses for their new apartment blocks, they would begin by making everyone ill.
“Do you have much to complain of today?” she asked Frederick.
“Nothing. How is it with you, Palma?”
Through the door came Mary Wainwright. She was with the Hidtha Ftheorde.
“Ah, now you’re here, will you help move the sofa?”
Palma, for her own sake, found it best setting Mary to work at once. Mary’s companion, in silence, hoisted one end; Frederick crouched and raised the other. Mary fluttered alongside.
“Oh, but,” she said. “You’re not going to put that across the door?”
Then: “I guess, why not, if you think so.”
Palma went to the window, a figure in black. She made her back straight, and stared. They could measure that stare; they would learn she looked only at the line of snow-capped mountains separating the peninsula from the mainland. She yielded her place to Frederick. He chose rather, hearing a horn sound from the pavement, to follow this car, shifting his glower in a slow and deliberate way, up the street.
The Wainwrights had come when the invasion had been expected. Only expected, like an inundation, a volcanic winter, a thing that must be horrible in its encroaching effects. The sky had remained blue. Taxis crawled the capital; Palma dressed in heeled shoes and velvet frocks. Past midnight the café tables were crowded.
The Wainwrights had come to write this story. They were stuck here now, both convinced David was dying. Palma wanted Mary to believe it, that he was not. She told herself she must not hate Mary. The impulse was weaponry, any state of emotion mere chemistry, an electromagnetic transaction between neural cells. One could feel the tap on the bone behind the ear. A stimulation to spark defensive wrath, to make enemies of allies.
And these pains, depressions, madnesses, that waved across the city, were the reason her people, quarantined within a color-wheel of central sectors, had not by force been disarmed. The pills given at the health clinic would finish David, not his back and his weakened sinews. He had gained so much weight. If he only would allow his wife to walk him to these gatherings, that his mettle might be awakened, his adamancy exhorted.
“What has David been able to do today?”
It was a speech-form she demanded of her fighters. Everything a refutation, a chance to show, under the camera and the microphone, their undying will. To rise on a new morning, do the next new thing. Palma asked Mary this, and at once, hearing the prefacing sigh, turned her mind to her own thoughts.
No, Mary was courageous…her views not at all realistic. Her misfortune. She would martyr herself over this romantic dream, she thought Palma and Frederick so brave, so good.
She’d aspired, finding out there were natives here, to make a great study of the Hidtha. And of course it was wrong, coming at the herdsmen with curiosity and foreign diction. For many weeks, she hadn’t known the Ftheorde had given her his title. She had spoken to him with an off-kilter familiarity. The Hidtha did not tell their names. Mothers called sons and daughters differently from fathers. Only the titles, which were immutable, could be used by non-Hidtha.
When they met, they began in this way.
Palma, their general, had stated these things to her fighters in the plainest terms. “They will like to watch us every moment. They will use radar or thermal imaging, come through the walls. And then of course, software to make the images real to their eyes. As in the days when everyone had information and could try things, you recall one sometimes saw pictures of galaxies. The galaxies had not been photographed by a lens that could see them. They were created in color from energy profiles.
“They don’t know if what we do matters or not. They have to pay attention. They have to file away their data and find it again. We will give them volumes of data.”
The resistance had found that shared knowledge was language. There were dates on which things of significance had happened. Eyes, on the twenty-seventh or the fourteenth of particular months, would meet.
And of course, anyone might act at any moment. If he were a suicide fighter; if he had chosen this for himself.
“What will you read, Frederick?”
He grinned. “No other God before me. Friends—”
Yes, it posed something of a hazard to the G.R.A., but why would Palma’s fighters not rally themselves, preach sermons if they liked, lift one another’s spirits? Those forced to monitor these words (they must be rather lowly functionaries, tasked with such dull work) might find themselves tempted, counter-indoctrinated. The sentiments expressed were universal.
“Friends, long ago, among the sects who in those days practiced, and who accepted guidance according to those laws they called Commandments, there came to a northern state a wise man. His name was Moody. Moody said, of the first of these laws, a good thing: ‘That which you think about most often is your God.’
“Friends, we are an oppressed people. We long for consolation. The invaders, before they came—yes, even then—campaigned against our consolation. Our Brother David is left embarrassed and bereft of consolation. Our Brother Anton…”
The Ftheorde spoke, and only to Palma. By Hidtha law, among them he was of highest rank…and the topic had been broached.
“General, your Leonhardt, this one called Anton, shares his room with Utdrife, one of those. What does he write to you? The Utdrife says…he has said it to his jailers…that he has made a very fair offer. And for that he has opened his hand, so, your Leonhardt expects to be murdered.”
The Ftheorde’s hand, twice, grasped after the letter, and Palma, seeing opportunity, told him, “Here, I will let you have it. Take it when you go, and let Mary read it to you.”
“Oh, let me now. Because I’ve only brought one of my own.”
She added, and trailed off to a murmur, “I write to my sister…just to please myself. Just as though I really could. I think I might like making a book of them…all my letters.”
“I suppose you were going to take him over the mountains, and make him do work for your family, since the Utdrife will no longer work.”
“No. Myself, no. On my name, this is what I mean, I forbid it. Because your Leonhardt supposes, he has told the Utdrife, we are able to make explosives in our caves and that we force prisoners to carry them. You see why he would be killed at once.”
Yes, Anton kept nothing to himself.
Even could he be controlled, made a conscientious helper, he would not be loved by his captor. He, Palma, Frederick, Mary and David, all of them, were at length enemies to the Hidtha. The Utdrife were the heart…there again, the heart…of the Hidtha’s grief. Young men had once found new grazing land on which to spend their inheritance. After the Hidtha had been driven to the peninsula, the young could take nothing more for themselves. These Utdrife had become mercenary soldiers in green and black. They were nameless to their fathers and mothers. The Hidtha wanted not to trade one would-be arbiter for another; they were not stupid or primitive, that they could be played by the invaders against the resisters for tinned meat and pills. They wanted the past restored. They knew they would get only the past.
This entente between herself and the Ftheorde rested poised, thus, at the knife’s edge. The recollection of Anton’s paranoid excursions, his verse-making, made Palma give attention to Mary. The flush on Mary’s face had receded, but she sat still angry or abashed.
“You next,” Palma told her. “I was only intending to speak to you all of the anniversary. To remind you, Ftheorde; you, Frederick…you, Mary, of those things we must not do. How careful, in a week’s time, we must be. Surely,” she added, “we are gods to our auditors, who watch so closely, and listen so passionately, and our Will shall be obeyed.”
In fact the monitoring could function at times as a power of wishing. If Palma named an enemy, the G.R.A. might place him in her hands, through their own machinations. If they too wanted him removed from office.
“Don’t read it all.”
She was prompting Mary, who’d gone silent, and whose eyes spilled tears. Without blotting these, and in a soft voice, unreflective of Anton’s capitals, Mary began to speak.
Now have you shown yourself faithful
I had supposed myself a named thing
In this conceit perhaps I am mistaken
I may be the drop of blood that dyes the stream
And you are strong in ways I am unable
Your rooted hold on solid earth I see
But only as a drowning man forsaken
In memory knows the shore he cannot reach.
Palma had earlier sat cross-legged by herself where the door stood open and where anyone might have heard, and read aloud Anton’s six pages. She knew him to speak, in these lines, to another woman. He did this often, scribbling out his lengthening jeremiad, hating her, loving her.
Yes, coastal people are like dandelions gone to seed. Pluck one from the field and the head scatters. It was an old proverb…and it might be no more than that had damaged Anton—that he spoke, and his adored one misunderstood, or could not understand.
Yet Mary, the foreigner, wept over these words. She wept for being alone, and soon. She need not be. Anton called it love, Palma’s mission, and wept too, in his ignorance. She would never leave him—even now in her thoughts she planned his escape, the words that would make it seem to the G.R.A. that they must follow this soldier back to his general. And though she would give him Mary Wainwright for a lover, and Mrs. Leonhardt for a mother, Palma would never be tender towards him.
Mrs. Leonhardt had taken out all the old silver. Her mother’s silver, her own, the sugars and the salt cellars that she for a time had always been buying, always poking through the second-hand markets, offering half the asking price for anything blackened, anything with the handle or feet off.
“That’s good silver. You could polish it up.”
If a vendor gave her that, she gave back: “Well, so could you, then.”
She’d had foresight, that way.
And Anton, now, past the weekend. Their first days, she’d found him easy to manage, the way he crawled under the covers and stayed there, and she hadn’t known then if he was free as he claimed…or if an officer would come pounding at the door. So it was as well. In his suffering, his face had changed. Her son had all along, as in her mind she accounted for it, the brow and chin and the dark hair of her maternal grandfather. Only his pallor and thinness showed it now.
She was bringing out the things she’d coffered, to prove this to herself, that Anton was alive and not dead; that though he could not in memory place himself, how he’d lived away for six years, been imprisoned…
Some guardian angel had done her this kindness.
Of taking him to her doorstep and ringing the bell.
Proof economy profited one in mourning, as in all things. This reserve, this heart-burning restored to the ledger, of debts to be paid in future (for of course, in old age, one could always grieve), had been yet another instance of her born wisdom. There were mothers like herself, bereaved, many of them. They had spent it all and not been given this reward.
She first had nailed the mirror up—she had done this on her own—to hide the linen cupboard, those things she treasured, and things to barter. Of carpenter’s tools, she had generations’ worth. Anton’s father had not done very much fixing. But he’d been good about not giving things away.
“If you hear anything, don’t be afraid.”
She carried the hammer in her left hand, tapping Anton on the shoulder with her right.
“What, what?” He twisted towards her, fighting the comforter.
“I have a chore to do, I’m saying.”
To explain, she happened to raise the hammer. His face altered, lost its unconscious animation. He’d roused himself almost keen, engaged for the least second…at once, he seemed to remember. He met her eyes, and went guarded. She would not tell him again that she was his mother, that he was her Anton, and safe here at home. Today, she would tell him to go to the kitchen and get his own breakfast.
Carefully, carefully, Mrs. Leonhardt wiggled the pulling end—the claw, was it?—and when she’d got six labored nails loosened, knew she had two times as many remaining. Thinking now of the chore’s nature, she could see trouble, a single nail precarious, holding the heavy mirror by one upper corner. The bell rang.
And in that same way.
If Anton had gone downstairs, he could not have got to the door before the caller began leaning on it, letting a long, continuous summons rattle the front hall. Nothing, she found, after running with the hammer in her hand pell-mell to the landing, had been abandoned on the stoop. This time a soldier, shaved scalp under yellow beret, brass-snapped lapel fastened at the neck, waited smiling. But of course, if he were the same one, the angel, she wouldn’t know it.
“Ma’am.” He raised a gloved hand to his forehead. “Mrs. Leonhardt?”
“Corporal Herward. Do you live in this house alone, ma’am?”
The correct answer would be that she did. Or that she might. If Anton were well, he would want to take up with his friends, follow that woman, if he could find her now. As he’d gone off doing to begin with.
She had come to say it in person (this Palma thinking it honorable…that with this sort of news, an approach mattered). Anton had been killed. Mrs. Leonhardt lifted her chin, remembering. Liar. He hadn’t been. Why trust the resistance, then, their general?
The corporal, his tone of voice no different, repeated, “Do you live here alone, ma’am?”
“Are you asking,” she gave him at last, “to come in?”
“Only if I can help you with anything. We’re checking the neighborhood, that’s all. Have you got enough to eat?”
“Never mind food. Can you hold something for me?”
She thought it wasn’t much to ask. Owed, was what it was…a lot of things were owed. And she doubted Anton could help.
In that way, the G.R.A. corporal got his inventory (Mrs. Leonhardt knew he had), of her silver, her picture albums, the radio and batteries, the flour and sugar in their canisters, taped up against moths. But all along, while prying nails for her, strong enough to do this holding the mirror one-handed, he’d been polite as at the front door, not a sign of noticing. This forbearance, coming from one of them, began to feel like charity.
“My son,” she told him, “has just come home. I can’t say what he plans to do.”
“I think I know Anton.”
He’d surprised her with this.
Anton had not put the kettle on for his cocoa, or put his plate in the oven to warm. He had stared at Herward, head lowered, squinting up; he had crossed his arms and thrust his hands in the opposite sleeves. Mrs. Leonhardt’s son now sat mute at the kitchen table, blank in the eyes, rubbing his handkerchief on a silver card tray. With this task, he’d absorbed himself, as soon as Herward set two or three things in front of him.
“I have chocolate bars.” She told her guest this; and also, “You can drink my coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Yes—”
Herward sat on a vinyl-cushioned stool that wheezed, expelling air…he chuckled at the noise, and spun towards Anton, speaking for his benefit, but to his mother. “My first assignment was down the coast. I grew up in Cadwilliam. So I’m native. You could tell that.”
He gave her an agreeable bob of the head. He’d called the capital of the new Central Department by its colloquial new name.
“Yes,” he said again, this time resting fingers on Anton’s forearm. “Vonnie and I are good friends. I saw her with you.”
“I don’t think Miss Swisshelm could be called Vonnie.”
“Oh, well. I call her that because of knowing her. She may have told you to call her something else.”
“Hmm. What is telling? I tell the truth. I give my name as Anton. I was given the name of Anton. I tell you I am Anton Leonhardt. She will not give me her name. She gives me a ring. She gives me over to the enemy. I am given paper to write a confession. But I am given no light…her green stone not meant for seeing…it may be aventurine or tsavorite. I was told I would know when I had got it right. Herok, unterceddhore.”
“Now, I don’t know what all that means.”
She had not heard Anton make such a speech, and her face flushed at his doing so before company. Mrs. Leonhardt poured coffee, and turned from the burner to the table, holding the cup on its saucer in one hand; on a salad plate in the other, the chocolate bar. She had not unwrapped it, because if the corporal shook his head, she would put it away again.
His half-smile remained sociable. “The herok, ma’am, is a sort of bird, a tattle-bird. It’s a saying of the Hidtha. The Swisshelms had you studying the language.”
He said the last with another touch on the arm, to Anton…for Anton had not stopped speaking, mumbling more of the strange words, working an agitated hand over the tray.
When she lifted the pot once more, Herward lifted his cup, understanding her, and so she poured him a second. Rather than have one herself, she took Anton’s. That saved the waste, and Anton would protest if he’d wanted it after all. He must for himself do that, at least.
Yes, she would start a sterner policy with her son…else, he might get worse…
She thought he was getting worse, and would have to be seen by a doctor. Was that a question, then, for the corporal, a kind of help she needed?
Herward helped himself to her photo albums, chewing while he fingered her things, not even paying this treat of chocolate full attention. He had his soldier’s pay, and didn’t care what food cost. He didn’t care that the G.R.A. had closed all the banks, seized all the land deeds, placed her on a monthly stipend. One she’d had to go ask them for. She was paying rent on her own house. The woman behind the desk she’d had to apply to, even suggested she might be healthy enough to work.
“That’s not your business,” Mrs. Leonhardt said to her.
She could say the same now.
“And that’s your husband…?”
“With Anton. He was six.”
She didn’t like this, the stranger’s pointing to the blond child. She hadn’t remembered it as clearly as she’d supposed, what her small son looked like. But then Herward said, “Sure, of course. I knew that.”
He looked across at Anton bent over his work, shaking salt into Mrs. Leonhardt’s dregs of cocoa, tamping in his handkerchief, heedless of the stain, and rubbing this on the silver—nodding to himself at this better success. No longer mumbling.
“Anton hasn’t changed so much, has he?”
She looked again, both at the picture, and at Anton. “He had blond hair when he was that age, but it went dark.” Saying the words aloud, she came partway to believing them.
“And this is Anton with his grandmother.”
“No. That’s the older boy.”
A minute ticked by. “A shame,” Herward said.
That was a way of putting it. A number of things might be a shame, and she had given not much thought, for many years, to the child who had died so early.
“You talked to your roommate about your grandmother.”
This to Anton, slipping the photo across the cloth, its edge nudged under his fingers. He took it up at once and held it over his head, while with his other hand, he polished.
Herward caught the photo and wiggled it back into its plastic, giving up.
Anton said, “Yes, I think she may be living, still in her old apartment. My grandmother.”
Herward’s impulse to friendship could not be blunted by the dull sequestering of Anton’s mind. He called again, and when all the silver was polished, and the furniture sat adorned with it, winking at envy, the corporal made a suggestion.
“Some of the new officials…you know, the city is crowded now, everyone living in rooms… They will have the occasion in their positions, to entertain. There are only one or two shops that sell old things. And you’d get less than you paid for these.”
It was his third visit.
He’d shared their lunch the second time, a thing she begrudged him less, feeding off her rations. Herward was bringing Anton out. Playing the gadfly, but getting answers to his questions. Her son had stopped calling her Mrs. Leonhardt. He now called her by no name at all. And Herward’s speech was always this way…coming at what he wanted, two or three close passes hemming it round, waiting for her to guess.
“I ought to advertise?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I wondered if the idea of bartering would offend you. I can introduce you to a woman.”
“Tell me,” she said, “what to pick.”
And so, on a later day of that week, she was donning her black cardigan. This, rather than the berry-colored with the bead buttons, not to use her best to impress a stranger. She always held back possessions, always had…from the stub of a pencil, to her good lace tablecloth…against the day. And the day had come. Mrs. Leonhardt was right. This meant, of course, that her husband had been right, too.
Superstition, what it was, like Manfred said, saving. And here she was selling things she’d never got the use of…for the citizen-collaborator, there could be no occasion. You sold, and others profited.
Those people got in the door, the G.R.A.
They asked for your help, after you’d let them help you. She would probably even lend it all away, for nothing, as Palma had forecast.
“We can’t have things, Mrs. Leonhardt.”
She buttoned, and called out, “Anton, are you ready?”
He had likes and dislikes, impassioned…and, his mother thought, tied to a strange notion he’d brought home, that the properties of objects, of faceted gemstones and colored glass, square and round shapes, wool and metal, silverwork hammered in grape leaves and peacock tails, strangers’ inscribed initials, communicated messages. He would find in these a directive, to an act he wouldn’t confide to her.
He had some garments of his father’s he wore sleeping, others he’d told her, “No! I don’t want to see this again!”
And thrust hands back at her, a terrible tension in the set of his jaw.
The weather that morning was fine, the trees in flower, as not yet on the day she’d done her shopping, only Monday. Today was Wednesday. She had an address in her pocket. No. 17—BNE, by its G.R.A. designation—that Herward told her was well within walking distance. He’d nodded at Anton. “Yes, it isn’t winter any longer.”
He was telling her…she’d learned to read him…that he agreed with her own idea, that Anton wanted sun and fresh air, exercise to stir his appetite. He had, as she discovered, repacked Herward’s box, unwilling to have the Ochiltree woman (Unit Head, Reconciliation Bureau, an office where database records were retyped onto paper, a vast make-work project), separate him from his favorites. To hide himself, he wore protective things, a thick cabled pullover and dark glasses, making his appearance conspicuous.
“I’m always lost, going places, since they made all the changes. Why can’t streets have names?”
She was apologizing, not saying she was sorry, for having got them mixed up. This grievance was one she felt a kind of passion over, herself, that stirred her at odd times.
“They don’t want names on things. They don’t want statues in the parks that commemorate things. They don’t want the coast people on the coast and the capital people in the capital. Because, you know, we get attached and sentimental. Attachment and sentiment are divisive. They want us to think obedience has no cost.”
“Am I allowed to say I don’t care what the G.R.A. wants?”
He let this linger, his way of calling her, dry emphasis and offensive pause. It was the first time. Mrs. Leonhardt had thought she’d waited for this day.
“I suppose a dandelion doesn’t care what the sun wants. But it can’t choose.”
All the houses were numbered, figures without serifs, black on white, the sign a size measured for visibility from a particular distance. It wasn’t that, that had lost Mrs. Leonhardt. There could be only one seventeen in any lettered section of any quarter. Houses not conformable to a grid, those built at the ends of odd lanes, were by now mostly razed, all condemned, the lanes themselves closed to traffic. But whole rows of houses would be torn down in time.
Her own house had gabling, a pretty sort of rose window at the peak, shingles painted yellow. These must be covered in uniform white, but the G.R.A. would decide after all, Mrs. Leonhardt was sure of it…decide she was proud, she and her neighbor who shared all this. Someone looking for a home would find one splash of architecture more appealing than another, and these attachments, as Anton called them, might induce the taking of a stand.
“You look lost.”
The woman wore a non-resident’s badge, austere in type, again the irritating black on white, BNE17, WAINWRIGHT, M. Her clothes were black, her face weak-chinned, exposed in its whiteness by brown hair pulled severely, an uncaught strand hanging by her eye.
The words, though, had been given a bright inflection. Mrs. Leonhardt gave the woman silence, and study, and thought if she returned the compliment, the eye of this Wainwright, M., would shed a tear.
Anton answered her. “We’ve come to the place expected.” He nodded at her chest. “Your house. They make you live there.”
“Ma’am,” Mrs. Leonhardt said, to clarify. “Are you Mrs. Ochiltree’s boarder?”
It was possible they were not expected. She reviewed Herward’s actual words, concluding these tendered no guarantee. She wanted, for being made to stand on a nameless street holding an awkward box (she did not count it much she’d taken this from Anton, believing its contents, out of his control, would keep him at her side), to rattle the punchbowl, the cups and the ladle, to make a startling noise, stop the woman’s staring at Anton, as though behind his glasses he did not stare back.
Certain M. Wainwright knew her name, she gave it. “I am Mrs. Leonhardt. This is Anton.”
Matters became worse.
The woman put her two hands around Anton’s arm, let go, spun and rushed ahead, stopped, turned towards them again. “I’m Mary…David’s wife.” Her voice dropping to a whisper. “Oh, come in!”
And of course, they could not just…where were they?
“Palma.” Leading them around one of the barriers, weaving through piles of broken stone and brick, empty window frames, doors unhinged, past the next barrier, directly around the corner, suddenly into the foyer of number seventeen. “She might have told you, if you’ve come back, Anton…that.”
A latch clicked in response to Mary’s badge. Now indoors, she did, as Mrs. Leonhardt had anticipated, spill tears, her eyes all at once gone red. She fell onto her sofa and snatched at a tissue box.
“Yes, I’m alone.”
“She let me have your letters.”
He whirled a fixed gaze on Mrs. Leonhardt, eyes unreadable…but dark lenses always conveyed, did they not, a sort of hollow anger? He stood in rigid compression, his chin dimpled, his jaw quivering as it had before. Why, she thought, is my son angry with me…what have I done? The thought came also, incongruous, that when Anton had been younger, she would in fondness…doting, as a mother did, even on his rages…have noticed these things about his face.
Sympathy for the Torturer
After his second arrest, they allowed Anton again to patronize the lunchroom within his sector: A, Orange. This was where he’d caused himself trouble. The second punishment, only a week’s confinement, had been gentler than the first. The probation, unprecedented.
He thought, though it hadn’t been said, that he was in Herward’s custody.
The G.R.A. didn’t put up gates to block traffic from one quarter to another; merely, your badge would call to the guard station, whether or not you’d checked in, or had tried (in theory, for first you had to know it) evading the rule. He had some idea of how these conversations went. Corporal Herward seemed lax, on the surface, making his stops, performing his duties as the two moved along the street.
“Ma’am, did you cross yesterday into C-Sector, Rouge, at the end of the two hundred block? Your badge registered a timestamp of 15.42.”
Anton didn’t like being party to instilling these panics…followed in almost every case by surmise. So they did these things. So that was how much you had to watch out. And then, of course, Herward’s quarry would eye up Anton, memorizing his pullover or the cut of his hair. Maybe, for being dressed in civilian clothes, and Herward’s oft-seen companion, he seemed a figure of unquantifiable menace…
When he was innocent. He was one of them, born here. He’d wanted to push past Herward and apologize to the woman. It occurred to Anton his silence would have her thinking he’d come along as witness; that he’d spotted her using a back street and reported this to Herward.
“Do you think she looked…Hidtha? I couldn’t tell from the name.”
It was the sort of question one shouldn’t ask or think of; not, at least, to go by Palma’s strictures. But the Hidtha were vengeful. His Utdrife cellmate had wanted to take him over the mountains, and had sought from their jailers permission to do this. Anton had wrapped himself in his blanket, covering his head. He’d sat on the floor in a corner of their cell, day after day. He’d gone on a hunger strike. Finally, they let him finish his term in solitude.
He waited at the end of the long table, and Herward brought a tray. Right now the meal was beans and brown bread, but of that, no limit. This was why the lunchroom, Wednesdays, and not the ration ticket…one day of the week to feel discontent with the menu, rather than with deprivation itself. The food trucks’ offerings proved eccentric, and you had no choice but to take what your points afforded.
Mother, that morning, stewing raisins for breakfast…she’d got boxes of raisins, a whole carton of them. Anton chose to go without. From that insistent friendship that pleased Mrs. Leonhardt and puzzled her houseguest (he’d accepted calling her Mother, but this was the way Anton considered relations between them), Herward practiced these little courtesies.
And because Anton sometimes lost his temper, saying things.
Certainly, if hands were laid on his person, he would fight. These delay-making, resentful job holders, who already had been given their places; these citizens so fortunate as to be marked trusted and labeled fit…
“Yes, you have been shown your life. All you will ever be.”
It was a worthwhile thing to be reminded of, and Anton wanted to remind them.
Herward thought it best he not talk to the woman guard; or the other woman who handed across trays. The guard, a day and a week ago, had pantomimed at Anton. He hated her at once for the show of contempt. He looked for Herward, and Herward had vanished, not waiting to be helpful.
“That’s right. Take those off…you get me? You can’t hide your face indoors.”
His dark glasses would be crushed in a trouser pocket, and he would have to put his name on a list to replace them…leaving the house would become a worry once more, just when he’d found this way of doing it. These thoughts had taken Anton a minute or two. And then she’d touched him, racing around her desk and clamping fingers on his arm.
Herward said only to keep him from struggling while she took custody of the glasses, and that she would have given them back.
“There’s a treat,” he said now. The bread was buttered today, and Corporal Herward—because of his uniform, Anton thought—had been given a jar of jam.
“They’ll let us keep that?”
“Sure, take it home to your mother.”
“I heard your question. Yes, it’s possible. None of them have names they’ll tell to an incomer…that’s what they call us, in their own language. You know better than I.”
He paused. Anton felt a compulsion to say it.
The word was not much different; and so, there hadn’t been much point in translating. He did not feel flattered that Herward deferred to him in this. Anton barely knew Hidtha…which designation he, a stranger, might use, but was not what their language was called. Professor Swisshelm, who’d lived among them, thought the word was Erdroddtha; their way of pronouncing the sequence of consonants almost irreproducible.
Herward said, “Is that enough? I’ll go back.”
He touched often, and did so now, tapping Anton on the wrist and pointing to show the queue empty.
Then: “Now, listen. How would it be…how would you personally like it…? Because I try to do what I can for you, after all. If someone…”
He stopped himself, and the implication of it, his next words confirming this, was that Anton must care, Herward adding flesh to his straw man, attributing to Anton this sympathizer’s stance, the opposite of what he felt for the Hidtha.
“Who might not be…from the peninsula… If Mrs. Smithrow did, let’s say, have hostile associates? Suppose she’d been warned we were coming up? Because you know I’m not conjecturing. I was telling your mother about that incident with the grenade in the stairwell. You heard me. That was in B-Sector. I trained under one of the men killed.”
Herward seemed to think that, for having come home; for having been released and given several classifications, a color-coded strip at the bottom of his badge that signaled danger to every G.R.A. soldier he passed on the street (each reacting as though drilled to it, resting a hand on his pistol), Anton no longer belonged to Palma. Herward had fabricated this friendship, and now he presumed on it.
“Next time, I won’t come with you.”
“I hope you will.”
Play-acting, Anton thought. Making himself sound wounded.
Then Herward scratched his chin. “Ah. I see what you mean. Well, that’s not bad for a joke. You don’t mind my looking after you, though?”
And since he had to fill this blank with an answer, Anton said, “No.” He added, “Thank you.”
“But. If we were to bring a confederate of Mrs. Smithrow’s into custody…if some resister knew where the grenade had come from… You wouldn’t expect us to be nice about letting him conceal that information?”
His inflection on nice implied: mincing, delicate.
Herward had forced this argument before, on every occasion that suggested it. Anton was hearing it now for the third time. He had not yet given in (yet…he repeated the word in his mind), offering Herward the prompt he was seeking. The torturers had said the same thing…their victims were supposed to forget they had. This persuasion would feel so true, then, so fresh and familiar all at once.
“Why would that woman have friends in the resistance? I don’t think she meant doing wrong.”
“If you say so, Anton, I’ll believe it. I’m not from the capital.” Herward shrugged. “So, you don’t tell me she didn’t like answering my questions?”
He saw the pitfall not in whether this, though it was hard to tell, required a yes or no. Anton had no reason to come to Mrs. Smithrow’s defense. He wouldn’t do it, to find himself challenged on this point at some later date. Which was too bad, another way his occupied country was being divided by the G.R.A., in that one must quell the impulse to be fair to a stranger.
“You would like to say we aren’t allowed to save lives. That’s what it comes down to, Anton.”
He had been walking, fingering out the remaining jam from the jar. He would have to go on carrying this glued, more or less, to his sticky hand. He’d darted away from washing in a public fountain, seeing an officer ride up on her motorbike.
As the gossip had it, the shortages were engineered fraud. Anton knew he thought, through the hours of his days, about food more than anything else. He knew Herward could make great strides meting out privilege; that to spurn comfort called for Palma’s sort of pride…and if he’d had that, she would have loved him better. Both their secret, shared nature, and the treats themselves induced in Anton a willingness to yield. He had not been psychologically overmastered, shrunken to a state of docile stupidity, though he crawled for the G.R.A. He supposed it true of the others…they were all grown tired, tired, of their country’s long death and rebirth.
But at the pit of its deadened heart, the city smoldered. Revolt still could spark. And Anton willed, now and again, to do a great act…to show his general up, make her sorry to have thought so little of him. This depth of sadness had inspired his verses, made him write in anger, in grinding capitals. He felt the same fog encroach now, and had, ever since he’d resolved to finish the jam and not share it with her, Mrs. Leonhardt…and that had made him dwell again, on food.
And that was the ache.
He’d written none of his poetry, once coming under her roof. Why it troubled him, the ebbing of this gift that was not a gift, empty signals flashed at a blackened window…
He supposed his mother (she was not) would sneak, just as much as any prison guard, but thought she would not mock. He believed this of her. She liked him to be an artist…as though he were Anton. She would look at his private things, and that was a transgression. But she would not look probingly, for clues that he hadn’t given up resisting, as he knew the guards had done.
Down the coast. That must be the expression.
Herward used it, and Herward came from there, called himself a good friend to the Swisshelms. Down the coast they’d sat on the daybed in Anton’s attic room, he with the sisters, talking. Jovie…yes, her name had been Jovie, Swisshelm’s younger daughter. So Anton ought to believe in Vonnie, as well. He had sanctified the mystery of Miss Swisshelm, felt her untold name must ring like that of a deity, that for her acolyte the moment would be telling, crucial…and the answer had been a letdown, that was all.
A shadow fell.
When Anton stared up dumbly, the officer banged her stick against the metal rail. He should not have stopped to rest here, on the concrete steps of a condemned building…a discothèque, this apparent only because the word remained spelled out in bolt holes.
“What is that in your hand?”
He lifted his hand, and tilted the mouth of the jar, to show it empty.
“What were you planning to do with it?”
“Take it home. I’m going home.”
“I want you to put it in that trash bin over there.”
Broken glass. Or maybe they’d think he could make a bomb. Anton obeyed. He stood over the bin, shoulders hunched, waiting. After minutes passed with no instruction, he turned and found the officer gone.
“Oh, poor Anton. You’re so easy. You’ve never had anything, of course.” That had been Jovie, teasing him. Or not teasing…making a joke of him, sharing it in front of him with Vonnie.
Their eyes and their smiles.
“The two things that will matter most to everyone are food and heat. Unless it’s the summer, and then they’ll short us on air-conditioning and water. Toughen up, Anton. When has there not been a surplus of food? Wasted, thrown away, think of it, they always talked about it. Well, where does food come from? The same farmland that hasn’t changed at all, except it’s not private any longer.”
He rounded a corner, and waited for a bus. Not for wanting to, but because there was no getting past the crowd. He was being pressured in among them, and felt that passivity Jovie had seen in him assert itself. He would soon be arrested again, because he could not for another three months leave A, Orange. The destination shown on the screen was D-Sector, SE quadrant, 1-99.
And he doubted he would know his grandmother’s apartment house, or even find it. You couldn’t ask someone where the street you remembered had been. It was subversive talk, this raising of nostalgia. He would not find the offices of Palma’s old newspaper, where she’d let him sit watching her at her work…and never would buy any of his poems, or assign him an article.
For the new people, brought in to make the population of each city quadrant equal, nothing in D had ever been named.
As soon as Anton sank into an upper-tier seat, close to the stairs, he was joined by a uniformed officer. So the precaution was of no use. His badge, traveling on his person, had signaled his violation via the bus’s console.
“But,” he said, “if I don’t get off. If I only ride, and come back to ANE…”
“No, no. You had better show me. We’ll take a walk and then we’ll come back in a car. You have some idea, Leonhardt, that your grandmother lived down in D. You were a reporter, weren’t you, for that woman Palma?”
This Anton would rather not deny, if the officer believed it.
“All those delusions of yours are in your file. Healthier for you seeing for yourself.”
Otherwise lulled by the ride, resigned to his arrest, Anton didn’t like the way the officer peered at him every time he came to a blank between thoughts. He thought of his mother. Again, another night—he had just said it to himself—I won’t come home, and this time she won’t wonder.
“That’s right,” the officer said, and Anton darted a glance, to find him looking up from the screen he’d been writing on.
And why should I feel bad? I don’t. Maybe Anton could have kept himself out of trouble. But how does she play herself this trick?
“Don’t worry about it.”
Annoyed, and equally, stimulated by the argument, Anton said, “You say exactly…you agree with me…Mrs. Leonhardt is a very sane person. Practical-minded, you would think. You do think.” The officer nodded. “It doesn’t make sense. Do you agree there, too? I’m delusional.”
He went on speaking aloud—if the officer were going to sit there knowing things, why not?—“I believe I lived with my grandmother until I was sent away to school; I believe that if I find my old apartment house, I’ll have the proof of it. Mrs. Leonhardt can see proof where she wills to see it. She has given me a picture to look at, and I’m sure it’s wrong. I was not that child…the old woman was her mother. Mrs. Leonhardt discards what’s inconvenient to her today. But…”
“Look, that’s an easy problem to solve.”
“No, what I’m going to say…”
“Look.” The officer pointed to the television at the front of the bus. The clip was playing, a man dragged backwards from the foot of a staircase, holding someone’s hands, and then, forced to, letting go. The hands were Palma’s, and a second later she appeared before the camera herself, disheveled, narrow-eyed, jaw set.
Yes, they had been playing the surrender of the resistance leaders all day; they would go on playing it for days to come. Anton’s jealousy, prodded again, became intolerable. He had to interrupt himself.
“Why? Why does that solve my problem?”
“Well, now, why do you imagine? I’d better not tell you. Work it out, it’ll do you good.”
“You’re wrong if you think Palma matters. There are others.”
Others to lead them. Others also he might love. The officer grinned at this protest, and shook his head. “I don’t call that thinking.”
“Do you know the name of that man?”
“Frederick.” This at once, and cheerful.
Cheerful. He expected Anton to conclude this on his own, and at last…that he’d made an unreality of his place with Palma. And why should one person’s figmentary progress be better than another’s? Anton had thought himself healing and making his way back to her, working at this every day. An assignment. He’d never known the people she surrounded herself with, no better than he knew those in Mrs. Leonhardt’s photo albums. So he had already learned the trick. He slumped in his seat.
“I was going to say… Ha!”
The bus was slowing to the curb, and through his window, Anton caught sight of the one he’d thought of a moment ago. The third Anton. He’d once supposed him Vonnie’s brother.
He said to the officer, “What is your name?”
They inched forward, each lighting passenger adding his second’s delay. The officer slipped past and jogged down the steps.
Anton wanted to point out…he would point this out, when he could look his companion in the eye…that Mrs. Leonhardt would give it all up, and readily enough, supposing her own son returned. Here was a test of will she couldn’t pass.
She, sane, negated reality, to keep from accepting it, while he (possibly sane, possibly not) had the harder job, trying to prove his doubtful memories were of a reality that had existed.
The officer said, “I haven’t got one. Not for you, Anton. But you know me.” And jaunty, he tapped a finger to his cap, knocking it back. “Utdrife, sir.”
The figure he’d supposed to be Anton, dressed in a jacket and loose corduroy pants, hair short as his own, came across the street, to hook an arm around his waist.
“You’re nabbed,” she said. And it was Jovie.
Promoted to Exile
His advocate had told him to make the most of his new station.
The advice was free, benefit of a passing encounter on Herward’s way out. The promotion had come too close on the heels of the charges’ dismissal, for him to suppose the whole thing had not been brokered. Having transgressed, he must now be exemplary in obedience. Obedience, the signal virtue of a soldier.
But the advocate seemed to think he could risk some act of bravado.
“What would you consider the most I can make, then, sir?”
“Sergeant, you’ve got the wrong attitude. You have to resign yourself to what you get, and you ought to have known it. Just because you like the city…or maybe you’d be happier if they’d chosen the coast. You’ve been given an assignment. Take it as punishment, you’ve failed already. Keep your eyes open.”
Every day Herward could fail a dozen times more. And yes, he did take it as punishment. His own eyes were little use. The cameras that fed the monitors might pick something up, a moving shape in white against a dead-white field. The border offered, along with boredom…along with blizzard conditions, a visual deprivation, the misery of which he would not have guessed…a perfect chance for the stooge-in-command’s being fooled twice. The Hidtha were here within their element.
He hadn’t been ordered to watch Anton every minute.
The first scuttlebutt to reach his ears was that Sergeant Herward, brought in from the outside, had blocked the promotions of his two subordinate officers. Corporals Byrnes and Hyde were his go-betweens, and his coaches, until he’d got the personalities down, and a sense of how often and by what gambits the Hidtha stressed this particular outpost. He had to drill the enlisted men, sharp questions every day, making his rounds, so as not to make a fingered informer of any one of them.
“You have to resign yourself to what you get.” He tried the axiom on Byrnes.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Among Herward’s duties was the finding of tasks to keep his men and women from idleness. Major Wrik sometimes came up and sometimes didn’t, a pointless surprise element to his inspections.
And gave no counsel. “I trust you to do your job, sergeant.”
He’d said this as though offended by the request.
Herward saw that his people could take him all the way down, whenever they wanted to. He was bound to have a crisis. When it came, someone would be away from his or her post. He was doing a lieutenant’s job, his hours over-loaded. The G.R.A. kept as many officers as they could at the sergeant’s rank and pay grade.
So, taking the only advice he half-respected and thought might be of use, he’d sat down to write a letter, his language intimate. Vonnie, who was not his lover, would know by this…
That he asked her help, and it was urgent. You might remember Anton Leonhardt. You knew him, I think you said so, for a while in Cadwilliam. He was my case. But you probably spent more time with him than I did. Someone told me the Hidtha Utdrife took Anton over the mountains.
Herward sketched in a smile and a wink.
Did Jovie bring you the tea set and the chocolate bars?
This wasn’t code. It could be code. But there had been a tea set, and there had been chocolate bars. Jovie might have passed through seven or eight checkpoints, going home.
The Swisshelms were chaotists. He supposed he might have invented the word. Anarchy, conceived as its utopian idyll, was a passive condition…a let-down no doubt, in practice, beginning the day it bloomed. Tempting to label government a tick. Pull it off, the blood flows back into the vein. The untaxed poor gain nothing, but the theorists will claim unfettered commerce makes jobs for everyone.
The Hidtha were paternalistic, and lived, in their own way, without government. Their admirers the Swisshelms wanted, Herward thought, to spectate on the crash, to goggle at their nation’s wholesale disintegration…and then witness a sort of tribal rebirth. Or maybe witness only excitement, a constant churning to stir their cold, clinical hearts.
At any rate, he’d defected. He’d joined the occupying army. (And knew neither Vonnie nor Jovie to be cold. But the sisters had played him the same trick they’d played Anton.) He had joined, in a fire of outrage, that might, now and then, have flared to hate—
Or do I have it wrong, Herward asked himself. Is outrage passion, and hate…the flip side of love’s coin, well known to be. Enduring, then. He hadn’t loved Vonnie.
Jocelyn’s government (Toad Jocelyn today probably living high, on his pariah’s island), had agitated for what he’d called justice. He’d wanted the three nations bordering their own, and with whom they’d long allied themselves—for trade, for peace (defense), for the sharing of intelligence—to subordinate theirs to his regime, allow his zealots, his gang of relics, to call the shots. All that was war-mongering, and Herward, a graduate student then, had loathed it.
The war had been short and humiliating. The G.R.A., with their social science, now systematically were dissolving every tie, unnaming everything, relocating everyone, rooting and branching all rebellion. Many rebels remained Jocelynists. The Hidtha would treat only with the Palmists. But General Palma and the Ftheorde had stirred them, their old wish for independence. The Utdrife had been crossing back to the peninsula, to the rumored training camps.
Today, he’d given Byrnes an order to assemble her squadron, in snow fatigues, with their gear: radios, transponder belts, grenades and button bombs. Herward had it in mind to patrol a mile or so down the mountain, this the Hidtha named Meorsbicht’er, otherwise Miner’s Peak—otherwise, under the G.R.A. system, 27*A. The soldiers would fan out and reassemble at the observation post. What he wanted, and it was necessary to share this plan with Byrnes, was a prisoner to interrogate. He hoped the Hidtha would be drawn. He could see nothing in the future preventing a daily repetition of the exercise.
“When you see them, are they usually alone…or do they go in pairs?”
“We don’t see them. The camera picks them up. Didn’t anyone ever tell you how they tunnel? If the snow is fresh we might radio for a Vortice to blow it off with the rotor wash. I never saw it do much good. They thin out the crust from underneath…and you know, it’s really easy to dig snow. It’s like they watch, to see when you’re just about to step on top of a tunnel.”
“And what are they using? Field glasses?”
She shrugged. He hadn’t got the culture of this outpost yet. They might feel, as often small units left to fend for themselves did, that they’d earned the right to dispense with courtesy. That they were a wolf pack, up here, in their ice cave.
But he said it anyway, voice mild. “I didn’t hear you, corporal.”
“We don’t know, Sergeant Herward.”
“I want you to think,” he told the soldiers, when they stood in formation outside their Quonset hut barracks. “We’re going to turn their tactic around on them, if we can. You figure within twenty meters, going forwards and backwards from the…hole, we’ll call it…there will be a tunnel. We want to cut that off. Think about what kind of equipment will facilitate getting in and out fast. No one’s tried this.”
“We going down the tunnel?”
This again wanted correction, but Herward wasn’t giving them a line to mimic, when at night in their bunks they talked about him.
“Someone wants to know if we’re going down the tunnel.”
In fact, this was a chance to keep a straight face and let them work it through. Commit or fall apart. Herward had thought of it, that these tunnel yarns, growing in elaboration—Byrnes’s scary picture of snowpack caving under your feet, the warren of passages and shelters, that no one could give proof of—might be his hazing. It could be a number the Hidtha were doing on the unit. And he knew of no reason it might not be true.
But he would do this thing, bag a prisoner…if it meant knocking one of them, the Hidtha scouts, over with a grappling hook. The G.R.A. general staff liked full circles, things brought to a fitting conclusion, a kind of Brothers Grimm, or biblical, apt punishment for error. They would like it—he hoped they would—if he found Anton and brought him back. Herward would deem it apt, himself, if they were then stuck deciding what to do with Anton.
“A sledge. You could do more than one thing with a sledge…good in case you had wounded. Or if you caught one, you could tie him on. And then it could work like a ladder…”
These sentences faded, to a meeker and quieter conclusion. The soldier had thought, as he’d asked her to, and was afraid now of having broken with the others.
“Good,” he said.
“A flame thrower.” A sporting edge to this voice.
“Private Kent, I’ll let you requisition one.”
They used snowshoes. The terrain up here could be thin where rocks jutted, and then in pockets, meters deep. You couldn’t tell where the field of white was divided by a drop; bowls of soft snow could strangely invert themselves in the way they reflected light without shadow. So no one ought to be skimming along on a pair of skis. Herward had them stay in visual contact, spacing out in a line, the two outflanking members going to a distance of 100 meters, then maintaining it, as the next two advanced. He put himself in the center of four expanding south; Byrnes, four going north.
For four hours they prodded along with their poles. They reassembled and returned to base.
Under the Jocelynist regime…well…
Herward considered that first of all, such an outpost would not have existed. They had not been at odds with their minority. Some Hidtha Utdrife launched commuter train bombings, attacked churches—but the Ftheorde had kept the old entente between their nation and his within it, disavowing the extremists. This zone that separated the mainland from the peninsula was a product of the G.R.A. occupation.
And the phenomenon of soldiers, stationed before monitors, looking at pornography, had got worse in those days when Jocelyn’s experts had shouted down the discomfited. The premier had liked his uniform and medals, thus had let his army carry on without scrutiny.
“This is real life. This is the way it is. Sex is natural,” they would say, making a point beside the point. Jocelyn’s naturalism, his state-sponsored strip culture, had lent gravitas to the ponderous socialism of the alliance.
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.
Authority Weighs In
They needed to sit here, tented, wrapped in white skins.
The skins had landed with a laugh, a bundle susurrating into freshly fallen snow, breaking the ice crust just after, hurled from some unsuspected place overhead. The Hidtha fleered at them for getting caught this way. The reflective wraps, the fluorescent orange pop-up shelter, at least met the G.R.A. army handbook’s recommendation for surviving a squall, for being found by rescuers.
To Herward’s eyes, no distance mediated itself between flakes, so much casting of light from one to another, such busyness in the air, that he saw grey, only grey. But the Hidtha, as Mary said (and Mary knew more than he), could read this light, its finesses. They were having an ordinary hunting afternoon, and the squall to them was no squall at all.
She was talking about voting rights; voting rights the mission that had brought the Wainwrights here…to whom the Council of Four would restore these, the injustice of their assessment few yet deserved them. Delegate status must make a difference between one person and another. The Council was silent thus far on this corrupting question. Influence in the Jocelyn era had been everything, and rife.
“David was so funny.”
She’d said this, and wanted to go rummaging to prove it, and Herward had stopped her. He’d have stopped her talking at all—he cared very little for Mary Wainwright’s preoccupations—but couldn’t let her sit, holding an open notebook (journal, she would call it), eyes filling. Gloved hands, in this cold, belonged under layers of blanket and pelt. His own eyes, and Byrnes’s, watered in any case.
“I go over in my mind how we did the rounds in those days. Frederick would always take us to the meeting houses in the districts the resistance controlled. We tiptoed around the floor…all the papers they would have laid out in stacks… You know, not to flutter them up.”
You, Herward thought. Mary, even now, over fur boots, was wearing one of her long skirts.
“The Ftheorde came.”
“Good thing,” Byrnes muttered.
“They let him through as he liked…he was brokering a role for the Utdrife. He wanted Palma to not recruit them, you know. The G.R.A. would have crossed the mountains, and taken the Peninsula, too, if they’d had that excuse. Poor man. So I try to think, was Anton ever there? I wouldn’t have known he was Anton, so would I have noticed him? When David…” Here her voice caught.
Corporal Byrnes, whose back was against Herward’s, the three of them conserving body heat, gave a nudge with her shoulder. He could make a vivid enough picture of her face. She’d whispered it to him already.
“When…David…” Small cough. Pious eye-roll.
Well, what was grief? Did it discount anything real Mary felt, that she had mannerisms…that anyone forced into her company could act them? Anton might be dead. Herward searched his heart for something that could stir at this news. And what if Byrnes were killed…or what might she feel if he were killed?
Voices rose outside the tent flap. Someone, with the toe of a boot, or with a fist, punched two or three times at this, then seemed to try a knife on the fabric. They spoke to each other, a gang of them growing, all antic, excited as if they’d run some wild animal to the ground. They might be tribesmen, not Utdrife, in which case Herward might gain from Mary’s slight celebrity. She knew the Ftheorde, had with him some intimate rapport.
But Palma said this was true.
Byrnes had drawn her pistol. Herward motioned to her not to show it. Her rival Hyde, the only friend who shared her rank, went around the base saying, “Just take as many of the bastards out, going down, as you got bullets.”
Herward had never heard that the Hidtha culture, the loose clan of Utdrife in particular, sentimentalized death. They behaved as though they did not understand it, that there was such a thing.
They would die, and kill too, in a frenzy.
“Hrithar getoht-acht eart Ceöld?”
He understood this was an insult—that, he ought to say, they meant it so. That he was being counted in with the two women. A double insult, if to the Hidtha only a woman would find it cold. Otherwise the hunters spoke too quickly, the difficulty in following their language, when your acquaintance with it had been only training. Vonnie had an ear tuned by her father’s teaching, and playful, had abused Herward’s trust in this way, when he hadn’t known, and couldn’t have discerned, hitha and hithar.
Mary answered. “Than getoht-acht?”
She’d asked only, in the short grammar a fluent speaker could feel at ease with, do you think so? But women, among the Hidtha, did not answer, even to joke, if the answer challenged in some way. And so the men, for this minor prompt, roared laughter, delighted with Mary.
“Utkom than?” One said it, then others, perhaps four or five.
But you know, she told them, it’s too cold, for me, an overlander. Is there a word you are able to carry to the Ftheorde?
A type of horn the herdsmen used to signal each other could be heard from three directions. The tightly stretched tent-cloth vibrated with it, a low melancholy menace. The Utdrife did not feel themselves menaced. Utdrife these visitors must be, and the scornful vocalisms they exchanged showed their regard for this instrument of their fathers.
“What is it called, that horn?” he whispered to Mary.
“Well, Swisshelm calls it a type of haikhorne…traditionally, any mountain ram that has passed its fifth breeding season…” She gave him this in a fair echo of Swisshelm’s lecturing tone. She meant to launch on, through the burgeoning melee outside the tent’s membrane, and Herward couldn’t much blame Byrnes.
“Oh, shut up!”
But Mary, who’d come here sacrificing so much, only to help and to teach, forgave resistance. She let her voice drop to a whisper. “This is one of those things they do not name to outsiders…”
A lot of carry-on, involving a degree of weapons-clashing. Now, after repeated salvos of horn blasts, and one or two rifle shots that found no audible marks, had simmered down into grumbling, orders were given sharply. Then came a multi-voiced hail.
“There! He’s with them!” Mary said.
A leader must show himself at such a moment, and so Herward ripped the velcroed flap. Because awkwardness was unavoidable, he dug with expedience, not grace, and tottered onto his feet. He had seen the Ftheorde on televised news, never in person. There was no great ceremony to mark him. Faces were bare, ringed alike in fleece, costumes unmarked by color or trim, to distinguish the Father herdsman from his lieutenants.
He had, to prove his power, only that mien of the powerful…and Herward understood that if he had this himself, he would not have glanced at the women, climbing from the tent; he would not have signaled to Byrnes to keep her seat, and Mary to hold her tongue, and offered byplay with an eyebrow, when respectively his companions grimaced.
A strong man of authority moves alone.
They had, even when their territory had extended all along the lowlands skirting the mountains, been herdsmen, making no other living. The homes the Hidtha erected for themselves were encampments, structures whose frames were bone fitted together by carved joints, intricately counterpoised, their patient assembly a sort of genius, as Swisshelm said…skins used for walls, for blankets, rugs, clothing, more often than the cloth Hidtha women wove from marsh grasses.
Swisshelm had it that these primativisms were the pragmatic concession to a nomadic culture; that the Hidtha were not, by some racial inferiority, an unlettered people—singers, but rarely musicians; storytellers, but rarely poets—rather that, for every waking moment, Hidtha life was unforgiving labor.
“And were we to go back two millennia, we would find all of Europe in this state. Only when the Roman roads permitted trade, when one tribe’s commonplace was another’s marvel, when one might have a thing, thus, without making it oneself, did the leisure to make additional things become possible.”
Swisshelm was probably right. That the Hidtha were not cherishable, as in Mary’s view; that they were groping towards ordinariness, and had been, as long as Herward had been alive.
It was well back, in the royalist period, when the Aae-Ftheorde, grandfather, or great-grandfather, of this present one, had yielded, allowed that his people had only blood to spill for machine guns and landmines, and had withdrawn their remnants to the peninsula.
A law among the Hidtha required every father have three sons. This was a sort of minimal citizenship, and those who did not, had no say in councils, their wives disgraced. There was a sort of death by retreat into the mountains, and slow starvation, that—to Palma’s scorn, and Mary’s pitying wonder—Hidtha women inflicted on themselves.
The phenomenon began with this suffering, the tribe hemmed in, without the marshlands they’d driven their herds to for winter grazing; younger sons now forced to servitude under elder brothers, unable to marry. At first there’d been a series of fratricides, then defiant guerilla fighting conducted from mountain caves. Some young Hidtha had gone away on their own, taking work under the Jocelynist regime on road crews, his projects to drain the marshes. Their language barrier had been immaterial.
These new workers had money. Paltry wages Mary’s social justice group would deplore, but to the Utdrife, unprecedented freedom. Officially, only those banished by the Ftheorde were so designated, given this name for a lost sheep. But traffic among voluntary and involuntary exiles took away the distinction.
Under Jocelyn, the Utdrife had discovered their strange calling…lured by brokers of their own race, who touted largess and dared the Ftheorde’s borders, they too became mercenary soldiers. The wartime uses Jocelyn’s army had for Utdrife were those his professional soldiers would not be spared for—sentry duty in the occupied towns, guarding of prisoners.
Prisoners, thousands as the war progressed, presented the usual problem. Neither Jocelyn’s generals nor his governors found it fair, once feeling the G.R.A.’s stranglehold on supply lines tighten, to feed and house them, provide doctors for them. Many were allowed to die.
This largest prison complex was still in use. Converted by the G. R. A., it had the acquired name Sedtok: Southeast Department, population 20,000. The harsh sound resembled a Hidtha epithet. The Utdrife guardsmen had learned to use it with a smirk, as a verb or a noun. But they had been permitted, bargaining back a corner of the new canal lands, to build a settlement of their own here.
This was how they’d come to purchase prisoners…
To contract work-release laborers, in official parlance. Here in Sedtok were block buildings with metal roofs, arranged in courts, fitted with new insulated windows, chain link fencing, HVAC units on concrete patios. Inside were refrigerators and microwave ovens, televisions, shower stalls. Planted between sidewalks and streets were hedges of ilex, trimmed flat across the top, kept that way by the redeemed wards of the state.
Through haze across lowland hilltops, wire cages bumped, protecting grapevines; another Utdrife industry, new and burgeoning. Sedtok was a city, the life easy, the language English, the population peninsular. Not all the wives were Hidtha. But the young women of the tribe found possibility and escape here too.
The Ftheorde set the two soldiers at the center; his own men, about thirty in number, treading the path ahead, the Utdrife company trailing. He’d glanced a faint smile on Byrnes, making to tuck her pistol away inside her parka. She looked up into his face…her boldness something other than refusal of protocol, that disdain ingrained among soldiers with minds like Hyde’s. She looked at the Ftheorde, then over her shoulder at Mary.
Why is she different to you?
Herward was sure this was his corporal’s thought.
The Ftheorde placed Mary in front of himself; at once she said, warm-voiced, “You see, there was no bargain.”
As though a conversation between them continued. You know, and I know.
They walked an hour or two, got below the storm, into sun and onto a road. The road surprised Herward, its being leveled there. Some other herdsmen met the Ftheorde’s men, and more surprising, rode half-track snow buggies, wearing goggles to shade their eyes. An innovation, or further erosion of cultural lines between traditional Hidtha and Utdrife.
And this was how they’d come to the foot of the mountain, perched behind Hidtha Vrahc’eorde (a class of border watchmen). There, they’d boarded a truck that carried them into Sedtok, the Ftheorde’s entourage now reduced to half-a-dozen.
For Mary’s sake, Anton had been found…or someone the Ftheorde knew of, who could tell what had become of him.
They came to the sentry box, and gate.
“Is Herward there?”
He woke, in a way, hearing this, his name shouted.
He had fallen under the spell of the Ftheorde’s power, for an afternoon had let the Father herdsman order things; and when they approached the checkpoint, Herward sat still playing passenger.
He dragged himself to a squat, eased at speed between the two seats, limboing under the steering wheel to land on gravel. He put his heels together and straightened his back. He was outranked.
But not caught napping…
Wrik at the rendezvous to learn why his sergeant had given license over duty to Mary Wainwright’s mission. SEDCampA sat above the prison where Anton’s Utdrife cellmate supposed himself to have made a purchase.
“Let Byrnes go with Mrs. Wainwright.” Wrik swung a hand, index finger rigid. “You get back inside!”
The driver jumped behind the wheel. The truck, and his clothes, cap pulled to a low angle, were civilian…but the face seemed not Utdrife. And here, at these close quarters, Herward lost his cool, scrabbling round the passenger seat to the place he’d left a moment ago. He had not noticed at all, on the way down.
Wrik bounced in beside her, all anger. The Ftheorde bringing Mary back to his doorstep, when his notion had been disposal of this nuisance. The first troublemaker foisted on him had engineered a roundelay, and now (Herward, with another attitude that would enrage Wrik, pitied him) here were two charges, Anton a third, special to the G.R.A.’s plans in some way.
The major’s grievances were ongoing.
He would stall at the camp for life; stall (by psychologically parsed mechanisms) at the rank of major, forced to administer, to worry over…to find himself inadequate to…things he despised. He despised sergeants who could bollocks up orders, protected from paying dearly for it. He despised playing docent to the latest in ad hoc committees, showing them round the camp and prison grounds, waiting for their defunding recommendations. He despised seeing the Utdrife prosper. They were lazy…they could not be taught. They got undeserved breaks.
Wrik was a Jocelynist. The G.R.A. knew his sympathies.
Herward contrived to touch the tattoo at the nape of Jovie’s neck. She grinned, but didn’t look at him. And the question of whether she was meant to be Jovie, or someone else, Herward left alone.
They were waved past a second gate, one at the top of an incline Jovie bumped the truck along, cheerful and reckless as any Utdrife mercenary prowling the coast. The camp was row on row of barracks, airfield, hangars and maintenance buildings, small houses exactly like those of Sedtok, a central complex: gym, cafeteria, theater, offices and meeting rooms.
Wrik ignored the private who waited to direct them.
Herward on this excuse hung back, returned the salute, and spoke to Jovie.
“Have you been introduced to the major?”
“Are you bucking for general in charge of Miners’ Peak Tunnel?”
Herward meant, could Wrik have hired a Swisshelm for a reason, or did he realize he’d done it? Jovie meant, if you mess up one more time, you’ll score the highest command at the ghastliest of outposts. Jocelyn’s radioactive and chemical arsenals were barreled and concreted away there, under the mountain.
“Tell me what Vonnie is up to.”
“Oh…” She flapped a hand. “We’re in one of our enemy phases. I told her she could have been nicer to Anton.”
Herward’s radio buzzed at his belt.
“Run me down if you see me,” he said to Jovie, and told the private, “C’mon, show me where I’m going.”
Anton’s chair was at the foot of the conference table, under the red Exit sign, far opposite Major Wrik. Wrik had placed the Ftheorde at his right hand.
When the others arrived, the major stood and drained his coffee mug. Gesturing with this, he positioned them and retook his seat. Herward took his own seat, and smiled across at Mary. She smiled, too; and so he let himself appear to have anticipated her warmth. He let the smile fall on Anton, expecting less than he got.
Not that Anton could show pleasure at seeing a friend. He had not been capable of this in their days roaming Orange together. But his stiffening and looking irritably away encouraged Herward. An unsociable blank was toughness of its kind. Anton hadn’t, for hard use, lapsed into a fugue; he had reason enough to snub the one he blamed for his enslavement.
What amused Herward was the certainty Wrik insulted the Ftheorde without understanding Hidtha protocols well enough to enjoy this. He doubted Wrik knew it, that the Ftheorde outranked him, and deserved the table’s head.
One other, aside from the private standing guard inside the door, was in the room. He would not take the seat Wrik thrust at for a second time, his point illustrated in an arc of coffee droplets.
“Sir, are we waiting for Byrnes?”
“Byrnes has a report to write, doesn’t she?”
And had been sent to write it, while separated from her sergeant, before Herward could write his own.
The Ftheorde opened. “Vranga. Nur-vranga.”
Master, Herward told himself. And then, little master. With a bright pupil’s show of comprehension, Mary swung her gaze to the man standing. In his eyes defiance flickered, but he said only, “Ftheorde.” Then, without pride, another rapid thing. The Ftheorde was silent. Mary put a hand over Anton’s, his that rested near hers.
“But he hasn’t. He couldn’t. And remember that Anton is not a normal state’s prisoner.”
The Ftheorde put a question to Anton’s purchaser. The Utdrife stepped back from the table, hooking thumbs in his gunbelt, shaking his head.
“There. There is no resolution, none I see. I have told you that if Anton agrees, we have no saying a part of his mind did not.”
He spoke this to Mary, negotiating with her, getting his own back, and with such subtlety, Wrik might believe the Ftheorde addressed whom he trusted, that this was a matter of language. The Hidtha had no psychology; the given word was to them the given word…and so the major would be forced to accept this as well, that the Ftheorde could not grasp the occupying army’s order of precedence.
“But if it can’t be money…and you understand a substitute prisoner is out of the question…can it be…?” She bent her head to Anton’s. “This was your cellmate. But you were taken by one with good English, a different man…you saw him with Jovie Swisshelm.”
“No. We would like to be precise. I saw Jovie Swisshelm. Jovie Swisshelm spoke to me. The G.R.A. guard spoke to me, and told me that he was Utdrife. They were both with me. I won’t say they were together, because I don’t know it.”
It was Anton’s usual mode, when expressing himself, another sign of his resilience.
“Can it be?” Herward prompted.
“I was thinking whoever the guard was…”
She gave Anton a look, motherly. “He’d got Jovie’s help. I suppose she can go around as she likes, her father having that post.”
The sort of thankless functionary’s role that went in such times to venerable scholars.
Each of the four departments had a diplomat, a Secretary of Extra-National Affairs; the four together were tasked with resolving the G.R.A.’s withdrawal, estimated to need five years, and reparations. And whether one must come before the other. The nation had little in its treasury, was jealous of what it did. The tooth-pulling process of reclaiming Jocelyn’s stolen wealth, meant a redistribution not so thorough the four departments could be equal in it.
Must each neighbor in the alliance assume a special relationship with one department? Must the capital zone in particular, out of a fairness none would perceive, pledge its future against a loan? Would hardship there, where pockets of Palmists held firm, end rebellion or enflame it? Professor Swisshelm, so methodical a linguist and chart-maker he was in danger of being given real authority, made a vehicle of prestige for his daughters.
“I doubt Jovie has access to the kind of power that could rule against the Hidtha.”
He answered this, in order to say her name to Mary.
And Mary gave a one-shouldered shrug, absent, her face lighting neither with guilt nor interest. She didn’t know Jovie was outside somewhere.
“No, my idea was that if they’ve built a kind of network of advocacy, some interface between Utdrife and…people like the Swisshelms, who they don’t find offensive…” She smiled. “We might at least schedule a hearing.”
She might have discussed some of this with the Ftheorde. He cared nothing for white affairs, only what he’d come to this table to gain. He spoke to Anton’s captor, his last words slow enough for Herward: “I tell you. I do not recommend to you.”
The Utdrife gave a sullen face, a sharp objection, then lowered his chin, thoughtful for a moment. He crossed the room and pressed a hand on the back of Anton’s head. Anton adopted his silent, contained habit, lips compressing, body unresisting as he let his forehead be touched to the tabletop.
The Utdrife left them, shoving past the private. Anton sat up.
“So,” Herward said, “you’re free.”
Nothing netted any longer from the ocean, the harbor and all its traffic suborned to a use, the district peopled only with transients, intractable Jocelynists, the never-seen detainees…
Cadisk was a coastal town with a prison economy.
Residents were less happy than inmates. They could never leave this place.
They understood it. Their landscape, free to them if they cared to walk its paths, was flat, hot, devoid of wildlife. Their hero had seemed to advocate for such a world; and if they could not renounce their hero, they must be relegated to his legacy.
The G.R.A. took their measurements and deemed the punishees, as the Jocelynists called themselves, those they would not have mixing with others. The Hidtha Utdrife mixed, to the Cadiskers’ ire, and seemed set to thrive. They proliferated, birthed soldiers for the coalition army, were forgiven (if not lionized) by these malign social architects who occupied the nation; had no rights, to the minds of the punishees, to be enriched so by confiscations.
Rights, rights…the word rang with potency. The minority privilege of the Hidtha engendered a bitter line of obscene joking, though these hints and phrases were swallowed and muttered. The punishees knew their words recorded. They knew they might be uprooted and sent to another home, south, where the Hidtha flourished.
The only work in Cadisk was serving. Cadiskers tended rooms and offered food. The spit had miles of flat asphalt for stretching legs, hundreds of empty lanes striped out, for napping truckers. Shimmering mirages floated in the heat, over the false ocean of paved earth, when there were no troop movements, no convoys to fill the space. Ekers used the lot’s fringe to pitch tents, sat in camp chairs, ran electric fans and radios off long blue cords.
The military presence remained thick in Cadisk, from the gate in to the gate out, but hidden, boxed inside monolithic windowless vehicles. These bulked alive and humming, painted over with a coat of dense, tactile particles, that by proximity seemed to be mutating the clans of hawkers, making them deaf, crooking their backs, lasering red burns on their skin, causing kidneys and livers to fail under a burgeoning mantle of flab. The vehicles sat behind razor-wired fences at the back of the great staging area.
Above all this was the prison tunnel-complex, lit by tubal skylights, efficient for heating and cooling, efficient in all things—a model prison, of the G.R.A. type. Cell blocks were bored into the cliffs. Low-ranking inmates lived dawn to dusk, moving like players in a game towards the natural-light richness of the oceanside cells; political prisoners of some prestige were privileged to be isolated here in narrow chambers, with cot and toilet and video screen. One wall of each cell, a thick acrylic-glass composite.
It interested the prison medical staff, that with this vista of vacant rolling waves, often of somber clouded skies, flickering with the deadly electricity that made the dying sea a danger, prisoners in these cells would stare all day at the screen.
The screen showed soundless movies, technicolored American musicals of the 1950s and 60s. At varying minutes, before and after 17.30; the sound came on, the prisoners started from their cots. The news of Cadisk came heralded by a bar of music masking a wave blast, that shocked the vagus nerve. Stories took place in some neighborhood of the city unknown to the viewer. So she would envy them or condemn them, their license to reopen liquor stores, their new employment in a warehouse, their murder-suicides—those Cadiskers living (dying) their relatable (hateable) routines.
The national news always spoke of gloomy Jocelynist depredations…
As this void on the north coast, where within a year all fish had vanished. How could its spread be stopped, when the voltage was unapproachable, when no measuring instrument, no circuitry, no motor, could survive, no unshielded human venture there, to study its source?
There were others: the drought in the south; massive avalanches in the mountains. A criticality at Miners’ Peak. There were talks underway, for the G.R.A.’s withdrawal. The occupiers were despised, and no one could feel safe abandoned by them.
Palma, versed in these mind-control forays, had only time on her hands—time, in every case, to ask herself, what am I feeling? What came first?
They wanted her intellect starved…the treatment began that way. They wanted her gratitude for their favors, her sense of flattery at being trusted, to wreak alteration on her brain. Which was not to overdramatize. The brain could saturate itself in its own chemical stew. The balance people thought of as rationality, the responses they called emotion, could be shunted by cue-training onto a new set of rails. Then everything became waiting for reward, worrying at the lack of it, finding it plausible someone was to blame for this. Readily accepting any offered someone as one’s enemy.
That was why the warden came at mealtimes while the news played—so that apropos of this or that, he might make his inconsequential remarks. And Palma knew she did look forward to it.
She looked forward to the game screen popping up. At times, there was a writing window where, accustomed to no privacy, you might—standing and with your finger—scribble a journal.
Today, a bird landed on the water, and vanished.
Vanished in a flash of blue.
Or poetry, as Anton had. A last testament, as Frederick. If you were busy matching colored squares, you might ignore permission to write. As you liked.
The other person she saw was the Hidtha woman who came to take up sheets and towels, replace them. It was Palma’s job to make her bed. Her meals came without ceremony, or human contact, as in a discreet hotel. But, as in a G.R.A. prison, meals came variably, lunch on that eccentric swing between noon, 11.59, 11.58, 12.01, 12.02—so closely timed, the off-timing looked purposeful. It might not be.
Breakfast near six; dinner near eighteen. Dinner a conflict with your movies or games. No doubt they measured, eager to learn at what point you became so absorbed in visual stimulation, you missed your cue and your late meal.
The door would click, and you could open it, then, to slide your tray inside. On the wall, beside the door, was a disposal bin, just wide enough to eject the tray, when you’d eaten your bars of vegetable, grain, and protein. The water fountain was just outside the toilet/shower cubical.
Could you run away, down the hall? Its appearance, when she put her head out, was dark and empty. But she would waste no time weighing such questions. The surveillance was there. The escape attempt would give those passionless scrutinizers of human behavior one more gleaning to preen themselves with. How many days before the prisoner/patient tries it? What new routine can we impose, in ambiguity between punishment and mercy? How and when will it pressure her into the next act?
She exercised when the instructor came on to lead stretches. Then the screen pixelated off to a woodland path, sometimes a boardwalk along the beach, the voice fading into slow, soothing repetitions. You walked in place to this vision, barefoot on a foam pillow. It was a nuisance. She could even believe their advising, though, that the intermittence of aerobics was healthier…not to always walk at ten in the morning, but afternoons, or just before bedtime.
Just after bedtime, the screen blinking on, waking you in the dark.
It was her thought of the day, as she tossed the pillow back onto her cot—that they would draw fine distinctions of privilege from such absurdities, force her to play along with them. For three days, her routine had been fixed. She hadn’t been able to decide if she preferred this; if they were giving a gift to her, on the celebration of her one-year anniversary. Was pride allowable? Would they punish her at once, if she showed a face that struck them smug, the next time the game screen popped?
The door whooshed, and Moody came in.
(He might not be Moody. The name had been part of Frederick’s mockery, the coincidence odd but possible…and again, Palma saw no reason the G.R.A. could not be so cruel as to taunt her with the death of her partner, under the guise of innocent friendliness.)
“I don’t think, in all this time, you’ve had a visitor.”
“Do I have a visitor?”
When Moody had a point, he would never come to it, she knew.
“Do you want a visitor?”
“In one of the rooms, you mean?”
On rare walks to some other part of the prison, passing the infirmary, the cafeteria for ordinaries (as the non-political prisoners were named), the visitors’ lounges she had never been called to, Palma took note of all she could learn. They met another person now and again, and she drilled eye-contact into this stranger, to see what he or she would communicate…sympathy, fear, warning…
One she had known, one of her old soldiers. He had kept his eyes low.
“You’re thinking,” Moody said, “I want to make a mystery of all this. As a matter of fact, that woman Mary Wainwright has brought Anton Leonhardt.”
Palma gave him a smile. She was finished with Anton, had not expected he’d turn up again. But if he were at peace, able to sail these days even-keeled, she would be pleased to know it. The smile was for poor Mary. The impression her mission made, the strength of her life’s passion summed up…in this tendency of those who’d met her to preface her name with “that woman”.
This time, for the first time, they got onto an elevator. There was an office complex she hadn’t known of, perched atop the bluff, caged round its glass walls with a lightning-conducting metal grid. She saw two lines of fencing, bracketing the hill where the warden’s suite overlooked Cadisk.
Moody made no ceremony, either, ushering her into a room with a table. Mary stood and Anton didn’t. All he projected spoke of damage still, though his face was the same, thin and melancholy. He looked at Palma briefly, sat angled to the table, elbows hunched on knees. If Moody said, “Sorry, the meeting’s canceled,” Palma thought, Anton would lurch up and make for the door at once.
Mary said: “If you want me to take a statement on how you’re being treated, I have the form.”
She had a clipboard, the leather-bound kind that opened like a notebook.
“I will. Give you one.”
Well, it would be worth knowing whether Moody, thinking himself kind, perhaps, would react on any personal basis; whether, even, one of the G.R.A.’s policies of standardized repression, one that must be imposed on any complainer, might relieve Moody both of bad feelings and responsibility.
She had no complaints, but she would work with Mary. To Palma this use of herself to obtain what in freedom might be used to strengthen her soldiers, was by-the-book; self-detachment demanded. She was already sacrificed, being here at all; it would be unleaderly to shrink at punishment.
Moody backed a few steps, turned and beelined through an office door.
The conference table was centered between arrays of full-length windows, two little hallways at either end dividing executives from staffers, emptying to the elevator this side, the restroom, that. She would have to cite emergency and make for it, just to see what sort of surveillance was in place.
Conversations and laughter came to them, the laughter making Anton flinch. Mary held her pen poised.
“First question,” Palma said.
“Do you feel safe?”
“So long as they let you alone. Or do you feel weighed to the last atom of your worth…should you be killed and the memory of you erased, or should you be slowly brought round and sent to help govern Nedforum, or sickened with drugs, until you will kill yourself for them…”
When he took to rhyming, it was the right moment to shut Anton up…and Mary did the honors.
“He’s not entirely wrong. I don’t know how you can feel safe when you know the G.R.A. are so very practical. They’re spending money to keep me here, and they’d rather be investing money. So many initiatives. Maybe they do hope to change my mind.”
“Mary, do you feel safe?”
“Please…Palma… You know I don’t care, and I don’t think about it. Since David died.” She stopped. She might by now have given variations on this speech a hundred times.
“You can’t go home. And you won’t go home until the work is done.”
“Have you ever been denied food, water, medical treatment?”
“I haven’t. But as to medical treatment, I haven’t needed it.” She put a hand out. “Am I allowed to look over your papers?”
They didn’t, Mary’s group, use any sort of scoring system, or if they did, here secrecy was imposed, and Cadisk’s prison would be ranked in a private meeting, the group’s findings kept from recipients of their charity. For provocation, Palma flipped through the other papers clipped in Mary’s book. They were instructions for conducting interviews with prisoners, small-printed tissue-thin paper with legal extenuations, the code printed out in a Q and A format.
Mary sat solemn, a blunt instrument against sarcasm. Her causiness, as Frederick termed it. Or, forbearance…she might have saintly tendencies. Palma had never heard this need equate to likeability.
“You can write on the blank sheet yourself, if you don’t want me taking it down. That’s where we fill in specific complaints, and you can see you’ll be asked to rate yourself on a number of things. Hours of sleep, how much energy you feel you have, are you happy.”
“Are you given more opportunities to respond to things than the average person,” Anton said. “That’s what happiness is. Happenstance, mayhap.”
“How is your mother, Anton?”
“We were talking about being happy. I don’t see the connection.”
Withdrawing from him with a sigh and crossed arms, Palma thought he could be, even Anton, if he hadn’t got this habit; if he would stop digging heels in at every well-meant overture. Yes, it was all too little, too late, no doubt, all of life…
Of facile comments, she hated this one most.
But why argue good counsel to Anton, when he’d become a pet of Mary’s; and Mary had, at least, an arsenal of this? She could not find Anton’s friendship rewarding. She could not find him to resemble David.
David had been a dark comedian…resigned to death and pain, able, slipping away, to find irony in it. Anton saw no counterpoint to all he’d suffered. He saw a nemesis, a fateful ill-will that picked on the weakest first. That saddled him, when he’d hoped to retreat from the world, with improving Mary Wainwrights. Palma didn’t disagree. Or, rather, she didn’t expect an Anton to see merit in parsing superstition. How would his life change, if he demystified fortune, confronted what was done to him, in bleak honesty?
“I haven’t seen Anton for over a year. I thought we’d got him settled in with Mrs. Leonhardt.”
She spoke to Mary.
“Did you not know,” Mary said, “he was taken to Sedtok? Sergeant Herward and I went over the border…it was his idea.” Pause. “My idea. Since there isn’t really any way…the Ftheorde doesn’t keep a house. I was going to…”
“Force a diplomatic occasion. But luckily he has a sense of humor.”
Anton was fuming, by this. “Yes, it was funny enough, what the Ftheorde said. Consider all Anton is worth to you as a laborer, Utdrife, and consider that for even so little these whites will make themselves busy. Consider the woman wants to raise a tribunal—which done once, they will do again, and forever. So then, you will show your face among the others, and you will have to think on that, for they will think on it. That is what he said.”
Anton looked at Mary. The Ftheorde disliked using her name when speaking of her, the only painful revelation he could offer, and Mary sat unmoved. Of course, she understood Hidtha as well.
“And so you’ve found another place to live?”
He took a hand out of the pocket of his windbreaker, shifted upright from the slump he’d affected, and slid this arm with wristwatch onto the table between them. The message might have been, “I’m bored with you.”
Except that he was wearing the tourmaline ring.
“With Jovie. Maybe you don’t know Jovie? I can’t keep track.”
“Jovie Swisshelm. Is that her father’s house you’re moving into?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I? She’s got a permit, or Herward did. So I can stay for the time being.”
“I hope you’re not on the outs with your mother, and that’s what this is all about. Have you been to visit her?”
“No. Because I have to put it down in a letter, to keep it sorted. Mrs. Leonhardt would go off with her talking…and then I’d get confused. I can’t be upset about anything, if I’m away in Nedforum. They’ll arrest me every day.”
He sat tapping his fingers, the green stone winking, and so she knew within these words was a progress report. She made a list for herself, mentally.
“But that’s good, Anton,” Mary said. “When you were having trouble, last time in Nedforum, you hadn’t learned that. You’re understanding how to protect yourself…you have a will to protect yourself.”
Moody came out of his office. Palma guessed a monitor he’d been watching had shown them lean over the table together. The G.R.A. would typically assign a watcher and a listener, because one doing both might miss the way nuance, faces and gestures, fit to words like a puzzle piece. The listener would mark a hesitation; the watcher note an expression, and the convergence of two separate analyses would eliminate bias, improve the rate of “catches”.
“Herward is still a friend,” Palma said. She smiled up at Moody. Moody pulled a chair to the table.
“No, no problem.” He smiled himself, round at them all. “You have time.”
“Herward follows me. Now they’ve sent him back to Cadwilliam.”
“If he would ride along with you, and if Mary went, would you go to Nedforum?”
For one thing, Palma wanted to gauge Anton’s awareness. He knew he was doing an errand. At one time he’d sentimentalized both Palma and Vonnie Swisshelm; fallen in love and longed for mythicism, longed to burn brightly in some sacrificial act. Yet he hardened himself against Mary. That was the foolish way of the world.
But, did he take Jovie’s words and only pass them along…or had he gained that genuine discipline Mary alluded to?
“I don’t know if Moody will be obligated to report it…”
Moody’s attitude was of being party to the conversation he’d joined, with an appropriate condescension; his hand controlled their freedom…but it was a helpful and professional hand. He said nothing.
“Anton, you know Frederick was my partner, and that they’ve killed him.”
The phrase was unsparing, and the only one Palma would use. Moody shifted.
“When you visit the city, I wish you would carry something for me.”
First commentary box, first impressions.
Street scenes offering more to list under possibles, fewer proofs. First view given in black and white. Anton detailed objects, people, relationships, left, right, upper, left, right, lower, instructing the software to cut and reassemble accordingly.
Reject narrative. Closer or largest person not the star. Coincidence of position.
Second view, natural color.
His reports were expected to be not in the medium of list-making, but sensible, useful conclusions. His notes on paper occupied pages, nouns branching into sentences, paragraphs highlighted. Who of importance might inquire after this cog of rare insight, the system prevented his guessing. But Anton wanted a number of things…
Vonnie Swisshelm’s remorse (he would never take her back). Palma, at times forced to board in his house, come to him begging for this and that. At other times, type his manuscripts, suffer his rejection of hers, answer his letters and phone. Herward, a visitor again, under orders again, to pretend (again) offering an ear. In Anton’s friendless life, he had most wanted someone, a man, to walk about with.
Second job…first impression…
Three figures moving past the guarded entry, head down each, long-strided. One, certainly, had got close enough, a pace or two, a body’s width…from the black, blank panel, the woman in commando sweater, biker-length pants, high socks and short boots, face obscured by her radio-helmet, nose under mirrored visor.
Anton did remind himself he knew this uniform. He knew the elastic tension, having worn it. The weapon under each cuff was a sonic lozenge, dealing collateral agonies if a bullet needed deflecting.
What was the guard to the passerby? Or the other two, outside the parked cars? The face was angled. A glance in curiosity could not be punished. Curiosity itself…
Or yes. He wheeled back, and the movement led to an eyelock with his tablemate. She had trained him; he could ask her a question.
“Work it out for yourself, Anton. But…” A smile, and she relented. “Keep still, please. Don’t go squeaking your chair over the tiles like that.”
The grimace he returned was apology. “Thinking with my arse. Sulya, we don’t attribute. But there are underlying causes, states of emotion. If I were sorry about life, mad at the G.R.A., and…”
She wheeled to a better view of his screen. “You, Anton? Do you mean how are they syncing the bombings? What if the pic has nothing to do with it?”
“That was how Palma and Frederick planned. They staged an act without communicating. A token passed from one to the next…the person being ninety percent of the message. Token me, the subject takes it one way, token you, another.”
“Oh, I don’t care. Palma is with them now. If this is news…why would it be? You know they beat everything they wanted out of me. They should blame her, twist her arm, if she’s keeping secrets.”
The antic mood came, the tendency to be short of breath, when he talked of torture and vengeance.
Sulya said, “Anton.”
“They’ve been picking off the guards. I was a guard, you know…because, not valued. Poor bitch there, not valued.”
“Tea break for you.”
The canteen sat well away from their building. A walk of a few blocks, a park cut through; here, both blooming flowers and a dusting of snow. A holiday feeling to stir nostalgia, yet no holiday. He couldn’t say to Sulya, “Look, the lights are out.”
The blue and white fairy-lights might always be there, snapped onto branches, a thing you would not rationally have gone seeking…only, for G.R.A. reasons, turned on today. The sky was heavy, pavements wet. Spring Dismal Day, he thought. Everyone snug in their coats, their shoes and trousers of equal prosperity.
He interested the G.R.A., whether or not his willingness to tell on Palma was helpful to them. She had a ministry job now, what Sulya had under Jocelyn.
“Love, love, love.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Who’s that speaking?” He gave his melodrama an acted gesture, wishing he did scare Sulya, that his inconsequence were less apparent than his oddness. “A woman at fault, who caused all this.”
“Oh, you’re on about the Jocelynists.”
She tugged him by the sleeve, and they jogged together, spying a short queue inside the huge yellow windows. Anton took a sugar cola and both pastries on offer. Sulya took tea and toast. Anton was much the thinner.
Yes, he could still have a friend, if Sulya held patient. She, of course, interested them. They worked, and breaked, and were monitored, side by side.
And it was consciousness, of the hours and duties; consciousness often, of isolation, that the reformers had come to impose. Why the canteen was not in the building. You stood from your seat. Stood, and unracked your coat. Went down the stairs, not flights enough to warrant a lift, and walked. Exercise. Ministry money was not spent on amenities, rubbish like in-house gyms, easy to laugh at anyway.
You walked, you ate, your watch told you, go back. You scrambled to gather your purchases. You might be hungry and not, having to finish the work given that morning, entitled to a second break. This was to decide and commit. Not to drift with a group and give no thought to it.
The alliance had watched Jocelyn’s plunder, his posturing. Was he serious, was it another of his jolly jokes for now, the speech proposing to invade a neighbor, commandeer all that in the nation he’d squandered here? Gluttonize the spoils, send an army of POWs to crawl under the fallout of his bombs, as he reached for more? The nation was too large, for all its self-cannibalism, too strong, not to threaten the rest of the planet.
On Deliverance Day, they had woken blanketed in a radio silence that crippled the military, each base left incommunicado, with only resources on hand. A relaying channel (from safe-to-safe satellite, preserved) guided G.R.A. drones, beaming bursts of electromagnetism, destroying cables, shutting down city after city. The alliance had triggered the hack, much of the code in place when components of the satellites were built. In a separately brokered peace, the G.R.A. had purchased this knowledge from the circuit boards’ country of manufacture.
And having sewn up all exits, the alliance at once announced the nation’s currency void. All transactions, unless in the new unit, were invalid.
The Unit was not listed for exchange. Billionaire Jocelynists found themselves penniless at a stroke. They could not, nor could banking algorithms meant to have triggered at a crisis call, contact any outside nation. They could not escape by plane or boat. Some bunkered, to be bombarded with a constant quakelike rumble. Some, whose fuel arrangements failed them, vanished, a wisp of smoke seen to vent from a hole in the ground. Some tried the borders, in sad family caravans…but the hopes invested in laundering money through art and jewels depended on a lone 300 kilometer stretch not of the Alliance Zone, not Hidtha. The Hidtha would take any amount of pretty-to-look-at objects, but cheerfully counted them gifts.
Before they were utterly subdued, through Anton’s nineteenth and twentieth years, Jocelynist cells had done mad, hideous things. Palma’s stringers ferried stories, the G.R.A. willing to allow so much of news as was deemed discouraging to resistance, to reach the capital. The state of the Jocelynist brain was foreign to Anton, and to the circle he sat near in the cafés.
“Odd thing about them… You don’t call it nihilism. They hate nihilism. No, they actually want us guilt-ridden, as far as science can determine. They kill their own children, that’s our fault. We’ve failed our Jocs.” Laugh. “Forced them to it.”
The circle discussed; Anton audited.
But at times, he tapped a shoulder. “Frederick, if someone is arrested, send me.”
“Shut up, Anton.”
“I know Palma…”
“Oh, that’s right, is it? Knowing and being a bloody nuisance, not the same. If you knew her, you’d keep well away. Scribbling poetry! Can’t help it. She feels bad not finding some errand for you, and she feels bad not… You’re a stupid little git, that’s what. Don’t make a woman who has a thousand things to do, worry about killing you. Go kill yourself.”
The last, not so unfriendly as to feel meant. Frederick, among them, was Anton’s most-admired. He had left the table that day with his coffee paid for and the warm pleasure of Frederick’s knowing his name was Anton.
Yet he felt no shred of grief, today, that Frederick was dead.
Why not have said they were lovers? It would not carry back to him quite the humiliation, his memory of her visit to Cadwilliam, of cavorting at Palma’s feet, imagining her say it…
“I love you, Anton.”
If he’d known. If Frederick had thought of him as a human being, had told him a simple truth.
“Anton. Is this a difficult day for you?”
“What am I doing? Tell me what I’m doing.”
“You’re throttling that soda cup. And you haven’t had so much caffeine your hands ought to shake like that.”
“Ignore me. I’ll go back to work. That’s what they want me to do.”
He got to his feet, hands in his pockets, gave an irresolute twist towards the counter, reminded that he’d wanted several pastries to take back for afternoons, to take home. He was happy to punish Mrs. Leonhardt by not eating what she cooked. The mood came and went; this minute it came strongly. At no time did he much care for the woman. But the voice reached by telephone, when quieting down felt essential, repeated: “Anger arises when you’re jealous. When you’re afraid she will find some other Anton and you won’t have a mother any longer.”
The voice made him feel it was all true. It did not suggest this was his fault, but that he could bear it…that others bore it. “Sulya, can I buy you anything? Only one of us stand in line.”
“Well. I fool myself, no doubt.” She rose too, patting her waist. “Take ten and we’ll split them. I’ll call it lunch and dinner, pay you when you get back.”
She winked and scuttled…and her leaving was another boost to his tranquility. He did stop, toting his sack, to peer into the park’s bushes, knowing the fact of the lights proved nothing of their permanence.
The man from the café was right…dead, also. Thin chance he was in use, like Palma, had been in any way influential. But right. The Jocelynists were not repudiators of authority, not defiers, not martyrs. The term “flaming pit” was a joke, a byword for the lunatic who would throw himself in one, refusing to be reasonable.
They had done it. They had locked their families in their vehicles and driven over cliff’s edges…
Workers organized by Wainwrights and their ilk had tried barricades; having no guns, they had tried homemade spikes. They had dragged the innocent children and cowed wives to safety when they could, let the male Jocelynist lurch off to his doom.
Their grievances were petty grudging. And yet grudging had grown to a religion, a sacrament of this party’s dogma. It seemed they could see themselves slaughtered (while inflicting a grotesque misery on the living and conscious, burning trapped in the heap), and believe, too, that they could hover in satisfaction…
The G.R.A., the Resistance, the Hidtha, the uncommitted citizenry, to feel bad they had brought this on, fallen short on salvation-work.
Thinking these things, Anton started, with that violent rush of rage. A hand had come pawing the sack at his elbow…how he would bash this woman if she’d spilled his treats onto the dirty pavement! But at once his body chemistry tripped a sensor; a potent wave of mixed frequencies enveloped Anton and the Hidtha beggar…
Buzzing in better mood, he peered into her face. Nothing, none of the public controls, could make him less bigoted against these people. He had all his life been told his father or mother had Hidtha blood…
And sharing the facial bones, some darkness of skin that said to strangers, to the spiteful, frightening Jocelynist, tell him to go home…tell him to get out…
Palma hadn’t said it. Mary (possessed of so many freedoms) had said he could always confide in her. Mrs. Leonhardt willed herself not to see it. But his Utdrife kidnapper, and the other, his cellmate… They had made him Hidtha by telling him he was not allowed to be. That he was something lower than an outcast.
“You don’t deserve money,” he said to the woman. “I’ll report you right now.”
It made her laugh.
She released his arm and spat into the mouth of his sack. She sped off across the park, while Anton stood nearly paralyzed by the intensity of the waves.
“Really. Let mine be from the middle.” Sulya spoke at his back, laughing as well. Her being there was his first awareness the beams were off. “Tamp the bad ones with a napkin, scrape away the spot, and give them a good nuking.”
“What? Were you waiting for me? I thought you’d gone back.” He wished she had. He allowed her, in plaintive tones, to know this. “Why did you leave at all?”
“Promises, promises. Is that what you mean? Come along, Trouble.”
His anxious inventory, trailing her, showed him each pastry wrapped already in a napkin. Not so awful…
He sat on a bench, willing Sulya well ahead and not looking over her shoulder. Yes, a glinting thing had burrowed to the bottom. Was he late, messaging, though? That first.
Utdrife, female, soliciting in Park B1Rouge
[!] 12 have reported this
Everyone reported; mobiles were distributed for this purpose alone. On every worker’s desk, every nightstand, sat the old-fashioned wired phones, an alteration pleasing to Mrs. Leonhardt. Over cell you could reach only the government line. You might call for help, view news alerts. Or being Anton, hear a personal encouragement from your service. His inbox told him: Return to your unfinished assignment. And quoted him, so he’d bear this second-skin surveillance in mind: “…poor bitch…not valued.”
Snitching it was not, no ties of loyalty in this new life to betray. Only duty, of neutral reward. You reported to not unbalance your status. He looked in the sack, and the tourmaline was there, a ring, Vonnie’s. It was breathtaking. Not yet the rushing implications of contact, but that a breach of this kind could make its way in. They didn’t know what Anton knew.
He sat on a bench and stared and stared at his psychic wound. They would record him as Anton Leonhardt, obsessing.
However. Normal to anomaly was a narrow margin, sitting pegged by an array of cameras. He lifted his head, spying about for the officer soon to arrive. He stood, walked, took a fussing view of the harmed pastries, acting it. Anton plays Anton…
He smiled, smiled in answer to himself, and this perhaps sat well with their view of him.
His best was all he could do. He pressed the pen with mind alight. Vonnie, Anton did not write in his notes, only, will there be another? Where does she live now? Yes, if she summoned him, he would go, by any means, by whatever means… The suicide attackers could will themselves through sonic walls. The hypnotic state could break. Under great purpose, great self-discipline.
But no, still never, he wanted nothing to do with Vonnie. Next he saw a coexistence between unforgiveness and acquiescence, the one a forever and the other a fleeting-by, conditional.
But also, he thought of Palma. He smudged out Palma, the name appearing at his fingertips by mistake.
The passerby sees the guard. The passerby stares, sidesteps.
Coughs, hums a tune.
One of the other walkers accepts this token. The guard, only standing there, is now a target. One distracts, one fires.
The distracter likely escapes. How do they work that out? They will all die for the revolution…do they fight for this chance, the disappointed and inglorious fidgeting for the next one? Herward…
Might be testing him. Don’t fall for it, at all.
Don’t fall for it at all, he wrote.
The day of Anton’s freedom from servitude, Herward had put his head together with Wrik’s, conferring out loud in a corner of the room. To the subject of their talk was made secret none of Wrik’s disdain, Herward’s amusement. Anton sat alone at the table, abandoned to the soldiers by Mary and the Ftheorde.
“No one will help me now.” He said this.
Wrik glanced vaguely across, disturbed mid-sentence by the invisible. “Tell him to keep quiet,” he told Herward.
In patience, listening, Anton understood he was going to a group home, to be trained as a guard.
“Herward, why do they trust me?”
“Do shut up. Trust is irrelevant. I’ve put down in my report that you have the capability of taking orders. I advised a simple routine for you. But…”
He had drawn Anton by the shoulders then, and looked into his face, in that confiding, tactile way that made Herward able to persuade Anton of anything. “Work at it, and put your back into it. You have nothing else to do in life but try to make your situation better.”
True. He hadn’t seen Herward during his training, but a lot of Mary. Mary case-handled them all at the house, and treated Anton as though he had never lived with her.
“Sex is irrelevant,” he told her.
“In a lot of ways,” she agreed at once, and with a bright nod. As though this outburst were a sign of progress.
“Who is your favorite? Among dysfunctionals?”
“Now, Anton.” Mary leafed her clipboard. “You are meant, during these visits, to make any complaint you want.”
He watched his fellow trainees jealously, to see who counted as more messed-up than himself. Mary escorted him once to visit Palma, and Herward, just before the car arrived, popped in, to place in Anton’s hand Vonnie’s tourmaline. But he knew Herward did errands for Jovie, that she ruled him like a wife.
“What does Jovie want me to do?”
“Not a thing.”
No, she doesn’t want me, he told himself. Best of a bad bargain, no doubt…
In the prison conference room Palma, sarcastic, had prodded him. Go home to your mother. In Mrs. Leonhardt’s house, nothing had emerged of value to the cause. The package Palma said he might carry hadn’t appeared. Herward had, asking for the ring returned.
Anton tore open a screen-wipe and drew out the token, cleaned it, polished it on his shirt, opened another wipe, cleaned again, cleaned his fingers.
He slid the ring on.
“Here, I’d better manage those for you.” Sulya took the sack. “Oh, you have a ring. How pretty. Did I miss noticing?”
“I never notice what you notice.”
She murmured, sorting pastries, marveling to herself that they all looked fine…
The decision felt to Anton made. Days cycled through periods of inertia, sometimes of energy. Correct requests and polite expressions introduced themselves in small whispers, guiding you to yield, to move as required, to relax into compliance. He met people who spoke to him…the girl at the canteen…in words of normal exchange. He let himself be viewed unskittish, a fellow citizen.
“No, Sulya, this ring…it belongs to a woman who threw me over, and she’s given it back to me. This is what that skag had in her mouth…”
Sulya blew air through her teeth. “My God! She asked someone to… That is the rudest thing I’ve ever heard! I hope you didn’t love this woman badly.”
“Have you met me?” He proffered the hand, and she swatted it away, saying…rather pleasingly…
He walked, he climbed to the upper deck of a bus, he passed through sectors his ID tag greenlighted. He ended his ride home with a puddle-jump to the curb, jaunty. He had swung the hand, rested the hand on a seatback, put an elbow on the windowframe and spun the ring, like a daydreamer, to glance tourmaline at a pedestrian audience. Feeling provoked, he had patted the knee of his seatmate, a uniformed guard, and flaunted the ring under her nose.
“Hands off, what’s wrong with you? Is that for your girl?”
“Pretty stone, hmm? I don’t know of a name for it.” He gave her the cutest face he could manage. He raised a smile, and silence. “Emerald.”
“Never! Or a poor one. Too dark. But if you’re old-fashioned enough to get engaged, you’d better know how much she can sell it for. She’ll ask.”
“You don’t think I pinched it?”
The guard pointedly unpocketed her phone, and scanned him. “Don’t set yourself back, love. I don’t know your game, but you’ll be sent on, you know.”
“I apologize. It’s new, all this. A bit of excitement for me.”
For no reason, leaving his stop, he lodged a foot on a bike-rack, mounted, and balanced along its length. He pretended, jumping down, to trip and stumble. They watched, the few making for their homes along the street…they stared a little and looked away. No cruel laughs. He barked a laugh of his own, to prod at their embarrassment.
And when he let himself indoors, all dissatisfaction, Anton fell to a brooding slump at his mother’s table.
“Anton, what junk have you brought in that sack? Smell that? I’m roasting a chicken. Chicken and noodles. Last time you liked it.”
“What if I ate everything?”
She rose from the pot, the spatula in her hand curling steam. “Anton, you have to be careful.” She was warning him, like the guard had. He could not scan himself, but supposed his ratings were spiked sky-high.
“Phone your service,” his mother said.
Well, a ring was worn on the finger. It was gifted as a pledge. After a week’s going unmolested, a virtual anarchist in full flaunt of his subversion, Anton began to feel light-humored. Unfettered. Above all controls.
“Why don’t you ask me if I’ll go with you? You always ask.”
He saw her cardigan was misbuttoned, and counted too much stage business in the hands-on-hips pose she struck.
No, she didn’t love him, and if insisting she had raised him to be what he was (untrue, because he was not Anton), why was she exasperated when he showed it?
“Anton, I have the Wednesday ticket…”
Her eyes went here and there, mannerism again. Having known, she snatched it from the silver tray on the doorside table. “Admit one.”
“But I’ll walk with you and buy a ticket at the gate.”
“It’s housewares and décor. You have to put your name on. Only ten shoppers for each booth. They sell out.”
“They’ll let me in, I promise.”
“Oh, your government job.”
Mrs. Leonhardt nodded. His job, he doubted, had anything to do with it.
“Get dressed,” she said. “Don’t take too long.”
“Put your specs on. I am dressed.”
But a vision came, of himself too obviously up to something, not at rest on a mental health day, but outfitted for the office, escorting his mother around the market booths. Buying anything, because ticketholders were allowed. Buying candlesticks, figurines… And what if he curried favor, told his mother he would like new curtains and a change of rug?
All that must start a hare. He wished they would arrest him again, that his power, so abused, would force them to.
“No,” he told her, while a seller paged through hanging rugs, walking into the dark center of his display, lifting corners, bringing patterns into better light. “I need colors psychologically enhancing of positivity. Do you see this ring?”
His hand under the seller’s nose drove, closed in a fist. The man shrank in body, but showed a brave closing-the-sale face.
“I want a yellow that’s mated to that green. I don’t know the name of this stone.”
The seller, Hidtha—in scattered communities some full-Hidtha lived assimilated—chose to nibble the bait. Anton judged this from the passage of two or three thoughts, the eyes and jaw settling at last into acceptance.
“A crystal like that will be tourmaline. It is another sort of stone if it is not. Or I should say it is another sort of green.”
Permitting himself to gesture in search of a word, he removed to a distance, his person from Anton’s.
“This tourmaline, then.”
The seller gripped a rug, swung it forward to widen the gap, back to reveal itself. “I have yellow with red.”
“I don’t want red. I want tourmaline.”
“Then I can promise you only that I will ask my suppliers. Don’t come next month. Come this day two months.”
“Can we get lunch now? Or coffee, someplace outside the market.”
“You’re manic. This is too much for you. Stop it, Anton.”
His mother gasped a little; he had got her by the arm, and was rushing her down the winding aisle, everything arranged to shunt strollers past as many booths, as much merchandise, as possible.
He did feel manic…he had set a great act in motion. This day, Wednesday; or this day, the twenty-third, in two months.
Aromatic coffees brewed at a food-court booth, one that sold chicken wraps in sweet-and-sour, peppercorn, bacon. Anton halted back of the queue, willing Mrs. Leonhardt to stay or take the bus by herself, to be in his hair or out of it, but to silence her ignorance. He must review and mnemonicize all the seller had drawn his attention to.
Red, red, did it matter?
Screens attached, at every few meters of ceiling flanking booths, went a sudden blue, a simultaneity that altered the market’s mood. A chime repeated, E above middle C; the note best to infiltrate human consciousness, stilling thought. Anton’s overstimulated brain had been trained to this in captivity, and he lost for a moment the whole of his day.
The blue came alive as a moving picture, uniformed journalists furious over their phones, riding moving sidewalks behind bulletproof panels, along the plaza that approached the High Court building. Between the walks a motorcade moved at a footpace….ahead of the press area, past guard units standing in ranks, stopping where two of the G.R.A.’s windowless vehicles sat parked, right and left, like lion carvings of legacy structures.
It is announced today that former president Jocelyn has been returned to the nation. He will be imprisoned below the High Court for the duration of his trial. All proceedings will be closed to the public.
Some hundreds of shoppers watched, buoyed to patriotic mood by the knowledge that everyone, everywhere, did the same, their heartbeats rising for a sight of Jocelyn. They watched him drawn from the car’s back seat, dressed in a suit and tie, still fat. Still, even for a fat man, notably broad of beam (no one, at this moment, laughing), and difficult on pronating ankles for his guards to haul upright…
But at length he was marched to the stairs and turned for the cameras.
A woman began to make noises, insufferable keenings that resolved to sobs. Others were saying shut up, none comforting her. The screens switched off, the room seeming pitch. Anton blinked, and labeled her a traitor, although she might be a Jocelyn victim…
But those people, above all, should keep themselves gone. Not emerge, shrieking forever after hearings and trials, until Jocelyn had keeled from a heart attack, died insensible in a hospital bed. When a public hanging begged.
He clenched his fists and shoved a random woman, who would have to substitute, mumbled below his breath:
“Don’t apologize, Mother. I hear you back there apologizing.”
“Sulya, they have another announcement.”
“Shht!” His workmate poked his arm. “Don’t I have a screen of my own?”
“They’ve appointed his legal team.”
“What are you twitching at, Anton? Settle down. I am seeing everything that you are seeing.”
Her last words were slow and emphatic.
He singsonged to her. “Love, love, love. Or…didn’t you love him? Or do you still?”
“I met him once.”
“What was he like to talk to?”
“Gave me a point of the finger, as if we were sharing a joke. One of his stupid gestures, because he hadn’t caught my name and couldn’t care, of course. He backed off and got busy talking to Zendler, so not to end up shaking hands.”
Zendler, vanished, until the G.R.A. chose bringing him to light, had been Jocelyn’s chief-of-staff.
“Why, then…? Why not refuse? It was your ministry that issued passports. People died waiting. Your little hand rubber-stamping…”
“Oh, shut up. What do you think we’re doing here, the two of us? We’re fingering people. We’re making it easy for the G.R.A. to pick them off.”
She was combative, and hadn’t been with him before. Exciting. So many nice people were not, on the inside, Anton knew. No solace in being powerless and forced to obey orders…
But he saw degrees. “Which is best, then? Killing for Jocelyn or killing for the G.R.A.? Do you like it when you’re in charge, or just a participant?”
“Truly fuck yourself, Anton.”
Associate Leonhardt, you have an appointment at the Hiring Center, tomorrow morning, 13 April, 9.30 am. Your employment at the Public Controls Office is terminated. Your new assignment begins Monday afternoon at the High Court Building, in the Archival Room. You have one hour, from today, 12 April, 4.22 pm, in which to report arrived at your home or face corrective instruction.
“Look at that.”
At the chime, she had come to lean over his shoulder, her nails on his chair back, piercing his skin. It felt so to Anton, a drilling sensitivity through jacket and shirt.
“Run across Jocelyn yourself, maybe,” she said. “Well! I’ve enjoyed knowing you, Anton. I’m sorry you’re off your head. Best of luck.”
He would, though. Run across Jocelyn…? In some unexpected way, but one calibrated, bit by bit. Not to the assassin at all unexpected, for every breath now was mission. Sulya had been a plant, to test his resolve. Laying traps. His assignment in actuality, to think of all things that could be weapons, all ways of killing that were on one’s person or at hand in a room. Innocent articles to port indoors, to place or assemble…
Bit by bit.