Chapter 28: Victoria Enraged
The tendril worms into Mother Ebbani’s cell like a maggot through an apple. Its end curves into a hook and beckons. Spirits dim with dread, Ebbani follows it out into the stromal ducts. She has no choice but to follow.
She passes through toothed tripartite valves and muscular squeeze ways designed to crush and dismember unwanted intruders. Membranes, impermeable to all but those specifically summoned, melt out of her way. It retracts into the favored reaches of Elysium, the chambers where clan matriarchs slumber and battle.
She enters the low-ceilinged loft between the dome of the Cephalon and the inner cortex, its curving floor vast enough to pass for the surface of a modest moon.
Fellow visitors pass in the distance, too far to see their faces, too far to hail. Their footsteps slap wetly against the springy floor.
The tendril recedes into a leathery brown bulge in the membrane of the cortex. Ebbani hesitates. She knows the routine, having been called to Primentor’s chamber more times than she cares to recall. With reluctance, she kneels and drops face-first into the bulge like a baby to a bosom, wincing in anticipation of what is to come.
The bulge rises, enveloping her. Ebbani gasps for breath as if she’s suffocating even though centuries have elapsed since she last drew breath. The brown turns milky white and then clears. The flesh sets hard as chitin, clutching her like the pincers of a scorpion.
The Primentor is ensconced inside her chamber, dwarfed by its pulsing organelles and appendages. She looks like an obese mouse reposed on a mastiff’s bed. This blasphemy flashes into Ebbani’s thoughts before she can strike it from her mind. Victoria, almost certainly, has glimpsed her insolence.
Luckily, the Primentor is preoccupied and immune to insult. Larger concerns command her attention, as becomes obvious as her tendrils tap into Ebbani’s synapses and her anxieties come flooding across the connections.
She worries about the rival clans seeking to subsume her regime. Gwendolyn and Gwynneth, twin matriarchs of the Upjohn clan, are on the verge of merging several lesser stemmata to challenge Victoria.
Astoundingly, this strategic threat shares equal billing with her obsession over a single Unascended soul. She is like a lion ignoring the hunter to deal with a flea. Perish the thought! But the Primentor again ignores Ebbani’s disrespect.
“Where is my Tompkins?” Her focused sentiment gushes across the tendrils, drowning all other concerns.
“He has not quite yet Ascended, my dear Primentor.”
“I did not bring you here to tell me what I already know. Incompetents! I drop the child on your doorstep. All I ask is for you to nudge him over the threshold. Is that too much to ask? Where is my boy?”
Such power she holds in Elysium and beyond, yet her tendrils shrivel on the surface of Lethe. To be so mighty yet impotent. Ebbani understands the immensity of her frustration.
“I do not need your sympathy. I want to know, where is my Tompkins?”
“There have been … complications.”
“Complications, you say? I have already handled the hard part. Your task is laughingly simple. Bring a child up a hill. Why is that so difficult?”
Tendrils slither and probe her aggressively.
“Ahah! It’s the Guide, is it? Then make her Fall. Send another in her place.”
“Bianca deserves another chance. She is a rare, deep soul … very good with problem cases. I counsel patience.”
“Yes, my dear Primentor, you will see results soon. I am certain.”
The organs of the chamber ripple with what passes for a belly laugh.
“Of course I will. Because if you can’t help me, I will help myself.”
A sensation akin to tangled snakes swarms Ebbani’s synapses. She cringes. “You’re soft, aren’t you?” More probes scrabble like a nest of vipers. “I see. You’re one of Alexandria’s line, come to us in the merging. How did someone like you ever become a Mentor?
A lobe protrudes into the chamber, extending into a thick tendril that curls like a question mark to query its master. The Primentor ignores it, too engrossed in her wordless belittling of Ebbani’s roots. An ooze of condescension trickles over Ebbani. Ebbani stifles her pride and fights the urge to resist.
The lobe intrudes deeper with every spasm of its master’s emotion, like a lap dog responding to its master’s distress.
“Dear Primentor, we can’t afford to let Bianca Fall. She is too valuable.”
“Keep her, then. What do I care? But give her something else to do. She must be removed from the body of Guides. Find another … or maybe you yourself would like an opportunity to re-sharpen your skills on the beaches?”
“That … that won’t be necessary. I promise you the Tompkins boy will Ascend and soon.”
The tip of the querying lobe bulges like a raindrop dangling from a leaf, desperate to spill and soothe its master. The Primentor swats it away.
“Let me fume, you silly beast!”
The lobe shrivels back, but remains poised along the chamber wall. Paxson directs a bulge-eyed glare and an unvoiced shriek at it. The lobe drops limp and retreats into the wall.
Paxson turns to Ebbani. The probing of her tendrils eases.
“Get him here … however you must. But I’m going to give you something to lubricate the process.”
Ebbani’s soul clenches.
“There’s no need, we have it under—”
A shoot, stout and barbed like etiolated asparagus, sprouts from the base of the Primentor’s cushions.
Ebbani wriggles and recoils, but the chamber wall holds her firm like an ant in amber. The shoot extends. Its pointed tip spirals towards her, finds her solar plexus and penetrates, impaling her core like a sword thrust up beneath ribs.
A bulge, like a rat in a python, traverses the length of the shaft. The barbs at the tip swell and bloom open like a primitive flower and the ovum bearing a portion of the Primentor’s will pushes through, pulsing, squirming; filling and swelling Ebbani’s middle with fiery pressure.
Ebbani gasps, partly in astonishment. It had been so long since she knew pain, she had forgotten how it felt, but she knows no earthly pain ever felt like this.
“There. You have it. To lose it … you must use it or pass it on. How’s that for incentive?”
Ebbani cannot respond. She can barely think. The pain fills her in toto, leaving no room in her soul for self.
The Primentor gives her a parting glare and the membrane turns cloudy as a cataract, and spits her out of the chamber onto the floor of the Cephalon.
“Bring me my boy.”
Ebbani writhes beside the entry lobe to Paxson’s chamber, once again as soft as a grandmother’s tit. A passing soul pauses to gawk from across the domed floor, but makes no move to assist.
Ebbani crawls away and struggles to her feet, stumbling. She reaches the valves and slumps onto them, seeping through the floor and squeeze ways and into the galleries, glad to leave the bitter hags of the Cephalon to gum each other. To think that she once strove to be among them.
She is desperate to return to her cell and its healing ministrations. It soothes lesser insults and injuries. She prays it can ease the effects of the parasite lurking inside her. If only she could rip herself open and be freed of it.
But Ebbani knows only one way to be rid of Paxson’s proxy—the only way—and the effort to accomplish that task consumes her existence.
She careens through the ducts. Sapient walls out-pocket to lift and nudge her along when she tumbles, recognizing the unbearable burden she bears.
She reaches her chamber, dazed and quivering. Dim blotches sweep cloud-like across her bulging form. She collapses into the cell’s embrace and as soon as the buzz of the neural net engages, issues forth an urgent summons to the corpus and beyond.“Bianca. Come.”