The Country/The Country

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37. She Was Resting, Not Dying

Mrs. Nathan was asleep and the mood in the house was tense. She was sleeping a lot lately, and talking hardly at all.

Fama entered her room cautiously -- nearly soundlessly as was her way -- and sat in the chair by the bed. Willing to sit without talking, she nevertheless hoped that this deep soul inside the machine of their ‘network’ -- whatever the term you chose: opposition, affinity gruppo, faction, response team -- would choose to speak to her.

If she were able.

Sitting bedside was like watching a baby sleep, she thought. Should she check to see whether the woman of considerable age, however vital, was still breathing?

The exposure of Pig’s horns had gone off perfectly, the Kevvens had said to one another, just as planned. The entire nation saw that image, and would not forget it. Pig was an animal, and he behaved like one, predatory, aggressive, and blood-thirsty when it served his interests.

Coldly, Fama added. The lyon does not hate the mire-kats when she snatches their young to feed her own young or to gorge herself. Death, predation, pain are all part of life.

But no nation can install a leader with the ethics of a ravaging beast on the pinnacle of power. Freedom to differ, to oppose, would be gone. Women would become possessions, as they were, she had learned from her studies, in the bad old days before the Circle of Harmony was adopted as the nation’s creed, and the Sacred Commission installed as the protectors of the nation’s unity and civil peace.

Fama had grown to womanhood in a quiet time. People lived ‘soft’ lives. Everybody had a job; a paid position was a right of citizenship except for those permanently disabled, unable to work. And those people did not suffer because National GoodWork took care of them.

Moreover, the doctrine of “The Clean Break” was well established in the hearts and minds of the citizens of the Commonhope of UZ. Its citizens had contracted together to make a clean break from the animalistic selfishness and aggrandizement of the State of Nature. Citizens did not commit violence against one another-- a very strong taboo that, when broken, brought human society’s civil and moral power down on the heads of the breaker.

Even a momentary lapse such as Keel’s attack on the Dormands’ property shocked here. Not everybody was required to climb up buildings to deliver revolutionary messages. She appreciated the steady equanimity of well-ordered lives in a harmonious land.

She sighed and rose to leave. The soft light from bracket-bulbs on the opposite wall swayed slightly as it followed her motion, and something moved inside her as well. Her mind was filled with images: Wild men pouring down from the hills upon a plain of villages, farms and small towns unprepared for a violent incursion. She saw trains bursting through tunnels. Bearded men stumbling from darkness, stunned momentarily by light as they took in their new surroundings, then overrunning both the thinly peopled rail terminals and the towns behind them.

She took a step back from the bed and put a hand on the chair for balance.

“All right, girl.”

Mrs. Nathan’s voice surprised her. How long had she been aware of Fama’s presence?

“You can go now.”

The old woman, the seer, was looking at her. Though she would have sworn that her eyes were closed.

Fama shook her head, the vision disappearing.

“But I haven’t...” Learned anything, is what she meant to say. What did the vision mean?

“Tell me what I can do.”

Mrs. Nathan sighed, or exhaled. Her breathing so slow that each exhalation took the shape of a lengthy sigh. A delayed acknowledgment that yet another breath was still to be inspired.

“There is nothing to do.”

“So we’re powerless?”

The measured breath. The intake. “That remains to be seen.”

Fama was silent, hoping for more.

“We must let it play out.”

“Let what play out?” The words came out impatiently. Better to have bitten her tongue.

Mrs. Nathan pretended not to notice.

“The duel. The two must be allowed to reach a conclusion.... ” Breathing; exhalation, sigh. “When it is over, however it concludes, we will reassess.”

“What two?” she asked.

But in the next moment she had guessed.

She was resting, Fama realized, not dying. She was recovering from whatever she had done to make use of the sending from Keel -- the information, the gnosis -- she had been so eager to receiver. Whatever she had done then to broadcast the truth about Pig emptied her strength.

Fama waited to see whether she would learn anything more.

Mrs. Nathan raised her head fractionally. “How are the others?”

“Restless.”

An exhalation. “And?”

“Worried.”

The seer emitted a faint chuckle that once, Fama thought, would have been an expression of relish for the combat to come.

“Whatever for?”

Mrs. Nathan would be sad if a Pig regime destroyed what was most valuable in the Commonhope of UZ -- at present what appeared most valuable to her was simply the four-letter word buried in its name. But she did not worry.

If you possessed a a soul that anticipated all possibilities, as hers did, there existed simply too much to worry about. And much that could happen, might happen, and even seemed virtually certain to happen, did not in fact take place after all. One learned this.

She had been taught the virtue of strategic detachment by her mother, the strongest “gnosticor” of her age. Her mother in turn professed the belief that the knowers of her parents’ generation had been more powerful still. And so it went, back to the days, when the gnosticors of her line were able, according to the teachings, to bring an eagle down by looking at it.

To make the clouds rain when the fields required. To make streams of hidden water flow from the earth when parties of worthies traveled through the drier regions of the continent’s interior -- lest they succumb to thirst, or butcher all that lived in their bath in the search for relief.

Weather workers. Thought wingers. Psyche-binders.

Many talents were pursued by gifted souls in the early days of her lineage. Now here she was, alone, perhaps the last of her race -- possibly others hid so deep in the weave of time that she could not sense them any more -- mounting a defense against her country’s self-destruction.

She told herself that she should eat. Begin the active stage of self-recovery. A part of her laughed at the notion. Recovery! Rebirth! A new spring! -- the old exhortations.

She had not expected that the exposure of Pig’s true image would destroy his campaign in one fell cataclysm. She hoped it would wound it. Slow it down. Cause the enemy to hold fire; pull back and reassess. She thought it would buy time.

She hoped it would save a few broken heads; snapped necks; molested women. And so far things seemed to be at a pause. Her opponent was reconsidering.

Something would take place, she believed, in that anonymous, uninspired lodging where the Pig campaign was holed up with its prisoners, including the prisoner-of-choice Keel. Something would happen between these two vectors. She hoped to take advantage of it.

But most of her desired to slip back into the deeper pools of passive contemplation. Why, she asked herself yet again, were the natives of the Commonhope of UZ so vulnerable to the crude appeals of bullying and stigmatizing? She has seen the world turn. Other realms broke apart regularly, engaged in rebellions and fragmented into fraternal quarrels of epic-bloodletting, resource expenditure, and environmental destruction that required of urth and nature centuries to heal over.

Was it possible that a happier, more fortunate realm would simply turn on itself, bite its own tail, consume its limbs one by one like the self-loathing octo-pusser of the Old Legends

out of tedium with its own contentment. True, districts like Platow, and aging cities like Monro, were not as prosperous and lively as they once had been. But in other regions of UZ, as she knew by the searches and scans of the inner eye, the most vital members of the country’s young were even now gathering in big cities, rebuilding, making new, experimenting.

The future was not constrained to follow the vectors of decline, terminal sclerosis, shrinking-mind disease (though, yes, some evidence of that persistent moldy malady was appearing in her scans) into ages of de-vigoration, entropic cycli-cism, defection of the parts.

She had to laugh, though even laughter took energy she wished to conserve. Many of these appalling conditions were visible in her own physical condition.

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