The Country/The Country

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46. 'We're not coming back here, are we?'

The march on the Capital City -- Moder City, “City of Mothers,” though always spoken of by the people of the current age simply as “the Capital” -- drew everyone.

Two ancient Jin-Giants lumbered up from the center of the urth, pulling their lost continental bodies from the steep rifts in the inter-polar ocean, like mountains formed by underwater volcanoes. Emerging in fiery spouts of wind-water-urth and fruity-smelling smoke formed into gigantic numinous cloud-like substances that exploded with cracks heard across the continents of the middle world, both east and west, turning water to blood, urth to sinew, cloud to mentis, the green shit of a billion-krillion krill to the brain-like matter that surged from side to side in the slush of their enormous, otherwise empty cranial cavities. Made of saltwater and volcanoes, fish blood and ash, the pair of titans trooped heavy-limbed across seabed, shoal and oceanic shelf and emerged dripping super-storms of invisible proportions that no one predicted, that grabbed land masses lying on the all the sides of all the oceans between the teeth of fiery elements, igneous winds, and otherworldly jaws and shook them...

shook them...

to their roots in the millennia of buried lives, hominid, mammalia, saurian, invertebrate, fossilfy, coprolites.

Troglodytes danced in the streets. Clouds of dragon flies spun like dragons in the noon light and scorched the neural systems of erstwhile higher-life forms. Men crawled on the floor and chewed their own shoes, the thick boots deposited in the backs of the closet for the long, cold winter. Women called their mothers. Children grew extra legs and arms and whirled them about, gathering unto themselves all they thought they would ever need and prepared to depart on the lifelong journey to the better place, where they would climb mountain peaks, sprout wings, and soar to eternity.

Wisdom bloomed on street corners. The faint of heart grew strong and stubborn and full of their own certain course. Knives were sharpened. Women and men of a certain age kissed their loved ones and bought tickets to places they had never set eyes on, where they knew no one, and were met in travel stations by grinning faces holding huge placards stating “Vote for--” with the names of former, long forgotten candidates X-ed out and their own names, the names of the new race of far-travelers written in permanent marker in their place.

Others called it a war, a revolution, a civil upheaval, a popular explosion, an aroused citizenry, a potentially irreconcilable division, a national heart attack.

The Giants turned on the faucets and the massed individuals of the dominant life form tumbled like chemical compounds knitted together by minuscule electrical charges to the places seemingly prepared for them. Then, with scant understanding of how they got there, they joined one of the two continentally-cleaved currents that flowed from the new Continental Division toward a common destination. The Capital City of Bon-Hombri (as its antiquarian devotees called it), homequarters of the ancient power source of all things sound and secular, where the ruling forces of the Commonhope of UZ had for centuries spread their tents of historical wealth and institutional solidity.

A place of stone buildings, ancient words. Mountains of paper. Armies of hired men and women who appeared to do nothing and were paid enormous salaries. Of invisible pyres of electronified backs-and-forths. Daily sacrifices to the gods of Communication and Arm-twisting, offered in un-traceable blood. And on and on...

But Mrs. Nathan could not go. It was a world too far.

Nothing, however, could stop the Kevvens.

Those who had hunkered in the bunker with her during the long winter of national diminution and slow bleeding -- following the progress of the Pigglies from triumph to triumph, the despoliation of autonomous power blocs in the districts where the Voting Days were held after blatantly fraudulent methods of cooking the vote and intimidation of opposition voters -- could not wait to join forces with all the enemies of the Inevitability of Pig and the Tyranny of the bloated Animal Firm, that arm-twisting, suborning phalanx of honey-spreaders and money suckers who were determined to undermine the disinterested authority of the Sacred Commission.

Trench, the graybeard, the screen jockey, the natural leader of all-thing-engineering, led the others to the place where they had last seen the van, before they buried it. The morning was clear, with the damp smell of early spring and the promise of warming in the air.

His hand still bandaged, he paused before a darkening glade, where conifers held hands and moss grew in a rocky floor at their roots. The others came up to stand beside him, though they saw no reason for stopping here.

“Hmm,” he said, softly, as if talking to himself. “Better than I remembered.”

The others shifted their weight, a few of them guessing.

“And that means worse for us.” He gave his companions a pitying glance.

The old woman had helped disguise the place, summoning subtle influences to ask the trees to move their branches, funguses to grow anew, mossy minions to change the faces of the rocks and hide the burial mound from even a sharp-eyed hunter. The place had been a bear cave at one time, wedged beneath a gigantic glacial erratic. They had chosen it to meet a need -- not of preserving the plus-size vehicle for future use so much as hiding it effectively from both aerial surveillance and ground-footed search. But now they sought to unearth it.

They needed to move rock, with pick axes, levers and winches. Dig away the mound of loose soil, scree, the growing influences of roots. They sweated in the weak spring sunshine of early afternoon, shedding outer layers and draping them on dried grass hummocks a fair distance away from the work. The trees, though, were the real problem, worse than the stones. They were loath to harm the trees who had shifted limbs and grown roots at their bidding.

“That’s enough for today,” Trench said when the first of their metal tools struck the mineral surface of the van.

He stepped back from the crypt and sank his spade into the slag pile. I’ll talk to her first, he thought.

The next morning they found that the trees had moved, branches shifted subtly. No eye other than one that had studied the position the day before could register the change, but Trench saw the crucial differences. They would now be able to get at the last of the stony fill with their shovels, and use the heavy trunks of the trees for their winches.

When after considerable labor the vehicle (an e-van) was removed, Trench insisted on refilling the gap as much as they could with mulch and rock and smoothing over the rent they had made in the landscape.

“We won’t need that hole again?” someone queried, but was not answered.

Fama turned from scraping dirt off the vehicle’s camouflaged surface to study Trench. “We’re not coming back here,” she said, “are we?”

“Probably not.”

With the van recovered and made serviceable, the Kevvens borrowed money from anyone who still remembered who they were, the grinning youthful hustler Kristo proving particularly adept at inventing plausible excuses for the sudden need for liquid asset from family and older ancestral connections who kept their liquid capital in institutions known as ‘rabbit holes.’ He told his donors that he had decided to become a nuclear surgeon and needed to purchase supplies of scarce, high-priced materials on which to practice the techniques of his masters.

His ‘masters’ were the fates, though.

And he would practice their lessons, as would his comrades, in the super-human task of building a wall of flesh.

Mrs. Nathan saw them off, watching from one of the bunker’s narrow windows, as her comrades and protectors filled the e-van with the few useful possessions that remained to them, barely remembering where they had come from, what former lives they had dropped when they flowed secretly and individually into the cadre that served and protected her in their fortress in the hills. They had watched the world for her in their ways, as she had watched it in hers. A few, such as the fiercely solitary Fama had proved adept at carrying messages, when bodies rather than minds must be relied on. One of them, the worldly Kevven who had discovered the Dormand-Pig connection and ultimately brought Keel into her orbit, had disappeared, presumably lost to Pig’s devastation. She hoped he had slipped away easily, and sometimes searched for his imprint late at night.

All five of the departees, before settling themselves into the vehicle, turned to stare at bunker. Were they looking for her? Or saying goodbye to their refuge?

She watched them turn away and begin their journey, without responding. She hoped to be able to keep them in her mind.

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