Monday, April 22, 2002
Although Egg had run simulations in the ship's Am, the only real test of his plan was to do it for real. Of course he wanted to know how it went. He was tempted to tap us both through subdermal monitors, but he was afraid of being detected. We were taking enough risks as it was. So he told us we had to come back, to tell him if everything worked.
We told him we would. Midge was even sincere.
Lin asked us if we really wanted to go through with all this nonsense. I don't think she was having second thoughts, not as such. She had faith in Egg's contrivances. And by then I think she had convinced herself that our intentions were pure enough to merit Portia's mercy, should something go wrong. And as she had said, several times already, who was she to stop the foolishness of youth? But she had to try to dissuade us, at least a little. She was a mother, after all.
Midge, however, was ready to go through with anything. She wasn't cautious to begin with — and the fractional Am had made her far from anxious. As for me, I was determined to go through with this.
Lin wished us well. Egg did, too.
We never saw them again. I don't think they ever got in trouble because of us. I never heard, though, one way or the other.
We walked back to the train station.
Once or twice, Midge was disoriented. She wasn't sure what to do with herself. The smear with the Am had diverted her. She had no inclination to be herself.
We didn't bother with breakfast. We didn't return to the hotel, change our clothes, see the monkey, plan our day.
We took the train to Ursula.
Midge and I sat beside each other. The seat was a narrow bench, only large enough for us, really, but a small man with square glasses had taken the aisle, Midge in the middle, I at the window. Midge used to think that she could turn the eye of any man, but this man was indifferent. He was taken instead with the scrolling words on his paper loop and probably hadn't noticed Midge's leg against his. To him, I suppose, we were nothing more than the usual morning cargo.
Midge was indifferent, too — and not only because the man was limp in his suit and tie. Men, boys, all of that and every toxic excess, were nothing to her now. She was oddly tranquil. She stared at the fabric of the bench in front of her, at the chrome trim, at the Amjacks and the bright, insistent commercial patches, and enjoyed the slowness of her own breathing. She knew, I knew, that the fractional Am had modified her. Her tranquility was no less real. Egg, I think, had identified our problem well. To save Ursula's co-Am he hadn't defined happiness as cheer or joy. Happiness, for our needs, was peace.
I was not so content. Back in the Sling, when Midge and I had first left for Rock, I had felt the promise of a far place. Now I felt it again, an unspecific hope, a rising of sorts, no name to it but there. I was excited. Oh, yes, Mother thought me dull. Midge thought me dull. Everyone did. I did. I was dull. I was never a fervent child. Yet in a corner of my heart lived the Battle Queen of Midge's wishes, a fancy that had never died but slowly condensed, becoming a pearl, a burning coal, a misplaced heat...
I did not expect anything to come of our adventure with Ursula's co-Am. We would end its wailing and then — and then, I didn't know. But we were doing a favor to Ursula herself, she who had collapsed Rigel, tricked a worldrot, snared the interstatial armies of the Paavaka Usurper, shifted the asteroid ring of the Neo-Anarchists two seconds into the past (and out of the present), suffused the buildings of Gollidor with an Am-twisted, aether-borne hatred of people (causing them to de-mortar themselves and crush the Gollidorian rebels), surrendered her own hand as ransom for the Prince of Falwick (only to use it later as a pummel on the Regent), lured the Sixth, Ninth, Eleventh, and Twenty-Fourth Fleets of Kawai Ellowean between the double pulsars of Qent (creating a mass-threaded wormhole that swept the Jaca refugees to safety) — done all these things, done more, done more than I or Midge could ever have done; but at least my sister and I could do this, walk into Portia's Third Palace and evade all the defenses and give Ursula Kato a touch of our adoration, a favor if not exactly to her then to her intimate servant, her co-Am, the last living piece of the Goddess.
Midge and I could finally, truly join the Tale of the Glorious Axe.
Ó 2002 Louder Fenn