Friday, January 30, 2015

Chapter Three

The World at War
The SUL woman doesn’t see the road she travels.  She avoids the ridges and mineral towers, the fissures and sinkholes, on this road under the earth, by instinct.  She doesn’t notice that the rock walls are riddled with phosphorous, nor that opaque lizards skitter across a karst landscape.  She can hear a stream sinking beneath the rocks on her right, and the trickle of wet that fans the opposite wall, coating it with a mossy sheen.  She will never see these things as the human cave enthusiasts do, with their headlamps bouncing bright beams across all that makes no sense in such light. What she sees is home.
It’s a hard climb from the caves of SUL City to the surface, though about half as long as it once was, before the world started shrinking.  Twelve hours of shinnying up through crevices named after trolls, Niffilheimr, Utgaror, and Jarnvior.  Then she crawls up an over the Rim of Two Crags. Next she winches across two canyons, Ismenios, and Kholkikos, named after the dragons who once dwelt there.  All this before she reaches the shore of the interior ocean, where she makes camp, before starting up the road she’s on now.
Sulis doesn’t notice her surroundings, not only because she has no eyes, but because her thoughts are focused on her immediate future.  The skin of her forehead is furrowed above the hollows where eyes might be.  A snarl of frizzy reddish hair is pulled off her face and dreaded down her back, with bits of equipment woven right into it -- tools, food, explosives.  Sulis has a prominent nose, as all SUL do, a square jaw, and full lips.  Her translucent skin pulses an underlay of green veins.  She wears a madras shirt tucked into khaki trousers, her boots are laced to mid-calf.  
Sulis has been sent by the elders of her clan.  The women who put the horns on the clan chiefs, the great mothers who can also knock those horns off.  Sulis is on a one way journey to Winkin City.  She comes to the surface as a martyr, but first she comes as an assassin.  She has been selected to take a life.  She had foreseen it, but the reality is still a jolt.  It is a cancer that eats at her, this killing she must do.  Even now she wells with anger, her fists clinched, hot blood flushing her cheeks, at thoughts of this her fate.  
Why am I always the one singled out to be different?  For Sulis has found that being gifted is not always a gift.  
Sulis is a feeler, sworn to heal whenever there is need.  She doesn’t know why her touch takes away pain, heals sores, and open wounds.  Even she wonders why she can seal cracks in bones, and cleanse impurities in blood, it just happens, and it always has.  But Sulis hates to touch, or to be touched, at all.  Which makes the oath of skin, a palm held firmly to her forehead, an act she finds decidedly objectionable.  Yet it is what she must do, what she has sworn to do, to heal when there is need.  Now she must forswear this oath, and use her gift to bind the man whose life she will end. 
Sulis was a child when she first saw this war that has come upon them.  A war declared by the Night Mare’s government-church against the species of the planet’s Core.  Eminent domain was first used against the Batemba, and then the Efwiddle, and now at last the SUL are being forced to an offensive.  
Eminent Domain, the legal way that greedy, lying, bastards commoditize the mother planet, or so the SUL have always been taught.   And as always, Sulis thinks with spite, the people have no say.  The governments of the surface have always done the bidding of tyrants, no matter what they’ve been called -- president, dictator, CEO.
At the very beginning of the Night Mare’s reign the people of the Core, the Efwiddle, the Batemba, and the SUL, were forced into treaties, and compelled to hand over ancient territories.  Later they were corralled onto reservations.  Recent legislation requires the Core dwellers to abandon their languages, in favor of the common tongue of the surface, and to cede their governments to the Night Mare’s own.    
“I do all this in the sacred name of the Night Mare’s government-church.”  President Bob adds as an afterthought to every public service announcement, with a slight and irreverent bob of his head.  
At the beginning of his lifelong term, President Bob seemed ridiculous to the people of the Core.  Wobbling under his six foot wide, self-wheeling hat, his uniform weighted in back, to counterbalance the mounds of pibbles, bibbles, and even tribbles, that adorn his breastplate.  
When the Species Relocation Teams began to arrive underground, they came with a directive, one that’s proved fatal for Core dwellers.  The people of the Core now take President Bob very seriously.  
First he made it legal to hunt the Batemba as food.  The Batemba are a slug-like race of elephant sized mineral eaters, who have lived in the Core lands far longer than there have been two legs up on the surface.  The Batemba are cousins to the antique dragons.  Yet, overnight they have been transformed from ancient and learned culture, to that of comestible delicacy.  
The screen broadcasts do not mention that Batemba meat is in high demand by the aggressive monster lobby, or that Batemba steaks command even higher prices as export off-planet.  Nor do they reveal that President Bob is the majority shareholder of the Night Mare’s only Batemba meat processing plant.  Several monster ranchers recently made substantial donations to Bob’s war chest.  They’ve also applied for licenses, to keep and breed the Batemba in herds.  
The Batemba are incensed.
President Bob’s industry recently infringed on the Efwiddle Territory.  The Efwiddle, a primordial species, composed of viscous vapors, have never been recognized as alive by any surface government, because meetings between the species are too dangerous to organize.  The Effwiddle are composed of a human skin sloughing smoke.  They boast a civilization, and a history, as old, and as detailed, as the Batemba.   
President Bob, believing that the Efwiddle are merely a myth, ordered his monster troops to trample the rocks, which, he had been advised were incubating eggs in a licensed breeding field, for use as fuel.  His troops wiped out several generations of smoke people yet to come, in sacred nurseries deeded to the Efwiddle in treaties much older than the Night Mare.  
In retaliation, for this genocide, the Efwiddle, independent of their Core allies, have already declared war on Winkin City.  Legions of the smoke-people have invaded several blocks of the city’s heating ducts.  Leaving behind thousands of flayed monsters and humans alike, howling in their homes, and along the walkways, skinless and begging to die.  

President Bob has removed all government restrictions, on everything.  Now that the planet is obviously shrinking, with no known way to stop it, Bob plans to end the game with more than anyone else.  All land is now valued at a premium, and he’s acquiring as much for himself, for the government, as he can.   
“By order of the great and scary Night Mare all neighborhoods, and their buildings, are now repatriated.”  Bob announced in chambers to the other Deciders, most of whom are directly affected by this obvious land grab.  
The other scarred, white uniformed, men, for the first time ever, are all allied together.  All of them are now plotting just how to be rid of toady President Bob, without enraging the Night Mare, for whom Bob now acts as sole intermediary. 
The SUL watched in silence as Bob whittled away at the rights of their allies and neighbors.  Then Bob signed an order authorizing the hunt and capture of SUL females, as restock for the Public Herd.  A herd that’s been ravaged by the monster population of Winkin City, a powerful lobby who’s recognized its clout.  
Now Sulis is sent to terminate President Bob, an order agreed to by the all the treaty nations underground, who hold him personally responsible for the shrinking of the planet. 

Sulis was named after an ancient Goddess of water.  It was a name brought from the surface, to the Core, by the expedition of humans, the fathers and mothers of the SUL, who pioneered and peopled the inward land, before the Great Collapse.  The people of the SUL nation are the result of over a million years of interbreeding, amongst a thousand founding families.  Several human ethnicities mingled into one, in the dark underground. 
The SUL recognize that they are directly descended from humans, but they are not complimented by the association.  The SUL consider themselves a separate and unique species, with a culture all their own.  Others on the planet would agree.  
The SUL were discovered after the Great Collapse.  When the platelets resettled, and huge fissures were opened to the core.  Water cave divers and spelunkers followed.  The finding of SUL City is deemed a discovery in the lexicon of surface history. To the SUL it is considered a reintroduction, for they have always known where they were in relation to the surface.  
SUL City is a mountain range of cave dwellings, sprawled above a long plateau, inside a larger cave, which is itself seven miles long and three miles wide.  S.U.L., or subterranean upper life-form, is a government-church acronym, given by the Night Mare to this species of mole people.  They call themselves, as all the treaty nations of the Core lands do, simply the people.

SUL habitats are food poor by surface standards.  Most nutrients are gleaned from organic debris.  Seeds and nuts are foraged from the caches of animals.  Organic matter, flowing through on water, is caught in filters and traps, set along the rock rivulets.  Salamanders, beetles, insect eggs, and spiders, are all eaten as delicacies.    
The SUL food staple is a flavorless energy cake, made of cave molds liberally mixed with guano, to create a paste, which is compressed into small discs, and then dehydrated between hot rocks.  The combustible air underground, a mix of organic gases, precludes the lighting of fires, so surface style cooked food is only enjoyed on caravans to the molten lakes, or to the Manus Market.  
The SUL culture is mystic, and inward.  Intersecting fault lines create pathways allowing ground water, and other oxygenated vapors, to rise through the domed caves as air.  Methane, ethane, and ethylene, with the odor of ethylene, colorless and sweet, like a fruity perfume, permeating everything.  The scent of sweet peaches emanates from the SUL themselves, so concentrated is the gas now to their makeup. According to SUL history, it was ethylene which enlightened the oracles at Delphi.
Humans exposed to this air in confined spaces, experience euphoria, out of body sensation, and amnesia.  Death has occurred in some Blinkins after prolonged exposure to the air of SUL City.  
The SUL navigate without eyes.  Like bats and deep water cave fish, they use a refined sonar, not unlike the echolocation of whales, but without the sound.  Psychic energy bounces off solid objects, which returns to the SUL mind’s eye as vivid schematics.   Much as dogs reference the size of other animals in the scent of their pee.
Inside the inferior colliculus of the SUL brain, that place in humans where vision is bundled with sound, random images appear to the SUL, in flashes, like film footage.  The content of these random images, is a melange of time, with no fixed date apparent.  This SUL seeing is ignored as unreliable.  Yet, among some of the women, as SUL females are still known, are those who see with purpose, the beyond that they see.  Sulis is one of these.  Feelers always are.

Sulis despises this human she is to kill, President Bob.  She sickens at the seeing of him in her mind’s eye -- his chubby short-fingered hand, held flat against her forehead.  For this is how Bob will take the oath of skin from her.  The oath is never given, she thinks.
With controlled and accurate sight, Sulis has seen that her immediate fate will be capture.
She sees a pair of monstrous soldiers lumbering toward her along the Core Road.  A hammerhead and a drillbeast have just killed two of their own compatriots, and eaten them as lunch.  The evidence of the violent feast is all over their many claws.  Chips of metal filings are caught between their several teeth, bloody oil slicks all eight faces, and their score of hands.   
Bob’s all monster army is grown of genetic waste -- hybrids made of useless scrap metal, processed with an indiscriminate amount of eukaryotic matter.  Walking blobs of metal headcheese, incubated to be slimy, strong, hungry, petroleum and blood based -- but not to think, never to think.   
This pair is searching for a hole in which to nap, after their unplanned lunch, when they see the eyeless woman walking towards them, her fisted arms outstretched in the sign of surrender.  They try to ignore her, to pass her by.  They don’t even look down at her.
Sulis will have to persuade these soldiers to arrest her.  Monsters with full bellies are not motivated civil servants.
“Credits?” She pops her tight fists open to the monsters.  She opens and closes them again, many times, quickly.
The monsters startle, they look to her fists in fright.
Sulis knows, as all SUL know, that small sudden movements make monsters uncomfortable.  An uncomfortable monster is a scared monster.  Aggression they understand, and they are at ease countering with same, but when it comes to small things, details and such, monsters confuse easily.  
She said there were credits, one monster thinks to the other, scratching his bum, the seat of his brain.  The action makes a slick sucking sound.  They stare into her small empty hands in confusion.  Where are the credits, they wonder?  What are the credits, they wonder?  They’ve heard the word mentioned in association with food often enough for it to have made an impact.  Then Sulis waggles her fingers, and the monsters huddle closer, fearful of the small unsettling movements.
“You – can – ex - change - me – for - credits.” She says it slowly so that they might understand more quickly.  
“Swap credits - for food.”  She uses hand gestures, and speaks in the condescending tone she’s heard human males use when speaking to their breeders.  
Sulis flashes her hands, open and closed, several times more in quick succession, to show the monsters that she carries no weapon, and to keep them uncomfortable.  
The slimy soldiers glom even closer together, the jelly and metal of their makeup slurping and clanking in fear.  They wish she would just rush at them, or run away.  They’d know just how to react if she did either of those things.  They would snatch her up, throw her down, and stomp on her, which would make it unnecessary to think about what might be tied into her hair, (a blade, three varieties of poison, and several finger sized explosives).  But these monsters are Bob’s perfect soldiers, they do not think at all.

Sulis leans back against the rock wall, her arms folded, waiting while the two monsters fight over which of their screens they will use for her transport.  Then she waits a bit longer while the hammerhead muddles his memory, scratching at his bum, trying to remember how his screen works.  While the drillbeast gouges at his side, drawing a bright purple ooze, and many short cries of pain.  He’s trying to get his screen out of the pocket of his ill-fitting monster brown uniform.  
All three of them jump in surprise when a small point of light shoots out in all directions, and a portal to the Public Herd opens to them.  Each monster is certain that it has accomplished the feat, so they fight over that.
At last both monsters shove Sulis into the open portal, where naked females, of a variety of species, writhe on all the screens, which are the walls, the floors and the counters as well.  
The monsters are now fighting over which of them will enter the opening first.  Both squeeze into the portal at the same time.   It blips to a point of light, and it’s gone, leaving sliver chunks of monster buttocks behind.

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