Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Chapter 41: Out





It can take time to become converted…to be willing to act.  Prayers alone were not enough.  Fasting was not enough.  The stain remains.  This record may help those who were not yet truly converted to see that more was needed…there had to be a sacrifice.  Should that fail, I know God understands I was willing to do what had to be done.  Today, I, Ihaka, end the stain that was left on this village by way of sacrifice.  Today she, the provided one, will begin the harvest and our continued immunity from disease with hers. 

Neith had attempted to move four times since Ihaka left.  The image of Ihaka smiling and conversing back in Nydia, forestalling her return for her plans fuelling every effort.  The restraints she’d found at her ankles and wrists bit into her flesh.  She could not sit up, she could not get up on all fours to crawl, but she had tried.  On her latest try, however, she had managed to fall onto the side of her good eye – which, it turned out, was also the side of her good leg.  Lying on her good side might render her blind, but it also reduced her pain enough that she could remain conscious longer.  That was something.  It allowed her to think more clearly.  She needed to think.  There had to be a way out of this.  Ihaka was treating Neith like people Ihaka knew.  Or worse, like a piece of meat hog-tied in a hunting hide ready to be slaughtered.  Neith wasn’t someone Ihaka knew.  She was many things Ihaka knew nothing about.  She was an And designer who carried all kinds of parts on her, for a start. Parts that meant nothing to most people.  She hoped Jamin hadn’t removed anything from her jacket when he’d done his search. 

Instead of thinking of Ihaka, Neith thought of Miles.  She wanted to see him.  Every day.  She wanted to see Elle, Nola, Ruthie, Davey and Amos every day.  She wanted that condo for her parents and Grace.  This wasn’t how she was going to go out!  She was going to at least get done for failure to complete her assignment and go out with a bang.  Neith twisted.  She brought her hands around to her side, feeling the pain of her puncture sharply.  As well as being an expert at hides, Ihaka had tied her hands well.  Her hands were pressed against each other so tight and tied at her fingers as well as her wrists.  Her side hurt. 

The man had built his daughter a treehouse!  A treehouse for a gift!

She manoeuvred until she felt the tiny zipper slide against her fingertips.  She fumbled more.  She got it between her pointer and middle finger and pulled.  It moved slightly, then fell from her fingers.  She winced. 

Getting out of here would also screw over Prescott.  Not getting out of here would mean vanishing in a town her parents didn’t even know was on the map.

She wanted to learn how lip kisses could trump hand-holds and hand-kisses. 

She painfully recovered the slide and pulled again.  After three graduated pulls, she successfully unzipped the pocket in the jacket seam.  She moved her bound, straight fingers into the pocket and fished.  She longed for use of her thumb.  Then she found it.  A spare And part.   The voltage regulator – right where Grace had left it.  At one end its prongs resembled a comb, the middle was a plastic casing, but at the other end?  It was a razor thin plane with a hole at its centre.  She twisted it in her fingers so that the sharp edge faced out and began working on her finger binding.  At one point, the thought of dropping the regulator or passing out again then dropping the regulator made her so nervous her hands shook.  She had taken deep breaths and waited.  Once steady, she resumed.  It was slow work.  Eventually one of the straps across her hands gave way.  Once she had her fingers free things improved – she was able to twist both hands out of their clapping position and into more of a handshake with each other, allowing the razor to work on her wrist binding next.  Success.  She cried a little and then laughed some hysteria.  It was getting dark. 

Please, please let me finish before Ihaka comes back with tools.  She had her hands free, but she wasn’t confrontation-ready.  Hands free, Neith drew a wishful breath before lifting the roof of the hide.  She lifted her head to see through her good eye.  No Ihaka.  Good eye back to the ground.  She wormed and pulled her way upwards, concentrating on ensuring her left leg balanced on top of the other remained still.  Her dress was sticking to the knee at the knee.  The bone must’ve broken the skin.  A MediAnd would never have let things get this far.  She would never have been left so alone. Neith had to keep that knee up and away from any further impact.  She’d only have one chance.  She had to get out and in sight before all energy drained from her – no one was going to find her here – but maybe if she could get out, someone would see her.  Someone that wasn’t Ihaka.  She was losing blood.  She could feel it.

Her good eye forced closed by the ground, her injured eye enjoying a reprieve from the pressure, she worked in the darkness.  She inched half-way out, pulling on roots outside with one hand and lifting the hide’s roof with the back of the other.  Her pierced side flared, threatening to damn all her efforts.  She stayed awake.   With one last, writhing effort, she used her good leg to launch herself off of the interior wall of her former cell.  She was out.

She lifted her head.  Elle’s house was a long way away.  She didn’t think she could make it that far.  But she was going to try dang it. 

She wanted Elle to yell at her.  She willed Elle to come out and see her and give her a good scolding for everything.  She wanted that ending – not this.

Dragging herself on her elbows, legs useless and limp, she worked slowly over the rough ground.  She kept her head low, her eyes closed except for an occasional check on her progress.  It was too far.  It was dark.  She felt weak.  She wanted to go to sleep here. 

Then she smelled it.

The outhouse.

She dug deeper.  She found the hidden last reserve.  Guided by the stench she thought she’d never miss, she had her goal.  Someone would have to use the toilet eventually – they’d find her then.  She felt a warm surge of fluid leaving her stomach as she reached the place where the stone wall finished.  A few more metres.  She must be leaving a blood trail.  Someone needed to visit the outhouse before Ihaka returned to the hide.  Her leg screamed in protest as she heaved towards the small building.  She took a breath, weighing up whether she could go further still when everything inside begged for rest.  She again passed out.

#

Neith felt pulling under her arms.  Rescue?  She opened her one good eye. 

“Ah!  She wakes.”  Ihaka.  The psychopath was back.  She was pulling Neith onto a stretcher fashioned from branches and fabric.  The disappointment bursting her inner dam crashed louder than the pain of being moved.   “You must always tether your lambs else they wander away before the rites are complete.”  Tools jangled at Ihaka’s waist.

Neith couldn’t speak.  She could barely swallow.  She closed her eye.  She felt something in her hand.  The regulator she’d used to cut free of her “tethering.”  She’d been gripping it for the entire laborious crawl.

“You’re like the lamb in the thicket, you know?  I thought I had to find a first born Nydian to lay things to rest and herald a new dawn.  But that felt unconscionable – like Abraham killing his own.  Then you came.  You were the answer.  The lamb in the thicket.”  Ihaka crouched and began tying Neith around her shoulders to the stretcher.  Neith slid the regulator beneath her thigh but held it tight.  “This will get you to the waterfall.  There we can take care of the task and wash it all away; leave it clean.  God will know what I have done, and those in the camp who think my methods unnecessary will be none the wiser.  I don’t need their gratitude.  I know what I’m doing pleases Him.  I hear whispers of encouragement even now.  The whispers tell me the best way to do it.  And how I’ll feel life coming back into Nydia as it leaves you.  Ihaka moved sideways in her crouch and began fastening Neith around her waist to the stretcher. 

It would have to be now.  Neith needed to make her move now.

Neith withdrew the regulator from beneath her thigh and plunged it into Ihaka’s leg as hard as she could. 

Ihaka hissed and recoiled.  “You ungrateful serpent!”  She clutched her leg.  Neith’s improvised weapon remained in the flesh, protruding out of a seeping wound.  Neith dropped her head back onto the stretcher and exhaled.  Ihaka set her teeth, and resumed securing Neith at her waist, looping rope around the wrist of the offending hand.  The robotics part the hand had so recently held now jutted awkwardly out of Ihaka’s thigh.  Centimetres away.  Ihaka wasn’t going to pull the regulator out of her thigh?  She might be crazy, but it appeared Ihaka knew something about bleeding.  Neith cringed.  Neith knew too, pulling the shaft out would increase the flow and the likelihood of infection. 

Which meant somebody needed to pull it out – Neith could not be dragged away now, not when she was so close.  Twisting to use the hand further from Ihaka – ignoring the screaming pain – Neith made a lunge at Ihaka thigh.  She couldn’t see well, but her hand found the regulator. She gripped and pulled.  The part cut into her hand as she clutched it.  Ihaka batted her away.  “You barren wretch!  To think I pitied you once.  Now I see you fail to comprehend the greater work you are a part of.  It’ll be over soon.”  Neith’s hand was a mess.  She could feel the sharp sting of air hitting new valleys across her palms and fingers.  Ihaka lifted her thigh over Neith and placed a knee on each of Neith’s hands.  “If only you understood, you wouldn’t fight against this.  You want what’s best for Nydia too, don’t you?  He knows what’s best for Nydia, and He has spoken to me.  I know what’s best.”

“No, you don’t.”  That wasn’t Ihaka’s voice.  Neith couldn’t open her eye.  But she knew.  That was Elle.  She held a frying pan high above her head.  It came down hard at Ihaka’s temple.  Ihaka slumped forward across Neith’s chest and shoulder.  Neith couldn’t breathe.  She couldn’t breathe.

#

“Elle.  I came as soon as Ruthie told me.”  A pause.  “Oh no.  She’s a mess.  Is she going to be okay?”  Jamin’s voice?

“She has to be.  I’m not done talking to her.”  That was Elle.  For sure.  She was here.  Someone came.  

Neith was spent.  She was wet, cold, and in blinding pain.  And still blind.  She didn’t dare to open either eye or move any part.  She still had known Elle’s voice it broke through the chasm of ebony.

“She doesn’t look good.”  Neith was pretty sure that was Jamin. 

“If you want to be helpful, you can apply pressure here.  Nee?  Can you hear me!?  Nee?  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry I was angry.  Well no, I’m not sorry for that, but I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you after I was angry.   To tell you it’s okay, Neith.  It’s okay.”  Elle was blubbering.  Jamin’s assessment must have frightened her.  “I meant what I said, on Longest Day – about family – we stick together.  We figure out the hard stuff.  So I’m angry you didn’t tell me sooner.  Because Neith, you’re not off the hook that easily.  I know you.  You…” she choked.  Elle was crying.  Neith felt hands on her cheek.  It hurt, but it wasn’t Ihaka, it wasn’t an old admirer back home who didn’t ask permission.  It wasn’t Ihaka’s hands, which lingered to long.  This hand touch felt right.  You are good.  So learning this – this news – it doesn’t change anything, except that you are in big trouble, after we get you fixed.  Do you hear me!?”

“Is there anything I can do?”  Jamin asked.

“You did good crawling so far hon’ – and lasting as long as you did.  Nee…”

“Elle.  Tell me what do do.”  Jamin spoke gently.

“Move her.  I’ve done everything I can for her here, she needs things I can’t give her.  Get her out of here – keep pressure on that spot and keep her hand elevated – I need to get back to the kids.  I don’t want them seeing her like this.”

“You’re right.  Get back to them, the person who did this is still out there.”

“We both know who did this, and she wouldn’t dare touch my kids.”  Elle wasn’t crying now; she sounded strong, in control and dangerous.  Neith was going to be okay.  Elle said so.

And then Neith gave in to sweet, sweet, pain-freeing unconsciousness.

#

Neith was moving again.  Not being dragged but being lifted, and now teetering.  No, she was rocking.  She was on the water.  She drew a deep breath remembering the hide.  She was far from the hide. She felt the pain in her side again, but lessened.  She smiled.  Someone had given her something for it.  It was good.

“Neith?”  Miles!  That voice belonged to Miles. “Jamin, Elle was right, she can hear us.  Neith?” 

Neith was pretty sure she looked like a purple kūmara, right now.  Never mind, her side felt improved.  Miles liked beetroot, right?  She smiled again, her eyes still closed.

“You’re on a boat.  Supplies came from Havelock today, with a message from the City.  They’re bringing you in.  Somehow they knew.  You have to go.  Elle told me...told me you may not want to go back to them...but Neith, your injuries…” he trailed off.  “They’ll be able to help you there.  And we’re not sure we can stop them if we tried.  They knew something was wrong.  They’ve already sent a chopper.” 

Neith wondered if the numbing good stuff she’d been given would extend its kindness to her face region.  She risked opening an eye.  She saw Miles.  His face, teaching-light absent, grave concern etched in its place.  His eyes were welling up, threatening to spill over.  Then a smelt.

“Hey, Neith.  Good to see you awake.”  Jamin called from the rudder, concealing any emotion.

Neith looked back at Miles.  “Nice smelt you got there.”  Neith rasped.  She sipped water from a straw Miles offered.

Jamin gave a gruff, quiet, shudder of amusement.  “Word salad.   Don’t sweat it, Miles – she gets this way when her head hurts.”

Neith laughed and her side gave a dull throb in answer.  She threw her words Jamin’s way; “I do not. Have word salad.  He’s smelting at me here.”  A deep breath.  She looked back at Miles.  “You know?  The smiles that melt – the smelts.”  It had sounded better in her head.  She probably should have tried her coinage out loud privately first.   “And you,” Neith, said looking to Jamin through the grogginess of meds. “We have to stop meeting this way.”  One bleary awakening in front of the bear-man was already too many.  Jamin laughed without reservation this time.  Neith felt like she could only speak four or five words at a time, her breathing laboured but mostly painless.

“And.  Are you telling me?  That I could’ve come…to Nydia by boat?  Laying down?  Like this?”  Neith remembered the hike from the helicopter’s drop point.  Could she have skipped all that?

“We’re breaking all kinds of rules.”  Miles said.  He was holding her hand.  She felt him squeeze it now. It was still better than kisses shared between a king of men and an elvan princess; Neith wouldn’t trade Miles for Aragorn…or whichever Old World actor had played him.  Miles continued: “And the boat being here – it must’ve been fate, Nee.  We only have a boat come to us every other month.  Tell me more about this smelt thing.” 

Say Nee again, would you?

She attempted a smile and played coy. “Are there dolphins?”

Miles turned his face towards Jamin, seeking clarification.

“It’ll be the gas then.  It’s good – it means it’s working.”

They’d given her gas?  “No.  Not the gas.  Dolphins.  In the strait.  Guiding us home.”  She regretted it as soon as she’d said it.  “Guiding us,” she repeated as though she could amend how the sentence had ended.

Miles leaned closer now, whispering in her ear.  She noted his lips were close to her right side – the side she imagined was less kumara.  Or maybe purple cauliflower?  “Nee.  Listen to me.  We are not taking you home.  Feichangbei…” he paused on the sourness of it in his mouth, “is not your home.  They’re going to fix you, and you’re going to come back here, to Nydia.  You’re going to come back to me.”  How forward.  How incredible.  Could she ever come back here?  Would they have her back?  Elle forgiving her omission during her stay wasn’t the same as all of Nydia embracing her permanently.  Neith looked at Miles.  She really looked.  She smiled.  “Did you hear what I said?  I know you’ll have to face some demons, back at camp.  But don’t run.  We’ll face them together.”  She knew what he really  meant; Don’t do what Wren did.  “We’ll look each other in the eyes more.  Like this.”  He smiled, and she watched his eyes while they crinkled, instead of only seeing the crinkles in her side vision. She’d avoided this held eye contact?  She’d been missing out.  “That is, if Davey can ever recover from this.”

“Davey?!”  Neith freaked.  “Did that witch hurt him?”

“Easy.  Davey’s okay.”  Miles squeezed back her panic with his hand.  “I only meant that seeing us at the dance was one thing, but now…” 

“…now what?”  She’d admitted the smelt thing, he could give her something.

“Now Davey will have to accept it.  You’re mine.  I’ll be here waiting for you.  I will wait as long as it takes.” He squeezed her hand again. 

You’re mine.  When he said those words it lifted instead of scared her.  Those words sounded like belonging…and home.  She was overcome reliving the moments she’d wanted to draw out during their second date.  Or was it their third?  The gas wasn’t good with numbers. 

It felt wrong to be so happy with everything that had happened, and might happen now.  She needed to know everyone was safe.  “So you know...it was Ihaka?  And her dad...you know?”

“It is all under control.  No one is in danger.  You can rest.  There’s a ways to go.” 

Neith closed her eye.  Miles leaned forward and kissed it – a small peck on the lid. 

She was weightless. 

The gas may have contributed, but Neith was pretty sure Miles’ eyelid kisses had no algorithm to explain them.  They weren’t chartable.  She wanted more of those kisses and in more places. 

Feichangbei better have a fix for city girl traitors who fall in love with school teachers in the backwoods, to go along with their antibiotics and physical cures.  

Neith felt a plastic seal form around her mouth and recognised sweet sweet gas filling the mask.  She didn’t fight it.  Miles was holding her hand and she was his.  She smiled in the mask – looking at him, smelting back.

Neith slept.


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