Pattern of Infinity - Part IX - The Name of ActionBy J. Kel
Page 2 of 16
|"It's all your fault," she said and Vila had gotten to the point that he was inclined to believe it. He was sitting on a couch in a room above the courtyard as lunch was being served. Or as she had put it, her "noon repast was being offered." The servant who had brought the lunch tray was very quiet, as servant's without tongues are prone to be. Queen Kerrill it seemed had a lot on her mind and was determined to speak it. The food they ate was better than anything he had had since coming here, but that was admittedly an empty comparison. There was even something purplish passing for wine. But despite his hunger and thirst, he could consume little. His discomfort level was no lower; his sense of a mystery lacking all resolution even higher. And now Queen Kerrill, having gotten over her initial shock, was giving clues, subtle indications, along with ferocious gulps and frequent belches that she was moving in the the direction of not being all that pleased to see him again.
"You could be more sympathetic," she complained. "I had to get this whole place in order by myself! Organize these people; get things under control and moving. What a mess!" She waved a large knife in the air. "It's not like you go from one world to another through some hyperwarp or whatever and there is room service waiting for you. These people would have been lost without me. Probably starved, the lot of them. Who knows? And it would have served them right!" She stopped, taking another bite of the charred piece in her hand, as she jabbed the knife at him. "If only you hadn't left me," she almost choked.
Normally one would find it hard to wail and eat at the same time, but Kerrill managed. She took a large gulp of the local wine, a thick concoction Vila had judged having the consistency of hair gel, and a bouquet like turpentine. It was clearly an acquired taste. Vila had gasped when he tried it and had all but pleaded for water. She frowned, but said nothing. Vila pointed to the water glass and was happy enough to settle for the pitcher when it was brought. Just to be safe, he almost seemed to say to her deepening frown. She seemed to like it.
The guilt she was triggering was expanding its effect. "I am sorry," he replied sincerely, almost sheepishly. He took another drink of water. "I had no idea what I wanted at the time. I had to think about it. I thought of you a lot," he added and that was true enough.
She looked at him sourly. "I bet you did. Thinking of me that is. Maybe I don't like being thought about, ever think of that? In any event, ten years should have given even you time to do some deciding. Takes a while to make up your mind does it?"
The question seemed unanswerable so Vila didn't. He sat there, gulping his water, wondering if she was ever going to drop this mode of acting and relent to something more human. Finally, desperation gave him an idea. Why not get her to talk about how she had come to be the ruler of the planet -- formerly known as "Vila's World". She seemed to have pride in her accomplishment, no matter how much she complained about it. He hesitantly relayed his interest. She abruptly cut him off.
"Oh, very well," she groused. "Yeah, you might think it was easy." She pointed the knife at him again. "You would think anyone, any man could have done it. Well, let me tell you . . ."
And so she did. Apparently what had happened was this: the Keezerites in their original colony had formed what amounted to a group mind, one collective entity in which the individual elements were linked and joined telepathically. The operating motto for all the years prior to Bayban and Blake's people colliding together on the planet was: "Eliminate the Larynx". Now telepathic communities are not unknown in history. Auron's had tried such, at least obscure and disreputable groups of them, with results that should have discouraged everyone else. But the Keezerites to their credit had done better than would have been expected. Their system had worked for the most part and when they arrived at the new world, things initially appeared to be going well, though here Kerrill did not go into details. The problem appeared to be that the bulk of the inhabitants had fed their mental energies into the collective (more precisely its leadership) so that little was left for independent thought, initiative, or much else. In short, the qualities that were needed for colonizing and living on a new planet. So as the seasons changed and the demands of survival became more difficult to meet, and -- Kerrill shook her head sadly -- the old leadership began to die off (here the details became terribly vague), it fell to her to rise to greatness. She, who had been burdened with none of Keezer's history and tradition was pressed into leadership, to rouse the people out of their sloth and embrace their new home.
Vila was correct. She was proud of her achievement. And she let it be known that while she was for the whole time, hurt, frustrated, and many other unhappy things too numerous to mention now, she never forgot Vila. It was his memory who kept her going. Initially.
Vila was genuinely touched, so he didn't press for missing details, which seemed wise in any event. So, as she took upon herself more and more of the responsibilities and powers of leadership, it became sadly clear that the thousands of new arrivals to this world were in no shape to cohere into a viable colony. They would have to completely abandon their old ways. So Kerrill gradually moved from being leader and tutor to assuming the role of absolute dictator, though she preferred the term "guidance counselor."
Vila choked. The whole business was truly awful, she assured him. She had to do everything, and how she had suffered. She wanted him to know that. She had to do everything, all the time, her alone. It was like running an orphanage. But in the end, the achievement spoke for itself. She would in time get over how bitter she was about having to do it alone. Things had not gone smoothly, but other than the unfortunate original leadership, most survived the first year.
She then asked him what route he had taken coming to her city and after he told her, she resumed, more relaxed.
Alas, probably because of their history, but who knew? the Keezerites were not a fully competent group, but after the first year, order had been achieved. Not as complete as she would have liked, of course. Some backward elements popped up, at first sporadically, and then with increasing frequency -- she threw her knife down with a thwang into the floor; it seemed she could hardly restrain herself now -- the bastards, particularly the "Southies" continued to resist her rule after all she had done. But they were being dealt with! The crime level was coming down, would come down, she concluded as she pushed the plates on to the cart, and then kicked the food cart away. They would all come together, one big happy family. She would see to it.
Vila for the most part was impressed, yet he could not help but feel a bit of a chill. What was the nature of the bulk of the crimes Queen Kerrill had to contend with these days? He asked her. She shrugged and would only say: just crimes.
He smiled and nodded sympathetically throughout. The story may well have been as she relayed it. Might as well take it at face value. Here's to the Queen. He offered a toast. There was no question she was tough and would have had a hard time adjusting to the changed circumstances from being a raider, and a rather low-level one at that, to being a colony leader. Still, it bothered him that after all these years and accomplishments, she managed to blame him for her troubles. It had, after all, been a difficult and hurried decision for them both. He would have assumed that she understood the nature of life, particularly their lives, and would have matured on the basis of that understanding.
How much had she remembered of him?
On to other topics. "I want to thank you for dismissing my trial," he said cheerfully, hoping to sustain the mostly positive mood to their conversation. Everything was gone from the table except the wine and water. He dared relax a little, leaning back in the couch slightly. He always felt that underneath her rough exterior, Kerrill was basically a decent sort. The frowns, the brows knitting together like she was examining some repulsive insect, it would all pass.
She looked at him suspiciously. "Your trial has not been dismissed. I merely postponed it." She stood. "The damn things get boring anyway, so tedious and repetitious: `Cursing the name of Queen Kerrill", 'Avoiding service to Queen Kerrill, `Trying to learn to read'. Day in, day out, always the same. Never any imagination. I know the laws. They know the laws. You would think," she glared down at him, "that I would have . . . executed . . . enough of them by now that they would have come up with something new!" She gave him a look implying that any reasonable person, such as himself, would certainly have agreed.
Vila did not know what to say. The situation here he sensed was both confusing and dangerous and that was the only consistent sense he had. He smiled nervously and raised his goblet of water in a toast, choosing his words as carefully and as smoothly as he could: "To Queen Kerrill, may her just and merciful reign continue."
She grimaced, endearing in a way he thought. She said, looking out the enormous window of this top floor of her tower. "You know what I think when I see each new dawn on my world?"
"No," he said.
"I think of it as an enormous piece of pie, waiting for me to engulf and devour."
"That's very spiritual," he said. And he could not help but be distressed that she did not pick up her own goblet to complete the toast.
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