[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Twenty-Three

When Ellis woke the next morning, the small two-room building he'd been sent to for the night was empty. Sara and Thomas, the young married couple who had agreed to take him in, had probably gone to work: Thomas made 'indigenous art' for sale to white tourists, and Sara kept a small patch of vegetables and whatever grains would grow in the harsh Lake Cowal soil. They seemed to live together with an equality that he hadn't witnessed since they'd arrived in Australia. He was formulating a theory, ragged at best, that women had been scarce when the first Creationist prison ships came to Australia, and thus had been prized and protected. A little more than they liked, probably.

He washed in a basin of water set by the door -- he'd liked to have shaved, but didn't want to waste the water, or shave with a knife -- and straightened his clothes before stepping out into the bustle of the Res.

The small town was crowded and noisy, noisier than he'd seen it previously. Most of the newcomers had slept crammed in houses or outside on the ground, and they were gathering in the central square for breakfast -- talking, cooking, shaking out bedrolls, laughing. Libris was moving among them, stopping every once in a while to have a word with someone at a cookpot or offer sweets to the children.

And more were coming -- even as Ellis watched, leaning in the sad shade of a gnarled and stunted tree, dusty travelers arrived and slung their bags down.

"Good morning, Graveworthy," Libris called, trotting over to join him under the tree. "How'd you sleep?"

"Gratefully," Ellis answered with a smile. "How many people do you expect the town will hold before we overflow?"

"I hope we do overflow. That will be monumental. There hasn't been a caribberie this large since the last war with the whites."

"A caribberie?"

"A gathering," Libris said, looking out across the crowds. "It meant more, once -- there were traditions, preparations. Performances, gift-giving, diplomacy...now it's just what we call it when we gather. And even that's mainly illegal now." He shrugged. "Still, good to see so many people. Rumor's on the fly that there's a goddess walking among the Wiradjuri."

"Clare won't be pleased to hear that," Ellis murmured.

"I don't think you understand what her work means to us. We've barely survived, Graveworthy. Those of us who live best live in practical slavery in the cities. This is the breaking point."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"You don't have to. Kooris from other reservations, those without reservations, tribes from the north -- they're all coming to Lake Cowal. This is where we stand or die. People have made a decision."

"Oh yes?"

"Freedom or death. If a goddess can't save them, nobody can. It doesn't matter whether she's a divine messenger or not, see -- she's a rallying point. I think even if she can't give Creationism back to us, we'll still march. We can't live like this anymore."

"Where is Clare, anyway?" Ellis asked, a little unsettled.

"She's gone out with Saturday, early this morning. She wants to see some of our sacred places, I think." Libris shoved his hands in his pockets. "How much faith do you have in her?"

"All the faith in the world," Ellis answered. "I don't believe there's anything Clare can't do if she wants to do it. But there are things she won't do."

"Saturday mentioned that to me. I've seen copies of the Consolations. Never read them."

"Libris, if I wanted to evangelize you I could, but I don't think you'd appreciate it. They're just...one more holy book."

"You should remind her of that."

"If there is one thing I've learned about Clare, it's that she has to come to things in her own time." He sighed. "And we don't have much time, I know. It's just...we were indoctrinated as children into these beliefs, and they go bone-deep. I often think Father LaRoche was a sort of mental Creationist in his own right. He instilled things in people."

"We?" Libris asked delicately. "Are you a Creationist too?"

"I was."

"Ah. Not immune."

"No, but it doesn't matter much. I left off a long time ago. I had different things I wanted to make, in different ways. But you're right, I should speak with Clare again."

"I'll find out where she went," Libris said. "And I think I have a guide you should take with you."

***

The Res, Clare was slowly coming to realize, was a sort of labyrinth, even as flat and barren as the outskirts sometimes were. There were hidden landmarks her eyes weren't yet trained to see, signifiers she didn't know the meaning of, and the roads and paths all curved around and across each other, until she wasn't even certain which way north was unless she checked it by the sun.

Saturday led her, blithely confident, along three different roads to bring them out of the town. Clare supposed Saturday would be just as lost in the knotwork maze of Boston's downtown district, but it wasn't much comfort if she ever wanted to explore the Res alone.

At least the land was relatively flat once you topped the ridge northeast of town. Once there, only smoke from cook-fires could be seen; the land stretched out in all directions, flat and dusty, except where a few low hills and a scattering of odd rock outcroppings broke the line of the horizon.

Their journey took them to one of the outcroppings, a cluster of long, pockmarked fingers of sand-scoured stone that reached into the sky at almost perfect right-angles to the ground. Some had broken, and leaned on others; some were low enough to sit on, or to climb on.

"The old legends -- what are left of them -- say that our ancestors made these," Saturday said, getting a solid toehold on a low, broken-off stump of stone and climbing up deftly. "Not just the Wiradjuri legends, either. There's that huge one out west I showed you in the photo -- Uluru? It belongs to the Anangu -- the Jara tribes."

"They have two names?"

"We have many names. We're all Koori -- we're all Koori now, anyway -- but there are clans within tribes, and sometimes families within clans. There were a couple...the Pitjantjatjara, the Yankunytjatjara, the Ngaanyatjarra. But after the wars they came together as the Jara, and became part of the Anangu."

"All these names," Clare murmured, as Saturday offered her a hand up.

"Beautiful, aren't they? Did you have a Koori name?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe we'll find out." Saturday hooked a hand into a worn pocket in the rock and climbed higher. Clare followed clumsily, until they were nearly to the highest ridge of stone. Saturday was already at the top, surveying the landscape, but Clare stopped abruptly when she saw the painting.

It was in a little cavelike hollow in the side of the stone that Saturday was standing on. The hollow itself was man-height and smooth, as if it were the hull of a fruit and someone had scraped the pulp away. Inside was a single painting -- no, not a painting so much as a stencil.

She put out a hand and fitted it into the space left by the pigment on the wall. Not a handprint but the negative of a handprint, a signal of presence and absence at once. It was much larger than hers. She had to spread her hand wide just to fit her fingers into the absent fingers in the stone.

The stone itself was warm, and almost seemed to thrum with life.

I Created this, the handprint announced. I Created this eternal.

It wasn't eternal, of course. The wind and dust were wearing it away. But it had obviously stood here for centuries, longer than the most skilled Creationist back in Boston could have achieved. Longer than even Jack's devices would last.

She glanced up and saw Saturday gazing down at her.

"Come up, Clare," she said, offering her own hand to help.

From the top of the formation the land was visible for miles around, the Res an uncertain haze and Lake Cowal a greenish shimmer beyond that. The cloudless sky seemed endless, bright blue above them and yellow on the horizon.

"How did they do it?" Clare asked, as Saturday uncorked a water jug she'd been carrying on a strap and took a sip. She passed it over and Clare drank as well.

"Nobody knows," Saturday replied. "But if they could do it, so can we."

Clare passed the water back and held one hand out in front of her, palm-up. A rock appeared in it, smooth like what they stood on, but without the weathered pocks. She studied it carefully, remembering the first time she'd consciously Created something. There had always been that little hint of surprise that what she made was so heavy, so real.

"I'll never get tired of seeing that," Saturday said idly, tipping her head at the stone in Clare's hand. "Don't see it very often."

Clare offered her the stone and she took it, turning it over in her fingers, then leaned back and let it fly, hurling it out into the dust.

"How long will it last?" Saturday asked.

"Don't know," Clare said. "Usually only an hour or two unless I work at it. Some Creationists back...back in America, in England, can make things that will last a little longer than a day. That's about all. There's an injunction against making food, because even if you eat it, when it disappears it'll disappear right out of your stomach. It won't nourish you. And money, for obvious reasons."

"Our ancestors must have had a lot of power, eh?" Saturday asked with a grin.

"Maybe. Or their Creation was metaphorical. The hands could just as easily mark ownership."

"But you don't think they do."

Clare eased down, sitting on the warm stone and pulling her knees up to her chest. "I think this was Created. Which means...I don't know. It's so permanent. Maybe in Europe they forgot how to do that. Or didn't know they could."

"Like our metaphorical snakes. They didn't know they could...so they couldn't."

"I've learned a lot since coming here. Even before Australia. Things I didn't know I could do."

"I don't suppose you could put a handprint on a disease," Saturday said.

"Not a real one. But when I make this, if I make it, I think it'll be mine," Clare answered. "I think I know what it needs." She pressed her cheek against her knees. Loneliness washed over her, not for Boston (home-not-home) or for Ellis's beautiful mansion in Cambridge or for Jack or Ellis or Purva or the hotel in Canberra or even for the home in Melbourne that she nearly didn't remember and the parents whose faces she couldn't see. It was an unidentifiable place -- she longed for safety and knowledge and someone to make this terrible decision for her.

"I wish Father LaRoche were here," she said softly. "I wish I could ask him."

"Tell me about him?" Saturday settled next to her. "All I know is what the whites say -- that he was a preacher, and he's the reason they're here."

"He was a German peasant, oh, two hundred years ago now. He was a Creationist when they didn't really exist -- people used to think they were witches. He had a religious revelation where the Creator told him that it was a duty to Create, it was a gift God the Creator gave us. He started preaching and got thrown in prison a few times, got kicked out of Europe and came to Great Britain, started holding prayer meetings there and when they chased him out, he came to America and founded a colony."

"Sounds like what happened in Australia," Saturday said.

"But it wasn't, it wasn't like it is here. They went to America of their own free will. He didn't think we were better because we could Create or were white or whatever. He just thought people shouldn't hurt other people. He thought arguing over who was right about God was stupid. That's why he always ran away instead of fighting, until he became strong enough that he didn't have to fight to be heard. You can be a Creationist without being able to Create, you know. It's a faith. Jack's a Creationist."

"No, I didn't know."

"LaRoche said, build the country on the Church but not inside the Church. He thought people should be allowed to believe in any kind of religion, but nobody should ever be turned away from ours. That's how America is. It's not perfect or anything, but we try. He said you should always try." She sniffed and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, only then noticing she'd been crying. "But when he came back to Europe he sent all the Creationists who wouldn't follow the rules here and they did this. It's terrible."

"Doesn't sound like he had a choice. Well -- he should have sent them somewhere people weren't already happily living, but it's not like islands where you can't Create are exactly common," Saturday observed.

"I don't know what he would have thought, if he'd understood. He said you shouldn't Create living things, because that was the right of the Creator -- and we're like him, but we're not him, because we're not perfect."

"Well, that's his right to say, I guess. But you know we haven't got just one god, not around these parts."

Clare looked surprised. "How many do y -- do we have?"

"All the tribes together? Hundreds, I should think."

"Hundreds!"

"More is better, eh? But I don't know why it should matter. It sounds like you don't believe in gods, either."

Clare looked up at her sharply. "Don't say that."

"Why not? Just now you didn't wish for some Creator to come down and give you divine assistance. You wished your priest was here. Sounds to me like you believe in LaRoche."

"I believe in the Creator!"

"But when you're sad or scared you want people, not gods. It's not so bad, you know." Saturday leaned back on her elbows, perfectly relaxed. "Believing in people. It means you don't want to fight about gods either, not really. You want to fight for people."

"I don't want to fight at all."

"Times change. You can't carry us all away to some other country to live in idyllic peace. For one, we'd never go. You can save us like he saved his people, but you can't do it the way he did it." Saturday turned to her, watching intently. "I bet he didn't know what he was doing when he was your age, either, but he did it anyway. So, maybe he was wrong sometimes too. You can be wrong, that's allowed."

"But you have to try."

"Yes." Saturday turned away from her suddenly, head raising. "Someone's coming."

Clare shaded her eyes. Sure enough, two black dots in the red dust were slowly lengthening into people, one of them unmistakably Ellis's tall, slouching silhouette.

"That's Ellis -- maybe he has news about Jack," she said, scrambling up and waving at them. Ellis waved back.

"He's got Dina with him," Saturday answered, standing as well and walking back to where she'd climbed up in the first place. "Come on, the rock's still throwing some shade, we can meet them there. I'll bet he sunburns easily."

Ellis did look a little burnt when they finally arrived, his cheeks and nose reddened and his hat tipped low over his eyes. He was holding the hand of a girl, not more than about eight years old, with skin darker than her's or Saturday's. As soon as the girl saw them, she bolted away from him and ran to Saturday, hiding behind her leg and gazing up at Clare curiously.

"I've brought lunch," Ellis said, unslinging a pack from his shoulder. He glanced up at the rock. "Is it all right to eat here?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" Saturday asked, accepting a half-loaf of bread from him.

"I don't know; if this is one of your holy places, maybe we aren't supposed to."

Saturday glanced up at the rock. "Well, once maybe. Now nobody knows, do they? Sit, eat."

Clare propped herself on a low stone in the shade and took the bread she was handed, along with a slice of soft pulpy fruit. The little girl still clung to Saturday, who gave her a gentle shove so that they could sit down.

"I should make introductions," Ellis said. "Clare, this is Dina; Dina, Clare Fields. Dina brought me out to where you were. I'd have got lost and died in the sun if it weren't for her."

"Dina's one of our Creationists," Saturday said, pulling the girl around and wrapping an arm over her shoulders so she couldn't hide. "She's fairly talented, considering her age."

"Is that so?" Clare smiled at the girl. She nodded slightly. "Care to show me what you can Create?"

Dina shook her head.

"She's a little in awe just now," Ellis explained, leaning against the rock next to Clare.

"Of me?" Clare asked, amused. "You don't have to be," she told Dina. "Nobody else is."

"Not quite true, but we can discuss that later. Libris thought you'd like to meet her," Ellis said. "Maybe teach her a few things. Go on, show her something."

Clare pinched her thumb and forefinger together, leaving only a fraction of space between them. A plate appeared in her grasp. Dina stared at it. Clare offered it to Saturday, then Created another one and passed it to Ellis.

"Thank you, Miss Fields," he said, inclining his head.

"My pleasure, Mr. Graveworthy. Dina?" Clare asked. "Want one?"

The girl nodded, so Clare held her fingers together again. This plate was smaller, and had a pattern of red birds around the edge. Dina accepted it as if it were made of gold and delicately placed her chunk of bread on it. She gave Clare a shy smile.

They ate quietly, Dina still wary of the strangers, Saturday hungrily, Clare off in her own world. Ellis looked like there were things he wanted to say, but he wasn't sure how; more than once she caught him studying her dark curling hair, watching her hands as they pulled the bread into pieces or lifted fruit to her mouth. She thought she would mind, but she found she didn't; Ellis had always made something of a study of her.

"Mr. Graveworthy," Saturday said, when they were done eating. "Why don't I show you the top of the rock? You can see for miles from there."

"Of course," Ellis said smoothly. "Lead the way."

That left Clare and Dina alone, with two plates and a few crusts of bread between them. Clare suspected this was what both Ellis and Saturday intended.

"Pretty neat, isn't it?" Clare asked, twiddling Ellis's plate between her fingers. Dina nodded. "Do you talk at all?"

"Yes'm," Dina said.

"Want to see some more?" Clare asked. Another nod. "All right, come over here then."

The girl obediently left her plate and scooted over next to her. Clare rubbed her palms together and produced, from between them, a small wad of clay. She offered half democratically to Dina.

"Where I come from, nothing we Create lasts very long," Clare said, working the clay between her fingers. "What about you?"

Dina gave her a shy look. "Dunno. Sometimes things disappear."

"Only sometimes?" Clare asked, pinching out a sort of flattened star shape.

"First time I try, usually," Dina said.

"But sometimes things you Create last a long time, right? What kinds of things do you make?"

"Stuff," Dina said evasively.

"Oh yes? What kind of stuff?"

"Fire," Dina said.

"Lots of Creationists make fire first. What else?"

"Shiny things. I made a mirror for my mum."

"Did it last?"

"Yep," Dina said. "Till Rex broke it."

"Who's Rex?"

"My brother," Dina said sulkily. "He threw a ball at it."

Clare smiled, pinching the arms of the star out into little limbs. Dina was molding hers into a crude cup of sorts. "How do you know how to make something permanent?" she asked.

"It just does. Can't you? Everyone says you're the best Creationist ever," Dina added, apparently feeling a little less awed now.

"Not nearly!" Clare said, laughing. "I'm not better at it than you are, I've just had more education. And I'm definitely not the best. What do you think?" she asked, holding up the small clay figure for Dina's inspection. Dina tilted her head at it, then took it from her and used a thumbnail to draw a little pattern on its chest. Clare studied it.

"What's that for?" she asked.

"Now it'll stay," Dina answered. She took the doll from Clare, along with her own warped and bent-edged cup, and put them in the sun.

"Stay forever, you mean?"

Dina nodded. Clare waggled her fingers over Dina's hands and water dripped off of them, washing them clean. Dina squeaked delightedly and tried to imitate the motion.

"Sit here," Clare said, turning so that she sat cross-legged on the rock, facing Dina. She offered her fingers. "Take my hand. This is how we learn Creationism in Boston when we're young."

"Are you going to teach me?" Dina asked.

"No," Clare said with a grin. "You're going to teach me, Dina. Teach me how to make things that stay."

***

Minister of Parliament Bell came to visit Jack just after lunch that day, smelling like rich food and cigar smoke. Jack had given up singing and was lying on his back on his bunk, calculating the stress points of the iron bars on his cell and trying to decide the best place to put a lever in order to snap them, if he had an indestructible lever and unlimited torque for it. He was doing the calculations out loud, which was really starting to make his guards nervous.

His first hint that anything had happened was the guards jumping to their feet in the room beyond his cell. He glanced over and watched as Bell approached.

"Mr. Parsons," Bell said. He had his hands in his pockets and looked almost unbearably smug. "Not so cocky now, are we?"

"I didn't think I was very cocky before," Jack replied, turning to look at the ceiling again.

"Oh? Parading around your affair with your servant, showing off your knowledge -- tell me, do you even have a degree in engineering?"

Jack was insulted. Being accused of arrogance was one thing, but the implication that anyone could fake being an engineer was not to be borne by a Harvard boy in good standing. All right, at this point he probably wasn't in good standing, and he didn't actually have his degree, but he was still a Harvard boy and he couldn't let a challenge to his education go unaddressed.

"If you were fooled by someone without one, that'd be pretty sad for you, wouldn't it?" he retorted.

"Be as insolent as you like. We'll catch your partners in crime before too long. You'll prove to be a very good object lesson when you're tried in Parliament."

"Tried in where?" Jack asked, propping himself on one elbow. Bell chuckled.

"Traitors don't get a trial by jury," he said. "You'll be questioned in front of Parliament and they'll render their decision directly. You're lucky -- your Tribal mistress won't even get that. Tribals accused of treason aren't worth Parliament's time. The local MP gives judgment on them. That would be me, in this case."

"Are you sure you want me to tell all of Parliament how we made a fool out of you?" Jack asked.

"You mean, when you made a blatantly false approach to me and I played along to ensnare you? I don't mind." Bell looked smug. "You're charged with high treason, capital fraud, and conspiracy. You're due to stand in front of Parliament two days from now. They've called a special session."

"Angry men want their money back," Jack murmured to himself. "I guess right now it's evidence."

"And a lure, to see if your comrades care to try for it," Bell said.

"I'm bigger bait, huh?"

"Something like that."

"And if they don't show up to try to rescue me?"

"The trial will go forward regardless, of course, and you'll probably be hanged." Now Bell looked positively gleeful. "It's what we do to traitors."

"Am I expected to prepare my own defense?" Jack asked.

"You will have an advocate, if one can be found who will do the job."

"If one isn't?"

"Mr. Parsons, this is hardly a matter of legal argument. We know what you did, and you knew it was illegal when you did it. Why should we bother with a drawn-out trial?"

Jack shrugged, then grinned. "Doesn't matter. They'll come for me eventually. Then you'll see."

In his heart, he hoped it was true. He'd sort of expected Purva would have come for him already.

***

They left the rock formation on the plains an hour or so after lunch was over; Saturday did have a clinic to run, after all, and there would be footsore people who'd need her attention. Clare might be their key to survival, but in the grander scheme of things Clare was only one woman and Ellis had the sense that Saturday thought she was a bit spoiled. Compared to the way they lived on the Res, she was, but she had slept on the ground as well as any of them and done her turns in the pilot's chair in the airship.

Dina ran ahead and Saturday chased after her, capturing her before she ever went too far and warning her about dingos (whatever those were) that liked to eat little girls. Ellis walked behind with Clare, at a more sedate pace. Clare had a small clay creature of some kind in one hand, hard-baked in the merciless noon sun.

"I don't suppose Libris sent you all the way out here to bring Dina to me," Clare said. "You must have had other work you could be doing in the village."

"Not especially," he replied, idling along. "Most of the work in the village is finding places for the newcomers to stay, making sure they're all settled. It's good work for Libris -- he's a tidy soul and a natural leader. But I did come out to see you."

"Just to see me?" she teased, smiling at him.

"Libris and I spoke this morning about the Consolations."

"So did Saturday and I. She has some interesting views on organized religion."

"We have a few of those ourselves, I think. You remember what the Divine Father in London said about me."

Clare seemed to think. "Something about being an obstreperous heretic, wasn't it?"

"Something like that."

"Feels like a different life."

"You get used to the sensation. When we're back in England, you'll be amazed at how new everything seems," he replied.

"Do you think we'll make it back to England?"

"One always has to hope, Clare. And at the moment it's rather dependent on you."

"What I'm going to do could get me prosecuted in England. Used to be that would have gotten me shipped right back here," she said. "Little ironic, don't you think?"

"Clare, I will personally see to it that your services to the Crown -- " he began, but she stopped him.

"I know, Ellis. What I do here I do for the Crown. Supposedly."

"What you do here, I think, you do for mankind."

"That's what Saturday said. Sort of."

"Do you agree?" he asked.

"Well, that's the question, isn't it?" she said, as the first buildings of the village came into view. Saturday and Dina, up ahead, disappeared down an alley, headed for the main street. "This afternoon alone -- do you know how long ago I Created this?" she added, holding up the little doll. "Right after you left. Dina did this," she added, pointing to a little pattern, "and put it in the sun to dry. I've never Created anything that lasted this long without constant concentration. And..." She fitted her hand into a few shallow ridges in the doll's hip, thumb against its spine, fingers curling around its chest. "My hand is on it. So it's not really whether it's right or wrong; it's whether I'm brave enough to own what I do."

"And are you?" he asked, enthralled.

"Yes, I think I am," she said. She turned as they walked, moving in front of him and putting a hand on his chest to stop him. He opened his mouth to ask her what she was doing and she kissed his lips, fingers curling against the rough fabric of his shirt.

It startled him immobile. His first thought was that he ought to bend down, since Clare was shorter than he was. His second instinct was to wrap an arm around her waist and brace her so that he wouldn't have to crane his neck so much. Instead of doing either, he grasped her shoulder with one hand and held on tightly, trying not to think about anything.

When she leaned back, she took hold of his wrist and lifted it off her shoulder, turning it over.

"Make fire, Ellis," she said softly. He looked down at her, bewildered. "Go on. Try."

He twitched his fingers, trying to access the part of him that Created -- he'd always thought of it as a door with the key in the lock --

Flame flickered up from his fingertips, almost singing her hair. He snapped his fingers shut.

"No turning back now," she said, and rubbed her cheek against his closed fist. "I own what I do."

"Clare, what -- "

"Come on," she said, tugging him forward, towards the village buildings. "We'll miss dinner!"

He followed, half blind from shock and more than willing to be led. He'd have followed her into hell if she'd asked him to.

Chapter Twenty-Four
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