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Authors: Iain M. Banks

Feersum Endjinn (26 page)

BOOK: Feersum Endjinn
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Am bhind thi wols ov thi slofs’ scafold structyir, swingin from poal 2 poal like a munky, hedin downwirds. A hooj xploshin ov flame bursts out overhed, showerin me wif flamin debree; I ½ 2 hang by 1 hand from a poal & pat out flames on ma shirt. Thi debree fols on down, litein thi way. Ther r qwite a lot ov flaims now, & gunfire.
Part ov ma mind is thinking, Blimey, can ol this reely b 4 me? & anuthir part is thinkin, No, Bascule, doan b silly! But thi first bit is goan, Then how cum ther’s ol this vilence & stuf happenin aroun yures truly? This aint a vilent sosiety; bags is pretti peesfil as a rool. How cum ol this is happenin ol ov a suddin? O fuk; those poor slofs woz juss tryin 2 b frendly & how do I repay them? I wunder how fings ½ shakin out 4 Gaston & ole Hombetante. Then I figir mayb its best if I try not 2 fink about that sorta fing; iss dun now.
Amazin thi survivil mekanisms u bild up in times like this.
Ahed ov me I can c thi curvd innir surfis ov thi wol ov thi towr, its undressd stoan & ol blak & glistenin wif moystyir in thi lite ov flames. A few last poals 2 go, regularly spaced.
Rite hand lef hand rite hand lef hand; am in a feevir or sumthin coz I fink; juss thi time 2 kript 4 a sekind, & as I reach 4 thi next poal I fink, rite, kript until u tutch this poal, & am thare, deliberitly not finking about whare I am @ thi momint but swingin out in2 thi imeedyit locality
/only 2 find it isnt thare eny moar.
It’s like ther’s juss a grey fog ol aroun me; a metallic, growlin, hissin, static-ish sorta fog. I can rufly remembir whare things wer from erlyer but I doan wan 2 ½ 2 trust 2 memry that mutch. Then thi fog semes 2 collect aroun me & its like its not fog @ ol its made up not ov water but ov metil filings, metil dust, sleetin in2 ma skin like asid, burrowing in2 ma pores & it hurts & ma Is go wide & thi metil dust is sandpaperin ma Is & makin me screem & as I opin my mouf its fillin it & nose wif metil grit & am breevin it in & its fire, like breevin flame, fillin me, roastin me from inside.
I flail out @ it, tryin 2 push it away & my hand tutches sumfink solid & I remember that means sumfing & wif a struggil I wake up.
My hand clutches thi cold bar ov thi scaffold poal & I feel thi bref whistel out ov me & I sneez & my Is watir & my skin itches evrywhare & I juss manidje 2 grab thi last poal & then fump in2 thi blak stone wol & stop thare, stil shakin & not feelin 2 good.
Thi floar is a cupil ov metirs lower down, coverd in rubish. Lukin up, thi wol disappers in2 darknis. On ither side, it curvs away, blak & barely visibil. Thi slofs’ scafoldin structure fits raggedly agenst thi wol, poals stuk restin on bits whare thi ruf stone juts out & thi grey sakclof stuf flappin in thi breez. Thi channil I escaiped down rises like a naro blak canyin abuv me. Flames burn in thi distins.
I try 2 remember thi layout ov thi place from thi start ov my kriptin erlyer. Bleedin hel.
I shake my hed, then start leepin acros from poal 2 poal along thi side ov thi ruf stoan wol. Shude b this way . . .
& so I go swingin off thru thi dark space behind thi wols ov thi place whare thi slofs hang out, or @ leest did until theez gies wif thi guns & parashoots & stuf caim collin.
Am a rat bhind thi bleedin wols, I fink, skurryin abuv thi rubish lookin 4 a hole 2 disapeer down.
O deer Bascule I think 2 myself, not 4 thi furst time & Ive a orribil feelin not 4 thi last time neethir. O deer o deer o deer.
They descended through the tower by lift and went through broad, softly lit tunnels lined with pictures to a place where there were lots of trains and people and pillars which held the roof up.
Asura asked many questions about the lift and the station and the trains and the castle. The tall lady did her best to answer them. They went to the very end of one train and got on it. They had the carriage to themselves. It had lots of big seats and couches. They sat at a round wooden table; the woman who had introduced herself as Ucubulaire sat beside her and the man called Lunce sat across from them.
‘What’s that in your hair?’ the woman said, when they were seated, and reached one hand - covered in the blue-net glove - up behind her head.
‘What?’ Asura asked. Then the blue glove touched the back of her head and there was a strange buzzing noise.
She lived in a tall tower in the forest. The tower had one large room at the top where she lived. The room had a stone floor with no holes in it; the walls had some small windows, and one door which led out onto a balcony which went all around the tower. The very top of the tower was made from a big cone of dark slates, like some huge hat.
She woke each day and went to wash her face. She washed from a bowl on a stout wooden wash-stand. Beside the bowl was a pitcher which was always full of water every morning. Several times she had tried to stay up to see how it got refilled every night but although she had been sure she’d stayed awake each time she never found out. Once she had sat up with her hand in the empty pitcher, pinching herself every now and again to stay awake, but she must have fallen asleep because she woke with a start to find her hand submerged in water. Another night she turned the pitcher upside down and slept beside it, but all that happened was that no water appeared in it that night and she went thirsty the next day.
There was a bread box on another table, and every morning there was a fresh loaf in it.
Each day she would use the pot under the bed and cover it with a cloth and each morning it would be empty and clean.
There was a beaten-metal mirror on the wash-stand. She had light brown skin and dark brown eyes and hair. She was dressed in a light brown shift that never seemed to get particularly dirty, or any cleaner. She looked at her reflection for a long time sometimes, thinking that once she had looked different, and trying to remember what she had looked like, and who she had been, and what had brought her here. But her reflection didn’t appear to know any more than she did.
As well as the bed, the wash-stand table and the table with the bread box in it, the room contained another small table with two chairs set at it, a couch with some cushions, a square carpet with a geometrical pattern, and one wooden-framed painting on the wall. The painting was of a beautiful garden filled with tall trees; at the centre of the picture was a small white stone rotunda set on a grassy hillside above a shallow valley where a stream sparkled.
After she had washed and dried her face she would walk round the balcony a hundred times one way and then a hundred times the other way, occasionally looking out at the forest.
The tower stood in a roughly circular clearing about a stone’s throw across. The tower was a little higher than the trees, which were broad-leaved. Sometimes she saw birds flying in the distance, but they never came close. The weather was always good; clear and breezy and warm. The sky was never free from clouds, but never covered by them either. It was a little colder at night.
There was no lamp in the circular room and the only light at night came from the stars or the moon, which waxed and waned in the usual manner. She remembered that women had a body-cycle associated with the moon, but waited in vain for its appearance.
On the very darkest nights, it rained sometimes. Once she had become familiar with the room in the darkness she began to get up and slip off her shift and go out onto the balcony into the pelting chill of the rain, standing naked under it, shivering. The rain felt good on her skin.
She watched the stars on clear nights, and noted where the sun came up and set each day. The stars appeared to revolve overhead but did not change otherwise, and there was no terrible dark stain across the face of the night.
The sun rose and set in the same place every day, as did the moon, despite its changing phases.
She used her thumb nail to make little grooves on the wooden foot board at the end of her bed, counting the days; those did not disappear overnight. She still recorded each day, but after the first thirty or so she had decided to count the moons instead, keeping the number in her head. She vaguely recalled that each moon was a month, and so knew that she had been here for six months so far.
She spent a lot of time just looking out at the forest, watching the shadows of the clouds moving over the tops of the trees. In the room, she busied herself by rearranging things, altering the position of the pieces of furniture, tidying them, cleaning things, counting things, and - after a month of doing this - by making up stories set in the garden in the painting on the wall, or in the landscape she conjured into being amongst the folds of her bedclothes, or in a maze-city she imagined within the geometric design of the carpet.
She traced the shapes of letters on the wall and knew she could write things down if only she had something to write with, but she could not find anything; she thought of using her own night soil but that seemed dirty and anyway might disappear overnight, the way it did from the pot under the bed; her own blood might work but that seemed overly desperate. She just remembered the stories instead.
She made up different people to populate her stories; at first they all involved her but later it amused her to make stories up in which she either played only a small part, or even no part at all. The people were based on the things in the room: there was a fat jolly man like the water pitcher, his broad-hipped wife who was like the bowl, their two plump daughters like the legs of the wash-stand, a beautiful but vain lady like the beaten-metal mirror, a pair of skinny men like the two chairs at the small table, a slim, languorous lady like the couch, a dark, skinny boy like the carpet, a rich man with a pointed hat who was the tower itself . . .
Gradually, though, the handsome young prince began to figure in most of her stories.
The prince came to the tower once every month. He was handsome and he would come riding out of the forest on a great dark horse. The horse was splendidly caparisoned; its bridle shone like gold. The young prince was dressed in white, purple and gold. He wore a long thin hat set with fabulous feathers. He had black hair and a trim beard and even from that distance she could tell that his eyes sparkled. He would take off his hat, make a sweeping bow, and then stand holding the reins of the great dark horse and shout up to her:
‘Asura! Asura! I’ve come to rescue you! Let me in!’
The first time, she had seen him riding out of the forest and hidden down behind the balcony’s stone parapet. She’d heard him shouting up to her and she’d scuttled away back inside the room and closed the door and burrowed under the bedclothes. After a while she’d crept outside again and listened, but heard only the sighing of the wind in the trees. She’d peeped over the balustrade and the prince had gone.
The second time, she’d watched him but hadn’t said anything. He’d stood calling up to her to let him in and she’d stood, frowning, looking down at him but not replying.
He’d left his horse tied to a tree; it had grazed the nearby grass while he’d sat with his back to another tree and eaten a lunch of cheese, apples and wine. She’d watched him eat, her mouth watering as he’d crunched into an apple. He’d waved up to her.
Later, he’d called to her again but still she hadn’t replied. It had started to get dark and he’d ridden away.
The third time he’d appeared she’d hidden once more. He’d stood shouting for a time, then she’d heard something metallic strike the stonework outside on the balcony. She’d crept to the door and looked out; a three-hooked piece of metal on the end of a rope had come sailing over the balustrade and clunked down onto the balcony’s flagstones. It had scraped across the stones and up the wall with a rasping noise, then disappeared over the edge of the parapet. She’d heard a distant thud a few seconds later.
It had reappeared a little while later, hitting the balcony stones with a clang and leaving a mark there. Again, it had been hauled up the wall in vain; it was as though the balustrade had been designed to offer nowhere such a hook could find purchase. It had disappeared again and she’d heard the distant thud as it hit the ground far below. She’d stared in horror at the mark it had left on the flagstones.
On the fourth occasion the prince had arrived at the foot of the tower and again called out, ‘Asura! Asura! Let me in!’ she had already decided she would reply this time.
‘Who are you?’ she’d shouted to him.
‘She speaks!’ he’d laughed, a huge smile brightening his face. ‘Why, what joy!’ He’d stepped closer to the tower. ‘I’m your prince, Asura! I’ve come to rescue you!’
‘What from?’
‘Why,’ he’d said, laughing, ‘this tower!’
She’d looked back at the room, then down at the stones of the balcony. ‘Why?’ she’d said.
he’d repeated, looking puzzled. ‘Princess Asura, what do you mean? You cannot
being imprisoned!’
She’d frowned deeply. ‘Am I really a princess?’
‘Of course!’
She’d shaken her head and run back to her bed in tears, burrowing under the bedclothes again and ignoring the distant sound of his cries until it had grown dark and she’d fallen into a troubled sleep.
BOOK: Feersum Endjinn
4.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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