Chapter 28—One More Circle
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Some things never change. The nameless pub between the soccer stadium and the old Palace Grounds still filled with hanji smoke each night. The proprietress still served the best New Dublin ale. And the patrons still loved their music. Several nights a week the crowd spilled out into the chilly November night just to hear the little band in the back room. But, a new musician joined the band on these night. And, as her grandfather used to say, she brought the house down.
Sweat dripped down Marapura’s neck. She could barely hear the lead guitar over the noise of the crowd, but thankfully, the drumbeat rumbled up her legs. At least she could keep time.
She stepped up to the microphone, ready for the final verse, hoping she could finger the key change on her guitar and sing at the same time. But, this new song of hers wanted to be set free, whether she could keep up with it or not.
Keep drivin’, Keep drivin’
Out of the City, Out of the Flood
Into the Fire, Into the Blood.
She watched Sullah at the piano for his cues. The audience roared.
Keep drivin’, Keep drivin’
Over the mountains, Over the sea
Through the grass, Through me.
Faster, the beat drove them like the relentless car in the song.
Keep drivin’, Keep drivin’,
Keep drivin’, Keep drivin’…
The band came together and broke. Clean and sharp, the silence was deafening. Then the audience bellowed like a monster from myth—hungry, joyous, alive.
Mara grinned at the band, arming sweat from her forehead, then studied the animal that was the audience. She understood why they needed to celebrate life. She even understood why they celebrated her—the Wounded Queen shaking her fist at adversity. But the mindless frenzy bothered her. Nothing good ever came from mindlessness.
Thaddeus leaned toward her, two broken strings curling out from the neck of his guitar. “Take a bow, Majesty,” he yelled in her ear.
She slipped her mask back on and dipped a curtsy in her short skirt, her free hand twirling in mockery of a royal salute. The crowd lost all sense of sanity. In the chaos, she waved the rest of the band forward. They bowed together in the din.
“We’ll take a break now,” Thaddeus laughed into the microphone to a howl of good-natured disapproval.
“Good set,” Mara told them, mopping her bare arms with a towel.
“You’ve been practicing,” Sullah grinned.
“I have,” she admitted. “I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“Ma’am…” Thaddeus screwed up his elfin face. “…pardon my saying so, but you could scream like a gryphon hawk and this bunch would love it.”
Mara forced a laugh. You don’t know how right you are, my young friend.
She turned to find Naveen at the edge of the stage, immune as always to the pub’s high spirits. A memory flashed of Ra wearing the same unamused and long-suffering expression. Did he know, she wondered. Did he see the Truth and teach it to Naveen? Was part of their job to keep it from me?
Naveen nodded toward the passageway into the pub proper. Mara stood tall and sorted through the people milling in and out until she spotted an unexpected face. Hopping down from the stage, she met Jason Running Bear as he broke through the mob. He smiled, but as usual, the smile said little.
“Ambassador, what a surprise,” she said, taking his hand.
“I must speak with you, Majesty,” he said.
Still, nothing in his expression.
She led him around the stage to a back door. Glancing behind her, she saw Naveen scowling and signaled him to wait. Dread filled her like dark water. Unreasonable, unfounded, it felt like a nightmare she’d forgotten. The feeling made no sense to her, so as she shoved open the door, she shoved the feeling away. When they stepped into the alley, she turned a calm face to the Ambassador.
“News from Earth,” Running Bear said. “I wanted you to hear it from me.”
“The Xindi weapon has been destroyed. Earth is safe.”
Mara watched him. “That’s happy news, Jason.”
“The Enterprise was badly damaged. There were many casualties. But, Captain Archer is alive.”
She suddenly felt the cold night around her and shivered. Running Bear shrugged out of his coat and draped it over her shoulders.
“Has Captain Archer said… made any statements to the press… or… the Embassy?”
“Not yet,” the Ambassador said pointedly.
“I see.” The feeling of dread threatened to swamp her once more, but she held it back. “This is all happy news. Why don’t you look happier?”
Running Bear’s practiced calm thinned. He turned his head to look at the pub’s back door, his long black hair falling over his shoulder.
“I’ve lived on Callinda almost seven months now. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.” His deep, dark eyes returned to her. “When I hear that formal relations have been established with the Xindi, when our citizens are back in their own homes, then I’ll be happy.”
“So, a ship will come for them?”
“There are several temporary settlements to evacuate, but the Embassy said a ship will be dispatched to Callinda within a week or two. It should be here before the first of the year.”
“So soon,” Mara murmured. “Will they all go home?”
“A few will stay. For awhile.”
“You should be celebrating with them at the compound, not trapped here in Mandalay for Collier’s rally tomorrow.”
“There are many ways to serve, Queen Marapura, as you know.” He studied her. “Perhaps, before they leave, you could visit the refugee camp. The Lamas turned it into a beautiful, restful place.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“And Lama Ki spends most of his time there, now.”
“Yes, I know.” She paused. “We’ll see.”
How many times in the last few months had she said that simple phrase to brush aside bothersome requests and impertinent inquiries? Hundreds? Thousands? The Ambassador was not fooled nor placated, but he respected her enough to let it drop.
“I understand your daughter comes home tomorrow,” he said.
“Yes, after the rally.” She gave him back his coat, a not-so-subtle dismissal.
“A big day for all of us, then.” He dipped his head. “Good night, Majesty.”
“Good night, Jason. Thank you for finding me.”
She watched him stride down the alley, in and out of shadows to the street. Her breath puffed in white plumes. The thought of going back into the hot, crowded pub made her stomach clench. She needed to go home. But, her feet refused to move.
After a time, a tap sounded on the door, and Naveen poked his head out. She looked up at him, shivering. His lips thinned. He disappeared and, in a moment, returned with her coat and guitar case. Wordlessly, he wrapped her up and led her to the car.
At the villa, every window burned with light. Mara entered the front door to the sound of women babbling incoherently. She followed the noise to the hearth room where Lydia and Mary squealed and giggled like teenagers. Mara set her guitar case down carefully in the archway.
“You heard,” she said quietly.
“Oh, honey!” Mary ran to her and hugged her tight. “It’s over. He did it. Jon did it.”
Mara embraced her. “He said he would—no matter what it took.”
“And now he’ll come back.” Mary smiled at the Queen, her face wet with tears. “To you and Linny.”
Mara untangled from her. “You shouldn’t expect that, Mary.” She glanced past her to Lydia. “I don’t expect that.”
Mara crossed to the little divan in front of the fireplace. A cheery blaze crackled, but she felt frozen through.
“You have no idea what he’s gone through, what he had to do,” Mara said patiently, as if to a child. “It’s changed him. He’s different now.”
“You can’t know that.” Mary frowned, ready for a fight.
She looked very much like her son in that moment. The sight froze Mara’s bones.
“I do know,” she said quietly, glancing again at Lydia.
She had told this secret only one other time to Lydia, Deborah and Adrianna. It was smaller then, tamer. She didn’t know how much to tell Jonathan’s mother.
“Linny showed me,” she finally said. “When I was carrying her, she showed me what Jonathan did, how he felt. The visions stopped once she was born, but I saw.”
“Oh, my dear lord.” Mary sank down next to her. “Linny…”
“What is it, Mary?” Lydia sat with them.
“Rosalind Archer, Henry’s grandmother. She was a…” Mary waved her hands in front of her face. “… a Seer. Oh, why didn’t I make this connection before?!”
She sprang up from the divan. “Because I don’t believe in this kind of thing, that’s why.”
“Goodness, Mary,” Lydia exclaimed. “What on earth?”
“Exactly,” Mary laughed nervously. “What on Earth?”
She turned back to them, fingering a delicate chain around her neck. “I met Henry’s grandmother once when we first started dating. I wasn’t sure about Henry… he was so intense… and to meet his grandmother… It was too soon, too serious. And she seemed so old to me then.”
Mary laughed again and shrugged at Lydia. “She was our age—five years older at the most.”
“What happened, dear?” Lydia prompted.
“I remember she took my hands. She had these beautiful, gnarled hands. Delicate. Warm.” Mary shook herself. “She said something like, ‘Henry calls me Gramma, but you can call me Linny. My mama called me Linny.’ Then, she patted her hair.”
Mary reached up to touch her own short, gray hair. “She said, ‘You’d never know by all this white, but I used to have copper hair.’ She pulled this necklace over her head and gave it to me.”
Mary unfastened the chain. She sat down by Mara and showed her. A tiny hole had been drilled through a coin. It was old, tarnished, but she could see that it was made of copper. A noble profile was embossed on one side. It looked a little like Jonathan with a beard.
Mary went on. “Rosalind said, ‘Linny, Linny, Pretty Penny,’ then she laughed.”
Marapura stared at the coin. She rubbed it between her fingers.
“Rosalind said, ‘That’s what my mama called me when I was sad or scared to death. It gave me such comfort.’ She said, ‘Give this to the Mama and tell her to take comfort.’ I thought she got a little confused and meant I was the mama, which scared the holy hoolie out of me. I didn’t know if I even liked Henry all that much… But, Rosalind wasn’t talking about me, was she, honey?”
“No,” Mara whispered. She reached up and fastened the chain behind her neck. “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.” Mary took her hand, then she reached across for Lydia’s hand, too. “Maybe Rosalind saw our Linny… through me somehow… and she knew you’d be… troubled.”
“We had clairvoyants in our family, too,” Lydia whispered. “Reggie said Uncle Prescott encouraged him to take The Callinda, but he cried when he said it. Reggie said it spooked him a little.”
“He’ll come back,” Mary said, squeezing Mara’s hand.
The Queen took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I believe in sensitivities. I believe some kind of communication passed between Jonathan and Linny and me. I believe in family.” She looked at Mary. “I’m not sure what Jonathan believes, not now. Don’t expect him.”
The doorbell rang.
All three women stared at each other, then Mara laughed out loud. The absurdity, the smashing together of time and space and lineage, the mere timing of the doorbell jarred loose something deep inside her. Laughing or screaming were her options. Mara’s body chose to laugh.
The two older women watched her cautiously, then started to giggle. The three of them tittered.
Robby came to the archway, pulling a robe around his pajamas. “Did I hear the bell?”
That set Mara off. She whooped, covering her face with her hands.
Perplexed, Robby considered them. Their gaiety woke something in his face that could have been hope. “I’ll get it.”
Mara gasped to catch her breath. Her stomach ached. She felt wonderful.
Naveen hurried in, his shirttails hanging. Marissa peered around him, her hair unleashed to it’s former wild ways. The sight of them, rumpled and together, made Mara sigh. Love. Family. Good still existed in the world.
“What’s going on?” Mara’s former First of Communications came in with Robby and looked from one face to the other, trying to decipher the joke. “What did I miss?”
“Jasper!” Mara launched herself from the divan and threw her arms around him.
“Oof!” the young man grunted. “Majesty…”
“Why are you here?”
He blinked at her. “I… I wanted to make sure you got the news. But… maybe you already know…”
“Earth is safe? Jonathan is alive?”
He seemed a little disappointed. Mara remembered how he loved to be first with the news, any news, and how proud he was to keep her better informed than any other leader. She pressed her hand against his cheek. “Still my First, aren’t you, Jasper?”
Once shy, he now met her gaze. “We all are.”
“It’s late, dear. You work for the Prime Minister now, and he needs you to be at your best tomorrow.”
“Isn’t it exciting, Highness?” Jasper said. “The elections are just days away with no-one to seriously challenge the Prime Minister or President Reneau.” He looked to Robby, who grinned back and clapped him on the back. “Everyone supports Reunification.” He beamed at Marissa and Naveen. “The transition team is in place.” He included Lydia and Mary in his joy. “With Queen Marapura as the unifying element between North and South, Callinda will rise again!”
Everyone chuckled at his infectious enthusiasm, but at the same time, all eyes slid from Jasper to the Queen. She had deliberately not responded to either Collier or Covenant when they asked her to be the titular head of reunified Callinda. In public appearances around Mandalay, she side-stepped the issue. She had ignored it, like she ignored most everything these days that required careful scrutiny. Mara felt that time was coming to an end.
“We’ll see,” she smiled, the words feeling true for once, ripe and bursting with possibility.
Overnight, the first frost of the season dipped Mandalay in crystalline glitter. But, by mid-morning, the sun had burned through it, leaving the day clear and crisp. Mara walked up the steps of a sprawling old house, feeling both the chill on her cheeks and the warm sun on the back of her head. She reached up to fluff her springy blond curls, still unused to Marissa’s latest hair experiment.
“At least it’ll grow out,” Naveen offered.
The door in front of them swung open before Mara could reply.
“Good morning,” Adrianna beamed. “You’re just in time. Lillette brought the most fabulous pastry.”
She ushered them through the foyer, past a scrolled banister and stairs to the second floor, along a hallway covered in Brown Line photographs and opening into multiple sitting rooms and dens, back into a huge cathedral of a kitchen. Covenant Reneau glanced up from tending the tea urn and smiled. Lillette Singh bustled past with a platter of something flaky and smelling of lavender nut. Mara recognized Willa Cabot’s hearty laughter sailing over the congenial chatter. She saw Collier and Philippe Reneau nursing coffee cups by the stove.
“Happy Day, Majesty,” Dharma Singh said, coming into the room. She slid a door shut behind her.
Adrianna came back to them, cups in both hands. She looked radiant in her simple state gown, her blond hair up in a twist. “Tea, sweet,” she said, handing Mara a cup. “And coffee, mud.” The other cup she gave to Naveen with a wink. “Where’s Marissa and Robby?”
“They’ll meet us at the stadium,” Mara told her, sipping the good tea. “How is he today?”
“Good,” Adrianna said brightly, “unless he gets too tired. Then, he wanders.”
“I won’t stay long.”
She slid open the door Dharma had exited and stepped into a bright sun room. Windows looked out onto a glorious autumn garden. The morning frost had tweaked the colors—magentas blazed, pomegranate and carnival yellow popped from settings of rust and chocolate. Rows of brilliant gourds and squash hugged black earth.
“Don’t get up,” she said quietly, laying a hand on Francisco’s shoulder.
“But, I can,” he told her. “Watch.”
He bent forward in his chair and unfolded. His old gray suit hung a little looser from his broad shoulders, but then he reached into the coat pocket and pulled out sunglasses. After settling them on his face, he grinned at her. Mara laughed. It was her Security First, all right.
He walked for her, from his chair to the windows and back. Slow, but sure, his balance seemed steady, the strength more equal in his legs. He spread his arms in a gesture of self-congratulation.
“Wonderful,” she told him.
“You know Deborah,” he said, tucking the glasses away and easing into his chair. “I think Gregor should put her on his World Home Guard training team.”
“That wuz my idear!” another voice croaked indignantly.
Mara bent over the day bed next to Francisco’s chair. Washington Brown glared up at her from the pillows.
“Like all your ideas, it’s a good one,” she said, sitting next to him.
The dark skin of Wash’s face stretched tight over bone, more gray than ebony. Yellowed eyes focused sharp on her, then drifted.
Mara grasped his fidgety hand. “Do you know what’s happening today, Wash?”
“Party.” He nodded at the door. “All the kids come.”
“Yes,” Mara smiled, “all the kids came. Because of all you did for us. For Callinda.”
“Callinda,” Wash repeated. “Jeff’s ship. He’s gonna be First Officer, y’know. Traipsin’ ‘cross the universe to god-knows-where. Gonna miss ‘im.” Tears spilled down his hollow cheeks. “M’ boy.”
“He’ll be fine,” Mara told him. “Don’t worry.”
“Frank!” the old man suddenly shouted. “Frank!”
“I’m here, Wash.”
Francisco held a straw to the leathery lips. Wash fumbled, then drew water. He coughed, swallowed.
“You watch out fer that little girl, Frank!”
Francisco looked at Mara, his face soft. “I will, Wash.”
“She like t’think she’s tough, but this bidness’ll snap ‘er in two! Queen or no!”
“I’ll watch out for her, Wash.”
“That’s a’right, then,” he muttered, his eyelids drooping.
“He’ll sleep for hours,” Francisco told her. “It’s been a busy morning for him.”
“You and Adrianna have taken good care of him,” Mara said, “but, it won’t be long now.”
“I know.” He watched Wash’s thin chest rise and fall.
“What will you do, then?”
“Get married.” He smiled at her. “I told A. I wouldn’t until I could dance the Circle Dance with her at the wedding. I’m almost there.”
His eyes drifted to the window and the bright garden. “Dharma wants both of us—A. in the field, me with Lillette in Operations. What do you think, Majesty?”
“Of course they want you,” she answered at once. “You’ve seen the truth. People are fearful, and small-minded, and cruel. You know how much we need to watch and intervene.”
Francisco’s face clouded. “You really believe that?”
Mara bit back the immediate response. She owed Francisco more than that. So, she let her gaze soften as she took him in, this young man she loved so dearly. She looked at the old hero in the bed, sleeping his way toward the threshold of his life.
“Yes,” she finally said, “but it’s not the whole truth. I don’t know what the whole truth is anymore.”
Francisco scratched his head over his ear. “The abuelas at home had a saying,” he said, smiling. “Join the club.”
Once when Marapura was small, her father took her to the southern-most point of Callinda—a little island on the tip of The Fingers called Profile Point. A storm had churned up in the ocean around them, surrounding them and blocking them off from the rest of the world. Mara never forgot the sound of it.
As she sat on the speakers’ platform and gazed out at the thousands of people overflowing the soccer stadium, she heard the same undulating voice of power. A force of nature.
“Never again will we forget ourselves,” Collier was saying, his voice carrying over the constant roar like foam on waves. “Never again, will we forget where we came from.”
Mara looked up at his earnest face, the confidence in his baring. His head tilted to one side as he made his point. Mara remembered that, too, from their debate games in school. Past, present and future swept over her like the tide.
Below the platform, in the first row of dignitaries, Deborah scowled up at the Prime Minister with a vise-grip on Boris’ hand. His old hat sat at a particularly proud angle. Around them, the Line elders listened with Jason Running Bear. She saw Benjamin Gibson among the other governors. Their eyes met, and he smiled—her old beau, handsome as ever.
Congress Mother Delilah and Kentu Mbutu gazed at the podium with the same wide-set, black eyes. Gregor wore the uniform Horatio once designed. Lydia sat with Robby and Marissa. Moira Kelly and her children with Mary. Dharma and Lillette bracketed Francisco and Adrianna. Lamas’ saffron robes dotted the audience like fireflies.
Time continued to splash over her—no past or present, just Time’s Water. She looked at Covenant beside her, listening attentively to the man who would be her partner in recreating a world. In her, Mara saw Kerner’s face, heard Ra’s deep voice. She heard Jakaya Brown laughing at her and saw William’s blond head above the wharf crowd at Omsk.
Collier finished his remarks to a long, loud flood of human approval. He stepped back from the podium and turned first to Covenant, who pecked him on the cheek, then to Mara. She saw Jonathan’s eyes and heard Linny’s growing voice.
Collier embraced her, his crooked smile straight for once, hope and love making him too handsome to bear. She kissed him and took his place at the podium. She looked over the sea of Callindans.
Not always evil. Not always pure. Both and neither in ever-changing measures.
“I prepared a speech,” she started as the storm folded onto itself. “But, then, last night a song came to me.”
A collective rumble of consent rose out of the stadium.
Mara shrugged. “I think I’ll sing the song instead.”
Applause turned the sea’s direction. Mara gestured to Thaddeus off to the side of the platform. The pub’s band members, in their respectable suits, hurried to their instruments. Mara pulled her guitar from its case.
“Stand, if you will,” she told them. “And find someone to hold onto.”
Sullah’s eerie hill pipe wailed between the drummer’s driving beat. Thaddeus picked up the melody. Mara opened her eyes and sang.
We have been weighed down by sadness like a stone.
We have yearned, we have yearned.
We have sometimes felt so utterly alone
While we turn, while we turn.
We’ve been stricken by the wonder of it all.
Stricken dumb, stricken dumb.
We have sometimes felt so faint we want to fall.
Overcome, but all in all.
I’d say this year in flight together made us one.
What say we make one more circle ‘round the sun.
Marapura felt tears building up behind her voice, tears that she had kept captive for months, tears of shame and grief, tears over losing the dream that was her Callinda. She let them come now with a sob, more waves on the storm. She sang with the tears in her throat. She sang her tears to her people.
We have raised our fists in anger and we’ve tried
To work it out, work it out.
That we need each other, we cannot deny.
There is not doubt, there is not doubt.
Let us weave another dream in outer space
While we’re turning, while we’re turning.
On this planet home that holds our human race.
We still are learning, but all in all.
I’d say this year in flight together made us one.
What say we make one more circle ‘round the sun.
I’d say this year in flight together has been a hard fought one.
What say we make one more circle
One more circle
Once more circle ‘round the sun.
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To read the Epilog, click here.