15 Imbris 1138
Dat Lani had folded herself on the floor cushions of her cramped, windowless room when she came in after what looked like a long shift. She was a small, taut woman, like twenty stone of muscle compressed down to ten. Like most of the Western Army, she kept her hair cropped short and she’d acquired a permanent sunburn and squint. Here at a rear garrison, she wasn’t the only woman within sixty milliae, but the men still outnumbered her at least ten to one. Most women out here are Healers — that ingeniae can’t be wasted just because she needs to squat to pee.
“I don’t, actually. It’s not nearly as difficult to do it standing as you fellows think,” she said. Her voice was gravelly, tired. “Thanks for the compliment, though. Twenty stone of muscle. Your defenses falter because you’ve got massive memory scars and ingeniae damage. I can’t do a thing about the damage, but I can teach you to work around it. We’re going to rebuild those memories that you’ve burned and then deal with them. By the time I’m done with you, nobody will hear anything you don’t want them to hear and nobody will get past the dust on your skin unless you want it. We have no rank in this room and I’ve got General Arken’s ear on that. You may spend the next year shoveling horseshit at me and I’ll look at it and hand it back until we find the pony buried in the pile. Or we can get to work. Your choice, but you don’t get your license or the ability to leave this garrison until I seal your documents. Fuck around on your time, not mine.”
“Been in the army a while, I take it.”
“Longer than you’ve been alive. Do you prefer Ragin or Revinsel?”
“Good. Els, here. We start with the old scar,” she said, looking deep into the space between my shoulders — not at my head, but inside it. “That’s the worst one, and everything else builds on that. You were six and you’re not stupid. You haven’t been stupid for a long time. You know that you’re not responsible, that you bear no guilt and no shame. So why is it still infected?”
“Because he’s still walking.”
“Excellent. Do you want revenge, or justice?”
“Is there a difference?” I asked.
“Yes. Revenge is easy. I write you a four day pass, you ride hard, you knife the bastard since I think you know who he is and where to find him. Then you take your lumps like a big boy and go to the gallows content with your decision.” She pulled an inkstick from her pocket and a writing board off a nail in the wall. “Shall you and I make this easy on me?”
“I guess I want justice,” I said, chagrinned. Ayuh, years ago, murder lingered in my mind. But I know I’m not alone. If I kill Mathes, there are hundreds or thousands who don’t get to kill him. I want to watch him hang, with everyone else he’s hurt standing beside me.
“Very good. I’m starting to think there’s not a pony in the building. Tonight we’re going to work on that shame because you didn’t earn it and you didn’t buy it, so you shouldn’t own it. Then, you’ve got work on your defenses and that takes practice. You will see me every day between… ” she checked another sheet on her writing board. “Half sixth and seventh in the morning and eighth to ninth evenings. You fetch the fondal, I fetch breakfast and supper. You have no excused absences. Do you pull puissance from the air or the earth? Or are you a rarer bird?”
“Air,” I said.
“Good. Find your center, pull a lungful, and drop your drawers, soldier. This room’s warded, and you’ve got nothing I’ve never seen.”
“I have state secrets — “
“Behind Privilege,” she said. “I can’t see that even with your defenses down. Maybe there’s a pony here, after all. Drop ’em.”
An hour later, I was wet with sweat from the effort of keeping my defenses down so she could manipulate both my memories and my thoughts about them. She talked through the process, with gruff blunt good humor and sympathy, but it wasn’t easy. My defenses are half-instinct, not entirely trained responses, and instinct is a bad foundation. But I had silence in my head of a quality I’ve never before had. It would last for whole seconds of relief and peace. “Not bad, soldier,” she said wearily. “By the end of this tenday, you’ll have better theory and think you know everything about keeping someone out. Next tenday, you’ll start resisting, then after I prove you’re still full of horseshit, we’ll make real progress. But not bad. Give me a number. How much does that guilt weigh?”
“Right now?” I considered. It was a small boulder I’d been carrying for years. “Twenty, thirty pounds.”
“Good. That’s our gauge. Sometimes it will get heavy, but it’ll get lighter, too. You’ve got a habit. Do you want to know what I saw?”
I figured she wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need to know. I nodded and felt myself tense.
“I got snagged fourteen years ago,” she said. “Made it out because I didn’t fight the Spagnians after I came to. I just relaxed and let it happen. You can prepare for it all you like, and it does help. A Spagnian gang rape is just border scenery, as sure as sand storms and shit shingles on Thirdday. Practicing anything helps. But it don’t make it easy. I’ve got a touch of Valenas — not much, don’t give me bloody guts ’cause I’m no good there. But I got a little. Enough to see a vein and close it off or open it. Just little ones, though. That’s all I had to do. So the first one rolled off and gabbled at the second, and the first one went to sleep. And while the second was busy, I punched a hole in a vein inside the first one’s skull and gave him an apoplexy. Then waited for the second one to get done. I punched the second one while the third was busy. All night long. Spagnians are funny that way. They take turns and when their turn is over, they go about their business and don’t see the fella fucking a limp rag in the corner. Our fellas, they’d at least sneak a peek because oi, free show, and probably be fassin’ each other on, but Spagnians don’t. They treat fucking like we treat shitting — everyone knows, nobody ever looks. Weird fuckers. They just made their dinner and went to sleep. Like I was no different from their priv. I was pretty sure one of ’em would notice that they were dying in their sleep, but it was dark and the wind was up and there were only seven of ’em. By the time the last one got to me, I’d got past the hurting and just got numb. I didn’t have any holes left to punch, so I just had to wait. That one was a perv. Made me kneel instead of on my back like the others. I think he was the officer. But his prong hit me different and I shattered. And I killed him right then and there, with his prong still hard and in me. I blew a gallon of blood in his brain, then I got up and walked east. I found forward artillery and they got me home. It took me a year to come back out because the first six weren’t so bad. But Renara’s bright bouncing baby, I hated myself for that shatter. Does that sound familiar, Ragin?”
I couldn’t say yes, gods, yes because that boulder I’d been carrying was lodged in my throat. I felt the tears falling as hot and painful as if my eyes were boiling. I nodded hard. She scooted herself forward on her cushion and took my hands in hers. Then she looked me hard in the eye and made me see her.
“Half of all women shatter during rape. We don’t talk about it because we think the shatter means we wanted it, but that’s not true. Ask any Healer and she’ll tell you that shatters are no different from a sneeze. It’s worse for you lads. Shattering for us can get complicated, but you lads are pretty reliable in how they happen. Not so many of you get raped, but most of you shatter when it happens, and that’s why none of you louts talk about it. But there’s nothing I an’t seen. You are not alone. And you are not turnabout because you were raped. When you take a lover into your body, you’re not trying to prove you’re not scared or not hurting. How heavy is that boulder right now?”
I didn’t think I’d make words until I heard them. My voice was cracked and thick, but I had it. “Heavier than a new baby, lighter than a toddler.”
She laughed. “Oi, you picked the wrong metaphor there. Give me pounds, cannonballs, legs of mutton. Babies? No faint clue.”
“One fifteen pounder. Maybe two tens.”
“That sounds like we made progress,” she said. “We’ll keep working on that. Get your sleep in. We got a busy morning. I take my fondal light and sweet. Bring a big pot.” She offered me a fist and I pressed my knuckles into hers, then we helped each other find our feet. She toed my Lex. “Work on your defenses then sleep. The law has been there for a thousand years. It won’t go away because you didn’t get to it tonight and Bruckides needs your defenses before anything else.”
“Can I ask a rude question?”
“You wanna know how I piss standing,” she said. She fished a small, oddly shaped copper funnel from her coat pocket. Its utility was obvious once I thought about the anatomy. It probably took practice but so did shaking off and managing buttons one handed. “We all have ’em. Nobody with sense wants to flash arse during a sandstorm. You lads just never think to ask.”