Green Monkey Dreams
By Isobelle Carmody
Allen & Unwin Copyright © 2012 Isobelle Carmody
All rights reserved.
THE GLORY DAYS
They ask me to write down all I remember of the Glory days. A hard thing, because there is so much of Sorrow in the telling. My mind shies away from it, looping backwards and forwards in time.
Last night, I thought of a girl I grew up with in the sister-house who told me that minebirds sing a song just before the deadly gases kill them, to lift their souls to heaven.
Wakened this morning by the bells that toll the beginning of the solar day in Freedom, I tried to remember her name, and found I could not even recall her face.
Hearing the bells ring now, for dusk, I realise an entire day has passed like the blink of an eye, and it comes to me that if death is a kind of song that lifts the soul out of the body, sorrow, too, can steal a soul and carry it away.
Perhaps that is what is wrong with me.
Yet the story must be told, and there is no other but me to tell it. I must make them understand that there are many Sorrows in heaven, waiting to be sent to us as Angels of death. I have told them, of course, but they nod soothingly and their eyes glide away. They think I am hallucinating or perhaps that I am mad because of all that happened. They think of me as a child, telling themselves I was too young, blaming themselves.
But if I learned one thing in Glory, it is that flesh is the greatest lie.
My youth was the main objection when I was proposed as an agent, but my sponsor was Erasemus, Tribune of the body that administers Freedom. He had been a very young man when he became Tribune of Freedom, first of all cities. He was one of the initiators of the plan to establish autonomous self-regulating cities which would have the same rights as a country once had over its citizens, and it is rumoured that it was his decision that bells be rung at dawn and dusk in gratitude that we wake and sleep in freedom.
Erasemus is also my father – an archaic word. Very few children of Freedom know or care who their progenitor is. Before the nation and country wars that changed the world forever, a woman bearing a child would remain together in one dwelling with that child and any others spawned by her, and the man who impregnated her. The woman was owned by the man, and the children born to them were owned by both. There was even a contract of slavery in which she would vow to love and obey him, before witnesses, as if loving was something that could be commanded. It was all part of the vast greedy possessiveness of those times that people bound themselves together in little nations called families.
Despite the fact that such conditions were inevitably destructive, and more often than not produced psychologically flawed adults, this custom of families continued right up to the wars. Fortunately the anarchy that followed, while dreadful, broke down the old corrupt and meaningless systems. Now, it is not forbidden to know who one's mother or father is, just not important.
We are all now sons and daughters of Freedom, sisters and brothers to one another. A computer tells us when blood is wrong between a male and female, for safe mating, but otherwise there are no divisions. In my mind, Erasemus was an older brother, and I was faintly shocked that he named me daughter. I put it down to his being of the generation that straddles the changes. Though he was one of the initiators of the modern age, he was a son of the old world and it had left its mark on him.
He saw my discomfort and said, 'I tell you of the close blood between us because I would ask you to do a thing which is more than I have the right to ask.' I remember that I thought his eyes very sad and beautiful in his ugly boulder of a face. I had not been so close to him before, having only ever seen him during public addresses, and the contrast struck me. There was an expression in his eyes I did not understand. I know now it was guilt at the knowledge that his truest daughter was Freedom, and that one daughter may be sacrificed to save another.
'What do you want of me?' I asked, without the slightest sensible twinge of unease. I had grown up in Freedom and knew that I might say no if I wished to whatever he proposed, though he was the most powerful man in the city. It meant nothing to me that he was my father. I was about to learn that one could be compelled by honour and pride far more easily than by force.
'You know that Freedom sends emissaries to the other cities – to Serenity and Winter?'
I nodded, I think. 'Because of trade and to stop inbreeding?'
He nodded too, but a little impatiently, as if I was behaving like a clever student when something more was wanted of me. 'Among other things, for trade, yes. Other sorts of emissaries are sent to the frontier cities like Fury.'
'Agents,' I said, remembering some gossip I had overheard.
He blinked and, though his expression did not alter, I sensed his appraisal deepen. 'Do you know why we send agents rather than diplomatic and official emissaries?'
I didn't. I had only overheard the word and assumed it was another name for emissary.
'Have you heard of Glory?' he asked.
Another piece of gossip surfaced in my mind. 'It is a frontier city.'
He smiled then. 'It is not common knowledge that we have located another city on the very edge of the wastes, but it does not surprise me that you have heard of it, my dear. I have kept an eye on your mentor reports over the years and it has been observed more than once, and not always as a compliment, that you are in the habit of noticing rather more than people generally do.'
'You monitored my progress? Why?' Embarrassment made me brusque.
'Curiosity. Your mother ...' I flinched and he frowned at me, but changed the subject abruptly.
'We needed a child who could ...' His voice trailed off, and I remember being startled. One did not think of the articulate brilliant Tribune being lost for words. That did make me feel a quiver of apprehension, but before I could fasten on it, he was going on, telling me that Glory had been visited by Freedom's emissaries and, as with many of the frontier cities, they were refused entry. Only people wanting to join the city were allowed inside.
'Agents are sent in when emissaries are refused entry,' Erasemus said.
I was shocked because this flouted everything that Freedom and the cities represented. Officially a city might close its borders if it chose. Cities were small and could not increase beyond their walls, preventing the need for physical expansion. All cities were the same ground size. Numbers could increase, but only in so far as there was capacity for them. Cities like Winter were built up to house their population. When the population overgrew, another city would be built, and its builders would then design their own inner city matrix and modes of governance in accordance with whatever rules or ideals they had. No city could amalgamate with another, though people might shift between them. No city could interfere with another.
'We need to know what is happening in the new cities that are formed,' Erasemus said. 'We send agents in when emissaries are not permitted merely to examine the social matrix to ensure Interference is not part of its mindset. None of the agents sent to Glory returned but we received enough information from them to indicate that Glory has begun stockpiling ancient weaponry.'
'How many agents were sent in?' I interrupted.
After a pause, he said: 'Twenty, but that information is strictly confidential.'
My mouth fell open. 'When you say they did not return ...'
'I mean they were never seen again. It is likely ... most certainly likely that they died. Were killed to prevent them speaking of what they witnessed. We must know why and what is going on in Glory.'
I knew then.
We need a child, he had said. I had been consistently high in lessons with whichever mentor I chose, as he had observed, and I had already taken on the position of mentor to three younger sisters and a brother. One mentor told me I had a mind that leaped ahead of logic and reason which made my work patchy and inconsistent, but occasionally inspired. I had been voted to lead the youth tribunal, but had preferred to sit as an independent and speak when the mood took me. In truth, I had feared boredom.
Hearing of my refusal, my favourite mentor brother told me that there were three kinds of people: followers, leaders and scouts. Scouts were capable of leadership, but they could not tolerate the responsibility of it. Disinclined to take orders either, they invariably flouted authority and fomented strife. This was why scouts, he said wryly, were the first to be sent into danger. It was half hoped they would be killed.
'I fear you are destined to trouble us as a scout, little sister,' he said.
'All of the agents lost were adults,' Erasemus was saying. 'We now feel that the deepest heart of Glory is ... too rigid for an adult outsider to infiltrate ...'
I was nodding, and so he stopped. He was too clever to overstate. 'You must think it over,' he said, but he knew and I knew, that there was no choice. Twenty dead because they had entered one of the closed frontier cities. Dead, why? What had they seen? That was what I was to find out. To seek knowledge was not Interference.
'Have you any information about the city?' I asked. 'About its culture and traditions? Its laws?'
'Little enough, I am afraid,' Erasemus said. 'Closed and focused around a central religion called the High Path, its people worship a figure known as the Angel.'
It was to his credit that he did not baulk at the word.
'The Angel?' I asked. 'Is their religion another version of ancient Christianity? Do they worship an Angel as a god, or is it an idol?'
'The Angel is a real person with the power of life and death over his followers. As you know, we do not interfere in internal politics or religions so long as citizens are free to leave a city if they choose it. But in this case, agents were prevented from leaving and there is the real possibility that Glory will use its arsenal against other cities. We want to know if they plan to make war on nearby cities or on one city in particular. If possible, we need to know where their arsenal is stored.'
'Information, then?' I asked crisply, thinking that was not too great a thing to ask; forgetting that what Erasemus wanted and what Glory would demand of me might be two different things.
The healer, Laurai, visits me, interrupting my memories. I cannot say I regret it.
'You must get up. Go outside. It will do you good to walk about and exercise your limbs, lest they begin to atrophy,' she says somewhat sternly, as if my inactivity is wilful and stubborn.
I have a sudden muddied memory of being dragged from rubble, my bones grinding together, my face streaming with blood and tears.
I had not known, when I first woke, why I wept. The memories of the last day had been crushed out of me by the stone teeth of Glory, lethal even as it fell. A blessed, if fleeting forgetting.
When I woke the second time from a nightmare of drowning, I was in Freedom and Laurai was leaning over me. I had never met her before and thought I was in Glory still. Then she spoke and I knew I was home. There were no healers in Glory.
When she realised I could not speak, she pressed a pencil and paper into my fingers. I lay there cradling them, without the strength even to write and ask what had befallen me. The last thing I could remember clearly was running along the main street in Glory. It was Erasemus who told me, when he visited later that day, that Glory was gone, destroyed along with all of its inhabitants.
'What happened?' he asked. 'Jack Rose saw the city explode.'
It took all of my will to write. He looked at me searchingly after reading my scrawl. 'You don't remember?'
I had not strength enough then to shake my head, but he read the answer in my face. He asked the healer if the lost contents of the rooms in my mind would ever be restored.
'They are not empty,' Laurai said, her cool eyes blue and watchful. 'It is only that her mind has suffered a sort of blindness.' She had looked at me then. 'You must teach it to see again.'
She touched the pencil with the tip of her finger. 'That is the key to the memories locked inside you. Write what you remember and the rest will follow. Go gently, for if you force the memories, they might vanish altogether. Go back to things that you remember well, then move carefully forward in time. You must stalk the thread of memory like a cat stalks a bird.'
And of course, I did remember.
Like all frontier cities, Glory was walled, but getting into it was more unpleasant at first than dangerous. Indeed, I thought I might as easily have walked in openly, for the guards on the gate seemed relaxed and inattentive once the entrants swore fealty.
'Do not let them fool you,' whispered Jack Rose grimly. 'That is a Venus flytrap. Easy to enter, hard to leave.'
He had been my mentor and trainer in the art of spying, and he had brought me to Glory. I had thought Rose rather a soft name for a spymaster, but Jack had thorns aplenty, and he did his best to help me develop my own on that long journey. There had been no time for proper training at the little-known agents' academy, and I was not sure I could have borne it, had there been time. I felt trained agents were a symbol of Interference, and Jack Rose and I argued our way to the frontier.
'We must be safe,' he said once. 'We must guard Freedom.'
'Freedom is more than our city. It is an ideal and you are breaking it. You and Erasemus and the academy. You deny the other cities the very freedom you guard in ours. One city is no better than another. No larger, no stronger ...'
'If Freedom is threatened by another city, it must protect itself.'
'But you don't know if it is a threat when you send in agents.'
We could not agree, and yet we became close on that journey. Despite our differences, it was he who would drag me from the ruins though I was a scout and dispensable.
'We are fairly certain that everyone new who enters the gate is followed,' he told me, when we were finally crouched in the dank and odorous sewer drain of Glory. Peering out through the grille, we were waiting for the street to be empty long enough for me to get out unnoticed.
'The other agents went too casually,' Jack Rose said. 'The one advantage of entering this way is that, because it is so apparently easy to get into the city, no one would bother watching the drains. Remember ...'
'Be invisible,' I finished, quoting his creed and grinning despite the jitter of my heart against my chestbones.
He squeezed my arm, ever unsmiling. 'Stay only long enough to find out what goes on, Rian. In and out.'
I nodded, believing it would be that easy; truly imagining I was well prepared for what lay ahead. Secreted weaponry, stun pills and gases, a rudimentary training in the amalgamated martial art of Taiche.
'One last thing,' Jack Rose said. He took my hand and pushed a ring onto my finger. 'If you need help, activate the first setting on the red seeker ring. I will find you if I can. But only do it if you are desperate.'
I stared at him, because agents always went in without anything that would prove they were agents. Always. He had told me that himself. I stared into his fierce wild eyes, trying to frame a question, but he prodded me unceremoniously and said the way was clear, so I climbed out into the empty street throwing off the grey coverall that had kept the drain muck from my pale tunic. He pulled the grating back in place and hissed at me to get away from the duct before vanishing into the fetid darkness of the caverns. I walked away without looking back.
Of course, what lay at the heart of Glory was Sorrow, and I was defenceless as a babe against that.
Glory was not much different to Serenity in its layout: utilitarian, and constructed along a squared grid. A mentor had taken me there once to show me that anything could be taken to excess, even the desire for peace. But what was bare and grim in mind-numb Serenity was in Glory gentle simplicity. Glory was clean and pale as the mountain city of Winter which had been the first city growing out of us, and shared many of Freedom's laws and customs. As in Winter, most constructions in Glory were of white softstone, though they were not the tall pale towers of our sister city, but low flat-roofed dwellings for the most part, all unadorned. The clean, bare, bonelike whiteness of Glory gave off a radiance in the solar rays that hurt my eyes, and I was glad the day was near to ending.
We knew the ceremonies conducted by the Angel occurred at sunset, hence my entry to the city at that time. We had agreed that any mistakes would be less likely to be noticed if people had their minds elsewhere, and besides, I could attend the ceremony and observe what went on there.
In and out, I promised myself.
A stooped man stepped from a doorway ahead, and I followed. He led me into the broad avenue I later learned was the main street, and suddenly we were only two in a whole stream of people. I was startled to see how many of them looked ill and frail in their spotless white tunics. Many bore savage burn scars, though they looked content enough. I was uncomfortably aware that I was too healthy looking, but no one paid the slightest attention to me.
Ahead, I could see the thickening crowd stream up a set of broad steps and go under a stone arch. This must be the Chantry Jack had told me about. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Green Monkey Dreams by Isobelle Carmody. Copyright © 2012 Isobelle Carmody. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.