by Barry B. Longyear
The light was lavender, the light was white, the light was red. When the light was white, they would come, their heads hidden in black mists.
The one with the hard mouth would be there. Hard Mouth brought the pain and the anger. Silent Her hated Hard Mouth. The light brought Hard Mouth. Silent hated the light.
Silent loved the dark and clung to it. The dark was safe. It was solitude, aloneness, quiet, an absence of pain. But only the dark that came when the light went away was safe. The darks that came when Silent hid in the cover, or closed the eyes, or held the hands over the eyes, these were not safe.
There was another black mist that would come. The other had kind lips. Kind Lips would always stand on that side and look down at Silent with soft, dark eyes. Kind Lips had dark hair, eyes of love, and a mouth that never looked angry.
Hard Mouth would stand at the other side when Kind Lips was there. Hard Mouth's hair was like the yellow light. The eyes were as blue as the tiny spots on the wall, narrow and angry. The lips were hard and pressed tightly together.
Kind Lips reached in a hand and stroked Silent's hair.
Hard Mouth reached in a hand and pinched Silent's arm.
Kind Lips pushed Hard mouth away, and as the sounds of them struggling filled Silent's ears, the pain wouldn't go away.
There was the sound. Silent listened carefully. It was Kind Lips and Hard Mouth, yet something different. There were other sounds.
A third figure appeared. It was horribly pink and naked. It had no black mist shading its features, and it had no hair on its head. Hard Mouth and Kind Lips both wore coverings of black. Shiny head's coverings were pale yellow. Shiny Head stood at one foot next to Kind Lips.
Silent looked and there was another one standing there. The new one had no black mist, but the new one did have light brown hair. Instead of black or yellow, Hairy Head's coverings were pale green.
Kind Lips raised a hand and moved fingers at Shiny Head. Shiny Head frowned at the moving fingers and said to Hairy Head, "Minister Amin, I do not read Mogam." Amazing sounds.
"I thought everyone read it, save a few fanatics," replied Hairy Head. "Not that I'm implying you're a fanatic, of course."
"Of course," answered Shiny Head.
Hairy Head leaned over and lifted the cover from Silent. "My first wife signed that you should look at my second wife's daughter's right arm, Father Yadin. Look here."
Shiny Head moved in front of Hard Mouth, bent over, and reached toward Silent. His fingers were cold and moist as they picked up the arm and turned it. The arm hurt.
"This bruising is terrible!" Shiny Head stood up and turned toward Hard Mouth. "Woman, don't you understand? You are causing your daughter terrible pain. This could cause permanent damage. Do you understand?" Shiny Head turned toward Kind Lips. "Does she understand anything?"
Kind Lips nodded and looked up at Hairy Head. Kind Lips moved fingers at Hairy Head for a long time.
Hairy Head said, "She understands."
"Forgive me, Minister Amin, but I'm certain that she signed more."
"Yes. She did." Hairy Head seemed to struggle his words out from a great pain. "My second wife believes the child can speak. The reason she pinches her is to make her give voice. She's trying to force the child to cry out."
Shiny Head frowned as he looked first at Hard Mouth, then down at the child. After a moment he looked up at Hairy Head. "How long has this been going on? Some of these bruises are weeks old."
Hairy head disappeared from view. His voice came from a distance. "Since the child was born." Hairy Head's face came back into view. He looked at Hard Mouth with angry eyes.
"In the birthing hostel, woman, the priests told you that your daughter cannot speak. Do you expect this scrap to change the world? I told you your daughter cannot speak. I was even there when the girl brought you your baby. I saw what she told you."
Hairy Head touched fingers to lips and then held the hand down as a fist. "'Silent her,' the girl signed to you. Do you remember?"
Hard Mouth looked afraid, but Hard Mouth also looked angry. Hard Mouth began moving fingers at Hairy Head, but Hairy Head slapped down Hard Mouth's hand.
"No!" shouted Hairy Head. "You did not hear her cry! You could not have heard her cry! What you heard was her twin brother, your son, Rahman. That's all you heard."
Again Hard Mouth lifted a hand and again Hairy Head slapped it down. "No! If you thought you heard two babies cry, the priests explained it was a trick the drugs played on your ears." Hairy Head let out a sigh. "You must stop this. Please stop this."
"Allow me, minister," said Shiny Head.
Hard Mouth's eyes filled with tears. Hard Mouth pulled away and went out of view. Shiny Head nodded at Hairy Head. "It is a severe problem, but it's more common than one might think."
"What is it?"
"The women pray for an end to the Curse—I suppose all of them do. However, some of them believe so strongly in the end of the Curse, they enter a world of fantasy and imagine all sorts of things. I once had a patient whose eldest daughter imagined that she could speak. She was over twenty years old and would stand there moving her lips—"
"Father Yadin," interrupted Hairy Head, "Please, get to the point."
Shiny Head rubbed its chin and frowned. "Usually this sort of thing only goes on for a few minutes or hours. A few days at most, although I do know of a case that went on for over nine years."
Hairy Head glanced down at Silent. "My daughter is nine weeks old."
"Your second wife needs help, minister. It's a kind of help I'm really not qualified to give. With your permission, I will make arrangements at a suitable facility."
Shiny Head frowned. "The madhouse is an ancient figment from the father planet. I was speaking of a specialized hospital where—"
"Impossible." Hairy Head rubbed its eyes, glanced at Kind Lips, and said to Shiny Head, "That is quite impossible, father."
"I assure you the facility is very discreet and—"
"Discreet? My family and I are in the public eye, father. Outside my estate there is no such thing as discretion, and damned little within it." Hairy Head took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I apologize for my language, father."
"There's no need."
"I cannot accept the risk. I have a responsibility to the Reformists and to my good friend Mikael Yucel. Aside from that, there is my position to consider. My son Rahman will inherit my estates, my position, my investments, and influence on this and other worlds, and the responsibilities for all of them. I cannot risk it being known that his mother is . . . troubled." Hairy Head fell silent for a moment. Hairy Head resumed speaking with a low voice. "You know what can be made of such things by the news, by the off world traders, by the orthodoxy—especially by the orthodoxy."
"Perhaps a visiting therapist, then?" implored Shiny Head.
Hairy Head stared at Silent for a long time before looking at Hard Mouth. "Very well. I will leave it to you to find someone who can keep our confidence." Hairy Head looked at Shiny Head. "There are only a few persons who know about this, and I know who they all are. If any of this gets out, I'll know to whom to send my operatives."
"I understand," answered Shiny Head.
"Make certain your therapist understands, as well."
"Make any arrangements with my secretary, Razi." Hairy Head nodded toward the door and there was a figure standing there with a glittering thing hanging from its neck.
"As you wish, minister."
Hairy Head went out of view and Glitterneck followed. There was a noise. Kind Lips bent over and tucked in Silent's cover as Shiny Head returned.
"Here," said Shiny Head as Shiny Head handed a small vial filled with blue liquid to Kind Lips. "Rub it on the bruised area. It will reduce the swelling, relieve the pain, and remove the discoloration. Do you understand?"
Kind Lips nodded.
Shiny Head nodded toward Hard Mouth. "Keep that one away from the baby. I'm going to tell the minister's secretary to have her locked up where she will no longer be a danger to the child, or to herself. After the therapist sees her. . ." Shiny Head seemed to get angry. "Look who I'm talking to." He pointed to where Hard Mouth was. "Just keep her out of this room. Can you do that?"
Kind Lips placed hands over Kind Lips's face and bowed toward Shiny Head. Shiny Head reached down and moved his hand as he said, "In the name of Alilah and his Messengers, in the name of the Enlightener, bless and protect this female. Amen."
Shiny Head went away. Kind Lips poured some of the blue liquid onto a hand and reached toward Silent. Silent was afraid for the arm, but as the delicious coolness touched it, the pain went away.
Silent lifted up a hand to touch Kind Lips's face—
Suddenly the world turned over and Silent fell, a cold hard surface striking Silent's cheek. It was dark and Silent could hear crashes and thumps. Silent hid in the darkness and cried for the pain.
The light invaded Silent's hiding place and Silent could see Hard Mouth and Kind Lips struggling. Hard mouth picked up something and struck Kind Lips in the head. Kind Lips fell to the floor.
Hard Mouth knelt and began coming closer and closer. Hard Mouth pulled the black mist off its yellow hair and came to a stop. Hard Mouth looked down, moved fingers, and pointed at Silent. Then Hard Mouth reached down and slapped Silent's face right where the cold hard surface had hit it.
Silent cried and screamed, but she made only the same quiet hiss that Hard Mouth made as Hard Mouth continued to slap and slap at Silent's face. An edge of dark softness came as Glitterneck rushed into the room. Glitterneck's arm went around Hard Mouth's throat and pulled Hard Mouth away. Glitterneck bellowed angrily at Hard Mouth as the world became very dark. . . .
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