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#53-b: The Apes of Hell

Penance I will give the none,
But seven years as a stepping stone,
But seven years as a stepping stone,
As the sun shines down so early.
Seven more as a clapper to ring in the bell,
Seven to run from the apes of hell,
Seven to run from the apes of hell,
As the sun shines down so early.
Welcome, welcome stepping stone,
Welcome clapper in the bell to ring,
Welcome clapper in the bell to ring,
As the sun shines down so early.
Welcome stone, welcome bell,
Christ, keep me from the apes of hell,
Christ, keep me from the apes of hell,
As the sun shines down so early.

--Traditional, "The Maid and the Palmer-Man"

Marlborough City, February 22, 1972

The great gilded neo-Gothic dome of the Academy's main building threw
off the glint of the northern sun, almost heraldic against the intense
hot-cold indigo dome of the sky.  Snow littered the ground in great
drifts, collecting along the tops of twisting black limbs of bare
trees.  A crow cawed overhead loudly.  A wind rustled the branches,
bittering the air, as greatcoated cadets hurried to classes.
Altogether a typical day, to a cursory glance.

Some of the details were nonetheless odd, though it would have taken
great pains on the part of an observer to detect them.  There was a
woman cadet on duty in the sky-blue wooden guard-box outside the
Administration Building.  This was unusual.  Sometimes the stars of
the "noble experiment" of women in the RCNAAF were brought out to add
what the Quebecois liked to call je ne sais quoi to the full-dress
honor guards on special occasions, but braving the brutality of a
Manitoban February morning for something as menial and horribly
unrewarding as mounting guard was quite rare.

Perfectly motionless.  She abruptly snapped into motion as an officer
passed, bringing her bayoneted, wooden-stocked parade rifle to
attention and stamped her foot, quickly returning to her previous
position as he passed.  She had learned to come to attention like that
all too well; she had been out here all too many times.  A heavy
pale-blue greatcoat, flap-fronted and brushing the calves of her
brightly-shined boots helped keep the wind at bay, but even those
biting northern gales which sometimes roared through the grounds for a
few seconds were excruciating to bear.  An empty bayonet-scabbard hung
at her side, suspended on broad white webbing, while her close-cut
dark hair was hidden beneath a brown fur cap, its flapped front
displaying the brass badge of the academy.

Anyone who had kept up with the papers knew who she was, though the
infamous memory of her father's crime was starting to dissipate.  In
the back of her mind, she was even slightly disappointed that the
Mexicans had not goaded her father on.  He would have at least been
fighting for something, something that, in the secret corridors of her
psyche, she was beginning to have some minute sympathy for.  She knew
about Jefferson--the man, and the old nation--and Jeffersonianism,
spent long hours in the library reading what little she could find
about it.  She had plenty of time when she wasn't assigned to doing
the bl--ing worthless tasks her bl--dy superiors liked to dump on her.
 Now that she had no friends, that is.  She would find all she could
about him and his followers and sit in judgment of them.  And in
judgment of the system that threw them out like worthless trash.

Like her.

A hobby, for now.  At least it wasn't that nebulous nonsense he used
to spout off at Peace and Justice meetings back home in that frozen
hellhole.  Like the frozen hellhole I know live in, she thought,
bitterly.

Now, everyone was seeing him as a boozed-up victim of psychic trauma
or whatever the Franklian psycho-analysts loved to go on about.  She
had been forced to take a whole lot of those tests after the incident,
and hated each one of them.  And talks.  Lots of sessions with the
d--mned therapist Dr. Dreyfuss going on and on about some dead Greek
woman called Elektra.  On that G--dd--mned couch.

The official reason she was on guard duty didn't have much to do with
her father, though she thought she knew better.  It had been two years
since the incident, and the new Commandant and his lackeys were still
trying to wear her down, get her to break under the strain, toss her
out like yesterday's rubbish.  They didn't want her to spoil their
golden girl cadets, tarnish the all-Confederation image they had
worked so hard to build.  A few of those golden--gilt,
surely--creatures had cracked one of her ribs in a fight in one of the
barracks a few days later.  And she had cracked a couple of their
arms.  The whole affair had been carefully swept under the rug by the
Commandant, Joseph, Earl St. Laurent.  Her attackers had been the
usual suspects--Louisa St. Laurent was the ringleader.  This was no
coincidence.

The incident had not gone on her record, either: it would have drawn
too much attention to the overt act that had started the whole fracas.
 But she started getting posted to the sentry box outside the main
building a few days later.

Ev had been the first to visit her while she was on duty that morning,
drawing aside her long, well-tailored military topcoat as she rested
leather-gloved hands on hips.  Booted and spurred, a riding crop
tucked under her arm.  How elegant, how dashingly equestrian our dear
Ev looks, she thought contemptuously.  Like all the others of her
class, still thinking that we clank about on horseback.

"Well, well, well.  What have you gotten your poor little self into
this time?"

That had been all she had said.  In fact, that had been the last thing
Ev had ever said to her.

Back to the present.  A young male cadet passes, looking at her
wild-eyed.  Minutes pass.

Another, an aristocratic, sharp-profiled older professor in peaked cap
and overcoat, murmurs something as he stops, observing her carefully
through his monocle.  "Pacifist strumpet."  She hears the soft thud of
spittle staining her overcoat, and flinches almost imperceptibly.

She says nothing, but her eyes seem to harden just a little bit more.

*******************************************************************************
M.G. Alderman
University of Notre Dame,
Notre Dame, Indiana