FYI: This year's remix challenge is up. Aside from ludditerobot 's Africander challenge, this is the only fic-a-thon I'm planning on doing this year. After the remix and Africander, that's it for me. I have to finish what I have on my plate (see list to the right). Then I have to sit me down and start considering some things on the fiction front and other RL issues.
For people who are intested in signing up, or who want to know what the remix fic-a-thon is, check it out. It's loads of fun and a great writing exercise.
I left myself open to remix stories in the Buffy, Stargate: Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica fandoms. It'll be interesting to see which fandom I pull. I suspect that it might be Buffy because there aren't a whole lot of Buffy writers signing up (yet). Last year, I drew Deep Space 9 because I suspect there were very few people willing to write in that fandom and there was someone with a lot of stories in it.
musesfool usually does a good job of matching writers with similar interests, so c'mon. Give it a whirl, guys.
Right, on to story...
Okay, lots of local color in this and the next part. I obviously misunderstood the parameters, because I threw in a little travalogue here. As far as I know, the local color is as accurate as I can get it, thanks to numerous online backpacker diaries, Michael Palin, and numerous photos of Djenné.
And yes, the bit about the doves in the Tapama courtyard is true. I couldn't make any of this up if I tried.
Radar apparently had enough of my breaking the rules. As I heard the shower sputter to life, Radar simply turned his back on me, yanked the bedcovers off the bed, wrapped himself in the blankets, and promptly laid down on the floor with his back to me.
“Tell Ally she can have the bed, yeah?” he said shortly. “G’night.”
He refused to say anything more.
I wish I could say I enjoyed a restful night. The bed was comfortable enough and it was most certainly clean, but the pull of homesickness for my own safe corner of the world was overwhelming.
My loneliness was not helped by the stubbornly silent Radar, who refused to speak even to Alexandrienne when she attempted to tease him into the bed she promised to let him have. When the method failed to even get a reaction out of him, she frowned at him with worry before taking the bed for herself.
Thankfully, she didn’t even look to me to determine the cause of Radar’s sudden withdrawal. I suspected that if Radar had said something, or if I had tried to explain, I really would find myself thrown out the narrow window onto the street below.
Alexandrienne looked quite different in the privacy of the room. For bed she wore loose-flowing pajama bottoms and an over-sized t-shirt, both of a more sedate color scheme than her daytime dress. Her head was bare, revealing sensible, close-cropped hair. Were it not for her accent and her irregular turns of phrase, she could pass as just another British lass from Brent preparing for bed.
Between Radar’s foul mood, and Alexandrienne’s worried silence — now doubled on account of her younger charge — my state of mind was such that it was not conducive to sleep. Long after Radar’s and Alexandrienne’s breathing evened out, I stared at the ceiling. It was one thing to pull apart the character of an adult, it was quite another to attempt such an exercise on a boy whose voice was precariously balanced on the edge of changing into a man’s.
The situation with Radar illustrated that I would have to step carefully in my mission. My target had to be fixed on Mr. Harris at all times, and I would have to be mindful of the children around him who might get caught in the crossfire. How I was to avoid hurting Mr. Harris’s charges in my efforts to excise him from their world, I didn’t know.
Despite my busy mind, I must’ve eventually drifted into slumber. One moment the room was dark and all was quiet. The next, the local birds were making the most earth-shattering racket in the grey dawn. The riot of twitters and chirps jerked me awake far more efficiently than any alarm clock. I was still settling my confused senses when Radar yawned himself awake and sleepily stumbled to the bathroom.
Alexandrienne remained sound asleep. How she could do so while the birds were in full-throated song was an utter mystery.
I lay back down, fully intent on following Alexandrienne’s lead. I had only begun to drift off, despite the horrendous noise, when a knock sounded against our door. Alexandrienne mumbled something in response and flung an arm over her head. Radar was still busy in the bathroom taking a shower, and Alexandrienne refused to stir. It appeared I would have to answer.
A second round of more insistent knocking sounded.
I stumbled out of bed and said loudly through the door, “Who is it?”
There was a beat of silence before a female voice with a light Spanish accent hesitantly said, “Is this the wrong room? I’m looking for Ally and—”
“Alexandrienne and Radar?” I finished.
“Yeah.” The voice sounded relieved. “You must be Miss Swithin?”
Alexandrienne suddenly pushed me out of the way. I was about to protest my rough treatment when she opened the door and rushed outside. A young, stout nun with a wide, brown, friendly face and wearing jeans, a plain t-shirt, and a habit that covered most of her hair, grinned apologetically at me before addressing the Slayer.
“He’s not with me, Ally,” she said as Alexandrienne scanned the area, no doubt looking for the absent Mr. Harris.
Alexandrienne turned to the nun. “We heard there was an attack.”
The nun seemed surprised. “How did you—”
Alexandrienne re-entered the room and explained, “I dusted two vampires in the market last night. Monsieur Ly said they were attacking people. So we went to go look and we found them. Radar, he asked around and someone told him about Curly. Was there more?”
The nun tiredly rubbed her face. “Vampires? In Djenné? At the same time we’ve got these other attacks. That’s not good news.”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry,” the nun said. “I’m Sister Mary Margaret Ignatius Augustine. The kids just call me Sister Ig because that’s a mouthful even for me.” She reached out, grabbed my hand, and pumped it in that way overenthusiastic Yanks have. “You’ve got to be Miss Swithin from the Council. Talk about your bad timing. Harris was hoping to ease you into the swing of things, but I guess it’s the deep end of the pool for you.”
I gingerly withdrew my hand, disconcerted by her rapid-fire, lightly Spanish-flavored delivery and her hearty handshake. “I’m not here to actually participate—” I began.
Sister Ig waved a hand as she dropped onto the bed that had been vacated by Alexandrienne. “I know, I know. Resource review. Harris had me making lists of things I need and want for the school all last week. He’s been driving Doc and Sue — unh, Sue’s Doc’s fiancé and she’s our nurse — absolutely bananas to make sure they had a complete list for the clinic. Between you and me, I see a mind-numbing list of antibiotics and a request for an open account with the Gatorade people in your future. I think Harris is actually lobbying Doc to ask for a state-of-the-art MASH unit complete with Hawkeye Piece, or at least Charles Winchester III.”
I was very much taken aback. If Sister Ig was telling the truth, Mr. Harris actually did believe my cover story. “Yes, well. You do have the nut of my mission. I am not here to involve myself with the actual Slaying of vampires, as such.”
Sister Ig frowned at me. “Aren’t you a Watcher? I thought you guys lived and breathed this stuff.”
“She says she does not fight,” Alexandrienne volunteered impatiently. “Now tell us news.”
Radar burst out of the bathroom and threw himself onto the bed next to Sister Ig, even though he looked like he, at best, ignored the towels in his rush to get dressed. “MeandAllywenttostakesomevampiresandIfou
Sister Ig burst out laughing as she captured the boy in a one-armed hug. “Breathe, kid. You’ll burst a blood vessel.”
“She is about to tell us,” Alexandrienne scolded Radar.
“Right. You know about Joe. Curly we found out about because Harris was there.” Sister Ig looked at me. “Around here, a quick chat is three glasses of tea and a two-hour conversation just to say hello. If you happen to be around at dinnertime, forget it. You’re not going anywhere. An entire country that’s worse than my mother.”
“Yes, we did get the impression that he was delayed on account of a dinner invitation,” I dryly explained.
“I did,” Radar glared at me.
“Quite right,” I hastily agreed in an effort to get back into his good graces. “I was too exhausted to be of any use and remained here while Alexandrienne and Radar dealt with the business in the market.”
This caused Sister Ig’s eyebrows to rise with surprise.
“You said you do not fight, also,” Alexandrienne repeated.
“I have not been trained beyond the basics of self-defense, no,” I again found myself quickly agreeing. “I would only get in the way.”
“At least you’re trained. You might end up holding a stake anyway before the week’s out.” Sister Ig’s prediction caused a brief fission of fear in my mind. She blithely continued, “There’ve been too many attacks in too many places too close to us. Even I’m feeling goosebumps, and I’m the original keep-the-homefires-burning kind of woman.”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but you do seem a little bit far from home,” I pointed out.
Sister Ig rolled her eyes. “Found out I was a homebody only after I got here. My timing could’ve been better. I should’ve stayed in Chicago. That’s where all the White Castles live.”
“Sister,” Alexandrienne impatiently prompted.
“Alright, alright,” Sister Ig good-naturedly agreed. “From what I understand, dinner got interrupted when Harris heard the fight. He busted a move and got out there just in time to spook the vampire.”
“‘Spook?’” I asked. “One does not ‘spook’ a vampire.”
“Yeah, Harris thought that wasn’t right either,” Sister Ig agreed. “He figured that either the vampire heard rumors about us and didn’t believe them until the One-Eyed Wild Man himself started shooting arrows at him, or the vampire was a distraction so an attack could happen somewhere else, or…well, there is an or, but no one has figured out what it is yet.”
“Xander is fine?” Alexandrienne looked distinctly relieved.
“Exhausted, but fine,” Sister Ig assured her. “He’s basically been rattling around in the Toyota since then, trying to find out if there’ve been attacks somewhere else or if anyone’s seen something. Last I heard, he’s got nothing, but he’s shipping the more experienced girls out to all the surrounding villages just in case.”
“I believe he forgot to check this town,” I remarked. “Mr. Ly was about to send a message to him about the disturbances here.”
Sister Ig winced. “You’ll have to ask him why he gave Djenné a miss. I don’t get involved in this side of it, so I can’t tell you what he was thinking. I do the teaching and help out with the minor cuts and scrapes and that’s it.”
Alexandrienne jumped to Mr. Harris’s defense. “We would not think to check. Enough people here know about vampires and they know how to find us. It is a small island, also. Maybe 7 kilometers across. It is bigger than the villages, but not so big that vampires won’t be caught. Out there,” she waved, “plenty of space to hide. Here, they cannot hide as well. There are rivers in the way if they wish to run and they are flooded now.”
“Vampires can swim. Vampires don’t need to breathe. So the rivers, flooded or not, are immaterial,” I pointed out. “I also recall that you said there was a vampire problem in the area when you first got here.”
“Mostly on market day. There are a lot of people then and many tourists,” Alexandrienne said. “Hard to feed many vampires on just people who live here.”
“But if they kill enough people here, and word gets out that it’s vampires, we could have bigger problems,” Sister Ig said. “No one will want to do business with us.”
“I thought you did not strategize,” I suspiciously said.
“Chicago. Big Boss Daley. Where the dead vote early and often. Prohibition? The mob?” Sister Ig rhetorically said. “I just have to watch one Scorsese movie to know how this works.”
“In short, your protection racket comes tumbling down if your opponent breaks your kneecaps in Djenné,” I said.
Sister Ig blinked. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just compare us to the mob, but, yeah, that sounds right to me.”
“Xander’s not going to like hearing that,” Radar piped up.
“Agreed,” Alexandrienne grimly said.
“Nothing we can do about it right now,” Sister Ig said as she disengaged from Radar and got to her feet. “Harris is running around out there trying to figure out what’s going on and I still have a shopping list.” She turned an apologetic smile on me. “He said he’ll be at base camp when we get there and he’ll talk to you then. Not exactly the big welcome he had planned, but you know how it is.”
I smiled my best diplomatic smile. “Well, these things do happen. It’s most likely for the best. It’ll be good to see how Mr. Harris and his people respond to a crisis. The senior Watchers in London will no doubt be pleased to hear reports that their man knows what he’s about.”
Despite the fact that Sister Ig wanted to get an early start, we all wanted one final shower, even if it was a cold water one. Soon we were dressed and ready for breakfast. Alexandrienne had returned to her typical attire, as did Radar. They must’ve been masters at packing their backpacks, since their clothes were clean and their outfits different than the day before.
As we ate the simple breakfast in the Tapama’s charming cobbled courtyard, Sister Ig cheerfully pointed out the weaverbirds, which were the source of much of the racket, and the doves snuggled in the nesting boxes. The doves, apparently, were from Mecca itself, and so were accorded the same comforts as any honored guest. We watched as a boy ran from box to box to feed the doves and make sure none of them were sick. The feathered pashas serenely accepted this attention as if it were their due.
Shortly thereafter, Sister Ig escorted us to the village jeep — apparently Mr. Harris thought it wise that the village have a communal mode of transportation while he traveled hither and yon in search of Slayers — parked at the edge of the market so we could put our backpacks and my luggage under a tarp in the back. She said something in hesitant but otherwise excellent French to a nearby boy and handed him some CFAs. “He’ll keep an eye on our things and the jeep,” Sister Ig assured me after she finished her transaction.
“Is crime a problem here?” I asked as she steered me to the center of the market marked by the Grande Mosqueé in the distance.
She shrugged. “Nothing unusual. Some of the Chi-Town boys in my neighborhood would laugh their heads off at what’s considered a big-time crime around here. I just don’t want to come back and find out that some kids borrowed the jeep and drove it into the Bani by accident. There are a couple of boys that rake in the cash on market day by guarding whatever car or taxi’s around while the owners go shopping. It works out.”
As we pushed deeper through the maze of stalls, dodging the growing number of people, goats, rams, donkeys, and the occasional camel along the way, Sister Ig added, “It’s going to get crazy claustrophobic around here soon, so odds are pretty good we’re getting separated. You going to be okay if that happens?”
Alexandrienne and Radar paused in front of us, obviously waiting to hear my answer.
I looked around me and could see that Sister Ig was right. Much as I didn’t like the idea of stumbling around a large outdoor market in an unfamiliar city where everyone communicated in a language I couldn’t speak, I knew there was very little I could do to prevent it.
“I’ll manage to survive, provided you give me a safe haven to get to,” I finally answered.
Sister Ig grinned. “Sense of adventure! I like it. Okay, see the mosque way down there?”
“Get to the square right in front of it. It’ll be wall-to-wall people and more than a few parked trucks, but you should be okay. When you’re facing the front of the mosque, look to your left. There’s always tea stalls over there. Just pull up a chair at one of them and wait. I’ve got a medium-sized list, but no hope of getting out of here before noon. I see you’ve got a watch, so just plant yourself there around 1-ish and we’ll be along around then.”
“I’ll be sure to be there.”
“Oh, before I forget,” Sister Ig said. “Make sure you buy at least some tea while you’re waiting so you’re at least paying someone for taking up space.”
I shook my head. “Good Lord! One of the locals attempted to charge me when I entered town. Why do I suspect they’d charge me for breathing in the dust if they could get away with it?”
“Oh, yeah. They’re a bunch of Ferengis here, all right,” Sister Ig nodded with good cheer.
“Ferengis?” I asked. “What are—”
Sister Ig released a long-suffering sigh. “Not a Star Trek fan, are you?”
“You’re not serious,” I deadpanned.
“Look, there’s a reason why people around here have a lot of money, relatively speaking anyway. People who work this market are sharp and there’s nothing wrong with their math and their skill in sizing you up,” Sister Ig said. “They’ll take one look at you and next thing you know, they’re selling you things you don’t need for double the normal price, so don’t buy anything unless you have to.”
“I don’t plan on buying anything,” I assured her over the growing crowd noise.
Sister Ig laughed. “You say that now, but don’t make me say I told you so when you show up with a hundred plastic bags. Been there. Done that. Have the tacky t-shirt. Actually, ended up buying five of them before I learned my lesson. I’m a nun, for heaven’s sake. What am I supposed to do with a pink baby t-shirt that says ‘Porn Star’ across the bust?”
I chuckled appreciatively at her joke.
She looked at Radar. “I love it when they’re still innocent.” She dug through the mid-sized messenger bag slung crosswise across her chest. “Okay kids, I’ve got a list. What do you say we split it up so we can get out of here faster?”
“I’m more than willing to help,” I protested.
“No!” Alexandrienne and Radar chorused.
“Remember my porn star t-shirt?” Sister Ig asked. “I was being completely serious about that. So, why don’t we wait until you’ve got the hang of shopping Djenné-style before we let you help.”