Selik's pet sehlat refuses, as Mama would say, to get with the program. He collapses into an obstinate heap, panting, fangs glistening with saliva, ears flopping in the desert wind.
His stubborness is very, very frustrating, indeed. One cannot afford to waste time when running away. One must move expeditiously. One must disappear into the night before Samekh awakens from his slumber. One must become like the mutant Storm, the Wind-Rider, the Goddess of the Plains, who just like Mama comes from Kenya. Ororo Munroe trekked across the Sahara and Serengeti, Maasai Mara, and survived snakes and lions and cheetahs and black rhinoceroses and the dry season by harnessing the power of thunder, lightning, rain, wind. Storm is not afraid of the night. She is the night. Selik endeavours to press on through the blackness of New Vulcan's witching hour with the same tenacity and courage of the most powerful X-Man of them all.
Selik knows absolutely everything there is to know about Storm because Mama bought her all the comics. Selik has read every issue in preparation for her kahs-wan. Her middle name, T'Rama, means Lady of Thunder; therefore it is a statistical certainty that she is Storm's descendant, the latest in the ancient line of priestesses who wield magic like demigods. If Storm's powers appeared during her desert trek, wouldn't Selik's appear during her ritual coming-of-age out in New Vulcan's wilderness?
Her logic is extremely, extremely, undeniably sound, yet Samekh will not see reason.
"I understand that you have been anticipating your kahs-wan for fourteen standard months and eight days, since your cousin Yoris underwent his, and that this is not the news you desire to hear, but I am your father, and it is my responsibility to see after your well-being," Father had said, his voice stern and his posture perfectly straight as he sat at the edge of her cot, the one she usually shared with her twin sister Amayel.
"You are being illogical, Samekh!" said Selik, upon hearing his declaration. She sat up, the brightly-colored afghan that Mama knit slipping off her chest and shoulders. "Your judgment is clouded by emotion. I suggest you meditate to regain control. You sound like V'Tosh Ka'tur."
"That's enough, Selik," said Mama. She stood in the door frame of Selik and Amayel's bed chamber. "You do not talk to your father like that. I don't care what you think. End of discussion."
Mama spoke in that tone that almost always quieted Selik's protests.
"But why am I not allowed to go? Nineteen of my associates at school have completed their journeys already," said Selik, remembering how Amiv refused to use a dermal regenerator on his cuts and scrapes, wearing them proudly for weeks. He was Selik's most compatible classmate, and she appreciated hearing him recount his experiences.
"Your peers do not have to contend with the same health issues that you do. Though your respiratory functions continue to improve, your lungs cannot take the significant strain that ten days in the desert would require," Samekh said, his tone rising in volume fractionally. She'd heard this all before, but had she not proven her physical stamina through her success in martial arts competitions? Papa said that he would allow her more freedom in athletic pursuits if she kept up with her meditation schedule and was diligent in taking her medication, which she had been. Selik only needed to be reminded about her medicine every few days.
"I would bring my inhaler and oxygen hypos. Please, Samekh? Mama?" she asked, and she hated Samekh for reducing her to this illogical, begging state!
"I have made my decision, and it would be logical for you to accept what you cannot control. It is done," he said.
Samekh went to stroke her cheek, but Selik pulled away in time, burying her face into the pillow, which smelled of detergent and Mama and Samekh and Amayel and cotton and sehlat hair.
"Are you letting Amayel go on hers?" asked Selik. She was quite certain she already knew the answer to that.
Samekh's lips thinned into a tight line. "Amayel does not desire to go."
Selik felt quite tempted to roll her eyes, but she thought of how her Honoured Great-Grandmother T'Pau would chastise her if she were there to see it it. "Of course she doesn't desire to go. Your perfect daughter, whose wishes always automatically fall in line with your wishes. It is no wonder why you cherish her more than me and give her everything she wants." Selik knew that her breaths were growing uneven, but very carefully, she counted each inhalation and exhalation in her head, trying to appear calm.
"Selik. This-one cherishes you more than oxygen," Samekh said, even though his words were very clearly lies.
"If it's not true, then where is Amayel now? You let her spend three weeks at camp, but not me. You half smile at her. You raise your eyebrow at her. I am not unobservant. I see these things. I see how much you care for her. I am your burden. Well, I do not care, because you are my burden, as well. That is all you are to me," she said, breaths growing more rapid, and it felt like an electrical storm beneath her rib cage, emotions densening.
Mama walked across the room and sat next to Selik, displacing Samekh. He stood but remained by the cot, and Selik wished he'd go away. "My darling, fiery, brilliant girl. I suggest you stop speaking right now before you say something you'll later regret," she said, her hand grasping Selik's. The feel of Mama's heated grasp made Selik's whole being throb with warmth and understanding. A trick. Selik tore her hand from Mama's and turned to face the stone wall, knees clutched to her chest. She wished the front of her hair was not braided into cornrows so the coils could fall loosely in front of her face and cover her eyes.
"The only thing I find regrettable is that Samekh is my father," said Selik.
"And you, Mama, have betrayed me. You said I was a Daughter of the Storm. You said I could summon Storm's strength during my kahs-wan, yet you let Father ruin my hopes. You will not let me do anything important. You will not let me do anything I want. I might as well be dead. That is what you want, isn't it Samekh? I heard you tell Samekh-il, that I test your control. That I exasperate you. Fine then. You no longer have to deal with me. Go. Let me alone. I do not desire to engage in conversation any longer." She felt her lip wibble, but she would not cry. Not ever. She hadn't done so since she was an infant and she was not about to start now. She would maintain control. She was seven years old. Practically an adult-though not as foolish an adult as her papa.
Samekh walked to the corridor, pausing at the door. He did not turn around to face her when he spoke. "I cherish thee, daughter. Know that. You are my ashal-veh. Sleep well, my ko-fu."
"Liar," Selik whispered, so quietly that not even Samekh or dogs could hear.
That had been two hours ago. Now, she was nearly ten kilometres away from home, had sneaked out with her sehlat when she heard Samekh and Mama fighting in their bed chamber.
"Xerxes, why must you be so obstinate?" Selik asks her sehlat, though she knows that this is a very illogical query to pose to a being who cannot speak and thus cannot answer her. Alas, she is asking because she is upset, not because it is the sensible thing to do.
Father would not be proud of this emotional reaction, but Selik does not care about what Father would or would not be proud of. Fathers are illogical creatures, and Selik does not understand them one bit. She is age seven, and therefore knows everything. Father is old, and therefore knows nothing.
"Come, Xerxes. We must run away into the desert and never return. Your cooperation in this endeavour is paramount."
Xerxes does not budge. Rather, he points his snout westward, back toward home, then whines.
"Are you tired, boy? It is true, we have walked many kilometres," says Selik, then pats Xerxes' head. According to her internal clock, they'd left their house 2.1 hours ago exactly. "I, too, require rest." She sits down, leans her back against Xerxes' sturdy chest.
Quite unexpectedly, her stomach demonstrates signs of hunger, 'growling.'
Of course, Selik is very intelligent, and she has packed sustenance. She removes a cactus fruit from a small baggy and dives into the soft, sweet, sticky flesh. "Most satisfactory," she says, after several bites, then gives the rest to Xerxes, who seems to agree with her assessment of the snack.
After a short rest and partaking of sustenance, she pulls on Xerxes' neck, toward the red hills out before them that in time give way to glorious mountains. "If we do not keep going, Samekh will surely find us. Come now."
With a sigh, Xerxes stands, nuzzling Selik's cheeks, which is his way of asking her to get on top of him. Usually, she would not put her sehlat through such an indignity, but she is very fatigued, and he is, after all, offering. "As you wish, boy," she says, and hoists herself up on to his back, legs straddled on either side, her fingers dug into his thick fur. "To the beyond," she says, and he obeys. When they reach the foothills, she reaches into the pocket of her robes to retrieve her inhaler. She requires only a small puff. As her hand combs the soft fabric, she feels only a hole, three of her fingers poking through it. The inhaler is gone, but no matter. She does not require it after all.
Xerxes whines, again pushing his head back westward toward their property, but she presses forward. She recognises that each inhalation of air is giving her body only 76.1% of the oxygen it needs, but 76.1% is much more 0%, and she will be fine. She wishes she'd thought to bring her face mask-a filter that concentrated oxygen in the atmosphere to make up for the mucus and irritation in her bronchi, but it is illogical to wish for things that cannot be obtained, so Selik puts the thought away.
Then she feels a tendril of emotion from Samekh snake through their bond. It starts small and thin then grows so hot, Selik thinks she will burn alive from the inside.
He knows she is gone.
Selik, she hears in her mind, Selik, Selik, Selik, Selik. She tries using the techniques Samekh-il taught her to shut away his presence in her mind, to create distance, but she is not strong enough, and a torrent of sensations and feelings she cannot identify seem to call out to her.
Selik commands Xerxes into a gallop, his powerful, mammoth legs carrying her farther away from the compound. Between the bounce of Xerxes' gait and her already compromised respiration, Selik struggles to catch her breath. She wheezes and gasps so loud she cannot hear herself think, or the call from Mama and Samekh in her head.