In the days since the tearror of the moon's explosion swept over the islet of Midst in general, Vermillion County more specifically, and Stationary Hill in particular, Saskia has found plenty to do to keep herself -- selves, technically, at this point -- busy. She could honestly probably do with another self or two, just to have more pairs of hands. Even when she isn't rushing around, nose to the grindstone, burning the midnight oil, lighting a candle at both ends, she finds herself -- again, it's selves now -- anxious.
An advantage, if you can call it that, of being the now-sole proprietor (or is she technically co-proprietor with herself, there now being two selves to... proprietate, if that's even a word, together?) of the Black Candle Cabaret is that Saskia is becoming the point person for social connections. When people who managed to flee Midst as the tearror struck begin to return, their first stop is the Cabaret. When they look for loved ones, separated in the panic of the moon exploding, it's her they turn to. Stationary Hill is just about big enough that you can't quite know everyone well, but Saskia, being the consummate professional entertainer that she is, makes it a point to know everyone who comes into the Cabaret. And so, the returning residents come to her.
In between trying to help reunite families, unearthing the Cabaret from the rubble, and providing assistance to the other survivors, Saskia barely has any time to herself, or her other self, or her selves. While they'd still been trapped in the caverns beneath the post office, and immediately thereafter, she'd had a few precious moments snatched here and there to get used to being two people, which was a relief that she's not stumbling around like a drunk while she's trying to help. She didn't expect to have ample time to herself, but it seems more and more like she'll need to deliberately carve out space to practice with both her selves.
Now, here, in the darkness of the early morning, even before unrise, she breathes with two sets of lungs and closes two sets of eyes. She focuses hard, making sure she can feel her hearts beat in time, and then tries to separate one self from the other.
Only once before had she consciously managed to separate things she did with one body away from the other. Obviously she's able to do different things -- otherwise, she'd be more of a hindrance than a help, and Saskia del Norma is, was, and will be a lot of things, but a hindrance has never been one of them -- but being able to do it deliberately is a different beast. It will almost definitely become an essential skill for her in the long run, so she figures she'd better start practicing. How convenient would it be to have one of her walking around the Cabaret chatting with customers while her other self was up on stage? Very convenient, that's how.
It's more disorienting with her eyes closed. With one less sensory input (or should that be two, for each pair of eyes?), Saskia can focus on how it actually feels to be two people. She can feel the grit of dirt under her fingers, and the stone under the sole of one of her boots, and the chill of the wind on one side of one of her bodies. She holds her breath with one part of her mind, and breathes with the other.
Or at least she tries to. She actually ends up violently coughing with both of her bodies. It's really not pleasant.
Saskia is somewhat taken aback. It's not like she was expecting to succeed right away, but, deep down, that was exactly what she was expecting. She's stubborn, though, which is one of her best and/or worst qualities, depending on who you ask, and so she tries again.
This time, she attempts to separate out her mind first. She grounds herself in first one body then the other, focusing on the differences between them. One body has some slight soreness in the shoulders, while the other has a headache. One stands with feet shoulder-width apart, the other keeps her feet closer. One can see the wavering light from a fire through her eyelids, the other is in pitch-dark. With those differences in mind, she slowly tries to de-sync her breathing.
There’s a hiccup. Something in her brain twists, and she suddenly breathes in with one body and out with the other. The shock of it jars her out of the focus necessary to maintain it, and the thing in her brain un-twists, or maybe it twists further, and her breathing moves back into rhythm with itself, and her eyes fly open.
Her dogs push between herselves, nuzzling her hands until she pets their noses absentmindedly. More than anyone else, including Saskia herselves, the foldhounds are extremely sanguine about the new developments from the tearror. Understandably so, since foldhounds are born only during tearrors, and are the closest thing to immune from their effects. Come to think of it, Saskia isn’t exactly sure how old either of the dogs are, or how long foldhounds tend to live, or even who to take them to should they get sick or hurt.
This line of thought isn't productive. Saskia would be happy to entertain it some other time, or possibly now if she had a better handle on a separation between her two selves. As if sensing her thoughts, both of the dogs snuffle a little, looking for her to keep petting them.
“Well, boys,” she says to the dogs, her voices echoing strangely in her ears, “I suppose we’d better get moving, huh? This town isn't going to unbury itself.”
Predictably, the dogs don’t answer her. They, as always, are unchanged, still affectionate, still silent. One of her hands gets licked, and she absentmindedly reaches for a towel to wipe it off.
Only one of her selves moves. It’s an odd feeling, but as soon as she starts to focus on it, hoping to try and find a way to recreate that separation, she feels her other self start to follow.
Unrise seems to be coming earlier now than it had before the tearror that destroyed Midst’s moon. There is still mica in the air, tiny yet terrible motes of it that tear at her throats and the throats of the other survivors. Even still, Saskia thinks it’s beautiful, in the way a chemical fire is beautiful. Years ago, before she’d moved to Midst, she had wanted to be beautiful in that way herself. (Some people would say she’d succeeded. Her fellow Breach members might be among them, admiringly, and the Trustees might make up the rest, disgustedly.)
Staring out the window, the glass warped by the tearror into a grotesque funhouse mirror, Saskia watches the unrise light up Stationary Hill. The building that was once Goe’s Garag, now Goe’s GGGGG…., looks like a knife jutting into the air from this angle, slicing through the mica fragments that hang heavy in the sky. Goe, along with Emmett, is now one of Saskia’s de facto lieutenants in the ongoing project of rebuilding their town, and until the Garag can be repaired enough to be livable, he’s sleeping in one of the expanded, twisted rooms of the Black Candle Cabaret. Saskia has a number of… of refugees, technically, though it’s difficult to think of her fellow Stationarians as such, living within the Cabaret’s walls until they can have their own roofs over their heads once again.
Saskia shakes her head. Her heads. Another day of hard work lies ahead -- the survivors have begun now to move further out from the Cabaret and from the post office, clearing some of the residential areas of the town. Her hearts tighten in her chests, because every time they move deeper into the town, she's terrified she'll see someone she knows, someone she cares about, even in the most general sense, dead underneath a pile of rubble.
As she tries to fight back the thoughts swelling up in her mind, one of her bodies pauses for a moment to let the other begin the descent of the twisting, winding staircase that leads down from the upper floors -- and there are many more of them now -- to the main room of the Cabaret. But again, as soon as she starts to focus on the disconnect between the bodies, it becomes impossible to maintain.
One of the dogs whines. "Is it really as simple as not focusing on it?" she asks the dogs. "It can't be that easy. I'm still talking with both bodies."
"Morning, Saskia," Emmett says. He still hasn't quite gotten used to her new situation, his eyes flicking between her two bodies as she enters the Cabaret's front room. She doesn't mind; she rather assumes she'd be doing the same herself -- herselves, actually -- if Emmett had a new body too.
"Good morning, Emmett," both of her say. "Will we be moving north or east today?"
Emmett shifts uncomfortably. "Goe thinks we should head north."
Saskia knows him well enough to read the subtext. "And you disagree." It isn't a question. Saskia isn't the kind of woman who asks a question when she knows the answer, at least to someone she trusts. Someone like Emmett.
"And I disagree," Emmett agrees. "I think we have a better chance of finding surviving structures, if not survivors, if we go east. The main impact of the explosion was closer to the north than the east. We're getting cramped here in the Black Candle, Saskia. There's not enough space for all of us to sleep comfortably, now that some folks are returning. And there's not enough food or medical supplies to keep all of us alive."
As much as she wants to believe they can save everyone, Saskia knows the truth. Emmett is right: their food and medicine is stretched thin as it is. Searching for more stores kept in homes that survived the tearror is the only way forward. Phineas Thatch can't have survived the mail car trip to the Mothers, and without a direct contact it will take days, maybe weeks, for the news to arrive there. In those days, some of the people of Midst will die. She won't have their deaths on her conscience.
(She ignores the fact that she sent Phineas Thatch to his death anyway. If she tries, she can almost convince herself that he had had a chance to make it.)
"Saskia?" Emmett asks.
She smiles at him with both her bodies, a brittle thing that wavers just for a moment. "I agree with you, Emmett. We move east. If nothing else, we should be able to move some of us out of here and under another roof."
The work, such as it is, begins. Saskia's bodies move separately, but in time. She helps herself pick up a table, heave it away from a doorframe that splinters as its support disappears, the mica embedded in it falling to the ground. The more absorbed in labor she becomes, the easier it is to use both her bodies. Instead of two sets of arms, she now can feel four individual arms. When one of her selves finds Goe digging through the rubble of what was once a shoe store, she speaks to him with only one mouth. Her brain is starting to process the input from her two sets of eyes separately, and she stops swiping at empty air when one of her selves tries to pick something up.
The dogs have split her two selves up, apparently, because one of them is helping one of her selves and the other is helping the other self. It's a perfect match, in some ways. As she looks down at the dogs, she half-smiles. "I guess I'll have the rest of my life to figure this out, don't I?" she asks them both. "As long as we can keep working, it'll be alright."
The dogs each press their noses into her hands reassuringly.