Excerpt from ELI BEIGHT by S. L. McKay
Chapter Thirty Four

Marshall Sanbujuma stood in a sea of golden grass, knee-high and stretching endlessly in all directions.  A cool breeze rippled the sedge, creating earthen waves.  Above, a creosote sky mimicked the savanna in span and motion.  Dusky clouds hung ripe and heavy like new mother’s breasts.  Smiling, he closed his eyes, lifted arms high and wide, and silently chanted to his mother for her life-sustaining liquid. 
Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Mbaba Mwana Waresa. 

The sanguine breeze gave way to a tempest that bowed his body like a reed until its only choice was to collapse spread eagle onto the grass; his prayer, though, unfettered by mortal weight, could not be subdued.  Rising sharp and sheer from immobile smiling lips, his wish sliced through the angry air and reached mother’s ears. 

A drop of liquid pelted his cheek.  Then another, and another, until his face was dripping with water and crystals of moisture clung to his thick, wiry hair.  Rain beat down, each drop a tum upon the taunt skin of earth.  The many merged and created a rhythm Marshall could not resist.  His body swayed, hands and feet and hips moving circular, rising high and low with wind and grass, and cool, lush rain--sacred water.  Marshall unhinged his mouth wide like a hippopotamus, devouring torrents of life-giving nourishment from the breasts of Mbaba Mwana Waresa, the Great Rain Mother of All, and still he was parched.  Now carp-mouthed, he suckled as a babe and was quenched. 

The deluge ceased.  Contented, he curled into a cradle of savanna grass as gentle rain lullabyed him toward slumber.  Needles pricked his cheek.  His eyes fluttered open.  Froze wide.  The creosote sky had shattered into blood red.  Black drops oozed from bloody heaven, crashing around him and exploding toxic orange --singeing skin, scorching lungs, and suffocating his soul.  The ground gave way and he tumbled into emptiness, surrounded only by the sound of a woman’s throaty laughter.

Marshall Sanbujuma bolted upright. “Daj?” He called out into darkness.  “Daj are you in here?”

A shaky hand pressed the compad beside his bed and soft golden hydrolight flamed in the central fire pit.  Wiping sweat from his brow, he leaned back onto his pillow and took a steadying breath.

It had been many moons since Mbaba Mwana Waresa had visited his dreams.  The last time was five years ago on the eve of the Unicouncil vote to decide whether or not to proceed with Lucid Tuesday.  The Great Rain Mother had quenched his troubled mind then.  This time her comfort had given way to an inauspicious sign.  Fire.  Fire raining down from the sky.  Fire incinerating the earth.  He didn’t need dream analysis 101 to understand the 6symbolism.  Nuclear holocaust.  But why did Mbaba Mwana Waresa show it happening upon a savanna in Africa?  Surely no one was planning to nuke the sub Saharan that WOF had designated no man’s land more than a decade ago.  The sound of Daj’s laughter rang in his head.  Daj, daughter of Africa; a diamond, honed by fire.  Daj had recently told him she was ready to fight fire with fire.  Had she meant using the ultimate fire?

“Mr. McDonald, I will not ask again.  Now kindly step aside.”

“I am sorry, sir, but my orders are to not let anyone pass who does not have clearance.”

The chuckle that escaped Marshall did not reach his dark eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course, Mr. Sanbujuma, sir.”

“Then why would you think I do not have clearance?”

“Because I told him you didn’t.”

Marshall swiveled toward the familiar voice.

“Come, Mar-mar.  We must talk.”  The two guards with Z-guns shadowing Daj made it clear he had no option.

“Your bodyguards aren’t coming in?” asked Marshall as the door to his suite closed. “Too bad, I was thinking we might play a friendly game of canasta.”

Daj chortled.  The throaty laughter of his nightmare echoed through the room.  “Mar-mar, you are a silly enu.  Some things never change.”

“And some do.”

“Ah.”  She picked up a Zulu war mask, one of the few that had survived Fini and the sixteen seemingly endless years since.  A sweet smile formed as she realized the end was finally here.

“That is all you have to say?  Why have you shut me out of the command center?”

“I’m sorry you had to find out as you did.  I had planned to tell you this morning.  Who knew you were going to rise and leave your quarters before dawn wiggled her bright fingers?  Or in our case before the hydrolights powered up in the main tunnel.  It would be glorious to see a sunrise again, eh?”

“It would be glorious if you would answer my question.  Why don’t you want me in the command center?

She sighed and set the mask down.  “Because your work is finished my darling.  Time for you to step aside and let the plan play out.”

“Jax left the oversight of Lucid to me.”

“Did he?  And who, Mr. Consensus Rule, gave self-proclaimed Emperor Cormante authority to anoint a regent in his absence?”