Em Finity was dead tired the day after the Dilloe slaughter. She had been up most of the night, cleaning Dilloe debris out of her yard, in the rain, no less. The boys got up early, wanted "cooked breakfast," and then fell to playing video games instead of eating and getting ready for school. She had a brief battle of the wills with each of them, punctuated with noises her mother used to make at her.
"It's come to this," she said to her mirror, twisting her hair into a very, very, very tight pony tail, so no one at work would think she meant anything other than business, trying to look smart and strong, stylish but not provocative, because you have to be taken seriously, but who wants to be a total frump, anyway?
"It's come to this," she said again. "A house, a mortgage, two boys, no husband at the table and varmints in the yard all night. And now, I sound like my mother. I love my mother. I don't want to sound like my mother. I miss my mother. Why do I act like my mother? I wish my mother would come and help with the boys. Until they are eighteen or so, not long, not every day."
Em Finity dropped the boys at their school. She drove to work, barely awake and did not remember exactly how she got there. She fielded calls, answered emails, mollified her bosses, uplifted her co-workers, skipped lunch to run a half hour, sprayed "Urban Worker" mist on herself after her run and did the afternoon without incident.
She picked up the boys, hugged them until they squealed like little girls, got them home, looked at their papers, did their homework with them, fed them supper, gave them thirty minutes of video game time, fed them a snack, listened to their prayers, put them to bed eleven times, again, did the laundry and mopped the kitchen floor. She called Brem, in Washington, told him all about her day, told him how much she missed him and how he needed, no, she needed, for him to get home, she was proud he served the country but he had a wife and boys and a yard full of reticulated shells. She got off the phone and felt feminine guilt about what she said, so she called Brem back and told him she was sorry but then repeated everything she had said in the first place, so he knew she was not that sorry and he needed to get home, even though she knew he could not, not yet, but soon, and she would be really glad when he did.
By the time she got off the phone the second time, she was ok and he was confused, so it was all good. His stomach would burn for awhile, but he had some Tums, she knew, and he would chomp hard on two or three and he would sleep for five hours and go to work.
He would be fine.
Now, she got up and wandered out to the yard. Em needed to sleep after the previous night but she just could not sleep, not just then, and it was quiet and starry in the yard. They lived in the country for the boys and the stars at night. Varmints got in the yard. Deer ate her flowers, right up next to the house. Coyotes came up close at night to howl. Field hawks spread their wings just up above the hot earth on summer days.
It was a good life.
After awhile, she just sat in the porch chair and waited for sleep. Em did not even know when she fell asleep, not really. Normally, she slept deeply if she slept at all, but this was not so much a sleep as a trance like state, too tired for sleep but too far gone to move.
She fell into this meditative state with crickets chirping, a little breeze stirring. The rain of the previous night had scrubbed the air for her. It was not musty, not a night smelling like some old oak tree fallen in the woods, rotting, eaten from inside from the tree blight death, covered with the kind of growth that springs up on life when it starts to die but still has some nutrients it can longer use; sad death, with life still extended to a a few narrow limbs, but trunk down and breathing death.
No, this night was sweet and pure. The boys were asleep, the Ninjadilloe shells were gone, the air was rife with life. Em could not move, nor she thought she had to move.
So, naturally, the Grand-Dilloe saw his chance. He had stumbled on the Finity ranch, taking only three hours to make the five minute journey from Burrow to fence row. He got turned around in the light and lost in the dark. He found himself back at the Great Burrow much later, tried the aluminum sheet again and got a rude reply.
Or, actually, several rude replies.
"Will you just give it up?"
"Don't make us come out there."
"Figure it out. We ain't playin'."
"That's it. That's it. That is it. I give up. Take a hike."
The Grand-Dilloe was flustered. He always felt flustered after he dithered for awhile. When other, bigger Dilloes, pointed out his dithering, he usually retreated into pouty silence for awhile. He would emerge after someone came in to flatter him. He took his courage from the image others gave him.
He was a double-minded Dilloe, unstable in all his ways. He had position to protect him for years. He never went out beyond that protection. Somehow he had tricked himself this time. All the lies one has to tell to hold a power spot add up after a few years. Now, his pointy snout and his putrid little eyes set on his too-tiny head above his preposterous torso, he had, momentarily convinced himself he could go to the field and do what twenty other NInjadilloes failed to do the previous night.
Then, seeing their chance, the Gang of Four just locked him out of the Great Burrow. Now they would not let him reenter. He was flustered and frustrated. He was, now, just one runty Dilloe, slightly overweight, flaccid of muscle, lacking in command presence.
Stripped of his place in the Great Burrow, he did not amount to much.
He was a Dilloe-Doofus.
Still, he finally found his way to the Finity ranch, mostly by following the scent-trail of mangled Dilloes from the battle. Here was a part of a tail, here an ear, there some Dilloe-Doo. He found his way to Finity over the ruined wreck of his own army.
He grubbed quietly out on the back acres of Finity land in the dark. The grubbing was not much good but he was there, technically, and would carry the smell of the ranch on him when he returned to the Great Burrow. He did find some grubs, ate a few, set some aside for the Gang of Four. They were not hunting that night. They would be hungry come morning and he would be there with grubs for them.
"They are greedy for grubs," he thought.
Then he heard snoring. It was light, dainty sort of snoring, the kind of droolly snoring that comes from a worn out woman, spent beyond movement.
"Hmmm," the thought. He was nothing if not an opportunist. He decided to explore. Sleeping women shoot no Dilloes, he knew.
He took great time getting to the front yard. He was not a patient stalker, he just got turned around in the dark again and ran straight into the decorative cacti at the fence line.
He was, drat it, going the wrong way.
He also now had a cactus mark just above his left eye.
"Drat," he thought. He should have had other, lesser Dilloes, taking the pain for him. He was very delicate, only really fit for life in the Burrow.
"A Dilloe could get hurt out here in the field," he said, and cursed himself in his head for speakin
Finally, after about an hour, he completed his fifty yard hike and stood, peering through the darkness at Em Finity, peacefully asleep and snoring with feminine precisions, in her chair, on her porch.
She was defenseless, without armor or husband, unarmed, alone, and nearly unconscious with fatigue.
She was young, wistful, the kind of person families need and nations build around. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a worker and a true believer. Everyone who knew her liked her. She was the kind of person no one could possibly want to injure.
The Grand-Dilloe reflected on all this for several seconds.
Hissing, he pounced.