A depraved blessing, p.21
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       A Depraved Blessing, p.21

           D.C. Clemens
 
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  Chapter Twenty-One

  Enlightenments

  “He looks better,” Siena said tenderly, looking down at Dayce. “He’s been very brave. You should be proud.”

  “I am,” I told her, matching her undertone, though it didn’t sound as supple. “But he shouldn’t overdo it. I can never leave him again.” There was an awkward pause between us, as we knew the issues we had to touch on next. I recognized it was my duty to go first. “Listen, Siena, I’m sorry about your father. I-”

  She moved closer to me and benignly said, “I know. Mr. Ave told me everything. There…” Her eyes darted to the floor for a second, trying to find strength, before reuniting our fields of vision. A newfound sheen was blurring her eyes. “There was nothing anyone could do.”

  I wrapped her in my arms when the fresh stream of hushed tears came out. I felt them sinking into my shirt and dampen my chest, mixing with the deposit left by Dayce. Neither of us moved or made a sound for the next several moments.

  When I sensed she had stopped crying, I remembered we were on a military base. I pulled away and asked her, “Have they tried contacting your brother?”

  “He’s alive on the Rica,” she answered. “It was in Arora when I was able to first find out. I actually checked again yesterday and they told me he’s likely going to be offshore for a while. He should be safe.” Her eyes once again welled up, but I think she had emptied all her reserves. “But his fiancée, I have no idea how she’s doing. She was living on a base up north, but they’ve been cut off for some time. I can’t imagine how he must he feeling right now.”

  Her words loitered and she was forced to stop herself so she wouldn’t cry out loud. She went to sit on a bed, struggling to release tears that simply were no longer there.

  I followed her footsteps and sat down next to her, draping my arm around her shoulders. Her head remained lowered, but I sensed her avid emotions subside to some extent when she felt me by her side. The act took me back to a memory we shared. She learned her grandfather had passed away and she sat down and cried, though her tears ran more freely then. But she was not weeping for herself or for her lost grandfather, in fact, he was cold and distant in all the years she knew him. The drops of sorrow falling that day were for her heartbroken grandmother. Siena couldn’t help being forlorn seeing her grandmother’s loss affect her so much. This was the same kind of sadness. She mourned not just because she lost her father, and quite possibly her mother and sister, but because her brother lost his future wife and Neves lost his son.

  A few silent moments went by before Siena confirmed my belief that her vast empathy expanded beyond her own losses.

  “I’m sorry about Liz. I tried-”

  This time, I was the one who would not let her finish. “Unless it was you who brought the aliens here, you have nothing to be sorry for. All of us have tried our best, with less than stellar results.”

  “Do you want to know what happened?” she asked me, with her sturdiest voice yet.

  “You don’t have to.”

  “You deserve to know. And it would also make me feel better, I think.”

  “All right, but not here,” looking at Dayce as I said this.

  He still hadn’t moved and, if I focused, I could hear his cadenced breathing still going on. Not much was going to halt his torpor, but I couldn’t take the risk that he might awaken and hear a tragedy he had already lived through.

  Siena and I stepped inaudibly into the hallway. I left the door open in case Dayce’s dreams were to wake him earlier than predicted, allowing him to see that I had not left him. The corridor was mute in its hollowness. Most of the personnel were either working or in the privacy of their own rooms, so I didn’t expect to be interrupted by anyone.

  “I guess I’ll get right to it,” Siena began, with reinforced composure. “We were staying in Arora’s old shockball stadium, the little domed one they used to use back when they had a team. It wasn’t bad. A little crowded, but it was comfortable with the electricity and facilities working well enough. There were a lot of good people…” She paused, likely recalling many of those individuals. “They attacked in the night. I first heard the screaming coming from outside, followed closely by the weapons fire. The panic flooded the stadium in a wave. We knew waiting inside would make us easy targets. We were lucky. Our cots were already near one of the exits. We ran for the doors, but Mom… she wouldn’t move. Valssi went back for her and told all of us to run for it.”

  She weakly sighed and forced herself to hastily move on before I could say anything.

  “With the crowd quickly on top of us, there wasn’t any other choice but to push forward. There were military trucks and jeeps parked nearby and that’s where most of us ran to. They must have been waiting for us. As soon as a large group of us were outside, I started seeing some people being lifted by an invisible force not far from where we were. We didn’t face one directly, but this must have been the time when Liz was hit by some of those needles, though I never saw her react to them in any way. We then boarded a waiting truck, taking off as soon as it was full. Dayce was the one who first noticed Liz was unconscious a couple minutes later. I was deathly worried for her, but some time passed and nothing alarming happened. It was too dark to really tell if she was showing any symptoms. She never had muscle spasms or moaned in pain and she was breathing normally.

  “It was Eloram who found them. There were some needles stuck around her ankles and lower leg. The other women on the truck found out and started banging on the wall to get the driver to stop, which he did. After some time arguing by the others to leave her behind, the soldier quieted everyone, taking great interest in Liz’s condition. He knew anyone who was hit by the needles would have shown symptoms within a minute and would’ve been completely infected shortly afterward. Knowing Liz was showing a unique case, he ordered his subordinate to keep us company and, if she showed any signs of aggression, he was to take care of it. We drove for an hour more before Liz woke up. She awoke normally and asked what had happened. All of us were in shock at how unaffected she was. She just said she felt a slight headache and some soreness. It wasn’t until dawn did we finally see some of her veins become plump, but only a little. We eventually stopped at a refugee camp, but only the other women were allowed to leave or, I should say, Liz wasn’t allowed to leave and we stayed with her. We stayed in this limbo for half a day until they finally told us they were transferring us here.” She refocused her eyes on me, as if just noticing I was there. “You can pretty much guess the rest.”

  After some meditation, I uttered, “I see.” At that moment, her story seemed more like a fable than a report. The story itself did not shock me, not in the caustic new world we were living in. I did believe it happened, but weirdly enough, hearing it from someone else, even by someone I knew so well, had me feeling more like a detective who would need to interview others involved to make sure everything added up. “I thought Arora would be safe.” I next told her. “Why was it attacked? Why would they go so far south and ignore our own camp and probably many others? I wonder if the fact the camp was mostly made up of women and children had anything to do with it?”

  “I don’t know,” she said, now wholly awakened from her narrative mode. “Some pointed out there was an air base nearby, but I’m not sure if they shared in the attack.”

  “Do you think that Liz… Do you think she’s in a lot of pain?”

  “Personally, I don’t think she is or ever was. She told me that the worst she felt was back at the refugee camp when it felt like her body was really sore.” Reacting to the doubtful expression I sported, she said, “I don’t think she’s trying to act tough. She’s never been good at that.” A faint smile by her removed my doubt. I had already forgotten how well she knew her.

  In order for communication to persist between Liz and the group, especially Dayce, who was not able to see her in the hazmat required lab, we were given a mechanical portal later in the day; a two-way radio. Even a
s it gave me her entrancing voice, and without it I would have been unreservedly desolate, I still preferred to see her personally when I could. Dr. Gaffor did allow for a maximum of three people to visit her every evening for an hour, which was equal to half a jiffy for me.

  There was little physical change in her as the days passed. If anything, I thought I saw her rejuvenating back to who she was, even before the day our lives changed forever. Tests indicated otherwise. Beneath her invigorated complexion, her physiology was in overdrive. Many types of her cells regenerated at a fraction of the usual rate, her muscle mass had amplified in density and, while not as extreme as the other infected, her blood volume rose. Notwithstanding all of these unbelievable new realities, the most noteworthy were the microbots residing in her blood; the designers of these new realities. A blood sample of hers was exposed to several normally incurable pathogens, but the microbots had eliminated them all before they could cause any significant harm to the cells, even going out of their way to help repair the damaged ones. Dr. Gaffor also found evidence of not just one type, but various types of microbots haunting their host. The largest found were about cell-sized and appeared to be the original carriers of the infection, but the contagion itself remained a mystery. Not a single bacterium or portion of a virus could be uncovered. So how were they tainting our bodies?

  Assisting the foremost bots were lesser microbots, which appeared to be the chief defenders when foreign contaminants threatened their new household. It was also possible, very much probable, that there were even smaller micro-technologies among them that could not be spotted by our primitive instruments. All of this data strongly implied that the microtech was actually heavily invested in the well-being of their host, striving to do everything in their power to help their bearer survive. This explained why the infected were difficult to bring down even after suffering a wound that would have been fatal in their previous life. I suppose, in a way, Liz had become the most enhanced being this world had ever known.

  “It’s just mocking us, really,” the head scientist started to say in one of my visits. “We have the cure to virtually any disease, the technology to repair the damage to all cells and organs, and a whole multitude of endless possibilities staring right at us. Yet it’s all just beyond our reach.”

  I was alone outside speaking with Liz on the third night of our stay. Even if it was simply Liz’s crackled voice over the radio, I still felt her sitting on the bench beside me. I did not know how late it was or how long I had been there, for when I spoke to Liz, time ceased to matter, except knowing it went by a lot faster than it should. The shy moons were going through their new phase, and the shier stars didn’t bother keeping me company that night, a thin upper layer of cloud dust being enough to hide them. We were reminiscing over memories we had at one time considered with scorn and would have once liked to do away with, but were now serving as testaments that we had at one time lived in a paradise-like existence.

  “What I wouldn’t do to have your mother be my biggest worry again,” my significant other expressed.

  “I can get her right now and tell her to nag about your revealing hospital clothes,” I said with a smile I knew she heard. I don’t know if she found my attempt at humor amusing or not, for she kept her end of the radio off. “Are you sure you’re okay, Liz?” I reticently asked, conveying as much degree of concern as possible. It killed me to think she was forcing herself to suffer in silence only for our sakes.

  “I’m…” She produced a negligible pause that would have been missed by anyone who didn’t know her. “I’m fine.”

  “Lizeth,” I said more directly, “You need to tell me if something’s wrong. Are you in pain?”

  “No, Roym, I mean… it’s, strange,” she said, hesitating more than I was ever used to hearing from her.

  “What is it, Liz?” She had always been such an open book with me. What could have disturbed her enough not to instantly tell me what she was feeling?

  Exhaling deeply, she said, “Ever since I realized I was infected, I’ve felt… wrong. I know I should be grateful I haven’t gone insane, or worse, but what I’m experiencing now makes me feel so… so unholy.”

  “Unholy? What do you mean?”

  There was a short silence, but this was different from all the others she bore before. This was a silence born from shame.

  “Are you sure you’re alone?” she next asked me. Her voice was the frailest I had ever heard her speak, an inopportune breeze would have been more than enough to break it.

  “Yes.”

  “Incredible.”

  “What?”

  “That’s how I feel,” she clarified, her voice intensifying after every divulged word. “That’s what I feel all over my body. Do you understand, Roym? It’s like a wonderful drug that won’t stop. I feel like I have the energy to climb a mountain or swim through an ocean, like I’ve just made love to you. Do you understand now? I’m enjoying this, this fucking curse!”

  She was practically unintelligible near the end of her explanation. The radio on her end was shrouded in temperate static for the next minute. I wanted to speak with her again, I needed to. Despite all my efforts and pleas, she wouldn’t reply. However, even with all my endeavors to try to hear her voice again, I didn’t know what I would say to console her. Her revelation had staggered me. I could not fathom what it meant to be attaining pleasure rather than agony from this artificial pestilence. I should have been glad she wasn’t suffering, but why did the back of my mind tell me this was far worse?

  Finally, her channel cleared and I heard her ask, “Roym? Promise you won’t tell anyone. Please, promise me.”

  I knew arguing with her would have been a futile contest at that moment, but as a scientist, I knew this piece of information could lead her overseers to a more accurate path in their search for the critical cure. I had to convince her that telling the scientists she was experiencing the complete opposite of the expected feeling would be the best course of action for all of us, but I decided it was best to approach the subject when she was more tranquil and keep her at ease for a little while longer. Regardless, I had a strong suspicion her room was bugged with microphones and that the scientists had heard her declaration just now. Moreover, there wasn’t a way I was going to refuse anything she asked of me after her disclosure.

  “I promise.”

 
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