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       Fledgling, p.15

           Octavia E. Butler
 

  “Sure. Not that I’m going to know what’s useful.”

  “Unless something she says shakes loose some part of my memory, you’ll know as much as I do.”

  “Scary thought,” he said. Then, “Here’s Brook.”

  “I’m cold,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “Let’s get back into the car.” Once we had moved the clothing we’d slept on and put the back seats up, we all climbed in, Brook in front and Wright and I in the back. “Okay,” she said, “what do you want to talk about?”

  “We need help,” I told her. “I need to find adult Ina who will help me get rid of these assassins and then help me learn what I need to know to do right by the family I seem to be building. So I need you to tell me whatever you can about Iosif’s Ina friends and relatives.”

  “I told you, I don’t know how to contact any of them. Outside of our community, the only ones I had phone numbers for were your mothers.”

  “But you would have heard of others,” I said. “Whether or not you know how to reach them, you would have heard their names, maybe met them.”

  She shook her head. “Iosif was unusual because he was so alone. He was too young to take part in the various Ina council meetings, and he had no elderfathers to represent his family. His brothers and his fathers, like his mothers and sisters, are all dead. Most of his relatives used to be scattered around Romania and Russia and Hungary. They died during the twentieth century—most of them during and after World War II when a lot of European Ina were killed. His sisters died with his mothers during the war. The Nazis got them. And his brothers and fathers were killed later by the Communists. They were some kind of nobility—had a lot of land taken from them before the war. Afterward, with all the destruction, I guess there was nothing left to take but their lives. Iosif was barely able to get out. They all should have left well before the war, but they were stubborn. They said no one would drive them from their homes.”

  “Were all Ina originally based in Romania—Transylvania?”

  “No, they’ve been scattered all over Europe and the Middle East for millennia, or so their records say. They claim to have written records that go back more than ten thousand years. Iosif told me about them. I think he believed what he was saying, but I never quite believed him. Ten thousand years!” She shook her head. “Written history just doesn’t go back that far. Anyway, now Ina are scattered all over the world. You just happen to be descended from people who lived in what Iosif used to call ‘vampire country.’ I think some of your ancestors there were outed and executed as vampires a few centuries ago. Iosif used to joke about it in a bitter way. He said that, physically, he and most Ina fit in badly wherever they go—tall, ultrapale, lean, wiry people. They usually looked like foreigners, and when times got bad, they were treated like foreigners—suspected, disliked, driven out, or killed.”

  “He told Wright and me that there is an Ina theory that claims the Ina were sent here from another world.”

  “Yes, that’s something young Ina have come up with. They read and go to movies and pick up and adapt whatever’s current. For a while, there was an idea that Ina were angels of some kind. And there’s the old standby legend of the Ina being sent here by a great mother goddess. You’re all supposed to be stuck here until you prove yourselves,” she said. “Did Iosif tell you that one?”

  “He did,” Wright said. “It’s a little like Christianity.”

  “It isn’t, really,” Brook said. “They’re not supposed to go home in some spiritual way after they die. Some future generation of them is supposed to leave this world en masse and go to paradise—or back to the homeworld. It might be mythology or it might be that you and I have finally found—and joined—those extraterrestrial aliens that people keep claiming to spot on lonely back roads.”

  Wright laughed. Then he stopped laughing and shook his head. “There’s another intelligent species here on Earth, and they’re vampires. What am I laughing at?”

  I took his hand and held it, looking at him. He looked at me, put his head back against the seat, and curled his fingers around my hand.

  “Didn’t other Ina visit Iosif?” I asked. “Did you ever meet others?”

  She nodded. “That was scary sometimes.”

  “Why?”

  “Because not everyone treats symbionts as people. I didn’t realize that until I’d been with Iosif for a few years, but it’s true. I remember one guest—actually, he came back recently to negotiate with Iosif for an introduction to you and your sisters. You weren’t old enough yet, but he hoped to win all three of you for himself and his brothers when you came of age. That was never going to happen because your father was smart enough to see what he was.”

  “There were three of us?” I said, my mind latching on to this new bit of information about my past, about my family. “I didn’t know that. I asked Iosif, but I was asking him so many questions … he never got around to answering that one.”

  “There were three of you. This was not a man Iosif would ever have introduced to you or your sisters. This man liked to … amuse himself with other Ina’s symbionts. He was very careful and protective of his own, but he liked sending them among us with instructions to start trouble, raise suspicions and jealousies, start fights. He liked to watch arguments and fights. His symbionts were so good, so subtle that we didn’t realize what was happening at first. It excited the hell out of him when two of Radu’s symbionts almost killed one another. He got something sexual out of watching. The symbionts would have died if they hadn’t been symbionts—but then, they never would have been endangered if they hadn’t been symbionts.”

  “Radu,” I said, remembering that Iosif had mentioned the name.

  “Your brothers were Stefan, Vasile, Mihai, and Radu. It was your father’s right to name them, and he named them for the dead—his two brothers and two of his fathers who died in Romania. Your mothers liked plainer, American-sounding names. Your sisters were Barbara and Helen. You were lucky. Your human mother claimed the right to name you.” She smiled. “‘Shori’ is the name of a kind of bird—an East African crested nightingale. It’s a nice name.”

  “Oh,” Wright said. We looked at each other, then I reached into my shirt and pulled out the gold chain with the crested bird.

  “Was this mine before?” I asked, showing it to her. “Wright found it in the rubble of my mothers’ houses.”

  She turned the car’s interior light on and looked at the bird, then looked at me. “Your human mother gave you this. I think she loved you as though she had given birth to you herself. Her name was Jessica Margaret Grant.”

  Jessica Margaret Grant. I shut my eyes and tried to find something of this woman in my memory—something. But there was nothing. All of my life had been erased, and I could not bring it back. Each time I was confronted with the reality of this, it was like turning to go into what should have been a familiar, welcoming place and finding absolutely nothing, emptiness, space.

  After a moment, I said, “I wouldn’t want to meet the Ina you described. What about others? Who’s visited Iosif or one of my brothers recently?”

  Brook frowned. “There was one a few months ago. He and Vasile owned some sort of business together. He was interested in joining with you and your sisters, and Vasile thought it might be a good match. Iosif was willing to be convinced so this man—what was his name? One of the Gordon family … Daniel Gordon! He had his brothers come to see us. Their ancestors were English, I think. They immigrated first to Canada, then to the United States. All the symbionts of Iosif’s community were told to notice them, notice their behavior, talk to their symbionts, and listen to them. We did, and no one spotted anything bad. They seemed to be good, normal people. Shori, you met them yourself and liked them, even though it was way too soon for you to mate. They had heard about you and they wanted to meet you. Iosif went down, collected you, and brought you to stay with us for a few days.”

  “All because of my dark skin?” I said.

  “That’s t
he most obvious reason. You’re not only able to stay completely awake and alert during the day, but you don’t burn.”

  “I burn.”

  “You didn’t yesterday.”

  “I blistered a little. I tried to keep covered up, and it was cloudy yesterday. Did the brothers like me?”

  “Have you healed?” Wright asked, interrupting. “I meant to buy you some sunscreen, but I forgot.”

  “I healed,” I said and wondered what all this talk of my mating was doing to him. I looked at him but couldn’t read anything more than mild concern in his expression as he examined my face—probably for burns.

  “The Gordon brothers were delighted with you,” Brook said. “They wished you were a little older, but they were willing to wait. They planned to go down to meet your sisters and your mothers. I don’t know whether or not that had happened, but it would have been necessary. Your mothers would have to meet the whole Gordon family and then give or refuse their consent.”

  “Where do the Gordons live?” I asked.

  She hesitated, frowned. “Somewhere on the coast of northern California.”

  “You don’t know exactly where?”

  She shook her head. “Their community has a name—Punta Nublada—but it’s not a real town. It’s only the four brothers and their three fathers and a couple of elderfathers who were born in the sixteen hundreds. It’s amazing to meet people like that.”

  “You met them?” Wright asked.

  “I went with Iosif and one of Shori’s mothers and some other symbionts to visit them. I loved the trip, but I didn’t know where I was most of the time. I know we flew into San Francisco Airport—at night, of course—and a couple of symbionts from Punta Nublada met us in vans and drove us up. It was more than two hours north of San Francisco Airport and on the coast. That’s all I know. They have a lot of land. Inland, away from their community, they own vineyards. They have a wine-making business, which is kind of funny when you think about it.”

  Wright laughed. “Yeah. I’ll bet they still don’t drink it.”

  “What?” I demanded.

  “Old joke from a vampire movie,” Wright said. “From the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula. Someone offers the Count a glass, and he says, ‘I do not drink … wine.’”

  I shrugged. Maybe I’d watch the movie someday and see why that was funny. “We’ll go to Punta Nublada,” I said. “You’ll find it for us, Brook.”

  She looked distressed. “I don’t know where it is, I swear.”

  “Did you sleep while you were being driven?”

  “No, but it was dark.”

  “You can see in this darkness—here, under the trees. Your night vision is good.”

  “It is. But most of what I saw was headlights and taillights.”

  I nodded. “They can be a problem. But I think you saw more than you realize.”

  “I didn’t,” she said. “I really didn’t.”

  “We need help, Brook,” I said. “Can you think of anyone else—anyone other than the Gordons—who might help us?”

  She faced me and shook her head. “But these people may not help us, even if we find them. I don’t know whether there was a confirmed agreement between your family and theirs. And even if there was, they … I’m sorry, Shori. They might not want you without your sisters. It’s hard for only children to find mates. Iosif said it would have been hard for him, but he was already mated when his brothers were killed. His mates were just smart enough to get out before he did.”

  I shrugged. “All right, even if the Gordons don’t still want to mate with me, they should be willing to help find and stop the assassins. That’s what I really need help with, after all. Human gangs wiping out two whole communities of Ina. Any Ina should be willing to do something about that—out of self-preservation if nothing else.”

  “They should.”

  “Then you find them, and I’ll put it to them in just that way. Self-preservation. Iosif must have seen some good in them.” I looked at her, and she looked away. “I feel as though I know humans better than I know my own kind—not that that’s saying much. Am I missing something here? Is there some reason these people might not help us?”

  She shook her head. “I think they will help, even if they don’t want you as a mate. I’m just scared I won’t be able to find them for you.”

  “Yes you will,” I said. “You’ll find them. Then once we get some peace, we can begin to assemble a household. The Gordons should be able to give us phone numbers and addresses of other Ina—my mothers’ brothers, perhaps. Are they alive?”

  “Your mothers’ brothers? Yes. I’ve never met them, but you have.” Suddenly she put her hands to her face. She didn’t cry, but she looked as though she wanted to. “How can I do this?” she demanded. “You can’t depend on me. I don’t really know anything.”

  “You can.” I said. “You will. Don’t worry about it. Just know that you will.”

  Wright said, “We can drive down—all the way to San Francisco Airport if we have to. From there, we can turn north again, and maybe Brook can find the way.”

  “We’ll start tonight,” I said.

  He nodded. “What about Celia? She might know something.”

  “She needed to sleep. We’ll tell her when she wakes up, and I’ll find out what she knows.”

  “We need maps,” Wright said. “I don’t know the way, except that we’ll be going south, probably on I-5. We’ll make San Francisco Airport our destination, so when we reach California, we should stick to a coastal route—probably U.S. 101—until we reach the airport or until Brook recognizes something.”

  “We should go back to your cabin first,” I said, “or if you don’t want to do that, you can let me out a few blocks from there. I need to talk to Theodora and see whether or not she should come with us.”

  He nodded. “I need to talk to my uncle anyway, to let him know that I haven’t just disappeared on him and that I want my job. I want him to be willing to hire me again when this is over. I want to get some of my stuff, too. Hell, I was all packed to leave anyway.”

  “Let’s go now,” I said. “We’ve got hours of darkness left. By daybreak, we should be well on our way.”

  Fourteen

  Once we got back to Wright’s cabin, I went to visit Theodora. I slipped into her bedroom by way of her balcony, woke her, and told her what had happened and what we were going to do. Her scent was still mostly her own so I knew I could leave her, lonely but safe.

  “I want to go with you!” she protested.

  “I know,” I told her. “But it will be better if you wait. I can’t protect you now. I don’t even have the prospect of a home now, and I have no Ina allies. It was only luck that none of us was hurt or killed at the Arlington house.”

  “You protected them.”

  “Luck,” I said. “They could so easily have been burned or shot. Wright could have left the television on, and I might not have heard the intruders until it was too late. I want you with me, and you will be. But not yet.”

  She cried and wanted me to at least stay the rest of the night with her. I bit her a little—only to taste her—then held her and lapped at the wound until she was focused on the pleasure. She was like Wright. She had some hold on me beyond the blood. At last, I knew I had to go so I told her to sleep. She resisted briefly, took something from the very back and bottom of the middle drawer in her night table, and put it in my hand. “You might need this,” she whispered. “Take it. I’ve got more.” Then she kissed me and let herself drift off to sleep.

  She had put money into my hand, a thick roll of twenty-dollar bills with a rubber band around it. I took it back to Wright’s cabin. He was in the main house, talking to his uncle. He and the two women had each had a shower. By the time Wright came back, I was having one, and the women were eating the meal they had prepared. We were all wasting time, and I knew it, but I enjoyed my shower and let them enjoy their microwaved mugs of vegetable soup, slabs of canned ham, and dinner rolls hea
ted in the convection oven—simple, quickly prepared food.

  They finished, cleaned up, took out the trash, and made sandwiches of the last of the ham and some cheddar cheese Wright had had in his refrigerator. Meanwhile, I put Wright’s two suitcases and the canvas travel bag he had given me for my things into his car. Wright already had a book of maps called The Thomas Guide: King and Snohomish Counties— we were in Snohomish—and a map of Pierce County. We would get whatever else we needed as we traveled, although, according to Wright, all we really had to do was get on 1-5 and stay on it until we got to California, then switch over to U.S. 101. None of that meant anything to me. I meant to look at the relevant maps in The Thomas Guide while we traveled. I needed, for my own comfort, to have some idea of where we were going.

  Wright came out ahead of the two women, and I put the money Theodora had given me into his hand. “Take this,” I said. “If I get separated from the rest of you, you take care of Brook and Celia. All of you would have to find other Ina as quickly as possible.”

  His hand closed around the money, then he looked at it in the light from the back door of the cabin. His mouth dropped open. “Where did you get this?”

  “From Theodora. She said we might need it, and we might.”

  He put the money in an inside pocket of his jacket and zipped the pocket. “I’ll use it to keep us all as safe as I can,” he said. “But don’t imagine I would just drive off and leave you, Shori. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.”

  “I hope it won’t be necessary. But if it is necessary to keep you safe, to keep Celia and Brook safe, you’ll do it. You will do it!”

  He drew back from me, angry, wanting to dispute, yet knowing he would obey. “Sometimes I forget that you can do that to me,” he said.

  “I do it to save your life,” I said.

  After a while he sighed. “You’re a scary little person,” he said.

  I had no idea what to say to that so I ignored it. “Theodora wanted to come, too,” I said. “I couldn’t let her, even though I wanted her to. The only person I want more is you. I need you to be safe, and I need you to keep Brook and Celia safe.”

 
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