Fledgling, p.17Octavia E. Butler
“He told me what happened,” she said. “He didn’t understand how it could have happened, who could have been powerful enough to do it. He said it must have happened during the day—that that was the only way Shori’s mothers could have been surprised. And he thought Shori might have survived if anyone did. But … I don’t believe he thought of it as something that would happen again. I never got the impression that he was worried about it happening to our community.”
Celia nodded. “Stefan flew down with him to help with the neighbors. They took Hugh Tang and some other symbionts with them to search for survivors. They really did think it was just a single terrible crime. I mean, you hear about people committing mass murder—shooting up their schools or their workplaces all of a sudden—or you hear about serial murders where someone kills people one by one over a period of months or years, but serial mass murder … I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that except in war.”
“Iosif didn’t know anything,” I said. “I talked to him about it. He was frustrated, grieving, angry … He hated not knowing at least as much I hate it.”
There was a brief silence, then Daniel spoke to Wright. “What about you? You’re the outsider brought into all this almost by accident. What are your impressions?”
Wright thought for a moment, frowning a little. Then he said, “Chances are, this is all happening for one of three reasons. It’s happening because some human group has spotted your kind and decided you’re all dangerous, evil vampires. Or it’s happening because some Ina group or Ina individual is jealous of the success Shori’s family had with blending human and Ina DNA and having children who can stay awake through the day and not burn so easily in the sun. Or it’s happening because Shori is black, and racists—probably Ina racists—don’t like the idea that a good part of the answer to your daytime problems is melanin. Those are the most obvious possibilities. I wondered at first whether it could be someone or some family who just hated Shori’s family—an old fashioned Hatfields and McCoys family feud—but Iosif and his sons would have known about anyone who hated them that much.”
Philip Gordon, younger than Daniel, older than William, said, “You’re assuming that if Ina did it, they used humans as their daytime weapons.”
“I am assuming that,” Wright said.
“We don’t do that!” Preston said, his mouth turned down with disgust.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Wright told him. “Of course I didn’t think that anyone Iosif would introduce to his female family would do that. But there are other Ina. And your species seems to be as much made up of individuals as mine is. Some people are ethical, some aren’t.”
I watched the Gordons as he spoke. The younger ones listened, indifferent, but the older ones didn’t much like what he was saying. It seemed to make them uncomfortable, embarrassed. I wondered why. At least no one tried to shut Wright up. That was important. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in a community that was contemptuous of my symbionts.
I also liked the fact that Wright wasn’t afraid to say what he thought.
The Gordons talked among themselves about the possibilities Wright had offered, and they didn’t seem to like any of them, but I suspected that their objections came more from wounded pride than from logic. Ina didn’t use humans as daytime weapons against other Ina. They hadn’t done anything like that for centuries.
And Ina were careful, both Preston and Hayden insisted. No Ina would leave evidence of vampiric behavior for humans to find. And according to Daniel, Ina families all over the world were happy about my family’s success with genetic engineering. They hoped to use the same methods to enable their own future generations to function during the day.
And the Ina weren’t racists, Wells insisted. Human racism meant nothing to the Ina because human races meant nothing to them. They looked for congenial human symbionts wherever they happened to be, without regard for anything but personal appeal.
And of course, there was no feud. According to Preston, nothing of that kind had happened for more than a thousand years. Nothing of the kind could happen without a great many people knowing about it. Iosif certainly would have known, and he and his mates would have been on guard.
“Speaking of being on guard,” I said loudly.
The Gordons stopped and one by one turned to look at me.
“Speaking of being on guard,” I repeated, “it’s good that you have people guarding this place now, but are you also keeping watch during the day?”
“We haven’t been,” Edward said at last. He was probably the youngest of the fathers. “We’ll have to now.” He paused. “And, Shori, you’ll have to stay with us until this business is over, until we’ve found these killers and dealt with them.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I came here hoping for help and refuge. If I stay, I might be most useful as part of your day watch.”
That seemed to interest them. “You can stay awake all day, every day and sleep at night?” William asked me.
I nodded. “I can as long as I get enough sleep,” I said. “If I’m allowed to sleep most of the night, I should be all right during the day. And … it will keep me out of your way.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. I had noticed that a couple of the unmated sons were already beginning to fidget as my scent worked on them. And Daniel tended to stare at me in a way that made me want to touch him. I liked his looks as well as his scent. I wondered whether I had liked him before, when my memory was intact.
“I’ll need you to tell your day-watch symbionts to listen to me. When the killers attacked the Arlington house, they were fast and coordinated. If I’d been just a little slower or if Wright had been slower to wake up Celia and Brook and get them out, we might have died.”
“We’ll talk to our symbionts,” Preston said. “We’ll introduce them to you and tell them to obey you in any action against attackers, but Shori …” He stopped talking and just looked at me.
“I’ll do all I can to keep them safe,” I said.
The Gordons had a guest house at Punta Nublada.
It was a comfortable two-story, five-bedroom house, smaller than the sprawling family houses but easily large enough for us and as ready to be lived in as Iosif’s guest house had been. It was usually used by visiting Ina and their symbionts or visiting members of the Gordon symbionts’ families. Daniel said such people imagined that their relatives lived in a commune that had somehow survived from the 1960s. Then he had to tell me something about the 1960s. I might not have asked, but I found I enjoyed hearing his voice.
My symbionts and I moved our things from the cars into the house and relaxed for the rest of the night. There was canned and frozen food, as there had been in the Arlington house, and Wright, Celia, and Brook put together a meal. A short time later we were all asleep.
Just before dawn, though, I left the bed I was sharing with Wright and went to the room Celia had chosen. I was hungry but didn’t want to be in too much of a hurry with her. I slipped into her bed, turned her toward me, and kissed her as she woke. Once the surprise and stiffness had gone out of her, I found the place on her neck where I could feel her pulse most strongly. I licked the dark, salt-and-bitter skin where I would bite her. She didn’t struggle. Her body jerked once when I bit her, then it was still. Afterward, she dozed off easily, resting against me while I licked the wound I had made. Like Brook, she still wasn’t enjoying herself, but at least she was no longer suffering.
When she was asleep, I got up, showered, dressed, and went outside while it was still comfortably dim. I meant to wander around, take a look at the place. But I found Preston sitting on a seat that swung from chains attached to the ceiling on the front porch of the guest house. He looked up at me, smiled, and said, “I hoped you would get up before I got too drowsy. I’m here to speak with you on behalf of the son of one of my symbionts.”
I sat down next to him. “All right,” I said.
He smiled. “We love
I waited, very curious. I liked him. That was interesting. I didn’t know him, but I liked him. He smelled good somehow, not in the slightest edible, not even sexually interesting, but good, comfortable to be with.
“One of my symbionts had a son,” he said. “Then about ten years ago, she was killed in a traffic accident in San Francisco. She had gone there to visit her sister. I might have been able to help, but I wasn’t notified until she was dead. Her husband is still alive, still here. He’s one of William’s symbionts. But in this matter … Well, I promised father and son I would speak to you. The son is twenty-two and just out of college. He’s heard about you and seen your picture. Last night when you arrived, he saw you for the first time. He says he would like to join with you if you’ll have him. He has a degree in business administration, and I think you’ll eventually need someone like him to help you manage the business affairs of your families.”
I drew a deep breath and smiled sadly. “I don’t know about that, but I think I need more symbionts soon. I don’t believe three is enough, and I’m worried about hurting the ones I have.”
“I wondered whether you were aware of the danger,” he said. “You do need more people quickly. In fact, you need three or four more symbionts.”
“I left one back in Washington. We have an emotional connection, but that’s all so far. I refused to bring her because I didn’t know what I would find here, and I didn’t know whether I could protect her.”
“With our help, you should be able to do that.”
“And I have no home,” I said. “I’ll have to start from nothing. I’ll do that, but with my memory gone, I’ll need a lot of information from you. I don’t really know how to be Ina.”
“You do, I believe, even though you don’t realize that you do. Your manner is very much that of an intelligent, somewhat arrogant, young Ina female. I think you learned long before you lost your memory that you could have things pretty much your own way.” He smiled.
“You see that in my behavior?” I asked surprised.
“Yes, I do. Don’t worry about it. A little self-confidence may be just what you need right now.”
“I have nothing to be confident about,” I said. “I really do need to learn all I can from you and your family.”
“Of course you do. Ask us any questions you like. Best to ask only the fathers. You won’t torment us quite so much.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry about that. I know my scent bothers you.”
“Do you remember?”
“No. Iosif told me.”
“I see. Will you have my symbiont’s son?”
“Of course I will, if it turns out he and I like each other. What’s his name?”
“Joel Harrison. I think you’ll like him, and as I’ve said, he’s seen you and he wants to be with you. And as a bonus, his father saw you last night, too. They were both on guard. He got a look at you and liked the way you stood up for your symbionts. He said you would take care of Joel.”
“As best I can,” I said. “But—”
“You’re with us now. You aren’t alone. And what you said earlier about having nothing … that probably isn’t true. Your mothers and your father owned large tracts of land, several apartment buildings in Seattle run by a management company, and interests in several businesses. They had substantial incomes. Daniel was involved in some sort of business venture with one of your brothers. He knows something about their affairs, and we can find out more. Eventually, what they owned will be yours.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I knew they owned the land they lived on, but I didn’t have any idea what else there was or how to find out about it.” I frowned, remembering something I had read about on Wright’s computer. “Would they have left wills?”
He frowned. “Well, yes, but they would never have foreseen being so completely wiped out. We’ll find out. Somewhere along the line, there will be a lawyer or two who’s been bitten and who, as a result, will be very helpful and very honorable about seeing that your rights are respected.”
I nodded and repeated, “Thank you.”
He stood up, and it was as though he suddenly unfolded, tall and lean. “You’re welcome, Shori. Now, I think I’d better introduce you to Joel so that I can get to bed.” He raised his arm and beckoned. A young man emerged from one of the houses across the road. The man was as tall as Wright, but not as heavily muscled. And this man was as dark skinned as I was and had hair like mine. He walked toward me with a little smile on his face. I got the impression he was excited—both happy and very nervous.
I liked the way he looked—strong and wiry and healthy and brown, striding as though there were springs in his legs.
“You will have to talk to your first,” Preston said.
I glanced up at him, startled.
“You don’t want them fighting or competing with one another in ways that make the rest of you miserable. Each must find a way to accept the other. Each must find a way to accept the other’s relationship with you. You must help them do this.”
The young man came up to me, towering over me, smiling down.
“Shori Matthews, this is Joel Harrison,” Preston said. “I believe the two of you will be very good for one another.”
“Thank you,” I said to him. And to Joel, “Welcome.”
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” Joel said. Slowly, deliberately, he extended his arm, wrist up, clearly not so that we could shake hands.
I laughed, took the hand, kissed his wrist, and said to him, “Later.”
“Date,” he said. “Is there room for me over here?”
“I’ll get my stuff.”
I watched him walk away, then said to Preston, “He smells wonderful.”
Preston crooked his mouth in something less than a smile. “Yes. He’s been told that, I’m afraid. Be good to each other.”
He had started to walk away from me when I stopped him. “Preston, do you know whether I had my own family of symbionts before … before the fire?”
He looked back. “Of course you did. You can’t remember them at all?”
“Not at all.”
I stared at him.
“Child … you have no idea how much it hurts when they die. And you’ve lost all of yours. All seven. If you remembered them, the pain would be overwhelming … unbearable.”
“But they were mine, and I don’t recall their scents or their tastes or the sounds of their voices or even their names.”
“Good,” Preston repeated softly. “Let them rest in peace, Shori. Actually, that’s all you can do.” He walked slowly away to the house Joel had gone into. I watched him go, wondering how many symbionts he had lost over the years, over the centuries.
The sun was rising now and growing bright enough to be uncomfortable even through the low clouds. I went back inside and found Celia frying frozen sausages from the refrigerator.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I’m good,” she said. “How about you? You didn’t hurt me, but you filled up on me, didn’t you?”
“I did.” I looked at the sausages. “Do you need more food? You can get things from one of the other houses.” That felt right. No one here would wonder why a symbiont needed to eat well.
“Some butter?” she asked. “There are frozen waffles in the refrigerator, and there’s syrup in the cupboard—good maple syrup—but no butter.”
“Go to the house next door and tell whoever answers that you’re with me. If they don’t have what you want, they’ll tell you who does.”
She nodded. “Okay. Don’t let my sausages burn.” And she ran off to the nearest house, introduced herself, and asked not only for butter, but for fresh fruit and milk as well. I liste
“A new symbiont will be coming in sometime soon,” I told her. “Offer him breakfast, would you?”
“Ooh,” Brook said. “Him?”
“Damn,” Celia said and sighed. “See, now here’s where I don’t envy you guys. You’re going to go upstairs and kick that nice hairy man of yours right in his balls, aren’t you? A new man already! Damn.”
“Keep the new guy down here until I come back,” I said.
I left them and went up to talk to Wright.
Wright had showered and was shaving. There was another sink in the bathroom—one that had a chair in front of it and a large low mirror with lights around it. I sat down in the chair and watched him shave before a similar, higher mirror. He had collected his electric razor from his cabin when we stopped there and was using it now to sweep his whiskers away quickly and easily.
Then he looked at me. “Something wrong?” he asked.
“Not wrong,” I said. “But perhaps something that will be hard for you.” I frowned. “Hard on you. And I don’t want it to be.”
I thought about how to do that and decided that directness was best. “Preston has offered me another symbiont, one whose mother, when she was alive, was one of Preston’s symbionts. The new one’s name is Joel Harrison.”
He turned his shaver off and put it on the sink. “I see. Is Preston the father?”
I stared at him in surprise. “Wright, that’s not possible.”
“I didn’t think it was, but I thought I’d ask, since you didn’t mention the father.”
“I don’t know who Joel’s father is, but he’s here. He’s one of William’s symbionts. Joel’s mother was killed in a traffic accident ten years ago.”
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective / Science Fiction / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes