Fledgling, p.18Octavia E. Butler
“What does the father think about his son coming to you?”
“He wanted his son to come to me. He asked Preston to introduce us.”
“So he’s pimping his own son.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know what that means, but your voice says it’s something disgusting. Joel’s father hasn’t done anything disgusting, Wright. He and Joel both looked at me and decided I would be good for Joel. He’s been away at school. He could have stayed away, could have come back now and then to visit his father. But he chose a life with the Ina, with us. I’m glad of it. I need him.”
“For what? You need him for what?”
I looked at him, wanting to touch him, knowing that at that moment he did not want to be touched. “Three of you aren’t enough to sustain me for long without harm to you. I’m going to try to have Theodora brought here, too.”
He shook his head angrily. “I don’t mind the women so much I guess. I kind of like the two downstairs. I was hoping you’d get all women—except me. I think I could deal with that.” He turned around, filled with energy and violence, and punched the wall, breaking it, leaving a fist-sized hole. And he had hurt his hand. I could smell the blood. But he did not seem to notice. “Hell,” he said, “you don’t even know Harrison. Maybe you’ll hate him.”
I shrugged. “If I don’t like him, I’ll have to find someone else and soon.”
He looked at me sadly. “My little vampire.”
“Still,” I said.
He stepped over to me, picked me up with a hand under one arm, sat down, and sat me on his lap. I took his injured hand and looked at it, licked away the blood, saw that he hadn’t done himself much damage. It would heal overnight like a shallow bite.
“I could get a lot more pissed with you if you were bigger,” he said softly.
“I hope not,” I said.
He wrapped both arms around me, held me against him. “I don’t think I can do this, Shori. I can’t share you.”
I leaned back against him. “You can,” I said softly. “You will. It will be all right. Not now, perhaps, but eventually, it will be all right.”
“Just like that.” The bitterness and sorrow in his voice was terrible.
I turned on his lap, straddled him, and looked up at him.
After a moment, he said, “I want you for myself. It scares me how much I love you, Shori.”
I pulled his head down and kissed him, then rested my forehead against his chest, savoring his scent, his wonderful furry body, the beat of his heart. “Preston says our symbionts never know how much we treasure them,” I said.
“You treasure me?”
“You know I do.”
He held me away from him and looked at me. “You’ve taken over my life,” he said. “And now you want me to share you with another man.”
“I do,” I said. “Share me. Don’t fight with him. Don’t hurt the family by fighting with him. Accept him.”
He shook his head. “I can’t.”
“You can,” I repeated. “You will. He’s part of the family that we must form. He’s one of us.”
When I left him and went down to the kitchen, I found Joel sitting at the table drinking coffee with Brook and Celia.
“Hey,” he said when I came in. He had two large rolling suitcases parked near his chair.
“Hey,” I said reflexively. “Come talk to me.” I took his hand and led him to the other end of the house to what I had been told was the “family room.”
“Don’t you mean that you’re going to talk to me?” Joel asked as he sat down in one of the large leather-covered chairs. I sat on the arm of his chair.
“First things first,” I said and took the wrist he had offered earlier. He watched me raise it to my mouth and kiss it a second time, and he smiled. I bit him.
He was delicious. I had intended only to taste him and get a little of my venom into him, but he was such a treat that I took a little more that a taste. And I lingered over his wrist longer than was necessary.
Finally, I looked up at him and found him leaning back bonelessly in the chair. “God,” he said. “I hit the jackpot.”
“How have you managed to stay unattached?” I asked. “Didn’t anyone here want you?”
He smiled. “Everyone wanted me. Everyone except Preston and Hayden. They said I was too young to join with them. The others … they left me alone when I asked them to, but before that, they were all after me. And I didn’t want to join with a man. There’s too much sexual feeling involved when you guys feed. I wanted that from a woman. Preston said he would check with nearby female families after I finished college, and he’s taken me to see a couple of them, but I wasn’t interested. You are the only Ina I’ve ever been attracted to.”
“After seeing me only once?”
“Yeah. I didn’t even see you when you were here before … before your parents died. I had gone to San Francisco to spend time with some friends from college.” He shook his head. “I liked your looks when I saw the pictures the Gordons had of you and your sisters. When I saw you last night, I didn’t have a chance.”
I didn’t know what to make of that. “I’m only beginning to form my family,” I said. “You would probably have an easier life with anyone here or any of the female families you’ve seen. You know my memory only goes back a few weeks.”
“And when I leave the Gordons, I’ll be alone.”
He nodded. “Then let me help you make a new family.”
I looked at him and saw that his expression had changed, had become more serious. Good. “I want you to be part of my new family,” I said. “More than that, I need you. But you and my first will have to accept each other. You will accept him. There will be peace between you. No fighting. No endangering the rest of us with destructive competitions.”
“All right. I doubt that your first and I will ever be anything like friends, but I know how it is. I suppose you told him the same thing.”
“Of course.” I paused. “He helped me, Joel. When I had no one else, when I had no idea who or what I was, he helped me.”
“I wish I had had the chance to do such a thing.” He reached up and touched my face. “Like I said, let me help you make a new family.”
A little later that morning, I put on my hooded jacket, sunglasses, and gloves and walked around to each of the houses of the community. I spotted the guards from outside, then went into the houses to do what I could to help them be less easily spotted. Being easily spotted by the kind of attackers my symbionts and I had faced would mean easily shot.
The Gordon symbionts greeted me by touching me—my shoulders, arms, hands. I found that I was comfortable with that, although I had not expected it. It was as though they had to touch me to believe that I could be Ina and yet be awake.
“You aren’t drowsy at all?” a woman named Linda Higuera asked. She was a nervous, muscular brown woman, at least six feet tall and leaning on a rifle. We were on the third floor of William’s house, and she was one of his symbionts. From what I had seen, William preferred big, powerful-looking symbionts, male and female. Wise of him.
“I’m not drowsy,” I said. “As long as I don’t get too much sun, I’m fine.”
She shook her head. “I wish William could do that. I would feel safer if he could at least wake up if we need him.”
I shrugged. “Your turn to keep him safe.”
She thought about that, then nodded. “You’re right. Damn. He’s so strong, I’ve just gotten used to depending on him. Guess it ought to work both ways.” She stopped and thought for a moment. “Do you have a phone?”
“There are phones in the guest house.”
“I mean a cell phone.”
“No, I don’t.” I wasn’t entirely sure what a cell phone was.
“You should have one so we can talk to each other if something happens. The house phones are too easy to disable.”
That made sense. “Is there one I can borrow?”
“Here’s your number,” he said, making it flash across the phone’s small screen, “just in case you have to give it to somebody.”
“Thank you,” I said, and he grinned.
“No problem. How’s Linda doing up there?”
“Doing well,” I said. “Alert and thoughtful.”
“And how about my son?” he asked in a different tone. “How’s he?” I looked at him, startled. “You’re Joel’s father?”
“Yep. Martin Harrison. Joel move into the guest house yet?”
“He has, yes. I like him.”
“Good. You’re what he wants. If you take care of him, he’ll take care of you.”
I nodded and left him feeling much better about the safety of the Gordon community. With or without me, these people would not be caught by surprise and murdered, and now I could communicate with them in a quiet, effective way.
I walked around the community once more, stopping now and then to listen to the activity around me. There were symbionts eating meals, making love, discussing children who were away at boarding schools, discussing the vineyards and the winery, pruning nearby trees, washing dishes, ordering audiobooks by phone, typing on computers … There were little children playing games and singing songs in a room at Hayden’s house. It seemed that here some symbionts still carried on most of their activities during the day while others had switched to a nocturnal schedule to spend more time with their Ina.
As I wandered back toward the guest house, I found myself paying attention to a conversation that Wright and Brook were having there.
“They take over our lives,” Brook said. “They don’t even think about it, they just do it as though it were their right. And we let them because they give us so much satisfaction and … just pure pleasure.”
Wright grunted. “We let them because we have no choice. By the time we realize what’s happened to us, it’s too late.”
There was a long pause. “It’s not usually that way,” Brook said. “Iosif told me what would happen if I accepted him, that I would become addicted and need him. That I would have to obey. That if he died, I might die. Not that I could imagine him dying. That seemed so impossible … But he told me all that. Then he asked me to come to him anyway, to accept him and stay with him because I could live for maybe two hundred years and be healthy and look and feel young, and because he wanted me and needed me. I wasn’t hooked when he asked. He’d only bitten me a couple of times. I could have walked away—or run like hell. He told me later that he thought I might run. He said people did run sometimes out of superstitious fear or out of the puritanical belief that anything that feels that good must have a huge downside somewhere along the line. Then he had to find them and talk them into believing he was a dream or an ordinary boyfriend.”
Wright said, “By the time Shori asked me—or rather, by the time she offered to let me go—I was very thoroughly hooked, psychologically if not physically.”
“That was probably because of her memory loss.”
Wright made an “mmmm” sound of agreement. “I suppose. She’s shown herself to be a weirdly ethical little thing most of the time. It still bothers me, though, and now there’s this new guy she told me about …”
“Joel,” Brook said. “You haven’t met him yet?”
“She didn’t hang around to introduce us. I met him in the upstairs hall. He had the nerve to ask me which bedrooms were empty. You know she never even told me he was black.”
“They’re not human, Wright. They don’t care about white or black.”
“I know. I even know she needs the guy—or at least, she needs a few more people. But I hate the bastard. I’m not going to do anything to him. I’ll deal with this somehow, but Jesus God, I hate him!”
“Of course I am!”
“You aren’t sure you want her, but you don’t want anyone else to have her.”
“Well, it’s not like I can leave. Hell, I can feel the hold she’s got on me. I can’t even think of leaving her without getting scared.”
“Would you change that?” Brook asked. “If you could escape her, would you?”
“… I don’t know.”
“I think you do. I’ve seen you with her.”
“I can’t imagine being without her, but I’m not sure I would have begun if I’d known what I was getting into.” There was a silence, then he asked, “What about you? How do you feel about the way she claimed you?”
“Better,” Brook admitted.
“She got us out of the Arlington house alive, and she shouldn’t have been able to do that. And she stood her ground last night. The Gordons were pushing her, trying to intimidate her a little just to see what she would do, what she was like. Well, she’s strong, and it matters to her how other Ina treat us. We can trust her. Celia said we could, but I wasn’t sure.”
“You’re saying you want to be her symbiont, not some man’s? I mean, I thought that after choosing to be with Iosif …”
There was another short silence, then Brook said, “I would probably have chosen a man if I’d had a choice initially. But I’m okay with Shori. I can find myself a human man if I need one. I can’t believe what she’s done for Celia and me. I’ve seen symbionts who’ve lost their Ina. An old Ina who was visiting died while he was with us. I saw his symbionts in withdrawal, and I heard them screaming when other Ina tried to save their lives by taking them over. It was bad. Convulsions, pain, helpless fear and revulsion for the Ina who is only trying to help. It went on for days, weeks. It was really horrible. One of the symbionts died. But with Shori … she’s fed from me twice, and already it doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not fun, but it’s not bad. I can’t wait to know what it will be like when I’m fully her symbiont.”
“So … they don’t all feel the same when they bite?”
“No more than we all look the same. Their venom is different—very individual. I suspect her bite is spectacular. That’s why she was able to get you the way she did.”
“And she’s only a kid,” he said.
They said nothing more. I listened for a few moments for more conversation, then for outsiders, intruders. When I knew that the community was safe, for the moment, I thought about what Brook and Wright had said. What they had said, over-all, was that, except for Wright’s problem with Joel, they were content with me. It felt remarkably good to know this. I was relieved, even though I had not realized I needed relief. Wright would have to find his own way to accept Joel, and Joel would have to do the same with Wright. There would be a period of unease that I would have to pay attention to, but we would get through it. Other families of Ina and symbionts proved that it could be done.
That day, there were no intruders. The symbionts kept watch, with fresh guards arriving every three hours so that no one got too tired or drowsy. I met a few more of them and liked their variety—a dentist, an oceanographer, a potter, a writer who also worked as a translator (Mandarin Chinese), a plumber, an internist, two nurses, a beautician who was also a barber, and, of course, farmers and winegrowers. And those were just the ones I met. Some no longer did the work they had trained to do except on behalf of the people of Punta Nublada. Some worked in nearby towns or in the Bay Area two or three days out of the week. Some worked in the vineyards and the winery that the Gordons owned. Some, who were self employed, worked in Punta Nublada. Three of the buildings I had mistaken for barns or storage buildings proved to be full of offices, studios, and workshops.
“We fill our time as we please,” Jill Renner told me during her watch at Wayne Gordon’s h
That night Wayne and Manning, one of Wayne’s fathers, drove to a local airfield where they kept a private plane. Each took two symbionts with him, so I assumed they expected to be gone for two full nights—not that they couldn’t graze on strangers if they had to. The Gordons called it grazing. It was what I’d done when I lived with Wright at his cabin, except for Theodora. Ina often found new symbionts when they grazed.
Wayne and Manning came to the guest house before they left to tell me that they were going up to Washington to begin to work out the legal affairs of my male and female families and to look at the ruins of their former communities in the hope that they would see something that we had missed. I had Brook tell them the exact address of Iosif’s guest house near Arlington. Let them look at that, too.
“Shall I go?” I asked them. “Won’t you need me as daughter and only survivor? Anyway, I think I’d like to collect Theodora.”
“We won’t need you yet,” Wayne said. He was tall even for an Ina, the tallest in his family. He towered over even his tallest symbionts. “We’ll have to produce you eventually, but for now, we just want to find out who handled Iosif’s and your mothers’ legal affairs. Then we’ll bite them and see how quickly all this can be sorted out. The land should be yours whether or not you want to live on any of it. If you like, you can sell one parcel and use the money to get a couple of houses started on the other. And your parents owned apartment houses in Seattle and quite a bit more than just the land their communities stood on. We need to learn all we can about their business affairs before you can even begin to decide what to do.”
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective / Science Fiction / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes