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       Fledgling, p.22

           Octavia E. Butler

  “And what does that mean?” I asked. “What would happen to them if they attacked you again?”

  “The adults would be killed, and their children dispersed among us to become members of other families.” He stared down at me. “We would bring the adults to you. You are the person most wronged in all this and the only surviving daughter. I think you could manage it.”

  “Manage … I would be their executioner?”

  “You would be, yes. You would bite them and speak to them, command them to take their lives. I suspect that you would grant them a gentler death than they deserve.”

  For a moment, I was shocked speechless. Of course I knew I could kill humans directly by destroying their bodies or indirectly by biting them and then telling them to do things that were harmful to them, but kill Ina just by biting them and ordering them to die?

  “I was almost tempted not to tell you,” Hayden said. “Your youth and your amnesia make you both very attractive and very frightening.”

  “I can really do that? Bite another Ina and just … tell him to kill himself?”

  They all looked at one another. Preston said, “Hayden, damnit—”

  Hayden held up both hands, palms outward. “She needs to know. We’ve had a chance to see what sort of person she is. And let’s face it, it’s too dangerous for her not to know. If not for the crime that took her memory, she would know.” He looked at me. “When you’re physically mature, you’ll take blood from your mates, and they’ll take blood from you. That’s the way you’ll bond. The only other reason for you to take blood from an Ina male would be to kill him.”

  I thought about that for several seconds, then asked an uncomfortable, but necessary, question: “It wouldn’t work on an Ina female?”

  “It might. Your handling of the human captives says you’re strong. But if you go against another Ina female, you might die. Even if you manage to kill her, you might die, too.”

  I thought about this. It dovetailed with what Brook had told me. “Do you know,” I said, “I have no memory of ever having seen or spoken to an Ina female. I’ve only seen my father, one of my brothers, and you. I try to picture a female, and I can’t.”

  “They learn early to be careful of what they say,” Hayden told me. “It’s one of their first and most important lessons. I believe that’s a lesson you’ve remembered in spite of your amnesia.”

  I nodded. “I was always careful with my symbionts, even before I understood fully why I should be. But now … I might have to kill the Silks?”

  “Probably not,” Hayden said. “That kind of thing hasn’t happened in living memory. The Silks will respect the call for a Council of Judgment.”

  “I hope so,” I said. “What can I do now to help?” They were beginning to get up. Some of them took phones from their pockets. Daniel went to the kitchen and brought back a cordless phone for Hayden.

  “Nothing yet,” Hayden told me. “You’ll have to speak at the Council.”

  “All right. But shouldn’t we keep the three captives? Shouldn’t they speak, too?”

  He shook his head. “Who would believe them? By now you could have taken them over completely and taught them to say—and to believe—anything at all.”

  “All right. But why should the Council believe me—or you for that matter?”

  He smiled. “I don’t think they would believe me. I’m 372 years old. I think they might feel that someone my age might be able to lie to them successfully. You’re a child. They’ll assume that they’ll be able to read your body language well enough to know whether or not you’re lying.”

  “Will they be your age?”

  “Some will be older.”

  I sighed. “They’re probably right then. It doesn’t matter. I haven’t felt inclined to tell lies. So far, my problem is ignorance, not dishonesty.”


  There was a great deal of telephoning, conference calling, faxing, and e-mailing.

  First, what Hayden called “the rule of seven” had to be satisfied. Seven families with whom both the Silks and I share a common ancestor within seven generations of the oldest living Silk or Matthews had to agree to send representatives to Punta Nublada for a Council of Judgment that would judge the accusations that I and the Gordon family were making against the Silk family. Once that was done, Preston phoned the Silk family. First Russell Silk, one of the elderfathers, denied all responsibility for wiping out my families, denied any knowledge of it. Then Milo Silk, the oldest living family member, came on and he denied everything, too. They had both heard of a mass murder in Washington State but had not realized that it involved two Ina communities. They were very sorry for me, of course, but none of it had anything to do with them.

  Preston put the call on speaker phone and let all of us hear it.

  “Nevertheless,” he told Milo Silk, “we’ve heard evidence that your family is responsible, and we’ve called for a Council of Judgment. We’ve met the rule of seven.”

  “This is madness,” Milo argued. “We didn’t do it, Preston. I swear to you. Look, we don’t care for the genetic engineering experiments that the Matthews and Petrescu families have been carrying out, and we’ve made no secret of it, but—”

  “Milo,” Preston said, “this is the required notification. The first seven families are Braithwaite, Fotopoulos, Akhmatova, Leontyev, Rappaport, Nagy, and Svoboda. We will also be asking the Dahlmans, the Silvesters, the Vines, the Westfalls, the Nicolaus, and the Kalands. Do you object to any of these?”

  “I object to all of them,” Milo said angrily. “This is insanity!”

  “The rule of seven has been met,” Preston repeated.

  After a moment of absolute silence, Russell’s voice replaced Milo’s. “I object to the Vines,” he said. “They are not friends of the Silk family, even though they are related to us. During the ninth century, their family fought ours in a long feud.”

  Preston stared at the floor, thinking. “Will you accept the Marcus?”

  There was another silence, longer this time. Then finally, “Yes. We accept the Marcus. We also object to the Silvesters. Three of my sons had a financial dispute with two of them five years ago. It was not settled amicably.”

  Preston looked at Hayden. Hayden asked, “Will you accept the Wymans?”

  “No!” a third voice said. “Not that pack of wolves. Do you realize—” Then the voice was cut off, and there was a long silence. Finally Milo came on again.

  “We will not accept the Wymans,” he said. And after a pause, he said, “Individual animus.” He had a deep, quiet voice that somehow made everything he said sound important.

  “The Andreis?” Preston asked, looking at his own family as though he were asking them. His family offered no objection.

  There was a silent pause from the Silks. Finally, Milo said, “Fine.”

  “Are you content with the list now?” Preston asked.

  More silence.

  “The Kalands,” Russell said. “We would prefer the Morarius.”

  Preston stretched out a long forefinger and pressed the button on the phone marked “hold.” “Objections to the Morarius?” he said.

  The Gordons looked at one another.

  “I don’t like them,” Daniel said. They’re proud people with not that much to be proud of. But I don’t suppose that’s reason enough to object to them.”

  The others shrugged.

  Preston touched the hold button again and said, “We accept the Morariu family, Milo. Ten nights from tonight, we will all meet here at Punta Nublada for a Council of Judgment. You should begin to prepare for your family’s journey. And maybe you should talk to your sons, especially the younger ones. You may not know everything.” He switched the phone off.

  Just before dawn, Manning and Wayne drove in with their symbionts and Theodora.

  She got out of the Hummer and looked around at the houses. All of them were still lit from within in the early-morning darkness. There were people moving around both insid
e and out, and although she could not know it, there were people watching. I had been asleep, but I awoke at the sound of the car coming in. I looked out, saw her climb out of the car and look. Quickly, I put on jeans, pulled a T-shirt over my head, and ran out shoeless to meet her. She didn’t see me until I reached her and took her hand.

  She jumped, turned, saw me, and to my surprise, grabbed me, lifted me off the ground, and hugged me hard against her.

  I found myself laughing with joy and hugging her back. When my feet were on the ground again, I took her into the guest house. “Have you eaten?” I asked. “Brook and Celia went shopping yesterday so we have plenty of food.” Joel had taken them to a distant mall where they could get groceries, some more clothes, and whatever else they might need. Wright and I had each provided them with a list so we were all taken care of for a while.

  “I had a late dinner,” Theodora said. “The other people, the symbionts—is that what they’re called?”

  “It is, yes. It’s what you’ll be called, too, if you stay with me.”

  She gave me a shy smile and looked downward. “They said I should have a hearty meal before I reached you.”

  I laughed again, hungry for her, suddenly eager. “Come on upstairs. How are you? Is everything all right with your family?”

  She got ahead of me and stopped me, hands on my shoulders. “I’m going to have to phone my daughter in a few hours. She’s worried about me. She tried to stop me from leaving. Sometime soon, she’s going to want to visit.”

  “Phone her whenever you like,” I said. “I have to tell you more of what’s going on here so you’ll understand why she won’t be able to visit you for a while. But you can go see her.”

  “Sounds like bad news.”

  “Difficult, I think, but not bad. This is a time to be careful. We’ve found out who has been attacking us, and we’re going to have something called a Council of Judgment to deal with them.”

  She looked at me as though she were trying to read my expression. “Is there danger right now?”

  In the early-morning darkness with all the Gordon men awake and alert? With the Council of Judgment already being organized? “No, not now.”

  “Good,” she said. “Then tell me about it in the morning.”

  I smiled. “It is morning. But you’re right. First things first.”

  I took her to the spare room. I had changed the bedding myself and made certain that the room was clean and ready for her. “I know I promised you more than this,” I said as she looked around. “I will keep my promise. It’s just going to take longer than I thought.”

  “I want to be with you,” she said. “It’s all I’ve wanted since you first came to me. I don’t truly understand my feelings for you, but they’re stronger than anything I’ve ever felt, stronger than anything I ever expected to feel. We’ll find a way.”

  I shut the door, went to her, and began to undo her blouse. “We will,” I said.

  The next night I met with Wayne and Manning to find out what I could about my families’ land and business affairs.

  “Your mothers and father understood how to live by human rules,” Manning said. “Their affairs are very much in order. You will have to work through the lawyers, but everything your families owned will be yours, and there’s cash enough for you to be able to pay your taxes without selling anything you don’t want to sell.”

  “I don’t know what I want to do, really,” I said. “I mean, I don’t know anything.” I looked at Manning—one of the fathers of Daniel, Wayne, William and Philip. He was a quiet, kindly man, and there was something about his expression that looked uncomfortably close to pity.

  “Tell me about the lawyers,” I said quickly. “Are there one or two who would make good symbionts?”

  Manning shrugged. “I’m not sure what a good symbiont might be for you. Your Theodora is too old, but she loves you absolutely. She’s exactly the kind of person I would expect to be able to resist one of us—older, educated, well-off—but she couldn’t wait to get to you.”

  “She was lonely,” I said. “Tell me about the lawyers.”

  “One of the ones I bit might be good for you,” Wayne said.

  I liked Wayne’s long, quiet face. He was the only one of the four sons who towered over me even when he was sitting down. “Tell me about that one,” I said.

  He nodded. “She’s thirty-five. She has a good reputation among the others at her firm. She’s a good attorney even though she hates her work. She feels that she made a mistake going to law school, but now, she doesn’t know what else she might do. She’s an orphan with a brother who died six years ago. She’s divorced and has no children.”

  “You investigated her. You planned to suggest that I go after her.”

  “Yes. You’ll need a lawyer. She’ll help you, she’ll teach you, she’ll be your connection to the rest of the legal world, and once you have her—if you’re as right for each other as I think—she’ll be completely loyal to you.” He took a folded paper from his pants pocket and handed it to me. “Her name, home address, and work address.”

  “Thank you,” I said and put the paper in my own pocket. “I don’t think I’ll be able to go see her until after the Council of Judgment.”

  “I think that would be best,” Manning said. “The lawyers Wayne and I bit will look after your interests until then. But you should find her as soon as the Council ends. You need more than five symbionts.”

  I continued to keep watch every day. I didn’t believe there would be another attack, but why take chances?

  I saw the bodies of the attackers buried with a great deal of a powder called quicklime in a long, deep trench dug by a small tractor around one of the gardens well away from the houses. I saw the attackers’ cars driven away by gloved symbionts, followed by a Punta Nublada car. And, of course, only the Punta Nublada car returned.

  I saw the three living attackers taken away to San Francisco where they would be three ordinary men catching three different Greyhound buses back to southern California where they lived. They wouldn’t attract attention. No one would be likely to remember them. The Gordons had supplied them with money, and I had supplied them with the outline of a memory of going north to do some work driving trucks, hauling cargo up and down the coast. They could each fill in the details according to their own past work experience. As it happened, they had all driven trucks of one kind or another professionally, so they would be able, as Hayden put it, to confabulate to their hearts’ content. But they would not remember one another, Punta Nublada, my families’ communities, or the house near Arlington. I told them to forget those things completely and to remember only the truck-driving job. It was unnerving to see that I could do such a thing, but clearly, I could. I did. I even helped the pimp decide that he was sick of abusing women for a living. His cousin had a landscaping company. He would work for his cousin for a while or for someone else and then go back to school. He was only twenty-one. I made him tell me what he believed he should and could do. Then I told him to go do it.

  Meanwhile, the Gordons and their symbionts worked hard to prepare for the fact that they were soon going to have a great deal of company. The Silk family—all their Ina and most of their symbionts—would be coming. Two representatives from each of thirteen other families would be coming, each bringing three or four symbionts. A Council of Judgment traditionally lasted three days.

  Most of the Gordon symbionts were excited and looking forward to meeting friends and relatives they hadn’t seen for months or even years. Would Judith Cho sym Ion Andrei be there? Or Loren Hanson sym Elizabeth Akhmatova? Did anyone know? What about Carl Schwarcz sym Peter Marcu? No one bothered asking me since it was clear that I knew nothing, but they chattered among themselves around me, happily ignoring me except to say that it was a shame I wouldn’t get to enjoy any of the parties.

  Only a few of them were apprehensive. To most, the Council of Judgment was an Ina thing that had little to do with them. Their Ina had disputes to
settle. The symbionts planned to have parties. I enjoyed watching and listening to them. It was comforting somehow.

  Several went out to buy the huge amounts of food and other supplies that would be needed to keep well over a hundred extra symbionts comfortable. Others prepared the guest quarters in each of the houses and transformed offices, studios, storage space, and even space in the two barns into places fit for human and Ina habitation. Every house had guest quarters—three or four bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms. These would be enough for a couple of traveling Ina and a few symbionts. And then there was the guest house itself, intended especially for human guests. My symbionts and I had arrived at a time when the Gordons’ symbionts had no guests visiting, so we had had the whole guest house to ourselves. Now we would have to share the kitchen and the dining room and give up the downstairs bathroom, as well as the living room and family room.

  The Council meetings would be held in one of the metal storage buildings. Martin Harrison, Joel’s father and William’s symbiont, the man who had given me a cell phone and taught me to use it, now seemed to be in charge of preparations for the visitors. Once I understood that, I found him and asked if I could follow him around for a while to see what he did and to ask him questions.

  “I really want you to tell me if I’m in the way or if I’m being too irritating, because I can’t always tell,” I said, and he laughed. It was a loud, deep, joyful-sounding laugh that was a pleasure to hear even though I knew he was laughing at me.

  “All right, Shori, I’ll do that,” he said. “I was a high-school history teacher when Hayden found me. It will be good to have a student again.”

  “Hayden found you? Not William?”

  “Hayden found me for William.” He shook his head. “William hadn’t yet come of age, and Hayden thought the boy could stand to learn more of human history. Hayden thought I’d make a good bodyguard, too, since William goes completely unconscious during the day. He said I smelled right, for godsake. I understand that now, but I didn’t then. I wanted to believe he was crazy, but he’d bitten me by then, and I couldn’t just ignore what he told me.”

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