Fledgling, p.27
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       Fledgling, p.27

           Octavia E. Butler
 

  Vladimir Leontyev spoke up. “Russell, are you saying that you know as a matter of fact that neither your father, your brothers, your sons, or their sons were involved in collecting a group of human males, making them your tools, and then sending them to kill the Petrescu, Matthews, and Gordon families?”

  Russell looked offended. “I don’t believe any member of my family would do such a thing,” he said.

  Vladimir shook his head. “That isn’t what I asked. Do you know for a fact that no member of your family did this?”

  “I haven’t investigated my family,” he said. “I’m not a human police detective.”

  “So you don’t know for certain whether or not members of your family did this?”

  “I don’t believe they did!” He paused and looked away from Vladimir. “But I don’t know with absolute certainty.”

  I didn’t believe him. I don’t think I would have believed him even if I hadn’t helped to question Victor and his friends. Russell knew what his relatives had been up to, and now he was lying about it. By his silence or by his active participation, he had helped to murder my families.

  “I have a question for Shori,” Katharine Dahlman said.

  I looked at her with interest. I hadn’t made up my mind about her yet. How close was she to the Silks and what they had done?

  “I’m sorry to ask you about things that may be painful to you,” she said, “but what do you remember about your mothers and your sisters?”

  “Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all.”

  “Their names?”

  “I’ve been told that my sisters were named Barbara and Helen.”

  “And your mothers? Your eldermothers?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Your symbionts … how many symbionts did you have?”

  “I’m told I had seven. I don’t remember any of them.”

  “You recall no names? Nothing?”

  “Nothing.”

  “So you feel nothing for these people who were once closer to you than any others?”

  I looked downward. “It’s as though they’re strangers. It’s terrible to me that I can’t recall them even enough to mourn them. I hate that they are dead—my families—but for me, it’s as though they never lived.”

  “Thank you for your honesty,” she said. I still didn’t know what to think of her. She didn’t like me, but she was polite. Did she dislike me because what I said endangered the Silks? Or did she dislike me because I was part human?

  “Do you know how old you are, Shori?” Russell asked.

  “My father told me I am fifty-three.”

  “And … do you know how tall you are, how much you weigh?”

  “I’m 4 feet 11 inches tall. I don’t know what I weigh.”

  “Do you know what the average height is for an Ina female your age?”

  “I have no idea.”

  “The average is 5 feet 6 inches. What does that say to you?”

  I stared at him, then gave the 5 foot 7 inch Katharine Dahlman a long look. Finally, I faced him again. At least I wasn’t the only person who asked questions without fully considering the effects of the answers. “I’m not sure what you want me to say,” I told him.

  He glared at me for a moment, then said, “Apart from what you say the three captive human captives told you, do you have any evidence at all that the Silk family has done anything to harm your families?”

  “Three humans questioned separately and all telling the same story? Yes, that’s all I have, Russell.”

  We questioned each other repeatedly, Russell Silk and I and our advocates. Factual questions only. Were you told … ? Did you see … ? Did you hear …? Did you scent …? Did you taste …?

  No speeches were permitted, no arguments except through questions, no interrupting each other. Preston Gordon could and did cut us off, though, whenever he heard us stray from these guidelines. He did this with a fairness that infuriated both Russell and me, and he paid no attention when we glared at him.

  The Council members could ask us questions and question our answers. The purpose of accused and accuser questioning one another was to give the Council the opportunity to make use of their formidable senses. They watched, listened, and breathed the air as we spoke. Together, they had thousands of years of experience reading body language.

  When our questions to one another waned, we began the second night’s work early. By mutual agreement, we began to question others, first Russell, then me. Any of the Silks or the Gordons could be asked to speak. If asked, they could not refuse. I intended to work my way through the two youngest of the four generations of Silks—four fathers and five unmated young sons—and have them come to the free-standing microphone one by one to answer my questions and any that Russell or the Council members might want to put to them. The unmated young ones were of the greatest interest to me. They were the ones I most wanted to be heard and seen by the Council. I thought my own scent would reach them and trouble them, and perhaps they would have a harder time keeping their minds on any lies they meant to tell. But now it was Russell Silk’s turn. The first person he called was Daniel Gordon.

  “Did you actually see the attack on your community that the child Shori Matthews says she defeated?” Russell demanded.

  “She did not say she defeated it,” Daniel answered. “She and several Gordon symbionts worked together to defeat it.”

  “Did you see this!”

  “It happened during the day,” Daniel said. “No Ina other than Shori could have seen it. Over half of our symbionts saw it, though. They not only helped fight off the attack, but captured two of the attackers alive so that they could be questioned. Shori captured the third. She prepared the captives for interrogation but did not touch any of our symbionts.”

  Russell stared at him, frowned as though he did not believe him, and changed the subject. “Have you ever known Shori to seem confused or uncertain of her surroundings, her intentions, her perceptions?” he asked.

  Daniel shook his head. “Never.”

  “Have you ever heard Shori show disregard for the welfare of other Ina?”

  “No, never.”

  Russell shook his head, as though in disgust. “And yet, isn’t it true, Daniel, that Shori Matthews has bound you to her as her mate?”

  “She has not,” Daniel said.

  Russell looked at the Council members. “I believe this to be untrue,” he said. “He was seen taking the child into his quarters.”

  There was a moment of silence. Council members looked carefully at Daniel, breathing deeply to examine his scent. Finally two of them spoke.

  “He is not bound,” Alexander Svoboda said.

  Elizabeth Akhmatova echoed, “He is not bound.”

  They were, according to what I’d heard, the oldest male and female Council members. One by one, the other members of the Council nodded, either accepting their elders’ perceptions and judgment or coming to the same conclusion by way of their own senses. Alice Rappaport took several deep breaths, making a show of taking in Daniel’s scent and judging it. She was the last to nod.

  I wondered who had seen Daniel and me together, come to their own conclusions about what we were up to, and then run to tell the Silks all about it. Had it been the Marcu family who was staying in Daniel’s house? Or perhaps it had been someone outside who saw him approach me and take me into his house. Or was it a Silk symbiont? If symbionts could be used as weapons, they could also be used as spies.

  Russell looked surprised by the Council’s conclusion. “You have no connection with Shori then?” he asked Daniel.

  “We are promised to one another,” Daniel said. “When this is over, when she’s older and physically mature, my brothers and I will mate with her.” He looked at me and smiled. I couldn’t help smiling back at him.

  Council member Ana Morariu said, “Do you believe the things Shori has told us tonight?”

  “I do,” Daniel said. “I’ve seen some of it for myself. I was pres
ent when the captives were questioned. Shori and my fathers and elderfathers questioned them. I saw, I heard, I breathed their scent. Because of that, I believe her.”

  “Are you sure that’s why you believe her?” Russell demanded. “Would you believe her if Shori were already mated with other people or if you were?”

  He repeated, “I was present when the captives were questioned. I know what I saw and heard.”

  They didn’t make him say it a third time. I think they saw that they could not move him, and their senses told them that he believed that he was speaking the truth. Martin Harrison, of all people, had explained this to me days before. “Of course, the Ina can’t sense absolute truth,” he’d said. “At best, they can be fairly certain when someone fully believes what he’s saying. They sense stress, changing degrees of stress. You do that yourself, don’t you? You smell sweat, adrenaline, you see any hint of trembling, hear any difference in the voice or breathing or even the heartbeat.”

  “I do,” I said. “I notice those things and others that I don’t always have names for, but I don’t always know how to interpret what I sense.”

  “Experience will take care of that,” he said. “That’s why the older Ina are so good at spotting truth and untangling lies. They use their senses, their intelligence, and their long experience.”

  “How can you know all that?” I asked him.

  “It’s what we all do, Ina and human,” he said. “The Ina are just a lot better at it. They do it consciously and with more acute senses. They usually have better memories, and they can pile up more years of practice than humans can. We humans do a little of it and give it names like ‘intuition’ or ‘instinct’ or even ‘ESP.’ In fact, it’s just good old conscious and unconscious use of your senses, your experience, and your intelligence.”

  I asked Preston about it later, and he grinned. “Been talking to Martin?”

  “I have,” I said. “Is he right?”

  “Oh, yes. The man loves to teach. You’re a blessing to him.”

  “How can he know what very old Ina are doing? Did you tell him?”

  “No, he just keeps his eyes and ears open. His nose is no better than most other humans’, but his intelligence is first-rate. His son is a lot like him.”

  That left me thinking again of Joel and wondering how like his father he would turn out to be.

  The first day of the Council of Judgment ended with an effort on the part of the Silks to make me look irresponsible (at best) and make Daniel and, by extension, the Gordons look as though they were lying. They failed in both efforts. They would have one more day to try to undermine us. On the third day, judgment would be argued, truth acknowledged, and the Council would say, according to Ina law, what must be done.

  That was all. It seemed almost … easy. Would the Silks simply give themselves up to be killed or allow their unmated young sons to be sent away to other communities? Could anyone do that?

  As the Council ended its session just a hour before dawn, I felt the need to talk to someone. Then Brook, Wright, and Joel came to collect me, and I realized I was almost weak with hunger. Joel and Brook both recognized the signs, though I don’t think Wright did yet.

  “Let’s go home,” Brook said.

  I nodded. I wanted to go find Martin Harrison and ask him questions, but I thought that might be better done during the day when other Ina could not listen.

  I let my symbionts walk me home, then kissed each of them, and went to find Celia. I had not touched her for four nights. Tonight she would be expecting me. She was not entirely mine yet, not bound to me, as Daniel would say. Not quite. Tonight would be her turning point. Her scent told me she was almost there. Tonight, she would be mine.

  She was asleep, warm and smelling of the soap she had used when she bathed earlier that night. In spite of her bath, she also smelled of the man she had had sex with before washing. I took in the scent and, after a moment, was able to picture the man—a symbiont of Peter Marcu’s. He was a short, muscular man with very smooth skin—skin so dark it looked truly black. Someone had said he was from Ghana and that his name was Kwasi Tuntum. He had tired her out, made her sleepy. Eventually I would wake her up. I didn’t think she would mind.

  But when I slipped into bed beside her, she opened her eyes. I didn’t think she could see me, but she said, “Hey, Shori, I thought you forgot about me.”

  “You didn’t think that,” I said. “You were enjoying yourself too much with Kwasi to worry about me forgetting you.”

  She froze next to me. I could feel her body go rigid.

  I kissed her face, then her mouth. “Do you really care that I know?” I asked. “I can’t help knowing.”

  “You … don’t mind?”

  “Should I mind?”

  She shrugged against me. “Stefan didn’t mind. He said I had the right to have human partners and have kids if I wanted them. After all, he couldn’t give me kids.” She frowned.

  I said, “Why did it bother you that he didn’t mind?”

  She was silent for a long time. I used the time to explore what Kwasi had done with her. He had kissed her mouth and her neck and her breasts. He had kissed her between her breasts and taken her nipples into his mouth … I tried that, and she giggled. I’d never heard her giggle before. Then her scent changed, and she made a different sort of noise in her throat.

  “What are you doing?” she asked.

  “Learning,” I said after a moment. “Why did it bother you that Stefan didn’t mind your having sex with other people?”

  “I think I wanted him to love me more—love me so much that he couldn’t not care that I went with another guy.”

  “He cared. I’m female and I care. But if you’re mine, I can accept the rest. And you do have the right to have your own human mate, your own children, or just have pleasure with a man when that’s what you want.” I lay on my back and moved her so that her body rested against mine. “I know how to take my pleasure with you,” I said. “Will you teach me to pleasure you?”

  “You will pleasure me this time, I think. I want you to feed. I love the feel of you against me. I almost feel the way I did when I knew Stefan wanted me, when I wanted him.”

  I smiled, hungry for her, starved for her, but taking my time enjoying the anticipation as much as I would soon enjoy feeding.

  She looked up at me, perhaps able to see me a little now. “I’ll teach you more when this Council thing is over. And you can teach me what else I can do to make you feel good. But for now, you’re hungry. You have that scary, gaunt look.” She rubbed the back of my neck. “You’d think I’d be afraid of you when you look like that, wouldn’t you? Come here to me.” She rolled us over onto our sides, facing one another, holding me against her, so welcoming that I couldn’t wait any longer. I bit her deeply, hurt her a little, but also pleased her. She held me as though she thought I might leave her too soon. She held me as though laying claim to me.

  That afternoon, right after Celia and I got up, Martin Harrison came to see me. I had intended to find him eventually. I was surprised that with all the work he had to do satisfying the Gordons’ guests, he had time to come looking for me. And I was surprised at the way he looked—tired, angry, sad, but struggling to keep his expression under control.

  “You and I have gotten to know each other a little,” he said. “I’ve come to you now because I believe it’s better for you to hear what you have to hear from someone who isn’t a stranger.”

  I stared back at him suddenly afraid, although I didn’t know what I was afraid of. His expression made me not want to know.

  “Hear what?” Celia asked. She spoke to Martin, but she was looking at me. She got up and came over to stand beside me. I had been keeping her company while she cooked and ate a huge meal and took vitamins and an iron supplement that she’d had in her luggage. She said Stefan had always made her take vitamins and an iron supplement because she had been his smallest symbiont, and he worried about her health. She had stopped ta
king them when he died. Now she had dug them out of her suitcase and begun using them again.

  She was wearing a pullover sweater that fully displayed her half-healed bite. As it happened, Martin also had a half-healed bite on his neck. It showed just above the collar of his shirt. “What do you want her to hear?” Celia asked again. Wright, Joel, and Brook came in just then, flanked by two Gordon symbionts. I realized suddenly that the Gordon symbionts had gone out and found my symbionts and brought them to me, and I could see by their faces that they didn’t know why any more than I did.

  Martin glanced at them, then looked at Celia—a kind look. A frighteningly kind look. “Stay close to her today and tonight,” he said to Celia. “All of you, stay close. She’ll need you.”

  “What do you mean?” Celia demanded.

  Suddenly, it occurred to me that someone was missing. “Theodora!” I said. “What’s happened to Theodora?”

  Martin sighed and turned to face me. “Carmen was going into San Francisco today,” he said. “She needed some medical supplies, and she wanted to see her youngest sister who’s just had twins. Carmen found Theodora lying on the ground between Hayden’s house and his garage. Theodora’s dead, Shori.”

  Twenty-four

  Several Gordon symbionts had gathered around Theodora’s body, but they had not touched it. Only Carmen had done that, checking to see whether Theodora was alive, whether she could be helped …

  Martin told me that when Carmen told him Theodora was dead, he asked her to stay with the body and keep everyone else away while he went to find me and send others to find the rest of my symbionts.

  I was not fully in control of myself as I approached Theodora. I had demanded that Martin take me to her, but I was not truly seeing or understanding what was happening around me. I could not believe my Theodora was dead. It made no sense that she would be dead. None. Then I touched her cold flesh.

  “She’s been dead since early this morning,” Carmen said behind me.

  My own eyes and nose had already told me that much. Hours dead. Dead well before sunrise. Dead while Russell Silk and I tore at one another. Dead while I lay making Celia my own. Dead.

 

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