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       Fledgling, p.30

           Octavia E. Butler
 

  I did. And she had just told me more about the basics of being Ina than anyone else ever had. I wondered what other necessary things I didn’t know. I took a deep breath. “I see,” I said. “Theodora was bound to me. And I never hurt her. I never would have hurt her.”

  She watched me as I spoke, no doubt judging me, deciding whether I was telling the truth, whether I was worth her time. “All right,” she said. “All right, I’ll be your advocate when the time comes.” She glanced at her watch. “Let’s go to the hall.”

  Twenty-six

  When Katharine Dahlman heard what I had to say, she denied everything. Neither she nor her symbiont Jack Roan had anything at all to do with the death of “the person Shori Matthews is attempting to claim as her symbiont.”

  “They had chosen one another,” Vladimir Leontyev said. “We all saw that they had.”

  “Where is Jack Roan?” Joan Braithwaite asked.

  “I don’t know,” Katharine said. “My other symbionts have told me he had to go—some family emergency. He has family in Los Angeles, in Phoenix, Arizona, and in Austin, Texas.” She said all this with an odd, sly, smiling expression that I had not seen before. And, of course, she was lying. Everything she’d said was a lie. I got the impression she didn’t care that we knew.

  Vladimir looked disgusted. “You’re telling us Roan is yours, but you have no idea which of those three large cities in three different states he’s gone to visit?”

  Katharine gave a small shrug. “It was an emergency,” she said. “He couldn’t wait until I awoke. I trust my people.”

  “You should,” I said. “Your people are clearly very competent, especially when it comes to murdering an unsuspecting symbiont who’s never done them any harm.” I looked along the arc at the other Council members. “I request that she be removed from this Council.”

  “You request!” Katharine seemed to choke on the words. “I request that you be removed from this room! You’re a child, clearly too young to know how to behave. And I challenge your right to represent the interests of families who are unfortunately dead. You are their descendent, but because of their error, because of their great error, you are not Ina! No one can be certain of the truth of anything you say because you are neither Ina nor human. Your scent, your reactions, your facial expressions, your body language—none of it is right. You say your symbiont has just died. If that were so, you would be prostrate. You would not be able to sit here telling lies and arguing. True Ina know the pain of losing a symbiont. We are Ina. You are nothing!”

  There was a swell of voices from the audience—much denial, but some agreement. All the visiting and local Ina were present in the audience or on the Council. The rest of the seats were filled by symbionts who also had opinions about me. Not surprisingly, the symbionts who spoke were on my side. It was the Ina who were divided.

  Preston stood up. “Listen to me!” he roared in a voice Milo Silk would have been proud of, and the room went utterly silent. After a few seconds, he repeated more quietly, “Listen to me. Shori Matthews is as Ina as the rest of us. In addition, she carries the potentially life-saving human DNA that has darkened her skin and given her something we’ve sought for generations: the ability to walk in sunlight, to stay awake and alert during the day.” He paused, then raised his voice again. “Her mothers, her sisters, her father, and her brothers were Ina, and they have been murdered along with all but two of their symbionts. All of Shori’s own first symbionts have been murdered. This Council has met to determine who’s responsible for those murders, and now it must also consider the murder of Theodora Harden, one of Shori’s new symbionts. We are here to discover the guilt or innocence of those accused of these murders and, if they are found guilty, to decide what is to be done with the murderers. Based on what we’ve heard so far, I don’t believe Katharine Dahlman should be a member of this Council.”

  Katharine Dahlman sat very straight and stared angrily at Preston. “You want your sons to mate with this person. You want them to get black, human children from her. Here in the United States, even most humans will look down on them. When I came to this country, such people were kept as property, as slaves. You are biased in Shori’s favor and not a voting member of this Council. I won’t give up my place because you say so.”

  Preston stared at her, expressionless, still. “Council members, count yourselves for or against Katharine remaining one of you.” He paused until all of them had turned to look at him. “Zoë Fotopoulos?” he said, turning to look at Zoë. She sat farthest from me, next to Russell Silk’s table.

  Zoë looked from Katharine to Preston, then shook her head. “Katharine should go,” she said. “And we need to consider what to do about her directing her symbiont to kill Shori’s symbiont. Like the Silks, she must be judged.”

  “She must be judged,” Preston echoed. “Joan Braithwaite?”

  “Katharine should go,” Joan said stiffly. “Her fears have made her stupid. We cannot afford to have stupid Council members. The decisions we make here are important. They should be made with a clear head.” She did not look at Katharine as she spoke, but Katharine stared at her with obvious hatred.

  “Alexander Svoboda?” Preston continued.

  “Katharine should go,” he said, “but we’d better decide now who will go with her to keep our numbers right.”

  “Peter Marcu?”

  “She should go,” he said. “But she’s the Silk advocate. Maybe Vlad should be the other member to go.”

  “Vladimir Leontyev?”

  My elderfather looked angrier than the rest of them. It had taken me a moment and a look from him to realize that he was angry on my behalf. Something more had been done to me, and he was furious about it. “Katharine must go!” he said. “If that means I go, too, then so be it. How could she have imagined that this would be overlooked? Our symbionts are not tools to be used to kill other people’s symbionts. Those days are long past and nothing should be permitted to revive them.”

  “Ana Morariu?”

  Ana hesitated and stared down at the table. “Katharine should stay,” she said. “Let’s take care of one question at a time. After all, Katharine may be telling the truth about her symbiont. We shouldn’t judge her so quickly.” Several people frowned at her or looked away. Others nodded. Vladimir was right. Katharine had made little effort to make her lies believable—as though she expected at least some of the people present to go along with her because using her symbiont to murder the symbiont of someone as insignificant as I was such a small thing. It was a little sin that could be overlooked among friends. Friends like Ana Morariu.

  “Alice Rappaport?”

  “She should go.” Alice looked at Katharine, then looked away and shook her head. “Over the centuries, I’ve seen too much racial prejudice among humans. It isn’t a weed we need growing among us.”

  “Harold Westfall?”

  “She should go. I, too, have seen more than enough racism.”

  “Kira Nicolau?”

  “Katharine should go. She may be right in what she says about Shori, but she did send her symbiont to kill a human whom Shori called her symbiont. No member of a Council of Judgment should have done such a thing, and no Council of Judgment should tolerate such a thing.”

  “Ion Andrei?”

  “I believe Katharine should stay. If she’s made a mistake—if she’s made a mistake—well, we can look into it another time.”

  “Walter Nagy?”

  “She should go. None of us want to go back to the days of feuds carried on by murdering one another’s symbionts.”

  “Elizabeth Akhmatova?”

  “She should go. How can she murder another Ina’s symbiont and not think anything of it? What sort of person could do such a thing?”

  That was a very good question.

  Katharine seemed surprised that the vote went against her. She had truly expected to benefit from what she had done. She had gotten her symbiont out of my reach so that I couldn’t track him and
kill him before she awoke. In fact, I wouldn’t have killed him. His life did not interest me. Hers did. But she didn’t know me, and she wasn’t willing to take chances with Jack Roan’s precious skin. She had imagined that her fellow Council members—all Ina, all around her age—would accept what she had done, even if they didn’t like it. She believed I would either lose control and disgrace myself before the Council—possibly by attacking her—or if I didn’t, she could use my apparent lack of feeling to point out how un-Ina I was. She won either way. What did the life of my Theodora matter?

  Katharine left the table, glaring at me as though I had somehow done her an injury. I hadn’t. But I would. I surely would.

  After a little more discussion, Vladimir left, too. I was sorry to see him go. Wright called him my granddad. Ina, for some reason, didn’t use the words humans used to described kinship—“grandfather,” “aunt,” “cousin”—but I liked the idea of Vladimir and Konstantin as my elder-fathers. It comforted me that I still had elderfathers, that I was a younger-daughter to someone.

  Both Vladimir and Katharine went to sit in the audience. Wayne and Philip Gordon brought them chairs. Once that was done, the Council could return to the question of whether the Silks had killed my families.

  The Silks first questioned several of the Gordons, including Preston, who stood up like the others at the free-standing microphone and quietly answered the same offensive questions. He answered them without protest.

  No, he was not concerned about allowing his sons to mate with someone who was, among other things, a genetic experiment.

  “I’ve had a chance to get to know her,” he said. “She’s an intelligent, healthy, likable young female. When she’s older, she’ll bear strong children, and some of them will walk in sunlight.”

  Then Russell called Hayden and asked the same question of him.

  “I am concerned because she is alone,” Hayden said. “I hope that she will adopt a sister before she mates with my youngersons. My brother is right about Shori. She is bright, healthy, and likable. When her sisters were alive, I saw a mating between them and my youngersons as a perfect match—or as near perfect as any joining can be.”

  I felt better about Hayden after that. He seemed to be telling the truth. I hoped he was. He was old enough to slip a lie past me and perhaps past everyone else in the room. But why should he?

  The Silks had brought along a doctor who was one of their symbionts, poor man. Russell asked the Council to allow the doctor to question me about my injuries. It was intended to be offensive, another effort, like Milo’s, to treat me as human rather than Ina and, of course, to humiliate me.

  “He may be able to give us some insight into Shori’s amnesia,” Russell said innocently. “Humans are more familiar with memory problems.”

  Ion Andrei, Russell’s new advocate said, “Russell has the right to stand aside and let someone with specialized knowledge speak for him.”

  Joan Braithwaite sighed. “We could waste a lot of time arguing whether or not to permit the doctor’s questions. Let’s not do that. Shori, are you willing to be questioned by this man?”

  “I’m not,” I said.

  She nodded, looked at me for a moment. “The implications of the request are offensive,” she said. “They’re intended to be. Nevertheless, I advise you to let the doctor question you. He means no harm. He’s only one more symbiont being used to cause you pain. Ironic and nasty, isn’t it? No matter. I advise you to bear the pain so that anyone on the Council who has doubts about you can see a little more of who and what you are.”

  I did not like Joan Braithwaite. But I thought I might eventually love her. She was one of the few fairly close relatives I had left. “All right,” I said. “I’ll answer the doctor’s questions.”

  The doctor was called to the free-standing microphone. He was a tall red-haired man with freckles, the first redhead I could recall seeing. “Do you have any pain, Shori?” he asked. “Have any of the injuries you suffered caused you any difficulties?”

  “I have no pain now,” I said. “I did before my injuries healed, of course, but they’ve healed completely except for my memory.”

  “Do you remember your injuries? Can you describe them?”

  I thought back unhappily. “I was burned over most of my body, my face, my head. My head was not only burned, but … the bones of my skull were broken so that in two places my head felt … felt almost soft when I touched it. I was blind. It hurt to breathe. Well, it hurt to do anything at all. I could move, but my coordination was bad at first. That’s all.”

  The doctor stared at me, and his expression went from disbelieving to a look that I could only describe as hungry. Odd to see a human being look that way. Just for an instant, he looked the way Ina do when we’re very, very hungry. He got himself under control after a moment and managed to look only mildly interested. “How long did it take these injuries to heal?” he asked.

  “I’m not sure,” I said. “I slept a lot at first, when the pain let me sleep. I was mostly aware of the pain. I remember all that happened once I was able to leave the cave, but I’m not sure about some of what went on before that.”

  “But you remember killing and eating Hugh Tang?”

  I drew back and stared at the man, wondering how much of what he asked was what he had been told to ask. Were Joan and I wrong? Was the doctor having fun? “I’ve said that I remember killing and eating Hugh Tang,” I said.

  He looked uncomfortable. “Could you tell us,” he said, “about anything at all that you’ve been able to remember of your life before you were injured.”

  “I recall nothing of my past before the cave,” I said, as though I hadn’t said it a dozen times the night before.

  “Does this trouble you?” he asked.

  “Of course it does.”

  “What is your answer to it, then? Do you simply accept your memory loss?”

  “I have no choice. I am relearning the things that I should know about myself and my people.”

  “Do you feel yourself to be a different person because of your loss?”

  I had an almost overwhelming impulse to scream at him. Instead, I kept silent until I could manage my voice. Then I spoke carefully into the microphone. “My childhood is gone. My families are gone. My first symbionts are gone. Most of my education is gone. The first fifty-three years of my life are gone. Is that what you mean by ‘a different person’?”

  He hesitated.

  Russell Silk said, “It isn’t yet your time to question. Answer the symbiont’s question.”

  I ignored him and spoke to the doctor. “Have I answered your question?”

  He did not move, but now he looked very uncomfortable. He did not meet my gaze. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, you have.”

  The doctor went on to ask several more questions that I had already answered in one way or another. By the time he ran out of questions, I thought he looked more than a little ashamed of himself. His manner seemed mildly apologetic, and I was feeling sorry for him again. How had he happened to wind up in one of the Silk households?

  “Is the doctor boring you, Shori?” Russell asked, surprising me. He didn’t like addressing me directly. It was a family trait.

  I said, “I’m sure he’s doing exactly what you’ve instructed him to do.”

  “I have no more questions,” the doctor said. He was a neurologist, Carmen told me later, a doctor who specializes in diseases and disorders of the central nervous system. No wonder he had been so interested in my injuries. I wondered whether he hated the Silks.

  Finally, it was my turn to ask questions. I used my turn to call Russell’s sons and their unmated young-adult sons to the microphone for questioning. I asked each of them whether they had known that anyone in their family was arranging to kill the Petrescu and Matthews families.

  Alan Silk, one of the younger sons of Russell and his brothers, was my best subject—a good-looking, 180-year-old male who hadn’t learned much so far about lying successful
ly but who insisted on lying.

  “I know nothing about the killing of those families,” he said in response to my question. “My family had nothing to do with any of that. We would never take part in such things.”

  I ignored this. “Did you help other members of your family collect humans in Los Angeles or in Pasadena, humans who were later used to kill the Matthews and the Petrescus?”

  “I did not! None of us did. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that your male and female families destroyed each other.”

  Russell winced, but Alan didn’t see it because he was glaring at me.

  “Is that what you believe?” I asked. “Do you believe that my mothers and sisters and my father and brothers killed one another?”

  He began to look uncomfortable. “Maybe,” he muttered. “I don’t know.”

  “You don’t know what you believe?”

  He glared at me. “I believe my family had nothing to do with what happened, that’s what I believe. My family is honorable and it’s Ina!”

  “Do you believe that my families killed each other?”

  He looked around angrily, glancing at his new advocate, Ion Andrei, who had apparently decided not to get into this particular foolish argument. “I don’t know what they did,” he muttered angrily. He held his hands in front of him, one clutching the other.

  I sighed. “All right,” I said. “Let’s see what you believe about something else. Several humans were used to kill my families. How do you feel about that? Are humans just tools for us to use whenever we find a use for them?”

  “No!” he said. “Of course not.” He looked at me with contempt. “No true Ina could even ask such a question.” He suddenly swung his arms at his sides, then held them in front of him again, as though he didn’t know what to do with them.

 
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