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       Fledgling, p.32

           Octavia E. Butler
 

  “You want them to die.”

  “I want them to die.”

  “Would you help kill them?”

  I stared back at her. “I would.”

  She sighed. “They’ll die, Shori, but not in the quick satisfying way you probably hope for. That won’t happen—except, perhaps, in Katharine’s case. She and her family haven’t been good about maintaining friendships and alliances. Very stupid of them. But the Silk family will not be killed today.”

  “Why?”

  “Because as terrible as their crimes are, I don’t believe the Council vote will be unanimous. Understand, I’m telling you what I believe, not what I know. I might be wrong, although I doubt it. The Council won’t want to wipe out an ancient and once-respected family. They’ll want to give them a chance to survive.”

  I didn’t say anything for a while. I hated Katharine Dahlman. I would see her dead sooner or later, no matter what anyone said. I hated the Silks, too, but it was a different, less immediate hate. They had killed people I no longer knew, and they had killed without knowing me. I wanted to see the Silks dead, but I didn’t need to see them dead in the way that I needed to see Katharine dead. That wasn’t the way I should have felt, but it was the way I did feel.

  I said, “Daniel told me that the Silks’ unmated sons might be taken from them and adopted by other families.”

  Joan nodded. “I think that will happen. If it does, the word will be spread tonight by mail, by phone, and by e-mail to all the world’s Ina communities. I’m glad Daniel let you know what could happen.”

  “What if the Silks decide to come after me again? I was their main target all along because I was the one in whom the human genetic mix worked best. They killed so many just to get to me.”

  “They have the possibility of rebuilding their family if Russell’s sons’ generation can convince their mates to try to have more children. They will lose that opportunity if they make another attempt on your life or on the lives of your people—even if they fail. If they try again, they will be killed.”

  I looked at her for several seconds. “You truly believe this will stop them from secretly trying kill me or perhaps trying to kill my children in the future?”

  “Ina are linked worldwide, Shori. If the Silks give their word—and they must give it if they are to leave here alive—and then break it, they will all be killed and any new sons adopted away. Their family will vanish. They know this.”

  “Then … will you permit me to come to you with my symbionts, learn from you for a while, work for you to pay our way?”

  She sighed. “For how long?”

  I hesitated. “One year. Perhaps two.”

  “Come back to me when the Council has finished with its business. I believe that we will welcome you, but I can’t answer until I’ve spoken with my sister.”

  There was a formal feel to all this—as though we had spoken ritual words. Had we? I would find out eventually.

  “What about Katharine?” I asked.

  She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

  “I don’t believe I could let her go.”

  “Wait and see.”

  “Theodora wasn’t even a person to Katharine. She was just something Katharine could snatch away from me to make me weaker.”

  “I know. Don’t give her what she wants. Wait, Shori. Wait and see.”

  Twenty-eight

  There were no parties on the night of the third Council session. The hall was so full that there was not enough seating for everyone. People stood or brought chairs from the houses. No one seemed to want to sit on the concrete floor. Seats had been roped off for my symbionts in front, as had seats on the opposite side of the hall for the Silks and their symbionts.

  The members of the Council seated themselves as usual, in the same order, and when they were all settled, Preston stood up. This was everyone’s signal to be quiet and pay attention. Preston waited until silence had worked its way from the front to the back of the room. Then he said, “Russell Silk, do you have anything further to say or any more questions to ask of Shori Matthews or of anyone that you or she has asked to speak to this Council?”

  This was Russell’s last chance to speak, to defend his family, and to make me look bad. Of course, anyone he called, I could question, too.

  Russell stood up. “I have no one else to call,” he said, holding his microphone, looking out toward the audience. Then he turned and faced the Council. “I suppose in a sense, I call on all of you to remember that my family has maintained good and honorable friendships with many of you. Remember that the Silk family helped some of you immigrate to this country in times of war or political chaos in your former homes. Remember that in all the time you’ve known us, we have not lied to you or cheated you.

  “What matters most to us, to every member of the Silk family, is the welfare of the Ina people. We Ina are vastly outnumbered by the human beings of this world. And how many of us have been butchered in their wars? They destroy one another by the millions, and it makes no difference to their numbers. They breed and breed and breed, while we live long and breed slowly. Their lives are brief and, without us, riddled with disease and violence. And yet, we need them. We take them into our families, and with our help, they are able to live longer, stay free of disease, and get along with one another. We could not live without them.

  “But we are not them!

  “We are not them!

  “Children of the great Goddess, we are not them!”

  He shook with the intensity of his feeling. He had to take several breaths before he could continue. “We are not them,” he whispered. “Nor should we try to be them. Ever. Not for any reason. Not even to gain the day; the cost is too great.”

  He stood for a second longer in silence, then sat down and put his microphone back on its stand. The room had gone completely silent.

  Once he sat down, Preston broke the silence. “Shori, is there anyone you would like to question or anything you would like to say?”

  “I have questions,” I said, standing up with my microphone. I had thought of something as Russell spoke—something prompted by what he had said and by my having seen Joan Braithwaite reading a history book just a short while ago. It seemed to me that Russell had just admitted that his family had killed my families. He wanted us to believe that he had done it for a good reason. I said to Preston, “I want to ask you a few questions, if that’s all right.”

  Preston looked surprised. “All right. Russell questioned me so I do qualify as someone you can question now.”

  I nodded. “I ask this because of my limited knowledge of Ina law. Preston, is there a legal, nonlethal way of questioning someone’s behavior? I mean, if I believed that you were doing something that could be harmful to other Ina, would I be able to bring it to the attention of a council of some kind or some other group?”

  Preston did not smile, did not change expression at all, but I got the impression he was pleased with me. “There is,” he said. “If you believed I were doing something to the detriment of the Ina, something that was not exactly against law, but that you seriously believed was harmful, you could ask for a Council of the Goddess.”

  Russell snatched up his microphone and protested. “Council of the … That hasn’t been done for at least twenty-five hundred years.”

  “You are aware of it, then?” I asked him.

  “It wouldn’t have been taken seriously. No one’s done it for two thousand—”

  “Did you try?”

  “Your families made no secret of the fact that they didn’t even believe in the Goddess!”

  From the hypothetical to the real. Careless of him. “Would that have mattered?” I asked. “Could my family have ignored a call to take part in a Council of the Goddess?”

  Russell said nothing. Perhaps he had remembered where he was and exactly what was being argued.

  “Preston, would it have mattered?”

  “The rule of seven would apply,” Preston answered.
“If the rule of seven is satisfied and the accused family refuses to attend, the Council would be carried on regardless of its absence. The family would be bound by any vote of the Council, as though it had been present. If the family were ordered to stop whatever they were doing, and they refused to stop, they would be punished.”

  I stared across at Russell. “Preston, has the Silk family ever tried to assemble a Council of the Goddess to discuss or warn against the genetic work of my eldermothers?”

  “Not to my knowledge,” Preston said. “Russell?”

  Again, Russell said nothing. It didn’t matter. Surely he had already said enough. I sat down and put my microphone back in its place.

  “Does any Council member have questions?” Preston asked. No one spoke.

  “All right,” he said. “Council members, I ask you now to count yourselves. Is the Silk family guilty of having made human beings their tools and sent those human tools to kill the Petrescu and the Matthews families? Are the Silks also guilty of sending their tools to burn the Petrescu guest house where Shori Matthews and her symbionts were staying? Are the Silks guilty of sending their tools to attack the Gordon family here at Punta Nublada? And also, was Katharine Dahlman, the Silks’ first advocate, guilty of sending one of her symbionts, Jack Roan, to kill one of Shori Matthews’s symbionts, Theodora Harden?” He paused, then said, “Zoë Fotopoulos?”

  I had decided that Zoë was the most beautiful Ina I had ever seen. Her age—over three hundred—didn’t seem to matter. She was tall, lean, and blond like most Ina but was a striking, memorable woman. When she arrived, I had asked Wright what he thought of her. He said, “Sculpted. Perfect, like one of those Greek statues. If she had boobs, I’d say she was the best-looking woman I’ve ever seen.”

  Poor Wright. Maybe one of the Braithwaite symbionts would have large breasts.

  “Shori Matthews has told us the trúth,” Zoë said. “I have not once caught her in a lie. Either she has been very careful or she is exactly what she seems to be. My impression is that she is exactly what she appears to be—a child, deeply wronged by both the Silk family and Katharine Dahlman. Members of the Silk family, on the other hand, have lied again and again. And Katharine Dahlman has lied. It seems that all this killing was done because Shori’s families were experimenting with ways of using human DNA to enable us to walk in daylight. And it seems that no legal methods of questioning or stopping the experiments were even attempted.” She took a deep breath. “I stand with Shori against both the Silks and Katharine Dahlman.”

  “Joan Braithwaite?” Preston said.

  “Shori told the truth, and Katharine and the Silks lied,” Joan said. “That’s all that matters. I must stand with Shori against both.”

  “Alexander Svoboda?”

  “I stand with Shori against Katharine Dahlman,” he said. “But I must stand with the Silks against Shori. Shori has told the truth, as far as she knows, as far as she is able to understand with her damaged memory, but I can’t condemn the Silks as a family because of what one child, one seriously impaired child, believes.”

  And yet, every Silk who had spoken to the Council had lied about what he had done, about what he knew, or both. How could Katharine Dahlman be punished for killing one symbiont and the Silks let off for killing twelve Ina and nearly a hundred symbionts? But that was Alexander’s less than courageous decision.

  “Peter Marcu?” Preston said.

  “I stand with Shori,” Peter Marcu said. “I don’t want to. My family has been friends with the Silks for four generations. There was even a time when we got along well with the Dahlmans. But Shori has been telling the truth all along, and the others have been lying. Whatever their reasons are for what they’ve done, they did do it, and for the sake of the rest of our people and all our symbionts, we cannot allow this to go unpunished.”

  “Ana Morariu?”

  “I stand with the Silks and with Katharine Dahlman,” Ana said. “Shori Matthews is much too impaired to be permitted to speak against other Ina. How can we destroy people’s lives, even kill them on the word of a child whose mind has been all but destroyed and who, even if she were healthy, is barely Ina at all? It is a tragedy that the Petrescu and Matthews families are dead. We shouldn’t deepen the tragedy by killing or disrupting other families.”

  She was the one who had said Katharine Dahlman might be telling the truth. Now she seemed to be saying that my families had simply been unlucky and had, for some unknown reason, died, and that it would be wrong to punish anyone for that. Nothing wrong, she seemed to think, with letting your friends get away with mass murder.

  “Alice Rappaport?”

  “I stand with Shori,” Alice said. “Katharine and the Silks are liars, people who use murder but never think to use the law. They know better than anyone here that we can’t let them go unpunished. And what about the rest of you? Do you want to return to a world of lawless family feuds and mass killing?”

  “Harold Westfall?”

  “I stand with Shori,” Harold said. “To let this go would be to endanger us all in the long run. Both the Silks and Katharine must be punished for what we all know they’ve done.”

  He glanced at me unhappily. I got the impression he didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to stand with me. I suspected he didn’t even like me much. But he was doing his duty and trying to do it as honestly as he could. I respected that and was grateful for it.

  “Kira Nicolau.”

  “I stand with Shori as far as Katharine is concerned,” Kira said. “What Katharine did was completely wrong, and I have no doubt that she did it. I don’t believe she even meant to convince us otherwise; it just didn’t seem very important to her. But as to the other problem, I must stand with the Silks. I don’t believe Shori’s memories and accusations should be trusted. I’m not convinced that Shori understands the situation as well as she believes she does. She believes what she says, that’s clear. In that sense, she is telling the truth. But like Alexander, I’m not willing to disrupt or destroy the Silk family on the word of someone as disabled as Shori Matthews clearly is.”

  Nothing about the lies the Silks had told. Nothing about my dead families. And yet, Kira herself was telling the truth as far as I could see. She really seemed to believe that I was so impaired that I didn’t know what I was talking about. She had somehow convinced herself of that.

  “Ion Andrei?”

  There was a moment of silence. Finally Ion said, “I stand with the Silks and with Katharine. I don’t want to. I believe the Silks may have murdered Shori’s families. It’s certainly possible. And Katharine may have sent her symbiont after Shori’s symbiont. But, like Kira, I cannot in good conscience base such a judgment on the words of someone as disabled as Shori is.”

  It was painful to listen to them. I wanted to scream at them. How could they blind all their senses so selectively? And how could they see me as so impaired? Maybe they needed to see me that way. Maybe it helped them deal with their conscience.

  “Walter Nagy?”

  “I stand with Shori,” Walter said. “And I would stand with her even if she were out of her mind because it is so painfully obvious that the Silks and Katharine Dahlman were lying almost every time they answered a question. They have committed murder and, in the case of the Silks, mass murder. If we excuse that in those we like, we open a door that we tried to lock tight centuries ago. Make no mistake. If we ignore these murders, we invite people to settle disputes themselves, and we risk exposure in the human world. We are, every one of us, vulnerable to the fires that consumed Shori’s families.”

  There was a moment of silence. Finally, Preston said, “Elizabeth Akhmatova?”

  “I stand with Shori,” Elizabeth said. “For all the reasons Walter’s just given, I stand with her. And I stand with her because I’ve watched her. She is impaired. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose the memory of nearly all of the years of one’s life. Her memory was stolen from her. But her ability to reason wasn’t stol
en. The questions she’s asked—questions that were answered again and again with lies and misdirection—were good, sensible questions. The questions she answered, she answered honestly. The murderers who killed her families and her symbiont, the thieves who stole her past from her—should these people be rewarded because they did such a savagely thorough job? No, of course not. Shori, on the other hand, should be rewarded for using her intellect to protect herself and to find the murderers.”

  Twenty-nine

  And that was that.

  There was a moment of silence, then Preston stood up. “The decision is made,” he said.

  “A majority of seven members of this eleven-member Council of Judgment have stood with Shori Matthews and against both Katharine Dahlman and the Silk family. Therefore, Katharine Dahlman and the Silk family must be punished for the wrongs they have done. But because the decision was not unanimous, their punishment must be other than death.

  “For the wrongs the Silk family has done—for their complete destruction of the Petrescu family, for their nearly complete destruction of the Matthews family, and for their attempted destruction of the Gordon family—the penalty, by written law, is the dissolution of the Silk family. The five unmated Silk sons must be adopted by five families in five countries other than the United States of America. Each will mate as the males of his new family mate. They will be Silk no longer.”

  The room was utterly silent. Even the Silks made no sound. I wondered how they could keep silent. Was it pride? Was it pain? Were they refusing to believe the sentence or only refusing to let others see their pain? I looked across the room at Russell Silk.

  He stared back at me with utter hatred. If he could have killed me, I think he would have done it with pleasure. I realized coldly that I felt the same toward him. If he came after me and I could kill him, I would—joyfully.

 
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