Clays Ark | Chapter 13 of 51

Author: Octavia E. Butler | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 6443 Views | Add a Review

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Present 8

MEDA BROUGHT BLAKE HIS bag when he asked for it and permitted him to examine her. She even permitted him to cleanse the scratches she had made on his arm and face, though she warned it would do no good. It had never done any good before when someone was infected, she said. The organisms were aggressive and fast. He had the disease.

She or someone else had found and sabotaged his panic button with one of the new permanent glues. With these, permanent meant permanent. He could not use the bag to call for help. Otherwise, the bag was intact. For Keira’s sake in particular, it was one of the best. His scope would probably give him a look at the Clay’s Ark organism, even if it was as small as Meda had said. He needed all the information he could get before he made his escape. It was not only a matter of his wanting to pass the information on. He also needed to know now of any weaknesses these people had. They were too good to be true in every way except appearance. He had to find something he could use against them.

“I could have used you when my children were born,” Meda told him as he took her blood pressure.

“Didn’t you have a doctor?” he asked. He checked her pulse.

“No. Just Eli and Lorene, my sister-in-law. We don’t bring anyone here if we don’t plan to keep them. And I didn’t dare go to a hospital. Imagine how many people I’d infect there.”

“Not if you told them the truth.”

She watched as he drew blood from her left arm. It went directly into the analyzer as would all her other specimens. “They’d put me in a goddamn cage,” she said. “They’d put my kids in one, too. They were born with the disease, you know.”

“Did they have any special problems?”

She turned her head to stare directly at him. “Not a one,” she said. She made no effort to conceal the fact that she was lying.

“What about you?” Blake asked gently. “Easy births?”

“Yeah,” she said. Her defensiveness vanished. “The first one really surprised me. I mean, I was scared. I expected to be in agony, and I don’t handle real pain that well. But the kid popped out with no trouble at all. Felt like cramps.”

“You were lucky there was no emergency. May I see your children?”

“Not until you’re safe, Blake.”

“Safe?”

“When you’ve been sick and gotten well again, then we’ll have nothing to worry about. We’ll show you anything you want.”

He frowned. “Do you imagine I’d hurt a child?”

“Probably not,” she said. “But you’re at the seeking-weakness stage, and Jacob and Joseph would be a hell of a weakness. If you used them, we’d have to kill you. We want you alive, Blake.”

He looked away from her in growing desperation. They really were too good—always a step ahead. How many times had they done this—abducted people, made them vanish from the world outside. He had to beat them at a game they knew all too well. But how?

Meda rubbed his arm with a wet hand. “Look,” she said, “it isn’t so bad here. You can do a lot of good—maybe more good than you could do anywhere else. You can help us prevent an epidemic.”

“It’s only a matter of time before your disease gets out of hand,” he said.

“We’ve kept that from happening for more than four years.”

“Yet it could happen tomorrow.”

“No!” She got up and began to pace. “I can’t really make you understand until you’ve felt it, but we’d go crazy if we were caged. We’d probably kill ourselves trying to escape. The compulsion keeps us on a pretty thin edge as it is. Eli says we’re holding on to our humanity by our fingernails. I’m not sure we’re holding on to it at all. In some ways, I’m more realistic than he is. But maybe we need a little of his idealism. God knows how he’s kept it.” She glanced at Blake. “He’s my kids’ father, you know.”

“I guessed,” Blake said.

“He helps us hold on even if all we’re holding on to is an illusion. Take away that illusion and what’s left is something you wouldn’t want to deal with. You’ll see.”

“If your veneer of humanity is that thin,” Blake said, “it’s only a matter of time before someone finds it too thin. And if what you’ve told me about the disease is true, one person could infect hundreds and those hundreds could infect thousands—all before the first victim began to show symptoms and realize they were sick.”

“Your estimate is low,” she said. “Now do you see why you have to stay here? You could become that one person.”

He did not argue with her. He would escape and go to a hospital; that was all. “I’d like you to undress,” he said. He had just collected a little of her sweat and taken—almost painlessly—a minute specimen of her flesh. The analyzer found something incomprehensible in both—probably the same something it had found in her blood and urine.

“Unidentifiable microbes,” the small screen said. It was able to show him tiny, spiderlike organisms in her flesh, some of them caught in the act of reproducing along with her cells—as part of her cells. They were not viruses. According to the computer, they were more complete, independent organisms. Yet they had made themselves at home in human cells in a way that should not have been possible—like plasmids invading and making themselves at home in bacteria. But these were hardly plasmids—solitary rings of DNA. These were more complex organisms that had sought out higher game than bacteria and managed to combine with it without killing it. They had changed it, however, altered it slightly, subtly, cell by cell. In the most basic possible way, they had tampered with Meda’s genetic blueprint. They had left her no longer human.

“The ones that live in the brain don’t have little legs—cilia, I mean,” Meda said over his shoulder.

“What?”

“Eli told me they get into the brain cells, too. It sounds frightening, but there isn’t anything we can do about it. I guess they’d have to reach the brain to change us so.”

She did not know how changed she was. Could there be any hope of reversing such elemental changes? There must be, for his daughters’ sake.

“Eli and I used to talk about it a lot,” she said. “He wanted me to know everything he knew—in case anything happened to him. He said his wife and the other doctor did autopsies on the crew members who died before them. They found little round organisms in the brains of every one of them.”

“Rabies again,” Blake muttered. But no. Rabies was only a virus, preventable and curable.

“Eli’s wife tried to make antibodies,” Meda said. “It didn’t work. I don’t remember what else she tried. I didn’t understand, anyway. But nothing worked except reinfection. They found out about that by accident. And it works better person-to-person than person-to-syringe. Maybe that’s just psychological, but we don’t care. We’ll use anything that works. That’s why I’m here with you.”

“You’re here to try to make a good carrier of me,” he said.

She shrugged. “You’ll be that or die. I’d rather live myself.”

There was another answer. There had to be. He could not find it with only his bag, but others, researchers with lab computers, would sooner or later come up with answers. First, though, they had to be made aware of the questions.

He turned to look at Meda and saw that she had stripped. Surprisingly, she looked less scrawny without her clothing. More like the human female she was not. What could her children be like?

She smiled. “All my clothes are too big,” she said. “I put them on and I look like a collection of sticks, I know. Maybe now I’ll buy a few new things next time I’m in town.”

He ignored the obvious implication, but could not ignore the way she kept reading him. He became irrationally afraid that she was reading his mind, that he would never be able to keep an escape plan from her. He tried to shake off the feeling as he proceeded with the examination. She said nothing more. He got the impression she was sparing him, humoring him.

He asked to examine others in the community when he finished with her, but she was not ready to share him with anyone else.

“Start checking them tomorrow if they’ll let you,” she said. “You’ll smell different then. Less seductive.”

“Seductive?”

“I mean you’ll smell more like one of us. Nobody will take any special pleasure in touching you then.” She had dressed again in her loose, ugly clothing. “It’s sexual,” she said. “Or rather, it feels sexual. Touching you is almost as good as screwing. It would be good even if I didn’t like you. If not for people like you—people we have to catch and keep, I could never control myself enough to go into town. With no outlet it gets—painful and crazy, sort of frenzied when there are a lot of unconverted people around. I have dreams about suddenly finding myself moving through a crowd—maybe on a big city street. Moving through a crowd where I have no choice but to keep touching people. I don’t even know whether to call it a nightmare or not. I’m on automatic. It’s just happening.”

“You’d like it to happen,” he said, watching her.

“Pigshit!” she replied, abruptly angry. “If I wanted it to happen, it would happen. I’d get in my car and I’d drive. I could infect people in towns from here to New York. And I’d do exactly that if I ever had to leave this place. There would be no one to help me, stop me.” She hesitated, then sat down on the bed beside him. He managed not to recoil when she took his hand. He was getting information from her. Let her touch him as long as she kept talking.

“You’ve got to understand,” she said. “It’s really hard on us the way we limit our growth. We can only do it because we’re so isolated. But if you escaped—with or without your kids—we’d have to escape too before you could send people here to corral us. I don’t know where we’d go, but chances are, we’d have to split up. Now you imagine, for instance, Ingraham out there on his own. He was high-strung before, and damned undisciplined. He doesn’t shake because there’s more wrong with him than with the rest of us. He shakes because he’s holding himself back almost all the time. He respects Eli and he loves Lupe. She’s going to have his kid. But you force him out of here, and all by himself, he’ll start an epidemic you won’t believe.”

“And you’re saying that will be my fault,” Blake said angrily. She was boxing him in. Everything she said was intended to close another exit.

“We’ll do anything to avoid being locked up,” she said. “I’ll do anything to keep my sons from being taken from me.”

“Nobody would take your—”

“Shut your mouth! They’d take them. They’d treat them like things. If they killed them—accidentally or deliberately, it would just be one of their problems solved.”

“Meda, listen—”

“So if you’re afraid of an epidemic, Doctor, don’t even think about leaving us. Even if you spread the word, you can’t possibly stop us.” She switched tracks abruptly. “I’m starving. Do you want anything to eat?”

He was disoriented for a moment. “Food?”

“We eat a lot. You’ll see.”

“What if you didn’t?” he asked, immediately alert. “I mean, I couldn’t have put away the meal I saw you eat only a few hours ago. What if you just ate normally?”

“We do eat normally—for us.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re still seeking weakness. Well, you’ve found one. We eat a lot. Now what are you going to do? Destroy our food supply?” She produced a key from somewhere, seemingly by magic. Her hands actually were quicker than his eyes. “Don’t even think about doing anything to the food,” she said. “Someday I’ll tell you how people like you smell to my kids.” She let herself out and slammed the door behind her.

She returned sometime later, bringing him a ham sandwich and a fruit salad.

“I’d like to see my daughters,” he told her.

“I’ll see,” she said. “Maybe I can bring you one of them for a few minutes.”

Her cooperativeness pleased but did not surprise him. She had children of her own and she could see that his concern was genuine; there was no reason for her to find that concern suspect.

He was lying down, tired and frightened, hanging on to the bare bones of an escape plan when Eli brought Keira in.

Keira seemed calm. Eli left her without saying a word. He locked her in and probably stood outside listening.

“Are you all right?” Blake asked.

She answered the question he intended rather than the one he had asked. “He hasn’t touched me,” she said. She did not sit down, but stood in the middle of the room and looked at Blake. He looked back, realizing that for her sake, he could not touch her either. Such a simple, terrible thing. He could not touch her.

“He said Meda scratched you,” she whispered.

Blake nodded.

“He told me about the disease and … where he got it. I didn’t know what to think. Do you believe him?”

“‘Her’ in my case.” Blake stared through the bars of the window into the desert night. “I believe. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“Rane always says I’ll believe anything. At first, I was afraid to believe this. I do now, though.”

“Have you seen Rane?”

“No. Daddy?”

He looked away from the bright full moon, met her eyes and saw that in a moment she would come to him, disease or no disease.

“No!” he said sharply.

“Why?” she demanded. “What difference does it make? Someone’s going to touch me sooner or later, anyway. And even if they don’t, I’ve probably already got the disease—from the salad or the bread or the furniture or the dishes … What’s the difference?” she wiped away tears angrily. She tended to cry when she got upset, whether she wanted to or not.

“Why hasn’t he touched you?”

She looked at Blake, looked away. “He likes me. He’s afraid he’ll kill me.”

“I wonder how long that will stop him?”

“Not long. He obviously feels terrible. Sooner or later, he’s going to just grab me.”

Blake opened his bag again, turned it on, and keyed in a prescription form, “ARE YOU LOCKED UP?” he typed, “ARE YOUR WINDOWS BARRED?”

She shook her head, mouthed, “No bars.”

“THEN YOU CAN ESCAPE!”

“Alone?” she mouthed. She shook her head.

“YOU MUST!” he typed, “AT TWO A.M., I’LL TRY. I WANT YOU WITH ME!” Aloud, he said, “I can’t help you, Kerry.”

“I know,” she whispered. “Most of the time, I’m not even worried about myself. I’m worried about you and Rane. I don’t even know where Rane is.”

He began typing soundlessly again, “THEN BREAK FREE ALONE! THEY THINK YOU’RE HELPLESS. THEY’LL BE CARELESS WITH YOU.”

She shook her head as she read the words. “I can’t,” she mouthed. “I can’t!”

“Are you having any pain?” he asked aloud. “Did you take your medicine?”

“No pain,” she said softly. “I had some, but I told Eli and he got my medicine from the car. He wore what he called his town gloves.”

She glanced at the door. “He said if he wasn’t careful, he could transmit the disease just by paying for supplies. They all have to wear special gloves when they’re in town.”

“Yet they deliberately spread the disease to people like us,” Blake said. He wiped everything he had typed and began again on a clean form, “YOU MUST ESCAPE! THERE’S AN EPIDEMIC BREWING HERE! WE MUST GIVE WARNING, GET TREATMENT!”

She was shaking her head again. God, why hadn’t Meda sent Rane to him? Rane would be afraid, too, but that would not stop her. “EVEN IF I FAIL,” he typed, “YOU MUST TAKE THE CAR AND GOOR WE COULD ALL DIE. DO YOU REMEMBER HOW TO START THE CAR WITHOUT THE KEY?”

She nodded.

“THEN GO! SEND BACK HELP. GIVE WARNING!”

Tears ran down her face, but she did not seem to notice them. He spoke aloud with painfully calculated brutality. “Meda told me people with serious injuries die of the disease. She’s seen them die. She didn’t say anything about people with serious illnesses, but Kerry, she didn’t have to.” He gave her a long look, trying to read her, reach her. She knew he was right. She wanted to please him. But she had to overcome her own fear.

He typed, “SOONER OR LATER, ELI WILLTOUCH YOUAT LEAST.”

She read the words without responding.

“BE NEAR THE WAGONEER TONIGHT,” he typed, “AT TWO.”

She swallowed, nodded once.

At that moment, there was a sound at the door. Instantly, Blake shut off the computer, automatically wiping the prescription form and everything he had typed. He closed the bag and turned to face the door just as Eli opened it.

Blake looked at Keira, aching to hug her. He felt he was about to lose her in one way or another, but he could not touch her.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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