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Authors: Elizabeth Hand

Last Summer at Mars Hill (43 page)

BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
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“It’s fucking freezing in this place,” Aidan exclaims, pinning me to the bed and pulling the quilts over our heads. “Oh, come on, dog.” Grunting, he hauls her up beside us. “My room is like Antarctica. Tierra del Fuego. The Bering Strait.” He punctuates his words with kisses, elbowing Molly as she tries to slobber our faces. I squirm away and straighten my nightshirt.

“Hush. You’ll wake Papa.”

Aidan rolls his eyes and stretches against the wall. “Spare me.” Through the rents in his kimono I can see his skin, dusky in the moonlight. No one has skin like Aidan’s, except for me: not white but the palest gray, almost blue, and fine and smooth as an eggshell. People stare at us in the street, especially at Aidan; at school girls stop talking when he passes, and fix me with narrowed eyes and lips pursed to mouth a question never asked.

Aidan yawns remorselessly as a cat. Aidan is the beauty: Aidan whose gray eyes flicker green whereas mine muddy to blue in sunlight; Aidan whose long legs wrap around me and shame my own, scraped and bruised from an unfortunate bout with Papa’s razor.

“Molly. Here.” He grabs her into his lap, groaning at her weight, and pulls me as well, until we huddle in the middle of the bed. Our heads knock and he points with his chin to the mirror.

“‘Did you never see the picture of We Three?’”
he warbles. Then, shoving Molly to the floor, he takes my shoulders and pulls the quilt from me.

My father had a daughter loved a man

As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,

I should your lordship.

He recites softly, in his own voice: not the deeper drone he affected when we had been paired in the play that Christmas. I start to slide from bed but he holds me tighter, twisting me to face him until our foreheads touch and I know that the mirror behind us reflects a moon-lapped Rorschach and, at our feet, our snuffling mournful fool.

“‘But died thy sister of her love, my boy?’”
I whisper later, my lips brushing his neck where the hair, unfashionably long, waves to form a perfect S.

I am all the daughters of my father’s house,

And all the brothers, too; and yet I know not.

He kisses me. Later he whispers nonsense, my name, rhyming words from our made-up language; a long and heated silence.

Afterward he sleeps, but I lie long awake, stroking his hair and watching the rise and fall of his slender chest. In the coldest hour he awakens and stares at me, eyes wide and black, and turning on his side moans, then begins to cry as though his heart will break. I clench my teeth and stare at the ceiling, trying not to blink, trying not to hear or feel him next to me, his pale gray skin, his eyes: my beautiful brother in the dark.

After this session Dr. Harrow let me sleep until early afternoon. The rush of summer rain against the high casements finally woke me, and I lay in bed staring up at a long fine crack that traversed the ceiling. To me it looked like the arm of some ghastly tree overtaking the room. It finally drove me downstairs. I ambled down the long glass-roofed corridor that led to the pre-Columbian annex. I paused to pluck a hibiscus blossom from a terra-cotta vase and arranged it behind one ear. Then I went on, until I reached the ancient elevator with its folding arabesques.

The second floor was off limits to empaths, but Anna had memorized a dead patient’s release code and she and I occasionally crept up here to tap sleeping researchers. No medical personnel patrolled the rooms. Servers checked the monitors and recorded all responses. At the end of each twelve-hour shift doctors would flit in and out of the bedrooms, unhooking oneironauts and helping them stumble to other rooms where they could fall into yet another, though dreamless, sleep. I tapped the pirated code into the first security unit I saw, waiting for it to read my retina imprint and finally grant the access code that slid open the false paneled wall.

Here stretched the sleep labs: chambers swathed in yellowed chalks and moth-eaten linens, huge canopied beds where masked oneironauts turned and sighed as their monitors clicked in draped alcoves. The oneironauts’ skin shone glassy white; beneath the masks their eyes were bruised a tender green from enforced somnolence. I held my breath as long as I could: the air seethed with dreams. I hurried down the hall to a room with door ajar and an arched window columned with white drapes. A woman I did not recognize sprawled across a cherry four-poster, her demure lace gown at odds with the rakish mask covering her eyes. I slipped inside, locking the door behind me. Then I turned to the bed.

The research subject’s hair formed a dark filigree against the disheveled linen sheets. I bowed to kiss her on the mouth, waiting to be certain she would not awake. Then I dipped my tongue between her lips and drew back, closing my eyes to unravel strands of desire and clouded abandon, pixie fancies. All faded in a moment: dreams, after all, are dreams. I reached to remove the wires connecting her to the monitors, adjusted the settings and hooked her into the NET. I did the same for myself with extra wires, relaying through the BEAM to the transmitter. I smoothed the sheets, lay beside her and closed my eyes.

A gray plain shot with sunlight. Clouds mist the air with a scent of rain and seawater. In the distance I hear waves. Turning I can see a line of small trees, contorted like crippled children at ocean’s edge. We walk there, the oneironaut’s will bending so easily to mine that I scarcely sense her: she is another salt-scattered breeze.

The trees draw nearer. I stare at them until they shift, stark lichened branches blurring into limbs bowed with green and gentle leaves. Another moment and we are beneath their heavy welcoming boughs.

I place my hand against the rough bark and stare into the heart of the greenery. Within the emerald shadows something stirs. Sunlit shards of leaf and twig align themselves into hands. Shadows shift to form a pair of slanted beryl eyes. There: crouched among the boughs like a dappled cat, his curls crowned with a ring of leaves, his lips parted to show small white teeth. He smiles at me.

Before he draws me any closer I withdraw, snapping the wires from my face. The tree shivers into white sheets and the shrouded body of the woman beside me.

My pounding heart slowed as I drew myself up on my elbows to watch her, carefully peeling the mask from her face. Beneath lids mapped with fine blue veins her eyes roll, tracking something unseen. Suddenly they steady. Her mouth relaxes into a smile, then into an expression of such blissful rapture that without thinking I kiss her and taste a burst of ecstatic, halcyon joy.

And reel back as she suddenly claws at my chest, her mouth twisted to shout; but no sound comes. Bliss explodes into terror. Her eyes open and she stares, not at me but at something that looms before her. Her eyes grow wide and horrified, the pupils dilating as she grabs at my face, tears the hibiscus blossom from my hair and chokes a garbled scream, a shout I muffle with a pillow.

I whirled and reset the monitors, switched the NET’s settings and fled out the door. In the hallway I hesitated and looked back. The woman pummeled the air before her blindly; she had not seen me. I turned and ran until I reached the doctors’ stairway leading to the floors below, and slipped away unseen.

Downstairs all was silent. Servers creaked past bringing tea trays to doctors in their quarters. I hurried to the conservatory, where I inquired after the aide named Justice. The server directed me to a chamber where Justice stood recording the results of an evoked potential scan.

“Wendy!” Surprise melted into disquiet. “What are you doing here?”

I shut the door and stepped to the window, tugging the heavy velvet drapes until they fell and the chamber darkened. “I want you to scan me,” I whispered.

He shook his head. “What? Why—” I grabbed his hand as he tried to turn up the lights and he nodded slowly, then dimmed the screen he had been working on. “Where is Dr. Harrow?”

“I want you to do it.” I tightened my grip. “I think I have entered a fugue state.”

He smiled, shaking his head. “That’s impossible, Wendy. You’d have no way of knowing it. You’d be catatonic, or—” He shrugged, then glanced uneasily at the door. “What’s going on? You know I’m not certified to do that alone.”

“But you know how,” I wheedled, stroking his hand. “You are a student of their arts, you can do it as easily as Dr. Harrow.” Smiling, I leaned forward until my forehead rested against his, and kissed him tentatively on the mouth. His expression changed to fear as he trembled and tried to move away. Sexual contact between staff and experimental personnel was forbidden and punishable by execution of the medics in question; empaths were believed incapable of initiating such contact. I grinned more broadly and pinned both of his hands to the table, until he nodded and motioned with his head toward the PET unit.

“Sit down,” he croaked. I latched the door, then sat in the wing-back chair beside the bank of monitors.

In a few minutes I heard the dull hum of the scanners as he improvised the link for my reading. I waited until my brain’s familiar patterns emerged on the screen.

“See?” Relief brightened his voice, and he tilted the monitor so that I could see it more clearly. “All normal. Maybe she got your dosage wrong. Perhaps Dr. Silverthorn can suggest a—”

His words trickled into silence. I shut my eyes and drew up the image of the tree, beryl eyes and outstretched hand, then opened my eyes to see the PET scan showing intrusive activity in my temporal lobe: brain waves evident of an emergent secondary personality.

“That’s impossible,” Justice breathed. “You have no MPs, no independent emotions—What the hell
that?” He traced the patterns with an unsteady hand, then turned to stare at me. “What did you do, Wendy?” he whispered.

I shook my head, crouching into the chair’s corner, and carefully removed the wires. The last image shimmered on the screen like a cerebral ghost. “Take them,” I said flatly, holding out the wires. “Don’t tell anyone.”

He let me pass without a word. Only when my hand grasped the doorknob did he touch me briefly on the shoulder.

“Where did it come from?” he faltered. “What is it, Wendy?”

I stared past him at the monitor with its pulsing shadows. “Not me,” I whispered at last. “The boy in the tree.”

They found the sleep researcher at shift-change that evening, hanging by the swag that had decorated her canopied bed. Anna told me about it at dinner.

“Her monitors registered an emergent MP.” She licked her lips unconsciously, like a kitten. “Do you think we could get into the morgue?”

I yawned and shook my head. “Are you crazy?”

Anna giggled and rubbed my neck. “Isn’t everybody?”

Several aides entered the dining room, scanning warily before they started tapping empties on the shoulder and gesturing to the door. I looked up to see Justice, his face white and pinched as he stood behind me.

“You’re to go to your chambers,” he announced. “Dr. Harrow says you are not to talk to anyone.” He swallowed and avoided my eyes, then abruptly stared directly at me for the first time. “I told her that I hadn’t seen you yet but would make certain you knew.”

I nodded quickly and looked away. In a moment he was gone, and I started upstairs.

“I saw Dr. Leslie before,” Anna commented before she walked outside toward her cottage. “He smiled at me and waved.” She hesitated, biting her lip thoughtfully. “Maybe he will play with me this time,” she announced before turning down the rain-spattered path.

Dr. Harrow stood at the high window in the Home Room when I arrived. In her hand she held a drooping hibiscus flower.

“Shut the door,” she ordered. I did so. “Now lock it and sit down.”

She had broken the hibiscus. Her fingers looked bruised from its stain: jaundiced yellow, ulcerous purple. As I stared she flung the flower into my lap.

“They know it was you,” she announced. “They matched your retina print with the masterfile. How could you have thought you’d get away with it?” She sank onto the bed, her eyes dull with fatigue.

The rain had hung back for several hours, a heavy iron veil. Now it hammered the windows again, its steady tattoo punctuated by the rattle of hailstones.

“I did not mean to kill her,” I murmured. I smoothed my robe, flicking the broken blossom onto the floor.

She ground the hibiscus beneath her heel, took it and threw it out the window. “Her face,” she said: as if replying to a question. “Like my brother Aidan’s.”

I stared at her blankly.

“When I found him,” she went on, turning to me with glittering eyes. “On the tree.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dr. Harrow.”

Her lips tightened against her teeth when she faced me. A drop of blood welled against her lower lip. I longed to lean forward to taste it, but did not dare. “She was right, you know. You steal our dreams…”

“That’s impossible.” I crossed my arms, shivering a little from the damp breeze. I hesitated. “You told me that is impossible. Unscientific. Unprofessional thinking.”

She smiled, and ran her tongue over her lip to lick away the blood. “Unprofessional? This has all been very unprofessional, Wendy. Didn’t you know that?”

“The tenets of the Nuremberg Act state that a scientist should not perform any research upon a subject which she would not undergo herself.”

Dr. Harrow shook her head, ran a hand through damp hair. “Is that what you thought it was? Research?”

I shrugged. “I—I don’t know. The boy—Your twin?”

“Aidan…” She spread her fingers against the bed’s coverlet, flexed a finger that bore a simple silver ring. “They found out. Teachers. Our father. About us. Do you understand?”

A flicker of the feeling she had evoked in bed with her brother returned, and I slitted my eyes, tracing it. “Yes,” I whispered. “I think so.”

“It is—” She fumbled for a phrase. “Like what is forbidden here, between empaths and staff. They separated us. Aidan…They sent him away, to another kind of—school. Tested him.”

She stood and paced to the window, leaned with a hand upon each side so that the rain lashed about her, then turned back to me with her face streaming: whether with rain or tears I could not tell. “Something happened that night…” Shaking her head furiously she pounded the wall with flattened palms. “He was never the same. He had terrible dreams, he couldn’t bear to sleep alone—That was how it started—

BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
6.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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