Authors: Steven Harper
Tags: #Science Fiction
“It’s the truth,” Ben said in a hoarse voice. His heart was pounding, but he didn’t know why. “Harenn confirmed it.”
“She ran the gene scan three times on the
and twice more after we got home from SA Station. The results were always the same.”
“We haven’t been able to figure out why Irfan and Daniel made all these embryos—made me—or how the embryos got onto the ship Mom found or anything else about them. I wish we could have.”
“Harenn told only me because she figured I should be the first to know. I asked her to keep quiet because I wanted to be the one to tell you. But I couldn’t find a way to say the words until now. I’m sorry.”
“Would you stop saying
You sound like you’re broken.”
“Wha—oh.” Kendi sank into a chair with a dazed expression on his face, one Ben couldn’t read. “All life. Ben, you’re saying that those embryos—that you—are almost a thousand years old? That you’re the
of Irfan Qasad and Daniel Vik?”
Ben managed a nervous laugh. “Yeah.”
Irfan Qasad,” Kendi went on. “The first human to enter the Dream. Who founded the Children of Irfan. Who created the idea of human Silent.”
Ben sat down with a nod. “And Daniel Vik is my father. Yes—the man who tried to destroy all human Silent on Bellerophon. Lucia’s been having fun with that one. Something about it symbolizing the good and evil found in everyone.”
knows?” Kendi said. “You told
but not me?”
Ben looked down at his hands. They were twisting themselves in his lap. He had known this would happen. Kendi was angry at him. He hated it when Kendi got angry. Not because he was afraid of Kendi, but because it...hurt. As if he had disappointed Kendi somehow. Ben hated disappointing anyone.
“Lucia was there when Harenn gave me the results of the scan,” Ben said to his hands. “Harenn said she had a right to know if she was going to be a surrogate mother.”
didn’t have the right to know?” Kendi’s voice was growing shrill. “All life, Ben—when were you planning to tell me? After the kids were born? At their first birthday party? Shit, I can’t believe you sat on this for a goddam
Ben stood up and walked out of the room. He strode into his study and quietly shut the door.
Kendi stared at the empty space Ben had occupied. His mouth opened and shut like a landed fish and his mind spun in circles, trying to encompass what Ben had told him. Ben was the son of Irfan Qasad herself. It was impossible. It was preposterous. But Ben would hardly say such a thing as a joke.
“Irene, call Harenn,” he said suddenly. “Mark the call high priority.”
“Working.” A moment later, part of the kitchen walled glowed and Harenn’s face appeared on the monitor.
“Is it true about Ben?” Kendi said without preamble.
“Yes,” Harenn said, not mincing words herself. “I ran the scan five times. He and the other embryos are Irfan’s children. And Daniel Vik’s.”
Kendi flung himself backward against the slats of his chair. “Do you know what this means? It’s like discovering a son of Buddha or Krishna. Not a descendent. A
“Sons are descendants,” Harenn pointed out.
“You know what I mean,” Kendi snapped.
“Are you unhappy about it?”
“I’m startled out of my billabong, that’s what I am. I knew Ben had something on his mind, but I would never in a thousand years have thought this was it. All life, Harenn—why didn’t
“I promised Ben I would not. He wanted to be the one.”
“The Children are going to throw a thousand cats,” Kendi muttered. “Half of them will figure it’s some kind of blasphemy and the other half will worship at Ben’s feet.”
“Do not forget that your children bear the same genes,” Harenn said. “They are Vik and Irfan’s children as well.”
“You are acting like this is bad news,” Harenn said. “Is it?”
“I don’t know,” Kendi growled. “I can barely get the idea through my head, let alone figure out the implications.”
“And how do you think Ben feels about it?”
Kendi froze. The news had flabbergasted him so badly he had barely noticed Ben’s agitated exit. “I have to go,” he said, and broke the connection without waiting for a response.
A moment later he stood outside the door to Ben’s study. A thin line of light limned the bottom. He tried the knob. It turned easily. Kendi took a deep breath and entered.
Ben was sitting at his desk, turning an old hard drive over and over in his hands. Computer guts and arcane bits of machinery littered the room around him. Ben didn’t look up when Kendi entered. Kendi just looked at him for a moment. Now that Kendi was looking for it, he could see the resemblance to Daniel Vik. It was eerie and made Kendi’s skin crawl. He swallowed. Irfan Qasad and Daniel Vik had reached across a millennium to create a man named Benjamin Rymar, a man Kendi had loved for almost fifteen years.
All life, had it been that long? It had. Kendi clearly remembered the first time he had laid eyes on Ben. Ara had thrown a party in honor of several students who had entered the Dream for the first time. Kendi was among them. Ben sat on the floor in one corner, looking shy, forlorn, and striking. Flame-red hair, sky-blue eyes, large hands, and a lost puppy expression. Even today Kendi couldn’t believe he had just walked up to Ben and started talking to him, and every moment from then on, he was glad he had done it. Their relationship had survived numerous breakups, several attempts at murder, the Despair, and Ara’s death.
So why are you so upset now?
He’s the same person he was before. You just know more about him.
Kendi stood behind Ben’s chair and put his hands on Ben’s shoulders. The muscles were tense and hard. Ben himself didn’t respond. He had shut down again, and Kendi’s heart felt as if it had dropped into a bucket of ice. Kendi leaned down to embrace him more fully.
“Ben,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t react well. It was the last thing I was expecting to hear. I didn’t mean to shout. The news must have been a shock to you, too, hey?”
Ben thawed a bit. “Kind of.”
“I’m glad you told me. It must have been hard.”
Ben grabbed Kendi’s wrist without answering. After a moment, his head dropped back to rest against Kendi’s body. Kendi wrapped his arms around Ben for a long time, savoring the relief.
“What’s it like?” he said after a while. “Knowing who your bio-parents are, I mean.”
Ben thought. “I don’t feel any different. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real. Irfan and Vik died so long ago and they’re so...famous. When I was little, I used to pretend Benjamin Heller—Mom’s fiancé before he died—was my bio-father and that he’d come home one day and play with me.”
“Wait a minute,” Kendi said. “Ara once said—didn’t the cryo-unit’s computer record them as frozen in the same year Benjamin Heller died? Ara said it was almost like a sign or something.”
“That’s when the embryos were put into that particular cryo-unit, yeah. My guess is they were transferred from an older unit into that one for some reason. Maybe the old one was breaking down. Anyway, the unit’s computer would record them as being ‘frozen’ when they—we—were put into the cryo-chambers. It doesn’t mean we weren’t created earlier than that.”
“So who else knows?” Kendi asked.
“Just Harenn and Lucia,” Ben said. “And I want to keep it that way.”
“Oh?” Kendi hooked another chair with his foot and dragged it over so he could sit. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t want anyone else to find out about this,” Ben said fiercely. “Not Grandma, not my cousins, and definitely not that publicity woman. If this got out, I’d be an instant celebrity—and a target. The idea scares the shit out of me, Kendi. God. I’ve had nightmares.”
“What about the kids?” Kendi said. “Do we tell them? They’re Irfan’s children, too.”
Ben started to answer, then shut his mouth and pursed his lips. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “I hadn’t thought about it. I suppose they have a right, but...I don’t know.”
“Well, we don’t have to decide now. We have a few years. Want something to eat? Or maybe we could go for a walk and talk some more.”
Kendi started to get up, but Ben grabbed his hand. “I want you to swear.”
“Swear that you won’t ever breathe a word of this to anyone, no matter what,” Ben said. “I want you to swear on Mom’s memory.”
Ben squeezed Kendi’s hand. “Swear!”
“I swear on the memory of Mother Adept Araceil Rymar do Salman Reza that I will never tell anyone about your parentage,” Kendi said. “Good enough?”
Kendi flashed a grin. “Hey, you can trust me with a secret. I’m a con artist from way back. I deal in secrets.”
“That’s why I had you swear on Mom,” Ben said with a grin of his own. “It’s the only vow I know you’d never break.”
But further protests were interrupted when Ben pulled Kendi down into his lap and kissed him, long and hard. His arms, warm and solid, wrapped around Kendi’s shoulders and his large hands stroked Kendi’s hair. The kiss grew more intense, and Kendi felt his body responding.
“You know,” Ben said, breath hot in Kendi’s ear, “I think I like this. It’s putting me in the mood to do something different.”
“Like what?” Kendi asked. Small shivers ran up and down his spine.
“Let me show you.”
Brother Carl Kirchenbaum snuck a peek into the bedroom. His wife Larissa lay peacefully asleep on their bed. He marveled at how different she looked now. Her breasts had grown considerably, and her stomach was already starting to round out. Carl carefully shut the door and checked his watch. He had maybe half an hour before Larissa would wake up and have to use the bathroom. Just enough time, if he hurried.
He let himself out of the tiny apartment they now shared and clattered quickly down the stairs. The building was shabby, and the hallways stank of old cooking and unchanged diapers. Carl grimaced. Before the Despair, her job and his stipend from the Children had been plenty enough to allow the two of them to rent a nice little house on the outskirts of the monastery. After the Despair, things had changed drastically. Carl himself had been Silenced—worse than being struck deaf and blind—and Larissa had lost her job when her employer went bankrupt. For a short while they’d been all right with Carl’s income. Then the monastery had reduced stipends to almost nothing, meaning he and Larissa could barely afford a two-room walkup in a bad part of Treetown.
Carl sighed worriedly as he trotted out into the night. It seemed like he worried all the time these days. He worried about Larissa getting unexpectedly pregnant. He worried about money and medical care. And through it all, he worried that he was going to fall apart. The only thing that kept him from falling into a permanent depression after losing his Silence was the thought of what it would do to Larissa. So he kept going, even when it felt like gravity had doubled and he would fall through the floorboards like an unfeeling rock.
The night was already chilly. The height of summer had passed. That, of course, meant heating bills, something else to worry about. Carl touched his pocket, which held the precious few freemarks he had managed to scrape together by going without lunch while he hunted for a job—any job. He should probably set the money aside, just in case. But it had been so long ...
Brother Carl went up a set of stairs and down a walkway until he reached the store. Mrs. Porfax, the aging owner, nodded to him from her counter near the door. Carl found what he was looking for and brought it over to her, feeling slightly embarrassed. Mrs. Porfax glanced at the item, and Carl felt his face heat up.
“Do you need anything else?” Mrs. Porfax asked, opening a brown bag.
“Not today,” Carl mumbled.
“Five freemarks and twenty, then.”
He paid her and left quickly. Outside he opened the bag and looked in. The small carton of gourmet chocolate ice cream seemed to look accusingly up at him.
I’m too expensive
, it said.
You shouldn’t spend the money
But Larissa loved it so much, as did he. After everything they’d gone through, they deserved a little treat together now and then. Didn’t they?
“Hey, friend. Spare a freemark?”
Carl closed the bag and looked up. A shabby man and an equally shabby woman stood at the mouth of an alleyway near the store. The man was holding out his hand.
“Sorry,” Carl said. “I don’t have—”
The woman gave a low cry and doubled over. The man spun and caught her, though her weight was an obvious drag on him. Carl automatically stepped forward. He took the woman’s arm and helped the man lower her, moaning, to the ground.