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Authors: Kristina Meister

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BOOK: The One We Feed
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Chapter
2

 

 

 

 

Fight or
Flight

 

I tapped my foot impatiently
while Jinx picked a random book off the return rack and snickered to himself in
intellectual disgust.

“Noetic
science. O-M-G. They don’t tell you that the headquarters is located in a
storefront in Petaluma.”

I rolled my
eyes. “Stop being a jerk.”

The librarian
gave me a sympathetic smile, but Jinx was oblivious. “They could learn a thing
or two from L. Ron Hubbard,” he muttered as he tossed the book down, “and that’s
saying a lot.”

“The evolution
of knowledge is toward simplicity, not complexity,” a deep voice quoted from
somewhere to my right. My heart skipped like a stone. I turned, and there he
stood, forbearing and regal as always, despite my sidekick’s constant
histrionics.

“Arthur,” I said,
my face muscles smiling so broadly that my jaw cramped. No man should ever be
allowed to affect any woman as much, but then again Arthur wasn’t just any man.

“Lilith,” he
nodded. “And company.”

Jinx clicked
his tongue ring across his teeth. I cringed. This had become the warning of a
rattlesnake about to strike, and my nerves could tolerate only so much. Since
we’d embarked on our quest, the uber-geek had begun pacing and speaking in
tongues more than a schizophrenic. If not for the Bluetooth device in his ear,
I might have been concerned. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but it seemed to
involve slave labor and enough fiber-optic cable to strangle the Kraken.

I glared at
him, daring him to get into an argument in the middle of the library. He rolled
his eyes.

“Yeah, well,
fuck you too, Sid.”

Arthur bowed,
and order was restored to my universe.

He led us
through the stacks to a table tucked into a corner. A pile of volumes had been
collected, and my mentor appeared to have painstakingly transcribed every card-catalogue
number onto a notepad. I glanced at it, marveling at the unexceptional quality
of his handwriting. No loops, no funny tildes, just block letters. It was
almost disappointing.

“You know
about computers, right? They have these things called spread-sheets.” I
giggled, leaning in to peck him on the cheek.

He shrugged
and took a seat. “They don’t like me.”

Jinx snorted. “Quickest
way to kill an AI is to feed it a paradox.”

My jaw dropped
open. It made a kind of sense. I was a real intelligence, and I still had
trouble with Arthur.

“Actually, the
technical support person banished me,” Arthur said with a shrug. “Something
about interference.”

I expected
Jinx to make another wise crack, but his face was suddenly the home of an
impressive scowl. He sat down with a loud thump and folded his hands in a
wholly dignified fashion that was so uncharacteristic, it was amusing.

“Lilith, tell
him what you’ve seen.”

I looked
between them and lost my nerve. Two of the smartest people I had met: one the
only human to speak fluent binary and the other a living god. As a moment of
dizziness overtook me, my recurring visions of a shape-shifting girl suddenly
didn’t seem to matter quite so much. Visions were a new thing for me, after
all. What if I had gotten something wrong?

I fell into a
chair and took a deep breath. No point in being sheepish. Arthur seemed to be a
telepath of some sort, and Jinx would tease information out of me with
swearwords I’d never heard before. The details tumbled out of me. I kept my
voice low but, recalling her filthy shape as it twisted through the air like
some kind of specter, pitched my voice on the edge of hysteria.

“I’ve tried a
bunch of different approaches, you know, projecting forward, doing what I
would
have done, and every time, she dies. The same way. She falls and hits the
ground. I can’t stop it.” I tipped forward and closed my eyes.

“What makes
you think you are meant to stop it?” Arthur said, recording another filing
number and making notes about the state of the binding.

I threw a look
at Jinx. All his youthful snark was gone. His face had again assumed that weird
composure held by all immortals many years my senior. Not for the first time, I
wondered who he was, or who he had been when he’d discovered the
idea
,
the thing that had frozen him in time.

“Art, she’s
just a fracking girl,” he hissed, shattering my reverie.

Arthur
shrugged. “And how many times have you been able to purchase your own
cigarettes?”

The
perpetually youthful face full of piercings twitched. The message was clear:
not everything is as it seems. Some immortals were centuries old and didn’t
look a day over eighteen.

“Don’t you
think we should at least check it out?”

“If this girl
is real,” I reasoned, “then what she did...it’s not like anything I’ve seen
before. And if the Sangha keeps her prisoner, then won’t she be on our side?”

“She struggles
to free herself so that she may die. What makes you think they are harming her?
Could they not be protecting her from herself?”

Infallible
logic, that.

I tapped my
fingers on the table and chewed my lip. Arthur was a difficult one to
interpret. Since we’d met, there had been many times when his advice had been
directly opposed to whatever it was he wanted. He seemed to direct by not
directing, and it drove me nuts.

“So is that a
no, or is that a yes?”

The copper of
his face smoothed into a smile. “Lilith, you will do whatever you must, but
your visions have never been accurate. The version of you that is relaying that
information is only telling you what you need to hear.”

I stood up and
leaned over his work. “Well, then I say she’s telling me to save the girl. I
mean, why else would she keep showing me the same thing? If I have to be
splattered with guts one more time,
I’m
going to jump.”

His face
lifted, and those perfect, incandescent blue eyes caught my gaze. Trapped and
happy to be, I stared back, wishing he could feel the depths of my sincerity.

“How can
saving someone be a bad idea?” I insisted in spite of my growing blush.

“What about
your reasons for saving them?” he said. “Can you honestly, with your purest
self, say that your desire to help this girl is not, at least in part, a
selfish one?”

I blinked,
stunned. How could wanting to save someone be a selfish desire? Then I thought
of Eva. If I had tried to stop her from jumping off the hotel as I’d longed to,
how outraged would she have been? It was that act that had set everything in
motion, that act that had cemented our relationship even though we were parted
forever. My silence was enough of an answer.

“You are very
quick to focus on a target,” Arthur sighed. “This is one of your greatest
strengths and will also be your most crippling weakness, if you are not
cautious.”

Often, I found
that I had to really consider his words carefully. Normally, I would be hurt,
but there was some unexplainable draw surrounding Arthur that made it
impossible to think him an enemy. It more than likely had something to do with
his unique state of being, but he would never tell anyone any details about his
life after his supposed death. He had only ever spoken to me once about it, and
in the forgiving shades of vagueness.

“I can’t help
what I am, Arthur. I can’t help wanting to keep what happened to Eva from
happening to someone I can save.”

He sighed. “I
am
proud of you for that conviction, Lilith. However, decisions must be made from
neutrality and calm, from the foundation of your character.”

“What does
that mean?” Jinx hissed. “Either you care or you don’t. Who the fuck cares why?
I bet the high-diving were-chick could give two shits as long as her melon
doesn’t end up smeared on a Smith’s boots.”

Arthur ignored
him. “What you really want is for people to have a better life, but sometimes
people must save themselves. The most important lessons are self-taught. No
dishonest man can be free. He is his own trap, as someone once said.”

Jinx’s outrage
began to rev, and, with my guard down, I could already hear what was going to
say and in what decibel he was going to say it. I winced, wishing I could have
absorbed the talent of someone named “Mime.”

“No!” Jinx shouted.
“Not fair! You don’t get to quote science fiction at
us
you antediluvian
Mephistopheles! And least of all that hypergraphic prophet-teer.”

Several voices
shushed him at once. He twitched as if the insults were flea bites and looked
around at the book shelves with a paranoid scowl.

“Art, I just
think she’s important,” I said in a soothing voice. “I think I at least need to
learn more about her.”

He sighed. “Lilith,
your actions cannot always be a reflection of the loss of your sister. You are much
more than that one tragedy.”

“But if I
forget….”

“Moving beyond
does not mean forgetting. Your sister knew what she was doing when she jumped. If
you regret her choice or lament her passing, you are dishonoring what she did.”

A lance of
self-conscious bitterness skewered me to the spot. I sputtered, but nothing
came out. The betrayal was overwhelming. If not for this man and his
metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, I’d still be a normal woman. Well, maybe a
grief-stricken she-bitch, but human at least.

Jinx shook his
fire-engine head and grabbed my wrist. “Come on, Lily, let’s bug. This place
gives me the creeps, all these fucking
pages
.”

“You know,” I
managed finally, pulling myself out of Jinx’s grasp to press my fists to my
hips, “I’m getting really tired of these games. I wish you would just spit out
whatever it is you know instead of hinting all the time.”

He looked
away, and it felt like exile. “I am saying what must be said.”

“Yeah, well,
maybe Ananda will have something more illuminating to say.” I turned to stomp
down to the children’s section where the fourth member of our group, Arthur’s
cousin, had camped out. Initially he had gravitated toward the fairy tales but
had somehow been recruited by the head librarian to lead story time until the
end of the world. He was slowly developing a Feydakin of five year olds, and
parents were having a hard time reclaiming their young. It was really no
surprise. He had a way of making everyone feel instantly at ease.

“Let’s go,
Jinx.”

“He’s in the
middle of a Harry Potter novel. I wouldn’t disturb him,” Arthur warned. “Unless
you fancy being chased by toddlers with magic wands.”

 

Scowling at my
ninja shoes, I dragged my cohort back out to the entrance and threw him down on
a concrete bench.

“Fuck!” I
shouted to the air in general.

A woman with
expectant preschooler in tow staggered away as if I’d punched her.

“Here, here!”
Jinx said, dusting himself off. “I told you traveling with them was going to
get old. You ask what the weather is like, and they think they’re oh-so-fucking
clever when they hold up a finger. When
will
you learn?”

“Well you’d
think
the
Buddha would be a little more compassionate!”

Jinx coughed. “Right.
But then he’d have to stop quoting Scientology.”

I collapsed
next to him and leaned against a pale green mural that looked like something
Egyptians would paint if they knew about circuit boards. I stared at it,
thinking it seemed like a visual metaphor of my life among this elite slayer
squad. Suddenly the romance of our little mission had faded.

I thought back
on the mysterious girl, her battered, skinny body, her hollowed eyes, her suicidal
leap, and felt my chest clamp down. Arthur was right, a pox on his head. I was
still trying to save Eva, but that was impossible. Eva was dead and buried. This
shape-shifting girl was not my sister, and yet….

“I know I’m
supposed to help her,” I whispered to myself. “I know I am.” But really, what
did I know? My visions were always vague, handed down to me by Future Lilith, an
arrogant wench who had already lived through whatever it was I was facing.
Screw immortality and all its sundry evolutionary gifts. It was beginning to
piss me off.

Jinx was
checking his iPhone and rocking in place, already suffering from
cyber-withdrawal. “I mean seriously, what kind of answer is ‘Mu’? It’s how a
cow goes, not how you answer a question about the indivisibility of the soul!
Fuck Joshu. That jackoff can walk home down one of his non-roads, the asshat.”

I blinked,
pulled back to my insane reality by his endless madness. Cuss words and Zen
koans. Speaking to these people felt like living with the Mad Hatter and Deepak
Chopra.

Clean cup,
Namast
é
.

 

“Will there be
anything in those files about that location?” I pinched my nose.

BOOK: The One We Feed
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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