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Authors: Kristina Meister

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BOOK: The One We Feed
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“Soon,” Jinx
rasped, swiping a hand across his distraught face, “the world will be a very
different place. I promise you that.”

But Petula was
already smiling in polite disagreement. “Your generation is always saying such
things. But there isn’t enough time. There never was. Your revolution was a
failure almost three centuries ago. The world never changes.”

Something in
her words seemed so forlorn, so utterly hopeless, that I couldn’t help but
think of Karl’s wide and aching eyes as he realized the depth of Arthur’s betrayal.
It had all been for their own good, but to learn that they were incapable of
purging their own flaws, that anguish was their only salvation, was probably
the worst reckoning I could imagine for a group so proud of their own
achievements. Humans could not imagine what could be, and the Sangha could
never find it. One was blind, the other, crippled.

I left the
doorway and walked to her side. I pretended not to see her withdraw from me and
grasped her hands. With all the strength I could muster, I tried to tell her
with my eyes how painfully wrong she was.

 

“Just because
the world
doesn’t
change,” I murmured, “doesn’t mean it
can’t
be
changed. If there is a chance we could succeed, don’t you want to be a part of
it?” I squeezed her hands. “I know this girl is important, that I’m supposed to
help her. Help
me
piece this together.”

My hands
warmed hers as I massaged the palms with my thumbs. I watched the slow erosion
of her carefully forged defenses. She had been without the contact of another
human for a long while. I’d heard things about people who underwent sensory
deprivation, that, over time, their minds began to deteriorate. If the Sangha
were vulnerable to other kinds of mental illnesses, then surely they could
suffer from loneliness, too.

As I held her
fast and smiled at her, she leaned toward me like a flower toward the light,
carelessly shedding the dingy petals of her blanket. Her stare was unsettling,
too empty, but I held it, urging her on without saying a word.

“She…,” Petula
swallowed, “she is an abomination.”

“An abomination?”
In the back of my mind I wondered if she would be more specific.

“Though not
half as bad as her maker. He is a vile creature, but there is nothing to be
done about him. He has been here for centuries, and he will be here when all
else is gone.”

“Who is he?”

She let out a
chuckle that sounded on the verge of madness. It ended in something like a sob.
“No one knows. It is something even I cannot know. I cannot see him.”

I glanced at
Jinx; he was as stunned as I. As far as I knew, Arthur, Ananda, and I were the
only three people to have endured Parinirvana, unless Karl had managed it, too.
To find that there was yet another walking dead man and that he was an enemy of
the
dharma
made me feel as if the wind had been knocked from me. It was
impossible.

Just to be
sure, I phrased my next question very carefully. “Do you mean that he’s the
same as me? Does it look the same?”

She had begun
to follow every movement I made, as if she found me mesmerizing; her mouth
relaxed into a slack smile. “No,” she breathed, “not like you. I cannot see you
at all. He is just dark, dark and filled with hatred and bitterness. I can’t
stand it when they ask me to look for him.”

“Why?”

“There is
nothing there, no soul, no purpose, no goal, just darkness and malice.”

“No soul?” But
I detected her twitch, the tic at the right side of her mouth, and did not
pursue the issue. “Why was she...the girl, being brought here?”

“She is
difficult to control.”

I shot another
look at Jinx. He was mute but blinked at me to forge ahead. “Why does she need
to be controlled? Is she dangerous?”

“Only to him,”
she said with a shy nod, wiggling toward me as if I were a new doll for her
collection. She giggled insanely, her tiny hands squeezing mine almost
painfully. As distressing as it was, I wondered how long it had been since
anyone had held her close.

“Why is she so
dangerous?” I smiled. I worked one of my hands loose and pushed her hair behind
her ears as her mother might have done, ages ago. To my surprise, she tilted
her face into my palm and sighed happily.

“You are safe,”
she whispered. “I can tell.” She let go of my other hand and wrapped both of
hers around the wrist of my hand as I cradled her head. “Not like him. He’s one
of the bad people. He frightens me, because he’s so...he hates her because they
listen. Whenever they’re close, and she speaks, they listen.”

“They?”

“The others.”

“There are
more like her?”

“No, not like
her; she’s something different, something new.”

I could almost
see them, a huge, swarming mass of weird, snarling faces, looking at me from
darkness. I shuddered. “But similar to her?”

“Yes.” She
kissed my hands. “May I sit in your lap?”

The old Lilith
probably would have pulled away and left the wretched thing huddled in her
private hell. She would have seen an echo of Eva and been so filled with shame
that she could not stand it. She would never have killed someone, but then
again, that would have been because she would mind her own business, turn her
back on her fellows, pretend that she couldn’t hear. This new Lilith was
vicious, but at least she didn’t turn away.

 

A different
kind of suffering.

I stood, lifted
her small body, and set her onto my lap. She curled her arms around my neck and
pushed her face into my hair with a sigh.

Jinx looked
back at me, sober in a way I had never seen before. It made the metal studs
seem almost foolish and clown-like, the red hair a childish conceit. I blinked
at him, Petula murmuring contented nothings into my ear, and he blinked back. By
virtue of my several gifts, I knew what he was thinking,  but I would not have
needed them, his face was despondent. “Do it” he was saying over and over. “Do
to her what you did to me. For her sake.”

But I had no
idea how. The only way I could think of was to remove the ability to fixate,
but I had not the slightest clue how to do that either, and it wasn’t just
that. All she had was her gift. It was all that kept her sheltered by the
Sangha. How much would she suffer to be cast out, into a dangerous world, with
nowhere to turn and no means of defense? If I did that to her, she would hate
me, no matter how much better her life might become. I wanted to help her, but
there was nothing I could do.

I told him so
with my eyes.

“Let go,” he
said gently. “You’re clinging. Some things just happen.”

I looked at
the girl-creature in my arms and was surprised to find that I was rocking her
back and forth, easing her with the soothing touch Ananda had taught me. Her
tiny fist lay balled against my chest. Her crazed expression had completely
dissolved. She seemed perfectly lovely then, if tired to her core.

“I can’t,
Jinx.” I looked up at him, my heart conflicted. “Even if I knew how, I couldn’t.”

His eyes
narrowed. He was not glaring at me so much as examining me with an immortal’s
perfect sight. I thought at first that he might give in. He got to his feet,
put his hands in his pockets thoughtfully, then shook his head.

“You’re not
seeing it clearly, Lily.”

Before I could
even speak, he lunged forward. It was the first time I had ever seen him move
so quickly. I tried to jump up, thinking he had heard something down the hall,
but I was caught unaware by the flash of cold metal from his hand. I felt the
impact in my right shoulder, where Petula’s hand rested so plaintively. She let
out a cry of pain and lurched, but the knife was buried in my collarbone,
pinning her to me.

I tumbled
backward, up and out of the chair, hitting the wall with a bloody thud, still
holding the girl. She was screaming, tugging fiercely on the knife embedded in
her palm. I caught her hand, shushing her, and squeezed her close,
protectively. Behind her, Jinx stood against the door, watching me as if he
expected me to pounce on him and tear him limb from limb. He was tense,
breathing heavily, but all the same trying to explain in a gaze that he had not
been trying to hurt me.

It was not a
mortal wound, and I could see that he knew it would not seriously hurt either
of us. I was ninety percent sure he had a reason, but just for good measure I
scowled at him, the girl writhing against me.

“Hold still,
Petula,” I whispered. “I’ll take it out.” My wound had already begun to heal,
pressing the blade of his folding knife outward. I locked eyes with her and
stared down her rage and fear. “I’m sorry. I won’t let him hurt you anymore. See,
he’s way over there, and I have the knife.”

The blade
wiggled. She whimpered and twisted closer to me. With a sticky, red hand I
covered her eyes and turned her face away from her attacker.

“What the hell
are you doing?” I growled at him. “Have you lost your mind?”

He stood up
straight and winked. “Desperate times,” he said simply, in a monotone that set
my teeth on edge.

“Why don’t you
just come over here and cut out our tongues while you’re at it? What the hell
are you trying to prove?” As my tissues knitted together, I grimaced at him and,
as soon as I was able, pulled the knife from the back of her tiny hand. She
cried out again, and fresh blood oozed from between exposed bone. I covered it
with my fingers.

“It’s all
right, Petula, it will heal soon.” And it did, but as the last flaps of skin
began to close, sealing blood and bone inside, her entire body jerked so hard
that she pulled herself out of my embrace. I reached for her, but she was on
her feet. With a loud wail, she threw her fists up to her eyes. Blindly, she
spun in a circle as if in agony and, without warning, ran full speed into the
wall.

 

“Oh my god!” I
gasped and jumped toward her. She lay on the ground, unconscious, blood spreading
over her face from her broken nose. I lifted her head and put a stuffed animal
beneath it, then turned on Jinx like a lioness. “I sure hope that wasn’t what
you meant to have happen!”

He looked from
me to her and back again, obviously surprised. “No…. I…,” but before he could
answer, I heard the elevator ping and the metal doors clang.

“They’re back!”
Without another word, I closed my eyes and sought that calm, cool center of my
being. If they found us, they would only find him, the person they’d been
looking for all along. It was a sound, strategic decision, I reasoned, but deep
down, I knew I was punishing him.

Petula stirred
as the heavy footfalls of half a dozen men clattered down the hall at a dead
run. The hazy fog of her aura was a dismal black.

“You see?” she
said distantly, her eyes closed. “There is never enough time.”

Jinx spared
one disturbed look at her before he set his teeth and picked up the pocket
knife from the slick bloodstain on the table. Some part of me knew I should
have been wringing his neck for an answer, but, thankfully, the rest of me knew
it would do no good.

“I’m going out
first,” he said to the air. “Follow me.” He backed against the wall beside the
door and peered through the crack. “I shouldn’t have cut the lines. They knew
as soon as they couldn’t get hold of the others that it was a diversion. Some
fucking ninja I turned out to be. Splinter would piss himself.”

They ran past
our hiding place, tiny flashes of black, and on to the control room. I could
hear the one who had accepted the package of tongues shouting at the two who
had stayed behind, demanding to know why they hadn’t been in communication. If
Jinx ran now, he might just make it.

I leaned
forward and whispered in his ear. “It’s safe outside.”

His eyes glazed
over, and he gave a shallow nod. Without saying anything, without a single
glance at the bloody girl lying on the floor, he slipped through the door and
into the hall. I turned to face the others. All but one were crowded into the
room.

“Have you
checked on Petula?” the apparent leader demanded.

 

“No, but we
didn’t know…,” another began, but it was too late. They were already on their
way back out again. They turned and looked right through me to the boy at the
elevator. I spun. Jinx was standing at the keypad, cussing up a storm as he
tried to remember which buttons I had pushed.

They tore down
the hall towards him. I smiled, drunk on the high of imperviousness and
passivity, intrigued by their urgency to get to him. I put myself squarely in
their way and laughed. The first man crashed into me and staggered backward
like a domino, black and white and sprawling. I danced back to the elevator,
giggling like an invisible woman should, and tapped the proper code on the
buttons.

I assumed the elevator
would be waiting there, but it seemed that someone else had summoned it to the
top floor and, like most ancient elevators, it decided to take its sweet time. Jinx
turned to face them, knife in hand, but as they got to their feet, I realized
it would not be a fair fight. The domino, being braced by the men helping him
up, reached into his holster and pulled out a shiny black gun.

BOOK: The One We Feed
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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