by Robert N. Stephenson
|part 2 of 3|
We haven’t had a visit in two days, but we know things have changed around us. On the streets at night, the time we do business, people we’d become friends with over the years avoid us as they go about their shopping. Even the people John works with, the few who can tolerate the sun for short periods, snub their noses as if we are outsiders.
Thinking of Delaware as I stand in the checkout at Walmart, loaded up with my daily supply of red meat and protein bars, I find it difficult to face the possibility of losing my child. I’ve been leaning on John a bit the past two days, and we agreed that we will fight the Takers over the baby.
I watch my husband as I listen to the register beep off its products. John browses the new range of shaving products, which always gives me a smile; for some reason facial hair didn’t grow once you became part of the collection. John is just reminiscing; he will buy some nice aftershave on pretence and splash it on after his evening shower. I feel an ache in my head, my neck throbs. A Taker is near by.
“We must talk.” I hear the voice as much as I feel the cool presence. The others in the line don’t notice.
“You told the town,” I say, stepping up to the checkout and putting down my food. The checkout girl just stares at me.
“We had a coming together.” He steps in front of me, his eyes black pools glistening under the fluorescent lights. “They want you to abort this child.”
“No!” I stare hard into his face; Delaware the ever youthful ancient.
“I tasted the difference, Helen. The others and I do not know what will come, what danger it will bring on us.”
I could see darkness beneath his skin. The Takers have never shown anything other than a calm hunger.
“I am not giving up this child...”
“It might kill you!” Delaware snaps.
“Then it is my risk to take.”
“Without our data-taking, you will die.” His voice is firm in the threat.
“Then I will die!” I take out my purse, fold my arms and wait for the checkout girl to tally up my bill.
Delaware nods once and gently touches me on the elbow. “I also tasted your stubbornness, Helen,” he says softly. “I will come by your home before dawn and feed off the data you and John have and we can discuss this further...”
“The child will be born!” I knew I said it too loud, too hard but I wasn’t going to be talked out of what I... no, what John and I have committed ourselves to. I shrug off his hand and look away from his too perfect face.
“I understand,” he says. “I will be coming to talk about what we can do to help you with this pregnancy.”
Looking back into those eyes I couldn’t be sure of what I was hearing.
“The others have agreed with me that you would not give up the child easily.” Delaware smiles, “John is respected by us and we feel that perhaps it is time to allow such a thing to happen.”
“You will let me have the baby?”
“We will let you remain pregnant. If at any time we feel your life or ours is threatened then we will act,” Delaware says, keeping his voice low, but the tone serious.
“Let us do this day by day, Helen,” he bows slightly. “It is a start.”
“But you asked me to terminate.” I rub my brow; it was wet.
“I don’t agree with what you are doing, but I will help you.” He sighs, an unusual thing to see in a Taker. “I had to ask you again about termination.” His smile of resignation touches my heart. “You simply confirmed my belief.”
“Now what?” I ask, still feeling tension tightening my stomach. I was prepared for a fight and still had the anxiety to go with it; I find that I’ve been gritting my teeth and my jaw aches.
“We plan to set up a simpler data regime for you, less collections and more data-flow to help with foetus demands on your body. You should be able to go longer between feeds.”
The relief is palpable as I feel my shoulders slump. I close my eyes and relax. I am going to be a mother after all.
“What’s wrong?” John asks touching me on the back. I open my eyes to see his big friendly face; the checkout girl looks annoyed at my holding up the queue. The pain in the back of my neck has gone.
“We can have the baby,” I say softly.
John steps past me to pay for the groceries. “How do you know that?” He hands over the money and the girl quickly packs the shopping bags.
I wait until we are outside in the cool of the evening before telling John anything else. “Delaware just told me while I was waiting in line.” As I say it I see John’s frown deepen. “You did see him talking to me, didn’t you?”
He shakes his head. The Takers do that, talk to you in your head; make it feel so real that you would swear they were standing beside you.
“Must have been mind-speak,” John says heading up the road towards home. I stay beside him, carrying a small shopping bag in each hand. “I hate it when they do that stuff,” he says, annoyed rather than angry. “It’s unnerving.” John breathes heavily, misting the air in front of his face. “What did he say, anyway?”
* * *
John puts the cup of coffee on the arm of the chair and kneels down beside me. Now in my last trimester, getting around without help is difficult. The baby is going to be huge, at least 13 pounds, and I am not looking forward to the birth. I am not a big woman.
“How you feeling?” John’s face has grown more lined over the last eight months.
“It still hurts, but with the weight off my legs the pain’s bearable.” I touch his face hoping my smile expresses the deep love I have for him. “Just have to watch channel eight’s children’s hour and then I can rest.”
“Delaware’s coming tonight,” John says. “I’m going to put out that new shirt you made for him.”
“Thanks, honey, that will be perfect.” I sip the warm coffee, allowing its bitterness to match the throbbing in my back and down my legs. Delaware said he could ease the pressure on the sciatic nerve but it might limit my walking ability even further. I already feel like a melon on shaky stalks. I will put up with the ache.
John held up the yellow shirt. I’d made it during a day when I couldn’t sleep. I’d drawn the blinds tightly shut and managed to suffer the faint sunlight leaking into the house. I used yellow silk. I hope he likes the material’s feel against his skin. For me it is a thank-you gift for all his help and encouragement, though over the last few weeks he’s been edgy, nervous to the point of being rough during feeding. I believe he is just as anxious as I am about the coming baby. I smile. It is like having two expectant fathers.
John opens the front door, the shirt on a hanger in his hand.
“Delaware!” John sounds shocked.
I turn to see Delaware step into the house, his face is covered in black Data-flow, his clothes torn and stained.
“What has happened?” I ask, trying but failing to stand.
“I am infected,” he says falling into one of the armchairs nearby. “I am losing control of the hunger. I can’t control the data, the effects — the flow.”
John is quick to get beside me then step between me and Delaware.
“What do you mean, infected?” I ask around John’s legs.
“Your child, the Data-flow, it has all changed; it has begun to change me...” He drops his face into his hands. “I am becoming something the Takers cannot understand.” He looks up; his amber eyes are shot red, what was once the colour of our blood. “I am dangerous. I feel the need to kill.”
“You will not harm Helen,” John says, touching my hair.
“I am here to warn you,” he begins to gasp, claw at the remains of his stained yellow shirt. “I’m drawn to Helen, drawn to the throbbing of the life within her. I can no longer be trusted...” He breaks off, shaking his head as though thinking is painful. “You must flee...”
“What is wrong with my baby?” I ask. “Delaware! What is going to happen with my child?”
“I fear it will be what I am slowly becoming.” Delaware tries to stand but drops back into the chair resigned, defeated.
“And what is that?” John stands straighter. I can see the muscles in his back stiffen through his light shirt. He clenches his fists; to fight and protect.
“A killer; one who devours a human’s entire data core, drains the life from their filament.” Delaware lets his head fall back so his red eyes gaze up at the ceiling.
I can smell the odour of meat upon him.
“In time, soon I feel, I will poison others with my data-flow; corrupt them.” He cringes as if in pain. “The Takers are afraid. They have called for termination.”
“No!” John turns and helps me up. “You can’t kill my child; it will be born soon.” I can feel tears on my face.
Delaware laughs. It gurgles in his throat and explodes outwards with a spray of black droplets. “From what I feel within me, you are dead already.”
“What can we do?” I ask, this time finding the strength to stand by myself, releasing John’s grip on my arm.
“Kill me, and then hope that the others will leave you alone. You must run, Helen.” He sits forward. I can see his fingers are stained with Data-flow.
“We can’t kill a Taker,” John says. “We don’t know how.”
“You need to sever my life cord, disconnect it from my brain.” He exposes his neck with dramatic effect; a line appears to be pumping just below his ear. “Unlike humans, our life is contained in this cord, not our bodies. You sever it, I die.”
John looks at me. I can see the fear in his face, the doubt in his eyes.
“We don’t have the pointed teeth...”
“You cannot do it the same way we feed from you,” Delaware growls. “We are not human, Helen, we do not die in the way you understand.” Delaware hands John a cloth wrapped item. “It is a relic from the old ways.”
Once the yellow fabric slides clear, I can clearly see a ring of seven sharp-looking five-inch blades. John holds the weapon by its smooth metal grip. The grip glows amber from within.
“When you plunge the ubnel-blades my life will discharge,” Delaware says. “You must do this, John; the shock might kill the baby if Helen tries.”
John moves towards Delaware, the strange weapon held ready to plunge, but I can see his hand is shaking, can almost feel his mind fighting the order to kill.
“It will hurt...” Delaware cries. “I will scream, but don’t pull it out, push it in as far as it will go then twist the blades and they will cut off my life.” Delaware is thrown back into the chair by an invisible force. “Hurry,” he gasps.
John can’t do it. Delaware writhes in the chair, his eyes wild, his mouth contorted; his pointed teeth are bare and black.
“Please...” Delaware begs softly then convulses.
“John, do it,” I say, touching the hand holding the strange knife. “He is in pain.”
“I can’t,” he says lowering his hand to his side. “I can’t kill like this.”
“Then I will kill you!” Delaware bellows, throwing himself from the seat towards us.
John drops the knife and tackles him to the floor.
I fall to my knees. Pain shoots up my back.
“Run!” John screams as Delaware’s fingernails rip open his shirt.
I find the knife beneath the chair. I pick it up. The handle is cold, the weapon heavy. “Run!” John cries as Delaware slashes his face. Data-flow sprays me. He is killing my husband.
“No!” I dive at them. Delaware falls to his side, gagging. The strange knife sticks from his neck and Data-flow gushes up over the knife’s glowing handle. I’ve stabbed him. I didn’t mean to.
“Oh, God,” I say. “I’ve killed him!”
John scrambles to his knees and draws me close, pulls me in tight to his chest. “It’s over,” he says, kissing my forehead.
“Twist,” Delaware gurgles as his hands claw at his throat.
John holds me tighter, but I know what I have to do. “Let me,” I say. John shakes his head but I stare into him. He releases me and I crawl to Delaware’s side.
“Sor...ry,” he manages to say. I can see he is fighting the urge to lash out at me.
“Forgive me, Delaware,” I say then twist the blade. He screams.
The pain fills me, crushes me. The scream goes on. I cry. My mind aches with visions of night. I hear John breathing, whispering.
I am in John’s arms. I can see Delaware limp beside the chair, Data-flow everywhere. I try to breathe. Pain. My chest, my back, my head.
The baby kicks.
“Helen.” John’s smooth voice, “We must go, Helen,” I hear him say but I can’t escape the screaming, the pain. He lifts me.
The pain grows, explodes through my back, through the node.
I close my eyes to the flashes of yellow.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson