Deep Red, Chapter Ten

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Distillation_by_RetortJune 23, 1774: The human Residents’ continuing struggle over power has distracted the Mirrors more than our absence from the East. Letters that have managed to reach us come in piles in the hands of the European, African and Asian Otherworlders. In Africa and Asia, small, scattered wars continue, but there are so few Otherworlders in those parts of the world that the struggle matters little in the grander scheme. In Europe, the location determines the level of threat. Many Otherworlders have moved into areas that contain distracted Residents with the simple aim of being left alone … April 11, 1778: I continue with my grandfather’s research, and Victoria has begun working with me. Her expertise is invaluable. Recently, she has begun injecting several Otherworlder scouts with blood from an unknown source … April 30, 1779: The scouts have returned from the East unharmed. While there is not enough blood to cloak all local or global Otherworlders from detection, the entire Counsel has begun taking daily injections. A drop of the blood mixed with an elixir that Victoria concocted keeps us safe … April 18, 1780: We have recruited global messengers who also take the injections. In time, we hope to have a strategy of keeping track of the Otherworlders from the crossing, as well as those from before. Margaret’s great granddaughters, Mary, Dorothy, and Lucille Cayce, volunteered for the task of delivery, as their spirits reach the farthest, and Mary has a unique ability to tell the difference between Resident and Otherworld spirits simply by looking at the person … November 2, 1789: One war between the Residents ends and another begins, whether on this side of the world or the other. Luckily, the blood injections seem to be working….

excerpts from The Notes of Jacob Shinab, 1773-1789, ed. by Jonah Shinab, 1849

waxing gibbous

Chapter Ten

Bloodwalk Revelations

The following week proved exhausting. Marlo spent most of her time between Zoe’s labs and her room. Each day brought new brain scans, as well as pulmonary and blood tests, though Marlo couldn’t understand why they needed so much blood. Drew was her 24/7 shadow. Victoria did not trust her to roam the halls unsupervised, and one of the students had complained about Marlo’s presence in the dining hall. Marlo tried to eat the food Drew brought her, but could only manage a few bites per meal, and often threw up the little she ate. Once a day, Katrina stopped by Marlo’s cell to talk, but Marlo was beginning to feel so weak that she fell asleep during most of Katrina’s visits.

Marlo had never been so long out of nature, either. She sent her spirit out on daily sabbaticals, but while it was able to charge itself, it could not offer her sustenance. Marlo was getting restless. When Drew came in to bring her breakfast on her sixth day of consciousness, she demanded to see Victoria.

“I’ll take you to her,” Drew said, “But don’t start thinking that you have the right to demand anything in this place.”

Marlo glared and followed him. She still couldn’t quite figure him out. His tone was never quite on par with his words.

“Outside the house? The grounds?” Victoria asked when Marlo made her request. Victoria seemed slightly incensed and even more horrified.

“Outside of my cell and that hospital wing,” Marlo said. “You want me to recover my memory, but all my memories of Katrina were crammed into my head days ago, so the other actors in those memories have no faces. It’s infuriating.”

“I wish you would stop calling your room that, Marlo.”

“Then give me a reason to,” Marlo replied. She kept her voice controlled and respectful, hoping that her facial expression wouldn’t betray her.

“Fine,” Victoria said. “I will allow it. But I must insist that Drew follow you. I would ask Katrina, but she is working with one of the children today.”

“I’m sure you meant, ‘That Drew walk with me.’”

“I say what I mean, Marlo.”

“Oh, I know.”

“You must understand why I’m doing this,” Victoria said. Marlo just stared. “If you are a danger to any of my residents, for whom I am responsible, then I have to take the appropriate precautions.”

“I understand,” Marlo said.

“I’ll ring for Drew, then.” Victoria pressed a button on her desk. “All your test results should be finished by this afternoon, so I need you back here promptly at three.”

“Sure thing.” Marlo tried to smother the excitement and dread of finally knowing. The tests would provide answers. Marlo could deal with hell. She’d been there. What she couldn’t take was limbo. The waiting and uncertainty gnawed at her gut so much lately that her spirit could hardly stand living there anymore.

As Marlo left Victoria’s office, Drew stepped beside her. Marlo glanced at him and rolled her eyes. What she needed now was distraction, and Drew interacted with her so little that she could hardly expect him to offer any, especially considering the goading her incessant, negative thoughts received from the voice.

Marlo knew that no matter what the results of the tests she had no idea what would happen to her. Death or a smaller cell? She hoped that the Counsel would deal with her fairly, that Zoe’s opinions on the matter reflected theirs: Self-defense. Humans are food and lesser beings. Mistakes happen. Rationale from those people? They killed your brother. She could deal with her contrary thoughts, and the resulting guilt, with therapy, but life would return to normal. If you finally accept that humans are meat. Her fear came from the fact that she had already been reprieved by the Counsel once, and they were generally not very forgiving. You don’t even know why they let you go last time.

When Isaak left to join the Counsel’s ranks, Marlo felt pride for him, believing he would never align himself with anything but the Good and the Right. Then, when he tried to return to the Otherworld, they killed him. Now they were protecting her in this place, a place where–if she was dangerous–she could harm a lot of people; a lot of children. If she was out of control and powerful enough to be kindred and changeling, a locked door would do little good. All that Marlo could settle on was that the Counsel had an endgame she could neither fathom nor abide. For now, all she could do was try to get back some of what she had lost.

Marlo decided to begin by veering as far away from the hospital wing as possible. She moved toward the opposite corner of the house, but Drew did not move.

Marlo inclined her head in the opposite direction of the hospital wing. “Your dog is pulling on the leash. Victoria says it’s okay to follow.”

“You’re not my dog, Marlo,” Drew replied, falling into step beside her.

“Does that make you the dog walker?” she asked. “I hope you’re getting paid for your extra duties.” Drew grimaced, but remained silent. “Would you mind a little tour guiding while I’m in control of the leash?”

“I think you’d be a lot better off if you stopped seeing yourself as a victim,” Drew said.

“I was joking,” she said.

“No you weren’t.”

Before Marlo could retort, another mass of memories hit her. “Oh my god, I remember you now.”

It had only taken a week, but she remembered him like it was yesterday. Drew was the one Marlo punched for calling Katrina a girl-loving freak. He was also kid who sat in the first row of every class, raising his hand at every question, and tattling on Marlo and Katrina for passing notes. Since recovering the memory of being a bully, Marlo had wondered why she would act like that, even as a child. It was not her natural disposition to be cruel. But that kid, she reasoned, had deserved it.

Had Katrina’s interference with Marlo’s relentless torment of the boy endeared him to her? Marlo doubted it, and yet now they were friends. Marlo knew Katrina was so much more open and forgiving than Marlo could ever hope to be, which also meant that Marlo could not trust her friend’s judgment when it came to either herself or Drew.

“Must be torture for you to have to squire me around,” she said.

“People change,” Drew replied.

Marlo looked up at him. “Yeah, you got a lot bigger.”

“Astute observation.” Marlo could see he was biting back a longer, more derisive reply. Katrina might see a friend in this beautiful, behemoth a-hole, but Marlo just couldn’t.

“It seems to be about the only thing different about you,” Marlo said. Drew’s face flushed, and she almost regretted saying it.

They shortly arrived at what looked like a mix between an interior garden and a dojo. Large planters were peppered between blue mats, and in the center was a round mat. A female changeling stood on the center mat, demonstrating fighting techniques to a group of children. The oldest can’t be more than ten, Marlo thought.

“This is the dojo,” Drew said. “It’s where we train the children in defense and fighting techniques. It helps them to build control over their aggression.”

As Marlo stared inside the glass room, the present disappeared and the instructor was replaced by another woman. Surrounding the woman on the outer mats were clearer versions of the faces she had caught glimpses of in prior memories.

“Who wants to go first?” the instructor asked. A dark little boy, who Marlo now understood was Adam, and a smaller version of Zoe raised their hands.

Little Marlo and Katrina whispered as they watched Adam and Zoe square off on the center mat. Zoe’s eyes blazed as Adam easily swatted down her every punch, kick and sweep.

“I think Zoe would do better if she didn’t try so hard,” Katrina observed. Marlo agreed. Zoe was volemic, and Adam was a changeling, which gave her the advantage, but her fighting style was too analytical, which the instructor pointed out soon after.

“Blocking an attack or mounting an offensive is about your gut, Zoe, not your mind. You suppress your instinct when you should embrace it.” Zoe blushed and scowled. As she made her way to an empty corner in the room, the instructor asked, “Who’s up next?”

Marlo’s hand shot up. While not especially good in traditional classes, Marlo loved her training sessions and always looked forward to fighting Adam. She liked him just like Katrina liked Zoe. He would chase her around in the woods and plant kisses on her face, and he usually gave her his chocolate cake at dinner. He also liked to play with Katrina, even when the other boys called him names.

Little Marlo tried and failed to control her facial expressions in an attempt to turn her smile to something more intimidating. She held up her determined fists, and Adam let her get in a few contact punches and kicks before wrestling her to the ground and kissing her. The instructor barked at them, and Adam released her. Marlo felt a tingle her little self didn’t understand, but the sensation was all too familiar to the owner of the new memories. The scene disappeared, and reality re-emerged.

“Who is that?” Marlo asked, indicating to the changeling instructor.

“You don’t remember her?”

“Obviously not.”

“That’s Alexis. She’s Adam’s sister. I’m sure you remember him.”

“Parents a big fan of alliteration?” Marlo asked, deflecting the hint.

“They often are for twins.”

Marlo tried to remember Alexis as smaller, but the memory eluded her. Perhaps if she heard her voice…

Marlo reached for the door, and Drew grabbed her hand. “We don’t interrupt lessons at Haven,” Drew said.

“Is it really necessary for you to tell me that with your Hulk grip?” Marlo wrenched her hand away.

Drew looked confused. “What’s a Hulk?”

“Comic book superhero circa 1960 to present? Popular TV show: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno? What? They keep you cloistered here?” Drew shifted. “Have you never been outside Haven?” His eyes avoided hers and he began to walk away. “Are you serious?”

“We’d better go somewhere else before the class sees you. It could–”

“Interrupt them, sure.” Marlo quickened her pace to walk beside him. “Why in the world would you stay here for twenty-six years without leaving?”

“A few of us did. Zoe, Alexis, Katrina.”

“Zoe stayed because she wanted to become a star scientist, and Katrina is here because of Zoe. At least she left for a little while.” She could not fathom why Adam’s sister would stay. “So, you must be here because it’s safer than venturing out into the big, bad world.”

Drew bristled. “You shouldn’t taunt me.”

Marlo balked. Like that, she had reverted again into being a bully. What was wrong with her? “Sorry. I was being a jerk, but–really–why would you stay here? Don’t you miss your family?”

Drew stopped and stared into Marlo. The expression in his eyes made her heart sink before he even spoke. “I don’t have a family,” he said. “The Residents killed them. And I find it hard to believe that staying here to help children is less rewarding than spending my time with humans, reading ridiculous books and wasting my life watching television shows about make-believe super human heroes. What I do here is important.”

Marlo swallowed. He put her little life in perspective. If she’d had the choice, she might have stayed here, too. She wanted to apologize again, but Drew would probably take that as weakness. Instead she said, “You’re right.”

“I know,” he said, jutting of his chin. Marlo resisted the urge to punch him again, and pushed ahead toward another unexplored corner of Haven.

When she reached the northwest corner of the house, she found something that looked like a temple. The only time she had been inside a temple was when one of her boyfriends had taken her inside his human place of worship. There had been a statue of Buddha at the front, and small cushions throughout the room. He showed her the proper etiquette for entering and exiting, which had all seemed ridiculous, but she went along with it. She could not imagine that an inert replication of someone important, or even what it represented, cared whether or not it was respected.

Otherworlders had a very different notion of the universe, especially since the existence of multiple realities excluded the possibility of a singular deity, or the probability of one existing at all. Instead, her kind focused on personal evolution, a twelve-year, fruitless excursion Marlo abandoned when she ditched Lucy’s contrived destiny for her.

She noticed that Drew stopped a good five feet in front of the door and did not move when she opened it. “Aren’t you coming in?” Marlo said.

Drew’s smile made her stomach sink. “I won’t be needed in there.”

Marlo hated that she gave in to dares, but Isaak taught her that if she stopped herself from learning more about the world because of fear, then she would never learn anything new. Her brother took advantage of her hyper-literal nature thereafter. Once she went into a haunted house because Isaak gave her a similar smile.

Though humans knew little about their own spiritual nature, they seemed to have nailed the supernatural aspects of their world, in some version or other. While the vampires, werewolves, and witches were mirrors created by the oldest primordials, ghosts and other malicious spirits were a by-product of each creation. Primordials could do a lot, including creating this world, but instant evolution did not generally bode well.

Vampires all started as humans, so their birth was violent, creating a moral vacuum in most. Combined with a forced lifespan of forever, more vampires ended up committing suicide than any other Resident species. Werewolves were a little better developed, and were mostly born, rather than newly made, but they underwent forced changes at the full moon, like an adolescent changeling, and they had no control over their actions during a change. Witches had been around the longest and were, therefore, the best evolved. They were more like kindred than vampires were like volemics or werewolves like changelings, but their spirits could not leave their bodies, so they had to rely solely on the spirits of nature or the dead to create magic, and they had to take particular care to ward off the negative spirits when calling on the good.

The particular haunted house Isaak goaded her into was an abandoned lair of a particularly demented primordial. Though the spirits inside were lonelier than they were dangerous, Marlo at least had the satisfaction of knowing she had entered, while Isaak had not.

With some trepidation, Marlo let the door to the temple close behind her. She looked around the large room. There were no chairs, cushions, candles, or alters, and what light existed emanated from flames that burned independently around the room and floated near the ceiling, When she saw there was nothing else inside, she ventured forward. As she approached the front, the hair on her body stood up. She felt the same feeling as when she entered the haunted house. While her senses could not pick up on anything corporeal, she knew she was not alone.

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and when she opened them she saw someone sitting near the opposite wall, eyes closed and head bowed. She wondered how she missed him before. She stood still and watched him fade in and out of focus. He raised his head and looked at her.

“Sorry,” she said, giving an apologetic wave as she headed back toward the door.

“Don’t leave,” he said, and she stopped.

He got up and walked toward her. He looked like he was made up of all races, but he was not human, nor kindred or changeling or anything else she had ever come across. He had a light about him she had only seen in her spirit and the spirits of other kindred. His smile was slow and languid, like he was just waking up, or stoned.

“It’s good to meet you, Marlo,” he said.

She meant to say, “Who are you?” but instead she said, “What are you?” She was embarrassed as soon as the words left her mouth, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“We don’t have a name,” he said. Marlo felt a bit dizzy, like she had just gotten off a seven day binge and the world was still spinning. He stepped forward and touched the sides of her arms, as if to steady her. “You’ll be all right. It just takes a little getting used to.”

The physical contact helped. When he touched her, she realized she was shaking. As her eyes began to adjust, she understood why she had not seen him before. He existed on several different levels of perception. She had seen Lucy’s spirit do the same thing. After a few minutes, she began to get her bearings. Once she had gotten him into a fixed point in her mind, he let her go. His grin made her think, Man Child, but he was so much more than that. He started to walk toward the front of the room, and she followed.

“Rayne told me you were coming. She’s like me,” he said, his voice going from dreamy mystic to normal Joe.

Marlo followed him with her eyes. “You’re a primordial.”

“Yes, that’s the name your kind gave us. Our creations also give us names: El, Allah, God, Vishnu. I like Odin best. One of our elders called himself that for a long time. Thought he was wise; only one eye. He hanged himself from a tree, but never really got anything out of it, or so my father told me.”

“What do they call you?”

“Q. My parents gave me an old name that’s hard to pronounce, and is not made from any human alphabet. Victoria called me Q when I arrived, and so Q I am at present.”

“So, being a primordial, you know about the prophecy.”

“Yes, I know about it,” Q said. “I also knew you would come here again, to Haven, to this room. Don’t you recognize it?” Marlo looked around again and shook her head. “No matter. When you came here last, nothing much happened. Your spirit revealed itself to me. It’s a strong spirit. I was so young, as were you.”

“But, out of all the primordials, why are you here?” She hadn’t meant to speak the words aloud. In fact, she was fairly certain she hadn’t, but the words echoed against the walls.

“I, too, was born on March 3rd of 1983. The only primordial born on that day. My parents were allies of your Counsel, and they pledged me to its service.”

“What does March 3rd have to do with anything? Victoria said all of the Otherworld children were born on my birthday, June 12th.”

“A gemini birthday? Not likely. And not the right moon. No, no. March 3rd.”

“Motherfucker. They lied about that, too.” Again, her lips never moved. She was sure this time.

“Do not concern yourself with lies or truth,” Q said. “Betrayal and loyalty are all good in their place, but they are of no use right now.”

“How is it possible for me to understand my reality without knowing what is real?” she asked.

“How is it possible for you to understand yourself if you are obsessed with understanding your reality?” Marlo had no answer. “Don’t underestimate how important your identity is just because they do,” he said. He meant Lucy and Victoria, no doubt. Or the Counsel. None of them really thought of her as a person. Q knew more than he should, more than she would probably ever know. She could see it in his eyes. Somehow this idea comforted her.

“What do we do now? Now that I’m ‘here again?’”

“Now we push through,” Q continued. “Allow your identity to become whole again.”

“Why?”

“Because you are the hybrid.”

Marlo flinched. “They haven’t even finished the tests yet.”

“The tests will satisfy for their mundane understanding of what you are, and their need for proof. I tell you that you are the hybrid. You can acknowledge it or not, though you already know, you who are so concerned with black and white. The truth is in color, Marlo, many colors, and the sooner you accept this, the sooner you will become whole.”

Q approached her with such speed that he almost knocked her over. He grabbed the sides of her head and closed his eyes. After a minute, he opened them. His face, if just for an instant, was covered in a combination of fear and wonder.

Marlo gained enough momentum from that moment to push him away from her. “What’d you just do?”

Q gave her a shit-eating grin and he went back to his original place in the room and sat down. He looked like he had forgotten she was there.

She turned around to leave and he said, “Be seeing you around, Marlo.”

After her strange encounter with Q, Marlo had no desire to go anywhere else in the house, so she had Drew take her back upstairs to her room.

Indentity

Chapter Eleven→