Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 31
Zera wasn’t really okay, like she’d told Lily. She’d been on edge since their arrival at Void Corporation. For awhile she hadn’t felt too worried, but as the night went on the calmness and well-being she felt after she materialized in the oak tree completely disappeared.
Everything was happening too fast. Bear and Drew, busy with preparations, hadn’t told her any details about their plans. Now the helicopter moved silently through the nighttime sky, toward god-knows-what. Low and weaving almost noiselessly through the city, the craft reminded Zera of a dragonfly, specifically, the Blue-eyed Darner, or Aeshna multicolor.
My second flight today. A lump came to Zera’s throat as she thought of Nonny, Hattie, and Grandma Wren. She’d had time to think since the ride from the country. If I’m here, in California, did I disappear from Colorado? And if so, what’s Nonny thinking — that I ran away? Zera’s stomach clenched and she fought hard to control her racing thoughts. I thought Uncle Theodore was putting her through so much, and now look what I’m doing. Who I’m with. What the Green Guerillas are involved in is illegal and dangerous. If they’re caught, and from what I sense from all of them, they expect to be, what happens then?
Will they go to prison? Will I be taken away from both Uncle Theodore and Nonny for being a part of this?
She reminded herself to breathe deeply and saw her uncle looking at Lily again. It was clear that that he cared about her like he’d never cared about Tiffany or any other woman. Zera liked and trusted Lily. She had never felt that way about Tiffany. Yet, pangs of disloyalty troubled her. Tiffany had been in her life for several years; she had tried, in her own way, to connect with Zera. It was not easy to cast Tiffany aside after all.
She also thought about Ben. What was happening in Ute Springs? What was Ben doing now? He said he wanted me to be his girlfriend. We kissed. That thought made the others go away for a moment. She’d waited, forever it seemed, to have someone like him in her life. He really cared about her. Now what would happen?
Lost in her worries, Zera hardly registered the hour-long trip to the edge of the desert. The next thing she knew, Bear was pointing through the helicopter window to a structure in the distance. As they neared the huge building, a dim, ghastly-green glow became visible — the rooftop greenhouse she’d heard them mention. The light contrasted with the heavens visible through the helicopter’s ceiling. Twinkling stars filled the clear desert sky. Zera thought of her mother and father and their appearance as the two stars at Tava. Her fears ebbed a little. What lay before her, no matter how fraught with danger, was important. This was where she was meant to be.
Theodore and Lily were also gazing up through the helicopter’s clear plastic top at the stars. Zera sighed. Being in her uncle’s nightmare, experiencing his fear and sadness, had given her a different perspective. For the first time since she’d known him, she saw him as someone whose life, like hers, operated on a crazy pattern of happiness and hurt, success and failure. She saw him now as not a guardian or uncle, but as a human being.
“I hope your invention works on the guards,” Lily said to Bear.
Even in the darkened helicopter, Zera could see naughtiness dance in Bear’s eyes. “Don’t worry. My non-toxic knock-out gas will take care of them. They’re set to get a small dose every 15 minutes for the next two hours.”
Void Chemical Corporation’s Research and Development building seemed deserted. The lighted guard towers were dimly lit but motionless. After a smooth landing on the helicopter pad at the side of the building, Drew cut the engine.
“Whatever happens,” Lily said to Bear and Drew after they got out of the chopper, “we know we tried, that we gave it our all. You guys are the greatest.” Lily hugged Bear, and then took Drew’s hand and they walked a few steps away to be alone for a moment. Zera saw Lily kiss him and they held each other. Bear looked a little teary. Zera noticed her uncle stared at the ground. So much guilt is coming from him — and a little jealousy.
Bear handed equipment cases to Drew, Lily, and Theodore, saying brusquely to her uncle — “You’re helping too, Theo.”
Lily walked over to Zera. “I hope we’re doing the right thing, bringing you.”
“You are,” Zera said, although she felt unsure of herself.
As they walked toward the building, a young man headed toward them from the shadows. He behaved oddly, keeping his white lab coat secure over his head until the helicopter’s engine completely stopped. Now, with the coat down, Zera saw what he covered. His skin and hair were stark white, same as the coat, and starting to blend in with the sandstone color of the building’s walls. Wow, she thought, if not for those dark pants, he’d be almost invisible!
Theodore stared. “The kid from the lab,” he said in a shaky voice. He was talking not to Zera, but to himself. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Oh, god.”
They headed to the door leading to the clean room. As they came closer to James Dubson, Uncle Theodore gasped. Zera saw why. Even the irises on James’ eyes were whitish-beige, the pupils an eerie blue. Zera nearly jumped out of her skin. He looks like a ghost!
“Hey, Mr. Green,” James said. “I’m not lookin’ too blue today with my blue lab cap, am I? Lookin’ pretty white, huh? Lookin’ like a freak.” He moved closer to Theodore and from the fury she felt radiate off James, Zera thought he might try to attack her uncle. “Do the implications of anything you guys do ever cross your minds?”
Theodore stepped backwards. The case he carried slipped out of his hands. Bear, right behind him, grabbed it before it hit the ground. Theodore’s knees buckled and Bear grabbed his arm, steadied him. “Easy, man.”
Zera stared, her mind beginning to comprehend the magnitude of what lay ahead.
“What’s wrong with you?” Bear said to Theodore. “Didn’t you know?”
“I thought . . . Void said the cuttlefish cream was temporary. It’s not? What happened?”
“What happened, Theodore,” Bear said, bending over, breathing into Theodore’s ear, “is that they messed with Mother Nature.”
Cuttlefish? thought Zera. Immediately her mind brought a picture. Cephalopods, related to squid and octopuses. They shoot out ink, change colors to camouflage, or attract, or hunt. Highly intelligent.
“It’s not temporary,” James said. “I’ve been dealing with this, changing to match my surroundings any time I have a hint of anxiety, and not having control over it, since they sprayed me with that stuff six months ago. And let me tell you, it’s been non-stop anxiety. There was no cream,” he said hatefully. “They put me in a tanning booth thing, Mr. Green, covered every inch of me. I’m a freak now, thanks to scientists like you.”
“I didn’t know,” said Theodore. “And I wasn’t responsible. How can I be responsible for this?”
James’ face twisted. “There wouldn’t be those things in the basement if you weren’t showing the way, working on this stuff. Come on! Everyone who works on these projects, no matter what small job they do, is responsible in some way. Even me.”
Lily shook her head.
In the clean room, Theodore shakily put down the case. “I feel sick.”
A queasiness filled Zera as she watched him rush to the bathroom. Sounds of retching came from behind the door.
“This might not work out,” said Drew. “He might not be able to keep up with you.”
“He will do it,” said Lily, heading for a dressing room. “I’ll drag him around myself if I have to. I’ll be back in a minute; I’m going to change.”
After a couple of minutes, Bear, who now held a video camera in one immense hand, knocked on the bathroom door. “Gotta go, Theo.” His deep voice echoed in the room.
Theodore came out looking like a badly beaten man going into the boxing ring for another round. He went to the sink and wiped his mouth, then his pasty, sweat-covered forehead, with a wet paper towel. He looked at all those in the room, including James. “I know it’ll never be enough, but I’m sorry.”
No one said anything. Zera found her sympathy was with James. How is he supposed to live his life, like that? She couldn’t bring herself to give her uncle any words of comfort. What can I possibly say to him, she thought, Hey, don’t worry about it, it’s all right?
Lily came out of the dressing room. She now wore jeans and a green T-shirt with the white words Green Guerrillas across the chest. A bracelet of thickly engraved leaves and line symbols encircled one wrist. Theodore and Zera noticed it at the same time.
Lily saw Zera’s reaction and smiled at her. “Your mother gave it to me, a long time ago. The writing on it’s in the Ogham alphabet.”
Theodore said, “Sally?”
“Yes. It was a birthday present. She gave it to me after you and I broke up. For my eighteenth birthday.”
Drew interrupted. “This is where we part,” he told the group. “I’ll meet you at the helicopter in,” he glanced at his watch, “exactly fifty-five minutes.” He gave Zera a hard look and she felt his reluctance to leave her with the rest of them battling with his desire to complete the mission.
Bear and Lily checked their watches and nodded.
“Let’s put these cases by the door to the lab,” Lily instructed James. “We’re going to the greenhouse first.”
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.