Promised Page 29

Behind the wheelchair stood a calm, smiling woman in pale blue, and Gaia took a moment to recognize Sephie Frank, one of the doctors she’d first met in Q cell. To Sephie’s left, Mabrother Rhodeski held hands with a woman about his own age, and beside them, the Protectorat was making a speech. It struck Gaia that he never mentioned the vessel mother’s name, calling her instead “Our little vessel mother” with great warmth. A young man, apparently Mabrother Rhodeski’s son-in-law Matt, leaned over the mother’s wrist, and with a golden scissors, he clipped her bracelet free and lifted it high. The crowd applauded.

Matt passed the bracelet to Mabrother Rhodeski, and next he held out his hands towards the baby.

Under her rouge, the vessel mother’s cheeks turned bloodlessly pale. Her profile was aimed down toward the child on her lap so that her dark hair partly obscured her face. Though Matt was clearly speaking to her, she remained still as if she had gone suddenly strengthless. The Protectorat said something and the crowd laughed uneasily. Matt leaned nearer, which let his tie fall forward above her knee. Then the mother lifted the newborn off her lap. It was hardly more than a centimeter, not even enough to clear the baby’s blanket from her knees. Matt slid his hands around the child then, and lifted her close against his own chest. He took a half step backward and dipped his head over the baby, cradling her close. The crowd waited, patently expecting something more, but when Matt simply stood there, holding his infant daughter, the hushed moment expanded into something raw and painfully private.

A faint breeze stirred through the still room.

More than one person quietly looked away. Mabrother Rhodeski stepped nearer to put a hand on his son’s back, and Matt turned mutely into his father’s embrace. Others circled around them then, and with a great release of collective breath, the audience tentatively applauded a second time.

Waiters began passing out glasses in preparation for a toast. The vessel mother’s head sagged forward and her hands went limp on her lap. Sephie quietly wheeled her out of the room.

Gaia took a step back, wanting Peter, and bumped into Mabrother Iris instead.

“Quite a touching scene, wasn’t it?” he asked. He lifted a cup of punch in a jaunty little motion.

“Where’s Peter?” she asked, scanning the doorways in alarm. There were guests everywhere, but none of her people.

“He ducked out, I’m afraid.”

She backed away from him. “I have to find Leon.”

“Don’t you want to know what Mabrother Rhodeski wants from you?” Mabrother Iris asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head.

“Not even in exchange for water for New Sylum? It would have to be something incredibly valuable to be worth such a price.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, backing away.

“I think you know, anyway,” Mabrother Iris said. “You heard the story of Nicole. Remember my pig?”

Gaia’s feet froze to the floor. Mabrother Iris started nodding.

“We want your eggs,” Mabrother Iris said. “Your ovaries, to be exact. Of course, Nicole had to die before we could take hers, but maybe we’ll get lucky with you.”

It was such a preposterous idea that Gaia could hardly process his words.

“You can’t take my ovaries,” she said. Such a surgery to extract them wasn’t possible, and even if it was, she could never have children of her own if they took her ovaries.

Mabrother Iris was smiling his small, cold smile. “We’ve been practicing.”

Chapter 17

the sleeper in the tower

GAIA BACKED UP A step and inadvertently bumped into a waiter, whose tray went crashing to the floor. Punch cups and wine glasses scattered in shards and a splash of punch spattered the sleeve of her jacket.

Guests turned to see the commotion, and the Protectorat came forward with long strides, reaching to steady her. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Gaia said, practically hissing, and flinched away. “Where are my people? Where’s Leon?”

The Protectorat’s eyes flickered, but he answered with a calm smile. “I’ll take you to him.” He pressed a handkerchief into her hand and turned to Mabrother Iris. “Ask Sephie Frank to join us at her earliest convenience.”

Onlookers were watching the exchange curiously, and the waiter was clearing up the debris as rapidly as he could. Gaia wiped at her sleeve and strode toward the entrance hall.

“Where did you put my scouts?” she demanded.

“They had too much to drink,” the Protectorat said. “We found it best to remove them before they disturbed our other guests.”

“You drugged them?”

“That, too. This way.” He turned up one of the great, curving staircases.

She had been half afraid he would lead her down, to the cellar and the secret passageway that connected to the prison. “Leon’s upstairs?” she asked, suspicious.

“He’s in his room. Resting.”

From the top of the stairs, the Protectorat gestured for her to precede him down a long corridor, and they left the decrescendo of party sounds behind them. The next hallway was smaller, befitting a more private section of the Bastion, and after several more turns, he guided her up a spiral staircase. Unlike the tower her mother had been imprisoned in, this one was lit better, and the triangular landings were clean and broad.

“I saw you talking to Mabrother Rhodeski,” the Protectorat said. “Did he outline his offer to you?”

“Mabrother Iris told me. If you think there’s any chance I’ll let you take my ovaries, you’re wrong,” Gaia said.

“You should think it over,” the Protectorat said. “You might want to consider Leon’s perspective.”

“He’d never let me take such a risk. Why do you want mine, anyway? I know I have the anti-hemophilia gene, but I can’t be the only one. What’s so special about me?”

He stopped before a wooden door inlaid with iron scrollwork, and turned to her. “The gene has turned out to be exceptionally rare. We’re lucky we ever found it at all. It must be a fairly recent mutation. So far, we’ve found only nine other people with the anti-hemophilia gene, despite analyzing DNA from thousands of people inside and outside the wall. All nine are women. The problem is, we can’t operate on any of the others.”

“Why not?”

“One has a heart condition. One is diabetic. Another has an allergy to the narcotic we’d use for the surgery,” he said. “The remaining six have families who refuse to let them take the risk, for any price. The chance of fatality is too high.”

“You mean the surgery’s too deadly? It’s essentially a death sentence?”

His eyes narrowed slightly. “No. It’s a calculated risk, but not a death sentence.”

“Just admit you want to kill me for my ovaries,” Gaia said coldly. “Why do you even need my consent?”

“My wife and Mabrother Rhodeski seem to think it’s necessary.”

With a light tap, he opened the door and gestured her in.

She hesitated on the threshold, wary, but it was an airy, high-ceilinged bedroom with a patterned carpet and tall windows that were open to the night breeze. Sparsely furnished, austerely devoid of personal items, the space was still luxurious in its simplicity. A tapestry of a forest scene lined one wall, a globe of the world was poised to spin in a cherry-colored stand, and a telescope was pointed out the window toward the north. A male nurse rose from behind a desk and nodded respectfully to the Protectorat, who waved him back down.

Gaia came further in. A canopied bed with yellow curtains drawn back in heavy, swooping loops stood in the far corner, and as Gaia saw the figure lying on the covers, her heart dove. Leon lay on his back, sleeping. His left arm was tied to a bar at the side of the bed, and above the bar, a translucent bag hung on a rod, with a line of tubing running down to a needle that was taped into a vein inside the crook of his elbow. His right arm was bent and wrapped securely in an immobilizing splint.

He was dressed in white, and neatly shaven. Two spots of bright color rode high on his cheeks, and his lips were redder than normal, as if his inner system were working at a fever pitch while outwardly, his chest moved in regular, deep breaths of sleep.

She came nearer still, and she was unable to resist touching her knuckles to his cheek. A blossom of purple bruised his forehead and ringed his right eye, while in the center of the bruise, a small, deep cut had been closed with four stitches.

She turned to look back at the Protectorat. “What did you do to him?”

“We saved his life, obviously,” he said, adjusting a lamp so light fell more clearly on the bed. “He was trying to run across a water main between the roofs of two buildings and he fell. Hit his head.”

Gaia moved around the bed, scanning Leon’s face closely from the other side, and gently joggled his shoulder. “Leon,” she said softly. “Can you hear me? Wake up.” He didn’t move. She drew his fingers into hers, but though they were warm, they were as unresponsive as clay. “Is he in pain? What’s in this?” she asked, flicking the IV drip.

“It’s hard to know how much he’s suffering,” the Protectorat said. “You wouldn’t know the drug. It’s a narcotic we’ve been developing for various surgeries. We can keep him out indefinitely.”

The Enclave didn’t have a hospital, and the last Gaia knew, medical care had been limited to setting bones, sewing stitches, assisting births, prescribing mor**ine and antibiotics, and the occasional appendectomy, yet the Protectorat spoke as if surgeries were now routine.

“You can keep him out for days?” she asked.

He nodded. “He’d get hungry, of course, if we do. There isn’t any nutrition there.”

She caught the irony of it. The Protectorat had made certain Leon was stitched up after his fall, but he could also keep Leon in a coma and slowly kill him by starvation.

“Perhaps you can see now why I wanted you to consider Leon’s perspective on your ovaries,” he added. “We would really like your consent and cooperation.”

She got it, then. Mabrother Rhodeski wanted a fair exchange: her ovaries for water. The Protectorat was adding his own private twist to the screw: cooperate or Leon will pay.

“It isn’t consent if I’m blackmailed,” she said. “Wake him up.” She reached for the IV.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the Protectorat said. “It’s a delicate process to bring him around. He’ll have the devil’s own headache. Mabrother Stoltz,” he said, turning toward the nurse behind the desk. “See what’s keeping Sephie Frank, please.”

As the man left, the Protectorat walked over beside the mantel. He nodded toward the bed. “He looks so harmless this way. You’d never guess what he’s capable of. That was a nice touch of his with the comic books in the sink this morning. He had me going.”

“You lied about helping with water for New Sylum,” she said.

“You wasted our time and resources with that farce of a DNA registry,” he said. “It will take us forever to figure out the duplications. It would almost be easier to start over.”

“You’re the one who lied first,” she countered.

“So that entitles you to retaliate? To sabotage our water?”

“We wanted to get your attention.”

She could feel the Protectorat regarding her closely, even with the distance between them.

“That wasn’t your idea, was it?” the Protectorat said, his voice lifting in surprise. “Of course not. That was pure Leon. Bear in mind that you’re accountable for what your people do. There are repercussions, especially when you sic terrorists on innocent people.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies