Promised Page 30

“Leon is hardly a terrorist,” she said.

“You really don’t understand what you’re dealing with in him, do you?” The Protectorat lifted a hand in a slow wave. “Look at this room. Leon chose this bedroom when he was ten years old. It’s precisely the way it was when he left us to enter the guard. It never looked any different. Is this the bedroom of a normal child?”

Gaia looked around again with new eyes. The lack of personal items took on a different significance now. There were no books or gadgets, no old bird’s nests, games, or mementos.

“It’s so Spartan,” she murmured, absently touching the string bracelet on her wrist.

It hurt to imagine Leon growing up in this sterile place, choosing it. She thought of how gentle he was with her, how deeply he’d craved her trust. Her gaze lit on the telescope, with its implied yearning to see beyond these walls, and with aching insight, she guessed he’d kept himself bereft as a boy because that was how he’d felt.

“He’s a cold-hearted boy and he always was,” the Protectorat said. “He never kept any comforting little things around him like the other kids. No stuffed animals or favorite books. It’s not too late to change your mind about marrying him. I’d think better of you if you did.”

But the Protectorat was wrong. Gaia had seen things Leon had treasured as a child, now decaying and chewed in the tunnel where he had played with Fiona. He’d had to keep them safely hidden. She turned her gaze on the man who’d raised him, and who’d beaten him just enough so that he could never be certain when it would happen next.

“He’s different now,” Gaia said.

The Protectorat paced to the other side of the bed and his mouth hardened into a line. “People don’t change that much. He cheated and picked fights when he was in school routinely. By fourth grade, he was stealing from our friends’ homes. He broke into a café once and stole enough liquor to get his entire soccer team drunk. They were twelve years old. The very next day, I found him slaughtering chickens for the cook, just because he enjoyed the job.”

Gaia shook her head in disbelief. “There had to be explanations. He’s not like that. Did you listen to his side of things before you beat him?”

“He could talk, all right. He had his mother and his sisters and half of the staff wrapped around his finger.” The Protectorat’s voice lifted in false sympathy. “‘Poor little Leon. You’re so hard on him, Miles!’” He stopped. “And beat him? I might have slapped him a couple times to get his attention. He’s such a liar. I’m the only one who saw him for who he was, and even so, even so, I kept trying with him. Kept giving him one more chance.” He turned away and gave the globe an impatient spin. “I’ll never forgive myself for not protecting Fiona from him.”

Gaia felt something go quiet inside as his words caught at her for the first time. She disliked and distrusted the Protectorat, but she couldn’t ignore the loss of a heart-broken father.

“I’m sorry about Fiona,” she said. “From what I hear, she was an amazing girl. I know Leon misses her terribly.”

He glanced back up at her, his face impassive. “Leon wouldn’t know how to miss a dog.”

She felt as if he’d slapped her. “I need to talk to him. Take him off the drugs.” She reached for Leon’s IV.

“Don’t. You can’t just pull that out. He has to be tapered off.”

A brief knock was followed by Mabrother Stoltz, who held the door for Sephie Frank.

“Let the doctor do it,” the Protectorat said. He straightened and checked his watch. “Bring him around for Gaia to talk to, but don’t let him get agitated,” he said to Sephie. “You can fill her in about how you’ll extract her ovaries. I’ve neglected my guests far too long.”

“My answer is no,” Gaia said.

The Protectorat paused by the door, a hand poised on his hip. “We can fertilize your live human eggs, let them divide a few times, and then separate them to grow into blastocysts. We’ll screen those to be sure they’ve inherited your anti-hemophilia gene and bingo. I’m not talking about one or two children anymore, here. I’m talking about implanting your eggs into dozens of vessel mothers, maybe hundreds. Anyone who can pay a premium for a child can have one, guaranteed free of hemophilia. That’s worth something, don’t you think?”

“You’re forgetting. There won’t be any Vessel Institute when people hear about how you treated Sasha.”

The Protectorat waved a dismissive finger. “A blip. She’s one failure. We’ll triple what we pay the others and screen more carefully. I have no doubts about finding enough new vessel mothers.”

Gaia was still trying to grasp the scale of his plan. “The babies from my eggs would all be twins, or quadruplets, or whatever.”

“Some would. Others would be half siblings.”

“But why mine?” she asked.

“I already told you,” he said. “Your genes are extraordinarily rare, and you yourself are expendable.”

“I am not! New Sylum needs me.”

“New Sylum needs water,” the Protectorat corrected her. “Isn’t that worth some sacrifice? Let me spell it out for you. Risk the surgery, donate your children to the Vessel Institute, and we’ll give you the water you need for everyone outside the wall. Presuming you survive, I will personally dance with you at your wedding to Leon. If you refuse, your people can die of thirst and Leon will remain in our tender care.” He hitched his white jacket straight on his shoulders. “Or not so tender. You can probably guess which option I prefer, but I have financial backers to please.”

*   *   *

In furious silence, Gaia sat beside Leon, holding his hand, while Sephie Frank adjusted the dosage of narcotic in his drip.

“How long until he’s off it?” Gaia asked.

“He’ll come around in about fifteen minutes, I expect,” Sephie said, and touched him gently on the shoulder.

Gaia studied Sephie’s features, remembering how the doctor’s serene, wide-spaced gray eyes and little mouth had once made her think of the moon. Now it seemed to her that Sephie’s gentleness was nothing more than a tool she could manipulate.

In concise terms, Sephie explained the experiments she’d performed. Efforts to harvest individual eggs, leaving the ovaries intact to produce more, had proven disastrous, and countless animal subjects had died. She had discovered it was better to extract intact ovaries, and her subjects lived. She’d learned to inject her subjects in advance with a boost of hormones to ripen the ovaries. Then a clean cut into the abdomen, a quick extraction of the ovaries, and concentrated doses of antibiotics had resulted in dozens of successful surgeries on pigs and dogs.

“So I’d be your first live human subject,” Gaia said.


“And I could die.”

“I don’t think you would,” Sephie said. “It’s a risk, though.”

“And I could never have any children of my own.”

Sephie hesitated. “Not in the normal way, but just think, Gaia. You’d be the mother of hundreds. And consider the other possibilities. With frozen blastocysts, a father could have a family of genetically identical children, triplets or quadruplets born at different times, spaced out over years.”

Gaia straightened and pushed the yellow bed curtain farther back, with a rattling of its rings. “What good is that? You won’t get genetic diversity that way,” Gaia said.

“Genetic diversity is not the problem I’ve been set to solve,” Sephie said. “That can come in time. Getting around the problem of infertility has been my goal, and I’ve done it. But who wants to go through all the complications of surrogate pregnancy only to have a child that will die soon of hemophilia? If you could see all the children’s funerals I’ve been to this last year. It’s awful.”

“Then why doesn’t the Protectorat work with Myrna Silk? Why not find a cure for hemophilia?”

“There is no cure. You don’t think we’ve looked? Myrna’s blood transfusions only postpone the inevitable. The real solution is to prevent the hemophilia in the first place. It keeps coming back to you.”


Sephie tilted the lamp shade so it wasn’t on Leon’s face. “At least think about it. Even your blood type is perfect. With you as O neg, we only need to consider the father’s blood type when we choose whose womb to implant the blastocysts in. You’re the ideal mother.”

Gaia wasn’t going to argue anymore. “Why is this taking so long with Leon?” Instinctively, she took his pulse, checking the seconds on her locket watch as she counted the sluggish beats of his heart. His chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, and his eyelids remained smooth in dreamless sleep, like a cursed prince in a fairy tale.

Sephie checked the drip again. “He should be around very soon. Be patient.” She faced Gaia. “Incidentally, we could do your surgery anytime, but tomorrow or the next day would be ideal. You were injected with a slow-release hormone when you arrived in the Enclave,” Sephie said. “With a kicker, we can have you ovulating within hours. That’s when it would be best to harvest your ovaries.”

“I said no.”

“But wouldn’t you do it, for Leon’s sake?” Sephie asked.

“Of course I would. But I’d have to trust the Protectorat to keep the bargain, and that will never happen.”

“Mabrother Rhodeski and Genevieve can keep him honest,” Sephie said.

“What happened to you?” Gaia asked. “When I knew you in Q cell, you were a good doctor.”

“I’m still a good doctor. Better than I ever was.” Sephie motioned to Mabrother Stoltz. “Give me a hand here and restrain his legs.”

“Is that necessary?” Gaia asked.

“He was not the most compliant patient before we put him under,” Sephie said. “I don’t want him hurting himself when he comes to.”

The nurse efficiently wrapped a restraint around Leon’s ankles, propped him more upright, and settled a pillow under his broken arm. He checked the restraint on Leon’s left arm. Then Mabrother Stoltz and Sephie moved back behind the desk and conferred in soft voices over the computer.

Gaia sat on the edge of the bed and held Leon’s left hand, careful not to disrupt the IV. “Leon,” she whispered.

Leon’s dark lashes were motionless along his cheeks, his eyebrows faintly curving. Tenderness curled through her. She’d seen him sleeping before, but in natural sleep his features were always a ready instant away from mobility, warm with an endearing quality she couldn’t identify. Now his stillness seemed too deep.

What if she really had to make a sacrifice to get him free?

Leon rolled his face toward the window, where the night breeze still drifted in.

“Leon,” Gaia said, leaning near anxiously. “It’s me, Gaia. Can you hear me?”

Leon’s eyes blinked heavily, and Gaia gingerly touched the hair over his forehead, careful not to bump his stitches. His gaze met hers for a searching moment. “No,” he said, his voice cracking.

Gaia’s heart slammed against her ribs. She squeezed his hand and reached for cup of water. “Drink this,” she said, trying to smile. “We have to talk.” She pressed the end of the straw between his lips. “Please, Leon,” she whispered. “Stay with me.”

She watched the liquid draw up the straw and then his throat worked in several swallows. He opened his lips to release the straw. Stirring, he turned his gaze to his restrained feet and arm, his other splinted arm, and then back to Gaia.

“Have they hurt you?” he asked.

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