The Host (Chapter 54: Forgotten)
The Healer's body was still limp on the cot. It had been a long time-how long, I wasn't sure. Hours and hours. I hadn't slept yet, though the sun was far up in the sky. Doc had climbed out onto the mountain to pull the tarps away, and the sun beamed brightly through the holes in the ceiling, hot on my skin. I'd moved the nameless woman so that her face would be out of the glare.
I touched her face now lightly, patting the soft brown hair, woven through with white strands, away from her face.
"Julie? Brittany? Angela? Patricia? Am I getting close? Talk to me. Please?"
Everyone but Doc-snoring quietly on a cot in the darkest corner of the hospital-had gone away hours ago. Some to bury the host body we'd lost. I cringed, thinking of his bewildered question, and the sudden way his face had gone slack.
Why? he'd asked me.
I so much wished that the soul had waited for an answer, so I could have tried to explain it to him. He might even have understood. After all, what was more important, in the end, than love? To a soul, wasn't that the heart of everything? And love would have been my answer.
Maybe, if he'd waited, he would have seen the truth of that. If he'd really understood, I was sure he would have let the human body live.
The request would probably have made little sense to him, though. The body was his body, not a separate entity. His suicide was simply that to him, not a murder, too. Only one life had ended. And perhaps he was right.
At least the souls had survived. The light on his tank glowed dull red beside hers; I couldn't ask for a greater evidence of commitment from my humans than this, the sparing of his life.
"Mary? Margaret? Susan? Jill?"
Though Doc slept and I was otherwise alone, I could feel the echo of the tension the others had left behind; it still hung in the air.
The tension lingered because the woman had not woken up when the chloroform wore off. She had not moved. She was still breathing, her heart was still beating, but she had not responded to any of Doc's efforts to revive her.
Was it too late? Was she lost? Was she already gone? Just as dead as the male body?
Were all of them? Were there only a very few, like the Seeker's host, Lacey, and Melanie-the shouters, the resisters-who could be brought back? Was everyone else gone?
Was Lacey an anomaly? Would Melanie come back the way she had… or was even that in question?
I'm not lost. I'm here. But Mel's mental voice was defensive. She worried, too.
Yes, you are here. And you will stay here, I promised.
With a sigh, I returned to my efforts. My doomed efforts?
"I know you have a name," I told the woman. "Is it Rebecca? Alexandra? Olivia? Something simpler, maybe… Jane? Jean? Joan?"
It was better than nothing, I thought glumly. At least I'd given them a way to help themselves if they were ever taken. I could help the resisters, if no one else.
It didn't seem like enough.
"You're not giving me much to work with," I murmured. I took her hand in both of mine, chafed it softly. "It would really be nice if you would make an effort. My friends are going to be depressed enough. They could use some good news. Besides, with Kyle still gone… It will be hard to evacuate everyone without having to carry you around, too. I know you want to help. This is your family here, you know. These are your kind. They're very nice. Most of them. You'll like them."
The gently lined face was vacant with unconsciousness. She was quite pretty in an inconspicuous way-her features very symmetrical on her oval face. Forty-five, maybe a little younger, maybe a little older. It was hard to tell with no animation in the face.
"They need you," I went on, pleading now. "You can help them. You know so much that I never knew. Doc tries so hard. He deserves some help. He's a good man. You've been a Healer for a while now; some of that care for the well-being of others must have rubbed off on you. You'll like Doc, I think.
"Is your name Sarah? Emily? Kristin?"
I stroked her soft cheek, but there was no response, so I took her limp hand in mine again. I gazed at the blue sky through the holes in the high ceiling. My mind wandered.
"I wonder what they'll do if Kyle never comes back. How long will they hide? Will they have to find a new home somewhere else? There are so many of them… It won't be easy. I wish I could help them, but even if I could stay, I don't have any answers.
"Maybe they'll get to stay here… somehow. Maybe Kyle won't mess up." I laughed humorlessly, thinking of the odds. Kyle wasn't a careful man. However, until that situation was resolved, I was needed. Maybe, if there were Seekers looking, they would need my infallible eyes. It might take a long time, and that made me feel warmer than the sun on my skin. Made me feel grateful that Kyle was impetuous and selfish. How long until we were sure we were safe?
"I wonder what it's like here when it gets cold. I can barely re-member feeling cold. And what if it rains? It has to rain here sometime, doesn't it? With all these holes in the roof, it must get really wet. Where does everyone sleep then, I wonder." I sighed. "Maybe I'll get to find out. Probably shouldn't bet on that, though. Aren't you curious at all? If you would wake up, you could get the answers. I'm curious. Maybe I'll ask Ian about it. It's funny to imagine things changing here… I guess summer can't last forever."
Her fingers fluttered for one second in my hand.
It took me by surprise because my mind had wandered away from the woman on the cot, beginning to sink into the melancholy that was always conveniently near these days.
I stared down at her; there was no change-the hand in mine was limp, her face still vacant. Maybe I'd imagined the movement.
"Did I say something you were interested in? What was I talking about?" I thought quickly, watching her face. "Was it the rain? Or was it the idea of change? Change? You've got a lot of that ahead of you, don't you? You have to wake up first, though."
Her face was empty, her hand motionless.
"So you don't care for change. Can't say that I blame you. I don't want change to come, either. Are you like me? Do you wish the summer could last?"
If I hadn't been watching her face so closely, I wouldn't have seen the tiny flicker of her lids.
"You like summertime, do you?" I asked hopefully.
Her lips twitched.
Her hand trembled.
"Is that your name-Summer? Summer? That's a pretty name."
Her hand tightened into a fist, and her lips parted.
"Come back, Summer. I know you can do it. Summer? Listen to me, Summer. Open your eyes, Summer."
Her eyes blinked rapidly.
"Doc!" I called over my shoulder. "Doc, wake up!"
"I think she's coming around!" I turned back to the woman. "Keep it up, Summer. You can do this. I know it's hard. Summer, Summer, Summer. Open your eyes."
Her face grimaced-was she in pain?
"Bring the No Pain, Doc. Hurry."
The woman squeezed my hand, and her eyes opened. They didn't focus at first, just whirled around the bright cave. What a strange, unexpected sight this place must have been for her.
"You're going to be all right, Summer. You're going to be fine. Can you hear me, Summer?"
Her eyes wheeled back to me, the pupils constricting. She stared, absorbing my face. Then she cringed away from me, twisting on the cot to escape. A low, hoarse cry of panic broke through her lips.
"No, no, no," she cried. "No more."
He was there, on the other side of the cot, like before, when we were operating.
"It's okay, ma'am," he assured her. "No one is going to hurt you here."
The woman had her eyes squeezed shut, and she recoiled into the thin mattress.
"I think her name is Summer."
He flashed a look at me and then made a face. "Eyes, Wanda," he breathed.
I blinked and realized that the sun was on my face. "Oh." I let the woman pull her hand free.
"Don't, please," the woman begged. "Not again."
"Shh," Doc murmured. "Summer? People call me Doc. No one's going to do anything to you. You're going to be fine."
I eased away from them, into the shadows.
"Don't call me that!" the woman sobbed. "That's not my name! It's hers, it's hers! Don't say it again!"
I'd gotten the wrong name.
Mel objected to the guilt that washed through me. It's not your fault. Summer is a human name, too.
"Of course not," Doc promised. "What is your name?"
"I-I-I don't know!" she wailed. "What happened? Who was I? Don't make me be someone else again."
She tossed and thrashed on the cot.
"Calm down; it's going to be okay, I promise. No one's going to make you be anyone but you, and you'll remember your name. It's going to come back."
"Who are you?" she demanded. "Who's she? She's like… like I was. I saw her eyes!"
"I'm Doc. And I'm human, just like you. See?" He moved his face into the light and blinked at her. "We're both just ourselves. There are lots of humans here. They'll be so happy to meet you."
She cringed again. "Humans! I'm afraid of humans."
"No, you're not. The… person who used to be in your body was afraid of humans. She was a soul, remember that? And then remember before that, before she was there? You were human then, and you are again."
"I can't remember my name," she told him in a panicked voice.
"I know. It'll come back."
"Are you a doctor?"
"I was… she was, too. A… Healer. Like a doctor. She was Summer Song. Who am I?"
"We'll find out. I promise you that."
I edged toward the exit. Trudy would be a good person to help Doc, or maybe Heidi. Someone with a calming face.
"She's not human!" the woman whispered urgently to Doc, her eye caught by my movement.
"She's a friend; don't be afraid. She helped me bring you back."
"Where is Summer Song? She was scared. There were humans…"
I ducked out the door while she was distracted.
I heard Doc answer the question behind me. "She's going to a new planet. Do you remember where she was before she came here?"
I could guess what her answer would be from the name.
"She was… a Bat? She could fly… She could sing… I remember… but it was… not here. Where am I?"
I hurried down the hall to find help for Doc. I was surprised when I saw the light of the great cavern ahead-surprised because it was so quiet. Usually you could hear voices before you saw the light. It was the middle of the day. There should have been someone in the big garden room, if only crossing through.
I walked out into the bright noon light, and the giant space was empty.
The fresh tendrils of the cantaloupe vines were dark green, darker than the dry earth they sprang from. The earth was too dry-the irrigating barrel stood ready to fix that, the hoses laid out along the furrows. But no one manned the crude machine. It sat abandoned on the side of the field.
I stood very still, trying to hear something. The huge cavern was silent, and the silence was ominous. Where was everyone?
Had they evacuated without me? A pang of fear and hurt shot through me. But they wouldn't have left without Doc, of course. They would never leave Doc. I wanted to dart back through the long tunnel to make sure Doc had not disappeared, too.
They wouldn't go without us, either, silly. Jared and Jamie and Ian wouldn't leave us behind.
You're right. You're right. Let's… check the kitchen?
I jogged down the silent corridor, getting more anxious as the silence continued. Maybe it was my imagination, and the loud thumping of my pulse in my ears. Of course there must be something to hear. If I could calm down and slow my breathing, I'd be able to hear voices.
But I reached the kitchen and it was empty, too. Empty of people. On the tables, half-eaten lunches had been abandoned. Peanut butter on the last of the soft bread. Apples and warm cans of soda.
My stomach reminded me that I hadn't eaten at all today, but I barely noted the twist of hunger. The panic was so much stronger.
What if… what if we didn't evacuate soon enough?
No! Mel gasped. No, we would have heard something! Someone would have… or there would be… They'd still be here, looking for us. They wouldn't give up until they'd checked everywhere. So that can't be it.
Unless they're looking for us now.
I spun back toward the door, my eyes darting through the shadows.
I had to go warn Doc. We had to get out of here if we were the last two.
No! They can't be gone! Jamie, Jared… Their faces were so clear, as if they were etched onto the insides of my eyelids.
And Ian's face, as I added my own pictures to hers. Jeb, Trudy, Lily, Heath, Geoffrey. We'll get them back, I vowed. We'll hunt them down one by one and steal them back! I won't let them take my family!
If I'd had any doubts where I stood, this moment would have erased them. I'd never felt so fierce in all my lives. My teeth clenched tight, snapping together audibly.
And then the noise, the babble of voices I'd been so anxiously straining to hear, echoed down the hall to us and made my breath catch. I slid silently to the wall and pressed myself into the shadow there, listening.
The big garden. You can hear it in the echoes.
Sounds like a large group.
Yes. But yours or mine?
Ours or theirs, she corrected.
I crept down the hall, keeping to the darkest shadows. We could hear the voices more clearly now, and some of them were familiar. Did that mean anything? How long would it take trained Seekers to perform an insertion?
And then, as I reached the very mouth of the great cave, the sounds became even clearer, and relief washed through me-because the babble of voices was just the same as it had been my very first day here. Murderously angry.
They had to be human voices.
Kyle must be back.
Relief warred with pain as I hurried into the bright sunlight to see what was going on. Relief because my humans were safe. And pain because if Kyle was already safely back, then…
You're still needed, Wanda. So much more than I am.
I'm sure I could find excuses forever, Mel. There will always be some reason.
With you as my prisoner?
We stopped arguing as we assessed the commotion in the cavern.
Kyle was back-the easiest one to spot, the tallest in the crowd, the only one facing me. He was pinned against the far wall by the mob. Though he was the cause of the angry noise, he was not the source of it. His face was conciliatory, pleading. He held his arms out to the sides, palms back, as if there was something behind him he was trying to protect.
"Just calm down, okay?" His deep voice carried over the cacophony. "Back off, Jared, you're scaring her!"
A flash of black hair behind his elbow-an unfamiliar face, with wide, terrified black eyes, peeked around at the crowd.
Jared was closest to Kyle. I could see that the back of his neck was bright red. Jamie clung to one of his arms, holding him back. Ian was on his other side, his arms crossed in front of him, the muscles in his shoulders tight with strain. Behind them, every other human but Doc and Jeb was massed in an angry throng. They surged behind Jared and Ian, asking loud, angry questions.
"What were you thinking?"
"How dare you?"
"Why'd you come back at all?"
Jeb was in the back corner, just watching.
Sharon 's brilliant hair caught my eye. I was surprised to see her, with Maggie, right in the center of the crowd. They'd both been so little a part of life here ever since Doc and I had healed Jamie. Never in the middle of things.
It's the fight, Mel guessed. They weren't comfortable with happiness, but they're at home with fury.
I thought she was probably right. How… disturbing.
I heard a shrill voice throwing out some of the angry questions and realized that Lacey was part of the crowd, too.
"Wanda?" Kyle's voice carried across the noise again, and I looked up to see his deep blue eyes locked on me. "There you are! Could you please come and give me a little help here?"