It was a typical hotel room, dominated by a bed. A suitcase stood in an open closet. The bed was freshly made next to a small chair and desk. Jennifer entered and gestured to the bed and the chair, again, letting me pick and betraying no preference.
If I can trust a pride of lions to accept me as one of their own I can trust a human- no a Delta to do the same. I admonished myself mentally, entering and taking a seat on the bed. I gave Jennifer a brief flash up my thigh length dress, in the hopes of shocking her from reading my mind as readily, before settling down, feeling oddly as if I was sitting in a psychiatrists office.
I fidgeted slightly, fearful of a awkward silence blooming
between us. Jennifer turned the chair away from the desk, toward the bed. She
removed her lab coat and sat, facing me. If she noticed my flash she gave no
sign of it. "
"Yes, the sun sets there are breath taking, especially when viewed with the eyes of a lion, or raptor," I smiled at the memories, regretting briefly I didn't bring a camera before realizing the absurdity of a lion carrying one around it's neck.
I paused still at a loss as to how much the woman knew of me, and my lifestyle. "Have you read any of my Life As books?" I asked her, searching for information without being too obvious.
"They're very interesting. Remarkable perspective." She replied, seeming casual about the inquiry.
"For me those lives feel like home." I confessed, propping myself up on one elbow. "Even more so now since I-" I hesitated, knowing to admit to murder out loud would disturb even a Delta, but realizing she likely knew already from reading my mind. "Since I discovered how liberating it feels to kill, not just animals, but people." I curled my feet up against the back of my legs, pulling myself into a ball as I spoke.
Jenny leaned forward and reached out again, not taking my hand but offering. "It's okay. I know. You don't have to say it."
"How could you know? You weren't there!" My exclamation came out almost as if I was blaming the world for putting me in the position of being a protector of the village. Of not taking the burden from me.
"I- I'm sorry it's just-" I let my voice trail off, reaching out to Jennifer's hand and pulling it closer, to place it against my head, cherishing the softness, and humanity of the touch.
"I know, Evie." She spoke softly. "You don't have to apologize. But you do have to find a way to live with it." She was quiet a moment. "I did it by counting the living."
"They were scum, murderers and rapists, they shot a little a girl, they deserved to die." My voice held a cold conviction, it felt good to admit to myself and another intelligent creature what I did was justified.
I glanced up at her, letting go of her hand so it rested lightly against my head. "You can sense life force, that's how you knew I was Delta and not a bird." I smiled a bit as I began to understand, realizing at the same time I didn't care as much about the truth as I thought I did.
"What you've done... it will stay with you forever. And it should. But... count the living. Remember the ones you've killed, and the ones you couldn't save, but only count the living." She said soothingly, the feel of her hand a almost reassuring weight.
"The ones I saved thanked me, gave me this." I gestured to the necklace, realizing it was perhaps my most prized possession, oddly enough.
"Feathered Death. An honor, considering the source. But is it a fitting reminder?" She asked gently, my surprise at her recognizing the necklace lost for the moment within my own grief.
"They called me Kalamu Kifo, Feathered Death, and I like the name, it feels. Right." I shuddered a bit at the admittance, suddenly feeling very much alone.
"I killed, it was messy, my feathers slick with the blood and gore, it fit, I was death incarnate, and I reveled in it." I sobbed the end of the sentence, remembering the bursting of the leaders skull between my fangs, the enjoyment of blood lust sated. I shrank from Jennifer's hand, afraid my admission would finally cause her calm exterior to shatter.
Jennifer shook her head. "No. That's only a part of you trying to make it okay. But more of you knows better. It wasn't wrong to do what you did. You saved innocent lives by doing it. But don't revel in it. Don't glorify it. Accept it, but don't celebrate it." She looked in my eyes. "The living, Evie. Count them ."
"Hold me, please, just rub my hair and remind me I can still pass for human." I begged her quietly, realizing with a start Jennifer had known my new name before I even told her. Jennifer rose and moved to the bed pulling me to her in an embrace. Her hand stroked my hair softly.
"Wait, how did you know what they named me?" I looked up at her with one eye, half afraid to find the illusion of kindness shattered, and replaced by a judging specter of wrath poised to snap my neck and give me the peace I was slowly beginning to realize I secretly longed for.
I sighed contently as her hand began caressing me, realizing while she perhaps couldn't read minds entirely she likely could read surface thoughts, or perhaps hear them out loud somehow.
She kept a hold of me, but gently, not forcing it. "You're wearing her around your neck, Evie."
I smiled a bit at her ready explanation, doubting deeply the woman could speak Swahili.
"Why? Why don't you think I'm a monster? Something sick to be put down, like wild animals that taste the flesh of man?" I pressed myself closer to Jennifer, suddenly feeling childish at my earlier fear of the woman, wondering briefly if things might have turned out differently years ago if I'd asked her out to dinner as opposed to making a mess on her rentals windshield.
"Is Sarah a monster?" She asked me gently.
"Of course not, she's my friend, she's just, hurt, broken from her dads death and-" I paused realizing I didn't know the rest of the equation.
"She killed a man, remember?" She held me a little tighter as I pressed closer, trying to reassure. "Is Ellen a monster?"
"She's never killed before, how could she be?" I paused as I realized that truth may not hold true. "Or if she has she didn't let it define her."
"Exactly." Jennifer said matter of factly
I struggled with the concept for a moment, "It's harder for me, I didn't kill them from a distance but up close, with my teeth and talons, I tasted them as they died." I shuddered at the memory, both in revulsion and ecstasy. "Worse, a part of me loves the taste."
"The biochemistry gets a bit tricky. It's easy to confuse things in a situation like that." She added after a moments consideration.
I nodded, feeling for the first time that I was understood by someone, in a way I thought was impossible, even for another Delta. (I realize now I was vulnerable, and hurting for a human connection, but at the time she seemed like the one. The one I'd been hunting for for years, my perfect match.)
"I- You're-" I stopped and sighed, doubting my words would be taken with the conviction I felt, the deep certainty I could sense within not just my animal side, but my human as well.
"You're going to be okay." She reassured me.
I nodded at Jennifer's reassurance, privately knowing my animal instincts defined what was left of my humanity, accepting the wild was a dominant facet of me and I would be forever influenced by it's primal drive.
"The reason Ellen and me broke up, it wasn't any one thing it's just she couldn't understand me, didn't want to. Was afraid to, and I couldn't wait for her to come around enough to try." I let my voice drift off, stumbling over the words I would express in animal in a hundred more subtle and convincing ways.
"She hadn't fully accepted herself yet. How could she fully accept anyone else? We all have more to learn." Jennifer responded thoughtfully.
Damn it, if this was a movie I would kiss you, and the happily ever after logo would splash across the screen and the credits would roll! I thought fiercely, looking up at her, choosing my next words more carefully than I could recall speaking before that moment.
She stroked my hair softly, but shook her head. "That's not where this is going," she said gently.
"You misunderstand," I replied, holding up a hand to forestall her disagreement. "I'm not after a one night comfort lay, I want to take this slow, see where it leads." Pursue a relationship with you like a human would I add mentally.
"I know. But I'm not for you. I'm sorry." She said, seeming to discard my attempts without a moments consideration.
"You're the first person that's even really understood me, probably the only human that ever can or will." or event wants to, I added silently. I sighed, still hunting for the words, not caring if I sounded pleading. "How can you know if you don't even try, see where the path might take us?"
I took a deep breath and pressed on. "More than anything in my whole wild life I want you, not right now, not like that, just in my life, as the one I grow old with, share all the horrors and joys existence has to offer." I blushed as I realized I had voiced my thoughts more completely than I intended, feeling the urge to shift into a bird and hide among imaginary rafters swell within me.
"As my life mate." I finished the sentence softly. I lay my head softly in Jennifer's lap, wondering how to convey that I would even given up my wild sexual exploits to be with her, doubting she would believe me, even if I could somehow say it without sounding like an animal whore.
I felt the tears squeezing between the clenched eyelids as I understood she was the first human I'd ever met that understood and accepted me without judgment or revulsion. That seemed to know all my deepest secrets and rubbed my hair anyway.
It occurred to me after the fact I had pretty much proposed to a near complete stranger, but I shrugged, accepting my animal instincts would have had me do the same if I was a creature of the wild. "Walk the path slow, years of finding our way if that's what it takes." I added quietly. "Even if it branches into separate roads in the future, just walk it with me and see where it leads."
I knew the chance of our relationship going the distance was amazingly low, but I'd be damned if I looked back on this years later and cursed myself for not trying my best to see what might have been. (Looking back on it now years later, I'm pretty sure she saw me as a wounded animal, but whether she rejected me out of mercy or self preservation I'm still not sure.)
Compared to the events my friends Ellen and Sarah had apparently gone through recently, perhaps my road leading into a romantic sunset at some point wasn't too far off the mark after all, I pondered.
Jenny was quiet a long while. Finally, she pulled back. and stood up. "Evie... I'm so sorry... I don't want to hurt you. I understand you because I understand everything. I understand what you're going through because I've been through it. I know who you are because I investigated you, to make sure it was safe to let you be near Sarah. I knew it was you because Orioles don't follow cars and you're the only Delta who can turn into an animal."
I looked up and blinked, my illusion of complete understanding by someone unexpectedly shattered. "Thank you for not leading me on," I struggled to convey what I would have done for the woman. "I thought you understood me here." I touched my chest softly.
Jenny reached to take my hands gently. "Evie, I'm sorry. I wanted to help you. To let you know it can be okay. I had no idea you'd..." She looked sadly at me. "Evie, I'm in love with someone else. Someone I can never have, but who I will never be able to get out of my system. I can't love anyone else because I only love her. But I brought you here, because I do know what it's like to kill, and how hard it can be to come to terms with that."
"I would have- you could have stopped me from-" I shrugged and realized it was fruitless to convey what words couldn't. "It's not just the killing, it the feeling of separation that hurts." I nodded, feeling no resentment, just a quiet loss.
"The animal world accepts me, almost blindly after a fashion you could say. I feel like I belong with them, more than I belong among your kind most of the time." I hesitated, then realized I had nothing to lose by telling the woman my feelings.
"After I took those lives the villagers all but worshiped me, but they still were terrified of me, of what I could do, of what I was. Animals, they just accept me for who I am without passing judgment. That's what I want from a human lover, acceptance. Total acceptance."
"Maybe in the future you might feel differently?" I smiled, a sad smile that held a bit of hope to it. "I'll wait for you, until the wild claims my body and the last breath leaves my form, I'll wait." I stared into the woman's eyes, feeling a strange sense of conviction, or perhaps resignation.
"I don't care how you came to learn my secrets, that you accept me even after knowing them is what makes you the one for me. Let me put it another way," I stood up and stepped forward to gently take Jennifer's hands. "Friends for now? Until you finish walking your current path, then we see about a road together?" I smiled and held the woman's hands gently, ready to let her pull away if she desired.
"It's not like anyone else is in the wings waiting for me, well no one human anyway," My thoughts drifted between a myriad of animal lovers, knowing while many of them would fill my needs, none of them could truly be my life mate.
Jenny was quiet a long while. Thinking. Finally she said, "I'm only here now because Sarah needed specialized medical care. When she's well enough, I'll go back home." She hesitated a moment. "I don't want to say no, but I don't have the best track record in maintaining friendships. I spend all my time with patients or in the lab, I never call, I never write. But... I can add you to the list of people that I feel bad about not calling and writing."
I sighed at the put off, hiding my sadness behind the a fake smile. "You get points for originality I'll give you that." I paused at Jenny's choice of words about Sarah.
"Specialized medical care? None of her injuries aside from the Delta Flu seemed all that specialized, outside of normal people kind of injuries I mean." My personal heartaches and loneliness were momentarily forgotten at the rising concern for my old friend.
Jenny nodded. "I can't really talk about a lot of this. Sarah's my friend, but she's also my patient, and there's doctor/patient confidentiality to worry about. But..." Jenny was quiet for a moment. "Look... most of what's wrong with Sarah right now is in her head. Her father's death... she isn't just grieving for him. She blames herself. He died saving her life."
"Really? What happened?" I sat back down on the edge of the bed my mind shifting gears to become more quizzical and less emotional, the thoughts of romance and blood being buried for now, demons I knew would resurface soon.
But for now my friend was more important. Even if my own life was a mess, I could help fix Sarah's or at least try.
"There's more to it, Jenny interjected, "She feels it's her fault she needed saving. And she... hasn't been taking care of herself since." Jenny paused at the question. "Someone thought if they could force Sarah to re-express, they could use her power. They managed to grab her. They tortured her to get her to express, but pain and fear for herself was never her trigger. Then her dad came for her. When it was clear they wouldn't be able to use Sarah, they--" She broke off with a trail of emotion, more than just related a story second hand.
"They cut her throat and ran. Sarah's dad... He was Delta too. He healed her. But he'd been hurt getting to her. Badly hurt. Healing her took too much, and he died."
I felt a coil of rage unfurl itself inside me, my shape beginning to blur as the emotion took hold. "Sarah gets captured and no one thinks to ask for my help?"
"There was no time. They had to act fast."
answered me too quickly, I could tell I hadn't even warranted a passing thought in
their minds. Then again I wasn't exactly easy to reach most days. I nodded, but
my eyes kept a icy hardness to them, "Things happen fast, I learned that
"There's more..." Jenny voice held a tone of one who had secrets they needed to tell, but couldn't.
I paused and leaned forward. "Go on."
"Like I said, I can't tell you about Sarah. I'm her doctor. So I can't tell you about any medical issue she might have or have had. But I can tell you about my own."
I tilted my head, trying to find the connection between Sarah's problems and Jenny's
"Okay..." I let the sentence hang not sure where it was leading.
Jenny closed her eyes. "This might sound crazy. But last March I was infected with a colony of nano machines which forced me to do terrible things. They found a way to stop the machines, but not before I did a lot of things. I've blamed myself ever since, because I feel like I should have been able to fight them."
"Nano machines? Seriously?" I arced an eye brow, recalling a brief future science episode on concepts of using them for surgery at some point in the far future.
"How could you have possibly fought against nano machines? It's like fighting cancer with harsh language and willpower."
Jenny* shook her head. "That's a whole other argument. The point is... I just told you about me and MY experience. I didn't tell you anything about Sarah."
I nodded again filling in the blanks readily "I can read between the lines, Sarah got infected too, it's why her quantum powers went away when they did. Maybe they laid dormant in her, maybe they suppressed her delta factor until something happened to wake them up."
"Well, I know MY nanomachines were introduced last
August, when I was in
"I see." I replied carefully, suddenly the room felt smaller, more claustrophobic, the scent of Jenny threatening to send my mind down other paths, the reminder of her rejection giving me a new, simpler solution to things.. "I should go, really." I said softly, placing a hand on the door nob and giving her a sad smile. "Farewell."
"Remember, count the living." She reminded me a final time as I closed the door softly.
"Counting myself among the dead sounds like a better path." I said quietly to the closed door, turning to head back to the hospital, to say final goodbyes to my friends.