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Authors: Brian Herbert,Marie Landis

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure

Memorymakers (3 page)

BOOK: Memorymakers
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“Going to the pool party tonight?” the man shouted. “It’s a bring-your-own-bottle thing. Lots of goodies gonna be there, food and you-know-what.”

“Maybe I will,” answered Squick, though he entertained doubts about fraternizing too closely with Gweens, particularly this one. Since childhood Squick had made many Gween friends, but on his own terms. That had been particularly easy to do in his former residence, a duplex shared with an elderly lady. Now he lived in a complex that overflowed with amenities and Gweens. Gweens who wanted him to swim in the pool, dance in the dance room, exercise in the health room, play cards or billiards in the entertainment room. He’d only lived here a few weeks and so far had managed to maintain his privacy. Obviously that wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later he was going to have to socialize with the other tenants. Tonight was probably as good a time as ever. He groaned and punched the button for the elevator that would take him to his floor.

A pretty Gweenwoman stood inside, one who lived in his section of the complex. He’d noticed her long legs the day he’d moved in. Now he paid closer attention to the rest of her anatomy. Squick smiled, this time with sincerity. There was something exciting about Gweenwomen. Forbidden fruit, taboo stuff. He licked his lips nervously. You didn’t marry a Gween, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t appreciate one. This one exuded the right pheromones, as the scientists put it, the proper chemistry to stimulate a response in the opposite sex—Gween or Ch’Var. “Hello there,” he said. “Have you heard about the pool party tonight?”

“I’ve baked a cake for it,” she answered in a little-girl voice and looked up at him with large, blue eyes. For a moment Squick saw in her features the race of the child he’d just dumped in an empty field. A small depression settled over him like a cloud, and he decided to skip the party. Anyway, tomorrow was going to be a long day, another extraction to make. Maybe more than one. This risk-taking was beginning to drain him. What if Gween authorities finally caught up with him?

Shittah loomed.

Chapter 3

A Ch’Var cannot reveal the secrets of his race. If he attempts to speak them, his throat constricts and parches dry and hot so that he is unable to utter a sound. If he attempts to write a secret, his arms and hands cease functioning entirely. And when he falls asleep the next time, as he must, a form of shittah is set in motion. Secrets have never been lost.

—From a story told to Ch’Var children

In an elegant house near the condominium complex where Squick lived, sunlight hit Emily Harvey’s green glass desk lamp and threw a shadow against the wall. Above the shadow, ghostly, smokelike shapes from the interaction of sunrays with bulb and glass heat waves curled upward, as if the lamp were afire. Such fine and delicate creatures those undulating nether forms seemed to be, Emily thought, as if they had secret energies of their own.

It was the third day of Emily’s Easter vacation, a time for relaxation and thought gathering. But only for a few minutes. Part of her attention waited for the shrill cry from her stepmother that would call her to the kitchen for chores.

The doorbell rang, and Emily found herself at the front door gazing up at a pleasant-faced man in a gray and black tweed jacket. He held a briefcase in one hand and a peculiarly carved wooden pipe in the other. He tucked the pipe into a pocket.

His eyes glittered with excitement—they were dark, almost red. “Good afternoon, young lady. I have a gift for your family . . . free. No obligation to buy anything. Is your mother home?”

“I’ll get. . . her,” Emily said, thinking how false the word
mother
sounded.

She went to the kitchen, where her stepmother, Victoria, busily slammed unwashed dishes into a pile. The family had a live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Belfer, who didn’t cook and refused to do much of anything in the kitchen. Emily had once estimated that Mrs. Belfer slept at least fourteen hours a day. Several times Emily had seen the housekeeper enter by the back door, paper bag in hand, a bottle of brandy or wine protruding from the top. Mrs. Belfer, a plump woman with fat cheeks, tiny hands and feet, and a great thirst, frequently poured herself drinks from the family liquor cabinet, though Emily had never heard her stepmother complain about this habit.

“Start filling the dishwasher,” Victoria said the moment she saw Emily.

“A man to see you,” Emily announced, her tone guarded. “Says he has a free gift for us.” Long ago the girl had decided that no matter what she said to Victoria it would be wrong. It always was.

Victoria Harvey, a tall, well-developed brunette, held her body in the manner of a modeling-school graduate, at an angle with chin and hips thrust forward. Across one shoulder she wore a long, multicolored scarf which she pulled at nervously. Victoria’s eyes were lavender, and she had perfect teeth behind perfect lips that smiled the perfect smile at everyone but Emily.

The perfect lips parted. “Couldn’t you have said I wasn’t in? I wish you’d use your head, if that’s possible. You know I’m on my way to a fashion show. Free gift? I’ll bet. Another salesman. I’ve told you a dozen times, I can’t be bothered with them.”

Emily looked away, and her stepmother brushed past.

The stranger must have possessed charms beyond those of the average solicitor, because moments later Emily saw him seated on the living room couch with Victoria, engaged in lively discussion. Behind them a three-dimensional aquarium video showed tropical fish swimming silently through an underwater garden, and to one side a fireplace video crackled.

Victoria ‘s stuff,
Emily thought.
Artificial, like her.

Emily had once dreamed that Victoria replaced her with a videotape, one that said, “Yes, Victoria. Yes, Victoria,” over and over again.

When they were younger, Emily and her brother, Thomas, had often eavesdropped from the hallway. Crouched behind a railing that separated the hall from the living room, they had watched their parents entertain guests—discussions of divorces, new cars, failed love affairs, marriages, stock options and land values, all stirred in a pudding of intriguing sound, with new words that had to be looked up. Today Emily could not resist the temptation to eavesdrop again, though it troubled her conscience just a little. What fascinated Victoria so much about this particular salesman, enough to make her late for the fashion show? It was almost a sacrilege for Victoria.

A large potted philodendron on the living room side of the railing partially concealed Emily from view. It was from this spot that she crouched and watched.

The man in the tweed coat smiled at Victoria. “Thanks for giving me the opportunity to make my presentation, Mrs. Harvey.”

“Call me Victoria.”

“Such a lovely name. And I’m Malcolm Squick of the Smith Corporation—catchy, isn’t it? Squick of Smith. Our computer profile shows you have a birthday boy here, and we’d like to cater his party gratis. That means—”

“I know what it means!”

They exchanged smiles, and he glanced at an index card in his hand. ‘Thomas Harvey lives here, doesn’t he?”

“How did you get his name?” Victoria asked. “Our phone’s unlisted.”

“Perfectly legitimate. There are lists for everything and everyone these days. You’d be surprised.”

Mildly annoyed tone: “Still, it does seem . . .”

The salesman’s smile broadened and seemed to disarm Victoria. She paused in mid-sentence and said, “You’ll cater at no charge? Did Thomas win a contest?”

“It’s the way we advertise our catering business-random selection of people, free services to a few.”

Victoria placed a manicured finger against her lower lip. “Is it word-of-mouth advertising? We’re supposed to tell our friends about you?”

“Exactly. Your son is quite fortunate.”

Victoria smiled her perfect smile. “As you can see, I’m too young to have an almost eleven-year-old child. Thomas is my husband’s son, not mine. And the older girl is his, too. I don’t allow them to call me mother. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

I’d never call you mother anyway,
Emily thought.

Squick leaned toward Victoria. “To tell you the truth,” he chuckled, “I thought the girl at the door was your younger sister.”

Emily shook her head and grimaced.

Victoria caressed her hair with a well-manicured hand. To Emily she looked like a department store mannequin—and so did he. They appeared to pause in mid-sentence, mouths frozen open, with eyes that held no light. The vision frightened her.

Emily glanced away, and when she looked back, the mannequins had come back to life. “I see that Thomas’s birthday is the Friday after next,” Squick said.

“We plan to have the party on Saturday.”

“That can be arranged, Victoria.”

Squick’s tone seemed insincere to Emily, and that crisp, toothy smile so similar to Victoria’s. On the surface he looked distinguished and friendly, but there were nervous little twitches around the edges of the mouth and a hard stare to the dark, luminous eyes. Freezing coldness there that bothered Emily, the way they moved around and seemed to take everything in . . . the way they flitted toward the general area in which Emily concealed herself, as if he knew she was there.

She could almost hear those eyes, if such a thing were possible, grating in their sockets. Of course, she could never voice this thought, especially to Victoria. It would only provide the woman with another excuse to pounce and accuse Emily of having a sick, overactive imagination. And that tale would be carried to Emily’s father, adding to it other stories of Emily’s “mental problems,” stories that forced Emily to see a therapist every other Thursday afternoon. Victoria had set that up rather neatly.

“What will you provide?” Victoria asked Squick.

“Everything. You needn’t worry about a thing.”

She’ll love that,
Emily thought, for their live-in housekeeper wouldn’t be of much help. Mrs. Belfer hated parties about as much as she hated cooking. What an odd housekeeper, with less chores to do than Emily or Thomas. How could that be? Victoria never raised her voice to Mrs. Belfer, either, and it all added up to a puzzle that simmered inside Emily’s mind.

Why had her father married Victoria? Couldn’t he see beyond surface beauty to the evil beneath, to the plotting, vicious ways, to the lies and outright distortions? Apparently he could not. As Emily thought of this, she amused herself by envisioning Victoria fat, pimply and in a straitjacket. Fabulous, exquisite Victoria with monster zits glutting her face, zits that drove her insane. The picture made Emily feel better, though it changed nothing.

She stared for a moment at the wall nearest her and projected her own full-color image upon its surface. Though she crouched in the hallway, her image stood erect, a short, slim girl with only a few body curves, straight brown hair, a somewhat narrow face and oversized green eyes. The image was a recurrent trick of her mind that she didn’t understand. She tried not to discuss it with anyone except her brother, who told her it must be a matter of physics. At an early age she had discovered that other people did not possess the same ability and could not see their own reflections on walls or sidewalks or sides of buildings. And since no one could see hers, it sounded crazy to mention it. Just as it was crazy to think she’d turned Victoria into a mannequin a few minutes earlier, or inundated her with pimples.

Despite her imaginings Emily felt like an adult caught in a child’s body, a circumstance that made her essentially voiceless, unheeded in a world run by adults. She believed Victoria’s inane chatter was listened to merely because of packaging.

In Emily’s opinion the woman—she preferred to call Victoria “the woman”—spent a lot of time worrying about her appearance and nitpicking Emily and Thomas about every article of clothing they wore. As if that were the most important consideration in the world. And those little French words that Victoria scattered about like alms for the poor . . .

Emily felt anger building inside her. Something buzzed near her ear, and she swatted without seeing at what. The buzzing continued unabated.

Squick rose to his feet. “Good to talk with you, Victoria. Sorry to rush away, but I’ve a full schedule, lots of orders to fill.” His voice lowered, to a weaving of silk: “I’ll be in touch with you soon.” He leaned toward Victoria, then straightened suddenly and walked to the door. “I’ll see myself out.”

Afterward, as Victoria returned to the kitchen, she hummed to herself. “Mmmm, isn’t that nice. Now I don’t have to worry about the arrangements.”

Emily turned in the opposite direction, mimicking her stepmother under her breath. “Mmmm, isn’t that nice—”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice you hiding in the hallway eavesdropping, Little Miss Crazy Brat!” Victoria called out in a ringing tone from the kitchen.

Emily wanted to scream back but held her temper and shut the door.

You’re my bete noire,
Emily thought, recalling a phrase from Victoria’s French-English dictionary. She chastised herself for the thought and searched for an English alternative.
Bugbear, hate object, black beast. I like black beast. It has a riper, juicier sound. It rolls around on my tongue.

Something clattered in the kitchen, an angry noise.

Birthdays were always hard on Emily. The birth mother of the Harvey children had died in an accident on Emily’s fifth birthday. Emily wished she could enjoy birthdays the way other children did, but her therapist said it would take time, that one day she would no longer associate the day with death and it would come to signify life. It didn’t seem possible.

The children were a comfort for each other. Through some magic that they generated between themselves, they obtained information neither of the adults in their lives would give them. The children often played a game they called Seek, an unusual playing activity that Thomas, a child prodigy, had invented when he was only two. It was a game the children felt might have disturbed adults, so they never discussed it in front of them.

During the game Emily would sit quietly on the floor of her bedroom with the door shut, while Thomas sat in a similar position inside his own room. Each would write a question to the other on a sheet of paper. And, without speaking, each would answer the question asked by the other.

Initially their questions had been simple. Emily might write, “What animal has stripes?” And Thomas, who could read and write at a fifth-grade level then, would scribble, “Zebra.” The accuracy of their answers did not astound either child. Not then. It was, after all, only a game.

When their mother died, however, they searched their minds for the answers their father refused to give. That was when they played a new variation of Seek, one that frightened them into discontinuing the game. In their separate rooms each child asked what had happened to their mother, and then waited for an answer.

A few minutes later they compared notes. Both pieces of paper held the same statement, in the identical handwriting: “Mother died in a car crash at the intersection of 10th and Pine.”

“She’s not coming back,” said Thomas, and he began to cry.

“I don’t want to play the game anymore,” Emily said. She placed her arms around her brother.

Three years later came the wedding between her father and Victoria, another dreaded day in Emily’s life.

Emily envied her brother’s carefree manner of looking at life, and sometimes she resented the good things that fell into his lap. Why hadn’t the caterer discussed Emily’s birthday? She would be fourteen in a month. Almost a woman.

That evening, Emily lay in bed and thought about the visitor to her house, particularly about the way his eyes, luminous and strange, grated in their sockets. Real or imagined? She couldn’t tell.

In the quiet of night she heard another sound, a faint buzzing similar to the insect noise shed heard earlier while eavesdropping from the hallway. Now the buzzing was much weaker, but it remained irritatingly present, as if deep within her ears and intransigent. She felt an eye-stinging, muscle-sapping fatigue, but her mind would not release its hold on her consciousness and permit sleep.

Low light filtered into the room from the edges of the drawn window shade and through her open door. Thomas, in his bedroom across the hall, had begun the familiar, neatly rounded rumbling that tugged him in a somnolent chain deep into his own private dream world. Talking in his sleep, probably. Emily heard only edges of sound, not words.

BOOK: Memorymakers
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