Nightmare - A Novel Part 32

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Mother Ara closed her eyes. Her body flickered like a hologram with a virus. Kendi dropped beside her again and held the arm in place. Tears ran down his face but he forced his voice to remain steady.

"I call upon the blood of my ancestors," he said. "Heal this woman who is my teacher and restore her to health!" Mother Ara was wounded wounded, but he wanted her to be healed healed. She would be healed now now.

Nothing happened. Mother Ara's body flickered again, stabilized, faltered. A tear fell from Kendi's eye and dropped through her to land on the sandy Outback soil. Then she vanished.

A low sound escaped Kendi's throat, but before he could react further, the earth rippled and Mother Ara reappeared with a splash of Dream energy. Her face was pale, but her arm was firmly back in place. She sat up and looked down at herself as if surprised. Kendi stared.

"It worked," he said. "All life, it worked." With a wild whoop he flung his arms around her. Mother Ara winced.



"Careful," she said. "The arm, the arm."

Kendi released her. "Sorry. You're all right then?"

"A little sore, but otherwise fine." Mother Ara flexed her arm in wonder. "Thank you, Kendi."

"You're welcome, Mother," he said.

No further words were needed. Both gathered their concentration and vanished from the Dream.

Kendi opened his eyes onto darkness. Night insects chirped and a cool breeze washed over him. He wasn't standing up-he was lying crumpled in a heap on a hard surface. Cautiously he sat up. What the h.e.l.l? Where was his spear? How had he-?

Frantic footsteps barreled around the corner. Startled, Kendi leaped to his feet, then staggered dizzily under a sudden headache. Too many Dream drugs in one day. A strong, solid arm went around his shoulders and steadied him.

"Are you okay?" Ben asked. "Is Mom okay?"

"She's all right," Kendi said muzzily. "Where the h.e.l.l am I?"

"Let's get home," Ben said. His arm still lay warm across Kendi's shoulder, and Kendi found it comforting. "I'll explain, and then you can tell your side. Are you sure you're all right?" His voice thickened. "I was ...I was worried."

Kendi looked at him. His eyes had adjusted well enough to see Ben's face, but he couldn't read his expression. "I'm fine, Ben. I'm fine with everything. I really, really am."

And then Ben was kissing him.

EPILOGUE.

Sometimes you need to talk about what happened with someone who's been there too.

-Irfan Qasad

Kendi and Ben waited at the edge of the landing field as Mother Ara and Inspector Tan disembarked from the s.h.i.+p. Ben's hand lay tentatively in Kendi's, as if he might s.n.a.t.c.h it away at any moment. Kendi didn't push the matter, letting Ben set the pace, though he did give Ben's hand a rea.s.suring squeeze. Ben flashed a brief smile at him, and Kendi was sure his heart would dissolve into a helpless mess and puddle up somewhere around his feet.

The landing field of the s.p.a.ceport was surrounded by an almost invisible fence of wire polymer to keep the dinosaurs out. Talltrees loomed beyond it, high as skysc.r.a.pers. It felt strange to look at them from the vantage point of the ground. Humans, Ched-Balaar, and other aliens moved about the airfield and the port building, creating a strange mixture of voices, clattering teeth, and other noises. Mother Ara's left arm was in a sling, and Kendi caught the metallic gleam of a heal splint beneath the cloth. It surprised him how glad he was to see her again. The final confrontation with Cole/Jeren had only taken place three days ago, but it felt like a month had pa.s.sed. Ara looked a little pale, but her step was firm. Inspector Tan came beside her, crisp and pressed as always. As they drew closer, Ben's hand quivered slightly in Kendi's, but he didn't let go. It occurred to Kendi that in some ways facing a murderer in the Dream was easier. At least you knew what the killer was going to do.

Mother Ara caught sight of them and her step quickened with a smile. When she was only a few steps away, she noticed that her student was holding hands with her son. She halted, looking confused. Kendi's heart skipped, and Ben's fair complexion went a shade paler. Then she burst out laughing and, stepping between them, put an arm around Ben's shoulder.

"That explains a few things," she said, and kissed him on the cheek. Tan watched impa.s.sively.

"Mom," Ben protested. "We're in public."

"You can hold his hand but you can't kiss your mother," Mother Ara observed with a shake of her head. "What did I do to deserve a teenage boy?" Then she sighed. "I want to get home. We'll have a home-cooked meal from Maureen's and exchange stories. Inspector Tan is paying."

"Oh?" Tan raised an eyebrow.

"The Guardians owe me that much," Mother Ara said firmly.

"She's been saying that all the way here," Tan groused to Kendi. " 'Get me something to drink, the Guardians owe me that much.' 'I get the bigger sleeping room, the Guardians owe me that much.' "

"And don't forget my exorbitant consulting fee," Mother Ara added as they walked into the s.p.a.ceport building and headed for customs. "I'm thinking it's time for some serious house redecoration."

Some time later, they were all sitting around the dining room table. Tan had begged off after paying for the food, claiming she wanted to get a head start on writing reports. Mother Ara, meanwhile, refused to let anyone talk about Jeren/Cole or Dorna during the meal, citing a desire to eat, not throw up. Eventually, the table held nothing but dirty plates and empty take-out packets.

"Excellent," Mother Ara sighed, brus.h.i.+ng a stray crumb from her sling. "Just like Mom used to buy."

Kendi looked at her, chin in his hand. "You're certainly in a good mood."

"It's something to do between nightmares," Mother Ara said frankly.

"Kendi told me what Jeren did to your arm and all the ...all the rest of it," Ben said. "Scary, huh?"

Mother Ara nodded. "I haven't gone into the Dream since then. Not even once. It'll take me a while, I think, but I'll manage eventually."

"Ben's a hero, did you know that?" Kendi said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I didn't even know until I got out of the Dream. He was pretty amazing."

Ben blushed and stared down at the table.

"Oh? What happened?" Mother Ara demanded.

Kendi explained, exaggerating only a little. Ben's flush deepened until his face matched his hair. Mother Ara looked at him.

"So you saved my life, did you?" She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Impulsively, Kendi did the same thing. Ben jumped, then looked like he wanted nothing more than to slide under the table and disappear.

"No fair," he muttered. "Caught between my mom and my ...my ..."

"Boyfriend," Kendi said. "The word you're looking for is 'boyfriend.' " He shot Mother Ara a look. "So you're okay with this? With Ben and me, I mean?"

"I'm glad Ben's found someone," she said, "and I'm not going to ask the various questions that spring to mind, since I don't think I want to hear the answers. But I'm warning you, Kendi-you hurt my son and I'll remove your lungs with a pair of chopsticks."

"Mom," Ben protested, and Kendi laughed.

"Deal," he said.

"All right, then." Mother Ara pushed herself back from the table and fixed Kendi with a look he couldn't read. "Kendi, I wanted to ask how you've been lately."

"How do you mean?" he asked.

"Have you been sleeping all right?"

Ben opened his mouth to answer, but Kendi kicked him under the table and he clamped his mouth shut, though concern flashed in his blue eyes.

"I've been having a few nightmares of my own," Kendi admitted. "It's been ...rough. I know what you're going to say," he hastened to add before she could speak. "You want me to talk to someone."

"Kendi, you can't expect to-"

"I was going to say I think you're right," Kendi interrupted. "It's too much s.h.i.+t to deal with on my own. Too much. And I don't ...I don't ..." He trailed off. Ben's hand stole into his, and Kendi squeezed it.

"You don't what?" Mother Ara asked quietly.

"I don't want to end up like Jeren," he whispered.

"I don't think you would, Kendi," Mother Ara said. "No matter what happened to you. But for now-I know just the person for you to talk to. His name is Brother Kwan, and I think you'll like him. How about I give him a call first thing in the morning?"

As Kendi nodded, a knock came at the door. Mother Ara rose and admitted Inspector Tan. She carried a computer pad. After greetings and an offer of dessert-refused-Tan sat at the table with them and opened up a holographic screen display.

"Thought you might want a report on Jeren or Cole or whatever the h.e.l.l his name is," she rasped. "He's still in the hospital. You clocked him a good one, Ben. He's lucky to be alive."

"I didn't want to kill him," Ben said. He paused. "Well, maybe a little."

"He was a monster," Tan said. "Whether he was made that way or born into it, I don't know and don't care. In any case, he'll be spending the rest of his life in the high-security psych unit at the med center. To tell you the truth, though, I don't think he's much danger to anyone."

"How so?" Mother Ara asked.

"He's not Silent," Tan replied. "At least, not anymore."

All three of them stared at her. Finally Kendi said, "What?"

"Absolutely true," Tan said. "He's awake and aware of his surroundings. He's articulate and intelligent. His head wound has healed nicely, thank you. But he claims he can't feel the Dream at all. Not even catch a whisper."

"Like he's never lied before," Kendi said.

"When I touched him, no jolt," Tan said. "Not even a tingle. We had a whole bunch of Silent come in to touch him-human, Ched-Balaar, other aliens. No one felt a thing. We don't know if he's lost his Silence because Ben scrambled his brains or if it's because he's doing it to himself-won't let himself enter the Dream because of what happened there. Genetically he's Silent, but in practice, he isn't."

"How's he taking it?" Mother Ara asked.

Tan gave a wolfish grin. "Not well. He screams a lot. They had to put him in a sound-proof room so he won't disturb the other patients."

Kendi s.h.i.+fted uncomfortably. He didn't know how to react to this news. Jeren had killed a lot of people, had tried to kill Mother Ara-not to mention Kendi himself. But after walking the Dream, Kendi couldn't think of a worse punishment than no longer being able to visit it again, and he had only found the Dream a few weeks ago. Jeren had been actively Silent for years and years. Kendi shuddered. If Jeren hadn't died, this was certainly the next best thing. He decided to change the subject.

"There were tons of people at Dorna's funeral," he said. "Word got around pretty quick who she was and what she'd been doing. It was gross. A lot of them just wanted to get a look at her. We didn't stay long."

"I don't know how to feel about her," Ben said. "I mean, the stuff she must have gone through to become what she was-I can't imagine it. But she helped Jeren kill all those women. Anytime she wanted, she could have told someone and saved a whole bunch of lives."

"Jeren had her on a pretty short leash," Tan said. "A Guardian team did find her hiding place in the forest. She had a miniature cryo-chamber, one just big enough to preserve a human finger. It had Vera Cheel's pinky in it."

"She saved us at the end," Kendi said. "She came in and stopped Jeren from killing us long enough for Ben to get to him."

"But the only reason she did it was because I was out of her reach," Mother Ara reminded him. "If I had been on Bellerophon, she would never have done a thing."

"She did warn us at the party," Kendi said. "Or Violet did, though I suppose it's all pretty much the same thing."

"Oh yes," Mother Ara said, putting her good elbow on the table and leaning forward with a glint in her eye. "I almost forgot. Do tell me about this party."

And Kendi reached for Ben's hand again.

Nightmare - A Novel Part 32

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Nightmare - A Novel Part 32 summary

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