Excerpt #2 from Twin-Bred
ELIZABETH CADELL liked to knit. Her daughter Mara, age four, liked to draw. So they sat together at the kitchen table, Elizabeth knitting a sweater for Mara, Mara holding a Child’s First Tablet. A warm breeze came through the open window. Seeds floated past under a pale green sky, seeds resembling those of the dandelions that no one on Tofarn had ever seen.
Elizabeth counted her stitches, then glanced up at Mara. Mara wasn’t looking at her tablet. Her eyes were closed, her lips moving slightly.
“Mara? . . Mara!”
Mara jumped. She looked wary for a moment, then donned the innocent gaze of untroubled childhood. “Yes, Mommy? I was drawing.”
Elizabeth looked Mara in the eye and waited. Mara visibly weighed her chances of outlasting her mother, and surrendered. She laid the tablet carefully on the table. “Well, I wasn’t drawing just at that moment. I was — well, I was —”
“You were pretending again. About Levi. Pretending to talk to him.”
Mara wriggled in her chair. “It doesn’t feel like other pretending. Not exactly.”
Elizabeth put down her knitting and clasped her hands together. “If something isn’t real, it’s pretend. Is Levi still alive? Do you really have a twin?”
Mara looked away. Quite abruptly, she started to cry, to sob. Elizabeth jumped up and lifted Mara from her chair, carried her to the window seat, held her and cuddled her. She kissed the dark head. “Mara, sweetheart. Let’s look out at what’s real. Look, darling. See the river. See all the little creeks coming from the river. Count them with me.”
Mara sniffed and swallowed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “One. Two. Three. Four.” She pointed. “See, Mommy? The tree-seeds are blowing. They’re blowing across the river. And some of them are landing on the river.”
“Yes, honey. They’re going on a journey, down the river. If — if you want to pretend something, why don’t you pretend you’re following the seeds, to see where they go.”
Mara sniffed again and nodded. She leaned against her mother and gazed out the window. Whatever she was thinking she kept to herself.
The tall thin figures passed by in a long thin line. Most were carrying large cases with sturdy handles, using their two lower hands, leaving the upper hands free. Some held their cases in their right set of hands, leaving the left arms free to carry small children.
The crowd of humans stood and watched. A few of them, those who had spent more time with their alien neighbors, might have noticed that the characteristic odor of charred toast had been largely replaced by a smell closer to rotting fruit.
A high-pitched young voice rose above the buzz of muttered conversation. “Where are they going? Why are the Tofa leaving town?” The child’s father, holding the child on his shoulders, did not answer.
Mara stood a bit apart from the other teenagers. She made one quick sketch after another on her tablet as the Tofa filed past. One of the Tofa children turned and looked at her. She stared back, mesmerized by the alien eyes, with their swirls of white and brown and green.
“What’s your answer, Mara? Why are they leaving?”
Mara no longer needed to close her eyes or move her lips. “I don’t know, Levi. Things just kept going wrong. We don’t understand them, and who knows what they understand? I guess they thought it would be simpler, living away from us.”
“Simpler. But less interesting. For us at least. This town is going to be serene, and peaceful, and dull.”
The front end of the column of Tofa, now distant, was a blur of light brown against the muted yellow and beige of the landscape. For a moment, Mara thought she saw that one of the distant figures had five arms instead of four.
“Someday, Levi, we’ll go away to school, and we’ll live where there are Tofa again. In Varley, or Campbell City, or somewhere. And we’ll learn about them. We’ll find a way to learn more than anyone ever has.”
“You’ll have to do the learning, Mara mia. But I’ll listen in. I’ll keep you on your toes.”
The Tofa were gone. The crowd dispersed. Mara walked home, imagining her future.
“Sir? Sir, we have a problem.”
The mayor of Varley looked up from his monitor. “A problem with whom, or with what?”
His assistant considered whether to offer an opinion on whether the Tofa were Who or What, and decided against it. “It’s another complaint from the Tofa, sir. They say that humans are shaking hands.”
“People are trying to shake hands with Tofa? Which hand, I wonder.”
“No, sir. With each other. The Tofa are upset that humans are shaking hands with each other in public. Quite upset.”
“How can you tell? Oh, I know, they vibrate, or smell different, or something. If a job dealing with Tofa has done anything for me, it’s made me appreciate faces, proper ones that tell you what’s behind them. . . .”
The Campbell City police chief slammed her hand against the file cabinet. “We had an agreement! After last time, we talked to them, and we worked this out! They knew when we were holding our elections, and they knew where people would be gathering and when. We even told people not to wear blue this time! Damned if I know why, but no blue, whether your candidate wants you to or not. So why the hell are they blocking the streets?!!”The deputy showed little emotion. He had already taken a tranquilizer. “We’ve tried to reach our Tofa counterparts, if that’s what they are. And all our snitches, plus the nearest Tofa equivalent. Nobody can explain it — at least, nobody that’ll talk to us can explain it, and whoever might be able to, won’t talk to us.”
The chief reached for a medicine patch — not, the deputy noticed with alarm, a tranquilizer, but an energy and reflex enhancer. “That is IT. We are through tiptoeing around those damned troublemakers. Get every uniform here in fifteen minutes. We are going to clear the streets, and we are going to have our elections, and we are going to do it any way we have to.”
The deputy’s phone buzzed. He answered it and listened, first confused and then relieved. “Chief, we’ve just heard from the local Tofa spokesman. They’ll be gone in two hours. No explanation, but — we can keep the polls open a little longer. We don’t want our people getting hurt, if we can just wait it out.”
The chief hesitated, then balled the patch up in her fist and tossed it across the room. “No, we don’t want our people hurt. I wouldn’t give one good goddamn whether we hurt some of them. Sooner or later, we’ll have to, and I won’t lose any sleep. And I won’t need any of your tranquilizers.”
Twin-Bred Playlist Promotion
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