Chapter 17: Population explosion.
As I was shutting down the laptop Jessie woke and immediately ran to the bathroom. I guess she hadn’t gotten as lucky as I had with the morning sickness thing. I felt bad for her, but in a way I kind of felt bad for me too. I wasn’t going to have much of the maternal experience. I had a feeling that was going to continue even after Hope had made her grand entrance. It could have been my own gut reaction, but I got a definite feeling of apology. It was as if she was apologizing for taking something away from me that I wanted.
I put my hand on my very round belly. And I’m not sure why I needed to say it out loud, but I did. “Hope, sweetheart, there is nothing I would change about who you are. My only regret is that you won’t get to know your daddy. He was an amazing man and so excited for you to come. You’re not taking anything from me, you are giving me so much. You have an important, exciting role in the future, and I am so looking forward to watching you take over the world!” The sense of calm and joy was almost overwhelming.
Jessie returned from the bathroom looking much better. Her smile was one of those that could light up a room and I found it funny that she was so fucking happy to be sick. There was something incredibly odd about that, but still, I got it. This was something she never thought she’d have, and it was going to be an amazing journey for her. Different from mine, but for her, perfect. I hugged her. It was an imperative.
“You ready to do this?” She looked at me like she expected me to bolt.
“Yeah, Jess, I’m ready – and I think it’s going to be amazing. I haven’t told any of the others what we are planning, so be prepared for some surprised faces. But it’s the right thing.” And I knew deep down that it was. I was pretty sure there would be a few that would be pissed we’d kept it from them, but realistically I knew that had been the right thing too. It had been only a couple of weeks, and if things hadn’t gone so well we might have regretted getting everyone’s hopes up.
Frankly, I thought of this as my opportunity to bring something positive to the world prior to unleashing what I was increasingly thinking of as my own personal reign of terror. Not literal, mind you, and focused – very focused, but I planned to wreaking havoc in some very big ways, so before I did that, I would see about improving my little corner of the world.
It was interestingly quiet when we left the hotel room. Only a few people were wandering outside the tent, and they were deeply involved in conversations. Jessie shot a questioning look my way and all I could do was shrug. We discovered the reasons when we entered the tent. There were newspapers strewn throughout the entire interior, and everyone’s faces were buried in the stories I had seen this morning. The chatter was mixed between serious conversations and nervous laughter about some of the absurd assumptions that had been made, both about us and the situation in general.
Eric walked up behind us and stepped between Jessie and I, with an arm around each of our waists. I could tell by looking at his face that he knew exactly what I planned, and by the smirk on his face, it looked like he was OK with it.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Lala? We are likely to have a long list of those wanting a little privacy, so your private room is history.” Looking at Jessie, “both of them.”
“Yeah, we’re sure. It’s time. And honestly, it’s what Shane would have wanted. He always wanted to share it with everyone once it was realistic, and I think that’s now. It’s my way of honoring what he wanted and doing the right thing by our people.” Eric’s eyes widened a little.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you refer to the rest of us that way. I never got the vibe that you considered us really separate from the Normals. I knew you knew the difference, but I don’t think I’d ever heard you voice it that way til now.” I could tell he was thrilled that I was making more of a distinction now. He’d always been at least a little militant in pointing out the way they treated us, but he was right in that I had always held out some sort of hope that there was still some possibility of reconciliation. I knew that after what I had planned, not only would there be no acceptance back into polite society, I was going to be the Che Guevara of our century, both lionized and demonized. I didn’t really give a fat flying fuck what history wrote about me, my goals had nothing to do with that whatsoever, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think I wouldn’t fall somewhere just south of Osama.
I knew by then that the voice of hate was so very much stronger than voice of reason and peace, and that there was nothing we could ever do that would gain us acceptance back into the human race. We’d been exorcised, and it was going to stay that way, no matter what I did. I could certainly have aimed higher. Been the Ghandi or MLK instead, but I knew that our voices simply would never be loud enough. We were 1,000 bodies against the incredible machinations that were world governments. We didn’t even stand 1/100th of a snowball’s chance in hell.
“I know, Eric. I always knew, and I was always clear as to the differences, the separateness. I guess I just held out hope that we could show them who we really were, make our value known and at least be tolerated if not accepted. I know now that there is no way that will ever happen. We are the boogeyman. We are the monster in the closet. Nothing I do can change that ‘out there’, but in here, with these people, I can give them some sort of hope of leaving a legacy and I want to do that. Max said the other day that it was all about Hope and how she was exactly that for a lot of these people, so let’s give them their own.”
I didn’t have to say anything else before Eric was letting out a shrill, eardrum piercing whistle. It had the desired effect as every face in the space, all the way to the other end, lifted and stared straight at us. First at me, then in a moment of realization, at Jessie. There were a lot of raised eyebrows, questioning looks. All expected. There were a few frowns, and WTF faces, also expected.
Eric took over like he was on stage at the Carnegie Hall. He was at home as the center of attention, and I realized that had it not been for Shane, that most of our people would have looked to this man as a leader. And I knew that was a dangerous possibility. He had more than his share of charisma, but lacked the subtleties, the self-control that Shane had. It was one of the reasons I had asked him to work with Max. He would need his stabilizing influence. I would suck at that part, I knew, because frankly, I was just angry enough to let him raise the kind of hell he wanted to. No, I was not the right person to temper his boom and bluster.
As Eric corralled the attention of every person in the tent, which in my estimation was at least 90% of our whole population, I saw Max make his way to my side. Eric’s voice boomed through the tent. “Good morning! I know there has been a lot of speculation about Lala and Hope…” He kept talking but I didn’t hear any of it. My brain had chosen that moment to latch onto his previous sentence. And Max’s previous statement that it was “about Hope”. How did anyone outside our small group know her name? We hadn’t hidden her existence, but I didn’t recall telling anyone her name.
For the first time, I actually heard her voice in my head. Previously we had communicated by feelings, but this, this was loud and clear. “I told them, mommy. It was my voice Max and everybody else heard. I had to. Trust me, it will be OK.” It was a sweet child’s voice, almost a touch of a lisp. My heart melted, and all I could do was smile. I guess I didn’t need to say it out loud after all. “I will always trust you, baby! Love you! See you soon”
It was at that moment that I noticed everyone was staring at me, apparently waiting for me to say something. Since I had tuned out everyone but Hope in the moments previous, I had no idea what Eric had just said, so I winged it.
“OK, sorry. I kinda tuned out. Believe it or not, I was having a very enlightening conversation with my daughter. So I’m going to start from the beginning…” I was happy to see everyone smiling. I won’t bore you with my whole speech, but I filled them in on the basics of how we discovered the process, a little of our experimentation, the differences between what was happening with me and what was happening with Jessie, underscoring that we had no idea at this point which was going to be closer to the norm (though I had a feeling Jessie would set the standard), and that there was no guarantee that it would work for everyone because 2 couples was not really a representative sample, but that if anyone wanted to try, we would help them.
I couldn’t fade right now, and honestly, there was no one I would have been willing to share with any more, but there had been enough others involved in the experiments to demonstrate for those that wanted it. I also told them that even if they didn’t have an interest in the procreation aspect of it, that the methodology felt pretty great all on it’s own. I was pretty certain most everyone would try it at some point, since this was a pretty touchy-feely crowd.
I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of hands go up. It’s funny how there was some level of arrested development with this group – me included, I guess. We still raised our hands like we were in school. But logistically it made things much easier, more orderly. I let Max and Eric and Jess answer most of them. If there was something only I could answer I did, but I admit I wasn’t focused. I found myself thinking about Shane. Missing his presence. I knew this was something he would have wanted to be part of, and I couldn’t stop the tears that were coursing down my face.
I know it was Max that took my hand and led me back to the hotel. The walk is blurred in my mind because it was too clouded with grief to pay much attention to the moment. I felt him pick me up and lay me in the bed as I curled up as tightly as I could, and then I assume he went into the bathroom since he placed a towel in my hands, and crawled in behind me and wrapped me up and let me cry.
I don’t really know how long we lay there like that, but I know that the tears had finally run out, and I felt Max’s weight lift from the bed and return a moment later.
“Lala, you need to drink something. You don’t want to get dehydrated.” I took the glass of water he offered and drank it all. He had drawn the blackout blinds, so I had no idea what time it was. It was all muddled in my head and it could have been 2 am or 2 pm, it didn’t even matter. “Is this the first time you’ve cried?” Which of course started the tears again.
I didn’t answer. There wasn’t a good one, so why bother.
“What time is it?” Always a good diversion. I felt like a 2nd grader. I don’t wanna talk about it and you can’t make me. But it was the only way to get my brain back into focus – to convince my body to function again. Luckily, Max seemed to get it and didn’t push.
“It’s about 4:00 in the afternoon. You were out of it for a while. I checked in with Eric and the progress seems to be going well in the tent.” He smiled, small and wan, but a smile. He just kept talking for a few minutes, mostly about the demonstrations, the numbers of volunteers, which turned out to be more than even he expected, how much fun Jessie was having, how much the twins were actually helping. It was good chatter for me – helped me get my head back together.
By the time I’d managed to get all the gummy mess out of my eyes, washed my face with a cold cloth, and managed to not look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, and even managing a laugh that that had been the image my very strange brain had given me for that moment, I saw Max put out his hand. Which very nearly started the tears again, but I kept it in control, took his hand and followed him outside and into the tent.
What I saw there took my breath away. Hundreds of couples had paired off, some whom I had never even seen together, and were practicing the sharing part of the process. Eric was smiling from ear to ear, Jessie looked pleased, and oddly, the twins looked a little concerned. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the fact that so many people were willing to get involved in a fairly intimate, or at least it had been for me, thing in such a public place.
I smiled at Max, dropped his hand and wandered for a few minutes among the crowd. I felt someone following but just figured it was another protective friend. I discovered I was both right and wrong. It was the twins. I found one hand in each of mine, and my boys flanking me. They each planted a kiss on an opposite cheek, and I marveled, not for the first time, at how I had managed to find such good friends.
“Lala, we need to talk about what’s going on here.” I wasn’t sure which twin spoke, so I lifted the hands and they laughed. The one to my left spoke this time “Josh here, Jeremy there. You know, Lala, most people can tell us apart.” His voice sounded a little hurt, but the grin on his face belied the humor in it. “We are concerned about what Eric’s proposing here.”
“Proposing? I wasn’t aware anyone was proposing anything. My only plan was to offer opportunities, there was no grand scheme. What do you think is going on?” I had to admit, if it involved Eric, there was a chance it wasn’t such a good thing.
“He wants to start a breeding program for all of us. As many pairs as possible, as many times as possible, different abilities, etc. He’s also trying to find out which abilities are most enhanced by the sharing. I don’t know if you noticed, but for a rather arid desert the plant life has increased and perked up quite a bit very near our area. He’s trying to improve the healing abilities, and the push especially. I don’t know what he’s got planned, but you know he could sell sand to camels, so most everyone is going along with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t already have at least a hundred pregnancies, and he’s keeping a list of those whose abilities seem to work well together. I don’t know what he’s up to, but I can’t imagine it’s anything good, it is Eric after all.” The concern on their faces was real, and if what they had just said was true, justified.
Eric had always believed in our superiority, but even he couldn’t possibly believe he could increase our population fast enough to make us a viable threat to really anyone except maybe New Zealand or Antarctica. It would take decades and generations before we could realistically even double our population, and keeping track of all the genetics could be impossible if we weren’t careful. And none of us had any clue what abilities, if any, the children would have, though if Hope was any indication, I was going to guess, lots, and doozies!
“OK, I’ll talk to him. Let him know that he should definitely not be making any large battle plans for the near future. Look, guys. Increasing our population can’t really be a bad thing. We just need to do it for the right reasons. Heck, I guess I’ll talk to everyone. Shit, I hate that. Oh well, can’t be helped I guess. Let’s head back.” I knew what I needed to do – make sure that everyone understood that Eric wasn’t in charge. I’m not sure when I realized for sure that I was planning to take on the leadership role, and I knew I didn’t really want to, but with Shane gone, I had to step and do what he would have wanted, and that would NOT have been letting Eric run amok.
By the time we had made it back to what had become the de-facto speaking area, I sent out a thought to everyone. Those that had been outside wandered in and everyone else stopped what they were doing to look up. It still amazed me that I could do this without anyone figuring it out, then I noticed the twins faces and saw twin smirks and realized I’d been found out. I guess it was to be expected eventually.
Once I had everyone’s attention, I had every intention of speaking, but that didn’t’ happen. My mouth had been hijacked, and I had no idea what was about to come out of it, but Hope had something to say and I guess went with the ‘better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission’ school of thought. I wasn’t too worried, really, she was a smart kid. Yup, I was biased as hell, but I’d also been coopted without much choice in the matter, so even if I didn’t trust her, there was about to be a speech given by me that I had no control over, so I might as well just relax and hope for the best.
I was amazed to hear how loud and clear my voice came out. Way to breathe from the diaphragm, kid. She started by telling everyone how sorry she was for everything that had happened in the last few days. That she knew the loss of the Island was going to be difficult, but that in the end, it was probably the push we needed to stand up for ourselves.
“The Enchanted can do things the Normals can’t. We should be a force for positive change in the world. We may never be able to return to the lives we once had, but we can make new ones. Less selfish ones. We can find a home, exist in peace, perhaps separately, but happily. Vengeance serves no purpose. No matter what anyone says, we cannot start a war, because truthfully, we could not hope to win. I agree that we need to make the most of what we have amongst us, and creating families is an amazing, empowering step, and yes, learning to use our abilities as they are when enhanced can only help us, but remember, we cannot become the monsters they portray us as. To do that would mean they win, and there will be no chance for us as a people. They will wipe us off the planet, plain and simple. Do not doubt for a moment that they can. Our only hope is to make ourselves valuable instead of a threat.”
I knew that part of the statement regarding vengeance was meant for me, and such as it was, I understood it, but there was the knot in my heart that wouldn’t allow me to give up my plans. The possibility of wiping us out was a powerful statement of the obvious that I don’t think anyone had allowed themselves to contemplate before. We could not win. Our abilities were not offensive, in truth they weren’t even really defensive. We were teenagers when the Event took place, and not even the jock type. With the exception of some of the scientists among us we had no training to do anything, really. We probably wouldn’t even survive working at a McDonalds. With the exception of the push, which was not a widely held ability, I don’t think any of the things we could do would be all that beneficial in a business environment. Yes, those with greater healing abilities could probably study medicine to augment their abilities, we could run a farm…that would be about it. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
It’s funny, but I didn’t even listen to the rest of what Hope (I) was saying. The rest didn’t last long, but the idea that formed in my head took root. Once Hope had finished, I was surprised to hear applause and catcalls. Apparently they liked what she had to say. I grabbed Eric’s hand and led him away from the group as Max began working with them. I heard him asking for volunteers to do various things, like create a database of genealogies, track abilities and who worked well together when sharing. It sounded like he had it all under control and was going to get things all sorted out.
I dragged Eric into the hotel room, which luckily was still unoccupied. “Did you see the news coverage of our little information download yesterday?” I knew he had when he smiled that wicked smirk he had.
“I set up a virus in their system this morning. I’m sure there is damage control in spades right now, and I wanted to see what they were saying. Any e-mail they send out will be copied to me. If I find any good ones I will make sure they get to the right people. It’s going to be the proverbial blood bath.” He put his hands behind his head and took a spinning dive onto the bed. I had to give him an 8 for the landing.
“I know what I said in the tents, and I believe that, for them. For you and me it’s different. With your tech skills and my popping and fading abilities, we can do this, but it can’t go any further than us. We can’t endanger those people out there. Especially if we are going to encourage them to start families. I know what you were trying to do, but we can’t do it overtly like that.” The smirk had been replaced by a scowl, which didn’t surprise me at all.
“OK, Lala, we’ll try it your way, but if we don’t make any progress, I’m taking it bigger. You need to know that I don’t answer to you. I am willing to do this on the down-low because I see a potential for significant success with your help, but I’m not doing it out of any loyalty to you, I’m doing it because I think together we can do some damage. If it turns out I’m wrong, I will go solo and no force, Enchanted or otherwise, will stop me as long as I exist.” I admit I was a little caught off guard by his vehemence, but Eric had never been anything less than passionate, so it certainly wasn’t out of character for him.
“Deal. I’m thinking our first target should be the Head of the WSGF. He’s a pencil pushing talking head that decided he had the right to determine life or death for over 1,000 people, and that can’t be allowed to stand. It was his call to use lethal force, and since the actual trigger pullers are long gone, I think that’s where our focus needs to be. And as much damage as we can do to the WSGF in the process, the better. Agreed?” I didn’t think it would take much to convince him, and it didn’t.
“Do you plan to wait til after Hope is born?” It was a legitimate question, and one I expected.
“Yes, but I’m guessing that will be any time now. She’s anxious to make an appearance, and I think we all need ot be prepared for the fact that this isn’t going to take the normal progression. This girl has a mission, and I, for one, do not plan to get between her and whatever she’s up to.” I couldn’t help but smile. It was 100% the truth. I had no idea what would happen once she arrived, but I knew it would not be what anyone expected, least of all me.
I was happy to see Eric smiling as well. “Yeah, I kind of figured that. If she’s going to be anything like her mother she will be kicking ass and taking names before she learns to walk.”
Honestly, I couldn’t argue with him, so I just shrugged. “I’m guessing it will be a day or so, but definitely sooner rather than later. So yeah, I think it would be best to just hang out here, help Max get everything organized. Actually I have what I think is a great idea, but I want to run it by you guys first, so maybe we should find him and talk.