“You don’t have to tell me Carmine.”
He nodded. “I know I don’t but … I think it needs to be said, for both our sakes. So when I say I understand about SEPH and what you went through, you don’t wonder whether I’m being honest or if I’m just blowing smoke.”
I shook my head, “Please don’t take this the wrong way but I’m not too sure you … or any guy for that matter … could understand what I went through.” I didn’t add that Asa probably came a lot closer than he could. It wouldn’t have served any purpose except to start something that didn’t need starting.
“Just … just hear me out.” I didn’t object when he pulled me into his lap. First off it was warmer and I liked it. Second off I also liked that Carmine seemed to take some comfort from holding onto me like a dolly though I never told him that. “You ever heard of a trophy wife?”
Casually I answered, “I’ve read what they are … and I understand the concept.” Boy did I understand the concept considering what SEPH had had planned for me.
“Well that’s what my first wife was to me.” When he felt me stiffen he quickly added, “Not the whole fertility thing, that came later. She was a more traditional trophy wife. By marrying her I felt I had somehow overcome my upbringing and ‘made it’ in the world. I wasn’t ashamed, not really, but I was tired of the poor-boy-on-the-block life I’d lived since leaving home. Her dad wasn’t just a doctor, he was a civilian scientist contracted with the government at the CDC. He hated me on sight and I really didn’t get what that meant. My mother in law liked me and I thought that was all that really mattered … basically my ‘culture’ was showing. If my mother in law liked me and her daughter accepted my proposal I thought that was all that I needed.” He snorted. “Hard to believe I was ever that young isn’t it?”
I looked at him and then said quietly, “No. Not really. You came from a loving family even if it was from a poor and not necessarily conventional one. Let me guess, you thought there would be time to bring your father in law around.”
He chuffed ruefully. “You could say that. Or you could say that we were just too young and dumb to be allowed out without keepers. I was in the military and assigned to a patrol around the CDC grounds. The terrorists had tried too many times to break in. Gill was a captain to my private but wasn’t near the stuck up snob that a lot of the officers who came from families with money were. He tried to help me interface with my father in law but it never worked; never would have worked though I didn’t want to see it at the time. My wife was too immature and the constant tug of war had her running back and forth; she’d run to daddy when it got tough at our place with money or the arguing then she’d run to me when she wanted out from under daddy’s thumb. My mother in law and Gill kept me from going off half-cocked at the old … at my father in law or I probably would have been confined to quarters or been booted out of the service.”
He turned his head this way and that trying to work the tension out when I got the idea to move around behind him and massage his neck and shoulders. He liked that and slowly relaxed and started to tell the story again.
“I was so involved in my own problems that I really didn’t take in what was going on around me. There was a huge disconnect between the military and the people we were protecting. They all treated us like scummer on their Italian leather shoes but I only saw that my father in law was that way. Wifey and I had problems to the point we weren’t … well, we weren’t being intimate. She had been gone a couple of months and I was finally pulling myself together when she turns up on my doorstep in the middle of the night. She’s crying and all that she’s pregnant and I have to help her because she’s scared of her father.”
From the look on my face he guessed what I was thinking. “Yeah, that’s the first thing that I thought too only her old man was a jackass but he wasn’t an incestuous one. You ever heard the name Patrick Kilbrian?”
I stilled, completely in shock. “Yeah. He’s the Father of Modern Eugenics, the movement that created SEPH.”
“He was also my father in law.”
He leaned back more than he had to, trying to feel how I was reacting to the information since he couldn’t see my face. I tried to relax but it was very hard; my thoughts were in a complete whirlwind. I thought if I kept massaging him I might hurt him so I tried to hide it by just draping myself over his back limply.
“It’s OK Gurl. If you can’t stand …”
“No!” I gasped surprised at what he was picking up from me and what his brain was turning it into. “Just … just give me time to take it in. I know enough to know that you aren’t like that … him … any of them.” After a moment I quietly told him, “I saw him once. He … he came to observe the group I was in. They made a huge deal of his visit and what it meant. Lucky us. I found out later that if he hadn’t had the stroke and died that day I would have been culled from the test group I was in; he didn’t like me very much apparently.” I didn’t mention it was because I had thrown a lamp hard enough that it cracked the plexiglass right in front of where he had been standing, causing him to openly show fear. I was still three-quarters feral at the time and it wasn’t one of my smartest moves.
Concerned Carmine asked, “Why would he have observed the group you were in?”
Shrugging, trying to conceal things a bit longer I told him, “Who knows? I’m sure his motives were as pure as his heart.”
Carmine looked at me a moment and then his lips twitched. “You couldn’t have loaded that with more sarcasm if you had tried.”
I shrugged again, like it didn’t matter. “A little dab will do ya.”
Caught off guard Carmine barked a surprised laugh. He pulled me back into his arms and grinned. “You are something else. I couldn’t have wished for anything better than you in my life.”
He meant it and I was touched, deeply touched. I hugged him back. “Dr. Kilbrian was a toad among men. You are nothing like him. If that’s what you were worried about me thinking …”
He sighed, “I wish that was it then I could call this done and over with. The truth is Gurl that you have no idea just how … how twisted Kilbrian and his associates were … are … I don’t know nothing about the crop that came after him but nobody can be as warped as he was. My wife hadn’t had an affair, not even an incestuous one; her father had been responsible for her being pregnant though. She was one of his … get this … he called them his First Mothers. It had already been found that the Outbreak virus was leaving people infertile. Only those of us that had been found to be immune were even allowed on the grounds of the labs.”
Something he said caught my attention. “Wait¸ you’re … you’re immune? You’ve had the virus?”
He sighed, “Yes I’m immune but not because I’ve ever had the virus. They were using the military as test monkeys for the vaccines they were trying to develop. None of them worked well enough to put into production but some of us did gain immunity from them. I was immune based on one of the first vaccines; Gill caught a mild case of the virus from a vaccine he was given – without his permission – but is infertile because of it.”
He completely blew through the explanation and I knew I would need to ask him to explain further but he needed to finish his story. “When our guys found out what the scientists were doing there was a revolt. DC turned on the Pentagon … on us … and we became Enemies of the State. My mother in law actually died trying to help us escape, all she asked was that I take my wife with me where ever we were going. I tried … I … I was too late. Some tests run by her doctors revealed that the baby’s genetic structure was somehow not quite perfect enough for Kilbrian and he had ordered my wife to have a … a term … termination so that they could start again. Because of course it couldn’t be his precious daughter’s eggs that were at fault, not since she was carrying his genes.”
Trying to clarify what he’d just said, “He’d … he’d turned his own daughter into an Incubator? And because … you mean … he forced an abortion on her?”
He sighed, “Yeah. But something went wrong. They never think it’s going to happen, that just because it is a ‘routine outpatient procedure’ that anything can go wrong. But it does, and it did. I found out she bled out so fast that not even the top surgeons of the group could save her. Kilbrian was already warped but the only way he could live with the guilt was to become completely cracked. Tissue – people – with what he considered bad genes were worse than a disease to humanity. They needed to be completely eradicated so nothing like what had happened to his daughter could ever happen again.”
Carmine closed his eyes and sighed. The pain, even after all the years, was still a powerful thing to see. “I didn’t love her anymore, never really had. I’d only loved the idea of her and it was the same for her where I was concerned. To me she was the princess that would make me a prince and to her I was the freedom she was looking for to escape being a princess. We’d gotten that far with coming to terms with it before her father had found her and taken her back to the institute. But I … I still felt enough that … that to have that happen to her … and not be able to stop it …” He scrubbed his eyes. “Gill and some of the other people in our unit had drawn up a plan to bring the whole institute down. I was a mess but decided with nothing left to lose that I was in too. And we did … bring down the institute I mean … and then we scattered. The Outbreak had gotten way out of control as the second wave hit. There wasn’t anyone to chase us all down even had the government wanted to. I thought that was the end of it until a few years later when the Harvesters and their like started showing up. Maybe if we’d done a better job … maybe if I had killed Kilbrian like I wanted to … you would never have had to suffer what you did.”
Of all the things he’d said the last sentence is what shocked me the most. “Don’t,” I told him vehemently. “Don’t you dare ever … ever … blame yourself for what SEPH has done to people. Kilbrian was just one man. He had colleagues. Do you really think that it could have gone as far as it has without the willing participation of so many people? Hundreds, thousands … for all I know millions of people.”
He shook his head in denial, “Not millions.”
“Yes, millions Carmine. Look at me. I’m a product of … of people simply turning a blind eye. Choosing not to do something is still a choice. People so concerned with their own miseries that they were either too numb or too needy to even consider what SEPH is doing to people to supposedly fix what the Outbreak virus wrought for the human species.”
“You don’t consider it a punishment from God? This Some One you talk about with such reverence? A lot of people do.”
Shrugging I said, “I don’t know … maybe. Or maybe He let it occur, let man suffer the consequences of our own arrogance. I’ve heard that the Outbreak virus wasn’t naturally occurring, that it had help becoming what it was. Are we supposed to sit around and blame the Creator for not saving us from ourselves? Sometimes I wondered why He didn’t let me die with my parents … until I figured out that I kept asking the wrong questions.”
“Yeah. I kept want to know why? Why this and why that? What right did He have to do to me what had been done? Then I realized, if He is indeed God … the Creator … it didn’t matter. He made me, He could unmake me if he wanted to and since He hadn’t unmade me by letting me die then there was something left He wanted from me. Even if all He wants is for me to struggle to survive day in and day out, to strive to be stronger because I struggle, then so be it. The rest I’ll figure out as I go along but I’m done asking the questions that I never really get the answer to I want. If you’re willing to kick back and let the Creator of All be what He is … some church people that used to come down and try to help the street rats used to call Him the Great I Am, the Alpha and the Omega … then you’re less likely to get in His way when He does help you and more likely to see it when it happens.”
“Like your clumsy elk.”
“Yeah, and all the other things that there really isn’t a good explanation for the timing of why it happened. Like you of all people showing up right when I was about to tumble down into a well and likely drown. Like the cat not escaping from the river while I did. Like Asa and Rosie being there so I wouldn’t cut my ear off trying to get the chip out of me … Asa who just happens to be a genius techie mechie and who just happens to be tenderhearted enough - or crazy enough - that he would help a SEPH escapee when everyone knows the price you pay for that kind of interference with the state. If I’ve learned nothing else it is that timing is everything. Timing is what got me captured by SEPH in the first place.”
Carmine swallowed and took his courage in hand. “Yeah, about that …”
I sighed, “You really want me to share don’t you?”
A little hurt he said, “Not if it’s going to upset you.”
I leaned into his embrace to let him know I wasn’t being nasty on purpose. “Of course it is going to upset me Carmine. But it’s more than that. To understand how I feel about SEPH and my time there you’ll have to know about the rest of my life. I feel … naked … and … and vulnerable … and not in a good way … to have you know about how things were … and are … in my head.”
Enlightenment dawned. “You think by knowing about your life before I came into it that somehow that will mess up what we have now.”
He shook his head. “Wrong. Absolutely not gonna happen.” I gave him a look that told him to be realistic. “I’m not saying that it might not reveal a few things but I’d rather know so I can avoid making mistakes that might drive you away.”
I closed my eyes for a moment before telling him, “You are way more complicated and deep than I thought you’d be. Why aren’t you just a mangy ol’ cowboy like you try and pretend being.”
He gave me a goofy grin, “Ah ha … you just found out my secret power. I disarm people with stupidity and …”
I elbowed him and he stopped abruptly with a kind of woofing noise as the air left him. “The last thing you are Carmine is stupid so stop playing at it with me.”
He rubbed the spot my elbow had connected with and admitted, “OK, I was laying it on a little thick. I just want you to not be so … so scared of what I might think or say or do. If you can accept me for my connection to Kilbrian, don’t you think I can accept you for being a victim of him?”
“I’m not a victim of your father in law. I told you I only glimpsed him the once … that was definitely enough for him however.” I tried to hide the wicked grin the memory brought but he saw it.
Cautiously he asked, “Why do I have a feeling there is a story there?”