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[personal profile] keaalu posting in [community profile] memento_mori_11
     It took Blink and Halli three days of solid graft to finally get their cobbled-together wind turbine working properly and generating enough electricity to run the pump and hallway lights. Three whole days of hard work that left Blink with shredded fingertips and a layer of ground-in dirt that felt like it went all the way down to her bones – and took about as long to scrub off – but somehow achieved the impossible. For those three days, Blink managed to almost completely forget about the doom hanging like an anvil over her head, and the unexploded bomb in her blood.

     The pair got a little cheer when the water pump ran for the first time in months – a cheer that made Blink go scarlet and hide her face, but for the rest of the evening left her with a sort of proud, elated glow at finally making herself useful.

     Satisfied, but filthy and totally exhausted, Blink curled up where she fell, not only too tired to eat the supper Aron had prepared, but too tired even to make it to her own bedroom. She now lay sleeping quietly on one of the threadbare old sofas opposite the cooking pit, leaving Rae to boggle at how she’d ever managed to get comfortable enough to do so on cushions that seemed to be more spring than padding, when he returned from helping with the evening clean-up.

     On a rickety old wicker stool on the opposite side of the fire, Odati sat and watched the young woman sleep, a thoughtful frown creasing her brow. Rae watched her unfold a scrap of paper, and tip a carefully-measured portion of tea – looked like that painkiller she made of ground-up bark, for her rheumatism – into a mug of steaming water, clanking her spoon in the cup for so long it became obvious how distracted she was.

     It left him a little concerned about what might be preying on the vulline’s mind. “Hey,” he whispered, trying to keep from disturbing his sleeping friend.

     Odati glanced up at his approach, grimacing briefly at the taste of her tea. “Hello, Rae.” She smiled and moved her cane off the chair next to her so he could sit. “How are you?”

     “Oh, I’m all right.” Rae plopped down in the seat. “You just looked worried. Is there a problem?”

     “I’m not sure.” Odati tapped her forefingers against her lips. “I don’t think so, but-... well I’m really not sure what to call it. I don’t want to be too hasty.”

     “Oh, god. Is this it?” Supper suddenly felt more like a hot stone, weighing down his stomach. “She’s getting sick?”

     “That’s just it. She should be.” Odati pursed her thin lips and shook her head, spreading her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “She should have got sick days ago – developed cramps, at least, if not started to get belligerent and hallucinate. But she isn’t.” She shot a wary sidelong glance at him. “It’s been several days since she was bitten. You’re sure it was a blight that did it?”

     Rae nodded, trying to work out what the vulline was getting at. “Well, as sure as I can be,” he clarified. “I couldn’t identify the creature, and I can’t think what else would have been so blindly aggressive.” After a fruitless second or two waiting for her to go on, he prompted; “You think I might have been wrong?”

     “I don’t know.” Odati shook her head. “But I’m beginning to wonder if what her friend did to her had some other side-effects,” she mused. “If you can turn a machine into a living being... who is to say you can’t make them immune to a particular disease, too?”

     Rae straightened up. “What?”

     Odati took a long time to compose her thoughts before replying – carefully, slowly, as though still sounding it out to herself, working out if she believed it, even as she said it. “I think... that Blink is immune.”

     “That’s impossible.”

     The two looked around to see Sadie glaring at them from her seat in the shadows, just outside the circle of light from the fire, her eyes glowing with the eerie green of reflected firelight. The tiny candle she used to light her reading seemed to make the shadows around her even deeper.

     “No-one has ever been immune to heff,” the hind reminded, flatly. “Out of literally millions of infections, you guys are living proof there’s only been a handful of very lucky survivors. Don’t you think we’d have had someone with immunity before now, if it were possible?”

     “Under normal circumstances, I’d have agreed with you, but this is far from a normal situation-”

     “Oh come on. A laima catching heff is not unusual-!”

     Odati narrowed her eyes. “Now you’re being intentionally confrontational, Sadie. You know Blink’s situation is more complicated than her just being another laima to catch heff-” She swallowed her rant before she could get too involved in it, then sighed and pinched the brow of her nose. “Does it really sound so unlikely to you? We’ve happily accepted that a machine could be made organic, and yet you refuse to consider the idea that the otherworldly power that managed it is powerful enough to give her immunity into the bargain?”

     “Well, we’re taking that with a great big dollop of faith, too,” Sadie retorted. “The fact she says she was a machine doesn’t mean she’s not just very convincingly deluded.”

     “I used to work with her back in tiao’I, remember?” Rae cut in, quietly. “When she was a machine.”

     Sadie levelled an unimpressed glare at him. “Yeah, and you’ve got a crush on her so bad, you’d support any lame-ass story she cranked out if it improved your chances of getting into her pants.”

     Hurt, Rae pursed his lips and hunched his shoulders. “She’s not attracted to males, if you forgot,” he muttered, adding something sulky under his breath about it being a drunken mistake anyway, but didn’t overtly challenge Sadie any further.

     Odati put up her hands, hoping for quiet. “Irrespective of whether we believe the rest of her story, and yes, I accept that it’s... a little outlandish,” she pointed out, softly. “Just look at the timeline. She was bitten eight, nine days ago. If this was a normal infection, she would be well into the incubation period, but she hasn’t even started developing the first signs of sickness.” She gestured at the sleeping fessine. “She’s literally a picture of health! Even if you don’t want to believe the rest of her story, you can’t argue with the facts sleeping right there in front of us.”

     The two women matched glares, for a few moments, and Sadie at last backed down. She closed her book with a quiet snap and blew out her candle. “Well, I sure hope you got it right, Odati,” she said, standing. “Because if you tell her and you’re wrong? You’re gonna completely destroy her.”

     “You are sure about this, right?” Rae chased, uneasily, giving Odati a pleading look the instant Sadie had disappeared indoors. “Maybe-... maybe we shouldn’t tell her, just in case... Not just yet, any way. I don’t want to hurt her any more-”

     “Rae-... I do strongly believe in what I’m saying,” Odati repeated, more definitely. “I can’t think of any other possible explanation. For someone with such a bad wound from a blight, to not develop symptoms after all this time is unheard of – even if she was going to develop the placid form of heff, and even for a laima.” She rested a gnarled old hand on his knee. “I know we have no way to prove it, yet, but I really think we should tell her. It would be unkinder to keep this from her, to force her to spend even longer sitting wondering what is going to happen, and when she’s going to get sick.”

     “But what if you are wrong, and we get her hopes up for nothing? I didn’t tell her about the significance of the bite, straight away, and finding out from a magazine almost completely crushed her. I’m surprised she still trusts me!”

     “Rae.” She took one of his hands in both of hers, and squeezed his fingers. “Trust me. I’ve seen too many people get sick and die, and I know what to expect. I know it seems impossible, but I do have confidence that this is the only possible answer.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “I think deep down, you believe me, too. It makes too much sense for there to be any other solution.”

     “Blink did tell me Frond said she did it to save her life,” Rae confirmed, reluctantly. “It sounded ridiculous at the time, because it put her more at risk of dying than she was as a machine, but… it does almost make sense, now.”

     “We’ll have to make sure we take very good care of her,” Odati emphasised. “Her immunity makes her incredibly valuable. She could be exactly the key we need to crack the cure.”

     Rae sighed, and scuffed at the dirt with his claws. “Some good that’s going to be, if we can’t get a message offworld,” he groused.

     “Oh, I have every faith that people will come back here, even if it takes some time. We just need to make sure Blink is kept safe until then. After all, a blight doesn’t have to infect you to kill you,” she reminded. “And to lose someone so very special would be a tragedy.”

     Rae pursed his lips and nodded, but inwardly doubted how well it would go down. Even if her every need was going to be attended, Blink was not the sort to sit patiently in a padded room, safe and secure, until some mysterious time as her unique gift could be put to use. Sitting being waited on hand and foot was not her way of doing things – she needed to be out, up and active, fixing things, being useful.

     “I’ll explain things to her,” the spur offered, keeping his concerns to himself. “She’ll probably need carrying indoors anyway.”

     “Of course.” Odati nodded, and squeezed his shoulder. “Just make sure you’re not out too late, dear. The fact we haven’t had a blight over the fence since Sarmis redesigned it doesn’t mean we never will.”

     Rae dropped into a crouch next to her chair, and for a few seconds watched the slow rise and fall of her small chest. They’d stayed apart, the last few days, trying to give each other a little space, and he’d missed having her company. It felt good to see her looking so placid, so relaxed. Her face had slackened in sleep, but the smallest trace of a satisfied smile still clung around her features; he couldn’t help smiling too, before reaching out and giving her shoulder a little shake.

     The smile vanished as she stirred. She grunted quietly and put up her arms, in a warding-off gesture, flailing a tired hand in an ineffective attempt to push him away. “...g’roff,” she slurred, barely awake. “...try’na sleep...”

     “Bee? You need to wake up,” he chased, gently. “You need to hear what Odati said. She says you’re not going to get sick.”

     She blinked drowsily up at him just the once before closing her eyes and trying to hide her head under her arms. “...m’really sorry Rae, but I think you’re a dream, so I’m gonna go back to sleep.”

     He gave her another little nudge, trying to keep her attention until she’d woken up properly. “This is important, Blink-!”

     “...’nless I’m on fire, it can’t be that important you have to hassle me right now,” she protested, her voice thick and drowsy, squinting up at him. “I’m really tired, Rae.” She rolled onto her front and hunched a shoulder, defensively, keeping her arm in front of her face; her intense blue eyes glittered hotly from under her arm. “Can’t it wait until morning.”

     It was a fair point – couldn’t it just wait until she’d had a good night’s sleep? Poor thing was exhausted, barely able to stay awake, let alone keep her head up off the sofa.

     No, he finally decided, because both Odati and Sadie knew the old vulline’s theory, and he didn’t want Blink to end up finding out after everyone else in the Library did – much as he wanted to trust the other two women, he imagined this would be far too exciting news for either to keep quiet about. So not only would finding it out from someone else be a nasty shock, because he had no doubt she’d suddenly get accosted by everyone asking questions, when she finally got up, it also wasn’t fair for her to be the last to know!

     “You’re immune.” He held her blearily hostile stare, seriously. “You were bitten, but you’re not going to get sick, because Frond made you immune to the disease.”

     For a few disbelieving seconds, she just stared at him, lips open. Then she sat up – bolt upright – as though waking from a nightmare. “What?”

     “You haven’t got sick yet because your body has already fought off the virus. You’re immune. You won’t –can’t – ever catch the fever.”

     Blink shook her head, having difficulty processing it. “You’re not just saying that?” she challenged, in a voice barely more than a whisper. “To teach me a lesson, for rejecting you?”

     “Aw, Bee.” He took her hands into his own. “I know I messed up, and I could never say sorry enough to hope to fix it, but do you really think I’d be so cruel as to do that to you?”

     She dropped her gaze, and shook her head.

     “I promise, I’m not making it up. I was just discussing it with Odati, while you were asleep. She says it’s the only explanation for your continued good health, and I agree with her.” He settled on the chair next to her. “Frond must have known about the disease, and fixed your immune system so it wasn’t a threat to you, any more.”

     “Are you sure?” Her features had paled so much, it made her eyes almost luminous. Her ears had flattened right down against her head, shocked. “I-I mean... how is it possible, I-… I thought no-one was ever immune-”

     Rae chuckled tiredly to himself. “We all have our priorities so messed up, lately. Frond turns you laima, something maybe as complex as changing your structure right down to the atomic level, and we accept it without batting an eyelash. Someone says they think she’s made you immune, too, and we want irrefutable proof before we’ll even consider it.” He enveloped her in a spontaneous hug. “I’m just glad you’re gonna be all right.”

     For a second or two, Blink remained frozen – a startled statue in his arms. Rae was just getting concerned that he’d gone and spooked her again when at last she relaxed, letting her arms drift stiffly up around him and resting her chin against his shoulder. She sat trembling silently for a very long time.

     “She-… she said she had to change me to fit the world,” Blink mumbled, faintly. “I just assumed she was confused, putting me at risk of the disease instead of at risk of stasis, but she must have known.”

     “It wouldn’t surprise me,” Rae agreed. “Last time I met her, she was pretty cryptic. She probably didn’t know how to make a straightforward explanation.”

     Blink let her arms drop, bonelessly, and sat forwards on her own. She rubbed one eye with the heel of her hand. “…my brain hurts.”

     “After all that? I’m not surprised.” Try as he might, the spur couldn’t even begin to imagine what thoughts must be whirling through his friend’s head, right now. In a period spanning less than 10 days, she’d experienced more trauma than he had in his whole lifetime. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her sway, precariously, forcing him to jump to catch her before she toppled off the chair. “You look like you need your bed,” he pointed out, carefully propping her up.

     “I’m all right,” she protested, but the effect was ruined when she punctuated it with a yawn so wide and so deep, it looked like her jaw was on the point of breaking. “All right. Maybe.”

     “After three days of non-stop hard work? Definitely, I’d say.” He scooped her up off the chair, and carried her carefully across the overgrown square, to the Library steps. She felt like a rag-doll in his arms, all her muscles gone slack and tired, and almost as light. “You’ve definitely earned your keep this week, huh.”

     She chuckled, feebly. Without lifting her head off his chest, she drowsily pointed out; “You can put me down now, Rae.”

     “I know I can, but maybe I don’t want to. Besides, you won’t make it to your room, if I put you down, will you?” He backed into the Library’s front door and scooted it open with his hip. “You’ll just find a corner to crawl into to sleep, and complain about being stiff all tomorrow.”

     The little lights in the dark hallways proved that the wind generator was working very well; what had been pitch-dark corridors yesterday were all now lit with delicate accumulations of little bulbs, just strong enough to see by – mostly dainty strings of low-energy LED fairy lights, salvaged from shop somewhere, in shades of white and blue and pink.

     Rae smiled at them as he made his way up the stairs and along the corridor to the ‘apartments’. Not only did they remind him of the decorations his mother had put up around the family home when he was little, back on Tejiva, they also proved an important point; See, I told you there was still a smart brain in that little head.

     Blink’s apartment was almost as far away as possible while remaining on the same floor, the last room but one, right up the far end of the corridor and close to the big decorative hallway window that looked out over what had once been a garden; his own room was on the next floor up. He set her down on the mattress and covered her carefully with her blanket. “You sleep well, now, you hear?”

     “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get to sleep at all,” she confessed, snuggling down into her covers. “I’m struggling to know what to make of it all.”

     “So don’t try and make anything of it, just yet.” He smiled. “Sleep now, and think about it in the morning. You look knackered, hon, I bet you’re snoring before I even get back out into the corridor.”

     “Would you... maybe... stay a little while, with me?” she wondered, faintly. Although it was too dark to see if she was blushing, her voice sounded like it was trying to hide down in her chest, and Rae guessed she probably had gone pink again.

     “Sure,” Rae agreed, affably, lowering himself to the thin carpet next to the head of the bed. “You wanna talk about anything?”

     “Not-... I just... I’m sorry I bit your ear,” she whispered, faintly. Her lips were close enough that he could feel the air move as she spoke. “You, um. Alarmed me. A little.”

     “You didn’t hurt me. I promise.” He dabbed his fingers against her nose, and felt her nudge it into his hand. “And I’m sorry I said nasty things to you,” he replied, quietly. “I know I said I was drunk, but... I guess I was frustrated, too. You worry me, Honeybee, and I couldn’t work out how to get you to see it the same way I did.”

     “You don’t need to be worried about me-…” she protested, very quietly.

     “Except I am, Bee,” he interrupted. “I know you don’t like to make a fuss about things, and you don’t think it’s important enough to bother other people about it, but people do care.” He glanced sideways, to meet her gaze. “Why do you think I was so keen to get you talking to Sunbeam again?”

     “Skydash,” Blink corrected, softly, but didn’t seem inclined to interrupt otherwise.

     “It’s not because I wanted to watch you suffer, or rub your nose in it when you lost your nerve,” Rae went on. “I was getting worried about you. You were self-destructing, slowly, on your own – I kinda hoped that once you’d talked to your friend, you might feel better about yourself, maybe even think about going home.” He snorted. “Just wasn’t expecting that Larissa woman to come along and scupper things.”

     He felt her nod, where her head rested against his hand.

     “You need someone, Bee,” he emphasised, glancing sideways to see the dim gleam of the hallway light reflected in her eyes. “Being alone isn’t what your brain was designed for. You need someone to look after, and be looked after by.” He sighed, and let his gaze drop to his knees. “I kinda stupidly thought I could be the one to do it. I guess being drunk made me think I stood a chance, haha.”

     Her little hand crept out from under the covers, and he felt her fingers squeeze his shoulder. “...thank you for caring about me, Rae.”

     “You’re my friend, Honbee. Of course I care about you.” He leaned as close as he dared, bumping noses. “And I’m gonna find some way to get you to see you’re stronger than you think you are if it kills me.”

* * * * *

     In spite of her exhaustion, Blink slept very poorly. Dreams plagued her sleep; dreams about finally going home, but taking heff with her, and accidentally spreading it – first to her world, and then, worst of all, to her family.

     The Library main door banged softly, rousing her from the nightmare of seeing everyone she loved crumbling slowly away before her, literally disintegrating into rust in her hands. After several bewildered seconds, sitting fruitlessly scouring the gloom for what had woken her and wondering where everyone had gone, reality sank back in.

     Blink allowed herself to flop back against her mattress, panting, unsure if she was relieved to be out of the nightmare, when waking dropped her straight back into another. It felt horribly disconcerting, the way she could feel her pump pounding in her chassis, and her whole body felt twitchy, as though full of too much energy. Was this what they called fight or flight? It was horrible, whatever it was.

     Wait. The Library door? Who in their right mind was going out at this time of the morning? Or more importantly, who was breaking in? Blink rolled onto her front and crawled to her window, to peer out into the gloom, but the dark was impenetrable. The sullen rind of moon hung so low to the horizon that the shadows extending away from it were more like glimpses into the Pit, and only the thinnest seam of dawn lit the horizon, the smear of such dim orange proving it’d be hours yet before the sun finally rose.

     Not fully understanding the hollow sensation of alarm building in her stomach, Blink crept to her door, and surreptitiously slid the bolt across. She curled back up under her blankets, but couldn’t quite shake the crawling sense of unease that seemed to have flooded her veins. Even as her consciousness began to float away once more, she was still holding her breath, straining her ears for the slightest of sounds... but was so close to sleep that the low, animal snuffle of heavy breathing along the bottom of her door, and the soft rattle of her doorhandle, blended away into her dreams.

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