Chapter 7: Communication
Deena retreated to her room. It wouldn’t keep Mom out for long, but she had to have breathing room, if just for a minute.
She changed out of her clammy sweats. Making her way into the shower to get rid of the stink of the day, she slammed the door and the glass in the cabinets rattled.
Why did she have to call everybody? Why did she go to the track meet when I said I didn’t want her there?
In the shower, she could cry and it wouldn’t show.
Mom was stupid. She was invasive. She was callous. Mom would ruin any chance she had of a social life in the blink of an eye, and never even think about what she was doing.
And I messed up. It was a stupid plan. I thought I could get away with it. I didn’t even think about whether it was wrong or not.
Now she had to face Coach Rathborne and all the other mothers Mom had called. Everyone will know.
In her mind’s eye, she re-lived the scene. Mom yelling at her. Luther’s look of pity. Her chance for making some real friends burning up in an instant.
Anyone who knew her mother had the sense to steer clear of Deena. Who would deal with her by choice?
She went to bed early after a long session with her mother. Deena said she was sorry, but Mara didn’t seem to hear that, nor did it sink in when Deena sympathized with her mother’s distress.
When it got to the third or fourth round of “Don’t you realize how I felt...?” Deena claimed a headache and escaped.
She really did have a headache, but exhaustion put her to sleep in minutes.
For a large woman, Mara could move very quietly. She waited outside Deena’s door until she could hear deep sleep breathing, then slipped in.
Normally, she would wait until Deena was at school before searching her things, but tomorrow was Sunday, and she desperately needed to know whether her daughter had drugs.
Lifting slightly to muffle the sliding sound, she began at the top dresser drawer.
Deena woke, feeling horrible. It was dark. She squinted at her clock. 2:30 A.M.
Every muscle in her body ached. Her head ached. Dislodging her cover, she shivered with a chill.
Eyes closed tight, sleep didn’t return. After a timeless bout of shivering and tossing about on her bed to try to find a comfortable position, she looked at the clock again. 3:13
I’ve got a fever. Deena breathed in. No sniffles. No intestinal cramps.
It felt very much like the flu, but without all the symptoms.
She suffered in silence for another hour or so, and then draped in her blanket, she went to the bathroom.
The thermometer read 103. There were a couple of tablets of Tylenol left. She took them and tossed the bottle into the trash.
A search of the datastores had provided valuable details on connecting to the host’s senses. A new caste of sensors was assembled from the designs in the datastores and took up residence in the host’s brain.
While the nanobots couldn’t see in any human sense, they could interpret visual nerve impulses into a model of the space around them. For the first time, the organizers had information about the host’s surroundings.
There were many on-going projects. They were out of pulser range again, but there was now a clearly defined task to increase the number of pulsers. There were several other tasks to create the nanobot castes that would be necessary for the overall project.
The host’s body encompassed a hive of activity.
This activity was generating heat.
Sensors were reporting a number of cellular imbalances due to the shift in the host body’s temperature.
At first, when analysis had determined that the host’s biological thermostat was located in the hypothalamus, they attempted to reset the body’s desired temperature to one more compatible with the nanobot activity level.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work either. The ‘fever’ setting had its own set of side effects. Organizers began the task of researching mammalian heat management in a more comprehensive manner. It might be more expensive in resources, but if that was what it took to keep the host body healthy while supporting the nanobot activity, it would have to be done.
When her fever broke, Deena was finally able to go back to sleep. She woke at dawn, pleased to see that her temperature was back near normal. Telling Mom that she couldn’t go to church because she was sick would not have gone over well.
They had a routine, and Deena would have been surprised if this latest squabble would change that. Mom and she went to church every Sunday.
All of her life was a routine.
Deena didn’t really expect any punishment for her trip. What could her Mom really do? She always marveled at her friend’s horrified reaction to ‘being grounded’. Grounding was only a punishment if you had privileges to lose.
Deena didn’t go anywhere anyway. Other than lunch money at school, she had no cash. The only times she’d thought about getting a job, waiting tables at the coffee shop, Mom had vetoed the idea. School work was more important.
And while there were a few friends like Bryony at school, none were likely to invite her to go shopping or to see a movie.
I have no life.
Mara put the last minute touches on her hair before heading off to church. That was when she noticed the pill bottle in the trash.
I thought we were out of Tylenol. She felt a shiver. On TV, she had seen a show where a boy had hidden his street drugs in normal pill bottles, right in the family medicine cabinet. Had Deena seen that show?
As they went out to the car, Mara looked at her daughter carefully. She looked flushed.
“How are you feeling, Honey?”
Deena shrugged. “Fine.”
The church building was only a few blocks away, but they’d never tried to walk it. It wasn’t their routine. Arriving a few minutes before class, Mara located her regular parking spot.
“Deena!” Kerri Stuart waved at her. Deena walked over.
“The tree!” It seemed that even in other schools, the story of the tree crash was making the rounds.
Deena repeated the story. It was getting old to her, but it was fascinating to see how other people reacted to it.
“Then a few of us went back yesterday to see what the park people had done to it. It was a nice day. I had more time under the trees. It was comforting. It was as if the trees were looking down at me, caring about me. I don’t know what to call it. It was like a religious experience.”
Mara had been listening, catching enough of what Deena was saying to confirm her fears. Deena had been hallucinating in the forest.
She stalked away, hunting for the preacher.
Jeff Speer was talking to the song leader about what was needed in the morning’s service when Mara caught up with him.
“I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
“Of course, Mrs. Brooke. Ken, just make your best guesses. I’ll talk to you later.”
He opened the door to his office and invited her in.
“Jeff, I’m worried. I think Deena has gotten into drugs.” She spilled out a rapid-fire narrative of the last couple of days.
He frowned, not really following her.
“Have you talked to Deena about this?”
Mara shook her head. “She doesn’t listen to me anymore. She just puts on this blank face and nothing goes into her ears.”
Jeff’s fingers tapped the desk. “Deena has always been a help here, especially when she assists with the Junior Service. The younger ones like her a lot. Is this the first evidence you have seen of possible drug use?”
“I just don’t know. I always try to look out for her, but she has been so unhappy lately. I don’t know what more I can do for her. I try to be a good mother.”
“And I’m sure you have. But what you need to do is to keep the lines of communication open with her.
“If she has troubles in school or at home, she needs to know that she can always bring them to you. For a young lady her age, problems can seem impossible barriers. Hope can be very far off.
“She needs good friends, and a mother she can trust.
“Talk to her. And even more important, listen to every word she has to say. Let her know that you are listening and care about her worries.”
“Oh I do! I do!”
Deena noticed the sweet smell of the grape from the communion trays, before the service even started. Scents were strong today, and many of them were making her hungry.
But not all were pleasant. She had taken a shower before coming, but if her own scent was strong enough to smell, what could she do about it now? Her perfume had seemed off, a little old, and she had done without it this morning. She wished she had it now.
But other people were a little strong today, too. Maybe it was just her nose. She hoped so.
She saw her mom talking intently to Mrs. Moser.
Probably talking about me. Mom had a circle of friends that would always tell her to go do what she had already decided. Deena had seen the process before.
If any of her friends questioned Mara’s plans, they were cut off. Deena would hear about the betrayal for weeks afterward. Mom had lost half of her friends that way.
I bet they were relieved to go. I wish I could go.
She chided herself for that errant thought. She could never abandon her mother. They were stuck together like glue, no matter how painful it was.
Sunday after church, routine called for a drive down to Citizen’s Dock and a fish sandwich at their regular restaurant.
To Deena, with her sensitive nose, the place was alive with new, appealing aromas.
“Mom,” she interrupted, right before Mara prepared to order. “Mom, I’d like to try something different.”
“Okay.” She handed over the menu.
Deena sniffed deeply, finally ordering calf’s liver and onions, with a side dish of broccoli. The flavors were strange, and honestly not that appealing, but she quickly consumed every scrap and begged for a dessert—a bowl of fruits and berries.
Mara watched with concern. Her eyes are dilated again. And her skin looked flushed. She took her daughter’s arm.
“You have a fever. Let’s get home.”
Nanobot sensors monitored the host’s body temperature. It was high, but well within functional levels. The influx of needed raw material leached from the most recent meal allowed assembler activity to notch several percent higher.
Proof of the latest advance in host control, scent renormalization let them use the host’s nasal detectors to their fullest. Every scent was weaker the second time—that was the way the host’s brain worked. Otherwise, the brain would be continually swamped with data. It would be overloaded. Important new data would be lost in the old, repetitive experiences.
Renormalization, where smiths invaded the neural axons and removed layers of learned data, returned the senses to their highest pitch. It could be hard on the host, rehabituating to old scents, but it gave nanobot sensors the best chance of detecting the needed raw materials.
This trial was profitable, but it was limited. There were other elements the assemblers needed. Better control techniques would have to be developed, and soon. Orders had to be obeyed.