Chapter 26: Blood
Rush hour traffic slowed their progress towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
Luther churned away at the idea that Deena was infested with these nanobots. Intellectually, the idea was fascinating. In his gut, he was skeptical.
“Have you seen the healing happen?”
“You can see it. Here, take a look at my hand. No scar or nothing.”
“No, I mean have you watched the skin close up, before your eyes.”
Deena shivered, “I wouldn’t want to. I’m squeamish.”
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “I wish I could do an experiment.”
“What kind of an experiment?” Deena didn’t like the sound of his voice.
“Well, so much of this is too hard to believe. I’d really like to see it happen, right before my eyes. Then I’d believe.”
She laughed, clear and musically. “A month or so ago, our preacher talked about the people wanting a sign from Jesus. He was healing people right and left, and they couldn’t believe unless he did a specific miracle, just for them. Then they would believe, so they said.
“You’re just like them. I’m a walking miracle, but unless you can see just this one thing, you can’t believe.”
He cringed at her assessment of him, but she was right. The isotopes, the trances, the red skin when she was hot—all of those could be an elaborate scam. Listening to radio in her head, the healing, that was just hearsay.
In his heart, he didn’t believe she was capable of trying to fool him, but he had been fooled so completely by his father. I don’t trust my heart. I have to use my eyes.
“Well, are you going to pull a Jesus on me?”
Deena flushed and looked away. After a minute, she asked.
“What would this experiment be?”
“I would make a very small cut on your arm, very small, it wouldn’t hurt much at all. Then the nanobots would close up the wound and we could see what they do, and how fast.”
She winced. “I don’t like sharp things.”
“So you refuse?”
Deena crossed her arms. “I’m getting really tired of being a test subject, but okay, I’ll do it.”
Luther found the first exit and pulled off into a parking lot. He reached down under the seat.
“What are you doing?”
He pulled out a white plastic box. “First aid kit.”
Inside, among the bandages and ointments was a razor blade. She pulled away.
He explained. “It’s very sharp. A cut with a sharp blade doesn’t tear, and it doesn’t hurt as much.”
She couldn’t look away from the blade. She was frightened.
He didn’t try to rush her. “Look. I’ll do it on me first.” Carefully, he found a spot on his forearm far from any major blood vessels. With a quick slice, he made a one-inch long mark on his skin. Blood started oozing up. Hurriedly, he set the blade down and reached for an alcohol-soaked pad.
“Here, let me do that.” She took his wrist in one hand and cleaned the wound.
“How does it feel?” she asked.
“It stings a little, especially from the alcohol. Maybe a little, very little, ache.”
She applied ointment and chose a bandage strip that would match the size of the cut.
“There, you’re done.”
He flexed his arm. “Fine. No pain at all.”
The smile had come back to her face.
“Are you ready for your turn?”
“Oh, I guess. But sterilize the blade first.”
“Of course.” He unwrapped another of the alcohol pads and wiped down the razor blade.
“Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, sterilizing the pin before they swore their blood oath.”
He remembered the scene from the old book. “AIDS sort of put a damper on blood-brotherhood, didn’t it.”
“Things change.” She took a deep breath and held out her arm.
He gently held it and ran his finger over the skin to find the right place to make the cut. He could feel every shiver as she fought to pull her arm back.
Picking up the blade, he said, “You can close your eyes if you want.” She shook her head and stared in tight-lipped horror at the blade in his hand.
Swish. He moved the razor, but something was wrong.
Deena said, “You missed.”
“No, I didn’t.” He ran his finger over her skin at the place where the blade had stopped. There was no cut.
Cautiously, he moved the blade again, slowly. The sharp corner touched her skin, but would not go in. He pushed a little harder. It was like trying to cut a sheet of glass.
He dropped the blade and felt the spot with his index finger. Massaging the skin, he could feel a hard plate, just at the skin level. She was armored!
Otherwise, the skin was perfectly normal, soft and warm. As he probed, the hard plate shrank away, leaving no sign that there had ever been anything wrong.
Deena was looking into his eyes, trying to read what he was thinking. He held her arm, as soft and warm, as normal a girl’s arm as there ever was.
“It didn’t hurt,” she whispered.
He just held her arm, and stared at her face.
“You’re right. Your hair is growing longer.”
She blushed, and then gently removed her arm from his hand.
They followed the traffic onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Deena looked out his window and then hers, trying to take in as much of the white stone city and the blue bay as she could.
“That’s Alcatraz Island over there,” he pointed out his window.
“I wish we had time to see the sights. Mom and I never went anywhere, at least the past few years.”
“Maybe we’ll come back some time.” He said, before he recalled his intention to part company with her once they made their ‘rescue attempt’ in Malibu.
Every mile we go is more dangerous for her. I wish I could talk her out of it.
He automatically followed the Highway 101 signs. Probably IH-5 would get him to Malibu quicker, but he didn’t want to dig out his maps, not in this traffic.
What he wanted to do was to talk about her nanobots. But she had withdrawn and didn’t seem to want to talk at all.
Did she see what I did? The tough skin didn’t seem to surprise her any.
Deena watched the city roll by slowly. After a few miles of watching the bay, she raised her head. Pointing off to the west, she said, “Go that way.”
By that time, the 101 had turned back into a limited access highway. Luther noted the IH-280 exit and moved to the correct lane.
With every evidence of anticipation all over her face, she watched the road signs. “That way.” She pointed. South on IH-280.
She’ll explain it soon enough. Or else he would start pestering her about it. San Francisco wasn’t one of the places he knew by heart. She said she hadn’t gone anywhere, but maybe she knew of a place from TV or the Internet.
He hurried to shift lanes as she directed them to Highway 1, and then 35. There was a bank of fog rolling in from the ocean. He caught a whiff of cool salt air through the vent. From sunlight to shade happened quickly.
The road quickly curved over to follow a long straight lake. It was deeply blue with high hills on both sides.
Deena pointed to a gateway in the fence. “Stop here.”
He pulled off the shoulder. She was out and through the gateway before he could ask what she meant.
There was a sign. “SECURE YOUR VEHICLE AND LOCK ALL YOUR VALUABLES IN YOUR TRUNK. SAN BRUNO PD.”
He looked around. His valuables were already in the trunk, but he put a few things out of sight and locked the doors.
An elderly man with a dog was coming out of the gate.
“What’s this place?” Luther asked.
“San Andreas Lake, and the hiking trail.”
“You mean like the fault line?”
“Yeah. The fault formed this place.”
Luther was intrigued. He had heard about the San Andreas fault all his life. So, this was it, or part of it. He was willing to take a closer look.
The sun was setting, off to the west, but there was still plenty of light. He looked down the trail.
“Deena?” She was nowhere to be seen.
She stood at the gates of the Dark Castle. Black lightning struck all around her. In her hand, she held a steel gray broadsword longer than she was tall.
The Voice cried out, and although it wasn’t for her ears to hear, or her mind to comprehend, she knew what she had to do.
The ground beneath her shivered with each step, and she knew that this was no ordinary rock which formed the foundations of the Dark Castle.
It was a sleeping dragon.
Taking the broadsword in both hands, she stabbed it deeply into the dragon’s heart.
Deena was down the water’s edge. Luther called to her, but she didn’t react.
Oh, no. She’s off in a trance again. He hurriedly followed her path.
She faced the water and raised her arms.
Luther saw it happen. For an instant, it was incomprehensible. Dark patches forming all over her skin.
Then they started dripping off of her.
No! She’s bleeding to death!
He exploded into a run and closed the gap between them.
It’s not blood. In the fading light of the day, the thick substance had looked like blood, but closer, he could see it was gray.
She swayed, and then collapsed. He rushed to grab her, fearful of touching the nanobot goo.
But the droplets ran quickly to the ground and vanished into the soil. Not a hint of their passage was left.
Deena blinked her eyes. “Luther?”
He eased her gently to the ground. Her head lolled to the side.
“Oh, Luther, I’m so tired!”
“Just take a moment. It’s okay. Just rest.”
She closed her eyes, and then opened them again with a horrified expression on her face.
“Oh Luther! The voices are gone. The radio voices in my head! I can’t hear them anymore.”
At first, he thought she was choking, but the sound coming from her throat was a wail of despair.
She reached for him, and collapsed tearfully into his arms.