Beggars in Spain
by Nancy Kress
THEY SAT STIFFLY on his antique Eames chairs, two people who didn’t want to be here, or one person who didn’t want to and one who resented the other’s reluctance. Dr. Ong had seen this before. Within two minutes he was sure: the woman was the silently furious resister. She would lose. The man would pay for it later, in little ways, for a long time.
“I presume you’ve performed the necessary credit checks already,” Roger Camden said pleasantly, “so let’s get right on to details, shall we, Doctor?”
“Certainly,” Ong said. “Why don’t we start by your telling me all the genetic modifications you’re interested in for the baby.”
The woman shifted suddenly on her chair. She was in her late twenties — clearly a second wife — but already had a faded look, as if keeping up with Roger Camden was wearing her out. Ong could easily believe that. Mrs. Camden’s hair was brown, her eyes were brown, her skin had a brown tinge that might have been pretty if her cheeks had had any color. She wore a brown coat, neither fashionable nor cheap, and shoes that looked vaguely orthopedic. Ong glanced at his records for her name: Elizabeth. He would bet people forgot it often.
Next to her, Roger Camden radiated nervous vitality, a man in late middle age whose bullet-shaped head did not match his careful haircut and Italian-silk business suit. Ong did not need to consult his file to recall anything about Camden. A caricature of the bullet-shaped head had been the leading graphic for yesterday’s online edition of the Wall Street journal: Camden had led a major coup in cross-border data-atoll investment. Ong was not sure what cross-border data-atoll investment was.
“A girl,” Elizabeth Camden said. Ong hadn’t expected her to speak first. Her voice was another surprise: upper-class British. “Blonde. Green eyes. Tall. Slender.”
Ong smiled. “Appearance factors are the easiest to achieve, as I’m sure you already know. But all we can do about slenderness is give her a genetic disposition in that direction. How you feed the child will naturally—”
“Yes, yes,” Roger Camden said, “that’s obvious. Now: intelligence. High intelligence. And a sense of daring.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Camden, personality factors are not yet understood well enough to allow genet—”
“Just testing,” Camden said, with a smile that Ong thought was probably supposed to be lighthearted.
Elizabeth Camden said, “Musical ability.”
“Again, Mrs. Camden, a disposition to be musical is all we can guarantee.”
“Good enough,” Camden said. “The full array of corrections for any potential gene-linked health problem, of course.”
“Of course,” Dr. Ong said. Neither client spoke. So far theirs was a fairly modest list, given Camden’s money; most clients had to be argued out of contradictory genetic tendencies, alteration overload, or unrealistic expectations. Ong waited. Tension prickled in the room like heat.
“And,” Camden said, “no need to sleep.”
Elizabeth Camden jerked her head sideways to look out the window.
Ong picked up a paper magnet from his desk. He made his voice pleasant. “May I ask how you learned whether that genetic-modification program exists?”
Camden grinned. “You’re not denying it exists. I give you full credit for that, Doctor.”
Ong held his temper. “May I ask how you learned whether the program exists?”
Camden reached into an inner pocket of his suit. The silk crinkled and pulled; body and suit came from different classes. Camden was, Ong remembered, a Yagaiist, a personal friend of Kenzo Yagai himself. Camden handed Ong hard copy: program specifications.
“Don’t bother hunting down the security leak in your data banks, Doctor. You won’t find it. But if it’s any consolation, neither will anybody else. Now.” He leaned forward suddenly. His tone changed. “I know that you’ve created twenty children who don’t need to sleep at all, that so far nineteen are healthy, intelligent, and psychologically normal. In fact, they’re better than normal; they’re all unusually precocious. The oldest is already four years old and can read in two languages. I know you’re thinking of offering this genetic modification on the open market in a few years. All I want is a chance to buy it for my daughter now. At whatever price you name.”
Ong stood. “I can’t possibly discuss this with you unilaterally, Mr. Camden. Neither the theft of our data—”
“Which wasn’t a theft — your system developed a spontaneous bubble regurgitation into a public gate. You’d have a hell of a time proving otherwise—”
“—nor the offer to purchase this particular genetic modification lie in my sole area of authority. Both have to be discussed with the Institute’s board of directors.”
“By all means, by all means. When can I talk to them, too?”
Camden, still seated, looked up at him. It occurred to Ong that there were few men who could look so confident eighteen inches below eye level. “Certainly. I’d like the chance to present my offer to whoever has the actual authority to accept it. That’s only good business.”
“This isn’t solely a business transaction, Mr. Camden.”
“It isn’t solely pure scientific research, either,” Camden retorted. “You’re a for-profit corporation here. With certain tax breaks available only to firms meeting certain fair-practice laws.”
For a minute Ong couldn’t think what Camden meant. “Fair-practice laws…”
“…are designed to protect minorities who are suppliers. I know it hasn’t ever been tested in the case of customers, except for redlining in Y-energy installations. But it could be tested, Dr. Ong. Minorities are entitled to the same product offerings as non-minorities. I know the Institute would not welcome a court case, Doctor. None of your twenty genetic beta-test families is either Black or Jewish!”
“A court… but you’re not Black or Jewish!”
“I’m a different minority. Polish-American. The name was Kaminsky.” Camden finally stood. And smiled warmly. “Look, it is preposterous. You know that, and I know that, and we both know what a grand time journalists would have with it anyway. And you know that I don’t want to sue you with a preposterous case just to use the threat of premature and adverse publicity to get what I want. I don’t want to make threats at all, believe me I don’t. I just want this marvelous advancement you’ve come up with for my daughter.” His face changed, to an expression Ong wouldn’t have believed possible on those particular features: wistfulness. “Doctor, do you know how much more I could have accomplished if I hadn’t had to sleep all my life?”
Elizabeth Camden said harshly, “You hardly sleep now.”
Camden looked down at her as if he had forgotten she was there. “Well, no, my dear, not now. But when I was young… college, I might have been able to finish college and still support… Well. None of that matters now. What matters, Doctor, is that you and I and your board come to an agreement.”
“Mr. Camden, please leave my office now.”
“You mean before you lose your temper at my presumptuousness? You wouldn’t be the first. I’ll expect to have a meeting set up by the end of next week, whenever and wherever you say, of course. Just let my personal secretary, Diane Clavers, know the details. Anytime that’s best for you.”
Ong did not accompany them to the door. Pressure throbbed behind his temples. In the doorway Elizabeth Camden turned. “What happened to the twentieth one?”
“The twentieth baby. My husband said nineteen of them are healthy and normal. What happened to the twentieth?”
The pressure grew stronger, hotter. Ong knew that he should not answer; that Camden probably already knew the answer even if his wife didn’t; that he, Ong, was going to answer anyway; that he would regret the lack of self-control, bitterly, later.
“The twentieth baby is dead. His parents turned out to be unstable. They separated during the pregnancy, and his mother could not bear the twenty-four-hour crying of a baby who never sleeps.”
Elizabeth Camden’s eyes widened. “She killed it?”
“By mistake,” Camden said shortly. “Shook the little thing too hard.” He frowned at Ong. “Nurses, Doctor. In shifts. You should have picked only parents wealthy enough to afford nurses in shifts.”
“That’s horrible!” Mrs. Camden burst out, and Ong could not tell if she meant the child’s death, the lack of nurses, or the Institute’s carelessness. Ong closed his eyes.
When they had gone, he took ten milligrams of cyclobenzaprine-III. For his back — it was solely for his back. The old injury was hurting again. Afterward he stood for a long time at the window, still holding the paper magnet, feeling the pressure recede from his temples, feeling himself calm down. Below him Lake Michigan lapped peacefully at the shore; the police had driven away the homeless in another raid just last night, and they hadn’t yet had time to return. Only their debris remained, thrown into the bushes of the lakeshore park: tattered blankets, newspapers, plastic bags like pathetic trampled standards. It was illegal to sleep in the park, illegal to enter it without a resident’s permit, illegal to be homeless and without a residence. As Ong watched, uniformed park attendants began methodically spearing newspapers and shoving them into clean self-propelled receptacles.
Ong picked up the phone to call the chairman of Biotech Institute’s board of directors.
* * *
Four men and three women sat around the polished mahogany table of the conference room. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, thought Susan Melling, looking from Ong to Sullivan to Camden. She smiled. Ong caught the smile and looked frosty. Pompous ass. Judy Sullivan, the Institute lawyer, turned to speak in a low voice to Camden’s lawyer, a thin nervous man with the look of being owned. The owner, Roger Camden, the Indian chief himself, was the happiest-looking person in the room. The lethal little man — what did it take to become that rich, starting from nothing? She, Susan, would certainly never know — radiated excitement. He beamed, he glowed, so unlike the usual parents-to-be that Susan was intrigued. Usually the prospective daddies and mommies — especially the daddies — sat there looking as if they were at a corporate merger. Camden looked as if he were at a birthday party.
Which, of course, he was. Susan grinned at him, and was pleased when he grinned back. Wolfish, but with a sort of delight that could only be called innocent — what would he be like in bed? Ong frowned majestically and rose to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re ready to start. Perhaps introductions are in order. Mr. Roger Camden, Mrs. Camden, are of course our clients. Mr. John Jaworski, Mr. Camden’s lawyer. Mr. Camden, this is Judith Sullivan, the Institute’s head of Legal; Samuel Krenshaw, representing Institute Director Dr. Brad Marsteiner, who unfortunately couldn’t be here today; and Dr. Susan Melling, who developed the genetic modification affecting sleep. A few legal points of interest to both parties—”
“Forget the contracts for a minute,” Camden interrupted. “Let’s talk about the sleep thing. I’d like to ask a few questions.”
Susan said, “What would you like to know?” Camden’s eyes were very blue in his blunt-featured face; he wasn’t what she had expected. Mrs. Camden, who apparently lacked both a first name and a lawyer, since Jaworski had been introduced as her husband’s but not hers, looked either sullen or scared, it was difficult to tell which.
Ong said sourly, “Then perhaps we should start with a short presentation by Dr. Melling.”
Susan would have preferred a Q A, to see what Camden would ask. But she had annoyed Ong enough for one session. Obediently she rose.
“Let me start with a brief description of sleep. Researchers have known for a long time that there are actually three kinds of sleep. One is ‘slow-wave sleep,’ characterized on an EEG by delta waves. One is ‘rapid-eye-movement sleep,’ or REM sleep, which is much lighter sleep and contains most dreaming. Together these two make up ‘core sleep.’ The third type of sleep is ‘optional sleep,’ so-called because people seem to get along without it with no ill effects, and some short sleepers don’t do it at all, sleeping naturally only three or four hours a night.”
“That’s me,” Camden said. “I trained myself into it. Couldn’t everybody do that?”
Apparently they were going to have a Q A after all. “No. The actual sleep mechanism has some flexibility, but not the same amount for every person. The raphe nuclei on the brain stem—”
Ong said, “I don’t think we need that level of detail, Susan. Let’s stick to basics.”
Camden said, “The raphe nuclei regulate the balance among neurotransmitters and peptides that leads to a pressure to sleep, don’t they?”
Susan couldn’t help it; she grinned. Camden, the laser-sharp ruthless financier, sat trying to look solemn, a third-grader waiting to have his homework praised. Ong looked sour. Mrs. Camden looked away, out the window.
“Yes, that’s correct, Mr. Camden. You’ve done your research.”
Camden said, “This is my daughter,” and Susan caught her breath. When was the last time she had heard that note of reverence in anyone’s voice? But no one in the room seemed to notice.
“Well, then,” Susan said, “you already know that the reason people sleep is because a pressure to sleep builds up in the brain. Over the past twenty years, research has determined that’s the only reason. Neither slow-wave sleep nor REM sleep serve functions that can’t be carried on while the body and brain are awake. A lot goes on during sleep, but it can go on during wakefulness just as well, if other hormonal adjustments are made.
“Sleep served an important evolutionary function. Once Clem Pre-Mammal was done filling his stomach and squirting his sperm around, sleep kept him immobile and away from predators. Sleep was an aid to survival. But now it’s a leftover mechanism, a vestige like the appendix. It switches on every night, but the need is gone. So we turn off the switch at its source, in the genes.”
Ong winced. He hated it when she oversimplified like that. Or maybe it was the lightheartedness he hated. If Marsteiner were making this presentation, there’d be no Clem Pre-Mammal.
Camden said, “What about the need to dream?”
“Not necessary. A leftover bombardment of the cortex to keep it on semi-alert in case a predator attacked during sleep. Wakefulness does that better.”
“Why not have wakefulness instead then? From the start of the evolution?”
He was testing her. Susan gave him a full, lavish smile, enjoying his brass. “I told you. Safety from predators. But when a modern predator attacks — say, a cross-border data-atoll investor — it’s safer to be awake.”
Camden shot at her, “What about the high percentage of REM sleep in fetuses and babies?”
“Still an evolutionary hangover. Cerebrum develops perfectly well without it.”
“What about neural repair during slow-wave sleep?”
“That does go on. But it can go on during wakefulness, if the DNA is programmed to do so. No loss of neural efficiency, as far as we know.”
“What about the release of human growth enzyme in such large concentrations during slow-wave sleep?”
Susan looked at him admiringly. “Goes on without the sleep. Genetic adjustments tie it to other changes in the pineal gland.”
“What about the—”
“The side effects?” Mrs. Camden said. Her mouth turned down. “What about the bloody side effects?”
Susan turned to Elizabeth Camden. She had forgotten she was there. The younger woman stared at Susan, mouth turned down at the corners.
“I’m glad you asked that, Mrs. Camden. Because there are side effects.” Susan paused; she was enjoying herself. “Compared to their age mates, the nonsleep children — who have not had IQ genetic manipulation — are more intelligent, better at problem-solving, and more joyous.”
Camden took out a cigarette. The archaic, filthy habit surprised Susan. Then she saw that it was deliberate: Roger Camden was drawing attention to an ostentatious display to draw attention away from what he was feeling. His cigarette lighter was gold, monogrammed, innocently gaudy.
“Let me explain,” Susan said. “REM sleep bombards the cerebral cortex with random neural firings from the brain stem; dreaming occurs because the poor besieged cortex tries so hard to make sense of the activated images and memories. It spends a lot of energy doing that. Without that energy expenditure, nonsleep cerebrums save the wear-and-tear and do better at coordinating real-life input. Thus, greater intelligence and problem-solving.
“Also, doctors have known for sixty years that antidepressants, which lift the mood of depressed patients, also suppress REM sleep entirely. What they have proved in the past ten years is that the reverse is equally true: suppress REM sleep and people don’t get depressed. The nonsleep kids are cheerful, outgoing… joyous. There’s no other word for it.”
“At what cost?” Mrs. Camden said. She held her neck rigid, but the corners of her jaw worked.
“No cost. No negative side effects at all.”
“So far,” Mrs. Camden shot back.
Susan shrugged. “So far.”
“They’re only four years old! At the most!”
Ong and Krenshaw were studying her closely. Susan saw the moment the Camden woman realized it; she sank back into her chair, drawing her fur coat around her, her face blank.
Camden did not look at his wife. He blew a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Everything has costs, Dr. Melling.”
She liked the way he said her name. “Ordinarily, yes. Especially in genetic modification. But we honestly have not been able to find any here, despite looking.” She smiled directly into Camden’s eyes. “Is it too much to believe that just once the universe has given us something wholly good, wholly a step forward, wholly beneficial? Without hidden penalties?”
“Not the universe. The intelligence of people like you,” Camden said, surprising Susan more than anything else that had gone before. His eyes held hers. She felt her chest tighten.
“I think,” Dr. Ong said dryly, “that the philosophy of the universe may be beyond our concerns here. Mr. Camden, if you have no further medical questions, perhaps we can return to the legal points Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Jaworski have raised. Thank you, Dr. Melling.”
Susan nodded. She didn’t look again at Camden. But she knew what he said, how he looked, that he was there.
* * *
The house was about what she had expected, a huge mock-Tudor on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. The land was heavily wooded between the gate and the house, open between the house and the surging water. Patches of snow dotted the dormant grass. Biotech had been working with the Camdens for four months, but this was the first time Susan had driven to their home.
As she walked toward the house another car drove up behind her. No, a truck, continuing around the curved driveway to a service entry at the side of the house. One man rang the service bell; a second began to unload a plastic-wrapped playpen from the back of the truck. White, with pink and yellow bunnies. Susan briefly closed her eyes.
Camden opened the door himself. She could see his effort not to look worried. “You didn’t have to drive out, Susan; I’d have come into the city!”
“No, I didn’t want you to do that, Roger. Mrs. Camden is here?”
“In the living room.” Camden led her into a large room with a stone fireplace, English country-house furniture, and prints of dogs or boats, all hung eighteen inches too high; Elizabeth Camden must have done the decorating. She did not rise from her wing chair as Susan entered.
“Let me be concise and fast,” Susan said, “I don’t want to make this any more drawn-out for you than I have to. We have all the amniocentesis, ultrasound, and Langston test results. The fetus is fine, developing normally for two weeks, no problems with the implant on the uterine wall. But a complication has developed.”
“What?” Camden said. He took out a cigarette, looked at his wife, and put it back unlit.
Susan said quietly, “Mrs. Camden, by sheer chance both your ovaries released eggs last month. We removed one for the gene surgery. By more sheer chance the second was fertilized and implanted. You’re carrying two fetuses.”
Elizabeth Camden grew still. “Twins?”
“No,” Susan said. Then she realized what she had said. “I mean, yes. They’re twins, but non-identical. Only one has been genetically altered. The other will be no more similar to her than any two siblings. It’s a so-called normal baby. And I know you didn’t want a so-called normal baby.”
Camden said, “No. I didn’t.”
Elizabeth Camden said, “I did.”
Camden shot her a fierce look that Susan couldn’t read. He took out the cigarette again, and lit it. His face was in profile to Susan, and he was thinking intently; she doubted he knew the cigarette was there, or that he was lighting it. “Is the baby being affected by the other one’s being there?”
“No,” Susan said. “No, of course not. They’re just… coexisting.”
“Can you abort it?”
“Not without aborting both of them. Removing the unaltered fetus would cause changes in the uterine lining that would probably lead to a spontaneous miscarriage of the other.” She drew a deep breath. “There’s that option, of course. We can start the whole process over again. But as I told you at the time, you were very lucky to have the in vitro fertilization take on only the second try. Some couples take eight or ten tries. If we started all over, the process could be a lengthy one.”
Camden said, “Is the presence of this second fetus harming my daughter? Taking away nutrients or anything? Or will it change anything for her later on in the pregnancy?”
“No. Except that there is a chance of premature birth. Two fetuses take up a lot more room in the womb, and if it gets too crowded, birth can be premature. But the—”
“How premature? Enough to threaten survival?”
“Most probably not.”
Camden went on smoking. A man appeared at the door. “Sir, London calling. James Kendall for Mr. Yagai.”
“I’ll take it.” Camden rose. Susan watched him study his wife’s face. When he spoke, it was to her. “All right, Elizabeth. All right.” He left the room.
For a long moment the two women sat in silence. Susan was aware of the disappointment; this was not the Camden she had expected to see. She became aware of Elizabeth Camden watching her with amusement.
“Oh, yes, Doctor. He’s like that.”
Susan said nothing.
“Completely overbearing. But not this time.” She laughed softly, with excitement. “Two. Do you… do you know what sex the other one is?”
“Both fetuses are female.”
“I wanted a girl, you know. And now I’ll have one.”
“Then you’ll go ahead with the pregnancy.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you for coming, Doctor.”
She was dismissed. No one saw her out. But as she was getting into her car, Camden rushed out of the house, coatless. “Susan! I wanted to thank you. For coming all the way out here to tell us yourself.”
“You already thanked me.”
“Yes. Well. You’re sure the second fetus is no threat to my daughter?”
Susan said deliberately, “Nor is the genetically altered fetus a threat to the naturally conceived one.”
He smiled. His voice was low and wistful. “And you think that should matter to me just as much. But it doesn’t. And why should I fake what I feel? Especially to you?”
Susan opened her car door. She wasn’t ready for this, or she had changed her mind, or something. But then Camden leaned over to close the door, and his manner held no trace of flirtatiousness, no smarmy ingratiation. “I better order a second playpen.”
“And a second car seat.”
“But not a second night-shift nurse.”
“That’s up to you.”
“And you.” Abruptly he leaned over and kissed her, a kiss so polite and respectful that Susan was shocked. Neither lust nor conquest would have shocked her; this did. Camden didn’t give her a chance to react; he closed the car door and turned back toward the house. Susan drove toward the gate, her hands shaky on the wheel until amusement replaced shock: It had been a deliberate, blatant, respectful kiss, an engineered enigma. And nothing else could have guaranteed so well that there would have to be another.
She wondered what the Camdens would name their daughters.
* * *
Dr. Ong strode the hospital corridor, which had been dimmed to half-light. From the nurse’s station in Maternity a nurse stepped forward as if to stop him — it was the middle of the night, long past visiting hours — got a good look at his face, and faded back into her station. Around a corner was the viewing glass to the nursery. To Ong’s annoyance, Susan Melling stood pressed against the glass. To his further annoyance, she was crying.
Ong realized that he had never liked the woman. Maybe not any women. Even those with superior minds could not seem to refrain from being made damn fools by their emotions.
“Look,” Susan said, laughing a little, swiping at her face. “Doctor — look.”
Behind the glass Roger Camden, gowned and masked, was holding up a baby in a white undershirt and pink blanket. Camden’s blue eyes — theatrically blue — a man really should not have such garish eyes — glowed. The baby’s head was covered with blond fuzz; it had wide eyes and pink skin. Camden’s eyes above the mask said that no other child had ever had these attributes.
Ong said, “An uncomplicated birth?”
“Yes,” Susan Melling sobbed. “Perfectly straightforward. Elizabeth is fine. She’s asleep. Isn’t she beautiful? He has the most adventurous spirit I’ve ever known.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve; Ong realized that she was drunk. “Did I ever tell you that I was engaged once? Fifteen years ago, in med school? I broke it off because he grew to seem so ordinary, so boring. Oh, God, I shouldn’t be telling you all this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Ong moved away from her. Behind the glass Roger Camden laid the baby in a small wheeled crib. The nameplate said BABY GIRL CAMDEN #1. 5.9 POUNDS. A night nurse watched indulgently.
Ong did not wait to see Camden emerge from the nursery or to hear Susan Melling say to him whatever she was going to say. Ong went to have the OB paged. Melling’s report was not, under the circumstances, to be trusted. A perfect, unprecedented chance to record every detail of gene alteration with a non-altered control, and Melling was more interested in her own sloppy emotions. Ong would obviously have to do the report himself, after talking to the OB. He was hungry for every detail. And not just about the pink-cheeked baby in Camden’s arms. He wanted to know everything about the birth of the child in the other glass-sided crib: BABY GIRL CAMDEN #2. 5.1 POUNDS. The dark-haired baby with the mottled red features, lying scrunched down in her pink blanket, asleep.
LEISHA’S EARLIEST MEMORY was flowing lines that were not there. She knew they were not there because when she reached out her fist to touch them, her fist was empty. Later she realized that the flowing lines were light: sunshine slanting in bars between curtains in her room, between the wooden blinds in the dining room, between the crisscross lattices in the conservatory. The day she realized the golden flow was light she laughed out loud with the sheer joy of discovery, and Daddy turned from putting flowers in pots and smiled at her.
The whole house was full of light. Light bounded off the lake, streamed across the high white ceilings, puddled on the shining wooden floors. She and Alice moved continually through light, and sometimes Leisha would stop and tip back her head and let it flow over her face. She could feel it, like water.
The best light, of course, was in the conservatory. That’s where Daddy liked to be when he was home from making money. Daddy potted plants and watered trees, humming, and Leisha and Alice ran between the wooden tables of flowers with their wonderful earthy smells, running from the dark side of the conservatory where the big purple flowers grew to the sunshine side with sprays of yellow flowers, running back and forth, in and out of the light. “Growth,” Daddy said to her, “flowers all fulfilling their promise. Alice, be careful! You almost knocked over that orchid!” Alice, obedient, would stop running for a while. Daddy never told Leisha to stop running.
After a while the light would go away. Alice and Leisha would have their baths, and then Alice would get quiet, or cranky. She wouldn’t play nice with Leisha, even when Leisha let her choose the game or even have all the best dolls. Then Nanny would take Alice to bed, and Leisha would talk with Daddy some more until Daddy said he had to work in his study with the papers that made money. Leisha always felt a moment of regret that he had to go do that, but the moment never lasted very long because Mamselle would arrive and start Leisha’s lessons, which she liked. Learning things was so interesting! She could already sing twenty songs and write all the letters in the alphabet and count to fifty. And by the time lessons were done, the light had come back, and it was time for breakfast.
Breakfast was the only time Leisha didn’t like. Daddy had gone to the office, and Leisha and Alice had breakfast with Mommy in the big dining room. Mommy sat in a red robe, which Leisha liked, and she didn’t smell funny or talk funny the way she would later in the day, but still breakfast wasn’t fun. Mommy always started with The Question.
“Alice, sweetheart, how did you sleep?”
“Did you have any nice dreams?”
For a long time Alice said no. Then one day she said, “I dreamed about a horse. I was riding him.” Mommy clapped her hands and kissed Alice and gave her an extra sticky bun. After that Alice always had a dream to tell Mommy.
Once Leisha said, “I had a dream, too. I dreamed light was coming in the window and it wrapped all around me like a blanket and then it kissed me on my eyes.”
Mommy put down her coffee cup so hard that coffee sloshed out of it. “Don’t lie to me, Leisha. You did not have a dream.”
“Yes, I did,” Leisha said.
“Only children who sleep can have dreams. Don’t lie to me. You did not have a dream.”
“Yes I did! I did!” Leisha shouted. She could see it, almost: the light streaming in the window and wrapping around her like a golden blanket.
“I will not tolerate a child who is a liar! Do you hear me, Leisha — I won’t tolerate it!”
“You’re a liar!” Leisha shouted, knowing the words weren’t true, hating herself because they weren’t true but hating Mommy more and that was wrong, too, and there sat Alice stiff and frozen with her eyes wide, Alice was scared and it was Leisha’s fault.
Mommy called sharply, “Nanny! Nanny! Take Leisha to her room at once. She can’t sit with civilized people if she can’t refrain from telling lies!”
Leisha started to cry. Nanny carried her out of the room. Leisha hadn’t even had her breakfast. But she didn’t care about that; all she could see while she cried was Alice’s eyes, scared like that, reflecting broken bits of light.
But Leisha didn’t cry long. Nanny read her a story, and then played Data Jump with her, and then Alice came up and Nanny drove them both into Chicago to the zoo where there were wonderful animals to see, animals Leisha could not have dreamed — nor Alice either. And by the time they came back Mommy had gone to her room and Leisha knew that she would stay there with the glasses of funny-smelling stuff the rest of the day and Leisha would not have to see her.
But that night, she went to her mother’s room.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she told Mamselle. Mamselle said, “Do you need any help?” maybe because Alice still needed help in the bathroom. But Leisha didn’t, and she thanked Mamselle. Then she sat on the toilet for a minute even though nothing came, so that what she had told Mamselle wouldn’t be a lie.
Leisha tiptoed down the hall. She went first into Alice’s room. A little light in a wall socket burned near the crib. There was no crib in Leisha’s room. Leisha looked at her sister through the bars. Alice lay on her side with her eyes closed. The lids of the eyes fluttered quickly, like curtains blowing in the wind. Alice’s chin and neck looked loose.
Leisha closed the door very carefully and went to her parents’ room.
They didn’t sleep in a crib but in a huge enormous bed, with enough room between them for more people. Mommy’s eyelids weren’t fluttering; she lay on her back making a hrrr-hrrr sound through her nose. The funny smell was strong on her. Leisha backed away and tiptoed over to Daddy. He looked like Alice, except that his neck and chin looked even looser, folds of skin collapsed like the tent that had fallen down in the back yard. It scared Leisha to see him like that. Then Daddy’s eyes flew open so suddenly that Leisha screamed.
Daddy rolled out of bed and picked her up, looking quickly at Mommy. But she didn’t move. Daddy was wearing only his underpants. He carried Leisha out into the hall, where Mamselle came rushing up saying, “Oh, Sir, I’m sorry, she just said she was going to the bathroom—”
“It’s all right,” Daddy said. “I’ll take her with me.”
“No!” Leisha screamed, because Daddy was only in his underpants and his neck had looked all funny and the room smelled bad because of Mommy. But Daddy carried her into the conservatory, set her down on a bench, wrapped himself in a piece of green plastic that was supposed to cover up plants, and sat down next to her.
“Now, what happened, Leisha? What were you doing?”
Leisha didn’t answer.
“You were looking at people sleeping, weren’t you?” Daddy said, and because his voice was softer Leisha mumbled, “Yes.” She immediately felt better; it felt good not to lie.
“You were looking at people sleeping because you don’t sleep and you were curious, weren’t you? Like Curious George in your book?”
“Yes,” Leisha said. “I thought you said you made money in your study all night!”
Daddy smiled. “Not all night. Some of it. But then I sleep, although not very much.” He took Leisha on his lap. “I don’t need much sleep, so I get a lot more done at night than most people. Different people need different amounts of sleep. And a few, a very few, are like you. You don’t need any.”
“Because you’re special. Better than other people. Before you were born, I had some doctors help make you that way.”
“So you could do anything you want to and make manifest your own individuality.”
Leisha twisted in his arms to stare at him; the words meant nothing. Daddy reached over and touched a single flower growing on a tall potted tree. The flower had thick white petals like the cream he put in coffee, and the center was a light pink.
“See, Leisha — this tree made this flower. Because it can. Only this tree can make this kind of wonderful flower. That plant hanging up there can’t, and those can’t either. Only this tree. Therefore the most important thing in the world for this tree to do is grow this flower. The flower is the tree’s individuality — that means just it, and nothing else — made manifest. Nothing else matters.”
“I don’t understand, Daddy.”
“You will. Someday.”
“But I want to understand now,” Leisha said, and Daddy laughed with pure delight and hugged her. The hug felt good, but Leisha still wanted to understand.
“When you make money, is that your indiv… that thing?”
“Yes,” Daddy said happily.
“Then nobody else can make money? Like only that tree can make that flower?”
“Nobody else can make it just the way I do.”
“What do you do with the money?”
“I buy things for you. This house, your dresses, Mamselle to teach you, the car to ride in.”
“What does the tree do with the flower?”
“Glories in it,” Daddy said, which made no sense. “Excellence is what counts, Leisha. Excellence supported by individual effort. And that’s all that counts.”
“I’m cold, Daddy.”
“Then I better bring you back to Mamselle.”
Leisha didn’t move. She touched the flower with one finger. “I want to sleep, Daddy.”
“No, you don’t, sweetheart. Sleep is just lost time, wasted life. It’s a little death.”
“Alice isn’t like you.”
“Alice isn’t special?”
“No. You are.”
“Why didn’t you make Alice special, too?”
“Alice made herself. I didn’t have a chance to make her special.”
The whole thing was too hard. Leisha stopped stroking the flower and slipped off Daddy’s lap. He smiled at her. “My little questioner. When you grow up, you’ll find your own excellence, and it will be a new order, a specialness the world hasn’t ever seen before. You might even be like Kenzo Yagai. He made the Yagai generator that powers the world.”
“Daddy, you look funny wrapped in the flower plastic.” Leisha laughed. Daddy did, too. But then she said, “When I grow up, I’ll make my specialness find a way to make Alice special, too,” and Daddy stopped laughing.
He took her back to Mamselle, who taught her to write her name, which was so exciting she forgot about the puzzling talk with Daddy. There were six letters, all different, and together they were her name. Leisha wrote it over and over, laughing, and Mamselle laughed too. But later, in the morning, Leisha thought again about the talk with Daddy. She thought of it often, turning the unfamiliar words over and over in her mind like small hard stones, but the part she thought about most wasn’t a word. It was the frown on Daddy’s face when she told him she would use her specialness to make Alice special, too.
* * *
Every week Dr. Melling came to see Leisha and Alice, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people. Leisha and Alice both liked Dr. Melling, who laughed a lot and whose eyes were bright and warm. Often Daddy was there, too. Dr. Melling played games with them, first with Alice and Leisha separately and then together. She took their pictures and weighed them. She made them lie down on a table and stuck little metal things to their temples, which sounded scary but wasn’t because there were so many machines to watch, all making interesting noises, while they were lying there. Dr. Melling was as good at answering questions as Daddy. Once Leisha said, “Is Dr. Melling a special person? Like Kenzo Yagai?” And Daddy laughed and glanced at Dr. Melling and said, “Oh, yes, indeed.”
When Leisha was five she and Alice started school. Daddy’s driver took them every day into Chicago. They were in different rooms, which disappointed Leisha. The kids in Leisha’s room were all older. But from the first day she adored school, with its fascinating science equipment and electronic drawers full of math puzzlers and other children to find countries on the map with. In half a year she had been moved to yet a different room, where the kids were still older, but they were nonetheless nice to her. Leisha started to learn Japanese. She loved drawing the beautiful characters on thick white paper. “The Sauley School was a good choice,” Daddy said.
But Alice didn’t like the Sauley School. She wanted to go to school on the same yellow bus as Cook’s daughter. She cried and threw her paints on the floor at the Sauley School. Then Mommy came out of her room — Leisha hadn’t seen her for a few weeks, although she knew Alice had — and threw some candlesticks from the mantelpiece on the floor. The candlesticks, which were china, broke. Leisha ran to pick up the pieces while Mommy and Daddy screamed at each other in the hall by the big staircase.
“She’s my daughter, too! And I say she can go!”
“You don’t have the right to say anything about it! A weepy drunk, the most rotten role model possible for both of them… and I thought I was getting a fine English aristocrat!”
“You got what you paid for! Nothing! Not that you ever needed anything from me or anybody else!”
“Stop it!” Leisha cried. “Stop it!” There was silence in the hall. Leisha cut her fingers on the china; blood streamed onto the rug. Daddy rushed in and picked her up. “Stop it,” Leisha sobbed, and didn’t understand when Daddy said quietly, “You stop it, Leisha. Nothing they do should touch you at all. You have to be at least that strong.”
Leisha buried her head in Daddy’s shoulder. Alice transferred to Carl Sandburg Elementary School, riding there on the yellow school bus with Cook’s daughter.
A few weeks later Daddy told them that Mommy was going away to a hospital, to stop drinking so much. When Mommy came out, he said, she was going to live somewhere else for a while. She and Daddy were not happy. Leisha and Alice would stay with Daddy and they would visit Mommy sometimes. He told them this very carefully, finding the right words for truth. Truth was very important, Leisha already knew. Truth was being true to yourself, your specialness. Your individuality. An individual respected facts, and so always told the truth.
Mommy — Daddy did not say but Leisha knew — did not respect facts.
“I don’t want Mommy to go away,” Alice said. She started to cry. Leisha thought Daddy would pick Alice up, but he didn’t. He just stood there looking at them both.
Leisha put her arms around Alice. “It’s all right, Alice. It’s all right! We’ll make it all right! I’ll play with you all the time we’re not in school so you don’t miss Mommy!”
Alice clung to Leisha. Leisha turned her head so she didn’t have to see Daddy’s face.
KENZO YAGAI WAS COMING to the United States to lecture. The title of his talk, which he would give in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, with a repeat in Washington as a special address to Congress, was “The Further Political Implications of Inexpensive Power.” Leisha Camden, eleven years old, was going to have a private introduction after the Chicago talk, arranged by her father.
She had studied the theory of cold fusion at school, and her global studies teacher had traced the changes in the world resulting from Yagai’s patented, low-cost applications of what had, until him, been unworkable theory: the rising prosperity of the Third World; the death throes of the old communistic systems; the decline of the oil states; the renewed economic power of the United States. Her study group had written a news script, filmed with the school’s professional-quality equipment, about how a 1985 American family lived with expensive energy costs and a belief in tax-supported help, while a 2019 family lived with cheap energy and a belief in the contract as the basis of civilization. Parts of her own research puzzled Leisha.
“Japan thinks Kenzo Yagai was a traitor to his own country,” she said to Daddy at supper.
“No,” Camden said, “some Japanese think that. Watch out for generalizations, Leisha. Yagai patented and licensed Y-energy in the United States because here there were at least the dying embers of individual enterprise. Because of his invention, our entire country has slowly swung back toward an individual meritocracy, and Japan has slowly been forced to follow.”
“Your father held that belief all along,” Susan said. “Eat your peas, Leisha.” Leisha ate her peas. Susan and Daddy had only been married less than a year; it still felt a little strange to have her there. But nice. Daddy said Susan was a valuable addition to their household: intelligent, motivated, and cheerful. Like Leisha herself.
“Remember, Leisha,” Camden said, “a man’s worth to society and to himself doesn’t rest on what he thinks other people should do or be or feel, but on himself. On what he can actually do, and do well. People trade what they do well, and everyone benefits. The basic tool of civilization is the contract. Contracts are voluntary and mutually beneficial. As opposed to coercion, which is wrong.”
“The strong have no right to take anything from the weak by force,” Susan said. “Alice, eat your peas, too, honey.”
“Nor the weak to take anything by force from the strong,” Camden said. “That’s the basis of what you’ll hear Kenzo Yagai discuss tonight, Leisha.”
Alice said, “I don’t like peas.”
Camden said, “Your body does. They’re good for you.”
Alice smiled. Leisha felt her heart lift; Alice didn’t smile much at dinner any more. “My body doesn’t have a contract with the peas.”
Camden said, a little impatiently, “Yes, it does. Your body benefits from them. Now eat.”
Alice’s smile vanished. Leisha looked down at her plate. Suddenly she saw a way out. “No, Daddy, look — Alice’s body benefits, but the peas don’t! It’s not a mutually beneficial consideration, so there’s no contract! Alice is right!”
Camden let out a shout of laughter. To Susan he said, “Eleven years old… eleven.” Even Alice smiled, and Leisha waved her spoon triumphantly, light glinting off the bowl and dancing silver on the opposite wall.
But even so, Alice did not want to go hear Kenzo Yagai. She was going to sleep over at her friend Julie’s house; they were going to curl their hair together. More surprisingly, Susan wasn’t coming either. She and Daddy looked at each other a little funny at the front door, Leisha thought, but Leisha was too excited to think about this. She was going to hear Kenzo Yagai.
Yagai was a small man, dark and slim. Leisha liked his accent. She liked, too, something about him that took her a while to name. “Daddy,” she whispered in the half-darkness of the auditorium, “he’s a joyful man.”
Daddy hugged her in the darkness.
Yagai spoke about spirituality and economics. “A man’s spirituality, which is only his dignity as a man, rests on his own efforts. Dignity and worth are not automatically conferred by aristocratic birth; we have only to look at history to see that. Dignity and worth are not automatically conferred by inherited wealth. A great heir may be a thief, a wastrel, cruel, an exploiter, a person who leaves the world much poorer than he found it. Nor are dignity and worth automatically conferred by existence itself. A mass murderer exists, but is of negative worth to his society and possesses no dignity in his lust to kill.
“No, the only dignity, the only spirituality, rests on what a man can achieve with his own efforts. To rob a man of the chance to achieve, and to trade what he achieves with others, is to rob him of his spiritual dignity as a man. This is why communism has failed in our time. All coercion — all force to take from a man his own efforts to achieve — causes spiritual damage and weakens a society. Conscription, theft, fraud, violence, welfare, lack of legislative representation — all rob a man of his chance to choose, to achieve on his own, to trade the results of his achievement with others. Coercion is a cheat. It produces nothing new. Only freedom — the freedom to achieve, the freedom to trade freely the results of achievement — creates the environment proper to the dignity and spirituality of man.”
Leisha applauded so hard her hands hurt. Going backstage with Daddy, she thought she could hardly breathe. Kenzo Yagai!
But backstage was more crowded than she had expected. There were cameras everywhere. Daddy said, “Mr. Yagai, may I present my daughter Leisha,” and the cameras moved in close and fast — on her. A Japanese man whispered something in Kenzo Yagai’s ear, and he looked more closely at Leisha. “Ah, yes.”
“Look over here, Leisha,” someone called, and she did. A robot camera zoomed so close to her face that Leisha stepped back, startled. Daddy spoke very sharply to someone, then to someone else. The cameras didn’t move. A woman suddenly knelt in front of Leisha and thrust a microphone at her. “What does it feel like to never sleep, Leisha?”
Someone laughed. The laugh was not kind. “Breeding geniuses…”
Leisha felt a hand on her shoulder. Kenzo Yagai gripped her very firmly, and pulled her away from the cameras. Immediately, as if by magic, a line of Japanese men formed behind Yagai, parting only to let Daddy through. Behind the line, the three of them moved into a dressing room, and Kenzo Yagai shut the door.
“You must not let them bother you, Leisha,” he said in his wonderful accent. “Not ever. There is an old Asian proverb: ‘The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.’ You must never let your individual caravan be slowed by the barking of rude or envious dogs.”
“I won’t,” Leisha breathed, not sure yet what the words really meant, knowing there was time later to sort them out, to talk about them with Daddy. For now she was dazzled by Kenzo Yagai, the actual man himself who was changing the world without force, without guns, by trading his special individual efforts. “We study your philosophy at my school, Mr. Yagai.”
Kenzo Yagai looked at Daddy. Daddy said, “A private school. But Leisha’s sister also studies it, although cursorily, in the public system. Slowly, Kenzo, but it comes. It comes.” Leisha noticed that he did not say why Alice was not here tonight with them.
Back home, Leisha sat in her room for hours, thinking over everything that had happened. When Alice came home from Julie’s the next morning, Leisha rushed toward her. But Alice seemed angry about something.
“Alice — what is it?”
“Don’t you think I have enough to put up with at school already?” Alice shouted. “Everybody knows, but at least when you stayed quiet it didn’t matter too much! They’d stopped teasing me! Why did you have to do it?”
“Do what?” Leisha said, bewildered.
Alice threw something at her: a hard-copy morning paper, on newsprint flimsier than the Camden systems used. The paper dropped open at Leisha’s feet. She stared at her own picture, three columns wide, with Kenzo Yagai. The headline said, “Yagai and the Future: Room For the Rest of Us? Y-Energy Inventor Confers With ‘Sleep-Free’ Daughter of Mega-Financier Roger Camden.”
Alice kicked the paper. “It was on TV last night too — on TV. I work hard not to look stuck-up or creepy, and you go and do this! Now Julie probably won’t even invite me to her slumber party next week!” She rushed up the broad curving stairs to her room.
Leisha looked down at the paper. She heard Kenzo Yagai’s voice in her head: The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. She looked at the empty stairs. Aloud she said, “Alice — your hair looks really pretty curled like that.”
I WANT TO MEET the rest of them,” Leisha said. “Why have you kept them from me this long?”
“I haven’t kept them from you at all,” Camden said. “Not offering is not the same as denial. Why shouldn’t you be the one to do the asking? You’re the one who now wants it.”
Leisha looked at him. She was fifteen, in her last year at the Sauley School. “Why didn’t you offer?”
“Why should I?”
“I don’t know,” Leisha said. “But you gave me everything else.”
“Including the freedom to ask for what you want.”
Leisha looked for the contradiction, and found it. “Most things that you provided for my education I didn’t ask for, because I didn’t know enough to ask and you as the adult did. But you’ve never offered the opportunity for me to meet any of the other sleepless mutants—”
“Don’t use that word,” Camden said sharply.
“—so you must either think it was not essential to my education or else you had another motive for not wanting me to meet them.”
“Wrong,” Camden said. “There’s a third possibility. That I think meeting them is essential to your education, that I do want you to, but this issue provided a chance to further the education of your self-initiative by waiting for you to ask.”
“All right,” Leisha said, a little defiantly; there seemed to be a lot of defiance between them lately, for no good reason. She squared her shoulders. Her new breasts thrust forward. “I’m asking. How many of the Sleepless are there, who are they, and where are they?”
Camden said, “If you’re using that term — ‘the Sleepless’ — you’ve already done some reading on your own. So you probably know that there are 1,082 of you so far in the United States, more in foreign countries, most of them in major metropolitan areas. Seventy-nine are in Chicago, most of them still small children. Only nineteen anywhere are older than you.”
Leisha didn’t deny reading any of this. Camden leaned forward in his study chair to peer at her. Leisha wondered if he needed glasses. His hair was completely gray now, sparse and stiff, like lonely broom straws. The Wall Street Journal listed him among the hundred richest men in America; Women’s Wear Daily pointed out that he was the only billionaire in the country who did not move in the society of international parties, charity balls, and social secretaries. Camden’s jet ferried him to business meetings around the world, to the chairmanship of the Yagai Economics Institute, and to very little else. Over the years he had grown richer, more reclusive, and more cerebral. Leisha felt a rush of her old affection.
She threw herself sideways into a leather chair, her long slim legs dangling over the arm. Absently she scratched a mosquito bite on her thigh. “Well, then, I’d like to meet Richard Keller.” He lived in Chicago and was the beta-test Sleepless closest to her own age. He was seventeen.
“Why ask me? Why not just go?”
Leisha thought there was a note of impatience in his voice. He liked her to explore things first, then report on them to him later. Both parts were important.
Leisha laughed. “You know what, Daddy? You’re predictable.”
Camden laughed, too. In the middle of the laugh Susan came in. “He certainly is not. Roger, what about that meeting in Buenos Aires on Thursday? Is it on or off?” When he didn’t answer, her voice grew shriller. “Roger? I’m talking to you!”
Leisha averted her eyes. Two years ago Susan had finally left genetic research to run Camden’s house and schedule; before that she had tried hard to do both. Since she had left Biotech, it seemed to Leisha, Susan had changed. Her voice was tighter. She was more insistent that Cook and the gardener follow her directions exactly, without deviation. Her blond braids had become stiff sculptured waves of platinum.
“It’s on,” Roger said.
“Well, thanks for at least answering. Am I going?”
“If you like.”
Susan left the room. Leisha rose and stretched. Her long legs rose on tiptoe. It felt good to reach, to stretch, to feel sunlight from the wide windows wash over her face. She smiled at her father, and found him watching her with an unexpected expression.
“See Keller. But be careful.”
But Camden wouldn’t answer.
* * *
The voice on the phone had been noncommittal. “Leisha Camden? Yes, I know who you are. Three o’clock on Thursday?” The house was modest; a thirty-year-old colonial on quiet suburban street where small children on bicycles could be watched from the front window. Few roofs had more than one Y-energy cell. The trees, huge old sugar maples, were beautiful.
“Come in,” Richard Keller said.
He was no taller than she, stocky, with a bad case of acne. Probably no genetic alterations except sleep, Leisha guessed. He had thick dark hair, a low forehead, and bushy black brows. Before he closed the door Leisha saw him stare at her car and driver, parked in the driveway next to a rusty ten-speed bike.
“I can’t drive yet,” she said. “I’m still fifteen.”
“It’s easy to learn,” Richard said. “So, you want to tell me why you’re here?”
Leisha liked his directness. “To meet some other Sleepless.”
“You mean you never have? Not any of us?”
“You mean the rest of you know each other?” She hadn’t expected that.
“Come to my room, Leisha.”
She followed him to the back of the house. No one else seemed to be home. His room was large and airy, filled with computers and filing cabinets. A rowing machine sat in one corner. It looked like a shabbier version of the room of any bright classmate at the Sauley School, except there was more space without a bed. She walked over to the computer screen.
“Hey — you working on Boesc equations?”
“On an application of them.”
“Fish migration patterns.”
Leisha smiled. “Yeah, that would work. I never thought of that.” Richard seemed not to know what to do with her smile. He looked at the wall, then at her chin. “You interested in Gaea patterns? In the environment?”
“Well, no,” Leisha confessed. “Not particularly. I’m going to study politics at Harvard. Pre-law. But of course we had Gaea patterns at school.”
Richard’s gaze finally came unstuck from her face. He ran a hand through his dark hair. “Sit down, if you want.”
Leisha sat, looking appreciatively at the wall posters, shifting green on blue, like ocean currents. “I like those. Did you program them yourself?”
“You’re not at all what I pictured,” Richard said.
“How did you picture me?”
He didn’t hesitate. “Stuck up. Superior. Shallow, despite your IQ.”
She was more hurt than she had expected to be.
Richard blurted. “You’re one of only two Sleepless who’re really rich. You and Jennifer Sharifi. But you already know that.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve never checked.”
He took the chair beside her, stretching his stocky legs straight in front of him, in a slouch that had nothing to do with relaxation. “It makes sense, really. Rich people don’t have their children genetically modified to be superior — they think any offspring of theirs is already superior. By their values. And poor people can’t afford it. We Sleepless are upper-middle class, no more. Children of professors, scientists, people who value brains and time.”
“My father values brains and time,” Leisha said. “He’s the biggest supporter of Kenzo Yagai.”
“Oh, Leisha, do you think I don’t already know that? Are you flashing me or what?”
Leisha said with great deliberateness, “I’m talking to you.” But the next minute she could feel the hurt break through on her face.
“I’m sorry,” Richard muttered. He shot off his chair and paced to the computer and back. “I am sorry. But I don’t… I don’t understand what you’re doing here.”
“I’m lonely,” Leisha said, astonished at herself. She looked up at him. “It’s true. I’m lonely. I am. I have friends and Daddy and Alice. But no one really knows, really understands — what? I don’t know what I’m saying.”
Richard smiled. The smile changed his whole face, opened up its dark planes to the light. “I do. Oh, do I. What do you do when they say, ‘I had such a dream last night?’”
“Yes!” Leisha said. “But that’s even really minor. It’s when I say, ‘I’ll look that up for you tonight’ and they get that funny look on their face that means, ‘She’ll do it while I’m asleep.’”
“But that’s even really minor,” Richard said. “It’s when you’re playing basketball in the gym after supper and then you go to the diner for food and then you say, ‘Let’s have a walk by the lake,’ and they say, ‘I’m really tired. I’m going home to bed now.’”
“But that’s really minor,” Leisha said, jumping up. “It’s when you really are absorbed by the movie and then you get the point and it’s so goddamn beautiful you leap up and say, ‘Yes! Yes!’ and Susan says, ‘Leisha, really, you’d think nobody but you ever enjoyed anything before.’”
“Who’s Susan?” Richard said.
The mood was broken. But not really; Leisha could say, “My stepmother,” without much discomfort over what Susan had promised to be and what she had become. Richard stood inches from her, smiling that joyous smile, understanding, and suddenly relief washed over Leisha so strong that she walked straight over to him and put her arms around his neck, only tightening them when she felt his startled jerk. She started to sob — she, Leisha, who never cried.
“Hey,” Richard said. “Hey.”
“Brilliant,” Leisha said, laughing. “Brilliant remark.”
She could feel his embarrassed smile. “Wanta see my fish migration curves instead?”
“No,” Leisha sobbed, and he went on holding her, patting her back awkwardly, telling her without words that she was home.
Camden waited up for her, although it was past midnight. He had been smoking heavily. Through the blue air he said quietly, “Did you have a good time, Leisha?”
“I’m glad,” he said, and put out his last cigarette, and climbed the stairs — slowly, stiffly, he was nearly seventy now — to bed.
* * *
They went everywhere together for nearly a year: swimming, dancing, the museums, the theater, the library. Richard introduced her to the others, a group of twelve kids between fourteen and nineteen, all of them intelligent and eager. All Sleepless.
Tony Indivino’s parents, like her own, had divorced. But Tony, fourteen, lived with his mother, who had not particularly wanted a Sleepless child, while his father, who had, acquired a red sports car and a young girlfriend who designed ergonomic chairs in Paris. Tony was not allowed to tell anyone — relatives, schoolmates — that he was Sleepless. “They’ll think you’re a freak,” his mother said, eyes averted from her son’s face. The one time Tony disobeyed her and told a friend that he never slept, his mother beat him. Then she moved the family to a new neighborhood. He was nine years old.
Jeanine Carter, almost as long-legged and slim as Leisha, was training for the Olympics in ice skating. She practiced twelve hours a day, hours no Sleeper still in high school could ever have. So far the newspapers had not picked up the story. Jeanine was afraid that if they did, they would somehow not let her compete.
Jack Bellingham, like Leisha, would start college in September. Unlike Leisha, he had already started his career. The practice of law had to wait for law school; the practice of investing required only money. Jack didn’t have much, but his precise financial analyses parlayed six hundred dollars saved from summer jobs to three thousand dollars through stock-market investing, then to ten thousand dollars, and then he had enough to qualify for information-fund speculation. Jack was fifteen, not old enough to make legal investments; the transactions were all in the name of Kevin Baker, the oldest of the Sleepless, who lived in Austin. Jack told Leisha, “When I hit eighty-four percent profit over two consecutive quarters, the data analysts logged onto me. Just sniffing. Well, that’s their job, even when the overall amounts are actually small. It’s the patterns they care about. If they take the trouble to cross-reference data banks and come up with the fact that Kevin is a Sleepless, will they try to stop us from investing somehow?”
“That’s paranoid,” Leisha said.
“No, it’s not,” Jeanine said. “Leisha, you don’t know.”
“You mean because I’ve been protected by my father’s money and caring,” Leisha said. No one grimaced; all of them confronted ideas openly, without shadowy allusions. Without dreams.
“Yes,” Jeanine said. “Your father sounds terrific. And he raised you to think that achievement should not be fettered — Jesus Christ, he’s a Yagaiist. Well, good. We’re glad for you.” She said it without sarcasm. Leisha nodded. “But the world isn’t always like that. They hate us.”
“That’s too strong,” Carol said. “Not hate.”
“Well, maybe,” Jeanine said. “But they’re different from us. We’re better, and they naturally resent that.”
“I don’t see what’s natural about it,” Tony said. “Why shouldn’t it be just as natural to admire what’s better? We do. Does any one of us resent Kenzo Yagai for his genius? Or Nelson Wade, the physicist? Or Catherine Raduski?”
“We don’t resent them because we are better,” Richard said. “Q.E.D.”
“What we should do is have our own society,” Tony said. “Why should we allow their regulations to restrict our natural, honest achievements? Why should Jeanine be barred from skating against them and Jack from investing on their same terms just because we’re Sleepless? Some of them are brighter than others of them. Some have greater persistence. Well, we have greater concentration, more biochemical stability, and more time. All men are not created equal.”
“Be fair, Jack — no one has been barred from anything yet,” Jeanine said.
“But we will be.”
“Wait,” Leisha said. She was deeply troubled by the conversation. “I mean, yes, in many ways we’re better. But you quoted out of context, Tony. The Declaration of Independence doesn’t say all men are created equal in ability. It’s talking about rights and power; it means that all are created equal under the law. We have no more right to a separate society or to being free of society’s restrictions than anyone else does. There’s no other way to freely trade one’s efforts, unless the same contractual rules apply to all.”
“Spoken like a true Yagaiist,” Richard said, squeezing her hand.
“That’s enough intellectual discussion for me,” Carol said, laughing. “We’ve been at this for hours. We’re at the beach, for Chrissake. Who wants to swim with me?”
“I do,” Jeanine said. “Come on, Jack.”
All of them rose, brushing sand off their suits, discarding sunglasses. Richard pulled Leisha to her feet. But just before they ran into the water, Tony put his skinny hand on her arm. “One more question, Leisha. Just to think about. If we achieve better than most other people, and if we trade with the Sleepers when it’s mutually beneficial, making no distinction there between the strong and the weak — what obligation do we have to those so weak they don’t have anything to trade with us? We’re already going to give more than we get; do we have to do it when we get nothing at all? Do we have to take care of their deformed and handicapped and sick and lazy and shiftless with the products of our work?”
“Do the Sleepers have to?” Leisha countered.
“Kenzo Yagai would say no. He’s a Sleeper.”
“He would say they would receive the benefits of contractual trade even if they aren’t direct parties to the contract. The whole world is better fed and healthier because of Y-energy.”
“Come on!” Jeanine yelled. “Leisha, they’re ducking me! Jack, you stop that! Leisha, help me!”
Leisha laughed. Just before she grabbed for Jeanine, she caught the look on Richard’s face, and on Tony’s: Richard frankly lustful, Tony angry. At her. But why? What had she done, except argue in favor of dignity and trade?
Then Jack threw water on her, and Carol pushed Jack into the warm spray, and Richard was there with his arms around her, laughing.
When she got the water out of her eyes, Tony was gone.
* * *
Midnight. “Okay,” Carol said. “Who’s first?”
The six teenagers in the brambly clearing looked at each other. A Y-lamp, kept on low for atmosphere, cast weird shadows across their faces and over their bare legs. Around the clearing Roger Camden’s trees stood thick and dark, a wall between them and the closest of the estate’s outbuildings. It was very hot. August air hung heavy, sullen. They had voted against bringing an air-conditioned Y-field because this was a return to the primitive, the dangerous; let it be primitive.
Six pairs of eyes stared at the glass in Carol’s hand.
“Come on,” she said. “Who wants to drink up?” Her voice was jaunty, theatrically hard. “It was difficult enough to get this.”
“How did you get it?” said Richard, the group member — except for Tony — with the least influential family contacts, the least money. “In a drinkable form like that?”
“Jennifer got it,” Carol said, and five sets of eyes shifted to Jennifer Sharifi, who two weeks into her visit with Carol’s family was confusing them all. She was the American-born daughter of a Hollywood movie star and an Arab prince who had wanted to found a Sleepless dynasty. The movie star was an aging drug addict; the prince, who had taken his fortune out of oil and put it into Y-energy when Kenzo Yagai was still licensing his first patents, was dead. Jennifer Sharifi was richer than Leisha would someday be, and infinitely more sophisticated about procuring things. The glass held interleukin-1, an immune-system booster, one of many substances which as a side effect induced the brain to swift and deep sleep.
Leisha stared at the glass. A warm feeling crept through her lower belly, not unlike the feeling when she and Richard made love. She caught Jennifer watching her, and flushed.
Jennifer disturbed her. Not for the obvious reasons she disturbed Tony and Richard and Jack: the long black hair, the tall, slim body in shorts and halter. Jennifer didn’t laugh. Leisha had never met a Sleepless who didn’t laugh, nor one who said so little, with such deliberate casualness. Leisha found herself speculating on what Jennifer Sharifi wasn’t saying. It was an odd sensation to feel toward another Sleepless.
Tony said to Carol, “Give it to me!”
Carol handed him the glass. “Remember, you only need a little sip.”
Tony raised the glass to his mouth, stopped, and looked at them over the rim from his fierce eyes. He drank.
Carol took back the glass. They all watched Tony. Within a minute he lay on the rough ground; within two, his eyes closed in sleep.
It wasn’t like seeing parents sleep, siblings, friends. It was Tony. They looked away, avoided each other’s eyes. Leisha felt the warmth between her legs tug and tingle, faintly obscene. She didn’t took at Jennifer.
When it was Leisha’s turn, she drank slowly, then passed the glass to Richard. Her head turned heavy, as if it were being stuffed with damp rags. The trees at the edge of the clearing blurred. The portable lamp blurred, too. It wasn’t bright and clean anymore but squishy, blobby; if she touched it, it would smear. Then darkness swooped over her brain, taking it away: taking away her mind. “Daddy!” She tried to call, to clutch for him, but then the darkness obliterated her.
Afterward, they all had headaches. Dragging themselves back through the woods in the thin morning light was torture, compounded by an odd shame. They didn’t touch each other. Leisha walked as far away from Richard as she could.
Jennifer was the only one who spoke. “So now we know,” she said, and her voice held a strange satisfaction.
It was a whole day before the throbbing left the base of Leisha’s skull, or the nausea her stomach. She sat alone in her room, waiting for the misery to pass, and despite the heat, her whole body shivered.
There had not even been any dreams.
* * *
“I want you to come with me tonight,” Leisha said, for the tenth or twelfth time. “We both leave for college in just two days; this is the last chance. I really want you to meet Richard.”
Alice lay on her stomach across her bed. Her hair, brown and lusterless, fell around her face. She wore an expensive yellow jumpsuit, silk by Ann Patterson, which rucked up around her knees.
“Why? What do you care if I meet Richard or not?”
“Because you’re my sister,” Leisha said. She knew better than to say “my twin.” Nothing got Alice angry faster.
“I don’t want to.” The next moment Alice’s face changed. “Oh, I’m sorry, Leisha — I didn’t mean to sound so snotty. But… but I don’t want to.”
“It won’t be all of them. Just Richard. And just for an hour or so. Then you can come back here and pack for Northwestern.”
“I’m not going to Northwestern.”
Leisha stared at her.
Alice said, “I’m pregnant.”
Leisha sat on the bed. Alice rolled onto her back, brushed the hair out of her eyes, and laughed. Leisha’s ears closed against the sound. “Look at you,” Alice said. “You’d think it was you who was pregnant. But you never would be, would you, Leisha? Not until it was the proper time. Not you.”
“How?” Leisha said. “We both had our caps put in…”
“I had the cap removed,” Alice said.
“You wanted to get pregnant?”
“Damn flash I did. And there’s not a thing Daddy can do about it. Except, of course, cut off all credit completely, but I don’t think he’ll do that, do you?” She laughed again. “Even to me?”
“But Alice… why? Not just to anger Daddy!”
“No,” Alice said. “Although you would think of that, wouldn’t you? Because I want something to love. Something of my own. Something that has nothing to do with this house.”
Leisha thought of herself and Alice running through the conservatory, years ago, her and Alice, darting in and out of the sunlight. “It hasn’t been so bad growing up in this house.”
“Leisha, you’re stupid. I don’t know how anyone so smart can be so stupid. Get out of my room! Get out!”
“But Alice— a baby—”
“Get out!” Alice shrieked. “Go to Harvard! Go be successful! Just get out!”
Leisha jerked off the bed. “Gladly! You’re irrational, Alice. You don’t think ahead, you don’t plan, a baby—” But she could never sustain anger. It dribbled away, leaving her mind empty. She looked at Alice, who suddenly put out her arms. Leisha went into them.
“You’re the baby,” Alice said wonderingly. “You are. You’re so… I don’t know what. You’re a baby.”
Leisha said nothing. Alice’s arms felt warm, felt whole, felt like two children running in and out of sunlight. “I’ll help you, Alice. If Daddy won’t.”
Alice abruptly pushed her away. “I don’t need your help.”
Alice stood. Leisha rubbed her empty arms, fingertips scraping across opposite elbows. Alice kicked the empty, open trunk in which she was supposed to pack for Northwestern, and then abruptly smiled a smile that made Leisha look away. She braced herself for more abuse. But what Alice said, very softly, was, “Have a good time at Harvard.”
SHE LOVED IT.
From the first sight of Massachusetts Hall, older than the United States by a half century, Leisha felt something that had been missing in Chicago: Age. Roots. Tradition. She touched the bricks of Widener Library, the glass cases in the Peabody Museum, as if they were the grail. She had never been particularly sensitive to myth or drama; the anguish of Juliet seemed to her artificial, that of Willy Loman merely wasteful. Only King Arthur, struggling to create a better social order, had interested her. But now, walking under the huge autumn trees, she suddenly caught a glimpse of a force that could span generations, fortunes left to endow learning and achievement the benefactors would never see, individual effort spanning and shaping centuries to come. She stopped, and looked at the sky through the leaves, at the buildings solid with purpose. At such moments she thought of Camden, bending the will of an entire genetic research institute to create her in the image he wanted.
Within a month, she had forgotten all such mega-musings.
The work load was incredible, even for her. The Sauley School had encouraged individual exploration at her own pace; Harvard knew what it wanted from her, at its pace. In the past twenty years, under the academic leadership of a man who in his youth had watched Japanese economic domination with dismay, Harvard had become the controversial leader of a return to hard-edged learning of facts, theories, applications, problem-solving, and intellectual efficiency. The school accepted one of every two hundred applicants from around the world. The daughter of England’s prime minister had flunked out her first year and been sent home.
Leisha had a single room in a new dormitory, the dorm because she had spent so many years isolated in Chicago and was hungry for people, the single so she would not disturb anyone else when she worked all night. Her second day a boy from down the hall sauntered in and perched on the edge of her desk.
“So you’re Leisha Camden.”
“Sixteen years old.”
“Going to outperform us all, I understand, without even trying.”
Leisha’s smile faded. The boy stared at her from under lowered downy brows. He was smiling, his eyes sharp. From Richard and Tony and the others Leisha had learned to recognize the anger that presents itself as contempt.
“Yes,” Leisha said coolly, “I am.”
“Are you sure? With your pretty little-girl hair and your mutant little-girl brain?”
“Oh, leave her alone, Hannaway,” said another voice. A tall blond boy, so thin his ribs looked like ripples in brown sand, stood in jeans and bare feet, drying his wet hair. “Don’t you ever get tired of walking around being an asshole?”
“Do you?” Hannaway said. He heaved himself off the desk and started toward the door. The blond moved out of his way. Leisha moved into it.
“The reason I’m going to do better than you,” she said evenly, “is because I have certain advantages you don’t. Including sleeplessness. And then after I outperform you, I’ll be glad to help you study for your tests so that you can pass, too.”
The blond, drying his ears, laughed. But Hannaway stood still, and into his eyes came an expression that made Leisha back away. He pushed past her and stormed out.
“Nice going, Camden,” the blond said. “He deserved that.”
“But I meant it,” Leisha said. “I will help him study.”
The blond lowered his towel and stared. “You did, didn’t you? You meant it.”
“Yes! Why does everybody keep questioning that?”
“Well,” the boy said, “I don’t. You can help me if I get into trouble.” Suddenly he smiled. “But I won’t.”
“Because I’m just as good at anything as you are, Leisha Camden.”
She studied him. “You’re not one of us. Not Sleepless.”
“Don’t have to be. I know what I can do. Do, be, create, trade.”
She said, delighted, “You’re a Yagaiist!”
“Of course.” He held out his hand. “Stewart Sutter. How about a fish burger in the Yard?”
“Great,” Leisha said. They walked out together, talking excitedly. When people stared at her, she tried not to notice. She was here. At Harvard. With space ahead of her, time, to learn, and with people like Stewart Sutter who accepted and challenged her.
All the hours he was awake.
* * *
She became totally absorbed in her class work. Roger Camden drove up once, walking the campus with her, listening, smiling. He was more at home than Leisha would have expected: he knew Stewart Sutter’s father and Kate Addams’s grandfather. They talked about Harvard, business, Harvard, the Yagai Economics Institute, Harvard. “How’s Alice?” Leisha asked once, but Camden said he didn’t know; she had moved out and did not want to see him. He made her an allowance through his attorney. While he said this, his face remained serene.
Leisha went to the Homecoming Ball with Stewart, who was also majoring in pre-law but was two years ahead of Leisha. She took a weekend trip to Paris with Kate Addams and two other girlfriends, taking the Concorde III. She had a fight with Stewart over whether the metaphor of superconductivity could apply to Yagaiism, a stupid fight they both knew was stupid but had anyway, and afterward they became lovers. After the fumbling sexual explorations with Richard, Stewart was deft, experienced, smiling faintly as he taught her how to have an orgasm both by herself and with him. Leisha was dazzled. “It’s so joyful,” she said, and Stewart looked at her with a tenderness she knew was part disturbance but didn’t know why.
At mid-semester she had the highest grades in the freshman class. She got every answer right on every single question on her midterms. She and Stewart went out for a beer to celebrate, and when they came back Leisha’s room had been destroyed. The computer was smashed, the data banks wiped, hard copies and books smoldered in a metal wastebasket. Her clothes were ripped to pieces, her desk and bureau hacked apart. The only thing untouched, pristine, was the bed.
Stewart said, “There’s no way this could have been done in silence. Everyone on the floor — hell, on the floor below — had to know. Someone will talk to the police.” No one did. Leisha sat on the edge of the bed, dazed, and looked at the remnants of her Homecoming gown. The next day Dave Hannaway gave her a long, wide smile.
Camden flew east, taut with rage. He rented her an apartment in Cambridge with E-lock security and a bodyguard named Toshio. After he left, Leisha fired the bodyguard but kept the apartment. It gave her and Stewart more privacy, which they used to endlessly discuss the situation. It was Leisha who argued that it was an aberration, an immaturity.
“There have always been haters, Stewart. Hate Jews, hate Blacks, hate immigrants, hate Yagaiists who have more initiative and dignity than you do. I’m just the latest object of hatred. It’s not new, it’s not remarkable. It doesn’t mean any basic kind of schism between the Sleepless and Sleepers.”
Stewart sat up in bed and reached for the sandwiches on the night stand. “Doesn’t it? Leisha, you’re a different kind of person entirely. More evolutionarily fit, not only to survive but to prevail. Those other objects of hatred you cite — they were all powerless in their societies. They occupied inferior positions. You, on the other hand — all three Sleepless in Harvard Law are on the Law Review. All of them. Kevin Baker, your oldest, has already founded a successful bio-interface software firm and is making money, a lot of it. Every Sleepless is making superb grades, none has psychological problems, all are healthy, and most of you aren’t even adults yet. How much hatred do you think you’re going to encounter once you hit the high-stakes world of finance and business and scarce endowed chairs and national politics?”
“Give me a sandwich,” Leisha said. “Here’s my evidence you’re wrong: you yourself. Kenzo Yagai. Kate Addams. Professor Lane. My father. Every Sleeper who inhabits the world of fair trade and mutually beneficial contracts. And that’s most of you, or at least most of you who are worth considering. You believe that competition among the most capable leads to the most beneficial trades for everyone, strong and weak. Sleepless are making real and concrete contributions to society, in a lot of fields. That has to outweigh the discomfort we cause. We’re valuable to you. You know that.”
Stewart brushed crumbs off the sheets. “Yes. I do. Yagaiists do.”
“Yagaiists run the business and financial and academic worlds. Or they will. In a meritocracy, they should. You underestimate the majority of people, Stew. Ethics aren’t confined to the ones out front.”
“I hope you’re right,” Stewart said. “Because, you know, I’m in love with you.”
Leisha put down her sandwich.
“Joy,” Stewart mumbled into her breasts, “you are joy.”
When Leisha went home for Thanksgiving, she told Richard about Stewart. He listened tight-lipped.
“A person,” Leisha said. “A good, intelligent, achieving person!”
“Do you know what your good intelligent achieving Sleepers have done, Leisha? Jeanine has been barred from Olympic skating. ‘Genetic alteration, analogous to steroid abuse to create an unsportsmanlike advantage.’ Chris Devereaux has left Stanford. They trashed his laboratory, destroyed two years’ work in memory-formation proteins. Kevin Baker’s software company is fighting a nasty advertising campaign, all underground of course, about kids using software designed by nonhuman minds. Corruption, mental slavery, satanic influences: the whole bag of witch-hunt tricks. Wake up, Leisha!”
They both heard his words. Minutes dragged by. Richard stood like a boxer; forward on the balls of his feet, teeth clenched. Finally he said, very quietly, “Do you love him?”
“Yes,” Leisha said. “I’m sorry.”
“Your choice,” Richard said coldly. “What do you do while he’s asleep? Watch?”
“You make it sound like a perversion!”
Richard said nothing. Leisha drew a deep breath. She spoke rapidly but calmly, a controlled rush: “While Stewart is asleep I work. The same as you do. Richard — don’t do this. I didn’t mean to hurt you. And I don’t want to lose the group. I believe the Sleepers are the same species as we are. Are you going to punish me for that? Are you going to add to the hatred? Are you going to tell me that I can’t belong to a wider world that includes all honest, worthwhile people whether they sleep or not? Are you going to tell me that the most important division is by genetics and not by economic spirituality? Are you going to force me into an artificial choice, us or them?”
Richard picked up a bracelet. Leisha recognized it; she had given it to him in the summer. His voice was quiet. “No. It’s not a choice.” He played with the gold links a minute, then looked at her. “Not yet.”
* * *
By spring break, Camden walked more slowly. He took medicine for his blood pressure, his heart. He and Susan, he told Leisha, were getting a divorce. “She changed, Leisha, after I married her. You saw that. She was independent and productive and happy, and then after a few years she stopped all that and became a shrew. A whining shrew.” He shook his head in genuine bewilderment. “You saw the change.”
Leisha had. A memory came to her: Susan leading her and Alice in “games” that were actually controlled cerebral-performance tests Susan’s braids dancing around her sparkling eyes. Alice had loved Susan then, as much as Leisha had.
“Dad, I want Alice’s address.”
“I told you up at Harvard, I don’t have it,” Camden said. He shifted in his chair, the impatient gesture of a body that never expected to wear out. In January Kenzo Yagai had died of pancreatic cancer; Camden had taken the news hard. “I make her allowance through an attorney. By her choice.”
“Then I want the address of the attorney.”
The attorney, a quenched-looking man named John Jaworski, refused to tell Leisha where Alice was. “She doesn’t want to be found, Ms. Camden. She wanted a complete break.”
“Not from me,” Leisha said.
“Yes,” Jaworski said, and something flickered in his eyes, something she had last seen in Dave Hannaway’s face.
She flew to Austin before returning to Boston, making her a day late for classes. Kevin Baker saw her instantly, canceling a meeting with IBM. She told him what she needed, and he set his best datanet people on it, without telling them why. Within two hours she had Alice’s address from Jaworski’s electronic files. It was the first time, she realized, that she had ever turned to one of the Sleepless for help, and it had been given instantly. Without trade.
Alice was in Pennsylvania. The next weekend Leisha rented a hover car and driver — she had learned to drive, but only ground cars as yet — and went to High Ridge, in the Appalachian Mountains.
It was an isolated hamlet, twenty-five miles from the nearest hospital. Alice lived with a man named Ed, a silent carpenter twenty years older than she, in a cabin in the woods. The cabin had water and electricity but no newsnet. In the early spring light the earth was raw and bare, slashed with icy gullies. Alice and Ed apparently worked at nothing. Alice was eight months pregnant.
“I didn’t want you here,” she said to Leisha. “So why are you?”
“Because you’re my sister.”
“God, look at you. Is that what they’re wearing at Harvard? Boots like that? When did you become fashionable, Leisha? You were always too busy being intellectual to care.”
“What’s this all about, Alice? Why here? What are you doing?”
“Living,” Alice said. “Away from dear Daddy, away from Chicago, away from drunken, broken Susan — did you know she drinks? Just like Mom. He does that to people. But not to me. I got out. I wonder if you ever will.”
“Got out? To this?”
“I’m happy,” Alice said angrily. “Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? Isn’t that the aim of your great Kenzo Yagai — happiness through individual effort?”
Leisha thought of saying that Alice was making no efforts that she could see. She didn’t say it. A chicken ran through the yard of the cabin. Behind, the mountains rose in layer upon layer of blue haze. Leisha thought what this place must have been like in winter cut off from the world where people strived toward goals, learned, changed.
“I’m glad you’re happy, Alice.”
“Then I’m glad, too,” Alice said, almost defiantly. The next moment she abruptly hugged Leisha, fiercely, the huge, hard mound of her belly crushed between them. Alice’s hair smelled sweet, like fresh grass in sunlight.
“I’ll come see you again, Alice.”
“Don’t,” Alice said.
SLEEPLESS MUTIE BEGS for reversal of gene tampering,” screamed the headline in the Food Mart. “’Please Let Me Sleep Like Real People!’ Child Pleads.”
Leisha typed in her credit number and pressed the news kiosk for a printout, although ordinarily she ignored the electronic tabloids. The headline went on circling the kiosk. A Food Mart employee stopped stacking boxes on shelves and watched her. Bruce, Leisha’s bodyguard, watched the employee.
She was twenty-two, in her final year at Harvard Law, editor of the Law Review, clearly first in her graduating class. The closest three contenders were Jonathan Cocchiara, Len Carter, and Martha Wentz. All Sleepless.
In her apartment she skimmed the printout. Then she accessed the Groupnet run from Austin. The files had more news stories about the child, with comments from other Sleepless, but before she could call them up Kevin Baker came online himself, on voice.
“Leisha. I’m glad you called. I was going to call you.”
“What’s the situation with this Stella Bevington, Kev? Has anybody checked it out?”
“Randy Davies. He’s from Chicago but I don’t think you’ve met him; he’s still in high school. He’s in Park Ridge, Stella’s in Skokie. Her parents wouldn’t talk to him — they were pretty abusive, in fact — but he got to see Stella face-to-face anyway. It doesn’t look like an abuse case, just the usual stupidity: parents wanted a genius child, scrimped and saved, and now they can’t handle that she is one. They scream at her to sleep, get emotionally abusive when she contradicts them, but so far no violence.”
“Is the emotional abuse actionable?”
“I don’t think we want to move on it yet. Two of us will keep in close touch with Stella — she does have a modem, and she hasn’t told her parents about the net — and Randy will drive out weekly.”
Leisha bit her lip. “A tabloid shitpiece said she’s seven years old.”
“Maybe she shouldn’t be left there. I’m an Illinois resident, I can file an abuse grievance from here if Candy’s got too much in her briefcase… Seven years old.
“No. Let it sit a while. Stella will probably be all right. You know that.”
She did. Nearly all of the Sleepless stayed all right, no matter how much opposition came from the stupid segment of society. And it was only the stupid segment, Leisha argued, a small if vocal minority. Most people could, and would, adjust to the growing presence of the Sleepless, when it became clear that that presence included not only growing power but growing benefits to the country as a whole.
Kevin Baker, now twenty-six, had made a fortune in microchips so revolutionary that Artificial Intelligence, once a debated dream, was yearly closer to reality. Carolyn Rizzolo had won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for her play Morning Light. She was twenty-four. Jeremy Robinson had done significant work in superconductivity applications while still a graduate student at Stanford. William Thaine, Law Review editor when Leisha first came to Harvard, was now in private practice. He had never lost a case. He was twenty-six, and the cases were becoming important. His clients valued his ability more than his age.
But not everyone reacted that way.
Kevin Baker and Richard Keller had started the datanet that bound the Sleepless into a tight group, constantly aware of each other’s personal fights. Leisha Camden financed the legal battles, the educational costs of Sleepless whose parents were unable to meet them the support of children in emotionally bad situations. Rhonda Lavelier got herself licensed as a foster mother in California, and whenever possible the Group maneuvered to have young Sleepless who were removed from their homes assigned to Rhonda. The Group now had three licensed lawyers; within the next year it would gain four more, licensed to practice in five different states.
The one time they had not been able to remove an abused Sleepless child legally, they kidnapped him.
Timmy DeMarzo, four years old. Leisha had been opposed to the action. She had argued the case morally and pragmatically — to her they were the same thing — thus: If they believed in their society, in its fundamental laws and in their ability to belong to it as free-trading productive individuals, they must remain bound by the society’s contractual laws. The Sleepless were, for the most part, Yagaiists. They should already know this. And if the FBI caught them, the courts and press would crucify them.
They were not caught.
Timmy DeMarzo — not even old enough to call for help on the datanet, they had learned of the situation through the automatic police record scan Kevin maintained through his company — was stolen from his own back yard in Wichita. He had lived the last year in an isolated trailer in North Dakota; no place was too isolated for a modem. He was cared for by a legally irreproachable foster mother who had lived there all her life. The foster mother was second cousin to a Sleepless, a broad cheerful woman with a much better brain than her appearance indicated. She was a Yagaiist. No record of the child’s existence appeared in any data bank: not the IRS’s, not any school’s, not even the local grocery store’s computerized checkout slips. Food specifically for the child was shipped in monthly on a truck owned by a Sleepless in State College, Pennsylvania. Ten of the Group knew about the kidnapping, out of the total 3,428 sleepless born in the United States. Of those, 2,691 were part of the Group via the net. An additional 701 were as yet too young to use a modem. Only thirty-six Sleepless, for whatever reason, were not part of the Group.
The kidnapping had been arranged by Tony Indivino.
“It’s Tony I wanted to talk to you about,” Kevin said to Leisha. “He’s started again. This time he means it. He’s buying land.”
She folded the tabloid very small and laid it carefully on the table. “Where?”
“Allegheny Mountains. In southern New York State. A lot of land. He’s putting in the roads now. In the spring, the first buildings.”
“Jennifer Sharifi still financing it?” It had been six years since the interleukin-1 drinking in the woods, but the evening remained vivid to Leisha. So did Jennifer Sharifi.
“Yes. She’s got the money to do it. Tony’s starting to get a following, Leisha.”
“I will. Keep me informed about Stella.”
She worked until midnight at the Law Review, then until 4:00 A.M. preparing her classes. From four to five she handled legal matters for the Group. At 5:00 A.M. she called Tony, still in Chicago. He had finished high school, done one semester at Northwestern, and at Christmas vacation had finally exploded at his mother for forcing him to live as a Sleeper. The explosion, it seemed to Leisha, had never ended.
“The answers are yes, yes, no, and go to hell.”
Leisha gritted her teeth. “Fine. Now tell me the questions.”
“Are you really serious about the Sleepless withdrawing into their own self-sufficient society? Is Jennifer Sharifi willing to finance a project the size of building a small city? Don’t you think that’s a cheat of all that can be accomplished by patient integration of the Group into the mainstream? And what about the contradictions of living in an armed restricted city and still trading with the Outside?”
“I would never tell you to go to hell.”
“Hooray for you,” Tony said. After a moment he added, “I’m sorry. That sounds like one of them.”
“It’s wrong for us, Tony.”
“Thanks for not saying I couldn’t pull it off.”
She wondered if he could. “We’re not a separate species, Tony.”
“Tell that to the Sleepers.”
“You exaggerate. There are haters out there, there are always haters, but to give up…”
“We’re not giving up. Whatever we create can be freely traded: software, hardware, novels, information, theories, legal counsel. We can travel in and out. But we’ll have a safe place to return to. Without the leeches who think we owe them blood because we’re better than they are.”
“It isn’t a matter of owing.”
“Really?” Tony said. “Let’s have this out, Leisha. All the way. You’re a Yagaiist — what do you believe in?”
“Do it,” Tony said, and in his voice she heard the fourteen-year-old she had been introduced to by Richard. Simultaneously, she saw her father’s face: not as he was now, since the bypass, but as he had been when she was a little girl, holding her on his lap to explain that she was special.
“I believe in voluntary trade that is mutually beneficial. That spiritual dignity comes from supporting one’s life through one’s own efforts, and from trading the results of those efforts in mutual cooperation throughout the society. That the symbol of this is the contract. And that we need each other for the fullest, most beneficial trade.”
“Fine,” Tony bit off. “Now what about the beggars in Spain?”
“You walk down a street in a poor country like Spain and you see a beggar. Do you give him a dollar?”
“Why? He’s trading nothing with you. He has nothing to trade.”
“I know. Out of kindness. Compassion.”
“You see six beggars. Do you give them all a dollar?”
“Probably,” Leisha said.
“You would. You see a hundred beggars and you haven’t got Leisha Camden’s money. Do you give them each a dollar?”
Leisha reached for patience. Few people could make her want to cut off a comlink; Tony was one of them. “Too draining on my own resources. My life has first claim on the resources I earn.”
“All right. Now consider this. At Biotech Institute — where you and I began, dear pseudo-sister — Dr. Melling has just yesterday—”
“Dr. Susan Melling. Oh, God, I completely forgot she used to be married to your father!”
“I lost track of her,” Leisha said. “I didn’t realize she’d gone back to research. Alice once said… never mind. What’s going on at Biotech?”
“Two crucial items, just released. Carla Dutcher has had first-month fetal genetic analysis. Sleeplessness is a dominant gene. The next generation of the Group won’t sleep either.”
“We all knew that,” Leisha said. Carla Dutcher was the world’s first pregnant Sleepless. Her husband was a Sleeper. “The whole world expected that.”
“But the press will have a field day with it anyway. Just watch. Muties Breed! New Race Set to Dominate Next Generation Of Children!”
Leisha didn’t deny it. “And the second item?”
“It’s sad, Leisha. We’ve just had our first death.”
Her stomach tightened. “Who?”
“Bernie Kuhn. Seattle.” She didn’t know him. “A car accident. It looks pretty straightforward; he lost control on a steep curve when his brakes failed. He had only been driving a few months. He was seventeen. But the significance here is that his parents have donated his brain and body to Biotech, in conjunction with the pathology department at the Chicago Medical School. They’re going to take him apart to get the first good look at what prolonged sleeplessness does to the body and brain.”
“They should,” Leisha said. “That poor kid. But what are you so afraid they’ll find?”
“I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. But whatever it is, if the haters can use it against us, they will.”
“You’re paranoid, Tony.”
“Impossible. The Sleepless have personalities calmer and more reality-oriented than the norm. Don’t you read the literature?”
“What if you walk down that street in Spain and a hundred beggars each want a dollar and you say no and they have nothing to trade you but they’re so rotten with anger about what you have that they knock you down and grab it and then beat you out of sheer envy and despair?”
Leisha didn’t answer.
“Are you going to say that’s not a human scenario, Leisha? That it never happens?”
“It happens,” Leisha said evenly. “But not all that often.”
“Bullshit. Read more history. Read more newspapers. But the point is: What do you owe the beggars then? What does a good Yagaiist who believes in mutually beneficial contracts do with people who have nothing to trade and can only take?”
“What, Leisha? In the most objective terms you can manage, what do we owe the grasping and nonproductive needy?”
“What I said originally. Kindness. Compassion.”
“Even if they don’t trade it back? Why?”
“Because…” She stopped.
“Why? Why do law-abiding and productive human beings owe anything to those who neither produce very much nor abide by just laws? What philosophical or economic or spiritual justification is there for owing them anything? Be as honest as I know you are.”
Leisha put her head between her knees. The question gaped beneath her, but she didn’t try to evade it. “I don’t know. I just know we do.”
She didn’t answer. After a moment, Tony did. The intellectual challenge was gone from his voice. He said, almost tenderly, “Come down in the spring and see the site for Sanctuary. The buildings will be going up then.”
“No,” Leisha said.
“I’d like you to.”
“No. Armed retreat is not the way.”
Tony said, “The beggars are getting nastier Leisha. As the Sleepless grow richer. And I don’t mean in money.”
“Tony—” she said, and stopped. She couldn’t think what to say.
“Don’t walk down too many streets armed with just the memory of Kenzo Yagai.”
* * *
In March, a bitterly cold March with wind whipping down the Charles River, Richard Keller came to Cambridge. Leisha had not seen him for three years. He didn’t send her word on the Groupnet that he was coming. She hurried up the walk to her townhouse, muffled to the eyes in a red wool scarf against the snowy cold, and he stood there blocking the doorway. Behind Leisha, her bodyguard tensed.
“Richard! Bruce, it’s all right, this is an old friend.”
He was heavier, sturdier-looking, with a breadth of shoulder she didn’t recognize. But the face was Richard’s, older but unchanged: dark low brows, unruly dark hair. He had grown a beard.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
Inside, she handed him a cup of coffee. “Are you here on business?” From the Groupnet she knew that he had finished his master’s and had done outstanding work in marine biology in the Caribbean but had left that a year ago and disappeared from the net.
“No. Pleasure.” He smiled suddenly, the old smile that opened up his dark face. “I almost forgot about that for a long time. Contentment, yes. We’re all good at the contentment that comes from sustained work. But pleasure? Whim? Caprice? When was the last time you did something silly, Leisha?”
She smiled. “I ate cotton candy in the shower.”
“To see if it would dissolve in gooey pink patterns.”
“Yes. Lovely ones.”
“And that was your last silly thing? When was it?”
“Last summer,” Leisha said, and laughed.
“Well, mine is sooner than that. It’s now. I’m in Boston for no other reason than the spontaneous pleasure of seeing you.”
Leisha stopped laughing. “That’s an intense tone for a spontaneous pleasure, Richard.”
“Yup,” he said, intensely. She laughed again. He didn’t.
“I’ve been in India, Leisha. And China and Africa. Thinking, mostly. Watching. First I traveled like a Sleeper, attracting no attention. Then I set out to meet the Sleepless in India and China. There are a few, you know, whose parents were willing to come here for the operation. They pretty much are accepted and left alone. I tried to figure out why desperately poor countries — by our standards anyway; over there Y-energy is mostly available only in big cities — don’t have any trouble accepting the superiority of Sleepless, whereas Americans, with more prosperity than any time in history, build in resentment more and more.”
Leisha said, “Did you figure it out?”
“No. But I figured out something else, watching all those communes and villages and kampongs. We are too individualistic.”
Disappointment swept Leisha. She saw her father’s face: Excellence is what counts, Leisha. Excellence supported by individual effort… She reached for Richard’s cup. “More coffee?”
He caught her wrist and looked up into her face. “Don’t misunderstand me, Leisha. I’m not talking about work. We are too much individuals in the rest of our lives. Too emotionally rational. Too much alone. Isolation kills more than the free flow of ideas. It kills joy.”
He didn’t let go of her wrist. She looked down into his eyes, into depths she hadn’t seen before. It was the feeling of looking into a mineshaft, both giddy and frightening, knowing that at the bottom might be gold or darkness. Or both.
Richard said softly, “Stewart?”
“Over long ago. An undergraduate thing.” Her voice didn’t sound like her own.
“No, never — we’re just friends.”
“I wasn’t sure. Anyone?”
He let go of her wrist. Leisha peered at him timidly. He suddenly laughed. “Joy, Leisha.” An echo sounded in her mind, but she couldn’t place it, and then it was gone and she laughed too, a laugh airy and frothy and pink cotton candy in summer.
* * *
“Come home, Leisha. He’s had another heart attack.”
Susan Melling’s voice on the phone was tired. Leisha said, “How bad?”
“The doctors aren’t sure. Or say they’re not sure. He wants to see you. Can you leave your studies?”
It was May, the last push toward her finals. The Law Review proofs were behind schedule. Richard had started a new business, marine consulting to Boston fishermen plagued with sudden inexplicable shifts in ocean currents, and was working twenty hours a day. “I’ll come,” Leisha said.
Chicago was colder than Boston. The trees were half-budded. On Lake Michigan, filling the huge east windows of her father’s house, whitecaps tossed up cold spray. Leisha saw that Susan was living in the house; her brushes were on Camden’s dresser, her journals on the credenza in the foyer.
“Leisha,” Camden said. He looked old. Grey skin, sunken cheeks, the fretful and bewildered look of men who accepted potency like air, indivisible from their lives. In the corner of the room, on a small eighteenth-century slipper chair, sat a short, stocky woman with brown braids.
“Alice. I’ve looked for you…” The wrong thing to say. Leisha had looked, but not very hard, deterred by the knowledge that Alice had not wanted to be found. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Alice said. She seemed remote, gentle, unlike the angry Alice of six years ago in the raw Pennsylvania hills. Camden moved painfully on the bed. He looked at Leisha with eyes which, she saw, were undimmed in their blue brightness.
“I asked Alice to come. And Susan. Susan came a while ago. I’m dying, Leisha.”
No one contradicted him. Leisha, knowing his respect for facts, remained silent. Love hurt her chest.
“John Jaworski has my will. None of you can break it. But I wanted to tell you myself what’s in it. The past few years I’ve been selling, liquidating. Most of my holdings are accessible now. I’ve left a tenth to Alice, a tenth to Susan, a tenth to Elizabeth, and the rest to you, Leisha, because you’re the only one with the individual ability to use the money to its full potential for achievement.”
Leisha looked wildly at Alice, who gazed back with her strange remote calm. “Elizabeth? My… mother? Is alive?”
“Yes,” Camden said.
“You told me she was dead! Years and years ago!”
“Yes. I thought it was better for you that way. She didn’t like what you were, was jealous of what you could become. And she had nothing to give you. She would only have caused you emotional harm.”
Beggars in Spain…
“That was wrong, Daddy. You were wrong. She’s my mother…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.
Camden didn’t flinch. “I don’t think I was. But you’re an adult now. You can see her if you wish.”
He went on looking at her with his bright, sunken eyes, while around Leisha the air heaved and snapped. Her father had lied to her. Susan watched her closely, a small smile on her lips. Was she glad to see Camden fall in his daughter’s estimation? Had she all along been that jealous of their relationship, of Leisha…?
She was thinking like Tony.
The thought steadied her a little. But she went on staring at Camden, who went on staring back implacably, unbudged, a man positive even on his deathbed that he was right.
Alice’s hand was on her elbow, Alice’s voice so soft that no one but Leisha could hear. “He’s done talking now, Leisha. And after a while you’ll be all right.”
* * *
Alice had left her son in California with her husband of two years, Beck Watrous, a building contractor she had met while waiting on tables in a resort on the Artificial Islands. Beck had adopted Jordan, Alice’s son.
“Before Beck there was a real bad time,” Alice said in her remote voice. “You know, when I was carrying Jordan I actually used to dream that he would be Sleepless? Like you. Every night I’d dream that, and every morning I’d wake up and have morning sickness with a baby that was only going to be a stupid nothing like me. I stayed with Ed — in the Appalachian Mountains, remember? You came to see me there once for two more years. When he beat me, I was glad. I wished Daddy could see. At least Ed was touching me.”
Leisha made a sound in her throat.
“I finally left because I was afraid for Jordan. I went to California, did nothing but eat for a year. I got up to 190 pounds.” Alice was, Leisha estimated, five-foot-four. “Then I came home to see Mother.”
“You didn’t tell me,” Leisha said. “You knew she was alive and you didn’t tell me.”
“She’s in a drying-out tank half the time,” Alice said, with brutal simplicity. “She wouldn’t see you if you wanted to. But she saw me, and she fell slobbering all over me as her ‘real’ daughter, and she threw up on my dress. And I backed away from her and looked at the dress and knew it should be thrown up on, it was so ugly. Deliberately ugly. She started screaming how Dad had ruined her life, ruined mine, all for you. And do you know what I did?”
“What?” Leisha said. Her voice was shaky.
“I flew home, burned all my clothes, got a job, started college, lost fifty pounds, and put Jordan in play therapy.”
The sisters sat silent. Beyond the window the lake was dark, unlit by moon or stars. It was Leisha who suddenly shook, and Alice who patted her shoulder.
“Tell me…” Leisha couldn’t think what she wanted to be told, except that she wanted to hear Alice’s voice in the gloom, Alice’s voice as it was now, gentle and remote, without damage any more from the damaging fact of Leisha’s existence. Her very existence as damage. “Tell me about Jordan. He’s five now? What’s he like?”
Alice turned her head to look levelly into Leisha’s eyes. “He’s a happy, ordinary little boy. Completely ordinary.”
* * *
Camden died a week later. After the funeral, Leisha tried to see her mother at the Brookfield Drug and Alcohol Abuse Center. Elizabeth Camden, she was told, saw no one except her only child, Alice Camden Watrous.
Susan Melling, dressed in black, drove Leisha to the airport. Susan talked deftly, determinedly, about Leisha’s studies, about Harvard, about the Law Review. Leisha answered in monosyllables, but Susan persisted, asking questions, quietly insisting on answers: When would Leisha take her bar exams? Where was she interviewing for jobs? Gradually Leisha began to lose the numbness she had felt since her father’s casket was lowered into the ground. She realized that Susan’s persistent questioning was a kindness.
“He sacrificed a lot of people,” Leisha said suddenly.
“Not me,” Susan said. “Only for a while there, when I gave up my work to do his. Roger didn’t respect sacrifice much.”
“Was he wrong?” Leisha said. The question came out with a kind of desperateness she hadn’t intended.
Susan smiled sadly. “No. He wasn’t wrong. I should never have left my research. It took me a long time to come back to myself after that.”
He does that to people, Leisha heard inside her head. Susan? Or Alice? She couldn’t, for once, remember clearly. She saw her father in the old conservatory, now empty, potting and repotting the exotic flowers he had loved.
She was tired. It was muscle fatigue from stress, she knew; twenty minutes of rest would restore her. Her eyes burned from unaccustomed tears. She leaned her head back against the car seat and closed her eyes.
Susan pulled the car into the airport parking lot and turned off the ignition. “There’s something I want to tell you, Leisha.”
Leisha opened her eyes. “About the will?”
Susan smiled tightly. “No. You really don’t have any problems with how he divided the estate, do you? It seems reasonable to you. But that’s not it. The research team from Biotech and Chicago Medical has finished its analysis of Bernie Kuhn’s brain.”
Leisha turned to face Susan. She was startled by the complexity of Susan’s expression. It held determination, and satisfaction, and anger, and something else Leisha could not name.
Susan said, “We’re going to publish next week, in the New England Journal of Medicine. Security has been unbelievably restricted — no leaks to the popular press. But I want to tell you now, myself, what we found. So you’ll be prepared.”
“Go on,” Leisha said. Her chest felt tight.
“Do you remember when you and the other Sleepless kids took interleukin-1 to see what sleep was like? When you were sixteen?”
“How did you know about that?”
“You kids were watched a lot more closely than you think. Remember the headache you got?”
“Yes.” She and Richard and Tony and Carol and Brad and Jeanine… no, not Jeanine. Jennifer. It had been Jennifer in the woods with them.
“Interleukin-I is what I want to talk about. At least partly. It’s one of a whole group of substances that boost the immune system. They stimulate the production of antibodies, the activity of white blood cells, and a host of other immuno-enhancements. Normal people have surges of IL-1 released during the slow-wave phases of sleep. That means that they were getting boosts to the immune system during sleep. One of the questions we researchers asked ourselves twenty-eight years ago was: will Sleepless kids who don’t get those surges of IL-1 get sick more often?”
“I’ve never been sick,” Leisha said.
“Yes, you have. Chicken pox and three minor colds by the end of your fourth year,” Susan said precisely. “But in general you were all a very healthy lot. So we researchers were left with the alternate theory of sleep-driven immuno-enhancement: that the burst of immune activity existed as a counterpart to a greater vulnerability of the body in sleep to disease, probably in some way connected to the fluctuations in body temperature during REM sleep. In other words, sleep caused the immune vulnerability that endogenous pyrogens like IL-1 counteracted. Sleep was the problem, immune-system enhancements were the solution. Without sleep, there would be no problem. Are you following this?”
“Of course you are. Stupid question.” Susan brushed her hair off her face. It was going gray at the temples. There was a tiny brown age spot beneath her right ear.
“Over the years we collected thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands” of Single Photon Emission Topography scans of you kids’ brains, plus endless EEGS, samples of cerebrospinal fluid, and all the rest of it. But we couldn’t really see inside your brains, really know what’s going on in there. Until Bernie Kuhn hit that embankment.”
“Susan,” Leisha said, “give it to me straight. Without more buildup.”
“You’re not going to age.”
“Oh, cosmetically, a little — sagging due to gravity, maybe. But the absence of sleep peptides and all the rest of it affects the immune and tissue-restoration systems in ways we don’t understand. Bernie Kuhn had a perfect liver. Perfect lungs, perfect heart, perfect lymph nodes, perfect pancreas, perfect medulla oblongata. Not just healthy, or young-perfect. There’s a tissue regeneration enhancement that clearly derives from the operation of the immune system but is radically different from anything we ever suspected. Organs show no wear and tear, not even the minimal amount expected in a seventeen-year-old. They just repair themselves, perfectly, on and on… and on.”
“For how long?” Leisha whispered.
“Who the hell knows? Bernie Kuhn was young. Maybe there’s some compensatory mechanism that cuts in at some point and you’ll all just collapse, like an entire fucking gallery of Dorian Grays. But I don’t think so. Neither do I think it can go on forever; no tissue regeneration can do that. But a long, long time.”
Leisha stared at the blurred reflections in the car windshield. She saw her father’s face against the blue satin of his casket, banked with white roses. His heart, unregenerated, had given out.
Susan said, “The future is all speculative at this point. We know that the peptide structures that build up the pressure to sleep in normal people resemble the components of bacterial cell walls. Maybe there’s a connection between sleep and pathogen receptivity. We don’t know. But ignorance never stopped the tabloids. I wanted to prepare you because you’re going to get called supermen, homo perfectus, who-all knows what. Immortal.”
The two women sat in silence. Finally Leisha said, “I’m going to tell the others. On our datanet. Don’t worry about the security. Kevin Baker designed Groupnet; nobody knows anything we don’t want them to.”
“You’re that well organized already?”
Susan’s mouth worked. She looked away from Leisha. “We better go in. You’ll miss your flight.”
“You’re welcome,” Susan said, and in her voice Leisha heard the thing she had seen before in Susan’s expression and had not been able to name: it was longing.
* * *
Tissue regeneration. A long, long time, sang the blood in Leisha’s ears on the flight to Boston. Tissue regeneration. And, eventually: immortal. No, not that, she told herself severely. Not that. The blood didn’t listen.
“You sure smile a lot,” said the man next to her in first class, a business traveler who had not recognized Leisha. “You coming from a big party in Chicago?”
“No. From a funeral.”
The man looked shocked, then disgusted. Leisha looked out the window at the ground far below. Rivers like microcircuits, fields like neat index cards. And on the horizon, fluffy white clouds like masses of exotic flowers, blooms in a conservatory filled with light.
* * *
The letter was no thicker than any hard-copy mail, but hard-copy mail addressed by hand to either of them was so rare that Richard was nervous. “It might be explosive.” Leisha looked at the letter on their hall credenza. MS. LIESHA CAMDEN. Block letters, misspelled.
“It looks like a child’s writing,” she said.
Richard stood with head lowered, legs braced apart. But his expression was only weary. “Perhaps deliberately like a child’s. You’d be more open to a child’s writing, they might have figured.”
“’They’? Richard, are we getting that paranoid?”
He didn’t flinch from the question. “Yes. For the time being.”
A week earlier the New England Journal of Medicine had published Susan’s careful, sober article. An hour later the broadcast and datanet news had exploded in speculation, drama, outrage, and fear. Leisha and Richard, along with all the Sleepless on the Groupnet, had tracked and charted each of four components, looking for a dominant reaction: speculation (“The Sleepless may live for centuries, and this might lead to the following events…”); drama (“If a Sleepless marries only Sleepers, he may have lifetime enough for a dozen brides, and several dozen children, a bewildering blended family…”); outrage (“Tampering with the law of nature has only brought among us unnatural so-called people who will live with the unfair advantage of time: time to accumulate more kin, more power, more property than the rest of us could ever know…”); and fear (“How soon before the Super-race takes over?”)
“They’re all fear, of one kind or another,” Carolyn Rizzolo finally said, and the Groupnet stopped its differentiated tracking.
Leisha was taking the final exams of her last year of law school. Each day comments followed her to the campus, along the corridors and in the classroom; each day she forgot them in the grueling exam sessions, in which all students were reduced to the same status of petitioner to the great university. Afterward, temporarily drained, she walked silently back home to Richard and the Groupnet, aware of the looks of people on the street, aware of her bodyguard Bruce striding between her and them.
“It will calm down,” Leisha said. Richard didn’t answer.
The town of Salt Springs, Texas, passed a local ordinance that no Sleepless could obtain a liquor license, on the grounds that civil rights statutes were built on the “all men were created equal” clause of the Declaration of Independence, and Sleepless clearly were not covered. There were no Sleepless within a hundred miles of Salt Springs and no one had applied for a new liquor license there for the past ten years, but the story was picked up by United Press and by Datanet News, and within twenty-four hours heated editorials appeared, on both sides of the issue, across the nation.
More local ordinances were passed. In Pollux, Pennsylvania, the Sleepless could be denied an apartment rental on the grounds that their prolonged wakefulness would increase both wear-and-tear on the landlord’s property and utility bills. In Cranston Estates, California, Sleepless were barred from operating twenty-four hour businesses: “unfair competition.” Iroquois County, New York, barred them from serving on county juries, arguing that a jury containing Sleepless, with their skewed idea of time, did not constitute “a jury of one’s peers.”
“All those statutes will be thrown out in superior courts,” Leisha said. “But God! The waste of money and docket time to do it!” A part of her mind noticed that her tone as she said this was Roger Camdens.
The state of Georgia, in which some sex acts between consenting adults were still a crime, made sex between a Sleepless and a Sleeper a third-degree felony, classing it with bestiality.
Kevin Baker had designed software that scanned the newsnets at high speed, flagged all stories involving discrimination or attacks on Sleepless, and categorized them by type. The files were available on Groupnet. Leisha read through them, then called Kevin. “Can’t you create a parallel program to flag defenses of us? We’re getting a skewed picture.”
“You’re right,” Kevin said, a little startled. “I didn’t think of it.”
“Think of it,” Leisha said, grimly. Richard, watching her, said nothing.
She was most upset by the stories about Sleepless children. Shunning at school, verbal abuse by siblings, attacks by neighborhood bullies, confused resentment from parents who had wanted an exceptional child but had not bargained for one who might live centuries. The school board of Cold River Iowa, voted to bar Sleepless children from conventional classrooms because their rapid learning “created feelings of inadequacy in others, interfering with their education.” The board made funds available for Sleepless to have tutors at home. There were no volunteers among the teaching staff. Leisha started spending as much time on Groupnet with the kids, talking to them all night long, as she did studying for her bar exams, scheduled for July.
Stella Bevington stopped using her modem.
Kevin’s second program cataloged editorials urging fairness toward Sleepless. The school board of Denver set aside funds for a program in which gifted children, including the Sleepless, could use their talents and build teamwork through tutoring even younger children. Rive Beau, Louisiana, elected Sleepless Danielle du Cherney to the City Council, although Danielle was twenty-two and technically too young to qualify. The prestigious medical research firm of Halley-Hall gave much publicity to their hiring of Christopher Amren, a Sleepless with a Ph.D. in cellular physics.
Dora Clarq, a Sleepless in Dallas, opened a letter addressed to her and a plastic explosive blew off her arm.
Leisha and Richard stared at the envelope on the hall credenza. The paper was thick, cream-colored, but not expensive, the kind of paper made of bulky newsprint dyed the shades of vellum. There was no return address. Richard called Liz Bishop, a Sleepless who was majoring in criminal justice in Michigan. He had never spoken with her before neither had Leisha — but she came on the Groupnet immediately and told them how to open it. Or, she could fly up and do it if they preferred. Richard and Leisha followed her directions for remote detonation in the basement of the townhouse. Nothing blew up. When the letter was open, they took it out and read it:
Dear Ms. Camden,
You been pretty good to me and I’m sorry to do this but I quit. They are making it pretty hot for me at the union not officially but you know how it is. If I was you I wouldn’t go to the union for another bodyguard I’d try to find one privately. But be careful. Again I’m sorry but I have to live too.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Leisha said. “The two of us getting all this equipment, spending hours on this setup so an explosive won’t detonate…”
“It’s not as if I at least had a whole lot else to do,” Richard said. Since the wave of anti-Sleepless sentiment, all but two of his marine consulting clients, vulnerable to the marketplace and thus to public opinion, had canceled their accounts.
Groupnet, still up on Leisha’s terminal, shrilled in emergency override. Leisha got there first. It was Tony Indivino.
“Leisha. I need your legal help, if you’ll give it. They’re trying to fight me on Sanctuary. Please fly down here.”
* * *
Sanctuary was raw brown gashes in the late-spring earth. It was situated in the Allegheny Mountains of southern New York State, old hills rounded by age and covered with pine and hickory. A superb road led from the closest town, Conewango, to Sanctuary. Low, maintenance-free buildings, whose design was plain but graceful, stood in various stages of completion. Jennifer Sharifi, unsmiling, met Leisha and Richard. She hadn’t changed much in six years but her long black hair was uncombed and her dark eyes enormous with strain. “Tony wants to talk to you, but first he asked me to show you both around.”
“What’s wrong?” Leisha asked quietly.
Jennifer didn’t try to evade the question. “Later. First look at Sanctuary. Tony respects your opinion enormously, Leisha; he wants you to see everything.”
The dormitories each held fifty, with communal rooms for cooking, dining, relaxing, and bathing, and a warren of separate offices and studios and labs for work. “We’re calling them ‘dorms’ anyway, despite the etymology,” Jennifer said, and even in this remark, which from anybody else would have been playful, Leisha heard the peculiar combination of Jennifer’s habitual deliberate calm with her present strain.
She was impressed, despite herself, with the completeness of Tony’s plans for lives that would be both communal and intensely private. There was a gym, a small hospital — “By the end of next year, we’ll have eighteen board/certified doctors, you know, and four of them are thinking of coming here” — a daycare facility, a school, and an intensive-crop farm. “Most of the food will come in from the outside, of course. So will most people’s jobs, although they’ll do as much of them as possible from here, over datanets. We’re not cutting ourselves off from the world, only creating a safe place from which to trade with it.” Leisha didn’t answer.
Apart from the power facilities, self-supported Y-energy, she was most impressed with the human planning. Tony had interested Sleepless from virtually every field they would need both to care for themselves and to deal with the outside world. “Lawyers and accountants come first,” Jennifer said. “That’s our first line of defense in safeguarding ourselves. Tony recognizes that most modern battles for power are fought in the courtroom and boardroom.”
But not all. Last, Jennifer showed them the plans for physical defense. For the first time, her taut body seemed to relax slightly.
Every effort had been made to stop attackers without hurting them. Electronic surveillance completely circled the 150 square miles Jennifer had purchased. Some counties were smaller than that, Leisha thought, dazed. When breached, a force field a half-mile within the E-gate activated, delivering electric shocks to anyone on foot — “but only on the outside of the field. We don’t want any of our kids hurt,” Jennifer said. Unmanned penetration by vehicles or robots was identified by a system that located all moving metal above a certain mass within Sanctuary. Any moving metal that did not carry a special signaling device designed by Donald Pospula, a Sleepless who had patented important electronic components, was suspect.
“Of course, we’re not set up for an air attack or an outright army assault,” Jennifer said. “But we don’t expect that. Only the haters in self-motivated hate.”
Leisha touched the hard-copy of the security plans with one finger. They troubled her. “If we can’t integrate ourselves into the world… Free trade should imply free movement.”
Jennifer said swiftly, “Only if free movement implies free minds,” and at her tone Leisha looked up. “I have something to tell you, Leisha.”
“Tony isn’t here.”
“Where is he?”
“In Cattaraugus County jail in Conewango. It’s true we’re having zoning battles about Sanctuary — zoning! In this isolated spot! But this is something else, something that just happened this morning. Tony’s been arrested for the kidnapping of Timmy DeMarzo.”
The room wavered. “FBI?”
“How… how did they find out?”
“Some agent eventually cracked the case. They didn’t tell us how. Tony needs a lawyer, Leisha. Bill Thaine has already agreed, but Tony wants you.”
“Jennifer — I don’t even take the bar exams until July!
“He says he’ll wait. Bill will act as his lawyer in the meantime. Will you pass the bar?”
“Of course. But I already have a job lined up with Morehouse, Kennedy Anderson in New York…” She stopped. Richard was looking at her hard, Jennifer inscrutably. Leisha said quietly, “What will he plead?”
“Guilty,” Jennifer said, “with — what is it called legally? Extenuating circumstances.” Leisha nodded. She had been afraid Tony would want to plead not guilty: more lies, subterfuge, ugly politics. Her mind ran swiftly over extenuating circumstances, precedents, tests to precedents… They could use Clements v. Voy…
“Bill is at the jail now,” Jennifer said. “Will you drive in with me?” She made the question a challenge.
“Yes,” Leisha said.
In Conewango, the county seat, they were not allowed to see Tony. William Thaine, as his attorney, could go in and out freely. Leisha, not officially an attorney at all, could go nowhere. This was told to them by a man in the D.A.’s office whose face stayed immobile while he spoke to them, and who spat on the ground behind their shoes when they turned to leave, even though this left him with a smear of spittle on his courthouse floor.
Richard and Leisha drove their rental car to the airport for the flight back to Boston. On the way Richard told Leisha he was leaving. He was moving to Sanctuary, now, even before it was functional, to help with the planning and building.
* * *
She stayed most of the time in her townhouse, studying ferociously for the bar exams or checking on the Sleepless children through Groupnet. She had not hired another bodyguard to replace Bruce, which made her reluctant to go outside very much; the reluctance in turn made her angry with herself. Once or twice a day she scanned Kevin’s electronic news clippings.
There were signs of hope. The New York Times ran an editorial, widely reprinted on the electronic news services:
PROSPERITY AND HATRED:
A LOGIC CURVE WE’D RATHER NOT SEE
The United States has never been a country that much values calm, logic, and rationality. We have, as a people, tended to label these things “cold.” We have, as a people, tended to admire feeling and action: We exalt in our stories and our memorials — not the creation of the Constitution but its defense at Iwo Jima; not the intellectual achievements of a Linus Pauling but the heroic passion of a Charles Lindbergh; not the inventors of the monorails and computers that unite us but the composers of the angry songs of rebellion that divide us.
A peculiar aspect of this phenomenon is that it grows stronger in times of prosperity. The better off our citizenry, the greater their contempt for the calm reasoning that got them there, and the more passionate their indulgence in emotion. Consider, in the past century, the gaudy excesses of the roaring twenties and the antiestablishment contempt of the sixties. Consider, in our own century, the unprecedented prosperity brought about by Y-energy-and then consider that Kenzo Yagai, except to his followers, was seen as a greedy and bloodless logician, while our national adulation goes to neo-nihilist writer Stephen Castelli, to “feelie” actress Brenda Foss, and to daredevil gravity-well diver Jim Morse Luter.
But most of all, as you ponder this phenomenon in your Y-energy houses, consider the current outpouring of irrational feeling directed at the “Sleepless” since the publication of the joint findings of the Biotech Institute and the Chicago Medical School concerning Sleepless tissue regeneration.
Most of the Sleepless are intelligent. Most of them are calm, if you define that much-maligned word to mean directing one’s energies into solving problems rather than to emoting about them. (Even Pulitzer Prize winner Carolyn Rizzolo gave us a stunning play of ideas, not of passions run amuck.) All of them show a natural bent toward achievement, a bent given a decided boost by the one-third more time in their days to achieve. Their achievements lie, for the most part, in logical fields rather than emotional ones: Computers. Law. Finance. Physics. Medical research. They are rational, orderly, calm, intelligent, cheerful, young, and possibly very long-lived.
And, in our United States of unprecedented prosperity, they are increasingly hated.
Does the hatred that we have seen flower so fully over the past few months really grow, as many claim, from the “unfair advantage” the Sleepless have over the rest of us in securing jobs, promotions, money, and success? Is it really envy over the Sleepless’ good fortune? Or does it come from something more pernicious, rooted in our tradition of shoot-from-the-hip American action. hatred of the logical, the calm, the considered? Hatred in fact of the superior mind?
If so, perhaps we should think deeply about the founders of this country: Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Adams — inhabitants of the Age of Reason, all. These men created our orderly and balanced system of laws precisely to protect the property and achievements created by the individual efforts of balanced and rational minds. The Sleepless may be our severest internal test yet of our own sober belief in law and order. No, the Sleepless were not, “created equal,” but our attitudes toward them should be examined with a care equal to our soberest jurisprudence. We may not like what we learn about our own motives, but our credibility as a people may depend on the rationality and intelligence of the examination.
Both have been in short supply in the public reaction to last month’s research findings.
Law is not theater. Before we write laws reflecting gaudy and dramatic feelings, we must be very sure we understand the difference.
Leisha hugged herself, gazing in delight at the screen, smiling. She called the New York Times and asked who had written the editorial. The receptionist, cordial when she answered the phone, grew brusque. The Times was not releasing that information, “prior to internal investigation.”
It could not dampen her mood. She whirled around the apartment, after days of sitting at her desk or screen. Delight demanded physical action. She washed dishes, picked up books. There were gaps in the furniture patterns where Richard had taken pieces that belonged to him; a little quieter now, she moved the furniture to close the gaps.
Susan Melling called to tell her about the Times editorial; they talked warmly for a few minutes. When Susan hung up, the phone rang again.
“Leisha? Your voice still sounds the same. This is Stewart Sutter.”
“Stewart.” She had not seen him for four years. Their romance had lasted two years and then dissolved, not from any painful issue so much as from the press of both their studies. Standing by the comm-terminal, hearing his voice, Leisha suddenly felt again his hands on her breasts in the cramped dormitory bed: All those years before she had found a good use for a bed. The phantom hands became Richard’s hands, and a sudden pain pierced her.
“Listen,” Stewart said, “I’m calling because there’s some information I think you should know. You take your bar exams next week, right? And then you have a tentative job with Morehouse, Kennedy Anderson.”
“How do you know all that, Stewart?”
“Men’s room gossip. Well, not as bad as that. But the New York legal community — that part of it, anyway — is smaller than you think. And you’re a pretty visible figure.”
“Yes,” Leisha said neutrally.
“Nobody has the slightest doubt you’ll be called to the bar. But there is some doubt about the job with Morehouse, Kennedy. You’ve got two senior partners, Alan Morehouse and Seth Brown, who have changed their minds since this… flap. ‘Adverse publicity for the firm,’ ‘turning law into a circus,’ blah blah blah. You know the drill. But you’ve also got two powerful champions, Ann Carlyle and Michael Kennedy, the old man himself. He’s quite a mind. Anyway, I wanted you to know all this so you can recognize exactly what the situation is and know whom to count on in the infighting.”
“Thank you,” Leisha said. “Stew… why do you care if I get it or not? Why should it matter to you?”
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Then Stewart said, very low, “We’re not all noodle heads out here, Leisha. Justice does still matter to some of us. So does achievement.”
Light rose in her, a bubble of buoyant light.
Stewart said, “You have a lot of support here for that stupid zoning fight over Sanctuary, too. You might not realize that, but you do. What the Parks Commission crowd is trying to pull is… but they’re just being used as fronts. You know that. Anyway, when it gets as far as the courts, you’ll have all the help you need.”
“Sanctuary isn’t my doing. At all.”
“No? Well, I meant the plural you.”
“Thank you. I mean that. How are you doing?”
“Fine. I’m a daddy now.”
“Really! Boy or girl?”
“Girl. A beautiful little bitch named Justine, drives me crazy. I’d like you to meet my wife sometime, Leisha.”
“I’d like that,” Leisha said.
She spent the rest of the night studying for her bar exams. The bubble stayed with her. She recognized exactly what it was: joy.
It was going to be all right. The contract, unwritten, between her and her society — Kenzo Yagai’s society, Roger Camden’s society would hold. With dissent and strife and yes, some hatred. She suddenly thought of Tony’s beggars in Spain, furious at the strong because the beggars were not. Yes. But it would hold.
She believed that.
LEISHA TOOK HER bar exams in July. They did not seem hard to her. Afterward three classmates, two men and a woman, made a fakely casual point of talking to Leisha until she had climbed safely into a taxi whose driver obviously did not recognize her, or stop signs. The three were all Sleepers. A pair of undergraduates, clean shaven blond men with the long faces and pointless arrogance of rich stupidity, eyed Leisha and sneered. Leisha’s female classmate sneered back.
Leisha had a flight to Chicago the next morning. Alice was going to join her there. They had to clean out the big house on the lake, dispose of Roger’s personal property, put the house on the market. Leisha had had no time to do it earlier.
She remembered her father in the conservatory, wearing an ancient flat-topped hat he had picked up somewhere, potting orchids and jasmine and passion flowers.
When the doorbell rang she was startled; she almost never had visitors. Eagerly, she turned on the outside camera — maybe it was Jonathan or Martha, back in Boston to surprise her, to celebrate — why hadn’t she thought before about some sort of celebration?
Richard stood gazing up at the camera. He had been crying.
She tore open the door. Richard made no move to come in. Leisha saw that what the camera had registered as grief was actually something else: tears of rage.
Leisha put out her hand, blindly. Richard didn’t take it.
“They killed him in prison. Not the authorities — the other prisoners. In the recreation yard. Murderers, rapists, looters, scum of the earth — and they thought they had the right to kill him because he was different.”
Now Richard did grab her arm, so hard that something, some bone, shifted beneath the flesh and pressed on a nerve. “Not just different — better. Because he was better, because we all are, we goddamn just don’t stand up and shout it out of some misplaced feeling for their feelings… God!”
Leisha pulled her arm free and rubbed it, numb, staring at Richard’s contorted face.
“They beat him to death with a lead pipe. No one even knows how they got a lead pipe. They beat him on the back of the head and then they rolled him over and—”
“Don’t!” Leisha said. It came out a whimper.
Richard looked at her. Despite his shouting, his violent grip on her arm, Leisha had the confused impression that this was the first time he had actually seen her. She went on rubbing her arm, staring at him in terror.
He said quietly, “I’ve come to take you to Sanctuary, Leisha. Dan Jenkins and Vernon Bulriss are in the car outside. The three of us will carry you out, if necessary. But you’re coming. You see that, don’t you? You’re not safe here, with your high profile and your spectacular looks. You’re a natural target if anyone is. Do we have to force you? Or do you finally see for yourself that we have no choice — the bastards have left us no choice — except Sanctuary?”
Leisha closed her eyes. Tony, at fourteen, at the beach. Tony, his eyes ferocious and shining, the first to reach out his hand for the glass of interleukin-1. Beggars in Spain.
* * *
She had never known such anger. It scared her, coming in bouts throughout the long night, receding but always returning again. Richard held her in his arms, sitting with their backs against the wall of her library, and his holding made no difference at all. In the living room Dan and Vernon talked in low voices.
Sometimes the anger erupted in shouting, and Leisha heard herself and thought, I don’t know you. Sometimes it became crying, sometimes talking about Tony, about all of them. Neither the shouting nor the crying nor the talking eased her at all.
Planning did, a little. In a cold, dry voice she didn’t recognize, Leisha told Richard about the trip to close the house in Chicago. She had to go; Alice was already there. If Richard and Dan and Vernon put Leisha on the plane, and Alice met her at the other end with union bodyguards, she should be safe enough. Then she would change her return ticket from Boston to Conewongo and drive with Richard to Sanctuary.
“People are already arriving,” Richard said. “Jennifer Sharifi is organizing it, greasing the Sleeper suppliers with so much money they can’t resist. What about this townhouse here, Leisha? Your furniture and terminal and clothes?”
Leisha looked around her familiar office. Law books, red and green and brown, lined the walls although most of the same information was online. A coffee cup rested on a printout on the desk. Beside it was the receipt she had requested from the taxi driver this afternoon, a giddy souvenir of the day she had passed her bar exams; she had thought of having it framed. Above the desk was a holographic portrait of Kenzo Yagai.
“Let it rot,” Leisha said.
Richard’s arm tightened around her.
* * *
“I’ve never seen you like this,” Alice said, subdued. “It’s more than just clearing out the house, isn’t it?”
“Let’s get on with it,” Leisha said. She yanked a suit from her father’s closet. “Do you want any of this stuff for your husband?”
“It wouldn’t fit.”
“No,” Alice said. “Leisha — what is it?”
“Let’s just do it!” She yanked all the clothes from Camden’s closet, piled them on the floor, scrawled FOR VOLUNTEER AGENCY on a piece of paper, and dropped it on top of the pile. Silently, Alice started adding clothes from the dresser, which already bore a taped paper bearing the words, ESTATE AUCTION.
The curtains were already down throughout the house; Alice had done that yesterday. She had also rolled up the rugs. Sunset glared red on the bare wooden floors.
“What about your old room?” Leisha said. “What do you want there?”
“I’ve already tagged it,” Alice said. “A mover will come Thursday.”
“Fine. What else?”
“The conservatory. Sanderson has been watering everything, but he didn’t really know what needed how much, so some of the plants are—”
“Fire Sanderson,” Leisha said curtly. “The exotics can die. Or have them sent to a hospital, if you’d rather. Just watch out for the ones that are poisonous. Come on, let’s do the library.”
Alice sat slowly on a rolled-up rug in the middle of Camden’s bedroom. She had cut her hair; Leisha thought it looked ugly, like jagged brown spikes around her broad face. She had also gained more weight. She was starting to look like their mother.
Alice said, “Do you remember the night I told you I was pregnant? Just before you left for Harvard?”
“Let’s do the library!”
“Do you?” Alice said. “For God’s sake, can’t you just once listen to someone else, Leisha? Do you have to be so much like Daddy every single minute?”
“I’m not Daddy!”
“The hell you’re not. You’re exactly what he made you. But that’s not the point. Do you remember that night?”
Leisha walked over the rug and out the door. Alice simply sat. After a minute Leisha walked back in. “I remember.”
“You were near tears,” Alice said implacably. Her voice was quiet. “I don’t even remember exactly why. Maybe because I wasn’t going to college after all. But I put my arms around you, and for the first time in years — years, Leisha — I felt you really were my sister. Despite all of it — the roaming the halls all night and the showoff arguments with Daddy and the special school and the artificially long legs and golden hair — all that crap. You seemed to need me to hold you. You seemed to need me. You seemed to need.
“What are you saying?” Leisha demanded. “That you can only be close to someone if they’re in trouble and need you? That you can only be a sister if I was in some kind of pain, open sores running? Is that the bond between you Sleepers? ‘Protect me while I’m unconscious, I’m just as crippled as you are’?”
“No,” Alice said. “I’m saying that you could be a sister only if you were in some kind of pain.”
Leisha stared at her. “You’re stupid, Alice.”
Alice said calmly, “I know that. Compared to you, I am. I know that.”
Leisha jerked her head angrily. She felt ashamed of what she had just said, and yet it was true, and they both knew it was true, and anger still lay in her like a dark void, formless and hot. It was the formless part that was the worst. Without shape, there could be no action; without action, the anger went on burning her, choking her.
Alice said, “When I was twelve Susan gave me a dress for our birthday. You were away somewhere, on one of those overnight field trips your fancy progressive school did all the time. The dress was silk, pale blue, with antique lace — very beautiful. I was thrilled, not only because it was beautiful but because Susan had gotten it for me and gotten software for you. The dress was mine. Was, I thought, me.” In the gathering gloom Leisha could barely make out her broad, plain features. “The first time I wore it a boy said, ‘Stole your sister’s dress, Alice? Snitched it while she was sleeping?’ Then he laughed like crazy, the way they always did.
“I threw the dress away. I didn’t even explain to Susan, although I think she would have understood. Whatever was yours was yours, and whatever wasn’t yours was yours, too. That’s the way Daddy set it up. The way he hard-wired it into our genes.”
“You, too?” Leisha said. “You’re no different from the other envious beggars?”
Alice stood up from the rug. She did it slowly, leisurely, brushing dust off the back of her wrinkled skirt, smoothing the print fabric. Then she walked over and hit Leisha in the mouth.
“Now do you see me as real?” Alice asked quietly.
Leisha put her hand to her mouth. She felt blood. The phone rang, Camden’s unlisted personal line. Alice walked over, picked it up, listened, and held it calmly out to Leisha. “It’s for you.”
Numb, Leisha took it.
“Leisha? This is Kevin. Listen, something’s happened. Stella Bevington called me, on the phone, not Groupnet; I think her parents took away her modem. I picked up the phone and she screamed, ‘This is Stella! They’re hitting me, he’s drunk — ‘ and then the line went dead. Randy’s gone to Sanctuary — hell, they’ve all gone. You’re closest to her, she’s still in Skokie. You better get there fast. Have you got bodyguards you trust?”
“Yes,” Leisha said, although she hadn’t. The anger, finally, took form. “I can handle it.”
“I don’t know how you’ll get her out of there,” Kevin said. “They’ll recognize you, they know she called somebody, they might even have knocked her out…”
“I’ll handle it,” Leisha said.
“Handle what?” Alice said.
Leisha faced her. Even though she knew she shouldn’t, she said, “What your people do. To one of ours. A seven-year-old kid who’s getting beaten by her parents because she’s Sleepless — because she’s better than you are—” She ran down the stairs and out to the rental car she had driven from the airport.
Alice ran right down with her. “Not your car, Leisha. They can trace a rental car just like that. My car.”
Leisha screamed, “If you think you’re—”
Alice yanked open the door of her battered Toyota, a model so old the Y-energy cones weren’t even concealed but hung like drooping jowls on either side. She shoved Leisha into the passenger seat, slammed the door, and rammed herself behind the wheel. Her hands were steady. “Where?”
Blackness swooped over Leisha. She put her head down, as far between her knees as the cramped Toyota would allow. It had been two — no, three-days since she had eaten. Not since the night before the bar exams. The faintness receded, swept over her again as soon as she raised her head.
She told Alice the address in Skokie.
* * *
“Stay way in the back,” Alice said. “And there’s a scarf in the glove compartment — put it on. Low, to hide as much of your face as possible.”
Alice had stopped the car along Highway 42. Leisha said, “This isn’t—”
“It’s a quick-guard place. ‘We have to look like we have some protection, Leisha. We don’t need to tell him anything. I’ll hurry.”
She was out in three minutes with a huge man in a cheap dark suit. He squeezed into the front seat beside Alice and said nothing at all. Alice did not introduce him.
The house was small, a little shabby, with lights on downstairs, none upstairs. The first stars shone in the north, away from Chicago. Alice said to the guard, “Get out of the car and stand here by the car door — no, more in the light — and don’t do anything unless I’m attacked in some way.” The man nodded. Alice started up the walk. Leisha scrambled out of the back seat and caught her sister two-thirds of the way to the plastic front door.
“Alice, what the hell are you doing? I have to—”
“Keep your voice down,” Alice said, glancing at the guard. “Leisha, think. You’ll be recognized. Here, near Chicago, with a Sleepless daughter — these people have looked at your picture in magazines for years. They’ve watched long-range holovids of you. They know you, They know you’re going to be a lawyer. Me they’ve never seen. I’m nobody.”
“For Chrissake, get back in the car!” Alice hissed, and pounded on the front door.
Leisha drew off the walk, into the shadow of a willow tree. A man opened the door. His face was completely blank.
Alice said, “Child Protection Agency. We got a call from a little girl, this number. Let me in.”
“There’s no little girl here.”
“This is an emergency, priority one,” Alice said. “Child Protection Act 186. Let me in!”
The man, still blank-faced, glanced at the huge figure by the car. “You got a search warrant?”
“I don’t need one in a priority-one child emergency. If you don’t let me in, you’re going to have legal snarls like you never bargained for.”
Leisha clamped her lips together. No one would believe that, it was legal gobbledygook… Her lip throbbed where Alice had hit it.
The man stood aside to let Alice enter.
The guard started forward. Leisha hesitated, then let him. He entered with Alice.
Leisha waited, alone, in the dark.
In three minutes they were out, the guard carrying a child. Alice’s broad face gleamed pale in the porch light. Leisha sprang forward, opened the car door, and helped the guard ease the child inside. The guard was frowning, a slow puzzled frown shot with wariness.
Alice said, “Here. This is an extra hundred dollars. To get back to the city by yourself.”
“Hey…” the guard said, but he took the money. He stood looking after them as Alice pulled away.
“He’ll go straight to the police,” Leisha said despairingly. “He has to, or risk his union membership.”
“I know,” Alice said. “But by that time we’ll be out of the car.”
“At the hospital,” Alice said.
“Alice, we can’t—” Leisha didn’t finish. She turned to the back seat. “Stella? Are you conscious?”
“Yes,” said the small voice.
Leisha groped until her fingers found the rear-seat illuminator. Stella lay stretched out on the seat, her face distorted with pain. She cradled her left arm in her right. A single bruise colored her face, above the left eye. Her red hair was tangled and dirty.
“You’re Leisha Camden,” the child said, and started to cry.
“Her arm’s broken,” Alice said.
“Honey, can you…” Leisha’s throat felt thick, she had trouble getting the words out “…can you hold on till we get you to a doctor?”
“Yes,” Stella said. “Just don’t take me back there!”
“We won’t,” Leisha said. “Ever.” She glanced at Alice and saw Tony’s face.
Alice said, “There’s a community hospital about ten miles south of here.”
“How do you know that?”
“I was there once. Drug overdose,” Alice said briefly. She drove hunched over the wheel, with the face of someone thinking furiously. Leisha thought, too, trying to see a way around the legal charge of kidnapping. They probably couldn’t say the child came willingly. Stella would undoubtedly cooperate but at her age and in her condition she was probably non sui juris, her word would have no legal weight…
“Alice, we can’t even get her into the hospital without insurance information. Verifiable online.”
“Listen,” Alice said, not to Leisha but over her shoulder, toward the back seat, “here’s what we’re going to do, Stella. I’m going to tell them you’re my daughter and you fell off a big rock you were climbing while we stopped for a snack at a roadside picnic area. We’re driving from California to Philadelphia to see your grandmother. Your name is Jordan Watrous and you’re five years old. Got that, honey?”
“I’m seven,” Stella said. “Almost eight.”
“You’re a very large five. Your birthday is March 23. Can you do this, Stella?”
“Yes,” the little girl said. Her voice was stronger.
Leisha stared at Alice. “Can you do this?”
“Of course I can,” Alice said. “I’m Roger Camden’s daughter.”
* * *
Alice half-carried, half-supported Stella into the Emergency Room of the small community hospital. Leisha watched from the car: the short stocky woman, the child’s thin body with the twisted arm. Then she drove Alice’s car to the farthest corner of the parking lot, under the dubious cover of a skimpy maple, and locked it. She tied the scarf more securely around her face.
Alice’s license plate number, and her name, would be in every police and rental-car databank by now. The medical banks were slower; often they uploaded from local precincts only once a day, resenting the governmental interference in what was still, despite a half-century of battle, a private-sector enterprise. Alice and Stella would probably be all right in the hospital. Probably. But Alice could not rent another car.
But the data file that would flash to rental agencies on Alice Camden Watrous might or might not include that she was Leisha Camden’s twin.
Leisha looked at the rows of cars in the lot. A flashy luxury Chrysler, an Ikeda van, a row of middle-class Toyotas and Mercedes, a vintage ‘99 Cadillac — she could imagine the owner’s face if that were missing — ten or twelve cheap runabouts, a hover car with the uniformed driver asleep at the wheel. And a battered farm truck.
Leisha walked over to the truck. A man sat at the wheel, smoking. She thought of her father.
“Hello,” Leisha said.
The man rolled down his window but didn’t answer. He had greasy brown hair.
“See that hover car over there?” Leisha said. She made her voice sound young, high. The man glanced at it indifferently; from this angle you couldn’t see that the driver was asleep. “That’s my bodyguard. He thinks I’m inside, the way my father told me to, getting this lip looked at.” She could feel her mouth swollen from Alice’s blow.
Leisha stamped her foot. “So I don’t want to be inside. He’s a shit and so’s Daddy. I want out. I’ll give you four thousand bank credits for your truck. Cash.”
The man’s eyes widened. He tossed away his cigarette and looked again at the hover car. The driver’s shoulders were broad, and the car was within easy screaming distance.
“All nice and legal,” Leisha said, trying to smirk. Her knees felt watery.
“Let me see the cash.”
Leisha backed away from the truck, to where he could not reach her. She took the money from her arm clip. She was used to carrying a lot of cash; there had always been Bruce, or someone like Bruce. There had always been safety.
“Get out of the truck on the other side,” Leisha said, “and lock the door behind you. Leave the keys on the seat, where I can see them from here. Then I’ll put the money on the roof where you can see it.”
The man laughed, a sound like gravel pouring. “Regular little Dabney Engh, aren’t you? Is that what they teach you society debs at your fancy schools?”
Leisha had no idea who Dabney Engh was. She waited, watching the man try to think of a way to cheat her, and tried to hide her contempt. She thought of Tony.
“All right,” he said, and slid out of the truck.
“Lock the door!”
He grinned, opened the door again, and locked it. Leisha put the money on the roof, yanked open the driver’s door, clambered in, locked the door, and powered up the window. The man laughed. She put the key into the ignition, started the truck, and drove toward the street. Her hands trembled.
She drove slowly around the block twice. When she came back, the man was gone, and the driver of the hover car was still asleep. She had wondered if the man would wake him, out of sheer malice, but he had not. She parked the truck and waited.
An hour and a half later Alice and a nurse wheeled Stella out of the Emergency entrance. Leisha leaped out of the truck and yelled, “Coming, Alice!” waving both her arms. It was too dark to see Alice’s expression; Leisha could only hope that Alice showed no dismay at the battered truck, that she had not told the nurse to expect a red car.
Alice said, “This is Julie Bergadon, a friend that I called while you were setting Jordan’s arm.” The nurse nodded, uninterested. The two women helped Stella into the high truck cab; there was no back seat. Stella had a cast on her arm and looked drugged.
“How?” Alice said as they drove off.
Leisha didn’t answer. She was watching a police hover car land at the other end of the parking lot. Two officers got out and strode purposefully toward Alice’s locked car under the skimpy maple.
“My God,” Alice said. For the first time, she sounded frightened.
“They won’t trace us,” Leisha said. “Not to this truck. Count on it.”
“Leisha.” Alice’s voice spiked with fear. “Stella’s asleep.”
Leisha glanced at the child, slumped against Alice’s shoulder. “No, she’s not. She’s unconscious from painkillers.”
“Is that all right? Normal? For… her?”
“We can black out. We can even experience substance-induced sleep.” Tony and she and Richard and Jennifer in the midnight woods… “Didn’t you know that, Alice?”
“We don’t know very much about each other, do we?”
They drove south in silence. Finally Alice said, “Where are we going to take her, Leisha?”
“I don’t know. Any one of the Sleepless would be the first place the police would check—”
“You can’t risk it. Not the way things are,” Alice said. She sounded weary. “But all my friends are in California. I don’t think we could drive this rust bucket that far before getting stopped.”
“It wouldn’t make it anyway.”
“What should we do?”
“Let me think.”
At an expressway exit was a pay phone. It wouldn’t be data-shielded, as Groupnet was. Would Kevin’s open line be tapped? Probably.
There was no doubt the Sanctuary line would be.
Sanctuary. All of them were going there or already there, Kevin had said. Holed up, trying to pull the worn Allegheny Mountains around them like a safe little den. Except for the children like Stella, who could not.
Where? With whom?
Leisha closed her eyes. The Sleepless were out; the police would find Stella within hours. Susan Melling? But she had been Alice’s all-too visible stepmother, and was a co-beneficiary of Camden’s will; they would question her almost immediately. It couldn’t be anyone traceable to Alice. It could only be a Sleeper that Leisha knew, and trusted, and why should anyone at all fit that description? Why should she risk so much on anyone who did?
She stood a long time in the dark phone kiosk. Then she walked to the truck. Alice was asleep, her head thrown back against the seat. A tiny line of drool ran down her chin. Her face was white and drained in the bad light from the kiosk. Leisha walked back to the phone.
“Stewart? Stewart Sutter?”
“This is Leisha Camden. Something has happened.” She told the story tersely, in bald sentences. Stewart did not interrupt.
“Leisha—” Stewart said, and stopped.
“I need help, Stewart.” ’I’ll help you, Alice.’ ‘I don’t need your Help.’
A wind whistled over the dark field beside the kiosk and Leisha shivered. She heard in the wind the thin keen of a beggar. In the wind, in her own voice.
“All right,” Stewart said, “this is what we’ll do. I have a cousin in Ripley, New York, just over the state line from Pennsylvania, the route you’ll be driving east. It has to be in New York; I’m licensed in New York. Take the little girl there. I’ll call my cousin and tell her you’re coming. She’s an elderly woman, was quite an activist in her youth. Her name is Janet Patterson. The town is—”
“What makes you so sure she’ll get involved? She could go to jail. And so could you.”
“She’s been in jail so many times you wouldn’t believe it. Political protests going all the way back to Vietnam. But no one’s going to jail. I’m now your attorney of record, I’m privileged. I’m going to get Stella declared a ward of the state. That shouldn’t be too hard with the hospital records you established in Skokie. Then she can be transferred to a foster home in New York. I know just the place, people who are fair and kind. Then Alice—”
“Stella’s resident in Illinois. You can’t—”
“Yes, I can. Since those research findings about the Sleepless lifespan have come out, legislators have been railroaded by stupid constituents scared or jealous or just plain angry. The result is a body of so-called law riddled with contradictions, absurdities, and loopholes. None of it will stand in the long run or at least I hope not — but in the meantime it can all be exploited. I can use it to create the most goddamn convoluted case for Stella that anybody ever saw, and in the meantime she won’t be returned home. But that won’t work for Alice. She’ll need an attorney licensed in Illinois.”
“We have one,” Leisha said. “Candace Holt.”
“No, not a Sleepless. Trust me on this, Leisha. I’ll find somebody good. There’s a guy in — are you crying?”
“No,” Leisha said, crying.
“Ah, God,” Stewart said. “Bastards. I’m sorry all this happened, Leisha.”
“Don’t be,” Leisha said.
When she had directions to Stewart’s cousin, she walked back to the truck. Alice was still asleep, Stella still unconscious. Leisha closed the truck door as quietly as possible. The engine balked and roared, but Alice didn’t wake.
There was a crowd of people with them in the narrow and darkened cab: Stewart Sutter, Tony Indivino, Susan Melling, Kenzo Yagi, Roger Camden.
To Stewart Sutter she said, You called to inform me about the situation at Morehouse, Kennedy. You are risking your career and your cousin for Stella. And you stand to gain nothing. Like Susan telling me in advance about Bernie Kuhn’s brain. Susan, who lost her life to Daddy’s dream and regained it by her own strength. A contract without consideration for each side is not a contract: Every first-year Student knows that.
To Kenzo Yagai she said, Trade isn’t always linear. You missed that. If Stewart gives me something, and I give Stella something, and ten years from now Stella is a different person because of that and gives something to someone else as yet unknown — it’s an ecology. An ecology of trade, yes, each niche needed, even if they’re not contractually bound. Does a horse need a fish? Yes.
To Tony she said, Yes, there are beggars in Spain who trade nothing, give nothing, do nothing. But there are more than beggars in Spain. Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. And you withdraw from the possibility of the ecology of help. That’s what Alice wanted, all those years ago in her bedroom. Pregnant, scared, angry, jealous, she wanted to help me, and I wouldn’t let her because I didn’t need it. But I do now. And she did then. Beggars need to help as well as be helped.
And finally, there was only Daddy left. She could see him, bright-eyed, holding thick-leaved exotic flowers in his strong hands. To Camden she said, You were wrong. Alice is special. Oh, Daddy — the specialness of Alice! You were wrong.
As soon as she thought this, lightness filled her. Not the buoyant bubble of joy, not the hard clarity of examination, but something else: sunshine, soft through the conservatory glass, where two children ran in and out. She suddenly felt light herself, not buoyant but translucent, a medium for the sunshine to pass clear through, on its way to somewhere else.
She drove the sleeping woman and the wounded child through the night, east, toward the state line.