"Five times?" she repeated.
"Also a mild vasodilator," added Roswell.
"Any vine left?" she asked.
"The crude extract?" He shifted in his chair. "Tossed. Before the tech read through the printed results."
She studied the oak outside. It was at least 100 years old. Earlier in the fall she noted it had a mild case of anthracnose, the brown blotches spreading across the leaves. With luck, this winter would be severe enough to kill the fungus. "Any description of what the vine looked like? The shape of the leaf? The type of branching?"
"From the tech? He's just out of college, doesn't notice plants."
Max was derailed for a moment, trying to imagine that. Then continued, "Foreign or domestic?"
"Where'd the vine come from?"
"Virunga National Park, Rwanda."
"Foreign." She eyed the oak. She'd always been honest to a fault, uncomfortably honest. "Well, I'm sorry then. This won't work. You won't be able to get the plant out through customs. Not legally. It's the property of another country."
Stevens responded, his voice smooth. "The Rwandan president himself has given us the go-ahead, requesting immigration render us every assistance possible."
She was careful this time to glance only so far as his mouth. A mouth wasn't as shivery as eyes, not so shocking. His lips were stretched in a proud smile, indents at the corners of his mouth from the contraction of the buccinator muscles. However, none of his teeth were revealed.
"How'd you manage that?" she asked, turning back to the oak. Plants were so much more understandable. This tree, for instance, whatever gesture it made was how it grew, its limbs hardening into its intent. She could comprehend it at a glance, its past struggles for water and sun, its future needs there in the angle of its trunk, the reach of its branches. Never a hidden agenda.
The two men looked at each other. Then Roswell said in his flatter voice, "Since the genocide, the country's not doing so well economically. They need money."
Stevens continued, "If any drug made it to market, the Rwandan government would get a share of the profits. Also we're in preliminary negotiations to build a factory in Kigali." She glanced over. His smile wider, lips parting, visible teeth. (Most humans were born able to read the facial expressions of others - not even knowing they should be thankful for that immense power. They could afford to be sloppy, satisfied with approximations of sincerity. Max, on the other hand, had labored for a solid year before college, studying flashcards and videos. Her mom and her, on the couch, went frame by frame through Bambi and Dumbo, analyzing each close-up.
Animated talking animals were much less threatening and had such telegraphed emotions. They became her seminar in humanity. She could reel off every facial muscle. Zygomaticus major, caninus, procerus. She'd memorized action units and rules.)
Stevens's grin wasn't honest, for it didn't extend to the muscles under his eyes.
Her mother had always repeated that, yes, Max had deficits, but through them she could attain unusual strengths.
"You're not going to build a factory there, are you?" she guessed.
A beat passed. His voice wasn't quite as smooth when he responded. "That hasn't been determined yet. The important thing, in terms of us getting hold of this vine, is that Rwanda needs this facility."
Five times the beta-blockers of Carvedilol, she thought. She noticed her hands were flapping slightly, patting her knees as though she were keeping time. She consciously stilled them in her lap. Her whole life spent imitating the normals. "To get hold of that vine, not just the government has to sign off. The era is over in which we can make nice with a shaman for a few days in order to learn priceless botanical secrets. The shamans are onto us. The tribes have lawyers." No one who didn't know her well would detect excitement. In the field of science, the monotone of her voice helped her, sounding dispassionate. "Harvard's latest expedition is being sued by over fourteen different indigenous - "
Excerpted from Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman. Copyright © 2012 by Audrey Schulman. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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