Stella lay on her back in a bed that had been too short for over a year. At eleven, she was almost as tall as Kaye and beautiful in her slender, round-faced way, skin pale copper and tawny gold in the glow of the night-light, hair dark brown with reddish tints, same texture as Kayes and not much longer.
Their family had become a triangle, still strong, but with the three sides stretching each month. Neither Mitch nor Kaye could give Stella what she really needed.
And each other?
He looked up to see the orange line of sunrise through the filmy white curtains of Stellas window. Last night, cheeks freckling with anger, Stella had demanded to know when they would let her out of the house on her own, without makeup, to be with kids her own age. Her kind of kids. It had been two years since her last "play date."
Kaye had done wonders with home teaching, but as Stella had pointed out last night, over and over again, with rising emotion, "I am not like you!" For the first time, Stella had formally proclaimed: "I am not human!"
But of course she was. Only fools thought otherwise. Fools, and monsters, and their daughter.
Mitch kissed Stella on the forehead. Her skin was warm. She did not wake up. Stella as she slept smelled like her dreams, and now she smelled the way tears taste, tang of salt and sadness.
"Got to go," he murmured. Stellas cheeks produced waves of golden freckles. Mitch smiled.
Even asleep, his daughter could say good-bye.
Center for Ancient Viral Studies, United States Army Research Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases: USARMIID Fort Detrick, Maryland
"People died, Christopher," Marian Freedman said. "Isnt that enough to make us cautious, even a little crazy?"
Christopher Dicken walked beside her, tilting on his game leg, staring down the concrete corridor to the steel door at the end. His National Cancer Institute ID badge still poked from his jacket pocket. He clutched a large bouquet of roses and lilies. The two had been engaged in debate from the front desk through four security checkpoints.
"Nobodys diagnosed a case of Shiver for a decade," he said. "And nobody ever got sick from the children. Isolating them is politics, not biology."
Marian took his day pass and ran it through the scanner. The steel door opened to a horizontal spread of sunglass-green access tubes, suspended like a hamster maze over a two-acre basin of raw gray concrete. She held out her hand, letting him go first. "You know about Shiver firsthand."
"It went away in a couple of weeks," Dicken said.
"It lasted five weeks, and it damned near killed you. Dont bullshit me with your virus hunter bravado."
Dicken stepped slowly onto the catwalk, having difficulty judging depth with just one eye, and that covered by a thick lens. "The man beat his wife, Marian. She was sick with a tough pregnancy. Stress and pain."
"Right," Marian said. "Well, that certainly wasnt true with Mrs. Rhine, was it?"
"Different problem," Dicken admitted.
Freedman smiled with little humor. She sometimes revealed biting wit, but did not seem to understand the concept of humor. Duty, hard work, discovery, and dignity filled the tight circle of her life. Marian Freedman was a devout feminist and had never married, and she was one of the best and most dedicated scientists Dicken had ever met.
Together, they marched north on the aluminum catwalk. She adjusted her pace to match his. Tall steel cylinders waited at the ends of the access tubes, shaft housings for elevators to the chambers beneath the seamless concrete slab. The cylinders wore big square "hats," high-temperature gas-fired ovens that would sterilize any air escaping from the facilities below.
Excerpted from Darwin's Children by Greg Bear. Copyright© 2003 by Greg Bear. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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