Illumination 7.6: Souls

Jehane, quiet and still, sat in her room. A tablet sat in her lap, the screen dimmed as she stared off into space. When the knock came at her door, she turned her head slowly to look at it, blinking as if she’d forgotten what a door was. “Come in.”

Ajax stood silhouetted in the doorframe for a moment, before Seth shoved him to one side. “You didn’t come to dinner.” Both boys pushed their way into her room. Or rather, Ajax stepped into the room, fending off Seth, as Seth tried to push him.

Jehane sighed. “I will leave if you two must fight here.”

Seth shrugged and grinned. “Hide and seek!” Jehane looked down at her tablet rather than at his face. She’d thought he would return to normal, return to the Seth she thought she’d known so well. They could hope for Natalie. She might be suffering, but they’d seen no evidence yet that anything had taken her beyond the point of no return. Whatever that point was.

But now she wondered if this was the true Seth, this creature, twisted and cracked, full of pain and rage and self-loathing. She wished she could teach him hope, but the concept seemed alien to him.

As happened so often these days, her thoughts drifted to Malachi. She wished she could talk to him as she could Seth, without weapons between them. She could reach him—

She covered her face with her hands, as if she could block out the insanity. Instantly, Ajax was at her side. “Are you sick? Why didn’t you come to dinner?”

“Not sick, no. I was doing research, and then… thinking.” She’d lost track of time, and neither her body nor Elian had reminded her.

Ajax sat back on his heels, his eyebrows raised. “Did you discover something exciting?”

“Lyman Waskin. PhD in neurophysics, among other things. From Los Angeles. Perfect driving record. He was suspended from his last research position for ethics violations. After investigating his home, police are looking for him so they can make inquiries connected to several missing persons. He vanished one day, apparently a few days before anybody noticed.”

After a moment of silence, Seth said, “Tainter.” Jehane nodded.

“So he’s, like, a serial killer or something. And Hatherly luminated him the same way Seth luminated me. What was his goal? His background?” Ajax stared at Jehane intently.

“Maybe he just wanted to see what happened when a crazy person was luminated,” Seth said.

“Maybe he was like me,” said Jehane. “Except nobody found him as a child and explained what was going on.”

Ajax frowned. “Is that why you’ve been digging into this? Are you feeling sympathetic to him?” He shook his head. “First that Malachi guy and now Tainter? I promise you, Jehane, Tainter is pure psycho.”

It’s a spectrum, she thought, but what she said was, “Not sympathy, no. Not exactly. I only wonder if I might turn into him someday. I was born insane, after all.”

Seth said, “Well, let’s see. Have you ever taken a secret pleasure in hurting other things? If so, you must keep it very secret.”

Startled, Jehane looked at Seth. “Not I, no.” And she looked into Seth’s eyes for a long moment, until she could no longer bear the green sparks kindled there. Seth understood Tainter too well.

“So a crazy person can become one of the bad guys. We already knew that, from Hatherly’s example,” said Ajax.

“I’d be interested in learning how he made a Cambion if he he was already insane,” Seth admitted. “Stark raving insane, I mean. Hatherly never seemed to lose touch with reality.”

“Maybe Cambions don’t come from being insane,” said Jehane.

Seth gave her a skeptical look, and she shrugged. “Did you understand the Awakened who fought for the soldiers in Detroit? We do not know everything, Seth. I’m just saying that maybe there’s something else that makes a Cambion, something unconnected to a supposedly irreversible personality shift.”

“This is about Natalie again, isn’t it?” Seth was suddenly savage. “And Malachi.”

Jehane’s fingernails pressed into her palm. “Everything is about Natalie for you, so what if this is? How would that be different?” She took a breath, then rushed on before he could interrupt her. “But it’s not, not specifically. It is about souls, Seth, and people.”

Seth shook his head, as if what she said couldn’t penetrate his blond skull. “I’m not going to stick around for this kind of talk. That’s the kind of thing Hatherly would talk about.” He slammed the door open, then slammed it closed behind him.

Ajax watched her warily. “Good job getting rid of him. I appreciate it.” When she didn’t say anything, he said, “Uh, are you going to cry? Because I can leave. Give you some privacy.” She looked at him, and he added quickly, “Or stay. You know. I’m good either way.”

She laughed, but only a small laugh, and curled her fingers around the tablet. “I’m not going to cry. I am a little hungry, though.” She stood up and moved to the snack pantry in one of the room’s alcoves.

“Oh, good. Hey, can I ask a question? Why do you always go on like you’re only one or two steps away from Hatherly’s crew? Or talk like you consider yourself insane? You’ve never seemed crazy to me.”

Jehane’s smile was tinged with sadness. “I’m still a juvenile so the term is ‘emotionally disturbed’. And it’s hard to escape your life as it was before you were eight, is it not?” Ajax didn’t say anything. She looked over her shoulder, and he was staring at the ground. “Would you like a snack as well?”

He looked up, startled. “No. I.. I think I’m going to head out, too. I’m glad you’re not sick.”

And a moment later, he was gone. Jehane looked down at her bowl of cereal, then sat down alone to eat it in silence.

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