CROIX KEPT TUNE with the tired bell: “Flox, flox, build a box, ring the bell and wind your clocks.” He continued the solemn chant until the bell stilled with a hollow echo that left my ears numb and halls disturbingly silent. The air became heavy with a sweet, oppressing stink, like the cloying smell of dead flowers—Nightstealer death incense.
The rhyme Croix recited disturbed but a little; children faced with death will often trivialize it with a song. What tunes did the four-year-old Rick sing when the Virus and wars shattered his world?
“Wait here.” Croix slipped around the corner and Hotah followed.
Looking down the hall, listening with me to the mourning chants, Yukiko seemed restless so I asked, “How often do the death bells toll?”
Her attention still on the mourners, she said, “Happens every day, same time every day.”
I couldn’t respond to that at first—the realization sucked air from my lungs, and my knuckles whitened as I grasped the wheelchair. I knew Saba’s people were dying, but I hadn’t realized how quickly they needed an antidote. “Someone dies every day?”
YUKIKO’S FACE BRIGHTENED WITH EXCITEMENT. “He’s creating a clone for me, you know. I plan to download my brain into it and become truly immortal. I mean live only one life and never hibernate, never die. That is, if he finishes it before I die. But Croix a clone?” She shrugged.
“I’m no clone,” he said, without lifting his head.
He’d heard everything, of course. I wheeled to him. “Can you share?”
“I could,” he said, lifting his gaze at me, as intense as Rick’s violet-rimmed blue eyes, the beginning of Saba’s worry line between his brows.
“Will you?” I added, “Only if you want to.”
“It’s ready.” His hands suddenly lifted to the ceiling and from them something flew.
Gem! He was still purple throated but his green iridescent feathers seemed to flame with an emerald light trail, like a reborn phoenix. Hotah joined him, also in the form of a hummingbird, soaring and flitting around the room but almost too fast to follow, even with my Nadirian eyes. “Gem. Come here, Gem,” I pled until my automaton hummingbird hovered before me. “Are you okay?”
“I’m still as small just like a bee,” he sang, “but look and tell me what you see.”
I WHEELED NEXT TO SABA and brushed his forehead, tucking hair that had fallen into his eyes under his cap. “Saba?” He didn’t move. “Why did you give up? Because you couldn’t find Nevis? You know how cunning he is, but now he says he has your cure.” Exhaling a sigh, I unbuckled the restraining strap and clasped his pale hand, the hand that had cradled my face for a kiss, the hand that had tied his albatross necklace around my neck before he’d left to hunt Nevis, the hand that had unwittingly massacred my people. I stroked his hand with my cheek. “I forgive you, Saba.”
He seized up, shuddering again, teeth chattering, eyes fluttering.
I have to do something.
Struggling up from the chair, I lifted my body, swung to sit beside him, and plopped my legs on his bed. After stripping my hospital gown, I slipped under the blankets and hugged him, skin to skin. In the past, his touch had been the cool caress of a breeze. Now it froze like the arctic. At first, I shivered with him, but as he drew my body heat, our temperatures balanced.
It wasn’t too long before Yukiko returned. “Oh!” She scanned his body with her machine and again said, “Oh!”