Noah’s Boy – Snippet 21

Chapter 13

Her first thought was that Tom had had a stroke.  That was the only explanation she could summon for the way he stood there, barely moving, his face looking like he was concentrating for all he was worth.  But concentrating on what?

“Tom?” she said, hesitantly, then again, more strongly, “Tom!”

He didn’t move.  He didn’t look up.   His hand sort of trembled upwards, then trembled downwards again.  It was not a movement she’d ever seen from him, nor one she ever expected to see.  She took a deep breath and tried to think of what to do.

She knew what she would have done if this were anyone else, anyone but one of the people she knew who shifted shapes.  If this had been just some anonymous person off the street, one who didn’t smell like a shifter; if someone in the diner had started behaving like this, shaking a little from position to position, but neither reacting to voice nor looking up, nor… moving normally, she would have called an ambulance immediately.

But for shifters medical services must always be a risk, a careful balance between pain and control.  If you were in pain or scared, you were likely to change shapes and then where would you be?

Tom’s dragon wouldn’t even fit in an ambulance.  And being squeezed inside a small space would only make him crazier and more unable to shift back to human — she knew this from when he’d accidentally shifted in their tiny bathroom.

And then there were all sorts of other things.  They hadn’t fully determined, yet, what certain medications did to them.  They were okay with aspirin, and Tom’s drug use seemed to have left him addicted only in a way that could be kicked rather quickly: after all with their healing capacity, it would.

But who knew what the stronger sedatives might do? It could knock out the upper brain, while leaving the animal-shifter to rampage happily through the hospital wards.

In Kyrie’s mind, headlines proclaiming that a dragon shifter had decimated the patients and medical personnel of Memorial hospital ran in stark black on white.  Only let that happen once, particularly with an animal that no one could imagine had simply wandered in from outside, and next thing you knew the authorities would be hunting shifters.  And, given all the legends of shifters throughout the centuries, the hunt wouldn’t end well.

No.  She had to figure out how to deal with this without the hospital.  Tom had come back from the dead once.  Surely even recovering from a stroke wouldn’t be impossible.  She had to keep him stable and quiet till then, was all.

She walked into the room, closing the door behind her, cutting off the sound of applause as Conan finished his song.  She walked in a measured and slow way because even she truly had no interest in facing an upset dragon.  “Tom,” she said.  She put a hand on his shoulder, shocked to find it burning hot, as though he were running a fever.  “I know that you’re not feeling well, but I don’t know what’s wrong.  I want to help.”

He moved his other hand fast, too fast, if looked to her like the sudden movement of a lizard when aroused.  But all his hand did was clasp over hers, squeezing it a little.   It felt like her hand was caught between two hot plates, but she didn’t protest.

Tom raised his head, slowly and looked at her.

She heard herself make a strangled sound of protest, even as her heart sped up in an explosion of panic.  She would have stepped back if she could, but she couldn’t with her hand caught between his hand and shoulder.

His eyes looked… like Tom’s eyes and perfectly normal.  And also not.  They were the same shape and color they usually were, the enamel-blue that made such a contrast with his dark hair.  But there was something to them that made them different – so different that it was like looking into the eyes of a stranger.

Had Kyrie been asked, she couldn’t have explained what the difference was, except that… the eyes looked old.  It was as though looking into them could lead one to see into the vanishing centuries, into the millennia without end.

They weren’t really Tom’s eyes, unless they were Tom’s eyes in a couple thousand years after he had, several times, outlived the world he was born into and the friends of his youth.

He nodded slightly at her, almost formally, as if to tell her he understood her fear.  He removed his hand from atop hers.  She didn’t move, because she didn’t want to run away from Tom.  And if she took a step back, it would turn into a rout.

His mouth opened.  His tongue licked at his lips as though they were too dry, which they probably were, considering how hot he was.  And then he spoke.

The words that came out … if they were words, if he was not just croaking, sounded alien.  They didn’t have the sound of any western language, or the sound of any Asian language she’d ever heard.

Perhaps the stroke, or whatever it was had affected his speech center, but those sounds felt like words, even if words she couldn’t possibly know.

“Tom, I don’t understand,” Kyrie said.

* * *

It was Kyrie’s touch that woke Tom.  Though perhaps waking was not the right word.  He knew he’d been awake, aware, the whole time.  Perhaps more aware than he’d ever been before.

But at Kyrie’s touch, the infinity of awareness, the broad vistas of being everywhere and everywhen at once changed.  He was Tom Ormson, and he was in the storage room of the George.

It felt as though he’d been spread, amoeba-like over the entire world, a nebulous cloud of Tom permeating everything and not at all very present in the body to which Tom should belong.

At Kyrie’s touch, at her cool hand on his shoulder, the nearness of her, her presence, the cloud of Tom’s consciousness pulled in, concentrated, occupied once more the contours of his familiar body, and he was Tom Ormson, in his own head, staring out of his own eyes.

A nagging feeling informed him that he was also something else.  There was someone else at the back of his head, some sort of entity.  Not the Great Sky Dragon, but … but the essence of everything The Great Sky Dragon was supposed to be.

“I –” He looked at Kyrie and managed a smile, though it took so much effort he wondered how natural it looked.  “I’m all right, Kyrie.”

She raised eyebrows at him.  He could smell her fear, but she remained standing right by him, her hand on his shoulder, and her eyes showed only concern for him.  “Are you sure?”

He patted her hand now, gently.  “I think so.  I…  Something happened to me –”

“A stroke?”

He frowned.  Was that what it was?  He’d heard of people who had strokes that made them think half of their bodies wasn’t even theirs. But he’d never heard of anyone who had a stroke and suddenly thought he had more than one body, or that his being occupied the space of several bodies, all over the world.  “No,” he said, speaking slowly.  “I don’t think that’s what it is.”  He probed tentatively at whatever it was in his mind, that other entity residing… behind his skull, looking out through his eyes.  Was this how schizophrenics felt?  But no.  When he looked at it, tried to make sense of it, it wasn’t like another person or another personality.  It was more like…  He frowned.  How odd.  “It’s like a file catalogue,” he told Kyrie.  “Sorry.  I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it’s like someone downloaded a lot of compressed files onto the back of my mind.”

“Compressed?” she asked.

“Yes.  I can’t… I have to think of each of them in turn to see what is inside, and I suspect it would take an effort of will to open one fully.  One of them seems to have pictures… very old pictures and… information about dragons.  I –”

“A human being is not a computer!” Kyrie protested.  “People can’t get stuff downloaded into them.”

“Yes, but are we people?”

“Of course we’re people.  What else would we be?”

Tom had thought he knew, now he wasn’t so sure.  There was an unsteadiness beneath his certainty about the world.  He felt as though if he moved a foot wrong, he’d find there was nothing beneath it, and —  what he thought of as himself — would fall through the solid contours of what he thought of as the world, and be lost in some sort of formless limbo beneath retrieving.  “Yes.  And if you’re going to say that if you cut us we bleed, I’ll agree we’re human so long as humans are considered to be sentient beings with at least theoretical control of their own actions.  But that’s not what I’m asking Kyrie.  Not philosophy, but physics, biology… what we are, the things we are.  As beings we can turn into other forms, and people — at least normal people — can’t.  So perhaps we can get things downloaded into us too.  How would I know?”

She was searching his face with anxious eyes.  “What if all the … the files open?  Will you be someone else?”

Tom probed the vast mass of information hiding somewhere in the recesses of his mind.  “Kyrie, I don’t think I have enough space for all of them to open.  I don’t think it would be possible.  It feels like just one file has … as much … as much in it as the rest of me: a lifetime, a full personality.”