The Resident (part seventeen)
They sat, faces blue in the faintness of a battery lantern, Gemma’s.
“Why, again, is this a good spot for our talk?” Debra said. “I don’t doubt you. You’re a lister and a PhD, and I’m only…”
“I know Aura didn’t raise you to belittle yourself.”
“Gemma, I can’t be my mother. Another story! I just wonder, why the crack shack? Or meth shed, or…”
“No, no. The cabin is especially safe, as Des and Wiss can vouch. No one sets foot inside.”
“It was empty and terrifying when we visited, absolutely.”
Gemma had popped the lock with a magnetic card; she’d then bumped them indoors with a bag of camping gear. They were crosslegged now, on space blankets, devouring (nervously) trail bars.
“Can I confess something?” Wissary asked. “A majorly material thing. I need to feel…what? What is it when you go and sin no more?”
“Forgiven. Not happening.”
“You joke, Des, but when you know what I’ve done! Look!”
“You have a diary? No, it’s not your writing…”
Gemma peered, and straightened her back.
Debra said: “Wait. My gosh… Yes, Des, I said my gosh.”
“No judgment. Gosh help us all.”
“The writing is Claudine’s. I know that book. Guys! John showed me, once…and I couldn’t, it was crushing, it was too private…”
“Claudine,” Gemma said, “did a stupid and endangering thing. And so did John, keeping it, sharing it, not calling me. And I’ll have that.”
Daunting as a lister…as their own Gemma…could be, Wiss tightened his fingers. “I thought we might all read it together, first. Um…” His confidence collapsed. “Because someone was asking… I think you, Gemma. Ma’am.”
Gemma snatched the book, flipped pages like lightning.
“Can you read that fast?” Debra asked.
“No. But I’m an ace gister. And Wiss has a point… Did you steal this from John?”
“From his chocolate box.”
“That’s why you stole the chocolates, too.”
“I didn’t steal them, Des. I just delayed gifting them until I’ve bought more.”
“Does she explain the green?”
“She explains her illness, the growths… Are you gasping for a reason, Deb?”
“The sense of a hopeless deficiency sapping her strength. You see, we’d made Tithonians first, before we made time travel. We didn’t understand the vast symbiosis. Of fungus, bacteria, glomalin, trace chemicals. Ugly amounts of manmade introductions. We needed plant people because we needed immortality, and plants had the genes to renew themselves. It was hundreds of years after the cataclysm that our science began. The small, the smart, the self-reliant, the helpful, the uncomplaining of the human race had been better at making off, let’s say, with resources…and knew not to destroy what produced them. Or harbored them still. So! Moving well forward, the nice people survived. The uncooperative, selfish, bullying ones were left to each other. And presumably…no one really knows, but we were after a time not troubled by them. We got to work.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)