Vision in Silver Page 17

Meg narrowed her eyes right back at him. He didn’t look impressed. “Well, humans aren’t built to take these quick little snoozes throughout the day.”

His only comment was a huffed tch sound that told all of them what he thought of that human failing.

“The point,” Ruth said, “is we tried to determine what makes up a constant and what makes something acceptable even when it changes.”

Merri Lee pointed to the photos again. “For example, a vase could have flowers or not have flowers. A vase with flowers was different, but it didn’t cause anxiety. The gate to Henry’s yard could be open or closed. There could be food in the fridge here or not. But Meg chose where she put the CDs, and if someone changes the placement, that does cause Meg to feel upset.”

“From what she told us, most days that would equal feeling a little upset,” Ruth continued. “But a little distress on top of a little distress on top of a barrage of new images might push a blood prophet to cut herself in order to relieve the emotional pressure of feeling overwhelmed.”

Simon stared at Meg and growled. “Things are always changing in the Courtyard.”

“Yes,” she said, hoping she could make him understand. Hoping he would keep his promise to let her have a life—even if having one killed her. “Every day when I make my deliveries, the Courtyard looks different. But it’s a good different, a natural different.”

“And Meg sees it as an active image,” Merri Lee said. “We think that’s part of it. By driving through the Courtyard—or walking or riding as a passenger—Meg is an active participant in a moving, changeable image. The land changes with the seasons. . . .”

“But my apartment doesn’t change,” Meg finished. “The furniture stays in the same place unless I move something.”

Simon started to scratch behind one ear. Then his face colored as he realized his ears were Wolfy. Not meeting their eyes, he shifted his ears back to human shape.

“There’s not a lot of stuff in your apartment,” he said. “Not much furniture. We don’t need much. . . .” He trailed off.

“Neither do I,” Meg said. “Neither do the other girls.”

“So . . . more Simple Life than Crow’s hoard?”

She hadn’t seen either of those things, but only one sounded soothing. “If Simple Life is more like our apartments, then, yes, like that.”

“The immediate problem is the girls living on Great Island, right?” Merri Lee asked.

Simon hesitated, then nodded, leaving Meg to wonder who else needed help.

“Whoever is looking after the girls should clear their rooms of extraneous visuals—pictures on the walls, figurines on the tables, things like that,” Ruth said. “They can take photos of all those things and make up a binder of images. Maybe allow each girl to look at the images and select a handful of items she would want in her room, then allow her to position them. But once she has ‘set’ her room, the girl’s room cannot change unless she is the one making the change.”

“Also, take a photo of each room as reference for the adults so they don’t inadvertently change something,” Merri Lee said. “Even a small difference of putting a book on a different shelf can be disorienting for these girls. Which we all learned when I moved the stack of CDs earlier today.”

“Routine,” Ruth said. “Flexibility wasn’t part of the care or training in the compound. Everything that is different is a stressor for the girls.”

“Someone could make a binder called ‘Our Village’ or ‘Ferryman’s Landing,’” Merri Lee added. “The girls can study images ahead of time, and their teacher or caretaker can discuss what else they might see, like cars moving on the street or people riding bicycles. Static images combined with a moving image. Then they can go out as an adventure, to see those things for themselves.”

Simon focused on Meg. “You didn’t have those things.”

“But I have the routine that shapes the days. And I don’t need a binder for the Courtyard because I’m familiar with most of the roads and buildings now.” She wouldn’t remind him that she hadn’t expected to survive more than a few weeks, so she had gorged on images and experiences, determined to live while she could.

And she wouldn’t tell him it was often her fear of what the scent of blood might do to predatory instincts that kept her from cutting more often than she did.

“Does that help?” she asked.

“It helps.”

“Will you tell me why you’re angry and sad?”

He glanced at Merri Lee, then looked at Meg and whined softly. “Some of the blood prophets have left the compounds. You saw them walking by themselves near roads. And some of them . . .”

Meg understood then why Merri Lee wouldn’t tell her what she’d seen that morning. “I saw images that indicated some of them would die.”

“Yes. But the terra indigene are searching for the girls now. So are the police. We’ll find them, Meg. We will find them and get them to a safe place.”

How many girls had she seen? “Where will you take them?”

“To Intuit villages or terra indigene settlements,” Simon said. “Whatever is closest to the spot where we find them.” He paused. “What should we do when we find them?”

What would have helped me if I had been alone and frightened, if I had been found by strangers?

“Images,” Meg said. Merri Lee and Ruth nodded vigorously. “Tell the girls what is happening. Tell them how they will get from where they are to where they’re being taken. We all have general images about traveling. Tell them the sequence so they can recall the training images that match. Then, if you can, show them a picture of the room that will be the safe place.”

Her arms suddenly prickled so badly they burned, but she didn’t dare rub her skin. Simon would recognize the warning of prophecy. So would Ruth and Merri Lee. They knew she shouldn’t cut again today, having cut herself this morning, and Simon was already upset. She didn’t want to think about how he would howl and growl if she pulled out the razor a second time in one day.

“I have to go,” Simon said. “The rest of the terra indigene need to know these things.”

“So do the police officers involved in rescuing the girls,” Ruth said. “You should call them too.”

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