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Zoe's Tale Part 24

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"What are you doing?" Gretchen said, catching up with me. "We need to get to a shelter."

"Look," I said, and pointed.

In the distance, a bright needle of light was tracing across the sky, aiming at something we couldn't quite see. Then there was a flash, blinding white. There was a defense satellite above Roanoke; it had fired on and hit one of the missiles coming for us. But others were still on their way.

The sharp pop of the missile explosion reached us, with not nearly enough time lag.

"Come on, on, Zoe," Gretchen said, and started tugging at me. "We've got to go." Zoe," Gretchen said, and started tugging at me. "We've got to go."



I stopped looking at the sky and ran with Gretchen to one of the community shelters we had recently excavated and built; it was filling up quickly with colonists. As I ran I saw Hickory and d.i.c.kory, who had spotted me; they closed in and took either side of me as we got into the shelter. Even in the panic, people still made room for them. Gretchen, Hickory, d.i.c.kory, about four dozen other colonists, and I all hunched down in the shelter, straining to hear what was going on above us through nearly a dozen feet of dirt and concrete.

"What do you think is happ-" someone said and then there was unspeakable wrenching noise, like someone had taken one of the cargo containers that made up the colony wall and peeled it apart, right on top of our eardrums and then I was tumbling to the ground because there was an earthquake and I screamed and bet that everyone else in the shelter did too but I couldn't hear it because then came the single loudest noise I had ever heard, so loud that my brain surrendered and the noise became the absence of noise, and the only way I knew that I, at least, was still screaming was that I could feel my throat getting raw. Either Hickory or d.i.c.kory grabbed me and held me steady; I could see Gretchen being held the same way by the other Obin.

The lights in the shelter flickered but stayed on.

Eventually I stopped screaming and the ground stopped shaking and something similar to my hearing came back to me and I could hear others in the shelter crying and praying and trying to calm children. I looked over at Gretchen, who looked stricken. I disentangled from d.i.c.kory (it turned out) and went over to her.

"You okay?" I asked. My voice sounded like it was pushed through cotton from a distance. Gretchen nodded but didn't look at me. It occurred to me it was the first time she'd been in an attack.

I looked around. Most of the people in the shelter looked like Gretchen. It was the first time any of these people had been in an attack. Of all these people, I was the one who was the veteran of a hostile attack. I guess that put me in charge.

I saw a PDA on the floor; someone had dropped it. I picked it up and activated it and read what was there. Then I stood up and waved my hands back and forth and said "Excuse me!" until people started looking at me. I think enough people recognized me as the daughter of the colony leaders that they decided I might know something after all.

"The emergency information on the PDA says that the attack seems to be over," I said when enough people were looking my way. "But until we get an 'all clear' signal we need to stay here in the shelter. We need to stay here and stay calm. Is anyone here injured or sick?"

"I can't hear very well," someone said.

"I don't think any of us can hear well right now," I said. "That's why I'm yelling." It was an attempt at a joke. I don't think people were going for it. "Are there any injuries here besides hearing loss?" No one said anything or raised their hand. "Then let's just sit tight here and wait for the 'all clear.'" I held up the PDA I was using. "Whose is this?" Someone raised their hand; I asked if I could borrow it.

"Someone took 'in charge' lessons when I wasn't looking," Gretchen said when I sat back down next to her. The words were cla.s.sic Gretchen, but the voice was very, very shaky.

"We were just under attack," I said. "If someone doesn't pretend like she knows what she's doing, people are going to start freaking out. That would be bad."

"Not arguing," Gretchen said. "Just impressed." She pointed to the PDA. "Can you send any messages? Can we find out what's happening?"

"I don't think so," I said. "The emergency system overrides usual messaging, I think." I signed out the owner on the PDA and signed in under my account. "See. Enzo said he sent that poem to me but it's not there yet. It's probably queued and will get sent once we have the all clear."

"So we don't know if everyone else is okay," Gretchen said.

"I'm sure we'll get an all clear signal soon," I said. "You worried about your dad?"

"Yes. Aren't you worried about your your parents?" Gretchen asked. parents?" Gretchen asked.

"They were soldiers," I said. "They've done this before. I'm worried about them, but I'm betting they're fine. And Jane is the one running the emergency messages. As long as they're updating, she's fine." The PDA switched over from my mail queue to a scrolling note; we were being given the "all clear." "See," I said.

I had Hickory and d.i.c.kory check the entrance of the shelter for any falling debris; it was clear. I signed out from the PDA and gave it back to its owner, and then folks started shuffling out. Gretchen and I were the last to head up.

"Watch your step," Gretchen said as we came up, and pointed to the ground. Gla.s.s was everywhere. I looked around. All the houses and buildings were standing, but almost all the windows were blown out. We'd be picking gla.s.s out of everything for days.

"At least it's been nice weather," I said. No one seemed to hear me. Probably just as well.

I said good-bye to Gretchen and headed to my house with Hickory and d.i.c.kory. I found more gla.s.s in surprising places and Babar cowering in the shower stall. I managed to coax him out and gave him a big hug. He licked my face with increasing franticness. After I petted him and calmed him down, I reached for my PDA to call Mom or Dad, and then realized I had left it over at Gretchen's. I had Hickory and d.i.c.kory stay with Babar-he needed their company more than I did at the moment-and walked over to Gretchen's. As I walked to her house, her front door swung open and Gretchen burst through it, saw me and ran to me, her PDA in one hand and mine in the other.

"Zoe," she said, and then her face tightened up, and whatever she had to say was lost for a minute.

"Oh, no," I said. "Gretchen. Gretchen. What is it? Is it your dad? Is your dad okay?"

Gretchen shook her head, and looked up at me. "It's not my dad," she said. "My dad is fine. It's not Dad. Zoe, Magdy just called me. He says something hit. Hit Enzo's homestead. He said the house is still there but there's something big in the yard. He thinks it's part of a missile. Says he tried to call Enzo but he's not there. No one's there. No one's answering there. He said they just built a bomb shelter, away from the house. In the yard, Zoe. Magdy says he keeps calling and no one answers. I just called Enzo, too. I don't get anything, Zoe. It doesn't even connect. I keep trying. Oh G.o.d, Zoe. Oh G.o.d, Zoe. Oh, G.o.d."

Enzo Paulo Gugino was born on Zhong Guo, the first child of Bruno and Natalie Gugino. Bruno and Natalie had known each other since they were children and everyone who knew them knew that from the first moment they laid eyes on each other that they would be together for every single moment of their lives. Bruno and Natalie didn't argue with this idea. Bruno and Natalie, as far as anyone ever knew, never argued about anything, and certainly didn't argue with each other. They married young, even for the deeply religious culture they lived in on Zhong Guo, in which people often married early. But no one could imagine the two of them not being together; their parents gave their consent and the two of them were married in one of the best-attended weddings anyone could remember in their hometown of Pomona Falls. Nine months later, almost to the day, there was Enzo.

Enzo was sweet from the moment he was born; he was always happy and only occasionally fussy, although (as was frequently explained, much to his later mortification) he had a marked tendency to take off his own diapers and smear the contents of them against the nearest available wall. This caused a real problem one time in a bank. Fortunately he was toilet-trained early.

Enzo met his best friend Magdy Metwalli in kindergarten. On the first day of school, a third-grader had tried to pick on Enzo, and pushed him hard down to the ground; Magdy, whom Enzo had never seen before in his life, launched himself at the third-grader and started punching him in the face. Magdy, who at the time was small for his age, did no real damage other than scaring the pee out of the third-grader (literally); it was Enzo who eventually pulled Magdy off the third-grader and calmed him down before they were all sent to the princ.i.p.al's office and then home for the day.

Enzo showed a flair for words early and wrote his first story when he was seven, ent.i.tled "The horrible sock that smelled bad and ate Pomona Falls except for my house," in which a large sock, mutated by its own horrible unwashed smell, started eating its way through the contents of an entire town and was thwarted only when the heroes Enzo and Magdy first punched it into submission and then threw it into a swimming pool filled with laundry soap. The first part of the story (about the origin of the sock) took three sentences; the climactic battle scene took three pages. Rumor is Magdy (the one reading the story, not the one in it) kept asking for more of the fight scene.

When Enzo was ten his mother became pregnant for a second time, with twins Maria and Katherina. The pregnancy was difficult, and complicated because Natalie's body had a hard time keeping two babies in it at once; the delivery was a near thing and Natalie came close to bleeding out more than once. It took Natalie more than a year to fully recover, and during that time the ten- and eleven-year-old Enzo helped his father and mother to care for his sisters, learning to change diapers and feed the girls when his mom needed a rest. This was the occasion of the only real fight between Magdy and Enzo: Magdy jokingly called Enzo a sissy for helping his mom, and Enzo smacked him in the mouth.

When Enzo was fifteen the Guginos and the Metwallis and two other families they knew entered a group application to be part of the very first colony world made up of citizens of the Colonial Union rather than citizens of Earth. For the next few months every part of Enzo's life, and the life of his family, was opened up to scrutiny, and he bore it with as much grace as anyone who was fifteen and who mostly just wanted to be left alone could have. Every member of every family was required to submit a statement explaining why they wanted to be part of the colony. Bruno Gugino explained how he had been a fan of the American Colonization era, and the early history of the Colonial Union; he wanted to be part of this new chapter of history. Natalie Gugino wrote about wanting to raise her family on a world where everyone was working together. Maria and Katherina drew pictures of them floating in s.p.a.ce with smiley moons.

Enzo, who loved words more and more, wrote a poem, imagining himself standing on a new world, and t.i.tled it "The Stars My Destination." He later admitted he'd taken the t.i.tle from an obscure fantasy adventure book that he'd never read but whose t.i.tle stayed with him. The poem, meant only for his application, was leaked to the local media and became something of a sensation. It eventually became sort of an official unofficial anthem for the Zhong Guo colonization effort. And after all that, Enzo and his family and co-applicants really couldn't not not be chosen to go. be chosen to go.

When Enzo had just turned sixteen, he met a girl, named Zoe, and for some reason that pa.s.ses understanding, he fell for her. Zoe was a girl who seemed like she knew what she was doing most of the time and was happy to tell you that this was in fact the case, all the time, but in their private moments, Enzo learned that Zoe was as nervous and uncertain and terrified that she would say or do something stupid to scare away this boy she thought she might love, as he was nervous and uncertain and terrified that he would do something stupid, too. They talked and touched and held and kissed and learned how not to be nervous and uncertain and terrified of each other. They did say and do stupid things, and they did eventually scare each other away, because they didn't know any better. But then they got over it, and when they were together again, that second time, they didn't wonder whether they might love each other. Because they knew they did. And they told each other so.

On the day Enzo died he talked to Zoe, joked with her about her missing the dinner she was supposed to have with his family, and promised to send her a poem he had written for her. Then he told her he loved her and heard her tell him she loved him. Then he sent her the poem and sat down with his family to dinner. When the emergency alert came, the Gugino family, father Bruno, mother Natalie, daughters Maria and Katherina, and son Enzo, went together into the attack shelter Bruno and Enzo had made just a week before, and sat together close, holding each other and waiting for the "all clear."

On the day Enzo died he knew he was loved. He knew he was loved by his mother and father who, like everyone knew, never stopped loving each other until the very moment they died. Their love for each other became their love for him, and for their daughters. He knew he was loved by his sisters, who he cared for when they were small, and when he was small. He knew he was loved by his best friend, who he never stopped getting out of trouble, and who he never stopped getting into trouble with. And he knew he was loved by Zoe-by me-who he called his love and who said the words back to him.

Enzo lived a life of love, from the moment he was born until the moment he died. So many people go through life without love. Wanting love. Hoping for love. Hungering for more of it than they have. Missing love when it was gone. Enzo never had to go through that. Would never have to.

All he knew all his life was love.

I have to think it was enough.

It would have to be, now.

I spent the day with Gretchen and Magdy and all of Enzo's friends, of whom there were so many, crying and laughing and remembering him, and then at some point I couldn't take any more because everyone had begun to treat me like Enzo's widow and though in a way I felt like I was, I didn't want to have to share that with anyone. It was mine and I wanted to be greedy for it for just a little while. Gretchen saw I had reached some sort of breaking point, and walked me back to her room and told me to get some rest, and that she'd check on me later. Then she gave me a fierce hug, kissed me on the temple and told me she loved me and closed the door behind me. I lay there in Gretchen's bed and tried not to think and did a pretty good job of it until I remembered Enzo's poem, waiting for me in my mail queue.

Gretchen had put my PDA on her desk and I walked over, took the PDA and sat back down on the bed, and pulled up my mail queue and saw the mail from Enzo. I reached to press the screen to retrieve it and then called up the directory instead. I found the folder t.i.tled "Enzo Dodgeball" and opened it and started playing the files, watching as Enzo flailed his way around the dodgeball court, taking hits to the face and tumbling to the ground with unbelievable comic timing. I watched until I laughed so hard that I could barely see, and had to put the PDA down for a minute to concentrate on the simple act of breathing in and out.

When I had mastered that again, I picked up the PDA, called up the mail queue, and opened the mail from Enzo.

Zoe: Here you are. You'll have to imagine the arm waving for now. But the live show is coming! That is, after we have pie. Mmmm . . . pie.

BELONG.

You said I belong to youAnd I agreeBut the quality of that belongingIs a question of some importance.I do not belong to youLike a purchaseSomething ordered and soldAnd delivered in a boxTo be put up and shown offTo friends and admirers.I would not belong to you that wayAnd I know you would not have me so.I will tell you how I belong to you.I belong to you like a ring on a fingerA symbol of something eternal.I belong to you like a heart in a chestBeating in time to another heart.I belong to you like a word on the airSending love to your ear.I belong to you like a kiss on your lipsPut there by me, in the hope of more to come.And most of all I belong to youBecause in where I hold my hopesI hold the hope that you belong to me.It is a hope I unfold for you now like a gift.Belong to me like a ringAnd a heartAnd a wordAnd a kissAnd like a hope held close.I will belong to you like all these thingsAnd also something moreSomething we will discover between usAnd will belong to us alone.You said I belong to youAnd I agree.Tell me you belong to me, too.I wait for your wordAnd hope for your kiss.

Love you.Enzo.

I love you, too, Enzo. I love you.I miss you.

TWENTY-ONE.

The next morning I found out Dad was under arrest.

"It's not exactly arrest," Dad said at our kitchen table, having his morning coffee. "I've been relieved of my position as colony leader and have to travel back to Phoenix Station for an inquiry. So it's more like a trial. And if that that goes badly then I'll be arrested." goes badly then I'll be arrested."

"Is it going to go badly?" I asked.

"Probably," Dad said. "They don't usually have an inquiry if they don't know how it's going to turn out, and if it was going to turn out well, they wouldn't bother to have it." He sipped his coffee.

"What did you do?" I asked. I had my own coffee, loaded up with cream and sugar, which was sitting ignored in front of me. I was still in shock about Enzo, and this really wasn't helping.

"I tried to talk General Gau out of walking into the trap we set for him and his fleet," Dad said. "When we met I asked him not to call his fleet. Begged him not to, actually. It was against my orders. I was told to engage in 'nonessential conversation' with him. As if you can have nonessential conversation with someone who is planning to take over your colony, and whose entire fleet you're about to blow up."

"Why did you do it?" I asked. "Why did you try to give General Gau an out?"

"I don't know," Dad said. "Probably because I didn't want the blood of all those crews on my hands."

"You weren't the one who set off the bombs," I said.

"I don't think that matters, do you?" Dad said. He set down his cup. "I was still part of the plan. I was still an active partic.i.p.ant. I still bear some responsibility. I wanted to know that at the very least I tried in some small way to avoid so much bloodshed. I guess I was just hoping there might be a way to do things other than the way that ends up with everyone getting killed."

I got up out of my chair and gave my dad a big hug. He took it, and then looked at me, a little surprised, when I sat back down. "Thank you," he said. "I'd like to know what that was about."

"It was me being happy that we think alike," I said. "I can tell we're related, even if it's not biologically."

"I don't think anyone would doubt we think alike, dear," Dad said. "Although given that I'm about to get royally shafted by the Colonial Union, I'm not sure it's such a good thing for you."

"I think it is," I said.

"And biology or not, I think we're both smart enough to figure out that things are not going well for anyone," Dad said. "This is a real big mess, nor are we out of it."

"Amen," I said.

"How are you, sweetheart?" Dad asked. "Are you going to be okay?"

I opened my mouth to say something and closed it again. "I think right now I want to talk about anything else in the world besides how I'm doing," I said, finally.

"All right," Dad said. He started talking about himself then, not because he was an egotist but because he knew listening to him would help me take my mind off my own worries. I listened to him talk on without worrying too much about what he said.

Dad left on the supply ship San Joaquin San Joaquin the next day, with Manfred Trujillo and a couple other colonists who were going as representatives of Roanoke, on political and cultural business. That was their cover, anyway. What they were really doing, or so Jane had told me, was trying to find out anything about what was going on in the universe involving Roanoke and who had attacked us. It would take a week for Dad and the others to reach Phoenix Station; they'd spend a day or so there and then it would take another week for them to return. Which is to say, it'd take another week for everyone but Dad to return; if Dad's inquiry went against him, he wouldn't be coming back. the next day, with Manfred Trujillo and a couple other colonists who were going as representatives of Roanoke, on political and cultural business. That was their cover, anyway. What they were really doing, or so Jane had told me, was trying to find out anything about what was going on in the universe involving Roanoke and who had attacked us. It would take a week for Dad and the others to reach Phoenix Station; they'd spend a day or so there and then it would take another week for them to return. Which is to say, it'd take another week for everyone but Dad to return; if Dad's inquiry went against him, he wouldn't be coming back.

We tried not to think about that.

Three days later most of the colony converged on the Gugino homestead and said good-bye to Bruno and Natalie, Maria, Katherina, and Enzo. They were buried where they had died; Jane and others had removed the missile debris that had fallen on them, reshaped the area with new soil, and set new sod on top. A marker was placed to note the family. At some point in the future, there might be another, larger marker, but for now it was small and simple: the family name, the name of the members, and their dates. It reminded me of my own family marker, where my biological mother lay. For some reason I found this a little bit comforting.

Magdy's father, who had been Bruno Gugino's closest friend, spoke warmly about the whole family. A group of singers came and sang two of Natalie's favorite hymns from Zhong Guo. Magdy spoke, briefly and with difficulty about his best friend. When he sat back down, Gretchen was there to hold him while he sobbed. Finally we all stood and some prayed and others stood silently, with their heads bowed, thinking about missing friends and loved ones. Then people left, until it was just me and Gretchen and Magdy, standing silently by the marker.

"He loved you, you know," Magdy said to me, suddenly.

"I know," I said.

"No," Magdy said, and I saw how he was trying to get across to me that he wasn't just making comforting words. "I'm not talking about how we say we love something, or love people we just like. He really loved you, Zoe. He was ready to spend his whole life with you. I wish I could make you believe this." Magdy said, and I saw how he was trying to get across to me that he wasn't just making comforting words. "I'm not talking about how we say we love something, or love people we just like. He really loved you, Zoe. He was ready to spend his whole life with you. I wish I could make you believe this."

I took out my PDA, opened it to Enzo's poem, and showed it to Magdy. "I believe it," I said.

Magdy read the poem, nodded. Then he handed the PDA back to me. "I'm glad," he said. "I'm glad he sent that to you. I used to make fun of him because he wrote you those poems. I told him that he was just being a goof." I smiled at that. "But now I'm glad he didn't listen to me. I'm glad he sent them. Because now you know. You know how much he loved you."

Magdy broke down as he tried to finish that sentence. I came up to him and held him and let him cry.

"He loved you too, Magdy," I said to him. "As much as me. As much as anyone. You were his best friend."

"I loved him too," Magdy said. "He was my brother. I mean, not my real real brother . . ." He started to get a look on his face; he was annoyed with himself that he wasn't expressing himself like he wanted. brother . . ." He started to get a look on his face; he was annoyed with himself that he wasn't expressing himself like he wanted.

"No, Magdy," I said. "You were his real brother. In every way that matters, you were his brother. He knew you thought of him that way. And he loved you for it."

"I'm sorry, Zoe," Magdy said, and looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry I always gave you and Enzo a hard time. I'm sorry."

"Hey," I said, gently. "Stop that. You were supposed to give us a hard time, Magdy. Giving people a hard time is what you do. do. Ask Gretchen." Ask Gretchen."

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Zoe's Tale Part 24 summary

You're reading Zoe's Tale. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): John Scalzi. Already has 216 views.

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