Please enjoy this sneak peek at Martina’s life from IMMUTABLE, Book Five in the Ripple Series.
Martina worked carefully, removing the last of thirty-seven splinters from the six-year-old girl’s forearm. Officially, the clinic had been closed for two hours already, but with ten patients remaining, Martina knew it would be at least another hour before she would be done. Last night, she hadn’t gone home at all, instead curling up in the clinic’s linen closet. “Home” wasn’t the same without her half-brothers around. And lately, thanks to Pfeffer’s “generosity,” they were never around.
“That’s not the end of the story, is it?” lisped the splintered child.
“What?” said Martina, stirring from her reverie. “Oh. No. Of course not.” She picked up the thread of the abandoned story. “So, Dorothée looked down at her silver slippers. They didn’t look very magical, covered in soot and damaged by water. They looked like very ordinary shoes, in fact, except for one or two spots where the silver still gleamed.”
Martina wriggled the last sliver free.
“And then what happened?” demanded the child.
Fatigue was taking its toll. Usually, Martina could work and tell stories at the same time. It was why she was assigned the pediatric cases in the first place. That, and her youth. She was only seventeen, if you took out the year she’d spent in a sort of suspended animation, waiting for Helmann to awaken the Angel Corps sleepers.
“And then the magician told Dorothée to click her heels together three times, while chanting, ‘Home is where the heart is, Home is where the heart is, Home is where the heart is.’ And then there was a sound like a great rushing wind, and Dorothée was frightened, thinking of the storm that had brought her to the magical land in the first place.”
Martina placed salve and a generous bandage over the child’s arm.
“And then, before Dorothée had a chance to become really and truly afraid, she found herself standing before her own home where her foster mother stood waiting to embrace her. And they lived happily ever after.”
The child clapped.
“Well,” said Martina, “it looks like your arm is working just fine.”
The little girl nodded, solemnly examining the bandage. After a very big yawn, she said, “I want to go home where my heart is.”
So did Martina. Wherever that was. Not the tiny apartment she shared with her brothers.
The evening had worn on into deep night. Martina cleaned and salved and bandaged and told story after story to patients in varying stages of wakefulness and pain. The ones who required serious medication for pain were sent elsewhere, but Martina saw plenty of tears (from the children) and hand-wringing (from distraught parents.) She administered acetaminophen and stories, which were a potent painkilling combination, in her experience.
Somewhere between the last few sprains and alarming bug bites, Dr. Pfeffer sent a message confirming their appointment tomorrow morning.
Time for her bi-weekly Neuroprine and enzyme therapy. Already.
Since she’d followed her brothers Friedrich and Günter, relocating from Montpellier to Nice, the weeks had flown past her like birds fearing an early winter. Martina shook her head. It was summer that approached, not winter. Summer: the season in which, as children, she and her half-siblings had been granted “Chameleon’s Holidays”—days during which they were taught the allowable uses of their powers of invisibility. Winter had been the season for training in hypnosis, spring was for advancing into the next level of rescue and triage, and fall was for survival training. The children had, in addition, been schooled year round, but Martina had always liked summers best. There was nothing like those days spent outside the confines of her physical body.
She smiled because she had a secret: tonight, she would enjoy a few such precious hours. The dose of Neuroprine Dr. Pfeffer administered every two weeks wore off ten to twelve hours early, for her. Martina did not plan to reveal this secret to the doctor anytime soon. She’d never even told her brothers.
She had been shocked when Friedrich and Günter had traded their abilities for a university education. Of course, Friedrich had always longed to be a surgeon. Dr. Girard himself—no, Helmann, she reminded herself—had praised Friedrich’s cool head and steady hand often enough. You will be a healer above ordinary healers, my son, Helmann had told him. The children had known very well that Dr. Girard—Helmann—was biological father to all save a handful who worked as laborers in the compounds, but their father only called them by the epithets “my son” or “my daughter” when he wished to single them out for praise.
Martina had never enjoyed the now-dubious honor of being so singled out. She thought she would make as good a surgeon as Friedrich—she had stitched that five centimeter slice across Hansel’s forehead without flinching, and it had healed beautifully—but she wasn’t willing to give up her ability to turn invisible in order to study medicine at the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis with her brothers. Martina was stubborn. Stubborn as a little donkey, her beloved foster mother, “Mutti,” had called her.
Mutti’s biological son Matteo had taught Martina a naughty American word for donkey, and the two had giggled, thinking of the naughty word whenever Mutti compared Martina to the obdurate beast.
Martina pushed aside her memories of the good times with Matteo. He didn’t deserve to be remembered fondly. She was glad they weren’t blood-related. To have been even half-sibling to someone like him would have been hateful.
Of course, when it had come down to it, her half-siblings Hansel and Georg had turned out no better, abandoning the good work they might do under Pfeffer’s supervision to serve Dr. Fritz Gottlieb instead. Martina had never liked Uncle Fritz. Not even in the days when she’d gazed in misty-eyed reverence toward Girard Helmann.
Her throat tightened as she thought of Hansel and Georg. Mon Dieu, but she was tired. Tired enough to cry over brothers who didn’t deserve it. It was just that she missed having someone around who understood her. No. It wasn’t understanding, exactly. It ran deeper, the thing for which she yearned.
That was it. She had no one to trust anymore. Her world had been small and contained, growing up. She had trusted Helmann implicitly, had yearned for the better world he said he would create with the help of his children, his Angel Corps. But that trust had been shattered—had been exploded—when she learned she and her siblings had been intended as deliverers of death, meant to vaccinate six billion people out of existence. She still shuddered to think how many would be dead by now, had not Dr. Pfeffer and Sir Waldhart de Rochefort stopped Helmann’s mad plans.
But without those plans, without that future she had once looked to with such hope, who was she? And whom could she trust? Martina clung stubbornly to her last remaining siblings as if to one of the ridiculous life rafts the children had built during survival training. Friedrich and Günter were all she had now. She had lost nearly everyone from her childhood. Her twin sister Katrin first, then Matteo, then a goodbye to Mutti when the children had graduated. After Hansel and Georg had fled, she’d had only Friedrich and Günter.
She laughed bitterly as she dried her hands to treat her next patient. Friedrich and Günter were never around. We’ll be home, they said, tomorrow, tomorrow. But tomorrow was always put off another day. They spent only one or two nights a week at the small apartment Pfeffer rented for them and their sister, occasionally coming home to sleep all day while Martina worked. Martina had no idea where they spent their other nights.
Martina treated her second-to-last patient for an ingrown toenail. The patient was an infant, so no story was required. Her mind was her own, and it meandered along familiar paths. What would she do with tonight’s half-holiday? Her eyes flicked to the clock on the wall. She was working late. She would have only nine hours to wander invisibly tonight. What was the funny word Pfeffer used? Ripple.
Mon Dieu, but she loved to ripple. She prayed Pfeffer would never discover his mistake—whatever miscalculation led him to dose her inaccurately. Was it her larger body mass she had to thank for that? Martina wasn’t heavy, exactly, but she was, as her foster mother used to say, sturdy of mind as well as body. But Pfeffer would surely have included this in his calculations. It must be some quirk of her metabolism, then. Between them, she and Pfeffer would have been able to figure out why her body ran through the injections faster. But it was a conversation she would never, ever, have with Pfeffer.
Martina released the ingrown toenail patient and turned her attention to the last child, fast asleep in its mother’s arms. The burn was easy to treat—the child probably wouldn’t have felt much, even awake.
She mused on Pfeffer’s upcoming visit. Would he repeat his offer for the course of gene therapy? You can attend any university in the world, Martina. At no cost.
But there was a cost. And it was too high. Immutin, the drug Pfeffer had designed to eliminate rippling, was not for her. She would forego higher education (and just about anything else) before she would give up invisibility. She’d been shocked when Friedrich and Günter had agreed to take Immutin. She knew Hansel and Georg would never have agreed. They’d run off on their own rather than continue to receive even the less permanent doses of Neuroprine.
Releasing her final patient for the evening, Martina turned to wash her hands one last time.
It had been three months since Hansel and Georg had, to use the common phrase, gone rogue. They had left before Pfeffer had offered Immutin in exchange for a new life and education. Maybe they would have accepted Pfeffer’s proposal, after all, given the opportunity. But probably not. They had never been satisfied with their circumstances.
Martina wasn’t sure she was satisfied, exactly, with her present life, but she didn’t know what she would choose instead. She wasn’t ready to run, as Hansel and Georg had done. Sometimes, she thought she helped Pfeffer to see things from her perspective, from that of her fellow Angel Corps siblings. She thought she was making a difference. And Martina yearned deeply to make a difference.
Sometimes Pfeffer seemed open, seemed ready to listen. But was he just fooling her? How would she know the difference? It came back to trust. How could she trust someone she didn’t even know? Pfeffer, at least, she saw with some regularity. She hadn’t seen de Rochefort in months. She suspected he held the actual power between the two of them, but of his plans for the Angels, she was completely in the dark.
And that was the root of the problem. Trust was a two-way street. It had to be reciprocal for it to mean anything, but Pfeffer (and de Rochefort) refused to grant trust to Angel Corps members like herself. They dispensed Neuroprine, not trust.
And so, she did not trust them, either. But she could continue to argue with them for greater autonomy.
Martina sometimes thought if it hadn’t been for her arguments with Pfeffer following her brothers’ defection, Pfeffer might have just started dosing the three of them with Immutin without telling them. She’d argued with Pfeffer—and with de Rochefort, too—that this sort of “playing God” was what had driven Hansel and Georg away in the first place. Her half-brothers had resented Pfeffer’s assumption that he knew what was best for the world, and therefore best for them.
Who was Pfeffer, or de Rochefort, to make such an assumption? They were acting just like Helmann in this regard.
She dried her hands for the last time that day. It was not yet midnight. She was glad—she loved to hear the bells of Nice at all hours, but there was something magical about the twelve strokes echoing across the cobbled streets of the old city. And of course, she had her evening of invisibility—another sort of magic.
She planned to do what she always did: wander the streets and alleys of Nice to perform small acts of kindness for the unfortunate, who streamed endlessly through the clinic doors.
Several times, she had come close to telling Pfeffer of one deed or another performed under cover of invisibility. What was it about him that seemed to invite such disclosures? She supposed it was his compassionate nature.
All right, all right. So Pfeffer was no Helmann. Martina knew that. But she didn’t think he or de Rochefort should have so much power over the sleeper agents they claimed to be “helping” integrate into society. Martina was well-integrated at this point. Yes, the world was a very different place from what she’d been taught, growing up in Helmann’s tightly controlled compounds. And yes, she’d learned things that terrified and amazed her; people, in particular, were both uglier and infinitely more beautiful of soul than she’d been taught.
You are special, Helmann had told them again and again.
You are chosen.
You will change the broken world into paradise.
Martina no longer believed these things, but she knew that if it came down to a choice between contributing to the brokenness or the healing of the world, she would choose to heal. So that meant sticking with Pfeffer. For now.
Not that she had a choice; even if she wanted to leave, she couldn’t. Thanks to her body’s inability to produce a critical enzyme, she would die if she didn’t come back for her injections every two weeks. She cursed Girard Helmann’s memory for this cruel bequest—designing all of the Angels so that they were dependent upon regular injections.
Now, though, this was another thing she held against Pfeffer. He’d said, Not yet, when she’d asked if he would tell her which enzyme her body couldn’t make on its own. Would he, one day, demand she submit to treatment with Immutin in order to receive her enzymatic treatment? The thought sent a tingling, icy sensation through her.
But tonight was going to be a good night, she reminded herself. Enough brooding.
She shut herself in the clinic’s linen closet, locking the door from the inside with a latch she’d illegally installed for privacy. No one noticed it because no one but her made a habit of secreting themselves in the closet.
Martina settled her mind and chose a melody to ease her out of her fleshly existence. Would she disappear? One of these days, she might have lost enough weight or had some other metabolic change that meant the Neuroprine lasted as long as it was meant to last.
She felt the temperature of the room shift.
Invisibility again! It was magical.
And then Martina went out, passing through the door of the small closet, passing through the stone walls of the clinic—Ahhh! How it tickled!—passing into the night to perform her small acts of charity, her small thefts and … redistributions.
One of these days, she suspected, her conscience would catch up to her. It was still stealing, even if she only took things from stores whose proprietors she knew cheated their customers. For now, she was engaged in outrunning her conscience and hoping it wouldn’t catch up. Anyway, the famille Rosen needed diapers for their new enfant. And papa Ngo had been shorted by his employer again, which meant small Amelie had received only a pastry to celebrate her birthday. Martina rather thought she would prefer a doll. She placed one in the family’s tiny kitchen, complete with a tiny label: Joyeux Anniversaire, Chère Amelie.
Through the streets, Martina wandered, dispensing presents practical and wildly not practical to the needy, the deserving, the suffering. She would be tired tomorrow.
But tomorrow, she would not be able to do what she did tonight. Tomorrow her veins would flow with Neuroprine.
Invisibly, she smiled and hurried to her next destination.