BATTLE and REUNION
“Don’t distract me, please. This will sting and itch on the
skin, and it’s been a while since I did this.”
Mike mixed tubes into a bowl, altering the mixture a bit, then rubbing it
into her hair. Stone sweated in the over-warm bathroom, trying not to breathe
“You’ve done this before? Your hair didn’t look colored.”
“It has been a while, as I said. It was suggested that I be moved
around the company, and given a different color hair, with changed clothing
styles, to avoid questions. You did not state a preference, so I have mixed the
one I personally found to be the most flattering. I am uncertain about how to
change you sufficiently to be effective. With your height,
I might shave you bald and still not keep you from being recognized. Any
suggestions?” She finished coating her hair, pressing the length to her crown
and wrapping it in plastic.
Stone tried not to snicker. “I can take care of anyone we meet,
but I can’t fool a camera. If it don’t have a brain, I can’t change it’s
we’re in trouble. We’re dealing with upper management, remember. But if we
move well, we won’t need to avoid cameras. Most internal cameras aren’t
monitoring for outlaws, and I doubt they’ll be expecting us there. Have you
ever tried to alter technology? Energy is energy, and at the minimum you should
be able to disable it. In an emergency.” She pulled him into a chair and
worked with his hair, pulling the heavy fall of dark waves back into a ponytail.
It curled up at the bottom, and she fingered it into a spiral.
“I never thought to try burning them out. I was always in and out
before they could do much, and most of the time, there wasn’t much left if I
had to go in person. I try to work through
people if I can, like on the bike. If I can have an order given by a recognized
authority, no one can say it was sabotage. Too many witnesses. I’ve slowed
things, but this last development came out of nowhere. It would be a coup d'état
for them, possibly coup de grace. If I can’t interrupt it before they get it
on the market, it’s over. And I’m finished. The Goal will die with me and
what’s left of our humanity will fade like fog on a summer morning. If I can
get in, if I can take out what I know they put in, and replace it with my own
message, just a quick impulse to think for themselves, it might turn things
around in a generation or less.” He looked up at Mike’s handiwork, and found
a slightly jagged, but well coifed professional looking back at him from the
glass. He turned his head,
wondering if many executives has quite so many scars. On the outside, that was.
“Not bad. But does it come with a manicure?”
“Full service, Sir. Would you like your drink now, Sir? Or
perhaps your fellatio, Sir?” Mike was a master of deadpan, he decided. She
leaned over to check her hair, then scrutinized his hands. “That would be the
next step. Ready to soak?” She scrubbed his nails, clipped cuticles, and
polished them to a gloss. Looking up at him over his fingertips, she seemed to
consider. “Can you grow a mustache real quick? Real thick and long? The
overseas competitors have a fetish for facial hair. I could easily pass you off
as a foreign investor that way.”
“I… Sure. I’ll give it a shot, anyway. When I was young, I
tried it, not speed-growing, but just a mustache, and it came out reddish, so I
shaved it off.”
“We can dye it in ten minutes. How fast can you grow it?”
“We’ll see, won’t we? I think you’re hair’s done. You
look almost albino.”
“It’s not that light.
The bleach foams. You grow that, and I’ll wash this. Meet ya in the middle.”
She pulled off the plastic, and headed into the shower, unconcernedly disrobing
as she went. It was the first time he’d seen her fully nude, and the scar
running down her shoulder gave him a nasty start. Perhaps this was why this was
the first time..
She turned, expectant, but impatient.
“What happened? To your shoulder? It looks like you were ripped
open and chewed on! I take it they were out of ants?” He turned her around for
a closer look, disturbed by a feeling that he should recognize it. It ran into
her hair, wide and white with age. He couldn’t see how far it went for the
bleach, but it must have been nearly lethal when it happened. “Does it hurt?
Can I touch it?”
“No. It doesn’t hurt. You can touch it later. I want to get
this stuff off my head. It itches. If you want to look at this, you can get in,
or wait until I get out. And I don’t have access to when I got it, so I don’t know what did it.” She fingered it.
“No one’s ever asked to touch it before. It doesn’t give you
chills? Or nausea?”
“You looked at me lately?”
“Men are allowed. Scars show manly activity. Women are supposed
to be smooth as silk and unblemished as an empty canvas.” She frowned, and
hopped in the shower. “And it itches worse than the normal skin. Let me do
this first.” She started water, and he closed the door rather than get
drenched. He listened to the little growls of satisfaction as she scrubbed at
the offending itches. Why did the scar bother him? Because
it was familiar…
“Grow, boy. Gimmie a mustache,” Mike called from the water. He
went back to the mirror, and began designing his face.
He’d managed almost an inch, Fu-manchu style, on lip and chin, before
she emerged, toweling vigorously. A handful of conditioner to soothe the very
angry strands, and she was combing it into pale gold waves. She slipped a finger
of darker liquid among the silk, and had streaks of warmth though it as it
dried. She glanced at him, and found him staring at her, eyes stunned, and she
pulled lightly on the fuzz of his chin. “Getting creative, are we? Aesthetic.
Keep going on the top. We will require a minimum of two inches to go European.
Very soft, too. Nice. Very nice.” She shook her hair, fingering through it,
and smiled at him. “I take it you appreciate the change? Is it becoming, or
overwhelming? It should be longer, but I
don’t have that ability, or that much bleach. I’ll be putting it up, anyway,
so length won’t matter.” Still
he failed to move, only his eyes responding, squinting and shifting, returning
always to her face, and she peered at him. “Are you in there, Stone? If you
don’t like it, it’s ok. I won’t cry. Nothing’s permanent, and I was
never under the delusion I was here for my looks.” Her smile drained away in
the face of this scrutiny, leaving only the quiet emptiness of her own eyes,
that’s…,” he sought an excuse for his confusion. Or truth? Yes, but
simplified. “You are… identical.. a mirror image of someone I almost knew a
loooooong time ago. I knew you looked like her, quite a bit, but the hair,…
that makes it so, so absolute. If you
put on makeup, not garish, but simple, THAT might give me some bad chills. I
can’t imagine you looking more like
her, but it might mess me up for a few.” He closed his eyes, trying to see
Mike in the truck, at the table, Mike as MIKE. Trying not to see the face in the
alley, the smile as the car door. He’d
dealt with much of his problem by talking to Ricci about it, but this was a bit
“Can I hope you thought she was pretty? You do not look happy by any definition, Stone. If it bothers you this badly, I can change it. I will have to put on some makeup if I am to go into the Corporate offices, or I will look out of place. I need instruction.” When Stone continued to stare, she covered her head with a towel, and tried again. “Tell me what to do. If I go red, I look like Ricci. That can’t possibly fail to bother you. Brunette? Back to my natural?” She was whispering now, the silence of him overwhelming.
He opened his eyes at the rattle of the cabinet door. Mike was
hastily puling out tubes again, getting a clean bowl, a mask of indecisive
misery on her face. He put a hand on her shoulder, her scar rough under his
palm, but she startled, dropping everything, and the tears began to fall,
startling him in turn. After everything- bullets, blood, psychic rape and
murder- this made her cry? He pulled
her close, smoothing her hair, feeling the new texture, fingering the
scar, letting her sob. If it is all
you have to give….poor comfort for such a situation.
“It looks stunning, Hon. That’s most of the problem right
there. She was lovely, and it wasn’t
the best chapter of my life. The Lady of the Garden, the one who deserved
better? Remember? It kills me a little more every day, knowing what I was, and
what I did, and now here you are, her twin, getting pulled through hoops to help
me redeem myself so I can die peacefully. It just kind of threw me, seeing a
close resemblance turn into .. this.” He kissed the top of her head, and wiped
at her cheeks. “Keep the color,
and I’ll deal with it. It won’t kill me.” Liar.
It just may. She stepped back, silent and pensive, bending to retrieve the
fallen items. He helped her put them in place, forcing his mind away from the
tunnel that threatened to pull him back down the years to the alley, trying not
to smell burning and death from somewhere behind him. The clatter of bowls
became the falling of ‘crete on the pavement, and he could hear screams in the
He shook himself. This could be a deadly distraction if he did not
get himself under control.
Mike had a mixture ready before he’d realized the mess was up,
and was dabbing it on his chin. It stank, but
was off again quickly, and he looked at a semi-stranger in the glass. If he were
not so familiar with the face… He gave Mike his approval, and she went to find
appropriate clothes for the trip. He continued to gaze at himself a few minutes
longer, considering the odd turns. He’d been altered, as had Mike, but his
change was a first, making him new to himself;
hers had made her more herself, and more part of his circular karma. Like a homecoming,
that was the feeling, as he named it, to look at her now was to be somewhere
he belonged, was meant to be, though he’d not known the destination himself.
This was the end.
Mike was the end, her face the same one that had truly started it
all for him.
He’d stolen the outrider of his quest’s end unknowingly. Now
he’s seen it for what it was, it was almost a relief. Even if he failed, it
would end soon.
Such a horrifying and yet delivering realization. He’d come full
circle. And Mike would be there. He
closed his eyes, turning from the reflection,
seeing Mike at the closet. A second possibility froze him solid.
What if the purpose of this ‘return’- the re-discovery of this
face that left him dying by inches - was merely to repeat his past?
Altering the suits to hide Stone’s armor and accommodate his
extreme height seemed surprisingly quick to him, though there was nothing to say
Mike was hurrying. Mike found startlingly high heels and a formidably attractive
ensemble in the master closet for herself, both fitting too well not
to have been tailored for her. Stone tried not to notice how sexy the outfit
was, nor that Mike fit the image of high Corporate management flawlessly. It was
too easy to imagine her in the offices above… But Mike was leading them out
into the dark one last time before they could consider the next step too long. A
few twists brought them to the mono, and Stone realized that she could have come
and gone several times this way while he slept, without his ever noticing.
Sobering thought, that one.
So few turns, yet such a heavy dark. He would have lost himself
within minutes if she were not here to guide him. The lights were keyed into the
general system, Mike informed him, and would have shown their location to anyone
near the upstairs panels. So they traveled in the dark for a hundred steps,
finding the station by the light of the controls within. The tiny station was
made for the comfort of it’s upper echelon clientele, small as it was.
Mike busied herself taking the two passenger car offline, using the
manual settings to program their coach.
Lost in thought, Mike’s fingers punched destination codes without
real thought. Ice ran the length of her, numbing, removing all emotion save the
single sharp anticipation of what
was to come. Years of waiting without hope were coming to their close, a closure
she’d not been capable of envisioning for most of her life was now actually
within her grasp, the freedom to engineer it heady yet agonizing. The wall
threatened at every breath, at any consideration of what she was doing. Every
command sequence screamed against this, the endangerment of
her ‘family’ and betrayal of her ‘employers’. Her single savior
was the simple question Stone had asked- ‘do you know anyone?’. Of course
she did. She knew everyone and everything concerning Central Heath for the
last.... the blank spot again. She could no longer count the how many years
she’d been a databank, nor even how long she’d been processing data for
them. How many moves, designed to hide her unexplained continuance? How many
changes made to distract from a face that should be wrinkling and fallen?
Now was the one chance. That
this could happen was beyond her ken, that Stone should have chosen her, and
given her this possibility… What
she’d dreamed of only in the deepest hiding places, and only after
she’d been discarded to her nomad exile, - it was being offered by someone who
would protect her, if only to protect his own interests. There was no question
of whether she could or would do unto the other as had been done to her. It was
merely a question of whether Stone would stop her before she could take full
Oh, the agonies of fear and rage, imagining His face, his seeing
her as she was, or as close as could be made now….
Imagining his fear as He first grew to understand that she was
Knowing the lack of any possible escape from his knowledge of what
was happening, and why, and who had done this thing….
Watching him see his empire fall and be twisted to fit another’s
Stone’s voice startled her from her thoughts, drawing a gasp. She
turned to his confused eyes. He ran a thumb along her cheekbone, feeling her
tension as it rolled off her, wondering at what he could not define without
invasion. Her eyes still glistened, but the red had faded. His fingers twitched
with the clenching of her jaw.
“I’m not sure what’s going on in there, Mike. You’re strung
tighter than a cheap network, and I don’t want to pry, but I can’t be sure
you’re not going to fall apart on me. You scared me a bit back there. And now
I’m getting some odd snatches of thought here and there. You need to talk
before we get there?” His face was the same one that had slept beside her,
unlovely but kind, and Mike wished she trusted him enough to share her need with
him. What if he refused? What if his kindness extended somehow to his nemesis,
forgiving in victory what had necessitated the battle? She needed this too much
to chance it on his whim, or the odd morality he’d evidenced.
“I will be fine. It is the return to my prior environment that
causes this tension. Please forgive
me if I have caused you concern.” That familiar un-expression of hers had
Stone reflected for the first time in quite a while that without an
absolute violation of her mind, he was without knowledge of her thoughts. His
willingness to allow that freedom, that separateness, concerned him more than
her mental state. Love notwithstanding, what was different this time than any
other? Was it not once more the end-game? Was it also not the time for his
‘assistant’ to betray him, or die, or both, according to the rules that had
always seemed to apply to the life he’d lived? She was isolated in the bone
box of her skull, the same as all humanity, barring only himself. He knew the
concept of ‘shared reality’ to be false, so trusting her perception to sync
with his… with so much at stake… but he couldn’t bring himself to open her
up again. Not after the blankness he’d seen at the table. (Was that really it? Or was he
simply unwilling to see anything that might necessitate ending her..)
“We will arrive momentarily,” Mike informed him emotionlessly.
“When we exit the car, we will be in an unoccupied area, near a hallway. To
get to our destination, we will be required to pass through a large office. If
you avoid looking directly at any one person, seeming more interested in the
equipment, there will be no reason to converse with any of them. Let me deal
with anyone who approaches us, excepting armed forces, which I cannot imagine
encountering in this situation. Are you ready?” She looked back at him as a
cool light appeared ahead. The click of the doors’ opening was their
invitation into possible disaster.
“Always and ever, Darlin. Lead on.” He stood, stooping a bit to clear
the ceiling, then they were out and moving. Mike took the lead as instructed,
assuming a leisurely but somehow imperious stride into the bustling chambers.
Stone followed, looking mostly at her upswept coiffure. This was not his way,
nor his place. He was totally
committed now, exposed and vunerable, dependent on her and her continued
loyalty. If she turned now, it was over.
When she glanced back at him, the face was unfamiliar. Mike wore a
pleasant, professional interest that altered her totally, smiling and gesturing
as she led him through the maze of halls and desks, telling him about this
feature and that while those in the desks tried to look inconspicuously busy. A
few peeked over piles of binders once the pair was past, fearing an imminent
re-shuffle. Keeping his eyes for whatever Mike waved at or mentioned, he
studiously avoided eye contact while he slipped the lack of interest in himself
and Mike into each mind. The forgetfulness might prove useful to the forgetter
and the forgotten in short order.
There were cameras everywhere.
There were no easy exits, no place to go if they were recognized, and no
way to avoid killing almost everyone on this floor, possibly those above and
below as well.
Every turn brought them further into a ‘crete dungeon more secure than
his burrow could ever hope to be, simply based on it’s complexity. He could
have hidden for days with such a place. He was long past finding his way back,
and subtle probes informed him that none of the current underlings were aware of
the ‘rail’s existence, much less it’s location.
however, seemed at ease, shining in her element. He couldn’t help but be
impressed with her as she flowed smoothly through the same information over and
again with each new area they entered. She noticed before he did the shadow
they’d acquired, and paused to apologize to Stone before stepping back to
speak firmly to the ambitious young man. Stone watched as Mike lost her smile
with frightening speed and became ‘the authority figure’, heading him off
and turning him around before returning to Stone, smile back in place as smooth
as ever. He did notice the shadow’s return after several minutes, feeling the
desperate ambition dripping from the man.
“I must beg your sufferance for a moment more, Sir, while I eliminate a
problem. I won’t be a moment,” Mike promised Stone, placing her fingertips
on his arm. She strode back to the nervous worker, saying something Stone could
not hear that forced the hope over the edge into dread, then despair. He turned
and wandered away, stunned, while Mike showed not a ripple on her way back.
“What did you just do,” he asked her quietly when she was close
enough. He leaned down for her answer, but she did not whisper to him,
responding in a normal voice over heard by several desk occupants close by.
“He was interfering in your tour, Sir. As per my instructions, I
eliminated him. My superiors were very clear on that point. No one is to hinder
your excursion, Sir. You are a valuable client, and to be given preferential
treatment.” She raised an eyebrow slightly, indicating how ‘preferential’
it could be at his request. A few of those close by took this as the proper time
to take their breaks, whispering to each other over the loss of a fellow only
when out of range. Stone was left stunned, one- that she would go to such
lengths, two- that she had carried it off so convincingly, three- that she
seemed so casual about it.
She was leading him on
through a smaller section, and he could see a large foyer ahead, and the
imposing doors at its end, and knew that the end was literally in sight.
She had got him here without incident, as intended. Now the
question was whether they were expected or not.
He glanced about him as
they stepped through the arch and onto the echoing marble floor, knowing that
such a room was meant as a deterrent, a silent
intimidation to any who would bother the Great Man. Knowing did not make
it any less effective. Window-walls showed this section to be set apart from the
rest of the building, giving Stone no comfort in his thoughts of escape. Again,
there were cameras everywhere, staring down at him, gauging his value, seeking
any threat. He was sure there was
to little time for an armed force to assemble here before he and Mike could get
through the door, but one inside… The
further in they went, the less certain of Mike he became. What would be waiting
on the other side of the door? The line of her back screamed out a tension close
to snapping, and though some self-destructive part of him was willing to write
it off as just the return to her former master, the rest of him argued for the
safety of mistrust. It was insane not to believe that she would betray him when
put back in the presence of a person he’s been led to believe had all but
literally owned her for years.
It took an effort greater
than he would have believed not to reach
for his weapons. He scanned ahead. There was no-one beyond the door to read.
Either he was being led astray, or her intended contact had a natural tendency
to shield his thoughts. Semi- normal in anyone who had risen so far as to
warrant such an office, yet still doubtful that Stone would be unable to
find even a whisper of presence.
From the corner of one
eye, he noticed a construction outside, soaring above the city proper with
it’s airy girders. Another Mono, full-sized and half finished. Was it close enough for a jump, if things got too heavy? It
was possible. He felt more himself than he had since the beginning of this
little excursion, since the garden, just days ago. Very possible. If he could
get through the window.
Half way there.
So quick, yet so heavy,
this few moments, watching Mike’s shoulders tighten, hearing the high buzz of
her hectic emotions, unable to force himself to probe her and eliminate the
fear, or even to confirm it. Perhaps her mental disfunctions were contagious.
Would he truly be willing to walk into the lion’s den rather than find her
guilty? That was almost suicidal. Yet still he shied away, wanting to ease the anxiety that was starting to crawl up his spine,
unable to force himself even to
reach out the way that he had with Ricci without
a thought qualm.
He realized Mike was
slowing, almost imperceptibly, but slowing nonetheless. Her steps became
gradually shorter, bringing them
closer together. A pinky finger
began to twitch slightly. When she was almost too close to walk comfortably,
he saw the shakes that took her from nape to toes. Only her smile was
unaffected. She turned to him, her
eyes empty and distant, and bowed to let him enter first. So he knew, at least.
Time to fight or flee, his trust misplaced. He reached for the door, adrenaline
flooding his system, and turned the knob.
The door swung without effort, gliding silently on it’s
hinges to allow him full appreciation of the music playing softly within.
Somewhat familiar, it ws the only sound. A step took him in to see the occupant
of a large desk leaning back, unaware of the intrusion as yet with eyes closed,
listening to the bittersweet melody. Stone stood stunned, waiting for the cannon
fire, slowly realizing that it was not forthcoming, and unable to credit what
his own eyes told him.
This was Sir.
The one inaccessible face,
the one mind he’d never touched, no matter his searching, the single source of
all his quests and subsequent failures.
And he was alone.
Mike had brought him to
the one and only place he never thought to reach. Without guns, without blood
and pain, she had cut through all the years of work and given him an option
he’d never hoped to have. He did not doubt his ability to open the man’s
mental locks. Elation swept him,
the certainty that his work was coming to a close beaming on him like
the sun after a storm.
The serene face opened
it’s eyes and glanced to the door, mild irritation crossing it briefly, before
giving way to confusion, then startled recognition.
At first Stone was unaware
that the man was staring behind him, at Mike. Then the tension that had been
Mike exploded, needles of cold anger and fear rushing at him from behind. He
looked back to her, remembering his certainty of just moments ago, uncertain
what to think at this point. She had changed again, her head high, returning the
man’s stare fixedly. She was hardly breathing, seeming to use all her life’s
force to hold it, refusing to lower her gaze under that of her world’s ruler.
There was more than the freed slave’s return to a bad master here, Stone knew,
but could not fathom it yet.
“So that would make you
the Type 4 renegade, I suppose,” Sir said without looking away from Mike.
“Thank you for the return of the merchandise. I cannot imagine you succeeded
where we did not under such poor circumstances. Though why you would bring her
here is beyond even me.”
Stone realized he was
losing time, standing here like a bird in the snake’s gaze. Whatever he was
missing was unimportant to the Goal. The man’s misconception of the situation
was in his favor, but wouldn’t stay that way long.
He pulled Mike gently across the threshold and closed the door, keeping his eyes on Sir. His mind raced.
What to do now that he had the ultimate key? How to use the genie’s wish? One
chance to fix everything at a shot, or blow the whole deal…
“Do not allow him access
to his panic button under the desk. He can have armed troops here in thirty
seconds in times of crisis.” Mike’s voice was barely more than a whisper, as
empty and emotionless as the night they’d first met.
Stone looked at the man,
wondering why he hadn’t already done so. Was he so secure in his power that he
was unable to imagine a real threat, or was he counting on something else?
“I assume since you’re
still here there’s something you want. If we could get on with it, I could get
back to more important things.” Smug
yet distant, he looked at Stone finally, giving the battle to Mike as if it had
“We should talk about
your new toy. The Programmer. And
how it needs to be modified.” Stone stepped further into the room, wary of the
man’s confidence. “Though I admire the research that it took, I can’t
accept it’s intended use. I know what you put in it, you see. And I can’t
let you have that much power over them,” he told the placid smile, gesturing
toward the window. “I can’t let
it go out on the market as is. They’re barely human as it is, and this will
take even that away from them.”
Sir looked at Stone
pityingly. “Is that what you’re on about? The programmer?
That’s what started all this foolishness? Son, you have no idea what you had, did you?
“As for the programmer,
what makes you think it isn’t already out there?
We’ve been using it for a decade or more. I would’ve thought you knew
that by now.” A calculating glance at Mike gave Stone some clue.
“You’ve been using it
on your employees? As test subjects?” The righteous rage of the Goal began to
creep into him, slipping past the confusion, as Stone imagined
the masses unknowingly submitting to the removal of their will, for the
right to live and breathe in the Corp. Mike - her terror of losing the job,
reinforced by the same tool that stole her ability to refuse any command…
But a whole race of Mikes? Perhaps his theft of her was the greatest gift
he could have given.
“I didn’t say that,
now did I? And our tests are long done. This is just a more effective version of
what we’ve used for years in institutions of every sort. I just got tired of
having to discipline anyone who let it slip, so I decided the next advance would
go public as the first. We hail it as a miracle, and pretend it’s new.” Sir
returned to his seat, “It’s best for all concerned. I just don’t know how
you got through without it all these years.”
He turned to Stone’s
scowl. “Yes, son, I know what you are. And who your parents were. I couldn’t
get hold of you sooner, or I’d have had your secret of longevity before I got
this old. It’s odd, isn’t it? Knowing how much older you are than I, yet the
wrinkles make all the difference, don’t they. I can’t help feeling old when I look at you. We took her apart more times than I can
count, and never found out why she is what she is, but I think perhaps I’ll
have better luck with you.” He turned to Mike, still and silent behind Stone,
“Secure him until
Stone whirled to face
Mike, expecting a weapon in her hand, found her empty-handed,
and turned back to Sir. Mike stepped forward and placed a hand on his
arm, and for one flicker of
thought, he expected her to try and restrain him physically. There was no way
she could possibly overpower him, unless Sir was counting on his unwillingness
to harm her. But Sir was showing uncertainty for the first time.
“Michlenna. I am giving
you a priority command. You will do whatsoever is required to retain him and
cause him to be unable to act upon me in any way. Is that understood?” His
voice was authority personified, and Mike shook at the sound of it.
Her hands spasmed, clutching at nothing. She turned to Stone, and he
readied himself to knock her out quickly.
She looked up at him
dispassionately, waiting for something. Sir made no move, but his face was no
longer serene, and became more agitated with every moment that passed without
her compliance. Stone reached for the man’s mind, seeking to end the problem
at the source and wishing he’d done so upon entering, but found only the
faintest wisp of thought behind a slippery surface shield. He hammered at the
barrier, too aware of Mike to focus fully, knowing this was the point. Sliding
futilely across, unable to find purchase, he groped for anything, a crack, a
quiver of fear from beneath, helplessly off-balance in this conflict, cursing
himself for allowing a situation that could be used so to exist.
Easier to end it on this
end and then he would have the space he needed to work. He swung the force of
his will back to Mike, crawling over her mind, only to find it open, seeking
his. He could hear the roaring of
the Wall, hovering above her thoughts, waiting to crush her. The inability to
choose an action would pull it down. Behind her, Sir was demanding her
“Do what you have to,
Hon. It’s your choice,” he whispered, knowing he could defend himself,
giving her the freedom to select between without breaking.
She turned away and
sighed, Sir’s stolen serenity finding her face, missing only his smile.
Eyes wide and panicked, he turned and reached for his desk, but she was there,
waiting to intercept the hand on it’s way to call help.
“I cannot in good
conscience allow you to do that. It is imperative to his Goal that you remain
with us uninterrupted for however long it takes to accomplish the undoing of
your work. You should sit down. I
do not wish to cause you unnecessary discomfort,” she added, staring him down.
He dropped to the chair, nerveless, and panted into hte silence.
“Yes, I remember, Eddie.
Everything and everyone,” she whispered.
“You! You brought her
here, you changed the program! Do something,” Sir screamed hysterically at
Stone. All traces of poise had fled, and he
kicked wildly at the desk edge, trying to reach the hidden button.
A light flickered on, and
he began to screech at it over her shoulder.
“Project Basement 1001
is renegade! In my office, all safeties off! Full aggression! I repeat, Project
Basement 1001 is renegade! Save” And
Mike was gagging him, her hand accidentally over nose and mouth both. Silence
fell over the room, allowing them to hear the
sirens far below winding up, and the slam of outer doors.
“I am sorry. I
miscalculated the distance from chair to desk, and his agility.” Somewhere in
her voice was a cold calculation, and Stone wondered where he’s lost his
handle on this. “What do you wish me to do? We have approximately 30 seconds
before we are joined by several highly unpleasant individuals with large power
Head spinning, Stone
looked around for options. There was nothing sturdy enough to bar the door, and
no time to salvage things. Even if he opened ‘Eddie’s’ head, he would
still have to come up with a plausible reason for ‘Eddie’
not to be protected from what was obviously considered a huge threat. And
there was no time to find out why
Mike seemed to be considered a greater threat them himself, even though
‘Eddie’ had seemed to know who he was.
“Stone, we are quickly
running out of time.” Mike was still calm, looking expectantly at him.
“Of course.” She stood
up, letting her hand fall away from Sir’s face to place it on his chest,
holding him in the chair. “I can engage the room’s defenses against the
forces on the way, thereby giving us several minutes in which to accomplish what
we came for. From there, we will have to find a method of escape, as I
doubt they will be willing to allow us our freedom immediately, no matter
what you make him say.” She looked at the wall behind the door while her hands
busied themselves at the keyboard and Stone heard a heavy hissing and clicking.
“If you had been able to easily ‘alter’ him a few minutes ago, I assume
you would have. Am I correct?”
‘If you’re asking why
I didn’t, then yes, he has a strong natural barrier. It will take a few
minutes. But it’s a far cry from impossible.”
“If I may remind you, we
only have a few minutes.”
“Well, then, do you have
a better idea,” he retorted as the door gonged deeply with the last bracing.
He was less than happy with the suddenness and turn of events. He had always
imagined himself laying his nemesis out before him like a platter, to pick and
choose though the thoughts he wanted at leisure. The reality was less under his
control than anything he’d ever dealt with before.
“It is not my desire to
impugn your abilities. I am merely attempting to find the most expedient method
of achieving your objectives.” She stood, looking down at her captive, her
face unreadable. Stone felt a momentary chill himself, seeing the terror the
world’s most prominent, most feared individual held for her. Had he spent
years wallowing in guilt over his crimes toward her, building up her revenge in
his mind should she ever get loose? Or
was there something more?
“What do you suggest,”
he asked her slowly. The face did
not change, even as it lifted to survey the wall again.
“If you would restrain
him,” she queried.
He came around to the
chair, seeing the sweating face turn to him pleadingly.
“Don’t let her do
this. You can’t set her loose on me; she’s not like you and me. She’s-”
“She can’t do anything
worse to you than you've done to her, and every person in this city. To every
person in every city you’ve touched. What
are you so afraid of? You said it was for the best, didn’t you?” Stone
crushed the pity he felt welling inside him for the old man, remembering the
Goal and the plans this an had made for humanity. There was nothing Mike could do that could possibly rival this man’s crimes,
he told himself.
Mike returned from the
now-open wall with a delicate bit of shining lace.
‘Eddie’ turned and saw
her, and began to scream, deep blubbering sobs of terror.
“What is that?” Stone
tried to look at it, but the intricate wires were cobweb thin, eluding his eyes
in the window’s light. He had to put real work into holding the smaller man in
the chair as Mike came close enough to reach for the bobbing head.
She pulled the hair of
Eddie’s neck up to clear the skin, and placed a small circle at the spine’s
top. The wildly thrashing body did not deter her, nor even slow her as she
placed others, one by one, under his hair as the door shuddered under the first
blow from the invaders. Eddie collapsed back into the seat sobbing when she’d
finished. She offered Stone a small microphone.
“It is more effective
when you shave the hair, leaving naked skin to connect. We do not wish to leave
them any evidence of tampering with which to engineer his removal from power
once we have made the changes we wish implemented.
“Do you wish to Program
him yourself, or should I set it up?”
Stone stood motionless,
realizing what she meant. This was her justice, to use his technology on him,
cutting what did not suit them out of his mind, and replacing it with their own
Goal. The ultimate rape. Everything he was, was in this tiny set of wires,
everything that made him unique. No, it lacked emotion. It had no pity, no
compassion, no care for the mind it edited. It was his gift, without him behind
So this was what the old
man had feared. That Mike, working solely on logic, would come to the most
functional and emotionless decision. And give him what had to be his worst fear.
“I take it you know what
I want, and how to phrase it in such a way as to leave him no leeway,” he
asked her, looking toward the door. It bent slightly with each strike, weakening
“I believe so. You wish
him to remove from the Program any
suggestion that the user do as they are commanded without thought, and replace
it with a suggestion to think for themselves. Is that the basis of your wish for
He hesitated, knowing this
to be the only option available with such limited time, hating the need to rush
with so much at stake, and sickened at the thought of such a cold, bloodless
method of succeeding.
And time ran out the
The door shook, signaling
it’s willingness to give in as
soon as it could, and Stone was left without choices. He looked down at the
tearstained face, and looked away.
“Do what you have to.”
He turned to the window, distracting himself with the need for escape when this
was done. The window was unbreakable, but it was possible the wall was not.
Behind him, Mike heard the
words, but could not credit them. It was too easy, to much what she needed to be
real. But Stone was walking away, leaving it in her hands, and she almost
dropped the microphone in her relief. Leaning down, she whispered once in her
master’s ear while he sat helpless and paralyzed by his creation.
“For the sins of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Corporation, Amen.” And watching his
sobs begin afresh, she let the words that had been distilled and purified by
decades of waiting- cooked down to their most essential parts by the heat of her
rage and pain- flow out and into his defenseless mind. His every movement, every
thought she wrapped in razor wire, creating a bondage of self for his remaining
life that would rival what her own had been.
Stone looked behind him at a soft step, to find Mike patiently
waiting. Eddie sat in his chair, calm and composed, wiping his face and setting himself to rights.
“I take it everything
went according to plan? What do I need to do now,’ he asked reluctantly. The
great man looked over at Stone and beamed. All sign of the recent terror was
“There is nothing
required at this time. The basic commands are in place, and he will begin to
make such changes as will fulfill your interests gradually, so that those who
currently benefit will be unable to object on a basis of strange behavior. He is
under the command to do whatever is required to conceal what has happened to
him. If you at any time wish to alter his instructions, he is open to you and
only you, by way of your particular communication style. He will also arrange
for a face to face meeting if you so desire.” Her eyes were distant, relaxed.
A different sort of passivity had come over her.
“Is there any way he can
break this, or undo it?” Stone knew the limitations of his own power, but
wanted to take no chances with this artificial method.
He came closer to the desk, and Eddie stood up, brushing at his shirt
like a young boy meeting his hero for the first time.
“Mike, people will
notice the change.”
“He is only like this
for you. He will be his usual self for everyone else, as per the instruction to
conceal his condition. It is untraceable physically, so even if there were
suspicion, it would not be provable.” The tone of her voice made Stone glance
at her, and for a brief flicker he caught the cold, unsmiling satisfaction in
her eyes. Then she was listening for the door, and concerned for their exodus.
Stone watched her move to
the wall. He could not shake the eerie look she’d given the man. A tendril of
thought snaked out, and he felt the barrier open eagerly to him, inviting him
into the only mind he’d never been able to touch before.
And could not now. What
had been was changed, overwritten with line upon line of absolutes. Snatches of
what Mike had done drifted by as the mind underneath adjusted and considered
each command and how best to obey it.
‘…your only true goal
will be to please the Type 3 ….
replay the message within ever 24 hour period… first hour delayed you
will develop a migraine… nausea,
after three hours you will experience…… alleviate it will be to
replay….conceal at all costs….no changes in such a way as to cause
suspicion…eliminate all sources of strong dissension….mber that you are
owned by the Type 4 and happy to be so…’
A life spent aware of the
fact that he had been changed, that he was a slave to the whim of another man
after ruling most of the world….he doubted it would have occurred to Mike that
the awareness itself would be a cruelty. Forced to re-play the message that
enslaved him every night. Divided into the man he’d been who would watch, and
the man she’d made him, who would act against the first’s interests at every
turn. Stone watched Mike’s back as she inspected the small rooms leading off
this main one. And yet, he still recalled the comment she’d made about cooking
them alive. Was she capable of doing this as a punishment?
The realization slammed
home to him just how badly he’d jeopardized his life’s mission with his
unwillingness to look fully into Mike since the endgame had begun. Here, when
everything was so close to it’s conclusion, and so precariously balanced,
he’d let an indistinct factor take charge. The result was favorable so far,
but the chance he’d taken... His head swam.
The door creaked,
preparing for it’s own end, and reminding Stone of the now more pressing
issue. Survival. Mike disappeared through a door, and he had a nasty moment of
suspicion before she returned, motioning for him to follow. He locked the door
to gain a few seconds, and waited for her to show her intent.
“The wall here is
closest to the construction outside. It passes within 20 feet, and down,
preparing to meet with it’s dock at the far side which is yet to be built. I
can see no other way out of the building; even if you were to open walls as you
did at Ricci’s there are too many floors and troops available on each. You
also seem reluctant to kill uninvolved parties, which will be unavoidable if we
take that route.” She passed her hands over the wall, her face to it’s
smooth surface, calm and uninterested in the proceedings. “You are aware that
now that your Goal is accomplished, there is no longer a need to retain me, and
your original request no longer has relevance.”
Ice ran through his veins.
The betrayal scene had begun then. Now she would tell him that she would have to
kill him as her next order commanded. He slipped his weapon silently from it’s
sheath, hearing the crash of the door in the room behind him.
She was the only one who knew what had been done, and could undo it.
“You also should know
already that your chance of escape is immensely
greater if you do not have me slowing you down,” she added, and he was
“We’re out of time,
Mike. Spit it out.”
“Logic demands that you
kill me, open this wall, and jump to the mono, where you can slide down or
through to the street before they can mobilize on that level. Once free, you can
watch over and direct any changes you might want. You have the rest of his life
to set things up the way you want them.” She continued to face the wall,
caressing it lightly. “ Here, I think, would be the most secure place to make
One more time, you manage
to unseat me, he thought. He aimed the business end of the deadly toy at the
wall, and the brick became dust. Voices were loud and unfriendly behind the
door, and he pulled the suit off to get what free motion he could in his armor.
Looking out, he gauged the distance, and knew it was more than 20 feet. He might
make it, but it would be a stretch.
He backed up, feeling the
weight of the armor he’d not needed, and wondered if he had time to remove it.
The door took a blow, and
caved under a second. Two armored guards fell in, and a third hopped over them
to disappear in a puff when Stone responded.
Shouts from those behind and from the ever- demanding Sir fought to
dominate his hearing, and Mike was moving to intercept whatever might come. The
men paused at seeing her, caught between prior orders to
capture her undamaged, and the more recent command to bring her down at
all costs. The guns came up, and Stone’s
hand was on her wrist, spinning her around behind him. There was no place to
shelter from this hail, and the most he could do was bundle
her in front of him and duck his head. In what seemed no time, one found
the weak place behind one knee, another caught him in the space at his waist,
and he stumbled under the screaming onslaught. The wall was the only option.
Closing off everything, he
gathered himself, and whispered to Mike.
“Hold on to me. No
matter what.” Her arms went round his neck.
“You won’t make it,”
she whispered back. “If you shoot
me, I die easily, and you might still survive.”
He braced his good leg and
swung heavily toward the gap. There was no way to get the speed he needed, and
he was hit again, and again still, as he raced for the open air beyond. Mike
kicked off the side closest to her with both legs as they careened by, and they
passed through with their entourage of death following close behind. He could
see the construction, and the distance they’d never travel to get there. This
is it, he thought to himself. Sorry, Hon.
“Look down.” Mike’s
voice was that of the problem
solver he’d met the first morning. He looked below, and saw the scaffold
rushing up at him. He would have to trust Mike’s grip, and let her go to reach
for it. Her legs were suddenly around his middle, slipping slightly on the
bloodied armor, and then she was leaning out to stretch her hands to it, too.
“What part of hang on
didn’t you understand?” he yelled through the wind of their passage.
“Only the part that
makes you think you can catch that at this speed and
hold us both,” she called back to him.
Her legs tightened around his waist, making him wince, and he prayed
softly to himself that she was wrong. Their hands struck a bar, leaving their
fingers aching, then a second, grasping at what sped by. Mike twisted, her face
without feeling, and caught at a support. They swung in, carried by their
momentum, and hit another. Her hold faltered as Stone clutched at a lower piece,
Stone’s didn’t, and
Mike was jarred, her legs slipping across the wet armor to leave them hanging in
a position of sexual parody, her elbow around his neck. He reached a foot out,
edging to the nearest platform, but came up short. Mike leaned away to take hold
of the closest bar, and hand-over-hand, pulled her, and with her, his lower
half, over the tiny floor.
He did, and they swung the
rest of the way. Stone looked up at Mike, who released him slowly to drop
stumbling, with a thud, her muscles reluctant to believe they were safe. She
grimaced at the cramps, letting Stone hold her up while she eased her hands
open. Lowering her to the floor, he noticed his bloodied knuckles, then hers as
they wrapped around his own.
“I believe we’ve
ruined your blouse, miss.” He patted at her ruffled hairdo with shaking
fingers. “Shall we find our way to the ground? I’m not sure if the elevator
is our best choice.” He looked over the edge at the still- severe drop, and
shook his head. “The only exit I see goes over to the main construction.”
His knee was a throbbing mass; the hole at his waist felt like a canyon.
Standing was agony, and he was
noticing damage everywhere, it seemed, but far above there was still the sound
of heavy weapons, and he knew there would be a detachment on the way down.
“You will need to stop
your bleeding first, and make some repairs if you are to survive your escape.”
She did not look at him, and again, the brief suspicion went through him at her
change of manner. But she was Mike. And she’d suggested her own death rather
than endanger his life. That meant something. Unless she did it knowing that you wouldn’t..
He closed his eyes, remembering the sound of her voice as she’d
whispered to him. No. That was real. And
if it wasn’t, it didn’t matter. The Goal was accomplished.
And he could always kill
her, later, if he had to.
“We don’t have that
kind of time, Darlin. There’s no way he’s gonna convince them this was a
drill, or that we’re not a threat after all that. They’ll be looking to grab
us as soon as we hit the ground. We need to get moving.”
She was staring down at
the connective line to the mono, frowning lightly. He came around and followed
her line of sight to the heavy wire, twenty feet down, feeling the drain on his
system already. But he’d been hurt worse, and done more…. He could make it.
He looked around for a suitable tool.
“If I slide us down, can
you hold on to me? I hate to admit it, but I’m not sure I can do this one
handed right now.” He looked at her, but she nodded without looking up. Her
total attention seemed riveted by the drop.
He paused a moment,
watching her. Perhaps not betrayal, but
suicide.. No time. He hobbled
his way to a pile of similar wire laying on it’s tools, and uncrimped a
connector to get a short length. The was no lift in sight, so they’d have to
shimmy down a support to the line. Grabbing his wire and a few connectors, he
eased himself over the edge.
“Mike, climb down here
and help me,” he called up to her. Without hesitation, she obediently removed
her shoes and complied. “Hold this right here.” They bent the wire over the
long line to their destination, now at waist height,
and he coupled the ends into it, leaving two loops for his hands. He
tested the pull , and threaded his wrists through. Crouching under the line, he
glanced at her.
“Put your arms around my
neck, and get a good grip. I don’t want you slipping. If it helps to put your
legs around me, go ahead. It’s not as painful as it looks.” She kneeled and
slipped her arms into place, grabbing her elbows, her face pressed into his
“You ready,” he asked,
and felt her nod. “Don’t let go. No excuses this time.” She nodded again,
and he slid forward, pushing off to get speed. The moment they were out of the
tangle of scaffold, the shooting resumed full force, but no-one noticed they
were out of range. The wire they
rode squealed and sang with their passage. Stone looked at he abyss beneath
them, and waited for Mike’s arms to part and plunge her into them. The depth
made his dizzy, the sound of the wire maddening, and he wondered if he’d let
go when she did. But his order remained, and she continued to cling tightly to
his neck, barely breathing.
Workers on the mono looked curiously up as Stone and his passenger
came sliding onto the pallet. He made a quick sweep of them, broadcasting
disinterest, and most shrugged and
went back to work, a couple merely forgot them. He hissed through his teeth as
he pulled his hands from the wire, sharp lines left in his skin. Mike felt the
stop, and stretched her feet to the floor, pulling away to grimace over the
marks. Her fingers brushed his palms gently, searching out cuts and trying to
smooth out the deep indentions.
“We have to go. Now,”
he told her, feeling the fresh flow from his injured side.
The first fears began to seep through him, as he realized how long
it might be before they could rest. The world pulsed at him, waves of
light and dark coming and going with his heartbeat. He looked over the edge of
the pallet, seeing the angry ants on the ground below, feeling hunted and tired.
Al the times he’d envisioned his Goal’s accomplishment, he’d never
imagined himself running and hounded after. Sanguine drips threatened to
decorate the floor and leave a trail for their pursuers , and he was forced back
to the efforts of survival.
“Stone,” Mike began,
and trailed off, her eyes caught by the open mouth of the incomplete mono.
It’s dark throat led off and down, eventually
coming within a few feet of several buildings or a long jump to the
ground, all out of the sightline of their present armed entourage. It would be a
close fit, snug on his armor, and a blind trip, unable to see what was ahead of
“After you, Darlin.”
He watched her kneel and disappear
into the black on hands and knees. What was for her a narrow crawl would be for
him a scrabbling on his elbows and knees, wanting to rise to his hands and held
too close. Any claustrophobia his Lady had given him held court in places like
this. He hoped the earlier lack of it continued. He put his head in, and shoved his armored shoulders after.
whisper floated back to him in the heated air of the tube as he pulled his legs
in behind him. “You need to give them some other idea of what happened to us.
If they know where we went….” her voice stilled, conjuring images of
themselves trapped in the tight space, riddled with gunfire without chance of
escape. He twisted his head back, trying to send an image of the two of them
floating off to the ground. The workers gathered at the edge to watch the
illusion drift off into the ether, and Stone turned back to the task of
forcing his way through the tunnel.
He could hear Mike just
ahead of him, and reached out his thoughts to
find her. He found her just ahead of him, waiting for him with deep
trepidations; he saw himself in her mind, a dead mass in the dark, too heavy for
her to pull out,
too familiar to be left to the butchers below. He was oddly comforted by
the idea of her sitting a silent vigil over his corpse, invisible as it was.
“You ready, Hon? It’s
too warm to be in here any longer than we have to.”
“Can you fix some of
what’s wrong before we do? I
cannot do anything for you if you fall unconscious here.” Her thoughts were a
calm expectation of the worst. He wanted badly to soothe them as he would with
Ricci, but the blankness at their ‘dinner’ was hard on his mind, and he
didn’t dare risk it anymore. If he blanked
her without meaning to.. if he created a drone or a puppet …
Perhaps it was too late. But she was here, and afraid. He sent the barest
tendril of reassurance out to her, the vision of them asleep and safe somewhere,
all as it should be in the world, and heard her turn back to the blackness. He
started to follow, and brushed her retreating foot. She’d not gone far without
He tried to make some
repairs as he went, finding the multiple sources of the leakage, and closed off what he could. The heat inside the tube
pressed on his face, making him lightheaded, and it occurred to him that her
vision could be the correct one. It was a long way down, and they might easily
get stuck somewhere.
He heard her gasp once,
then her sounds stopped, replaced with a long spidery whisper that disappeared
quickly. He was alarmed, until he felt the drop himself, and understood.
So this was the beginning of the ride.
He slid forward a bit more, and let gravity take him.
His breastplate took the
abuse for him, and began to heat quickly as he slid along. He closed his eyes
reflexively, trying not to imagine the walls rushing by.
How many feet? How far,
how fast? The speed they must be moving at .. the bottom would come soon. But on
Suddenly, it seemed, the
rail leveled out, but he shot along without slowing for what seemed forever.
Then the surface roughened, and he heard the remnants of his shirt shredding
under him, but it stopped him, and he was grateful even with the loss of (yet
another) shirt. He found his arms were pulled up tight to his sides, and he
stretched them ahead of him to scout the
He was able to move
forward, but the new terrain was thicker than the old, and it’s surface slowed
him. He was tiring, and overheated, and his progress slowed further as his
reserves ran out. His head swam,
the tunnel rolling under him, and his hands hit the sides with a resounding
clang as he tried to steady himself.
Where was Mike? Why was
she not here to .. he could not think of what it was she might do to fix this,
only that she should be here. Nausea crept up on him like a final assassin, and
he fought to keep his head with all he had left. His hands clenched as he pulled
himself forward, ignoring the feeling of unbalance, relying on habit and the logic that said the world was not
spinning, and what was under him stayed under.
Panting and gritting his teeth, he crept on.
He heard humming.
Mike, humming to herself, the bittersweet music she’d played the night
he’d slipped floated to him as she fought her own battle in the thick of the
dark and heat. He heard the harmonies in her head, keeping some demon at bay as
she waited for him to find her. His breath paused,
realizing she did not hear him. If he did not get out, then what of her?
“Mike,” he called softly, fighting to keep his voice steady. “You
hurt? I’m not sure where we are,
but we’re at the bottom.” The humming cut off, and he could hear her moving
toward him. Fingers brushed his hand, found his face.
“Are you up to going a
bit further,” she whispered shakily. “It curves around the building and out
of sight just ahead. If they don’t know already where we are, that should get
us away. It is safe to assume that if they did know, they’d be opening the
tube already.” Her hand rested on his jaw, feeling his pulse, checking for
fever. Was that all?
“You go, I’ll
follow.” Her hand lingered a moment longer, then she turned and hurried ahead.
His thoughts were thick, and he regretted the loss for a moment before he moved
himself after her. Why it should strike him strange for her to touch him so he
could not remember. She was Mike. She touched him all the time…
Mike was calling to him,
her voice bending strangely, and he understood finally that she’d passed the
bend, and was waiting. He crept to her voice, and found the fingers again,
questing along his own to pull him closer.
“Can you cut us out?
There’s no exit on this end. We should be just above street level.”
His arm ached to reach
behind him, seeking his weapon, and he was hard-pressed to pull it up to her. He
found the settings by touch, running them to the far end of the norm, cutting
back the power to the barest minimum.
“Bring it to the wall,
and cut about halfway up the side, so the damage isn’t easily visible from the
street,” he told her. “I can’t maneuver well enough to get where I’d
need to be. Don’t get burned,” he cautioned her, handing the grip to her.
She took it, hefting it to get the
balance, and felt along the wall. The ozone wafted to him,
and he could almost see her by the pale light it gave off. Daylight shot in the small opening she created, blinding them
both for a moment, and Stone saw the face he’d loved for so long by it’s
light. Then she was Mike again, her carefully coifed hair streaming around her
face, her eyes narrowed against the painful glare, her face set in concentration
as she created their egress. Cooler air breezed by, and the heat pushed out of
the opening, easing the pounding behind his eyes. Perhaps they could make it.
The metal sizzled and
disappeared, and Stone leaned back
to rest before they attempted to leap from such a height. Mike leaned cautiously
out, peering down at the street, then over at something unseen. She turned back
to him, frowning still, and explained their situation.
“We are no more than 20
feet from the ground, and 10 feet from the closest building. There is no
pedestrian traffic, but we are on the far side of the city from my apartment.
We are easily distinguished by our appearance, and you are wounded. It is
possible to walk along the top of the rail for a bit, concealed from view, if we
are cautious, and dismount from the closest support. They are designed to be
climbable for the maintenance crews.” She looked closely at him, trying to
guess his strength. He tried his best to look capable, and surrendered to a wave
of fatigue that crashed over him when he sat up.
“We’ll do what we
gotta, won’t we? You go up, I’ll be right there,” he told her, and she
“What we gotta.”
She did not point out the pale of his skin, nor the glaze of his eyes,
but he was aware that she saw it. “Where do we go once we are out?”
He had no answer yet.
She pulled herself out and
up, finding no purchase, and spread herself flat on the rounded metal. Stone
twisted his frame out and over the lip, letting Mike pull him around to face
her. She steadied him, and they crept along the slick top edge.
“There,” Mike pointed, and Stone followed her arm to the ladder-like brace on down the line.
She pushed and pulled him, easing him down the brace. His knee
gave under the strain, and blood flowed one more, spilling down his calf, and
slicking the stair under him.
“We cannot make it from
here to there with your condition hindering us. You said you had safehouses. Are
there any close by,” Mike asked solemnly.
“None closer than your
place was,” he responded from half-way down, “but I think… perhaps.. I can
get us a ride.” He placed a foot on the ground, and
reached for her shoulder. “We just need a quiet spot to wait for a
She found him a cool
shaded alley. Leaning heavily on her, he dragged himself into the relative
safety of the
shade before attempting to link with the accomplice she’d given him.
Even knowing that the mind was waiting, open
and eager for him, he could not help being startled. A set of thoughts
he’s never touched before, spread wide. It was like finding a new mountain
outside your window one morning. Far above them, in his crowded office,
Sir/Eddie smiled secretively, and opened a file. A quick look at a city’s
resources gave him what he wanted, and he sent a remote command to a mechanized
servant with whom he now had everything in common. One automaton gave orders to
another, and a captive inside screamed in rage at the pleasure the first felt
for having served it’s master. Stone gave Eddie his approval, and pulled away
in disgust at the pathetic joy the
man felt in return.
“A car is on it’s way.
If anyone sees it, they will assume we’re already in custody, and if no one
notices, he’ll remove its destination form the records once we’re out.”
Her eyes did not meet his, looking instead at the alley’s mouth, and he did
not regret it. They’d created an un-person with their actions, a thing he’d
done only by accident before, and always wished to undo. This time, is had been
done for him, purposefully, and though
it had completed his life’s work, he could not rejoice. This must be the last
sacrifice, he thought to himself, sickened.
The car arrived. Mike
guided him into it, and they rode silently back to her apartment. They’d
destroyed his lair; it was the only place left to go.
Only one act left, he thought to himself.
To Stone's End