TRUTH and SKEWED REALITIES
stood on a desert plain, featureless and dull.
Nothing moved, and nothing grew, no dunes broke it’s flat face. A cool
breeze stroked his cheek in the almost- twilight. He was dressed in black, a
loose sleeved shirt over snug pants, much like he’d been partial to before he
met Ricci. His boots gleamed on the pale earth, a smell of dry pepper and
herbs close when he pivoted to survey this new domain. His heart still
slammed against his ribs, demanding freedom, and his breath came hard, but the
tears passed, gladly, letting the breeze dry his face.
quite nothing. A low vibration came to him through his soles, and the air
carried a grinding from far away. Seeking the source, he closed his eyes and
waited. There, off to his right, and moving swift, was a disturbance of the
quiet. Some large beast ran over the dust, long and liquid, chasing nothing. He
could see the shape of it, like a child’s nightmare of a lion, impossibly
sleek and rolling, terrifying yet beautiful as it came closer.
caught details slowly, but it was a good distance off yet, giving him time to
prepare. It was several times his size, and he thought he saw claws digging at
the dirt for more speed. Was it even aware of him? It might pass by without
noticing him if he crouched down. He
could see a tail now, lashing and thick. A wide head, with ears like pennants
laid back against the head, tapering down to a small flat nose, passing eyes
filling half it’s skull. Golden and furred, it streaked across the wide space
at top speed with huge pistoning muscles
Stone flattened himself to watch safely.
beast caught the movement from the corner of it’s immense eye, turning to see
him folding into the ground. It spun, skidding and sliding, it’s hindquarters
shooting past and dragging it around as it tried to stop. Claws like I-beams
shot out and clung to the hardpan, drawing it up short. Still as death, the
menacing monstrosity gazed at him from long slits of eyes, it’s breath
labored. It lowered it’s head, stretching out, and then, it was simply there.
stumbled backwards, feeling the breath of the beast swirl around his ears. There
was no more than a yard between them, and the
irisless eyes regarded him dispassionately while he scrambled to avoid the blow
that did not come. Under it’s
gaze, he stood, brushing dead dust from his elbows, and considered. When it
failed to eat him, he decided it to chance the balance of silence and stillness.
am I, and why am I here,” he ventured, steeling himself under the unblinking
stare. The thing shuddered, and reared it’s head, pulling back and up to
sprout wings. From it’s full height, it looked back at him a moment before
rising and hovering above him. Still the eyes held him, intense and emotionless,
weighing options, and he felt the breeze die under it’s scrutiny. Hanging
there, wings still, so far above,
it extended a rear leg, offering him a broad foot. He climbed up, willing to
ride to his answers. He was lifted and held close under the beast’s belly when
it’s legs faded, and soon he was carried by a manta made of pale gold liquid
across the dissolving desert.
admired an ocean, glinting and sapphire. He saw no fish, no dolphins capered in
its depths. A jungle heaved it’s
green face to his vision from the water, but no tigers prowled there. The
silence continued unbroken by cricket or mynah, and his ears began to
ache for the sounds of life associated with these sights. His guide banked over
a meadow, fir trees mixed with oak, but no deer pranced and grazed in the
thickets, and the whippoorwill was unheard. In the haze of distance, Stone could
see the skyline of a city, but understood that it was empty, despite the
flashing signs and lights. As he has surmised upon arrival, nothing lived here.
A dead world, no one home but him.
his transport. He looked up, seeing the reflection of landscape on the skin
above his head. It had forgotten him, apparently, cruising the air for the feel
of the wind. The ache was better with the knowledge that he was not totally
alone, but the desolation crept into his bones. Did it really live here, in this
beautiful void? He’d lose his
tapped the limb that gripped him, wanting to ask his question again; he jerked
slightly when the two eyes opened on the creature’s belly, blinking at him
slowly. His voice ripped away from him in the wind, but when
he tried to fall back on more direct contact, he shied away from the size
and power he found above him. A mind almost alien in it’s cool order, the
suggestion of hidden passages behind a vast expanse of blank receptiveness. It
returned to it’s soaring, and Stone re-considered talking.
the silence was crushing, the emptiness louder with every second. He tapped
again, pointing down at a hillside of tall grass. The eyes blinked at him,
sliding up to follow his arm, and they dropped out of the sky with a long
sweeping roll. He was deposited in the green, seeing
the shape of his companion’s shadow flow again and become small. A
feathered dragon perched on his shoulder to survey the plains with him. There
was only the sound of the grasses whispering to ease the oppressive vacuum.
was a few steps away, he knew. This lack was symbolic of something. He was in a
strange place, alone but for the mind that sat so deceptively tiny on his
shoulder. He tried to connect the previous place he’d been- Ricci’s living
room and the bloody rags of her everywhere- with this absence of all life.
He’d gone in, and arrived here. So
where was here? Where Ricci had gone? This could easily be a form of purgatory,
and that would easily make the beast thing God. His life spent distancing
himself from everyone, his eternity would be spent in solitude, eh? It seemed
harsh. And he could do nothing? The weight pressed on his chest, stifling, and
he turned to argue his fate.
his guide was gone.
spun, rage at this helplessness building swiftly,
wanting to catch it before it was out of range, but no sign of it
remained. He was left standing on the slight hill, shaking in his need to fight
and destroy, finding no enemies more tangible than the breeze and the grass. He
ripped at the green blades, flinging dark clots of mud to all the points of the
compass. He screamed obscenities for the sound of his own voice, until voice
broke, and despair crushed him.
he sat, eyes just over the grass tips, trying to convince himself of this
reality’s un-reality. There was
no place where people were not, no where that the sun did not move or the body
not need. He should be hungry, or tired, something by now, so this could not be
real. But wouldn’t Hell be free of such needs, if they interfered with the
torments intended? Please God, no. Better no afterlife than this one, isolated,
trapped. Such nightmares he’d never had.
It must be a nightmare. It also fit the circumstances, didn’t it? A dream,
caused by- what? It was a new genre for him, but he and Mike had been talking
about vaguely related topics. Perhaps this was her nightmare, and he was picking
it up. There’s always a first time for everything…
was up and moving before conscious thought reached him. He spun foolish circles
in the grass, searching for the source, finding nothing.
what? It’s a nightmare? It’s a
first time for something? It’s not mine? It’s a new type for me? Which?”
The rage returned on swift feet, and he slung more grass at the unseen voice.
“This is Hell? Or did I fall asleep in the tub and dream the rest while I
died? Show yourself!” He faced
the sky instead of venting on the dirt, and was confused at the grid of razor
wire that confined this world.
that what it takes to keep me here? You want me here that bad?
You were here before, why not now? Is there a purpose to this, or are you
simply getting off on watching me lose it?” He pulled up another lump of grass,
then stalked off down the hill. His throat burned and his hands were stained
green with the blood of the plants he’d uprooted, sticky. “Fuck this.” He
wiped at his pants, trying to dislodge the drying goo.
He needed to wash them. He looked up, wanting water, and through a part
in the waves, he saw a stream. It cleaned his hands and soothed his throat, for
all that it was barren of the teeming masses that should have inhabited it’s
resolved not to look, and managed to keep it for several seconds. He wasn’t
surprised to find no-one there.
much. I want more than a quick drink. I want out.” He waited, hoping for
nothing as much as the chance to slowly slice the unseen speaker for roast.
don’t hold you here. I did not bring you. Seek elsewhere.”
I can leave whenever? And I suppose I just click my heels? Or should I leave the
way I came,” he snarled. “Thank you, you’re so kind.” He stepped through
the streambed, trying to head back towards the ocean in hopes it was at least
the right direction. What he’d do when he got back to the desert, he had no
idea. He continued, righteous anger fueling him for several miles before he
started to feel the quiet and distance again. Was he getting anywhere? He could
walk for years this way without knowing if he were headed in the right
stopped, looking for distinguishing marks, trees; off to one side he found an
old pear tree, knotted and bent, with tiny blossoms raining slowly to the nodding weeds. Familiar. He cut a new trail to the tree, fingering the
branches, trying to place the last time he’d seen it; he leaned against it to
gaze at the barbed sky, and had it.
small girl had been sitting about three yards away, her back to the tree,
playing with her kitten. He had seen only the shoes and the cat, not the tree,
from his viewpoint, but the child he’d tapped had known it was there, and the
knowledge had carried over. So this place fit in some memory he contained. A new
facet to the torture? The god-mind had blundered. He welcomed this reminder of
his Lady, an ease seeping into him.
called the image forth unconsciously, though he had no desire to please. The
pair appeared, playing, hiding from someone, giggling child and sleek feline. He
watched for long minutes, enjoying the sounds they made, mildly resentful that
doing so also gave the other watcher something it wanted.
After she’d fully stained
the knees of her tights, the flaxen
beauty peeked up from her jungle at some interloper approaching, shushing her
furry playmate. Stone looked up to find a new addition to his dream.
this new apparition called, “it’s time to go. Don’t make me come get you.
Come on, Honey, Grandmamma’s ready, and we don’t want to make her wait.
Lynn!” The older version of the little girl waltzed into view, a lovely
woman with curly blonde hair on her shoulders and a white summer frock that
fluttered in the air. She continued searching, a pressed good humor on her face
when the object of her search did not reveal itself. At long last, the fiercely
giggling Lynn popped out to surprise her mother and was swept up
and scolded for her ruined clothes, regaling her Momma with tales of
horrid beasts vanquished with bare hands. They sailed out into the waves, Lynn
beseeching Dirty-face to hurry. Stone closed his eyes,
sighing at their departure. Her
name had been Lynn. He sought his original course.
the voice cried softly to him.
you. Get your jollies off somebody else.” He started for the bent grass beyond
it whispered desperately, “please, don’t. I need this.” A rustling in the blades around him, furtive, anxious.
said fuck you. No. Why should I do for you? What do you get out of this?” He
continued to walk.
don’t know, please, it hurts, stay,
just a little longer,” it begged in it’s soft tears. The movements grew
frantic as the breeze became wind, the pear blossoms falling thick. He paused.
Why does it matter? Is it something you get from me, or the memory itself?”
don’t know, hurry, go back before they’re gone completely. Bring them back”, it
sobbed as the sky rolled and grew dark. Stone was pushed sideways by the rushing
of air, and a pain, a loss of
frightening power overwhelmed him. He was driven to his knees by the nameless
need he quickly understood did not originate with him, but was painfully
familiar just the same. This thing shared the same demon that had driven him to
create gardens, and sucked his sleep dry of rest.
held a cruel weapon now, and had no reason not to wield it. He looked around
himself at the whipping stems. “Show yourself.”
Thunder growled in the distance, the sound most
terrifying to small children, a sad ending of daylight.
stood, bracing himself against the wind and the raging emotions.
said show yourself. Explain to me face to face why these images matter. Do you
get something from me, from what I feel, or do you know them?”
light faded, depressing and cold, rain falling miles away.
don’t know. I don’t have access to that information. There is an urgency
connection, unspecified, to the figures themselves. There is more, that’s all
I know; I need it, I cannot explain further, but it more important than anything
I have. Please,..” it rose , and Stone
looked back to see the last lingering ghost of Mamma’s
dress fade out just as the barest suggestion of a building had begun to
grow beyond her. Then she was gone, and the agonized shriek shook the tree to
splinters. It ended in a wailing, heartbroken weeping that was more effective
than any threat might have been in changing Stone’s mind.
He returned to the remains of the stump, and tried to re-create the faces of the
pair, succeeding for a brief second to make them flicker,
the pair joined by others, but it was over. He sighed again, wanting the
silence back now as badly as he’d needed it gone before. There was a great
rushing, and the movement near him
sped towards the place they’d been, crushing the rich green in it’s passing,
the air thickening and turning pale as the presence gained substance. Stone saw
it become a misty human figure, pulled out of shape, but recognizable, speeding
after them, but pausing, bewildered, and sinking to the ground, disconsolate.
Torn between pity and anger at his treatment, he followed it, ready to
gain his freedom by force. Half-hidden by flora, his objective seemed small and
pathetic, no longer the intimidating menace he’d felt in the glider.
did not move as he came up from behind, oblivious to his presence in it’s
grief. He stepped close to the
crumpled form, seizing it by the
hair-like veil, pulling it back against his chest to pin it by it’s throat. It
gasped, but did not fight immediately; instead, it rolled in his grasp, pushing
it’s smooth face against his chest so that he found himself not restraining,
but comforting his captor. A moment
of confusion; he pulled away, his hands hard on it’s shoulders, and it flailed
at him, tiny fists beating at his
shoulders. This was not defensive
fighting, but frustrated anger, he realized, there was no way it could hurt him
with such useless blows, so he simply waited for it to tire.
let them go. .. was it so much to ask for, just a few more minutes? Just to
watch them a bit longer…” it suffered and shifted, hiding it’s not-there
face with it’s hands. He shook it, tired of feeling guilt and pitying it.
do you want with my memories? A few more minutes for me to stand here, giving
you a part of me, giving you what you want, after you brought me here, left me
in this hell, this dead place, alone? Fuck this. I want out. Show me the way
out. Now.” He shook it again, wanting to hurt it, restraining himself only to
insure it could obey. It caught
it’s breath, the hitching slowing, sucking in deep gulps of air to still
itself. Calmer, it placed it’s palm on his chest, pushing him away with
terrifying strength even as he tried to hold it.
could have gone whenever you liked. Your assumption that you were held in turn
held you. I never made you stay,”
it explained with it’s ruined voice. It walked away, sliding into it’s
original furred face, much reduced.
bullshit,” Stone yelled after it. “If I don’t know where I am, how can I
find my way back? Why not plant me on Saturn and tell me to go home? Son
-of-a-Bitch! Don’t you dare walk off without telling me at least where the way
out is.” He hurried after it, wishing for something to throw.
glanced back over it’s shoulder. “You want out, just wake up. I can’t tell
you how get back on your side from here, but that should be sufficient for mere
exodus. As for Saturn, your wish is my command.” The landscape shifted, and he
was floating in dust clouds, a wide band of rock floating through the razor
boundary above. He hung, suspended, and it swam around him as the glider.
that better?” It circled him, forcing him to thrash around to see it.
“You’ll never get anywhere that way. I’d suggest a more streamlined body.
Would you like assistance?” it altered
it’s shape again, becoming a long feminine gleam of mirror with wide smooth
wings, it’s vast eyes returning to gaze at his struggles innocently.
want out. What part of that don’t you understand?” He fought against the
sluggish dust, tiring himself. It peered a him, coming closer. He knew how the
bird feels before the cobra.
attempted to explain your situation. You are unaccepting of the answer, so any
response would be pointless.” The long face was reminiscent of one he knew,
but all distinguishing features were lost to the stretched reflection of his own
face in it’s surface. “I am altering you. You are free to go where you want,
please respect privacy. You will
have to make further changes yourself if you choose to be alone.”
felt his body melt, become liquid, and
he was free, swimming through the grit. An instinctive fear for self
took him, but there was no pain, and it had said that he could change again.
Just ahead, it waited, and he realized how he must look- an armless
silver serpent, broad shouldered and mirror-winged. How strange.
myself do not need to see Saturn,” his almost-twin told him. “There is
nothing new to see. Anywhere. If you do not desire company, I will leave you to
explore and enjoy. If you should need help at any time, I will hear you call,
wherever you might be. I am sorry I cannot return you to your own space; I
regret my desire to have company brought you where you do not wish to be. I
would not wish to inflict my personal hell on anyone.” It considered. “I
rescind that statement. There are a few … but it was not my intent for you.”
you did bring me here.” He rushed it, aching to punish it for the lie. It
stayed always a safe distance away, and eventually he relented.
wanted you. I attempted to influence your dream in the hope that you would reach
for me again. It did not occur to me
that you might join me here. Or that
you were here without understanding of the circumstances. I thought you had come
as promised, to see my side. I was mistaken.”
felt some understanding battering at him, some memory; being thirsty, being
hurt, a crushing fear. Dreams. Wake to escape, on this side… But this was
real. It was too… real not to be
real. But it explained it. Recall
of the first dream came to him, and he understood all. Or closer to it.
But the agony of the silence she had subjected him to, the fear, why?
He’d never suspect her of that depth of cruelty, and the other dream had been
full of such peace. “I don’t understand. What did I do to deserve all this?
You asked me to keep you free of them, I did. You needed to remove the tag, I
removed the pain. You expected to be used again, I didn’t touch you. You were
‘owned’, I gave you what freedom I could. Where did this anger come from?”
were here. This is what I am, where I exist. This is what I thought you came to
see: when you first came to feel the truth of this place, you were unhappy, but
did not leave. I told you you could
go, but you did not listen. Then you were angry.” The eyes closed, and
acceptance/misery radiated from
her. “You should wake up. Most of the quiet I made for myself, the peace you
enjoyed so, has been eaten away by the constant change of circumstances.
What was my prison and my sanctuary has been corrupted as I have had to
alter myself. The system has become unstable.”
was there to say? He could get back
to sleep once he woke up, certainly, but if this was where she was spending the
night, could he leave her here? This was all the answers he’d not know to ask,
open book. All the strange habits, the passivity, and the
half-responses that had frustrated him
would be here somewhere, with the barriers fallen.
all. And you will not remember them
when you wake, if the first joint- dream is an indicator.”
shouldn’t read a person like that without asking. It’s rude,” Stone told
her irritably. “I try to give you the same consideration out there, you know,
even though I could keep an ear on you all the time.”
are in my head, literally, so it’s
not totally by choice. Not everything is on display, but most surfaces are
visible, unless you purposely try to hide, and I do not try to look. No shield
you erected would be effective here. Home court advantage.” She looked up at
the razor wire that somehow managed to contain Saturn now as well. “You are
not leaving. Does that indicate a desire to stay, or a tendency to
procrastinate? This vista has nothing to interest me, and if you are not leaving
or attached to this place, I would prefer to go somewhere more pleasant.”
you, Milady. Unless you prefer I leave?” For a brief moment, he thought she
would say yes, leave, but then they were in a garden, full of spanish moss and
willows. His body was his own again, but Mike
had become the mist- cloud again, human shaped but blank.
First question, then.
don’t you look like you? And how
can you be as strong as you were when you the glider, but be so normal now, and
so invisible outside? Was that a mask?” He was walking behind her through the
statues, watching her move and change the blooms that clung there.
which a mask? And define what ‘you’ I should look like? I am me. Why would
the flesh I wear be more ‘me’ than what you see now? Nothing has really
changed, I merely see no reason to walk around carrying the weight of what was
thrust upon me by the life I was thrown into.” She stopped in front of a
hideous creation, a technician bent and broken with the tree that grew through
him, carved of a delicate teal
marble. She plucked a few dead leaves, then moved on, smiling sweetly. “It
bothers you. So I will dress for my company.” Color and line filled her, and
she was the Mike he’d first met.
know what I meant.” The smile was wrong, and chills ran up his spine wondering
what more had been hidden from him. She
looked up, and he followed her gaze, studying the grid above. “And what is
that? You can change everything else, why leave that?”
is not within the confines of my control. It is the answer or most of your
questions, but to explain it would be to define humanity and evolution, the
conditioning process of childhood, … I am god here, but that is the limits of
my kingdom as defined by my psyche.”
poetic. And all this means…” he rubbed his neck, thinking that she was
incapable of just answering a question directly.
arched eyebrow, and the smile dissolved. She looked up again, and began to grow.
Stone fought the desire to run while she expanded, coming up against the barrier
in seconds, her outstretched hands pushing it out, spanning the horizon, but
unable to slip through. Deep cuts welled and rained, spattering the landscape as
the grid stretched, where they fell, the land died. Stone was drenched with the
falling, discovering it to be emotion made liquid. Desperation, despair, anger,
acceptance and exhaustion of self filled his mouth, the flavor of her, the same
thing he’d felt when she was kneeling before him, spiced now with the events
he’d brought on her, and being inside the iron cage where she hid.
He recalled her simple acquiescence to What Is, saw the reason above him.
She lowered her hands, and went higher, the grid wrapping itself around
her like spider’s web, restricting movements, binding her and holding her to a
few specific actions. To move so was to do this and that, just so, or be sliced
apart. She gazed down at him,
seeking his understanding, and returned.
question?” He was without words, the demonstration effective.
Now explain the reference- when I kneeled before you?”
gut froze, realizing his mistake. The Mike out there had not cared, he’d
deleted the act for his own peace of mind, to ease his guilt, and he’d been
glad when he’d discovered the uses to which others had put her. But this Mike
might object, strenuously, and could take punitive measures. How to phrase it,
the betrayal, and the deceit after?
How to explain? Is it worth the time? Did I ask to be edited?” She walked
away, disinterested. “Nothing has been removed, Stone. You put the memory out
of conscious reach, but that is all
you did. You have power over the mind, but little true understanding of how it
works. So few do. I suppose I would be as ignorant, if not for the way things
happened, leaving me with no other outlet but this one. The brain is much like a
computer. You may label something as erased, but unless you were to run out of
room, it would not be overwritten, and can be retrieved eventually, given the
right tools and skill. The brain will never run out of room. We don’t usually
live long enough to use it’s full capacity.
blanked out the data’s connection, but it itself remained, floating. You saw
enough to know I was not bothered. What you did after was for yourself more than
me, but I appreciate the idea that you would feel guilty. It’s sweet.
it’s not that easy. It doesn’t seem to matter to you, but it was a
violation of your body and my convictions. I have wrongs to atone for. Vows I
have made. I broke one then. After
years, decades, I let myself be weak, and used my talent for the most base,
selfish purpose I know. Wrong is wrong. It helps to know you weren’t hurt by it,
but I’m not sure you would understand why you should be, given your life.”
He needed her to see, before he could ask for forgiveness, or it was meaningless
to have it.
She turned back to him, her face a study in conflicts; violence and laughter
played hide and seek, vying for dominance. Violence won. The world tilted, and
Stone found himself in a dark corridor , polished marble walls reflecting empty
floors and closed doors. He was swept along, a firm hand on his arm, feeling
small and cold in a strange place. A quick push into a room, and he was watching from a wall while a white coat
locked doors and disabled speakers. A quick undressing, and the wrinkled labbie
pulled off the thin gown between him and the smooth body underneath. There was
pain and fear, but the order was to be quiet, so nothing could be expressed. The
second command was to be still, so the
instinct to fight must be suppressed. Stone saw himself in
the wall, a dark image of rape and sadism on the ebon surface. This was
the first, but only the
first. The face he’d first seen on the night steps, emotionless and silent,
began here, perhaps. But Mike’s lessons for him were not through. There was
the endless hours sitting in white rooms to be seen, speeding past for his
interest, unknown faces crying over the mechanical responses,
then a repeat by a new coat. Time unmarked passed in these rooms, being
taught to be human, being used by those who themselves were not very, programmed
and re-programmed, layer upon layer
of the ‘grid’ put in place. There was no escape and no end.
lesson do you need me to have, Stone,” she whispered in his ear. “That to
touch is wrong, or that to object to being touched is punishable? That emotions
are a needless luxury, or that not making others feel better is cruel? I have
all the info, ‘Darlin’, and what you did is a grain of sand on a
was released, shaken by the force of her will, and aching from the battering he
had not taken. There was nothing
more to question in this vein; she had very effectively explained most of
herself already, without a word said. He could not guess how
it had happened to be so, but the what
was quite clear. A blank mind,
filled with the rules of society, all
the rules, most unintentional, all set in stone. There was no allowance given
for being human.
what we generally learn slowly from our parents as shoulds,
you got as musts. But you weren’t a child.
What happened, why were you there to start with? Are you artificially
made? There were people there crying over you; they weren’t parents, or
don’t have access to that information.” Flat and emotionless, but calm,
praise be, he thought. She wasn’t
looking to punish him further. They were on
the plain again, desert and shadowed. “Erased and accessible are different
issues.” She directed his gaze across the dust to a darkness in the distance.
forgotten about the black space he’d found during the first twist. What lay
behind it was unknowable, unless he could break in, and here, he wasn’t sure
he had the raw power needed. He considered a closer look, and was immediately
taken to it’s foot, feeling it loom over him. He stepped back to view the full
height, but it continued indefinitely upward, casting no shadow, giving back no
glint of light. It simply was. No end to either side, he noticed.
Mike asked, waiting behind him.
a wall,” he told her, trying for levity and not reaching it.
always was,” she replied.
know anything about it? When it got
here, how, what might be behind it?” He ran tentative fingers over it’s
surface, feeling nothing, and pressed his hand further. It sank the wrist, and
he pulled it back.
you walk through it? Or have you ever tried?”
fingers don’t go through. For me it is solid. Feel free to try,” she added,
showing a glimmer of curiosity and something else.
took a breath, then stepped to the edge. His hand sank again, and his arm tagged
along behind, as did his shoulder, then his left foot and leg. He hesitated to
submerge his head; his eyes insisted that it was a real surface, but they were
easily shut. He stepped into the dark, opening them when he was certain he was
through. There was nothing visible here, just a darkness above and below.
Another few steps took him out the other side. Or so it seemed.
night landscape of jumbles images, buildings and faces merged
over green fields and cars that ran endless miles without purpose. The
smell of cut grass and burning oil conflicted with a third smell, more like
gangrenous flesh and burnt hair. Bits of disjointed sounds, pieces of words and
an ominous grinding were harmonied by a high ringing whine, like he’d been
struck on the head. His next step took him fully into the new place.
he was vulnerable. A scream of metal and old hydraulics assaulted his ears, and
he rolled to avoid the jaws that snapped at him from above. An immense head
lifted, taking with it the ground he’d just vacated, and opened for another
try. It was barely visible, a blurred image, seen through water and broken glass
in the half-light. Wide, toothed, eyeless, it reached for him, forcing him back
into the wall. He saw a building explode, the top floors disintegrating as he
made his retreat, and then the daylight struck him. He rolled out onto the dirt,
heart pounding in his ears.
take it that means you can’t wave your hand at it and make it disappear,”
Mike asked placidly. She pulled him up, brushing his shirt clean.
didn’t expect me to, did you, though. Perhaps from outside, but here, it’s
not just a thought. There be dragons.” He considered trying to tell her what
he did see, but it was hard to see clearly, much less relate. “Want to see if
you can go through with me?” He took her hand, surprised at it’s icy feel.
idea is not without merit, but I think I shall decline, sir. I have no guarantee
that there’s anything of value there anyway.” She made to turn and leave,
but he did not release her hand.
answers are not out here. The only other place they could be is in there. You
can’t not want to know what made
you. Everything that you’ve gone through must have had a beginning, a
reason.” The clouds began to roll in again, a cold current lifting her hair
around her cheeks. She was fighting to keep the emptiness on her face, he knew,
losing by degrees for every inch closer he pulled her.
Fear made her weak, and he was in control for the first time since
arrival. “I’ll be with you every step. They’re your memories, and I
can’t interpret them for you. They make no sense to me. But you might have the
other half already, or this will let you put them back in place so they do make
sense.” He moved behind her, taking her other hand in his to wrap around her
protectively. “I can carry you, if you want,” he whispered to her, “I can
try to merge here, if you think it would help. I owe you a few, Darlin’. And I
forgive you for everything that you did here, intentional and not, so don’t
think I’m doin this out of spite. The rest of you is in there, and if we
survive all this, you’re going to want it. I’d hate for something to happen
to me, something you can’t fix, and your still being divided this way, if I
can fix it.” He could feel her heart through his clothes, beating like a
rabbit’s. He thought he understood that now, too. “You remember that,
don’t you? Better to die quickly than suffer without hope, am I right? Let me
do this for you.” He had leaned down to reach her ear, and she pressed her
face against his neck. A tiny nod,
and he reached their hands out together.
fingertips brushed the edge, and the world exploded.
was the scream of the jawed beast, the ground a morass of chewed meat, tendons
and gold hairs strung through it in bloody ropes. Disembodied voices shouted
filth to each other from far above, and Stone felt Mike convulse in his grasp at
every syllable. He recognized the
phrases- “shut down- hit the safetys” over and tried to place others.
Nothing of her desert remained; everywhere
was blood and bright bone. He pulled
her further away from the wall, hoping distance would break the connection,
feeling the fool when he realized there was no distance to be had from what
lived in her head. He quickly
discovered that she was the force behind al changes, he could niether alter his
shape or their location.
took her as far as the heaving wet mass of meat would allow
for walking, then set her down on a slightly drier spot.
The spasms continued, her back creaking audibly when they hit hardest.
Stone wondered if it was possible to break one’s own back that way, and the
consequences for her physical body. It seemed she must surely wake up, or her
thrashing wake him, allowing him to do something
for her, but she was deep in it, and he decided he must be trapped.
to quiet her, it took several minutes for him to discover he was drenched with
blood above the knees, where the
sloshing floor would not reach. Mike was rent from mid-scalp to lower shoulder
blade, a wound appalling in it’s severity.
Slightly sickened by the sight of her opened skull and the red-slimed mass
underneath, Stone cursed his stupid pride, and the assumption that he had any
control here. This was the baser
mind. This was a conscious use of the sub-conscious, and he was out of his
league. One did not apply first aid
to a body that existed only in the mind, especially when that
mind was what was damaged. Foolishly trying to pull the wound closed, he
stripped off his shirt, pressing it to the deepest part of the tear for lack of
a better idea. This was fucked. If it
were out there, he would know
what to do. He felt useless, responsible, and above all, sorry. He gave up with
the sodden rag, pulling her up to his chest. Somewhere he’d read that when you
can’t do anything else, you give love. And
that’s all that was left.
This was his doing. However well-intentioned, he’d fucked up, and
he would fix it. He hoped.
to forehead, he gathered himself, forgetting the rolling beneath him, the
voices, the howling, closing off all systems that were not directly involved
with the use of power. His arms pinned her tight, he breathed her breath, heard
her heartbeat. This was nothing more than the illusion of her body, the chaos
around him a visual reflection of her mental state. There was no mind so strong
that he could not take it for his own. He was in the nexus; it should ease
things, not complicate them. He
could, he would. He did. His thoughts
opened around hers, cautiously closing over them. He drew from it, taking the
land in hand, laying it down, giving it solidity. Her body trembled a while yet,
fighting the calm, but he clamped down, demanding surrender, re-writing the
vision to his own specifications. The stained bones knit, the scalp closing, but
he could not erase the livid scar that ran the length from crown to mid-back.
slowly released her, watching for a return of the shudders that had marked the
end of her attack, and wiped at her face. She was very still, and he used his
lingering strength to eradicate the
mess from face and hair. As an
afterthought, he placed them back in her temple beside the stream, stretched out
on the soft mossy bed. Stroking her face, he swore off all tampering not
required by the Goal, until such
tile as he was certain he could repair without endangering.
wake up. Come back to me, Hon. You gotta be OK,
cause the world didn’t end. You’re too deep for my comfort, though.
Float up a bit,” he suggested, pushing a bit to give it weight. She twitched,
and he continued, kissing her on the temple. “Mike darlin’, you
need to come back up. I don’t know if I like the idea of following you
that far from in here, and I
don’t want to leave with you on shaky ground. Open your eyes.” He could feel
her body tensing, filling with the lost mind,
and he bit lightly at her fingers. Her eyes popped open, her hand jerking
away from his mouth. She did not look focused, but she was moving.
gonna make it, Hon? You had me
scared there for a bit.” He brushed at her hair again, leaning closer to hear
a response if one was forthcoming. She strained up, exhausted,
and he offered her an ear to make it easy.
bit him hard enough to let him worry about losing a piece.
it had stopped throbbing, (it took a good while to convince her to let go)
Stone found her a red crayfish and a chrysanthemum. She took both,
munching soberly for the comfort it gave, and he stroked her shoulders
apologetically. She was quite content to let him suffer in his guilt, and he had
reached her toes before she would speak to him, rolling over to offer him a
Ever. Think. About. Playing. Guinea Pig. With. Me. Again.”
did not respond, but dutifully took the wrist and began working his way up her
arm. She lay in the creek, letting the water soothe what his hands did not
cover. The flowers had begun to grow, replenishing their much-depleted numbers,
and her tiger was prowling the thicket once more.
I do not forgive you.”
you? Do you really? What is your worst fear, “Darlin”? May I shove your
deepest horror at you, in the name of good mental health? Fuck you.” She took
her arm back, putting her head under the water to avoid hearing him breathe.
Stone tried to think of a proper response, but settled for laying next to her in
the water, a mimic of their positions in the world above. His chest was warm on
her back, though she did not say so, but neither did she move. He ventured an
arm around her waist, and she pinched it, but again did not move, so he took the
pinch and stayed still.
she turned to bury her face in his neck, he felt safe to breathe again. She
pinched him again, and this time he pinched back, but lost the ensuing match
upon discovering she could pinch with her toes as well. They might have been
there days or years, but hunger had yet to visit, so there was no rush to leave.
If there was not forgiveness, there was at least an easing of resentment, and a
week’s concern was left behind for a while.
will you be when we wake, Mike? Will the events carry over?” He tossed a
pebble at her, missing, but it returned with better aim.
I pass up through the layers, the rules will apply again, but I will remember.
You did not. There are layers of
commands, interlaced and specific, that delegate almost every possible action.
You have altered them several times, and forced me to choose between
conflicting commands, but the basic programming still holds, I believe. And I
may not ask you, which would include reminding you unless specifically asked
during outside time, to do anything about it.”
There was no regret here, the peace being restored for the moment.
do you want? Most of all? If you could have anything?” He sat down beside her,
and she leaned against him.
doubt I could specify a single desire outside of simply not having to continue
as it has been. I had hoped by now you would be done with me, and have killed me
to cover your tracks.” Stone fell back, astounded at the easy way she spoke of
it, as if she were choosing a pencil from a jar.
To suggest so casually that nothing was worth living for… But then, he
was trying to change a world for that very reason, wasn’t he?
that what you want? When this is done? I will if you ask, but it would eat me
alive to do it. You’re the only person alive who knows me, you know that?
I limited the number of people I dealt with outside of my ‘work’, and
Ricci was the first to be part of my daily life; well, weekly or so. If you go,
I’m alone again. Maybe I got soft, but the idea depresses me.” He
fingered the scar on her back, his fingers ending up in her hair. It was
as soft as he’d first noticed, falling to her shoulders in faint waves.
It was not a stunning color, but the texture was very…
Go on, please. The X-chromosome feeds on compliments, and mine’s starving. You
don’t tell furniture it looks nice today, ya know?” She leaned back,
spreading it across his chest. “Take a good handful.”
feel of it on his skin raised other thoughts, literally, and he sat up, firmly
setting her away.
been there, Hon. It’s difficult enough to know you’re next to me in reality,
so very passive and willing to please, let’s
not make things worse.”
frowned. “The way I figure it, you owe me one. Or do you not feel so bad after
all?” Her feet in the ivy, she
stretched. “You got yours, eh,
and now you’re wanting to behave
like a gentleman?”
just… it is because I “got mine”
that I want to do the right thing. I’m not going to suggest you do for me
every time I get an urge. We’d never get anything done.
Passive is great for business, but you should want a person, not just the
act.” He rubbed at his reddening face. Now that the subject had been brought
up, it was hard not to think about. Mike kneeled behind him and spread her hands
in his hair, kneading at the bunching muscles.
you don’t really want me, as such, you just have a need to satisfy.”
That’s not the point.”
you want me, or just a body right now?” She waited, hands on his shoulders,
while he sought the words he wanted.
I want is beside the point. I control my body, not the other way around. It
shouldn’t matter to you at all.” He wanted to stand, walk away, get some
distance from the problem, but she did not lift her hands, and even that small
touch was better than none.
you consider me damaged goods,” her lowered voice asked from just behind his
ear. “Good enough to borrow, but not what you’d choose if you were out in
the world? I know you stayed with Ricci for a long while, and we wore the same
face, so it’s not a pretty issue. My hair pleases you, and you like being touched in other ways. So that is all that’s
left.” She was a statue, her hands cooling against his skin. He caught at them, pulling her around to face him.
are not a virgin, Mike, not technically, but I’d venture that there were damn
few times you wouldn’t choose to forget. I don’t want to be that for
anybody. I’ve been there, it still ruins my sleep sometimes. I owe you. I owe
you too much to go deeper in debt for something so cheap as a quick lay I
won’t remember when I wake up anyway. Does that settle the issue?”
He stroked her cheek, wiping away a bit of grass that had clung there.
She closed her eyes, leaning into his hand, and he felt his own
embarrassment like cold water. He was fighting the wrong battle.
sorry. It did not even occur to me,
Mike,” and he leaned up to kiss her lightly. Another advantage of being who he
was,(once he got it through his head to listen instead of defending her honor).
There was no need to ask; he opened her thoughts and simply did what pleased
her. So many tiny things, never easy to request with a lover of many years, done
automatically, as he followed the wordless demands of her body.
was soft, pliable, and he used it to advantage, touching her everywhere, finding
his own body capable of feats undreamed of now that physical restraints did not
apply. He waited until
sanity threatened to crack, giving it everything, every trick he’d ever
learned before he slid into her, hearing
her cry out with him, painfully aware this might be the only opportunity
they’d have, and if they failed the Goal, her first and only. How to draw it
out, give her as much time as possible. Her arms pulled him closer, tighter
against her, his face buried in her hair as he spread her, pummeling her into
the loam. He cupped her neck, lifting her mouth to his, enjoying the desperate
moans and growls she made, thrilling
to her hands on his hips, in his hair. If this were love, could it be any
better, any sweeter? Could it be love? If she did not share it, did it change
the basic truth of it?
was tangled in the covers. He kicked them away, intent on hearing her cry out.
Slamming against her, he felt his own peak approaching, and sought a way to
trigger hers first. She begged for release, barely aware she did so, and he
paused for a long second, hanging at the edge of abyss himself,
reigned, as one second he was
trying to understand why the moss has turned to black satin, the next he was
left desperate to re-capture a fading dream, a third and he was horror-stricken
at the circumstance in which he found himself. Mike was stretched beneath him,
asleep, her legs around his hips. He’d
betrayed himself in his sleep, and only impending orgasm had kept him from
discovery. His balls throbbed, full
to brimming, and Mike’s ankles were locked behind him, trapping him, unless he
risked waking her by moving his arms, now under her shoulders and back. Pushed
beyond his limit to cope, Stone froze, unable
to decide on any action.
Mike moaned, rolling her hips against him, and it was decided for him. All
thought stopped, his brain stuttering as he came, grinding against her
helplessly, feeling her respond under him, arching and meeting his movements,
gasping for breath. They collapsed together, a shuddering mess, and he held her
he whispered, pressing her further into alpha, “The dream isn’t over,
daylight is hours away.” He battled for breath, trying not to move her again,
panicked with imaginings of her catching him and knowing what had happened. When
her own breathing slowed, he kissed her eyes and slipped out of her, hating
himself further for enjoying the last outstroke. He crept out of the bed,
tucking the quilt around her chin. She sighed, and he almost died right there,
but she reached for the pillow to replace him. He was in the bathroom before she
was fully asleep again.
and weak, his legs took him to the shower, but only long enough to start the
water. Then he was on the floor, face
in the harsh spray, unable to make sense of this collapse of his controls.
He’d never sleep- walked, so far as he knew, he’d never been prone to vivid
dreams. He remembered a vague, unfinished image of a temple, and clean pale
flesh. The feeling of desperation had run through the desire, a feeling of lost
time, but all the references were missing, leaving what he knew floating and
disconnected in his head. Atrocity followed atrocity for him, didn’t it?
Goal floated so far beyond him now; he couldn’t say if they still had the data
cot, or if the clearances he’d kept Mike for would still be valid. Wouldn’t
that be the ultimate joke? To have taken her hostage, ruined her life, violated
her - twice now-without forethought to, forced her to flee everything she knew,
only to find the whole point had been made mute that first day, while she nursed him away from the threshold of demise?
He hadn’t had time to think of that till now. He leaned back against the cold
tile, feeling the probability of failure crush the breath out of him.
There wasn’t really any chance they hadn’t
changed every possible inlet to the mainframe Mike had accessed the first night.
They were fucked, with nowhere to go, no way to win, and still he couldn’t
just give up, could he? There was still the ‘maybe’, hanging there, goading
him, begging him to throw himself
on the knife one more time, just in case. And drag everything you love along
too, buddyboy, it just ain’t a party if you don’t leave empty-handed.
he were a true, caring human being, he’d kill Mike right now, and then
himself, to avoid any more destruction. A quick, humane death was the most he
could give her at this point, and he would walk into the line of fire one more
time, knowing it futile, but fulfilling his destiny by dying horribly in service
to the Goal. There was no way to win, so facing his Lady was unthinkable,
but only a rabid dog keeps biting once it’s beaten.
wallowed in self pity for as long as the floor was comfortable. But his rear was
going numb, and the shakes were fading, so he was obliged to stand, leaning on
the cool tile again. He washed his himself gently, avoiding the raw spots,
smoothing the scars once more. New map, bud. Not much clean skin left.
tried to imagine a way to complete his work, a way to get to someone else in a
position to access the mainframe. Mike could
do what was needed. Even if he could not stop production, he could delete whatever extra programming they had
put in the manufacture of the first run, and maybe insert something about free
thought. It would reach millions before anyone realized it had been tampered
with, if he was careful. When it was re-called, the first-run consumers would
question the motives of Corp., and possibly offer the second run buyers the
original software. Yes. Add a quick word to share the message, and people would
be compelled to spread free thought to others. It was the same methods his enemy
used, but to a better end, and so simple… If it could be made to happen that
would figure it out. That’s why he loved her, wasn’t it? Because she always
knew what to do. Mike had
carried him since this started, he had to admit. He was used to direct conflict.
He had no gift for complexity or subtlety. She would listen to him, to his
requirements, and find a way to make it work, in the quickest, simplest way
possible. …Love her?…..
Well, was there any point in questioning himself? She’d sure worked hard
enough to please him, and most of it beyond the call of implanted duty. He’d
been willing to give her up just minutes ago, in spite of the Goal, to spare her
any more suffering for his quest. Damn. He wasn’t ready to die for her yet,
given his commitments, but if he was ready to jeopardize the work of
decades for her sake, that sure as hell meant something, now, didn’t
it? Why pretend to himself, of all people?
would you give up your Lady, a nasty voice whispered to him. Your’e willing to
kill, because you’re ALWAYS
ready to kill, but are you willing to replace Her? And is it possible
that this has anything to do with the face she’s wearing? Can you convince
yourself it’s not? Cause if you can’t…
it matter,” he asked the water softly. “Does it make any difference to the
feeling itself, to the things I will do, or not do, for her sake? Will I
hesitate when I need instant action, will I be indecisive when she’s
endangered, and will I have any say
in it? Yes, yes and no. So by feeling anything for her, I put her in more danger
than I already have, because I’ll be less efficient, more concerned for her
safety. And face or no face, she is who she is, and I didn’t love her
immediately upon seeing her. She’s strong. She’s caring. She’s smart. She
has yet to fail at anything concerning me, out of sheer determination, I’d
bet. She tries, not to impress, but just because it needs doing. She is a worthy
and descent person in spite of the world she was raised in. I refuse to feel
guilty for this.
course, now everything else
seems that much worse…” he looked at his middle, remembering the ants and
her face when he objected. Was that
the first time she’d smiled at him? Such a genuine humor, when it flickered
into his view… suddenly he heard again her comment in his burrow - down from a
duck- and snickered. She’d zinged him, and he’d been to self-absorbed to
know it. Granted, it was a little joke, but still, it was a sense of humor in
it’s own quiet way. Damn he was so fucked, he grinned to himself.
Was there a rule left he hadn’t broken on this little adventure? He’d
gone in without armor, he’d become dependent on someone, he’d twisted his
victim twice without being sure he’d be free to kill them soon after, he’d
played around in her mind like she was Ricci, merging repeatedly, delving into
her inner mind out of sheer pride and hatefulness. He’d left her in charge
while he slept, not that he’d had much choice. He’d allowed himself to touch
her physically, - he never should have taken the bed. The couches were huge and
overstuffed, and it would have been impossible for today’s fiasco to happen.
And now, the biggest blunder of all. Love. Every ‘borrowed’ sidekick had
eventually had to be removed, if they hadn’t been killed in action. They
always turned. It was a natural reaction to the changes they’d gone through,
things they’d seen, after the years of Corporate mindlessness. And yet.. Mike
had specifically asked to be taken away, saved from them and her earlier life,
or killed if he couldn’t. That was new. That was so different, it scared him a
little. Her comment in the garden…
heard her moving outside the shower doors, getting towels, hanging them on the
rack for him. Ever thoughtful. If he could give her a new life (if they
survived) he would erase himself from her mind, and leave her everything he’d
accumulated over the years. He’d become rich to buy the garden’s grounds.
He’d ignored it since. If he was
still rich, she’d be set. If not, she’d have the garden itself, at least,
and he’d know someone would care for it after he was gone. He imagined her
with children, running through the flowers. He tried hard not to think of the
damage caused by the trucks.
you need assistance, Stone, or are you functional enough to do this for
yourself?” Mike stood outside the door, waiting for orders. Stone turned off
the water, feeling improved, but hesitant about looking into her face. Would she
remember the dream? And was it him she’d dreamed of? All manner of foolishness
assaulted him; finally, he simply pushed it away, stepping out to take a towel
and cover himself. Mike raised her eyebrows at this, and he realized it was
pointless to hide what she’d seen many times over.
I leave? I understand that you have been exposed before out of necessity, not
choice, and I will not be offended at your modesty. I do need some instruction
as to the behavior you expect.” She half-turned, facing the wall, and he tried
to interpret the trace of smile he saw tugging at her lips.
laughin at me, little girl? I’ll have you know, I wuz raised up right. Young
girls don’t like lookin at naked old men, and gentlemen don’t expose
themselves in front of ladies. So there.” He poked her lightly in the side,
seeing her jump and gasp lightly. “And ticklish folk shouldn’t push their
statements have so many fallacies and false assumptions that it would be tiring
to point them all out, Sir. And I am most assuredly not ticklish. Where’d you get the idea you were a gentleman? And
you did not ask if I were a lady. Or young. And you do not qualify as the ‘old
man’ type. You are scarred everywhere, but are missing the wrinkles, the
paunch, the saggy skin.. should I go on? I know quite well what an ‘old man’
type looks like naked. You don’t have what it takes.” She looked boldly at
him, from her low vantage point, and he poked her again, wiggling his fingers in
her ribs, and she folded, biting her lip to stifle the giggles.
are a terrible liar,” he told her. “And what do you do that keeps you
from being a lady? Not what were you made to do, but what would you choose to do
that would be so improper? I have yet to see you cuss, spit, ect.” She slapped
his hand hard, and regained her composure.
not for a lady to tell,” she said archly. He knew he was missing a joke, here,
but passed on it.
You just said you weren’t a lady,
so you can’t use that excuse, now can you? Give.” He used the towel on his
hair, stopping the drips on his shoulders, and she glanced over his body
like to look at well formed naked
men, for one,” she stated. “I want to touch them, which is improper. I like
to listen to music that is not sanctioned by the Corporation. I think unpleasant
thoughts about people who are unkind to me. I did not enjoy being forced, but
when the man in question was pleasant, I found I liked to say the filthy things
they ordered me to say. I like to
be naked when I am in private, even though it serves no purpose. As I have no
command sequence against it, I can do so. Shall I go on?” She gazed questioningly at him, waiting his judgment. He
looked back at her, wondering if he should tell her, or wait until things were
over. Everything he learned about the real her led him further down the path.
if you think I’m ‘well formed’ and want to look, then knock yourself
out.” She frowned suddenly, and he caught himself. “No, I mean go ahead,
look all you like. Stare till you go blind. I never thought I was all that
pretty, personally, but far be it from me to deny my fans.” He tossed the
towel back on the rack and looked around for his clothes. “As for the rest, it
means you’re human, and that’s what all this was about from the beginning.
Keeping humans human.” He realized why his clothes were not here. He’d come
in naked, from the bed, and gone to bed from the bath, losing his rags to the
guns once more. Damn! If they didn’t leave him alone long enough to shop,
he’d have to play the game naked.
on. I will find you something to wear in the closets. Food is almost ready.”
Mike took him back into the bedroom, rummaging in a wall closet for jeans and a
shirt, apologizing for the lack of undergarments. Stone smelled the air, tasting
it, envisioning steak and corn, regretting the passing of bovines. They were
slow, and ate too much. But they sure tasted great.
and brushed, They adjourned to the kitchen, where the table was set, and veggies
sat in wide bowls. “Do you prefer beef or pork? Breakfast foods are limited to
fruit and bacon, but we have steak, pork ribs or ditto veal, wait, we have beef
roast too.” She rummaged in a cabinet, letting him think, but he’d decided
before he’d seen the grill.
did you get steak? Cows went over forty years ago.”
Cow farms went. There are over 100
left at any given time. Like the veal, they split the first cell clusters, and
grow them individually to cut down the number needed to continue the species,
and obviously, you have to be top brass to get one. This particular hidaway belongs to someone special. He gets them
when he wants them, whoever might be next in line. And since I can say it, I
will. It gives me a certain pleasure to know you are eating his ‘special
food’ in his special place, with his special whore, and sleeping in his
special bed.” She pulled a thick piece of meat from the upright cooler,
holding up for his approval. “ Should I take it you would like a steak if they
are here to be had?”
Mike, that’s beautiful. That’s a work of art. You know how to cook it, from
your attitude?” He was ignoring her whore quip, and found he was salivating
over the memory of meat. She grinned, slapped a button for flame on the grill,
and rubbed salt into the red slab.
medium, well? Tell me now. Clock’s going.”
I hope you don’t mind, but it’s been so long..”
it is.” She reached up to retrieve another from the shelf above, and tossed it
on as well. “I was hoping not to disgust you with my bloody chunk of meat,
personally. I’m glad you didn’t want veal. It would have blown my opinion of
you. Watch closely.” She reached
in with the tongs, deftly flipping each to cross the lines. They were flipped
again shortly, and again, then off to grace plates. “Choose your sin, Sir. The right one’s soaked in more
salt, probably, so it will be the stronger flavor. You like?” She offered both
plates, right extended, and he took it with relish. They sat, and Stone filled
his mouth joyously. Rich, hot and
decadent. He was going to have to find out where they kept the poor things, and
steal a few hundred pounds…
you up to talking business? Protein stimulates clear thinking and mental acuity.
We need to decide on a course of action, based on the obvious preparation
the other side has gone through.” She looked troubled, and Stone knew she’d
had the same realization he’d had. Probably the first day. “We won’t be
able to get to the imput or programming functions with my clearance anymore.”
She was obviously distressed by this supposed failure.
I had been paying attention when we left the building that first morning, we’d
have been done within hours, none of this would have happened this way, and they
wouldn’t have had time to change the codes, Mike. You saved my ass. How many
times can I say it. You -saved- my -ass. Even when you could have bolted. So
you’re worth more than your clearances, kid. Hell, you can get steak, you’re
worth your weight in gold to most of the world. Seriously,
we’ll figure out a way. We need someone with better clearance to make
the changes. You know of anyone accessible, someone with the authority to do
what I need?”
face drained of life, like a stopped clock, empty and dead. Stone scanned,
seeking a problem, and didn’t even find the wall. There was simply nothing
there. It was as if she’d died on the spot, but left her body running without
her. Stone reached over, touched her face, felt her pulse, lifted her chin, and
pliable as she was, she was empty. Horrifying, to see her breathe, yet find no
life. NOW she was so very much his Lady, his Lynn. The vacancy continued, and he
realized the penalty for repeated twists might not come all at once. Perhaps
they crept in on the twisted, disabling them bit by bit, unnoticed, until there
was noting left to hold it, and then POP! They turned off. He remembered his
early years, the mindless drones that had resulted from his repeated demands on
their brains, repeating the same actions, responding to a single set of
inquiries or suggestions, half-functional, non-functional,
some deserving, some unintentional,
all horrors of his making. He’d done something wrong. He’d taken
liberties with her, small things, talking to her as he had Ricci, thinking
nothing of it, but then he’d never twisted Ricci, had he? Had it damaged an
already weakened spot? Could it be considered a twist? He’d shared with Ricci
that way for years. The two combined, perhaps, were more damaging. He
leaned down to kiss her softly, and braced himself to the humane end he must
give her. He reached out his hands to her, and heard something.
eyes fluttered once. Stone froze, desperate for hope, and she blinked. One long,
slow blink, followed by another, then she was coming out of it, regaining
herself. He found he’d been holding his breath, and gasped for air. Mike
looked at him as if he’d appeared there out of the air, and he supposed he
had, if she’d been out in the interim.
ok, Hon? I was a little worried there.” Just enough to think I’d turned you
into a zombie, Hon. Just enough to think I was obligated to pop your head off
your neck, Hon.
fine. I was considering your query. I believe I will be able to get you to
someone who can make the changes you want made. You will be able to direct them
yourself from their office, through them. We will have to alter our appearance
to gain entrance to the base levels, but if you follow my lead, there should be
no difficulty in getting to the upper levels, where my knowledge of protocols
will take us in. Are you amenable to a farce?” She looked at him, gravity
personified, and as glad as he was for her solution, and her
return to the living, he wanted the easy conversation of a few minutes
you say it will work , I trust you. Can I finish my dinner, or do we need to get
moving?” He took a quick bite.
can finish, if you don’t choke yourself eating like that. While I am flattered
that you are so enamored with my cooking that you deem it worth suffocation, It
will be hard to smuggle you through as a dead body with a blue face.” She cut
another dainty bite of half-raw meat, and chewed it reverently.
bad people don’t taste this good, eh?” He waited for her response, but she
looked at him humorlessly and enjoyed another bite.
tell me you never wished you could chop those fat old buggers into little pieces
and cook them up to hide the evidence,” he suggested.
“Not once,” Mike told him. After another bite, she continued. “If I were to chop them up first, I would deny myself all their beautiful screams…” she left it at that, Stone shocked to stillness, fork on it’s way to his mouth. She continued peacefully eating the monster chunk of bull on her plate, ignoring him.
BATTLE and REUNION
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