Simulation 26, Part 2

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“Why do you do this to yourself?”

 

***

 

You’re cowering in the closet again. Eyes tightly shut, face pressed as close to the wall as you can get it. There’s a crash, the sound of broken cookery and smashed items from beyond the door. Before, before you would have gone to see, to check and make sure. Now you just bury your nose deeper into the corner.

 

Outside the screaming continues, inaudible yet you know its vicious and hateful. You don’t need to hear the words to know the tone. It’s the same song and dance day after day.

 

Feelings are hurts, words are used as if they are just sharpened knives, and gapping wounds are made.

 

On and on it goes. Endless it seems until it’s not. Silence reigns and continues to grow. Cautiously you pull away from your corner. Ear pressed to the door you listen, silence.

 

You go into the kitchen. It’s vacant. Strewn around are the remnants of a once immaculate table.  With an air of long practice and light feet you begin to pick up the pieces of your life.

 

***

 

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen”, you count quietly under your breath nails digging into your thighs.  Four bloody trails roll down the slope of you body, pooling in the crease of your groin.

 

“Twenty.” Slowly your fingers relax their grip.

 

You stare at you bloody nails frowning. Meticulously you begin the clean up. Using your thumb to clean the moist blood and flesh from under your nails. One hand at a time wiping every so often at a near by tissue. Four tissues later you fingers are as immaculate at they will be.  You should get a manicure soon; you frown down at your ragged cuticles.

 

Peroxide next, you don’t want the cuts to get infected, infections lead to sickness and sickness leads to questions. And you have too many scars and not enough good answers.

 

You bite your lip at the burn of it but not bloody, not anymore you’re an old hat at this now.

 

***

 

The you that stares back in the mirror doesn’t look like what you think you look like.  This person has to be you though. This weak, sad, pathetic creature is you. This pale, shallow skinned, limp haired, sad sack of flesh is all you’ve got.

 

You purse your lips and try to image what it’d be like to be attractive. You can’t. You try to smile bright and huge like you’ve seen others do, you grimace. Your teeth are crooked and stained yellow, your lips too thin on the top and too puffy on the bottom. You look like a crazed person, the kind people move across the street to avoid. No, smiling won’t make you more attractive.

 

You away from the mirror and flop backwards, just short of missing your bed. Your ceiling is far more attractive than you are.

 

Suddenly there’s the sound of a door slamming into a wall, the bonce back and it slamming shut. You freeze, deer in headlight stupid and in the way. Maybe if you don’t breath no one will know you’re here.

 

Hold it.

 

Hold it.

 

 

Hold it.

 

 

Hold it.

 

 

 

Hold it.

 

Door slams.

 

You breathe again. No you think you need to be braver first.

 

***

 

“This is so I never forget”

 

. . . Terminate Simulation 26 . . .

Bundts and Bolts, Part 2

kellyiconThe robot stares at me with two yellow, digitized eyes. Are those even its eyes? It looks more like a display, like one of those faces they give robots working in construction and road work to make them seem more human. If that’s the case, than whoever built this thing fucked up royally. It was short, about five feet tall. The robot stood on one, thick metal leg, which was probably motorized to let it get around. The torso – if you could call it that – was made up of a rotating selection of spatulas, knives, various cups probably used for measuring, and any other tool for baking you could imagine, like the Swiss Army knife of baking. The robot probably attached and detached them from his hands as needed. On top of this was the screen that made up its face. The screen’s expression was pleasant enough, a bemused smile, but put the whole thing together and it was like a machine out of a nightmare. A cake-baking nightmare.

“What the actual fuck,” I said. I still hadn’t moved from my spot at the door. Too busy gaping at the world’s first baking robot like an idiot.

“Can UB help you, human? Perhaps you would enjoy one of our many types of baked goods?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” I said, and eased open the door; the robot’s big yellow eyes followed me as I closed the door behind me, so maybe it really did see through the TV screen it called a head. I glanced this way and that, checking to see if anybody living was waiting to jump out of a corner and bust me. It looked clear enough. This was going to be the easiest robbery in history. “Do you have one of those little one-serving cakes? Strawberry with cream cheese frosting?”

“Indeed we do, human!” The robot sounded excited, but they were programmed to express – simulate? – positive emotions when helping humans. I always thought that just made them creepier.

The robot puttered over to a large, industrial size wheeled shelf and picked up a tray of small cakes. Bigger than you’re average cupcake but still meant for one person, the little things were the rage of all the town. Expensive as all hell, but treating them as a special treat just seemed to make people love them all the more.

The robot picked up the little strawberry cake so gently it reminded me of someone picking up a small kitten.

“Here you are, human,” it said, a digital smile now plastered over its face-screen. “Would you like UB to box this for you? Extensive research into our customer response surveys has shown that many humans enjoy being presented this cake as a gift.”

“No thanks, robot,” I said. I took the cake from it. It was really a thing of beauty. The frosting was white and smooth cream cheese, and someone had drawn a strawberry onto it with strawberry topping, and the whole thing was topped off with a little pink frosting flower next to the strawberry.

“Did you make this, robot?”

“I did, human. It brought me much satisfaction to see many humans enjoy this one’s creations.”

“Satisfaction? You’re programmed to feel pride of your work?”

The robot didn’t blink, but if he had working eyes, the silence that followed my question made me think it’d be blinking.

“That question does not compute, human.”

“I mean – “

“Oh, shit!”

I whirled around to see a woman in a white baking apron standing at the door I had just walked through. Her eyes were huge with shock and her mouth kept contorting from anxiety to anger and back again.

“What the hell are you doing here?” She practically yelled at me, so I guess she settled on anger.

“I, uh…”

The woman slammed the door behind her, and the resounding boom that echoed off the walls filled me with a pit of dread, like I had stumbled into something I wasn’t supposed to see. It occurred to me for the first time that there was probably a reason why they had never made their robo-baker public.

“Is something the matter, Creator Agatha?” the robot asked.

“No, nothing’s wrong, UB. Everything’s fine,” the woman said, waving away the robot’s question. She stormed past me toward the front of the store and stuck her head through the door that separated the store front from the kitchen.

“JESSICA! Get your ass in here! We have a problem.”

Game(Rules) Part 2

berniconsI nod, washing the oil and dirt away from my face. Waking up can be the hardest part but I got up. And I will have a piece of leftover ice cream cake as reward for level one. When I bring my eyes back up to the mirror, she stares at me. It’s a hard, well weathered stare. She tells me that I have to do this. Every day, wake up, repeat the rules, go through the day, get home, sleep and repeat.

 

You know what you did. And I nod. And for that, I live on repeat. But at least I live, I can’t say the same for-

 

You can’t say their names. Not out loud. No, never out loud. It’s not a rule but it’s Breaking something none the less. I shut my mouth and she nods at me. Yes. This is what needs to be done.

 

There’s a single mountain of ice cream cake swimming in a lake of cream speckled with the chocolate crunchy insides sitting in my bowl. Time must have past because I don’t remember sitting down to eat this slice at all. I’m late. I slurp up the cream and crunchies, toss the bowl into the sink and rush out the door. I start to form the reasons in my head. The bus was late. I forgot my cell phone. I saved a cat from a tree.

 

I go with the cell phone excuse and they seem to believe me. They care more about a game coming out in the fall and something about who they are going to date in which play through. I want to join in the conversation. I remember I used to play games like that, read books, watch movies. I liked stories. Before the breath leaves my lips, I see her in the faded reflection of the vending machine. She shakes her head. I know she’s right. It’s hard enough to keep my own Story straight. I don’t need others to confuse me.

 

I can’t help it but I’m always shocked when I hear the names. They were common enough names, people aren’t all that creative so of course I’m going to hear them. Today is a Not Good day. There’s a Matthew, an Amber and a James in the store. A group of kids that are just goofing off and chatting it up but I couldn’t help it. I jumped when I heard Amber. My coworker laughs at me and I laugh it off, saying I thought I saw a hornet or something. Game face back on. I don’t need her to remind me to do it.

 

Late lunch, more like a dinner. But it’s a sub so I count it as a lunch. I scribble it down in my notepad. If someone asks about it I tell them I’m just keeping up with my daily purchases. Satisfied that it’s not some kind of diary they leave it alone. The sub as avocado on it. It’s a nice treat. One of the few.

 

It rains on the way home but I don’t mind. I only Broke one rule today, and just barely. I get to do a little yoga and play online checkers online with strangers. People that I’ll never know and they’ll never know me so I’ll be able to rest easy when I go to bed. The clouds are heavy overhead, it’s dark. I can see her in the dark reflections of the windows I pass. I don’t want to look but I know she’s nodding in approval. Another day, another Round won. If I can keep this up, maybe… There’s no maybes. Just Rounds, just days.

 

I’m tracking rain into the hallway of the apartment building but there’s little I can do. It’ll dry up, and by the looks of it, I’m not the first person to have trudged through the hall like this. For some reason my keys are always hard to find and they never open the door well, always getting jammed. I wish they stayed jammed this time because when I open the door I look down and see a sheet of paper on the ground, laying in the place where the mail slot would have left it. Still wet from the rain outside. I know about Matthew, Amber and James is scribbled hastily on the surface. I don’t need a reflection to know she’s glaring at me.

The Hill, Part 2

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5:36pm

The woman just stared back at Jasmine, not as if her gaze were looking through her but as if her eyes were looking around her. As if whatever Jasmine meant to the woman was something not even worthy of her sight or her notice, though notice she did. Her lips didn’t move though and for a moment Jasmine began to think maybe she hadn’t heard. She did look to be older; perhaps she was deaf or suffering dementia.

“I said, hey there, friend.”

The woman blinked then, and that was all. Staring back at her the younger woman kept expecting to see some sort of acknowledgment or response but instead there was only the soft dull gaze of the woman’s eyes. Watching her face she saw that the woman was indeed old, grotesquely so, and that her eyes, while numb, were of a milky soft blue color. Her eyes, sunken down in her gaunt cheeks, were hard to look away from but when Jasmine managed to she saw that the woman was gaunt in other ways as well. Her old clothes hung off of her in awkward places and she wondered that woman might be dying. She seemed to stand on her own though.

“Excuse me, my name is Jasmine and this is Mausmi. We’re visiting from the city.”

Jasmine nervously spoke again to the woman, trying to find in her eyes some sort of connection. She could feel Mausmi stir next to her and could somehow sense the fear in her and the goose bumps rising underneath the hand her arm. Mausmi stayed silent though and looking toward her Jasmine saw that her eyes were not on the woman but behind her. In the distance was another woman, also with a hound at her side. A gray, old hound, panting and watching with the same numb eyes as the woman nearer to them.

But no, the dog’s eyes were not numb, and on looking at the nearer hound it’s eyes were neither clouded nor dull. The were wide and full of intelligence, scanning over both their bodies, the hound’s eyebrows jumping at each sniff and pant. It was almost as if the dog were leading the woman and not the other way round.

“I’m sorry, I hope this isn’t your property. We just saw the hill and. . .

Jasmine looked away from those black dog eyes and trailed off though as she felt Mausmi tugging at her arm and heard the soft whimper that escaped her lover’s lips. Looking down at her she saw wide eyes and quivering lips and following Mausmi’s gaze over her shoulder she saw that behind them was another woman, old and gaunt, and leading a big gray hound like the ones before them.

As Mausmi’s finger raised to point in a new direction she saw too that there were more. Many more.

7:08pm

The rough texture of the pine straw beneath her came as a shock when Jasmine woke up and sitting upright quickly she clutched her forehead at the pain which suddenly came. Pulling her hand away she could see that there were dried flakes of blood and a long streak of wet on her fingers. She could feel the matted curly hair on her right temple and started to remember things about the past few hours. Little things at first as she clutched both hands to her face and covered her eyes, keeping them closed as tightly as she could manage.

“Mausmi!”

Pulling her hands away and looking around quickly it occurred to her how little light there was in this small space. Wondering how long she might’ve been out she grasped around through the straw and found little slivers of strange hard things before finally letting her eyes adjust to the dim light and seeing the small, huddled shape of Mausmi in the corner.

Rushing there, she pulled her onto her back and looked at her face to see no visible wounds or markings and began to shake her gently, whispering her name as feverishly as she could.

“Mausmi baby, please wake up. Please.”

After a few moments Jasmine put her head down on her lover’s chest and felt the gentle rise and fall of her lungs. Soon tears left streaks down the grime on her face as well as blood.

Finally though, looking up from the girl in desperation though, she noticed the room they were in, if one could call it a room. Possibly eight feet on a side, she couldn’t see any discernible doors but there was the dry straw beneath them and the strange little hard chunks she finding throughout it. A persistent thought in the back of her mind kept her from examining any too closely though, and so she looked again to Mausmi’s gently rising chest and her softly quivering lips.

In the distance the rain began to fall and the walls of their box shook with the roar of thunder.

Must Be This Tall to Ride, Part 2

kellyicon“Now, listen. You’re going to let me on this bus, then you’re going to sit down and drive like nothing’s wrong. Understand?”

Between the beads of sweat breaking out along the bus driver’s brow and the way her eyes locked onto the barrel of the gun pressing into her cheek, Artino doubted the bus driver had understood anything the young Altairian had said at all. A nervous murmur rippled throughout the bus. Was this for real? Artino could hardly believe it himself. It was illegal for Altairians to own weapons. Any human caught selling them faced imprisonment; any Altairians caught selling or owning a gun faced the rope.

Fear gripped Artino’s stomach like a vice. If the humans managed to take that gun away, there would be no arrest and no trial. His family would find his body in a ditch on the side of the road.

“What is this, some kind of joke?”

A square-jawed man with clipped blond hair rose from his seat and strode toward the front of the bus. The young Altairian eyed him warily, but the gun remained firmly planted into the cheek of the bus driver.

“This is some kind of alien rights shit, isn’t it?” The man stopped just short of Artino, towering over them with his six feet of height. “If it is, you can take your little toy gun and march your stump ass right out of here. If you’re so damn angry about the life we let you live on Earth, just go back to your own fucking planet.”

The air in front of Artino exploded. That was the only way to describe it. One second the man was towering over them, hand raised as if he was about to strike one of them; the next, there was a sound next to his ear so loud it pierced his ear drums like a knife, and the man was one the floor, screaming and cursing and gripping his bleeding knee. The murmur turned into a chorus of screams as the humans in the front seats rose and tried to flee to the back; all three dozen human clustered around the back few rows of seats like a flock of sheep threatened by an angry dog. Blood flowed in rivets from the man’s knee, following the slight slope of the bus floor until a shallow pool of blood formed around Artino’s feet.

“Any of you try anything else, and you’ll end up worse than him,” the Altairian said. He turned back toward to the bus driver, who had fallen back in her seat and given over to panicked blubbering, tears and snot dripping off her chin as she begged him not to kill her.

“Drive. Drive until you reach the Capitol building. You stop for anything, I’ll shoot you and do it myself.”

The bus driver complied, and the doors closed behind Artino with a swoosh. The engined revved and the bus eased out of the station and onto the highway, gliding swift and silent toward disaster.

Inside, the bus was full with the sounds of whimpers and sobs. The man who threatened them had finally stopped screaming, but started to let out a low, continuous moan as he doubled up over his knee. It occurred to Artino that he should have left when he had the chance, should have jumped out the doors before they had closed, should have never stepped out of bounds in the first place, but all he could focus on was the blood. Everything other thought in his head seemed vague and muted in comparison, like hearing someone shout from the other side of a closed window.

Next to him, the Altairian slipped a small, square contraption from his coat. He flicked a switch and a small display lit up and began to count down. He turned to Artino and smiled.

“Never fear, brother. Today is a glorious day.”

A Mind is a Terrible Thing, Part 2

bernicons            The voice sliced through the chaos like a hot knife through butter. Madeline stiffened up, whipping her eyes all over the cafe. No one was looking at her, safe for the little poodle tied up to a lady’s chair outside.

Heh, no. Not the dog.

Madeline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, like her therapist taught her. Calming her mind, slowly peeling back every layer until it was just her. She opened her eyes. Where are you?

In the cafe, like you. I’m rather surprised. You’re not at all what I pictured in a fellow telepath.

            Madeline could barely keep her heart from fluttering out of her chest. How do you mean?

            Well, you’re nothing like me.

            Madeline’s brow furrowed. How so?

You’ll see.

A man, maybe a year or two older than Madeline stood up and Madeline caught her breath in mid gasp. He was tall, with spiky black hair and light, gray eyes set in a thin face with a strong chin. He caught Madeline’s eye and gave her a grin before pulling on his green jacket. He walked over to leave his mug in the dirty dishes bin and walked toward Madeline.

Madeline’s heart was stuck in her throat, she barely knew what to say. She finally released her clenched fingers and reached out to shake his hand.

Not quite.

The man stepped past Madeline in favor of the threshold of the front door. He glanced over at Madeline’s extended hand but with a quick shake of her head, she withdrew and smiled nervously to cover her embarrassment in vain. The man was bewildered and thought Madeline was a little bizarre.

Hahaha!

Face flushed red, Madeline snapped her head toward the cafe crowd again, searching for anyone that might be visibly giggling. Her eyes narrowed at a single pair of shoulders convulsing joyously about three tables down from her. She stood up and marched toward that person, with the pastel yellow cardigan and back towards her.

“Madeline?” She’d past by Jackson holding their drink as she made her crusade forward. She reached her hand out.

Wait, no! Don’t!

Choosing to obey her rage, Madeline pulled the chair back so she could see the face over her aggressor- and then the anger fell as quickly as it was kindled. The woman had a young face, though flat and wide, with a flat-bridged nose and slightly slanted, warm brown eyes. Her black hair was kept neatly, in a pretty circular pattern, set in by cornrows. Her tongue hung out slightly from the corner of her frowning mouth.

Can I help you?” came another voice. Mouth agape, Madeline looked up to the other side of the table where another young woman sat.

Madeline’s mouth was still open, but she could barely make a sound.

Wrinkles formed on the woman’s brow, too many for her age. “Did you just march yourself over here to gawk at my sister?” She stood up, towering over Madeline. “Yes. She has Down syndrome, and isn’t hard enough without people like you making a scene of it.”

  1. The woman in the yellow cardigan could barely make an audible sound and tried to wave her arm, signaling her sister to sit, to calm down. She didn’t pay attention.

“I-I’m so sorry,” was all Madeline managed to blurt out.

“Yeah? Isn’t that nice,” the woman turned to the counter. “Can I speak to the manager please? I’m not standing for this kind of harassment.”

A hand grasped Madeline’s arm. “Hey there, I’m very sorry about that.” It was Jackson. “My girlfriend hasn’t taken her medicine yet today. She’s very compulsive otherwise.”

“Medicine?” the woman asked, unconvinced.

“Yes, see we were supposed to get it earlier today but the pharmacy hadn’t filled it yet and we came here while we waited,” he explained. “She’s not normally like this, I promise.”

She crossed her arms and frowned, glaring at Madeline. “Just keep your goddamn hands to yourself. Okay?”

Madeline nodded to so quickly, the tears that rested at the brink of her eyes leapt from her face into the air. Jackson nodded apologetically. “Thank you, we’ll leave now. Thank you.”

Jackson turned Madeline around and brought them out the door, but not before she heard the voice again. Look, we’ll be at Washington Park tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to talk more then.

The feeling hadn’t quite returned to Madeline’s being after that bout of shock, but she managed a reply. Yes. Yes of course.

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing, Part 1

kellyiconThe coffee shop was packed, and Madeline resisted the urge to back right out the door. People were everywhere: standing in line, talking and laughing with their neighbors or staring off into space while they waited for the person in front of them to decide on their order; people shuffling past one another, drinks held high in the air as they mumbled a chorus of sorry, excuse me; and all the while the baristas and cashiers bustled back and forth between the cappuccino machines, shouting out orders and filling cups as fast they could. Every table in sight was occupied by no less than a half-dozen people laughing and chatting about their day. Just standing in the doorway, countless thoughts began to creep into Madeline’s mind, like a thousand whispers only she could hear.

Her heart caught in her throat, but she resisted the urge to flee. When she was younger, being in any place with more than a dozen people was torture; immediately their thoughts would fill her head and push out her own until her mind was nothing but a confused jumble of the emotions and anxieties of strangers. She could still remember her mother holding her, begging her to explain what was wrong while Madeline curled into a ball and pressed her hands to ears so hard her skin bruised.

That was a long time ago. Her parents, God bless them, never quit looking for answers, and after years of help from a professional telepath and a very open-minded therapist, she could even walk down a busy street like a normal girl enjoying her first year of college in a big city.

Madeline took a breath and focused her mental defenses, battling back the invading thoughts of others until her mind was relatively quiet. Rooms full of people were still a challenge. Heightened emotions and tensions built up in the air with no where to go, and fear and tension all but oozed from the walls of even the most laid-back of places. A coffee shop full of college kids on final exam week was like a powder keg of barely-repressed anxiety; typically a place Madeline avoided at all costs, but therapist wanted her to try feeling comfortable in busy places. Besides, it’s not like she’d be here long. Jackson just wanted to meet up and get some coffee before heading to the library. Jackson had been so understanding so far – for one, he didn’t run away or think she was crazy when she first told him about her powers, and so far he accepted she was just never going to be comfortable at parties or sporting events or midnight showings of popular movies. Waiting ten minutes in a crowded coffee shop was something she could do to show him it wasn’t always going to be constantly running away from anyplace fun.

Madeline took her first step over the threshold, then another. So far, so good. She took a few more small steps toward a small table in the corner, waiting for the rush of nausea and the hit-with-a-freight-train headache that always accompanied an onrush of other people’s thoughts, but her mind stayed blissfully quiet. Just another normal college girl killing time while waiting on her equally normal boyfriend.

“Babe, I’m so sorry,” Jackson said some twenty minutes later, swooping down to plant a kiss on her cheek. A grin lit up her face as she felt Jackson’s rush of affection for her. “If I’d known it was going to be so crowded, I’d of been here sooner.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I feel pretty good, actually.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I think it’s like a muscle. The more I practice, the better I get at keeping it under control.”

“At this rate, you’ll be ready for the Super Bowl in no time.”

The thought of being stuck in a closed space with tens of thousands of drunk and excited people made Madeline want to gag, and Jackson laughed when he saw her face.

“Just kidding. I’ll go get the drinks, and then we can be on our way. Hey, you don’t think you can look into the future and see what my grade on my English final’s going to be, could you?”

“I’m a telepath, not a psychic, thank god. Can you imagine being able to see into the future all the time?”

“Honey, I can barely predict what I’m going to have for breakfast in mornings, let alone the future. Be right back.”

He slid off the stool and shuffled his way toward the line. Madeline rested her cheek against her palm and watched people walk, jog, and rush by the window, content to not know what any of them were thinking about. She could just about imagine a quiet future where she never had to know what another person was thinking ever again, where the terrors of her childhood would be far behind her.

Just as soon as she imagined that future, her peace of mind was shattered. The thought was like being struck by a bolt of lightning, and her whole body seized with the shock of it. Usually what she heard were half-formed and vague, more emotions than fully-formed thoughts. But this…this was a message, and it was aimed right at her.

You can hear me, can’t you? You’re just like me.

July 28, Part 2

bernicons            “The military leaders of UK’s armed forces have met today with leaders from France and Italy to discuss strategy for the impeding war with Germany. We have with us former General Nathan Howe and diplomatic correspondent Maria Chavez to enlighten us further on just what this means. General Howe, Ms. Chavez, thank you for coming to the studio today.”

            “Of course, Rachel.”

            “So Ms Chavez, what do you think the of the likelihood that the UK can persuade the United States to join their cause?”

            “To be honest, Rachel, it’s very touch-and-go at this point. UK leaders are wary to make any sort of military alliance with the United States ever since the early 2000s when they did nothing to stop the turmoil that the US tangentially set into motion after their War on Terror campaign. Luckily, we’ve been in an extended period of peace so there’s been no real need to bring up these concerns. President Michelle Obama-Johnson expressed in a White House meeting that her nation’s government feels for their ally and does indeed want to help, but the King is hesitating to reply. Although he may not have that option for long.”

            “Are there any other world powers you can think of willing to help in this fight?”

            “As you know, the Ethiopian government was eager to send aid after the bombing of Fort George Alexander Louis- but they may not officially issue military help just yet. China is also staying on the sidelines for now. Many are in the face of Germany.”

            “Bloody cowards.”

            “Do you have anything to add about China, General Howe?”

            “None. I’m talking about the Germans Miss Carter. But the bloody Germans are cowards though.”

            “Why do you say that?”

            “The EMP bombs they drop in the battle field short circuit soldier’s implants-“

The nurse lowered the television volume so that it could barely be heard. Sam grimaced, the subtitles were moving much too slow for him to care to keep up. “I was watching that,” he said.

The nurse smiled sweetly. “I’m here to prep you for surgery, Mr. Vance. You won’t see the end of the program anyway.”

“But Richard hasn’t come yet.”

“Your family will need to hurry up then,” she said chipperly, “There’s a list of soldiers waiting for cybernetic prosthetics and today is your day.”

Sam checked the time. “But it’s two hours away.”

“Prep takes a while, Mr. Vance. I’m sure your husband will be here shortly. Now please sit up.”

She pulled away the sheet that covered Sam’s lower half and though he didn’t want to look, he did. He had been forcing himself to look at his legs; what was left of them, as they ended mid-thigh. He had been very lucky. Much luckier than Sgt. March or Lt. Colonel Whittaker or really anyone else. Sam was one of three survivors of Fort George Alexander Louis.

“Sam!” called a familiar voice. Sam looked up and felt Richard’s lips lock on his. Richard then pulled away out of breath. “Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re right on time, Mr. Vance,” noted the nurse. She eyed the two. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

“It’s not like there’s much privacy to be had here, ma’am,” observed Richard. The large room was just partitioned off to make little ‘rooms’ for the recovering soldiers.

“I’ll be back, soon,” she said in an octave lower than her regular voice as she stepped away. It was a Terminator VIII that had come out last year. Had Sam known any of this was going to happen, he might have taken Richard out to see it.

Richard sat beside Sam, holding his hand. He was somber. Sam rubbed his husband’s hand in his. “I can’t just sit on the sidelines, Richard.”

“Paul wouldn’t want you to do this,” he said, not looking Sam in the eyes. “Not to just look for him.”

“I know he’s out there.”

“No, you don’t.” Richard’s voice was much more stern. “I don’t like this idea of you getting these legs so you can go to a warzone and find Paul.”

“What am I supposed to do, Richard? He’s MIA behind enemy lines!”

“Do you really think your superiors are going to let you go on a wild goose chase to find Paul?!”

“He’d do the same for me!” Sam had yelled too loud, he could see it in Richard’s face. Sam reached out and pulled Richard’s face toward his, resting it forehead to forehead. “I’m coming back baby. I promise.”

“Sam, don’t-”

Sam pulled Richard in for a kiss. “I promise.”

First, Do No Harm (Part 2)

raboicons

“A mercy? You leave people as emotionless automatons! And that’s only if I believe your propaganda. God knows what you actually do to people.”

“Please, Mr. Jones. I’m going to have to ask you to lower your voice.”

And as he mentions it I realize that I am yelling and that Brittany is still behind me, ready and willing to end our little argument with the help of the security which they no doubt keep on ready call. It’s still hard to calm myself knowing what they might be doing to Emily even now but I know that I’ll had have to shift tactics if I hope to win this game. As easy as it was to sway his adjundant I know that the good doctor will not be coerced so easily. I take a deep breath and settle back into the leather chair, hoping that he can see I am calm once more.

“Very well. As I was saying, we do not leave anyone as an emotionless automaton, as you put it, but as beings which are much more capable of coping with the daily stress of–”

“And you’ve undergone the procedure yourself, of course.”

I hoped the question would give him pause but of course he plowed on with barely a blink. “Would you walk into a cancer ward and ask the doctor in charge if he had undergone chemotherapy? Our procedure is an extreme one, I admit, but one which is only suitable or applicable for those who truly need it. Fortunately I am not one though I regret to say you fiance was a classic case.”

Of course it hurts to hear him describe her as a “classic case” as if anything about Emily MacIntyre could have been ordinary or classic. She was—she is one of the most unique people I have ever met and that’s part of why I love her.

“You have documents proving she was assigned the. . . procedure of her own free will?”

“Of course.” Now he’s on comfortable footing. Hopefully he will remain so as I gather my next argument. Anything to let me see her before they’ve destroyed what I love about her. “I might add too that Ms. MacIntyre was desperate for the procedure and was prescribed it by our highly qualified psychiatric–”

“Spare me.” I don’t mind interrupting him and almost gather that he expected it.

“Consultants. Emily was, you’ll notice I use the past tense, troubled by many feelings of insecurity and fear. She was consistently afraid of certain aspects of herself and others which would drive her to daily panic attacks which verged on seizures. She–”

“She’s a goddamn artist.”

“Mr. Jones, are you here to disparage our profession and the very well being of one you swear to hold so dear, or are you hear to discuss her future and that of her current surgeries?”

I swallow my pride then, remembering that I am the intruder and regardless of my threats of lawsuit the doctor and his charlatans would be all too likely to win. They know that even if I were to pursue the case it would be far too late to save Emily and I know it as well.

“Go on.”

“As I was saying, her mental distress was to a point which was far beyond the help of normal psychiatric drugs or therapy,” He pauses and and raises an eyebrow as if he is waiting for me to interrupt once more but I hold my tongue. “And she came to us desperate, alone, and seeing no other options. Many of our patients do.”

Dr. Lowe gestures behind me then and for a moment I fear that the secretary will be flanked by armed guards but she merely hands forward a fat dossier with the neatly printed title “Emily MacIntyre.”

The good charlatan doctor begins to flip through it and again I wonder if he is waiting for me to lash out again. I sense that he sees the interview as coming to an end and feels himself as the winner. Little does he know that I will tackle and push my way through every person in this building to see Emily before they’ve destroyed her. To see her once more as she was. As she is.

“Mr. Jones, was it?”

“Yes. Marquis Jones. Engaged to the woman you people are set to dismantle.”

“Interesting.” Both his eyebrows are raised now and suddenly I feel that I am the only person in the room not privy to a complex inside joke. “I will have to ask you to leave then.”

“What? Do you know what I can do to you–”

He interrupts me though, and the seriousness in his voice, so different from the affected airs which he’s held to this point, stops me.

“Mr. Jones. I am under no obligation to tell you this; however, I feel it would do you some good to hear it.” He takes a deep breath. “In our folder here we have a copy of a restraining order which Ms. MacIntyre took against you the day before we accepted her to our facility.”

Meet Janice, Part 2

kellyiconCoffee day usually came every couple of years, or whenever Satan and Jehovah could find time to slip away from work for an hour or two. Jehovah’s favorite place was a little diner off one of New Jersey’s turnpikes. Satan usually stuck to coffee and some soup, but Jehovah always bought the largest stack of pancakes the diner offered and slathered them in so much maple syrup it flowed over the rim of the plate and dripped onto the table. Jehovah never appeared for their lunch in the same form, and today Jehovah looked like a middle-aged woman, dark brown hair graying at the sides and dressed in a long, flowing cotton skirt and a blouse with a flower pattern.

“You know, when I first created the Earth and all that,” Jehovah said, stabbing a fork into the mountain of pancakes, “Pancakes weren’t really on my mind. I know they’d come along eventually, but I was always looking forward to the books and the music and the math, to watch people grow and discover the universe.”

“The meaning of life stuff,” Satan said, remembering an old conversation. He usually took the same form every time he came to Earth: slicked-back black hair, sunglasses, and a sharp suit, and always in the current style. Janice always scolded him for his vanity whenever he sent her to look up the latest fashion.

“Exactly,” Jehovah said, cutting out a towering wedge of pancakes. Through a mouth full of breakfast bread, Jehovah continued, “But who would have thought breakfast foods would be so splendid? Scones, pancakes, french toast, waffles, cheese, fruits, omelets, cereals, tea, coffee – the varieties they’ve come up with are endless. So much for omnipotence, eh?”

“So you say.” Jehovah never passed up a chance to play down the omnipotence thing, and Satan never had decided if it was to tease him or to try and make him feel more at ease. Was God capable of false modesty? There was a thought to keep one up at night.

“So I do,” Jehovah said. “How’s work?”

“Same as it’s always been. Hot and full of sinners.”

Satan considered telling Jehovah about Mrs. Timely. The angry, rebellious eons after his fall were behind them now, but still not far enough behind them to match the eons Satan spent cursing his creator’s name and working to undermine the Creation. Eden was still a sore spot between them, and bad habits died hard. Satan still considered Hell to be his, run without the interference of outside powers and resented the very idea of Jehovah butting in on his business. On the other hand, Satan liked to considered himself an adult now. Adults didn’t shy away from helpful advice, right?

“There is this one woman,” Satan said,

“Oh?”

“A suicide. Took her own life because she thought cheating on her husband with a woman was irredeemable.”

“Inadvisable, certainly, but not irredeemable.”

“That’s what I told her. I don’t think it got through, though. She believe she belongs in the Pit and I’m not sure what’ll get through to her. Any thoughts, O wise Creator?”

Jehovah swirled a wedge of butter through the syrup with the fork, seemingly lost in thought. Again, Satan couldn’t help but wonder if it was a show put on for his benefit – after all, God would know all the answers, right? – or if Jehovah truly needed a moment to think. It was one of the things he found most infuriating about dealing with the deity.

“That kind of thinking runs deep,” Jehovah said, finally. “She didn’t cheat on her husband and then suddenly decide she needed to die. These things build with time, you know, like steam in a stopped-up kettle. You might have to take extra care with this one. Go back, see what started it all.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jehovah said, finishing off the last bite of pancakes. “The rest is up to you. Do you want to take the time to help this woman, or just shake your head and tell yourself what a shame it all is? I can’t answer that for you, I’m afraid. Never could. But I know you. You’ve never just sat by a day in your life.”