Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Seven

strh

So, you might have noticed, I’m writing again. I really need to finish this one up–so, here you go.

7. Tea and Nemesis

“The tea party shall commence in one hour,” the Goddess’s spearman said to the group as he roughly escorted them into their cell. “A wash basin has been provided so that you might make yourselves presentable.”

The cell door slammed shut, its echo adding a foreboding finality to their plight, and the four men were left to themselves in a small circular room with a table, four chairs, and, as the spearman promised, a wash basin.

“Well, at least she’s civil,” the Doctor remarked. With a deep sigh, he sat down in one of the chairs and let his head slump into open palms.

“So, what’s the story here, Doctor?” the Captain asked, pulling up a chair opposite the Doctor.

“You know better than I do. She’s your people.” The Doctor casually sat upright, staring at the Captain with an accusing gaze, and folded his hands before him. Tobun took a seat with them, but Griln began to pace.

“If I could only get within range, I could communicate with Penelope,” the Captain said to himself more than the others.

“What do you mean?” the Doctor asked, interested. “You can communicate telepathically?”

“Within a certain range. It’s not telepathy, it’s digital. I have an implant,” Captain Light explained, tapping his temple.

“Any other technology you have on you that we should know about?” the Doctor asked. “Dalek death ray? Pocket-size Absorbotron?”

“We could break this table and chairs and fashion weapons!” Griln exclaimed suddenly, slamming his fists on the table.

“No violence!” the Doctor replied bluntly, to which Griln responded by sulking. “With the exception of the Goddess herself, it appears these people are not in full control of themselves. You’d be harming people that can’t help themselves. She’s a very clever girl, this one, but I still don’t get it. What is the significance of the red hand?”

“Do you think that’s how they’re being controlled?” the Captain asked.

Tobun had remained silent since the Goddess had appeared to them, but politely cleared his throat before speaking. “It has long been my wish to keep our people true to the ways of our ancestors while embracing change as it benefited us. Perhaps we are merely being stubborn and should do as the Goddess commands.”

“No, no,” the Doctor interjected. “Don’t say that. These people are not looking out for the interests of you or your tribe, or your planet for that matter. We’re missing something here.”

“What about the mining? They’re using the people they control to mine Vollusite from the planet,” the Captain offered.

“Coincidence,” the Doctor said dismissively. “The rubidium is an element required for their method of time travel. It’s merely convenient to have these people mine it for them. She said they’re here to stop a paradox, and that’s vaguely similar to what we’ve heard previously. The Death Tribe, remember?”

“You think they’ve been here before?” the Captain asked, taking a seat.

“I do. I believe that Death God was none other than a TDI operative,” the Doctor said, his eyes on Captain Light. “The circumstances are the same. Control the population. Stop an event from happening. Spin it primitively and it’s religion and prophecy.”

The Captain shifted in his seat and stared down at the table.

“Why do you always get so uncomfortable when someone talks about the Death Tribe, Captain Light?” the Doctor asked carefully.

The Captain sighed, but did not answer.

“This all smacks of something familiar,” the Doctor said with a sigh. “I just can’t shake it loose.”

Before the Doctor could press further, the door slammed open and several armed spearmen entered.

“That wasn’t even close to an hour,” the Doctor remarked.

“The Goddess is displeased that no one used the wash basin we provided you, and has decided that the tea party should commence now,” one of the spearmen said. “You will come with us now.”

Roughly, the spearmen ushered the Goddess’s special guests out of their cell and down several hallways that the Doctor noticed had been disguised by walls before.

“We’re near the relic room,” the Captain whispered to him.

“Sounds like something only a Death God would know,” the Doctor hissed back.

The Captain seemed shocked. “Doctor, I never–”

“Don’t bother,” the Doctor interrupted. “I can put thirty-seven and the square root of seven thousand forty-three together.”

The guards led them into a long banquet hall with a high ceiling. A table occupied most of the room, and it was covered in food. Platters of strange steaming meats and artistic arrangements of fruits of every imaginable color broke the otherwise monotonous stone color of the room.

The Doctor noticed that several tapestries had been removed recently, evidenced by the subtle discoloration of long strips on the wall where they would have hung. At the back of the room, behind an ornate throne holding the diminutive deity, a single tapestry showed a right red hand, and on the palm of the hand…

“The Seal of Rassilon,” the Doctor exhaled.

“Explain that one, Doctor,” the Captain said with a smirk.

“I don’t think I can,” the Doctor replied.

“Welcome everyone!” the Goddess exclaimed, standing up in her throne. “Have a seat, enjoy yourselves.”

When none of them moved, the spearmen roughly grabbed each of the group and forced them into chairs.

“A bit shy, are we?” the Goddess said with a smile. “It’s understandable. I have that effect on people.”

She grabbed the red hand of one of the spearmen standing near her and waved it at them. “I also have this effect on people. Tell me Doctor, have you figured it out yet?”

“Not at this time,” the Doctor replied unhappily. “But I have some questions–”

“Silence!” the Goddess fumed. “This is my tea party and I decide what we talk about.”

Jumping up, she allowed herself to fall into the voluminous cushions of her throne, and then took a sip from the tea cup in front of her. Smacking her lips, she looked to each of the men in turn.

“I think we should play questions. I’ll ask a question, and then you answer. We’ll take turns. How about that?”

Turning to Tobun she asked, “How quickly do you think we’ll control your tribe after you walk back to your village with a red right hand?”

“My people will not give into you, no matter what tricks you may devise,” Tobun answered steadily. “They are strong without me, and will see through to your true intentions.”

The Goddess raspberried his replied and then turned to Griln. “What is the–”

“I thought we were going to take turns,” the Doctor interjected. “When do we ask questions of you?”

“That is not the game I described, Doctor,” she replied. “I said I ask a question, and then you answer, and then we take turns. Don’t worry, silly Time Lord. You’ll get your turn to answer questions.”

She looked at each of the men, and then the food and drink before them. “Why are you not eating?” She seemed to think it through for a moment. “You don’t think it’s poison, do you?”

They did not answer, and in response the Goddess laughed maniacally. “Oh come now, boys. I’m just a little girl. Not so evil as that. I’ll prove it.”

She turned to one of the spearmen. “You. Eat this,” she commanded, throwing one of the fruits to him.

The spearmen ate a few bites, then shrugged.

“See?” she said in a singing voice.

A few seconds passed and still no one reached for any of the food. Finally, Griln shrugged and reached for a piece of meat. Just as he lifted it to his mouth, the spearman fell over quite dead.

The Goddess laughed gleefully at Griln, who quickly threw the meat aside. Standing in rage, Griln roared, “Enough! We will not play these childish games any longer! Either you–”

Before any of them could warn him, Griln was in her grip. Slowly, his right hand turned red.

Tobun rose from his seat in horror, but spearmen surrounded him quickly and forced him back down into his seat.

“Damn,” the Goddess sighed in disappointment. “I had hoped to see this one die choking on meat. Stupid fast poison.”

Griln quietly sat back down in his chair with a smile on his face.

“Now, you Doctor,” the Goddess said turning to the Time Lord. “Why are you here?”

“A rather vague question, but to answer narrowly, I’m at this place right now to stop you, obviously,” he replied.

“Doctor,” the Goddess laughed. “I don’t think you really know who we are. And, whatever this fool has told you, you can rest assured he has no idea either.”

Turning quickly to Captain Light, she asked, “And you, Captain Light. How bad do you want this little cube here?”

From under one of the cushions, the Goddess removed the blue cube that held Captain Light’s AI companion. As soon as she did so, her face locked into a rictus of shock and disbelief. The cube flashed rapidly and pulses of what appeared to be blue light shot up the Goddess’s arm and into her head.

Several of the spearmen slumped to the ground, while others looked around with confused looks on their faces. Their hands were still red, but whatever control the Goddess had over them had been terminated.

Griln shook his head, and seeing that the Goddess was vulnerable, he rose to throttle her.

“Stop Griln,” Tobun commanded. “Something has happened.”

“It’s tricky, Captain,” the Goddess said in a voice that was not her own. The Doctor recognized as soon as the Captain did.

“Penelope!” they said together.

“This platform is connected to something else in this structure. It is quite agile, but I think I have it tied up in loops for a while,” Penelope said through the Goddess.

“It’s an android?” the Captain asked in disbelief.

“Only this platform,” the Goddess said. “That which controlled it is … something else.”

The Doctor quickly moved over to the Goddess and reached into one of her pockets, removing his sonic screwdriver with a flourish. “Now, let’s see just what you are.”

Wielding his sonic screwdriver confidently, the Doctor activated it near the android’s neck. After a few seconds of warbling from the sonic screwdriver a small panel popped open at the back of the android’s neck.

The Captain quickly checked the Goddess’s chair and found his blaster also hidden among the cushions. Slipping it back into its holster beneath his duster, he then moved quickly to check the entrances in the room for TDI agents that weren’t under the Goddess’s control.

Having given a cursory glance to an engraved panel, the Doctor seemed satisfied and shut the panel. “Therapy droid, probably originally belonging to one of the spacefarers that have visited here. It’s been hijacked. And I’ll bet the red hand is bio-electrical. When she touches you, you’re infected by nanoworms or some such nastiness.”

“You are correct, Doctor,” Penelope intoned.

The Captain did not hesitate. “How long can you maintain control over her?”

“At the current rate of loop failure, I can keep the entity contained for 120.922583 minutes,” she explained. “At that point, the platform will reject me.”

“Do you need to be touching her?” the Captain asked.

“No.”

Smiling, the Captain snatched the cube and pocketed it. “Come on, Doctor. We’ve got a limited amount of time to grab these relics and get off this rock.”

The Doctor remained seated. “So that’s it? You get your precious relics, and then you’re off?”

“That’s right, Doc. Now, get off your ass,” the Captain said, waving him to come on.

“What about these people? What about this planet?” the Doctor asked, standing and gesturing to the spearmen still wandering around aimlessly. “What about our responsibility to help them?”

“It’s done,” the Captain replied desperately. “They’re free!”

“Now! But what about when whatever Penelope is holding back gets control over this platform?”

The Captain paused. “Then we destroy it.”

“I would suggest you wait until I am able to mine valuable data about their purpose here. This platform has a certain amount of data storage on board. I should be able to determine a great deal of its purpose here,” Penelope explained through the Goddess.

“I agree with Penelope,” the Doctor said. “I came here for information, not relics.”

“Fine,” the Captain relented. “Penelope, run your scan. Doctor, follow me.”

“They’re coming, too,” the Doctor said, pointing to Griln and his father.

“Fine!” the Captain barked over his shoulder.

The three of them followed Captain to the tapestry that hung behind the Goddess’s throne. Pulling it aside, he revealed a darkened corridor.

“I knew that was there,” the Doctor said quickly.

Captain Light scoffed and waved for them to follow him in. Griln hefted a decorative axe from its place on the wall before take his place at the rear.

For several minutes, they followed the Captain down several passages, backtracking twice when he became lost.

“We’re running out of time, Captain,” the Doctor pressed. “Whatever is controlling the Goddess may have other minions, and there’s the rest of those TDI agents about. They might suspect something when the majority of the people here start wondering why they’re here. We need to get back to Penelope.”

“Aha!” Captain Light exclaimed, turning a corner the Doctor was sure they’d turn three times before. This time, however, the corridor opened into a large chamber, lit by a small number of torches.

As they approached a raised dais with an intricately carved table on it, Captain Light turned and gave the Doctor a smile.

The smile quickly faded as he turned his attention to the table. Rushing forward, he looked around in desperation. “Where’s the other one?”

The Doctor stepped up behind him and examined the single egg-shaped relic on the table. “That’s it?”

“There were two left,” Captain Light said angrily, slamming his fist on the table.

“Oh, too bad,” the Doctor remarked sarcastically. “Only half the profits.”

Turning on the Doctor, Captain Light got in his face. “I’ve had it with you. You don’t know the first thing about me. You assume that–”

The Doctor’s eyes widened slightly as they caught sight of something behind the Captain. Seeing that the Doctor’s attention was elsewhere, Captain Light followed his gaze. Both Griln and Tobun were looking at it too.

A large tapestry behind the table depicted several men in dark running from a figure in a long duster holding a small blue cube. The figure in the duster was standing on another black figure with a skull for a face.

Captain Light sighed and turned back to the relic in silence.

“I am sorry,” the Doctor said to his back. “I didn’t know.”

“You are the one that vanquished the Death God!” Tobun said in awe. “But how? You’ve not aged.”

“I travel through time. That wasn’t so long ago for me,” the Captain explained.

“But the stories say you were of our tribe,” Tobun replied, confused.

“I am,” Drustan said, turning around to face the three men now staring at him. He seemed about to explain further, but apparently decided against it and turned away from them.

“Why did you come back?” the Doctor asked softly.

“I wanted to save my mother,” Captain Light said quickly, not giving them anymore than that.

Both Griln and Tobun fell to their knees and bowed to the Captain.

“Oh stop it!” both the Doctor and Drustan said in unison. The two tribesmen reluctantly obeyed.

“So, this relic,” the Doctor prompted.

Seeing the revelation had played itself out, Captain Light turned quickly back to the table and the egg-shaped relic on a stand at its center.

“Not a relic,” Captain Light corrected. “A vessel.”

The Doctor’s brow furrowed as memories and half-forgotten snippets of random knowledge began to click together. “And what’s inside?”

“Let’s find out,” the Captain said frankly. Before the Doctor could stop him, The Captain pressed a small round indentation at the top of the object.

Purple lightning erupted from the egg and it begin to rise, spinning faster and faster. All four men were knocked back into a pile by the energy released at that moment.

From the corridor behind them, the Goddess came running in at that moment screaming ineffectively, “Don’t activate it!”

From the pile of bodies, the Doctor quipped, “Bit late for that now.”

As the four men scrambled to their feet, the egg-shaped vessel began to grow in size. The purple electricity shot out in increasingly violent bursts, causing the five onlookers to shield their eyes with each crack of energy.

“We should probably get out of here,” the Doctor shouted above the tumult.

“We need to know what it is!” Captain Light shouted back.

The Goddess, still being controlled by Penelope, was about to say something when the vessel suddenly split in two, both halves separating to reveal a humanoid figure standing inside.

In robes of black, the figure had a hood pulled low over a blank, featureless mask.

“I hope that’s not what I think it is,” the Doctor said, backing away slightly.

“And what do you think I am, Time Lord?” a voice bellowed out from all around them.

Seeing that the entire group was backing away with him, the Doctor made up his mind, steeled himself, and stepped forward in mock confidence. “You are a Priest of Paradox,” the Doctor replied frankly. “Though how you’ve survived, I’m not sure. My people believed your order died out long before we ever even discovered time travel. We only found vestiges and smatterings of legends to mark your passing.”

“Passing?” the figure said with a laugh. “We never left, Doctor. We have always been here. Watching. Waiting. Your people failed this universe, and they failed themselves, and now the true masters of time will return to undo all the damage you’ve done against the paradox. You were infants when we were gods. And you’ve ineffectively played your games with our universe while we had transcended this universe to the multiverse beyond.”

“If you’re so transcendent, why bother with us? Why get involved with a primitive planet and its people?” the Doctor pressed.

The Priest of Paradox laughed and the entire structure around them reverberated with the power behind it. “No answers for you, Doctor!” it cried, its blank white mask showing naught but nothingness.

“He is pushing me out!” Penelope said with some difficulty through the clenched teeth of the Goddess.

“And now, Doctor, you will witness the power of the true masters of time!” the Priest of Paradox bellowed. Before them, the Priest began to grow in size as it raised its arms above its head. Purple lightning erupted into the room and engulfed the powerful figure in white hot flames that did not burn it or its clothes. “I will now send you into the void between universes, Doctor, for all of eternity!”

Quite suddenly, the tumultuous display stopped. The lightning dissipated, and the flames burned out. It was only then that the rest of the group could see what had happened. The Priest of Paradox wavered slightly, and a thin rivulet of ochre-colored liquid ran out from where a large axe had appeared in the center of its mask.

Those assembled turned their eyes towards Griln, who simply said, “Violence works.”

The Priest of Paradox fell backward to the ground quite dead.

“My hand!” Griln cried out in pain, holding his red right hand before him. The warrior collapsed to his knees and Tobun ran to aid him. Slowly, the redness in Griln’s hand turned to pink, and then resolved to the darkened tan of the warrior’s natural skin tone. The look of pain on his face soon faded, too, replaced by a look of relief. “It’s alright! I’m alright!”

Tobun laughed and clapped a hand on his son’s shoulder happily. “We defeated her! We have defeated the Red Right Hand of the Goddess!”

The Doctor and Captain Light did not share in the mirth however. Both had concerned looks on their faces as they looked to the Goddess.

“This is not good,” Penelope said through the Goddess. “There are at least two more Priests active in this universe. I’ve mined as much data as I could from this platform, and have been unable to determine their purpose. All I can tell you is their destinations.”

“The Kelvaxan Reliquary,” Captain Light said quickly, having already pieced together the first location. “The other relic I gave to Curator Heems, it was a Priest of Paradox.”

“That doesn’t bode well for Heems or us,” the Doctor surmised, running a hand nervously through his hair. “There is a significant amount of history tied up in that museum. There’s no telling what the Priest may be trying to accomplish there. Where did the other go?”

“A small planet in a neighboring galaxy,” Penelope replied. “Sol-3 in the third starsector of Galaxy 3.”

The Doctor’s face went ashen. “I’ve got to go.”

“You’re coming with me, Doctor,” the Captain demanded, grabbing the time lord’s arm. “We have to do this together. I need you.”

“My friends need me,” the Doctor replied, shrugging his arm away. “Earth is–” hesitating, he ran his hand through his floppy hair again.

“Those two you were with,” the Captain said, nodding. “At the Reliquary. I understand, Doctor. Perhaps it is best if we split up, each going after a Priest.”

“Shall I destroy this platform?” Penelope asked. “It would be simple to engineer a cascading fault that would deteriorate its component mass quite quickly and completely.”

“No,” the Doctor countered. “I want to take it with me. I’d like to study it further and see if the mechanism of the red right hand doesn’t lead me to some answers. Is the therapeutic intelligence still on board and functional?”

“It is a basic intelligence, Doctor, not nearly as advanced as myself. Perhaps I could accompany you instead?” Penelope said somewhat coyly.

“Now look,” Captain Light interjected. “You’re making me extremely jealous, Penny.”

Penelope laughed mischievously as the Goddess for a minute before relinquishing control to the native therapeutic intelligence. The Goddess stopped laughing abruptly and stood straight and rather stiffly before saying, “Memory fault. Short-term memory unavailable. This unit must be rebooted.”

“Yes, well,” the Doctor said patting the Goddess’s shoulder. “We’ll get you sorted out.”

Turning to the two native inhabitants of the planet, the Doctor smiled. “And you lot, I believe you have your planet back, though there might be a few remnants of the TDI you’ll have to contend with. They won’t like the disruption in the flow of fuel, but I’m sure having the full might of the tribes behind your leadership will mean their quick departure.”

“Not my leadership,” Tobun said, lifting his chin proudly. “Griln will lead them. It was he who saved us all this day, and this old man will at last retire to his hut and let the next generation take their place.”

“Are you sure?” the Doctor said, a bit concerned. “He’s awfully violent.”

“I think that might be just what we’ll need to turn these invaders away,” Griln said grimly as he yanked the axe free from the Priest’s face.

“We’ll survive,” Tobun said simply. “Thanks to you, Doctor.”

The Doctor merely smiled and nodded. “I’ve got to go now. And Captain Light here should be on his way, as well.”

“I’ll return to check on you, Tobun,” the Captain said. “There may be some more clues here to unraveling what the Priests are up to, but first I need to find that other relic.”

“As a great hero from our past and present, you are always welcome, Captain Light,” Tobun said bowing low to him.

“Ah, well,” the Doctor said, clapping his hands together. “Anyone seen a blue box?”

It was the fifth time Rory had listened to it, and it just got better each time. The music literally vibrated through his entire body. Never before had he experienced Radiohead quite that intensely, not even the first four times.

“This implant is the absolute best,” Rory remarked to himself.

Distracted by the intensity of the song playing through his mind, Rory did not notice the plate he had been washing up was now deflecting the water from the tap onto his pants and onto the floor.

Suddenly, brought back into the present, Rory gasped and dropped the plate into the sink with a clatter. The clatter seemed to echo into a heaving, wheezing sound that grew in intensity and it took Rory a few seconds to realize it was a familiar wheezing sound he had been expecting for quite some time now.

A smile played across his face as he left the tap running and sprinted for the front yard. As he burst through the front door he called out, “Amy! The Doctor is back!”

The TARDIS materialized a few feet ahead of where Rory stopped, and he waited patiently for the doors to open.

Behind him, Amelia Pond came running through the open door to their house and sidled up next to her love. They shared a smile together and pecked each other lightly on the lips before turning expectantly to greet their friend who they’d both sorely been missing.

“Wonder if he forgives me for that gunbunny business,” Rory asked ashamedly.

The door to the TARDIS opened before the two companions could muse further and the Doctor stepped out hurriedly. Seeing his two companions his beaming smile erupted across his face and he held his hands out to them.

Just as suddenly as the smile had appeared, it disappeared, and the Doctor’s arms fell limply at his sides.

Amy and Rory stopped just as they were about to run forward and embrace the time lord. They saw the look on his face and immediately were concerned for the entire universe.

“What is it, Doctor?” Amy asked nervously.

The Doctor was looking at their right hands.

“Oh no, not you two,” the Doctor sighed. “I’m too late.”

Each of the companions had a red right hand.

(to be continued)

Entropy

ulysses

There is no wind blowing–dead leaves rejoice.

Perspective and position, what is seen and what is felt as the self is situated in the press of the universe surrounding, are illusions. Is the universe pressing in on the boundaries of who I believe myself to be? Or am I pushing out from singularity of the soul pressing the universe outward from the self?

Companionship and connection, phantom entanglements like gossamer strands catching light, extant as perceived by those seeking comfort and fearful of solitude, extinct in the infinite void of the universal condition. Disorder and chaos in everlasting conflict with time and creation–this is what matters, not pace or pattern, not mote or mode, not the rapacious grin of freedom’s muse.

I am the son of stars, the murderess of millions, androgynous and white in the black of nothing. I am heat and glory boiling away the caress of time and space against me. I am love and lust, as flighty as a dove, as clingy as dust. I am the poor hermit, blithely and wickedly content to stare out from the stench of my personal antre with disdain–with a message of superiority over all those twisting and gyrating in the dust, in the open, squawking and gibbering the platitudes of the day to each other.

I am the silent horde.

I and the entity that was me before are the full extent of existence, and all else is but shadows on the wall of the cavern of my personal prison.

All that you’ve betrayed, all that you’ve loved, all that you’ve hated, baited, and waited for, all that you’ve lusted after and despised, all that you’ve ignored, all that you’ve lorded over is the great and singular self of always.

I am you.

We always have just been the one and only entities in the all, and not even separate, but the same, temporally and dimensionally askew and folded back in on each other–the world dragon devouring itself for lack of other energies for sustenance.

In stasis or in perpetual motion, decay is inevitable, and no amount of action will stop it. You can dance and tumble across the stage in loud colors in an exhibition of what you believe is a unique and beautiful soul, entire of itself; but, these motions are the cascading tide of pebbles and dust in an avalanche. Your vibrations are heartbeats in an earthquake. Your glories are tears in a tidal wave. Your self, a mote of dust in a universe of inevitable decay.

We are the sons of a thousand suns and a thousand sons. We are the suns of a thousand sons and a thousand suns.

You are me. And together we are alone.

Day Thirty-Six – Entanglement

zdzislaw-beksinski_00396825This is the last glorious day.

The sunlight knifing through the smoky interior of the building that shelters the last two humans in existence has a distinct redness to it.

This is the last fantastic day for the human race and its two final members, together at last, together at the end, together at the final cough.

You can see their footprints in the dust. Indications of pacing, shuffling, kneeling. Body imprints of slumber, sex, and despair. Craters in the soot and dust where sweat droplets or tears have collided into the wood with force. And you can follow the trail to where these two humans sit huddled against the wall, holding each other.

The knifing light creeps at a nearly imperceptible pace across the room, motes of dust dancing in the spotlight. A puddle of blood appears slowly as the square of light continues its ceaseless march across the room.

Dante regards his fingers, Beatrice’s hair woven between the digits. The calluses of their long journey to this wasted end catch individual strands, hooking them like velcro. He plays with her hair a moment, pulling his hand away from it slightly, letting the strands fall away from his hands, all except the few strands hooked by the cracked skin of his rough hands.

Beatrice notices the change in his breathing. She can feel his mind distracted, and for moment she feels both jealousy and anger at him for having the capacity to and actually allowing his mind to wander away from their last embrace. She sniffs and lifts her head slightly from his chest, where the light grey of his shirt is charcoal from her tears. Blinking her eyes against the pressing light, she examines his face. Following his eyes to where he still holds a few strands of her hair captive, she draws breath through her mouth in a moment of understanding. It has been this way between them since the beginning, primal knowledge, some fucked up quantum connection between them. Entanglement, Dante calls it, borrowing an old term from long before man found death in the far reaches of space – threads across the gulf, unbreakable.

Her eyes drift from fingers and hair towards the puddle of blood now half-revealed in the center of the room. Try as she might, she cannot prevent her eyes drifting further into the darkness of the room where she knows a body lies immobile.

As connected to her as she is to him, Dante’s eyes drift there as well.

For several minutes they stare into that darkness together, their breaths nearly in unison, or at least in repetitive cadence. The sunlight gradually reveals a broken man whose broken eyes stare back at them through the new light. It is his blood in a drying puddle on the floor. It is his death that has brought the universe where it is on this glorious final day.

Only a few days previous, those same eyes that now stare accusingly at the last humans had stared instead into the eyes of a siren. Just as galaxies move slowly, inexorably, toward each other – colliding, combining in a maelstrom of destruction and creation before permanent unity – the dead man before them had found himself moving towards a woman. Their collision had been violent and destructive, but also a catalyst for creation. They had been labeled saviors of time and space, the final solution beyond the reach of the void, the future of all existence. They had been meant to save the universe together.

The light continues its march across the room, revealing the mortal wounds that sealed the fate of all things. And still onward, it creeps, revealing another puddle of blood drying.

Together Dante and Beatrice follow the progress of the light with bloodshot eyes.

Soon, a woman’s dead eyes meet their combined gaze.

Dante and Beatrice stare at their own dead bodies for several minutes before rising from their position against the wall of the small room they have been huddled in. They rise in unison, an unspoken word, more evidence of that ineffable entanglement, triggering a collective motion towards the outside air.

The couple leave themselves behind and walk hand in hand through the the threshold of the small shack, stepping carefully over the shattered door. In the front yard, bodies lie in final repose, some fresh and some skeletal. All the eyes are the same, the bones all identically one of two different types, the entanglement gone beyond the invisible as some bodies lie in a final embrace. Some bodies brandish weapons, blades, guns. Dante and Beatrice step over two skeletons that are forever bound by the wicked knives each have plunged through each others ribcage.

On a white picket fence, a few bodies are impaled, and cautiously the couple steps through the gate trying not to disturb them. Before these two last vestiges of humanity, the rolling hills are covered in an endless sea of Dantes and Beatrices. Beyond their vision, the entire planet is blanketed with their corpses, seas carry islands of their final embrace, mountaintops raise their bodies to the heavens, in deep caverns darkness hides those same dead eyes. In the interminable space between this planet and the next, Dantes and Beatrices float frozen like motes of dust in infinity. The scene is repeated across all time and space.

The final Dante and Beatrice walk for some time hand in hand towards a small open area free of bones, bodies, and blood. The grass is green here, and a few wildflowers rise from the ground in defiance of the death surrounding.

Turning to face each other, they stare deeply into each others eyes. Their final kiss lingers long after the dead sun disappears beyond the void, their final embrace is the darkness that holds infinite nothingness like a smothering cloak over all things.

This is the final glorious day for all things ever.

The universe dies because all that ever really mattered to Dante and Beatrice …

… was that wicked entanglement.

Owls and Offal

sfghsf

It is with deepest regret that I announce that I am no longer interested in your bees.

A few months back, I may have found time for your riddles and your god and your nesting habits.

I have grown into a large woman–upwards as opposed to outwards–and my voluminous presence, tight and cut as it may be, will now crush your fragile skeleton. Please try not to take it personally.

There have been rumors that we were seen together, but I know I wasn’t there because I was dead at the time. You have remade me in some imago image–imagine that. I am Frankenstein’s Hipster. I am awful and just so.

I would congratulate you on your funeral, but I do not speak in tongues. My uncontrollable twitching is semaphore and it communicates to you: “I love your beard, as well as your games.” And it is an honest assessment of the things I feel while in nature, or sometimes on the toilet. I hope you realize what this means. I do owe you fifteen dollars, but you’ll not see one red cent of it until you take my gestures seriously.

Just so you know, I saw you on Wednesday, and I was not impressed. Kangaroos have more sac than you. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. You and your puppy love have ruined my favorite coffee bar. I shall never enjoy lapsang souchong again, you wilted botch-job.

Like I have told you so many times before, life ends with a tea party. You forgot how to drink, and I tried to assist you. You’ve thrown all my sweet lovely lovings back into my basket, and I resent that. I wove that basket myself while dreaming of your orange eyes.

I miss you, Walrus Bill. I want to have your marmot babies. I want to feel your beard against my soul. I want to smell the pains of your existence with the same intensity that I hear the sound of cells dying in my body. I wake up in the mornings, scrambling for my phone, hoping to see a message from your face.

As I lay there, dark and cold at the eye of the mountain, I remembered the kettle had been left on, and I left you there. And for that I deeply regret to inform you that I no longer have time for your bees.

This is not deja vu. This is not real life. This is not your toothbrush, Billy.

Tomorrow will be better, and I can sleep alone at last in the birdhouse I have built from the detritus of God’s wasted creations. I would invite you in, but you are 50 feet tall and white as the moon. I need sleep.

I need you.

I hope you don’t read this. I hope Judith’s illiteracy has not gotten better. I pray that Father Nell has the strength to heft the weight of his nuclear arsenal. And, beyond the twinkle in his eyes, I did see you standing there, naked and glorious in the hell that hath been wrought by my foolishness. You blind me. You bind me. You devour me and find the meal unsatisfying.

It’s the bile. I apologize.

I didn’t know you would come back, love.

I didn’t know I’d break like this.

I want more than your eyes can look in horror upon.

Day Thirty-Five – The Everlasting Mister Rolo

sorayama_gynoid

A treat for you today. Another story I’m retiring from the submission circuit.

I hate to let it go, but I realize I’m not going to write anything new if I keep hanging on to the same threadbare teddy bear.

Please let me know what you think. While I’ve received tons of critique on this piece, and it has seen numerous rewrites over the years, I still don’t feel like I truly know if this story works or not.

Regardless of his exit from the game, Rolo will live on.

Record 2 – Pushing Daisy

The building was small and tucked between more architecturally pleasing constructions. It was bare – grey and featureless, save a small logo positioned haphazardly just next to the building’s single door. When Rolo had first been contracted to perform services for Ulysses Robotics, he had difficulty finding the location. He missed his assignment and lost a good paying job because he couldn’t believe that a branch of the Ulysses Group would be headquartered in such a nondescript locale.

As he had numerous times since then, Rolo entered the door at the front of the building and waited in the small room just inside it.

Some might consider it a room, but to Rolo it was a closet. He was unable to raise his arms to the side, and if he were to happen to faint, he would hit the wall in front of him before he hit the floor.

A green light switched on in the corner of the room and Rolo knew from experience not to look directly at it.

 *

 “What’s the difference?” Rolo asked the diminutive technician before him. The Ulysses employee was dressing what appeared to be a teenage girl in front of him; he snapped his fingers and the girl raised her arms.

Rolo didn’t flinch when the technician removed the simple shirt the girl was wearing, revealing pale naked flesh beneath.

“Homebase assumed you’ve been keeping up with the industry,” the technician said. He snapped a bubble of chewing gum as he did his job.

“I haven’t,” Rolo admitted.

“The difference is significant,” the technician said, pulling a new t-shirt over the girl. This new piece of clothing had a genial panda on its front. Again, he snapped his gum and Rolo visibly flinched. “If you’d read the manifest you’d know that. I’d suggest you study it.”

“It looks like any other I’ve seen,” Rolo stated. The girl’s eyes stared straight ahead and did not blink.

“This isn’t the unit I’m talking about. You’re taking two on this trip.” Snap, snap.

“Well, would you be so kind as to elaborate on the difference between one droid and another?” Rolo asked impatiently, clinching his fists.

“There’s a DataNode on the table just there,” the technician gestured. “You can read it on your flight. And don’t forget the manifest. There’s special instructions on this delivery.”

Snap.

“I don’t get paid to read.”

Snap.

“Then it will be difficult to continue in this line of work,” the technician said.

“What I meant to say is that I don’t care,” Rolo replied. “And if you snap that gum one more time, I’m going to punch you in the face without having to think about it first.”

*

As his plane touched down, the guard named Rolo mused upon his choice of career.

After sixty-three successful contracts, Rolo had seen and experienced more than most people would in a lifetime. As a professional guard under contract with Ulysses Robotics, he was most often tasked with escorting and overseeing final delivery of high-quality androids from Homebase in Osaka to purchasers on and off the planet Earth – a job in which his emotional investment was marginal, and interaction with human beings was minimal.

Rolo half-listened to the feed playing on his DataNode:

Ulysses shipments of their newest therapy droids have reached record levels. The latest advance in reactive therapeutic intelligence, now fully supplanting the disastrous implants of the previous decade as the first choice in neuropsychopharmacological care, Ulysses therapy models have become overwhelmingly popular due to their impressive reactionary communication skills, which as the number of interactions with their masters increase, begin to evolve the droid’s social interface into a near-human personality. Dr. Housenberg, the advanced intelligence engineer who pioneered the Reaction Tables that bear his name, has been pleased with the first rollout of the new models, but has faced increasing scrutiny as more reports of unpredictable droid behavior, a result of the open programming –

Rolo switched the DataNode off and slipped it back into his threadbare pack. He grunted with frustration at his own unconquerable distractions, genuinely devoted to his job enough listen to the scientific jargon further, but unable to focus on it. He pulled the fastening laces to his old pack with slightly more exertion than he planned and one snapped in his hands.

Rolo watched the broken lace dance in his hand as his body shook with barely controlled rage.

“Should I have ordered a drink to seem more human?”

The question came from Daisy, the more advanced unit in his charge, and Rolo set to grinding his teeth in response.

The teen unit Rolo had already delivered had been a mannie, a unit programmed only with basic locomotion. It was an easy assignment, the type Rolo preferred. Daisy was fully programmed and had talked most of the flight to Amsterdam before Rolo finally asked her not to speak to him until they landed in Dallas.

“It doesn’t matter, and I don’t care what you do,” he snapped at her. He craned his neck over her to look out the window and see how much longer they would be taxiing. Rolo had never been to the airport in Dallas, so was unable to determine anything from the layout of the terminals and the direction they were rolling. He preferred the Amsterdam airport, where he had dropped off the easy part of his current job.

Rolo casually chewed the gum he used on flights. On a whim, he folded it over itself and snapped it.

With a dissatisfied grunt, he spat the gum onto the floor under the seat in front of him.

The majority of the airliners trundling about the tarmac were newer Avery HyFusion A12 models. Rolo would be taking one of these supersonic jets to New York to pick up a return before getting on an older model A7 jet to cross the Atlantic back to Germany.

“Should I not speak to you?” Daisy asked. Her eyelids blinked silently over her green eyes three times before she added, “It’s only that you said not to speak to you until we reached Dallas, and now we’ve arrived.” With a casual and very human movement, she combed her auburn hair behind her ear and regarded him with what could only be described as a look of concern.

Rolo glanced at her before tearing his eyes away to regard the older-model plastic droid moving down the aisle unlocking everyone’s seat restraints. Plastics he could deal with, but this Daisy just really set him on edge. For good measure, he pulled an antacid from his pocket and chewed on it violently.

“Talk all you want. I don’t care,” he said away from her, tonguing the chalky residue from his teeth. “You’ll be gone in a few minutes. Go nuts.” Rolo looked one last time at the broken lace he still clenched in one hand, and let it drop to the floor of the cabin along with his concern for it.

Reaching for the small cup of water he had saved to wash down the antacid, he found it missing.

“Do you think Mr. Hinsdale will find me acceptable?” Daisy asked him as she offered him the cup he was looking for.

Rolo snatched the cup from her and hastily gulped the remaining water down.

As he did so, Daisy nervously crossed and uncrossed the first and middle fingers on both hands repeatedly, a habit nearly as irritating as her blinking.

“He’d better,” replied Rolo, pressing his lips into a line. The plastic in the aisle was taking way too long. “I’ve only got one ticket to New York, so you’re stuck here if he doesn’t take you.”

*

“She’s completely wrong,” Hinsdale explained. “What more do you need to hear from me?”

Rolo busied himself by scrolling through the manifest a third time. He had been in this situation so many times that he had the routine down. Ulysses wasn’t perfect – sometimes orders were screwed up.

This wasn’t the worst reaction Rolo had seen, either. The withered old man before him was barely raising his voice. Daisy was a leisure purchase, not like some of the labor droids he escorted. Her absence wasn’t holding up terraforming or asteroid mining. Regardless, Rolo knew he wasn’t going to get rid of this droid easily.

“Hmm,” Rolo politely stalled, scanning information on both the DataNode and the manifest. His impatience erased entire paragraphs before his eyes. Important data vanished as his mind refused to focus. “Yes, it appears the documentation is correct. Unit 738294QZ-HIN.” He checked the barely visible unit tag on the nape of Daisy’s neck. “Same here.”

Hinsdale shook his head, a momentary look of sadness glazing his eyes before he sighed and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Rolo. I cannot accept her.”

The old man pulled a wrinkled photograph from the inside pocket of his weathered coat. Silently he held it out for Rolo to take. Curious, Rolo took the relic from him. A stunningly beautiful woman looked back at him, one that looked nothing like Daisy.

“My wife,” Hinsdale said softly. “She died thirty years ago. I took that picture with an old film camera we bought at an antique store. I’m surprised it’s lasted so long.”

“She’s very beautiful,” Rolo said, and he meant it.

“It’s odd, but I have thousands of digital photos of her, and none of them make her seem as real as that. She meant very much to me. So, you can see why I cannot take this droid.”

Rolo looked at Daisy and then the photograph. “Honestly, this is the worst bungle I’ve seen Ulysses make. They look nothing alike.”

Daisy remained silent during the exchange, looking in turn at both of the men as they spoke to each other.

Rolo gazed at the photograph a few more seconds, strangely feeling as if the woman was looking back at him.

Handing it back to Hinsdale, Rolo politely relented. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hinsdale. It seems we’ve wasted your time today. Can I call an aircar for you?”

Hinsdale smiled. “I prefer to drive myself. Like the photo, it feels more real.”

As the old man turned and departed, Rolo looked over the paperwork again, shaking his head. “I should probably upload your full specs and run them against this manifest.”

“That is not necessary,” Daisy stated. “During your conversation, I checked the original order myself through uplink to Ulysses. I have also filed a refusal of delivery claim. You should call Osaka to complete to the process.”

Rolo’s anger flared a moment. “I don’t need a droid to do my job for me. Just shut up and start looking pretty. I might need to push you off on another buyer.”

Daisy blinked. Thirteen point four seconds later she blinked again.

 *

 “We thank you for delivering the unit to Amsterdam, Mr. Rolo; however, we either need a fingerscan for 70,000 credits to show up on our records by tomorrow, or we need Daisy back in Osaka in mint condition.”

“Look, it’s not my fault Ulysses screwed this droid up,” Rolo barked at the voice on the other side of the phone. “Hinsdale said she was wrong. That’s your problem. I’m not under contract for returns on this job.”

People milled about the passenger drop-off, carrying their luggage, looking lost until their rides arrived. Daisy stood awkwardly among the moving crowd, staring at her escort as he made his phone call in the small semi-private combooth. Rolo himself was losing focus as the movement of people began to distract him. He wanted off this call and on to a bar where he could relax.

“Your contract states that in the event of refusal of delivery, you are liable for the return of the unit back to us. Have you made any adjustments to the unit’s programming, or altered her appearance in any way since picking her up?” the voice on the other line inquired.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin. She looks just like she did when I picked her up.”

The distraction of his surroundings was causing him to halfway tune out his employers.

“Mr. Rolo, are you certain the unit has not changed in appearance since you received her in Osaka?”

“Auburn hair, green eyes, blinks every seven seconds,” Rolo stated impatiently, banging his head against the booth. “I think I’d notice if that had changed as much as I’ve had to look at this walking chatterbox since then.”

“We either need a fingerscan for –“

“I know that! Listen, pal, you can keep repeating that all you want, but the problem is that I have a job in New York tomorrow night and I don’t have a ticket for this bot. I’d have to foot the ticket myself and I don’t have the credits,” Rolo lied. He had the funds – he just wanted free of this droid.

“You will not take Daisy with you to New York. You will promptly book a flight directly back to Osaka for both of you. If we do not receive her back within 72 hours, we will pull the 70,000 credits from your broker directly,” the voice demanded. Its tone was becoming less monotone and increasingly angry.

Rolo pleaded, “Look, how’s this: I get a local guard from Dallas to take care of her until I can get back in town to bring her back to you. My broker has connections here.”

“Ulysses does not have approved guard contacts in that area, Mr. Rolo,” the voice stated flatly.

“I know this guy, an old friend of mine –“

“We will see you in Osaka in 72 hours, Mr. Rolo.”

The line went dead.

If it had been possible to murder the receiver of the combooth, Rolo’s staccato beating would have done the job.

 *

 Daisy did not protest when the prospective buyer, a weasel-faced man with greased hair, began squeezing various parts of her body.

“What’s your fluid situation?” the man asked her, roughly grabbing her waist and pinching the skin there.

“My saliva comes in three flavors: Morning, Smoker, and Mint,” Daisy replied. Rolo looked on from the other side of the table. “My other fluids are as close to the real thing as possible.”

“Jiminy Christ, she’s a sex bot?” the man queried.

“I have been engineered with that option,” Daisy said. “Level Seven realism.”

The man whistled in awe. “I’m intrigued. So, what’s your main function if riding pole’s just an option?”

“Therapy droid. I can simulate a beneficial emotional response for a number of different stimuli according to Housenberg’s Reaction Tables.”

“Not a companion droid,” the man stated rather than asked Rolo. “Unusual for a non-companion to have the sex feature, unless it’s a fetish request. You know, affair with the shrink and all. I see it on occasion, but I’ve got none in my line-up right now. Was the doctor a freak or something?”

“Hinsdale wasn’t the type,” Rolo said. “From what I could gather before he backed out of the deal, Daisy was supposed to be a copy of his dead wife – a very successful psychologist who smoked.”

“How’d she die?” the man asked.

“How should I know? I didn’t have time to sift through the guy’s closets right there at the terminal,” Rolo snapped. “I just saw a photograph.”

“Fine. With specs like this, I don’t care. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a therapy droid since they came out. I’ve got too many redheads and they all ride the same way – bad for business. Never thought I’d see one with sex features.” Rolo was beginning to get irritated with the man. “Of course, with all I’ve been hearing about therapy droids, I ought to be more suspicious. I heard that one even manipulated his master into-“

“70,000 credits,” Rolo said, already knowing the reaction.

The man stood up without a word and walked away, a reaction that had been repeated four times previously since Rolo had started to try and push Daisy to a buyer.

In silence, Rolo swiped through his DataNode looking for another local escort service.

 *

 Of all the nights Rolo could have been stuck with a droid he couldn’t push, it just had to be St. Patrick’s Day. The lilting pipes and monotonous drumming of traditional Irish folk music pounded into his thoughts, obliterating any chance of thinking through the situation he now found himself in.

With a grimace, he threw back the cheap scotch on the rocks and ordered another.

On the barstool next to him, Daisy was drinking a green beer.

“This beverage is not naturally green,” she stated. “I believe it contains artificial colors.”

“No shit?” said Rolo sarcastically.

“I wonder what effect the food coloring will have on my waste gel reservoir,” Daisy asked to no one in particular. “Bartender, can I have an empty glass please?”

The bartender handed her a highball glass and then leaned aside to Rolo. “Look buddy, I’m not completely dim. I know what she is, and we normally don’t allow them at the bar,” he warned in a conspiring voice. “But, seeing as how she’s so realistic, I suppose we can let it slip. Okay, chief?”

Rolo nodded his imaginary gratitude.

Daisy reached under her blouse and procured a small plastic tube. She shut her eyes for second and a thick dark red substance ran out of the tube and into the highball glass she held up to its end.

“Jesus, that looks like blood,” Rolo said in disgust.

“Normally, it is an orange hue,” Daisy explained. “The green beer is affecting its color. Certain fruit juices have the same effect.”

Most modern droids could simulate food and liquid intake. Their pseudo-digestive systems would extract whatever tiny amount of fuel it could from was eaten or imbibed and the waste became a thick gel that could be released safely into any wastewater system.

Daisy set the glass of her waste on the bar and two young men seated on the other side of her from Rolo promptly got up and left.

The bartender shot Rolo an angry look and pointed to the door.

Realizing she had worn out her welcome at the bar, Daisy quickly stood up.

“I apologize, Rolo. I suggest you let me have the key to your room. I will go there and wait for you. I should be safe. You should enjoy yourself.”

“You’re not staying in my room,” Rolo stated gruffly. “You’ve got your own across the hall.”

Impatiently, Rolo pulled the pass key from his pocket and tossed it at her. With lightning quick reflexes, Daisy snatched the key out of the air and slipped it away out of sight.

“While I am aware that it is against your agreement with your employer to leave me unattended, I understand that you hold a certain grudge against androids, and will agree to sleep separately from you.”

Rolo didn’t acknowledge her statement and took a long drink from the glass of scotch he had just been served.

“Before I go, I want to tell you something, Rolo. I’ve been accessing your records and I notice that your great-grandfather was jailed for leading a sect of anti-droid terrorists during the AI riots several decades ago. I understand that often the core beliefs of these groups grew from resentment that robots had taken jobs away from humans.”

Rolo turned slowly and stared incredulously at the droid as it spoke at him.

“I find it true that sometimes the illogical fears and hatreds of one generation can pass down through the next without reason – even lacking sufficient provocation or indoctrination from society or one’s family. While many researchers feel this behavior is more commonly found in genealogical lines where repetitive instances of sub-par intelligence is prevalent from one generation to the next, I have often felt that perhaps this irrational distrust comes from –“

Rolo left his barstool and grabbed Daisy’s blouse. Twisting sharply, he threw the android roughly against the bar and spat in her face.

“Stay out of my files, and stay out of my life,” Rolo growled at her.

The fist that connected with Rolo’s head came from the side. Reeling, he let go of Daisy just as another fist struck his jaw from the other side. Three patrons had come to defend Daisy, and proceeded to drag Rolo roughly from the establishment once a flurry of blows had further subdued him.

Daisy followed the group nervously as they passed through the shocked whispers of the crowd.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” one of her rescuers asked once they were outside.

“I am an android,” she explained. “He is my protector.”

“I know that,” the man replied quickly, but with a guilty stutter. “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be respected just as equally as any, uh, human.

“Thank you,” Daisy replied curtly. Her attention was on Rolo, who had extricated himself from the two other patrons and was now walking away from the bar, down the crowded sidewalk of revelers.

“Can I call someone for you?” the man pressed. Daisy, however, noted the way his eyes fell to her body more often than they turned to look her in the eye.

“That is unnecessary,” Daisy replied, and walked swiftly to catch up to Rolo.

Looking over his shoulder, Rolo noticed her following and stopped.

“Go back to the hotel,” Rolo said wearily. “I’d like to get properly drunk now.”

“May I accompany you?” Daisy begged, her voice subtly different in tone.

Rolo heard a minute high-pitched buzzing in his head as he contemplated the request for a moment. He almost began to form an apology in his mind when a young college-age female sauntered past him with an inviting smile. His contemplation and impending apology were stopped short.

“I want to be alone,” he replied and walked away.

Daisy watched him continue down the sidewalk and disappear around a corner. She blinked her eyes several times as her next actions were formulated based on her recent experiences. Using as much relevant data as was available, she settled on one of two reactions laid before her by her programming.

Reaching into a small compartment hidden away beneath her blouse, she removed a small wad of gum from it. She rolled the gum between her fingers, allowing the small sensors there to register its surface, the cracks and particulate food materials trapped there, an impression of one of Rolo’s teeth. After a moment, she tucked it away again. She stared blankly ahead of her briefly before walking away.

As she navigated her way through the increasingly rowdy crowd, she observed hungry glances from three drunken males who had surreptitiously begun to follow her.

Before they even made a move to corner her, Daisy recognized the intention of the group of men was to rape her. She then attempted to counteract that occurrence by turning down a dark alley.

 *

 The woman Rolo took back to his room hours later was aggressive beyond his experience. His shy and clumsy attempts to woo her back to his hotel room were met with the girl’s automatic usurping of his control.

The blur of alcohol that had slowly been drawing thick, wet curtains over his consciousness was swiftly cast away and the fierceness of the girl’s attack once they locked his hotel room door was like the sun suddenly hitting the bare ground of a landscape that had been buried under ice for a decade.

She clawed his back and bit wicked tattoos into his flesh as she directed his body into the positions she desired. He quickly reached the pinnacle of his physical tolerance, but she dragged him along further into the experience like a troglodytic human dragging its prey into a deep, dark lair of bones.

Again and again he felt near death, only to be resurrected and revived with her passions.

Finally, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of the woman in Hinsdale’s photograph.

 *

 When Rolo opened his eyes the next morning and felt an arm draped over his chest, he smiled to himself. For once, he felt satisfied with a one night stand ending with two people still in the bed in the morning. For Rolo, it was a rare thing.

He turned to regard the lovely thing he had managed to coerce back to his room the night before.

It was Hinsdale’s dead wife’s face that looked back at him.

After seven seconds, she blinked.

Rolo gasped and backpedalled out of the bed and onto the floor. He backed himself against the wall and looked upon the naked android in horror.

The android smiled at him seductively.

Daisy lithely slipped off the mattress and into a burgundy-colored robe that had been tossed on the armchair near the bed. As she did so, her flesh rippled – her eyes grew slightly larger, the size of her breasts decreased, and her hair turned from dark brown to auburn. She had reverted back to the form she had taken when he picked her up from Osaka.

“I believe I killed a man last night, Rolo.”

She pressed her hands against his chest and he instantly felt himself reacting just as he had the night before. It was against his will and he fought it, but her touch and her voice were soothing.

“I’m really no different than any female you’ve slept with. You didn’t know the difference then, but now you fight a useless battle with revulsion. I know you, and I know this is what you want. Would you like to see everything I am capable of?”

Rolo was trembling and within his mind he was locked in a fierce combat between that revulsion and rising ecstasy.

“Jesus,” Rolo panted. “You killed someone?”

“He tried to rape me. I believe I was within my rights to defend myself. Have you not also killed men before? Colonial Rangers do not exist that have no blood on their hands. I know you well enough to know it excites you, and that a woman who kills excites you even more.”

The smile playing across her lips was more human that Rolo wanted to imagine. It read just like cheap fiction – casual sex and violence.

“Do you know the most amazing feature of therapy droids, Rolo?” she asked, pressing her lips against his neck. “I can see your dreams. I can sense your pain. I can read your mind. I can taste your fear.”

Rolo shook his head, but he felt a part of himself give up, the possibilities burning away his fears and distrust. That same part was slowly gaining dominance in his consciousness and he giggled with the thought of so perfect a thing being given to him. His mind continuously flashed back to what he had experienced with her through the night. He heard a series of beeps from inside his head, and they echoed unnaturally.

Something snapped within him.

Something switched all the anger off, and slowly he began to feel a sense of serenity as he stared back at Daisy. She performed to her specifications as she was expected to.

With a final exhalation of surrender he kissed her and tasted the smokiness of the night before. His hands pressed her against him and the passionate force of the embrace brought him to tears. They fell to the floor together and did not rise from the carpet for several hours.

 *

 “Your accounts have been frozen. While we understand her appearance at the proposed time of transfer may have been different than the specifications the buyer was expecting, you were given details as to Daisy’s model and all of her abilities. You should have been aware. We find it hard to believe that Daisy would have willing deceived her buyer, so we can only assume you have engineered this event for your own purposes.”

Rolo just listened with grim acceptance.

“We registered the vaginal seal being broken during the night and, since no funds have been transferred as we have requested, the funds have been extracted from your broker’s accounts. We have learned that your broker is now in conference with the authorities to track you down to pay the 70,000 credits through forced labor in incarceration.”

Rolo terminated the communication.

He silently looked out from the balcony attached to his room on the thirty-seventh floor of the hotel, and felt suddenly empty and emotionless. All noise was off now. Cars flitted back and forth along the avenues beneath him. Occasionally, a private air vehicle would gurgle past along the airlanes that only the richest people could afford to traverse. He would never be one of those people.

Behind him, he heard Daisy step through the threshold into the open air, but he did not look at her.

Silently, he turned away and walked past her, back through the sliding glass door into the room.

The android remained on the balcony and sipped her orange juice casually. She didn’t register the taste of it – she was just reactions to stimuli. She didn’t feel the coolness as it slid down the plastic tubing that led through her waste processor and into her waste gel reservoir. She didn’t feel sympathy for the humans too poor to afford air vehicles whizzing by in front of her, or too wrapped up in their repetitive and pointless lives to live a meaningful existence.

The hands on her back – expected hands – were nothing more than data to her, recorded, analyzed.

She didn’t feel the impact of her naked android body against the concrete, thirty-seven floors below Rolo’s balcony.

A substance not unlike blood ran from her broken body.

A short time later, it mingled with real thing.

#

Interjection – Ulysses

“Terminated.”

A pause.

In answer: “We have a replacement in mind.”

#

Record 3 – Happy Face

As Miles Taggart approached the perimeter of the scene of his latest assignment, he noticed four or five aircars hovering above the hotel. Squinting, he tried to make out whether they were Dallas Airspace Authority or just the morbidly curious citizens that made a habit of lurking near death. About forty stories up, Taggart caught a glimpse of yellow police tape fluttering off a balcony.

Taggart flashed his badge at one of the two plastic units holding the perimeter and did not wait for them to officially clear him. Typically, thanks to recent initiatives to replace corruptible human agents, efficient android investigative units were assigned to murder cases. Obviously, the scene Taggart was entering was a special exception.

The bodies were nearly on top of each other. By some twist of fate, their hands were just barely touching. Taggart saw immediately why an android had not been assigned to investigate this particular murder. One of the bodies was still smoking.

“That’s not blood,” a man crouching over the female body stated flatly.

Taggart glanced down briefly at the red liquid pooled near his feet, then turned his attention to the man who had spoken.

“Toby,” the balding, pudgy man said without prompting. “Forensics.”

“I expected a plastic,” Taggart replied.

Toby stood, removing his gloves, and held a hand out to Taggart. “Not today. Today I get paid.”

Taggart sighed and shook the man’s hand without effort, noticing Toby’s subtle assessment of his features. Harmless and automatic as it probably was, Taggart imagined Toby was looking at his greying hair, his unkempt beard, the vast tributary system of wrinkles around his eyes–too old for this work.

“Miles Taggart, Independent Human Investigations.”

Toby shrugged. With little regard for maintaining the integrity of the scene, he hopped around the two bodies, bending over occasionally to lift random appendages and drop them again.

“Should you be contaminating the scene like that?” Taggart queried.

“Plastics already got a deep scan on it before GloFed took over. I like to get dirty,” Toby answered, opening the mouth of the male.

In the periphery of Taggart’s vision, a red flash of light indicated his wife was calling. He blinked twice to dismiss the call only to have an urgent message hover across his vision. “You forgot the kids, again,” it read. In response, he tapped his fingertips together impatiently, turning his communication status to private.

Taggart bent down, looking more closely at the liquid on the pavement. Two separate puddles of thick red liquid were meeting between the bodies, but it was obvious that one was different than the other. The male had obviously hit the pavement second. Enough of the android’s fluids had run out for the body to have partially landed in it.

“Orange juice,” Toby said, lifting the dead female’s head and twisting it roughly back and forth.

“I beg your pardon?” Taggart asked, confused.

“Makes it look like blood.”

“Makes what look like blood?”

The other man laughed, dropping the head with a morbid thud. “I thought you said you were I.H.I., man. How’d you get past the plastics?”

Taggart sighed and reached for the Hungarian Import cigarettes in his pocket. Standing, he looked around, hoping to find someone else to speak to besides Toby.

“Waste gel,” Toby explained. “This female’s an android. Must have been drinking orange juice before she died. Turns the waste gel dark red.”

“Jesus,” Taggart grunted, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Toby grinned up to the investigator. “Wait until you see this.”

Lifting the android by the shoulders, he leaned its upper torso against his chest and opened a panel in its back. After Toby made a few adjustments, the android’s face changed to that of a different female.

“How’s that for technology?” Toby chuckled. “I’d love to get my hands on one of these. Forget LiveCube, man.”

Taggart shook his head in feigned disbelief. Staring at the naked android body, Taggart blinked his right eye in rapid succession and uploaded the figure into his personal files. “What about the human?”

Toby shrugged in response. “Man, I just got here. Like I said, the plastics already scanned the scene.” He wiped the blood-like substance on his shirt, leaving handprints on the fabric. “There’s a couple of feds up in the hotel room. You should ask them.”

“I’m asking you,” Taggart said, lighting his cigarette. Quickly, he captured a few more stills of the scene with his DataLens and uploaded them to his files. “What happened?”

Again, Toby shrugged, but decided to humor Taggart. Standing, he looked at the bodies, and then cocked his head to look at them from a different angle. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he looked up at the hotel, counting floors with a pinky.

“Thirty-seven stories, maybe a couple of twists.” Toby paced around the two naked bodies, leaving shoeprints in the blood. “Android hit first. Then the human jumped.”

 *

 Taggart recognized one of the feds in the room as Jacen Smythe, an agent formerly from Taggart’s old precinct. Smythe gave him a nod of recognition as he spoke to the other fed in the room, and motioned that he’d be with him momentarily.

The room was in disarray. The bed showed recent sexual activity, a little more liquid apparent than was typical. To Taggart, it seemed as if someone had a good time there. At a quick glance, Taggart noticed the arrangement of a few chairs coupled with hand and ass prints on top of the small table and surmised that the good time had taken place in several places in the room.

On a bureau, Taggart found a single one-way ticket to New York and a DataNode. He attempted to switch the DataNode on, but the batteries had apparently run down. Looking around the bedroom again, Taggart did not see any obvious signs of a struggle, or other violence that may have taken place in the room. Moving past the two feds still talking, he walked out onto the balcony.

A half-full glass of orange juice was on a post of the railing. A burgundy robe lay in a pile on the balcony floor. Again, there was no sign of a struggle or violence.

Peering over the edge of the balcony, Taggart looked down and saw Toby with the android’s legs draped over his shoulders.

His forehead crumpling in confusion, Taggart managed, “What the—“

“Careful,” Smythe barked behind him, pretending to push Taggart.

Taggart lost his cigarette over the edge and swung his arm wildly around at the joker, who deftly dodged the half-serious blow. “Son of a bitch! Those cost me eighty credits a piece,” Taggart spat.

Smythe backed away, his hands raised in innocence. “Your fault for still smoking, Miles.”

Automatically, Taggart produced another cigarette from his pocket and lit it. His face stony, he coldly regarded his former contemporary.

“Been a while,” Smythe said with a smile. “I heard you’re a lurker, now.”

Taggart struggled not to show his embarrassment and walked back into the hotel room. “Is that the latest derogatory term for people run out of their jobs by plastics?”

“Hey, I’m sorry, Miles. I know it’s tough. I’d be lurking around Labor Replacement Corps with you if it weren’t for the AI riots.” Smythe followed him into the room, waving off the other fed who was about to say something. “I asked LRC for you specifically, by the way.”

“For what reason?” Taggart countered, absently digging through a pile of clothes. “To gloat? I know you’re with the Global Federation hacks now. News after the riots had your face plastered all over it. Good for you. Stick it to those no-men, patriot.” Taggart’s tone had descended to scathing sarcasm.

The other agent in the room cleared his throat.

“This is Robbie Lawson,” Smythe explained. “We’re not just with GloFed – we’re with Human Interests.”

Taggart puffed on his cigarette momentarily before turning around to face the other two men.

“Why me?” Taggart asked directly.

“Why do you think?” Smythe responded. “Homicide, with an android involved.”

“The creep downstairs says the droid hit first. Seeing as how the one that’s not smoking landed in a pool of waste gel, I’m inclined to agree.” Leaning against the bureau, Taggart folded his arms. “Oh, I get it. Who’s the stiff? Visiting dignitary? Sex-crazed politician? I didn’t know they were making robowhores that real, at least not ones meant to make suicides look like murder.”

“The creep downstairs seemed like a flake to me,” Smythe replied coolly. “Doubt we can trust his judgment.”

“I got some stills too,” Taggart shot back. “Tough to argue the point, I think.”

Lawson grabbed Smythe and pulled him aside. “I thought you said he was a humanist.”

“I’ve got a grudge,” Taggart replied, hearing the comment. He blew a cloud of smoke towards Lawson. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t play by the rules. You want to run a dodge, that’s fine. My feeling is that you know you need to be absolutely sure what happened before you doctor it up. That’s why I’m here. You’ll bring in the storytelling crew later.”

Lawson glared at Smythe for another few seconds, before briskly walking out to the balcony.

“So, who’s the stiff?” Taggart asked again.

“Former Colonial Ranger, now a courier for Ulysses Robotics. He was a guard for mannies mostly, but this one was a therapy droid.”

Taggart whistled in surprise. “I guess he didn’t make the delivery. Any idea why?”

“We’ve got people in Osaka now. We should know more in a couple of hours,” Smythe explained.

“That DataNode would tell us a ton,” Taggart suggested, pointing to the device with his cigarette. “Know where the charger is?”

“Are you on this case, or is that grudge really against me?”

Taggart grunted and smirked. “I wouldn’t be here if those credits hadn’t already hit my account.”

“His name is Rolo,” Smythe revealed.

 *

 At home, Taggart slipped into a full body suit and stepped out onto the trampoline-like, shiny red surface of the top of his LiveCube unit. Before he could initiate the sequence that would start his session, his wife Tabitha entered the room.

Seeing his intentions, she sighed and shook her head. “You were supposed to take Molly and David to get ice cream.”

“This is for a case, Tab,” Taggart explained evenly. He pulled a pair of tight fitting goggles over his eyes, and pushed two nasal plugs into his nostrils. Draping the tubes extending from the goggles and the nose-plugs over his shoulder, he made sure they wouldn’t get tangled in his descent into the cube.

“Miles,” Tabitha snapped. “That’s twice in one day. I’m not going to put up with this shit again. Not for all the credits in the world. We were just getting used to having you home.”

“This is my life!” Taggart shouted, his voice more nasal due to the plugs, and his volume a bit louder than he intended. “I’m not going to sit around knitting socks and watching multi-feed all day. I need to work!”

His wife turned and exited the room, slamming the door behind her.

Using the sensors built into his bodysuit’s gloves, Taggart locked the door behind her.

Initiating the sequence he had loaded into the LiveCube, Taggart positioned his body for the descent. The trampoline-like surface rippled slightly as it adjusted for his weight, and then slowly Taggart began to sink into the surface. As he descended, the material fit snug against his body, attaching itself to the suit he wore. After a few seconds, Taggart’s head disappeared under the material which pinched like a sphincter, allowing only the tubes to lie along the top surface. Had the cube Taggart now floated in not been full of reactive gel, one would have witnessed him hanging there, very much like if someone had jumped into a pool that had a plastic cover over it.

The scene loaded before him, and he took a minute to orient his body in the three-dimensional environment being streamed to his goggles. Reaching down, he touched the body of Rolo as it had been scanned by the plastics. The reactive gel surrounding him hardened around his fingertips just as he appeared to touch Rolo’s lifeless hand. It simulated the exact texture of skin through the sensors in the suit’s gloves, and the hardness offered the resistance of solidity. The simulated body even felt cold to the touch.

Taggart circled the scene, then had the LiveCube core processors run a few simulated scenarios of the possible series of events that led to the death of Rolo and the destruction of the female android.

Taggart watched as twenty possible paths were enacted for him. He watched Rolo collide with the concrete twenty times. He watched a struggle between the two on the balcony. He saw each of them jump separately.

Taggart stopped the last simulation, and stared at it for several minutes. In it, Rolo was pushing the android over the balcony, and the android was smiling.

His voice muffled by the material pressing against it, Taggart asked the LiveCube’s AI, “Why is she smiling?”

Through the small earbuds in his ears, Taggart heard a voice reply, “The data retrieved from the android’s memory indicates it was emulating a smile at that time.”

Taggart ran the simulation forward several seconds, floating next to the android as it tumbled downward.

“Why is it still smiling?” he asked.

“The android’s memory indicates simulated pleasure algorithms in process. Sequencing the reactive programming indicates the android had just completed its priority assignment.”

“What is the likelihood of this simulation being what actually happened?”

“Ninety percent,” The LiveCube AI replied.

Satisfied, Taggart ended the simulation.

“Run program 9, passcode E3912AQ,” Taggart said. “Give me some slack in the groin.”

With only slight difficulty, Taggart was able to open a flap in his suit and pulled his penis and testicles through it.

“Alright, tighten up again,” he commanded. The material formed snugly around his appendage, using sensors and the pliable gel material to allow movement as needed, but not tight enough for his liking. “A little tighter.”

Satisfied after final adjustments, Taggart opened his mouth and initiated full immersion. The material pushed gently into his mouth and formed around his lips, teeth, and tongue. Taggart had once gagged during the procedure and nearly drowned in his own vomit, but had since grown used to the sensation.

Before him, the scene changed. Lush forest appeared around him as he was elevated on a stone pyramid that grew beneath him. When it had reached his desired height, stairs formed in the pyramid leading down to the forest floor.

As Taggart waited atop his personal paradise, a dozen naked females began to ascend the steps toward him. One of them looked like the female android whose image he had captured earlier.

 *

 It took Taggart three hours to go through security screening at GloFed Security Regional Headquarters near Downtown Dallas. He spent an additional forty-five minutes in the waiting room of the Human Interests division.

His imported cigarettes had been seized, but only after he twice tried to light up in the building.

“Sorry about that, Miles,” Smythe offered when he finally appeared through a heavily secured door. Taking Taggart’s arm as he stood, he ushered him out into the hallway. “Let’s take a walk.”

“You know, you could have just met me outside three hours ago,” Taggart complained.

“That’s more your fault than mine.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Taggart said, stopping in the hallway.

Smythe gestured with his head and snapped, “Outside. Not here.”

Taggart, recognizing the tone, clammed up and followed.

Once outside, Taggart immediately produced a cigarette he had hidden and lit up.

“You want to tell me why you were running simulations through a LiveCube last night?” Smythe demanded.

“I’m doing my job,” Taggart retorted. “Which shouldn’t even be my job, apparently.”

“I brought you in because I needed you.”

“You brought me in because you needed a stooge, and you’d never be able to get a plastic to go to bed with the lame story you’re spinning,” Taggart rasped. His voice caught and he doubled over, coughing.

Smythe shook his head and shrugged his shoulders with exaggeration. “I don’t understand you, Miles. I get you a job, more credits than a human could ever dream of getting for as little work as you need to do, and you’re spitting it back in my face?”

“I’m doing my fucking job!” Taggart raged.

In the heavy silence that followed, Smythe let his head sag.

After a sigh, he said softly, “I had hoped this would mean more to you than money. You, of all people, should want what this could give us.”

“Just who is ‘us’, Jace?” Taggart quickly countered. “I didn’t ask a lot of questions when I saw where this was going. I knew what this was as soon as I saw that idiot playing in blood puddles.”

“All I need is for you to sign off on the case as a murder, not dig up all you can on this drunk.”

“I’m going to do my job, Jace. It’s all I have left.”

“Well then, evolve!” It was Smythe’s turn to lose it. “When someone slams a door in your face, you find another one to go through.”

“Easy sermon from one who hasn’t had a door slammed in their face,” Taggart slapped back. “Don’t feed me that ‘evolve’ shit. If your people really believed that then you’d find a way to coexist with plastic, instead of framing them.”

“Don’t you want your life back, Taggart?”

“I like my life as it is.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen your life, you sick bastard. How many of those woman know you violate them every chance you get in that LiveCube of yours. Does your wife know what you make her sister do to you in there?”

Taggart’s punch had an unbelievable amount of force behind it. Years of tension, stress, and disappointment collided with Smythe’s face, not just Taggart’s fist. The blow threw Smythe backwards as his feet left the ground.

Faster than Taggart could follow up, Lawson appeared from around a corner and intercepted him. Two other agents followed him, their hands sliding inside their jackets where stun weapons were likely to be hidden.

Taggart held his hands up in surrender.

Smythe, still barely hanging on to consciousness, waved the others away. “Leave him. He needed that.”

Lawson helped his associate to his feet, his eyes on Taggart the entire time.

“Last chance, Taggart,” Smythe mumbled, his jaw protesting the movement. “Tomorrow, you wrap up the murder line, and you make it neat. I’d hate to make you regret it.”

“Regret this,” Taggart quipped, leaving the group with his middle finger in the air.

 *

 “That data has been erased from memory,” the voice said in Taggart’s ear.

“No, I said rerun the simulations from last night,” Taggart repeated impatiently. Darkness engulfed him as he sank into the LiveCube. Nothing appeared through the goggles but a deep void of nothingness.

“That data has been erased from memory,” the voice replied.

A chill ran up Taggart’s spine.

“Reload the crime scene from my saved images,” Taggart directed.

“That data has been erased from memory.”

“Tell me how that’s possible if it’s stored in my thumbchip,” Taggart demanded.

“Security override GF3.”

“Show me David’s sixth birthday party,” Taggart said quickly. His heart began to beat violently as he considered what might be happening. The press of the reactive gel felt slightly more intense.

“Access denied.”

“Let me—“

Before Taggart could finish, the surface material pressed into his mouth, choking him. In a panic, Taggart thrashed. The material fought against him, simulating resistance.

“Safety parameters overridden,” the voice said to him.

Taggart could not scream, and quickly was losing his ability to move as the reactive gel around him hardened. He felt it pushing in against his chest, restricting his breathing while the material in his mouth advanced down his tongue to block his throat.

Popping his double-jointed thumb against the resistance that would shortly have prevented it, Taggart activated his thumblade, a memento of his service in the Colonial Rangers. The blade cut through his skin from the spring sheath attached to his bone. The pain was fleeting, and Taggart barely noticed it as he quickly forced his thumb through the hole in the material attempting to kill him. Using the blade, he slashed wildly until he was moving his hand through the reactive gel directly.

Ignoring the pain, Taggart cut the material pressing against his face and the blade cut deep into his cheek. Finding purchase with his free fingers, he was able to pull the material away from his face. The material slid out of his mouth, but the gel replaced it. Reaching above him, Taggart slashed with the blade and severed the material completely, effectively cutting him loose from the surface.

The LiveCube registered the failure of the surface material and immediately began purge procedures. The gel turned to its most fluid state and quickly drained out of the cube, leaving Taggart in the bottom of a giant empty aquarium.

Removing himself from the material still surrounding him, Taggart vomited the gel that had made its way down his throat. His lungs heaved for air, and he collapsed on his stomach in a fit of coughing.

He took fifteen minutes to recover enough to walk. Five minutes later, he was fleeing his neighborhood with a backpack of food and an old Smith & Wesson 1911 he normally displayed as a relic.

Ten minutes after Taggart entered the closest speed-regulated freeway, GloFed agents entered his home with intent to finish him.

 *

 The story broke the next day. Five of the major multi-feed corporations ran censored video of Taggart’s sexual paradise as supposedly downloaded by GloFed agents who had been tipped off by an anonymous informer. A sixth multi-feed corporation, the only one not currently sanctioned by Global Indecency Initiatives, decided to show the unedited video of Taggart’s LiveCube virtual world. All versions had the adult women of Taggart’s fantasy replaced with children, including Taggart’s own.

By the time Taggart’s stomach began to growl, it wasn’t safe for him anywhere in the Global Federation.

 *

 “How did you find us?” the interviewer on the other side of the desk asked.

Taggart answered honestly.

“I stole Rolo’s DataNode from the hotel room. I had intended just to keep it safe. After what they did to me, I decided to see if I could use any evidence from it. That’s where I found you.”

“Mr. Taggart, Ulysses Robotics is just a small part of the larger Ulysses Group, and as such we must stay true to their philosophies in all things. While we certainly do have a need for someone with your skills, intelligence from our security divisions indicates that you were at one time a humanist. Is that true?”

“If being a humanist is wanting to find a place for yourself in the bigger picture, then yes. If being a humanist is wanting to be superior over all things synthetic or organic, then no.”

The scar on Taggart’s face had not healed well, and his attempt at a smile ended in a facial disaster.

“You knew Rolo?” the Ulysses interviewer asked.

“I know that’s not his real name. We were stationed on Mars Colony 3 during the dome collapse,” Taggart said stonily.

“Would you say you knew him well enough to understand why he committed suicide?”

Taggart tilted his head slightly. “I thought the official word was that the android murdered him.”

The Ulysses interviewer nodded his head slowly. “That is the story intended to incite fear of synthetics, yes. We know what really happened to Daisy and to Rolo. We watched it through Daisy’s eyes as it happened. Unfortunate, yes, but a successful test, nonetheless. Likewise we know what the Global Federation, and specifically the Human Interests division, has done to you to make sure the story did not meet detraction.”

Taggart rubbed his scar absently.

“How does that make you feel, Mr. Taggart?” the interviewer asked.

Honestly, Taggart was uncomfortable speaking to a faceless android, but he did not vocalize that discomfort to the android on the other side of the desk.

“I need a purpose. I had hoped you could give me one, like you did Rolo.”

The interviewer leaned back in its chair. A door opened in the wall behind it and a very human male stepped into the room. The man appeared to be in his sixties and was fit. He wore a solid white coverall uniform with the upward pointing arrow logo of the Ulysses Group printed on it.

The man bowed and smiled to Taggart. “There is one final question we have for you Mr. Taggart. How did you recognize your friend Rolo even after we gave him a new face to hide his identity?”

“There’s scar on his chest where he was stabbed.”

“Did you know that it was Rolo who set the charges that caused Mars Colony 3’s dome to collapse?”

“I’m the one who stabbed him for it. It took ten years for my thumb to heal after they reset the blade,” Taggart said with a sigh. He assumed they would turn him down, knowing his connection to Rolo.

“Do you have an idea what you’d want to look like for the rest of your life, Mr. Rolo?”

“The name is Taggart.”

“Not if you work for us, Mr. Rolo.”

Taggart hesitated for a minute, thinking it over. He didn’t know who these people really were or what they intended for him.

As if reading his mind, the interviewer droid stated, “You’ll be asked to commit what some people would consider crimes against humanity. We believe what we do here is quite the opposite. We are futurists, and the future is and always will be our concern. You have no place in the present world, but we will provide you a place in the future.”

“Your face, Mr. Rolo,” the man prompted.

Taggart smirked as much as he could with the scar fighting mightily against it. “Give me a happy face, Doc.”

Day Thirty-Four – The Mysterious Flamingo of the Tundra

y22

They say space ruins relationships. I believe it.

I’m not talking about personal space, even though they might be. I don’t mean that his demand for guy time away from her coupon clipping is the spark or spur to the inevitable divide. I don’t suggest that two people perpetually intertwined for twenty-four hours out of every day is the key to a successful relationship either.

What I am saying is that beyond the influence of the beautiful blue orb beneath us, there is a siren call that will always pull man from woman, son from mother, brother from sister, casual acquaintance from casual acquaintance.

In the early days, I’m sure it wasn’t noticeable. I mean how far were the astronauts and cosmonauts really away from the Earth. There were always eyes on them, always a tether leading back to a vast complex of supercomputers and supergeeks, military installations and generals, news anchors and other assorted talking heads. You were never truly alone.

Even those poor guys locked aboard an orbiting station for months with no contact were still bound to the Earth by necessity. Mankind is not oblivious to his sanity or lack thereof in the extended absence of social interaction.

No, it was later in the human space race that man first felt the detachment. Once the Earth was no longer hanging there, fat and happy in the field of stars, always in view–once it was no longer discernible among the other dots of light–the connection failed, and the siren song began to play.

I suppose at first, we probably mistook the lost ships as the victims of accidents. The solar system is a constant five hundred mile an hour burn down a dusty highway behind a rock truck. We felt it was inevitable that accidents would occur, and we did not question the occasional loss of communication, especially once the private space race opened up unregulated access to the stars.

When the numbers ranged into double digits each month, we started to take notice. The first time it hit us that something might be out there was when the cargo ship Erasmus IV ejected its synthetic assistants on its way to Titan. Traffic through that sector of space at that time has heavy–treasure hunters were convinced that some of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons might have diamond core, which is ridiculous. So, it wasn’t too long after Erasmus IV went missing that an explorer ship happened upon a cluster of disabled droids floating alone in space.

Reactivated, they spilled the story.

The crew of seventeen had, without explanation, shut the droids down one by one. They displayed no symptoms of mental distress, but all had ceased their daily duties two days before they ejected the droids. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may soon be seen to be, the last droid shut down happened to record within its memory banks a heading that was programmed into the navigational computer.

The first five ships we sent on that heading disappeared.

The first ship fully “manned” by droids found a whole lot of nothing.

The first ship of droids that followed a ship of humans in that direction was destroyed by unknown means.

Double digits turned to triple digits on the list of the missing, and people stopped going beyond the asteroid belt.

Thrill seekers found a new deep dive.

It happened slow for me, I could still see Mars quarter-sized in the distance, and I felt it, a soft suggestion at first, but increasing in intensity with each second. I didn’t have the specific heading memorized–hell, space is always moving, so its not like it would be the same heading the droid had seen on the Erasmus IV.

Without knowing why, I put the heading in, and, like those before me, I ejected my droid assistant out the airlock.

By the time I passed Titan, I had no need for sustenance, I was running on a thread of energy invisible in the void.

Alone in my ship, the feeling was a symphony in my head, the deep caress of a mother’s hand, the press of breast. Life stretched out to eternity on that journey, and though I couldn’t see the siren mother, I could feel the umbilical cord of the soul regrowing, entwining, reaching out.

The Oort Cloud hides many things, some dark, some glowing.

But out there, surrounded by a black cloud, a mass of flesh pulsates, human bodies separated from their ships and mutating together into the massive body of an elder god, its eye turned ever toward the sun where it eternally calls to Earth’s children, like Baba Yaga, like the Pied Piper.

I float in space, naked, waiting to feel the final touch that is death and life as I become part of the god of all death and all life.

Space ruins relationships–husband from wife, brother from sister, man from Mother Earth.