March 18th, 2007
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Berlin
Reverend Gardner used both hands to raise the golden challis she had just filled with wine, first to the oak cross in the alabaster stucco behind the altar, before she turned and addressed her congregation once more. “Accept these prayers and praises, Father, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship, from generation to generation. Amen,” she completed before she reached back to the altar to repeat the gesture with a small loaf of bread. “And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
With that, she ceremonially broke the loaf as the congregation rose to take communion. Ayla had made a point to watch Elaine ever since she'd discovered the redhead's somewhat shocking past. Even now, dressed in her sun dress and a huge, wide brimmed hat, she was the very image of the Old South Southern Belle as they walked from the chapel to the fellowship hall for the after-service coffee. There was nothing about her that would suggest she'd ever had a moment's hardship in her life as she smiled and chatted with the old ladies, the darling of this graying congregation.
Indeed, Ayla thought, the most difficult thing it would appear for her to have to struggle with is how to let down mothers and grandmothers gently that she wasn't interested in their young, male relative they'd love to introduce her to. Finally, the old biddies had retreated to more grown up gossip and allowed the few youngsters a bit of time to themselves. Seizing the strategic moment, Ayla cornered Elaine in a discrete corner of the fellowship hall. “Elaine, I would like to thank you again for inviting me.”
“Mah pleasure, Ayla,” she said with one of her dazzling smiles. “Ah'm glad Ah could help you after all you've been through.”
“I would rather like to return the favor, if I might?” Elaine’s eyebrows ascended her forehead in questioning puzzlement. “Well, you've been such a good friend to me, one of the few really I have outside of, well, my circle who aren't merely business associates. And, at the risk of getting personal, I heard a disturbing rumor about a difficulty you may have experienced last year. I know people who...”
“Last year?” she asked in puzzlement, uncharacteristically interrupting. A light lit over her face as she put two and two together. “Oh, you mean that mess with Songbird? Thank ya'll sweetie, but Ah handled that last year.”
“You, just seem very calm about something as traumatic as...”
A hurricane passed over Elaine’s face, contorting her lovely features and, even though outwardly Ayla remained calm and passive, a thrill ran up his spine as Elaine practically became the face of the evil mutant he'd been taught to hate. “Oh, Ah imagine mah revenge was more traumatic for Maria than what she did to me!”
May 26th, 2006
Loophole’s Workshop, off Devisor Lab Vehicle, Kane Hall Tunnels
Maria came awake slowly, unsure for the most part where she was, her senses dulled by a four-alarm hangover that made the lamp shining down into her eyes a special kind of agony. However, she wasn’t thrashing in agony over the rudeness of her awakening, because panic quickly replaced pain as the foremost sensation in her over-abused nervous system. In trying to moan she learned the horrible taste in her mouth was a gag, and the stiffness in her limbs was because she was strapped down to an unyielding table.
In a blind panic, she strained against the harness that held her to the table; this only attracted the attention of a figure she was vaguely aware of in the fog her brain was struggling with. The figure turned and walked over to the table, and at once Maria felt a wave of relief. It was her current pet, the redheaded tomboy, Loophole. Maria flexed her throat around the gag and started to sub-vocalize a command, confident that whoever had gagged her had very little information on how Sirens actually worked. But, before even a single note could vibrate from her vocal cords, white-hot agony ripped through her, turning the command into nothing but a wail of suppressed and muffled pain.
“That was ten thousand volts,” Loophole said in an off-hand manner, the same detached and calm way she’d explained all of the gadgets she’d made for Freya. “Only 2 milli-amps this time, but every time you try to enunciate your power the voltage and the amperage will go up.” She leaned over on her elbows and cupped her chin in her hand as she looked down on the senior. “If it gets high enough, it will kill you.”
She tilted her head and smiled a strange smile. “What a pity you must remain gagged,” she said softly as she reached out and almost gently smoothed an errant lock of Maria’s hair from her eyes. Then her eyes went hard. “But Ah can't let mahself be swayed by your witch's voice now, can Ah?”
Elaine…? She thought furiously.
“You’re so beautiful,” the redhead went on. “If only you’d just asked me. Ah don’t know who Ah am yet. Ah might even have said yes.” She sighed and stood up. “But Ah know who you are now, Maria.”
Ice water flooded Maria’s veins as she recognized the look of terrible resolve on her victim’s face.
“Oh yes,” Elaine said softly. “Ah remember, Ah remember all of it and Ah especially remember the little knife you turned, your command that Ah never, ever really enjoy being with anyone else,” she hissed in outrage, her face flush and livid. “You are an evil, remorseless bitch, Maria. You’re a rapist both of body and mind. If Ah weren’t a Christian, Ah’d kill you in cold blood and sleep well tonight.”
If Ah weren’t a Christian…? Maria’s mind latched onto some feeling of hope that, despite her situation, she would manage to turn this situation to her advantage.
Elaine turned and walked over to a bank of controls that Maria’s overworked senses could now make out. “No, Ah won’t kill you,” she said from what ever it was she was doing. “Not because you don’t deserve it, or even because God might not like it, but because mah folks don’t deserve to go through that. Thanks to Cody and The Kodiak, Ah can live with what you did to me. But Ah can’t exactly turn you loose on the world, either.”
“So, Ah came up with this as an acceptable compromise,” she said, making a gesture that encompassed all the lights and banks of impressive looking machines. “Took me a bit to work out the engineering, but as ya’ll know, everything Ah do works…” She paused by a massive looking switch that was like something out of an old monster movie, and she pulled on a pair of rubber gauntlets that came up her arm to past her elbow. “Ah hope this hurts,” she declared as she threw the switch.
Soundlessly Maria screamed as white-hot agony ripped through her. Every muscle contracted as she was enveloped in a body-wide Charlie horse that lasted a small eternity. Her back arched against the straps as, for the briefest of moments she seemed to be looking down on herself in agony, when a screen came to life next to the blinding light. Finally it went out, taking the agony with it that was only fleeting relief from the assault of pain. After a long moment, Maria could focus and realized that on the screen was an image of herself seeming to knock frantically at the screen as if trapped.
The image of Maria turned about, looking at the white space that was the background of the monitor, then began knocking on the screen again. Tears were streaming down her face and the look of abject terror got Maria’s heart racing. “No, Ah can’t kill you,” Elaine said as she walked over to the table as she pulled off the gloves. “That might be traced back to me. So Ah studied and do you know what Ah found, Maria? Ah found that people really do have souls.” She pointed at the screen where the image was becoming more and more frantic.
“See that? That’s your soul Maria. Ah own it now. And as long as you live a good life, here is where it will stay.” Elaine inserted her head into Maria’s line of vision, her face a mask of suppressed rage. “But if Ah ever, ever hear that you’ve done to someone else what you did to me…? Ah press a button, and your soul ceases to exist. And your body…falls…over…dead! Nothing to trace back to me, or mah family. Oh, and in case you thinking of being clever, if Ah don’t press a button every day, the same thing happens. Don’t ever speak to me again, and don’t you ever rape anyone again.”
Elaine pointed to the screen where Maria was certain her soul had slid down against the glass and was crying hysterically. “Or else!”
back to March 18th, 2007
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Berlin
Ayla had to summon up years of Goodkind training to keep the coffee cup from rattling in his hands. A part of his brain was still cataloging the off-hand way in which the beautiful Southern Belle in her cotton sundress and lace church gloves had blithely admitted to stealing someone’s soul. In a Church, no less. “You…?” he just barely managed not to stammer, the magnitude of the admission threatening his usual cool, professional demeanor.
She looked at him out the corner of her eye, and a smile curled the corner of her lips. “Ah what, Ayla? Did Ah steal Maria’s soul? Don’t be silly, a soul belongs to God, and nothing Ah can do can change that.” She took a sip of the coffee they were taking in the fellowship hall and winked at her flabbergasted friend. “Of course, Maria didn’t know that.”
“Wait, you’re telling me it was all just one big con?”
Elaine chuckled darkly. “It’s amazing what you learn in the special effects classes for motion pictures at school. Ah learned how to make a photo-real 3D model of Maria, and how to make a long animation loop. A little foley work - that’s making the right noises in the background of a movie - some convincing props, and a taser hard wired into a table and, of course, the right performance…”
“Sounds like you should have gotten an Oscar.”
She shrugged. “Ah had excellent motivation! Don’t waste any pity on Maria, Ayla. She had worse than a tasing due her.” She poured a fresh cup of coffee and dropped two sugar cubes into it before stirring softly. “Who knows, maybe it will stick. Maybe what Ah did will save someone else? Ah can only hope so.”
Ayla watched her take a sip and scratched his chin. “Okay, far be it from me to say how someone should deal with what you went through, but I do have one question. Why on Earth did you model Carmen on someone who…?”
“Raped me?” she asked with a sardonic eyebrow. “You can say it, it’s alright. Well, Ah could say Ah already had the model and it was easier than starting from scratch. That’s a lie, but a convincing one. No, Ah used Maria for Carmen because it was only fair. She made me her slave, and now she’s mine. Turn about is fair play. The only difference is, Ah haven’t hurt anyone and that reminds me to think about others in what Ah do.”
“And that’s the only reason?” he asked carefully.
“Why Ayla, you naughty boy, your head is just full of visions of Maria and Ah in all sorts of embarrassing activities, isn’t it?”
Ayla cleared his throat and hoped his blush wasn’t too visible.