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A Whateley Academy Tale

The More, the Merrier

( Merry #5b )

By Renae & Doctor Bender

October 29th, 2006  (ARC)

Deuces Wild

"Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." Jawaharla Nehru

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever changing view. A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold, a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold” Tapestry – Carol King

 

“Of course one might say life is a tapestry, with each life woven amongst the others.” The elderly lady waved to Otto and motioned to an empty seat across from her at the cafeteria table, “Good morning Otto.” 

“Good Morning Mrs. Potter, Doctor Tanaka. I take it the great debate is still being waged?” asked Otto with a smile.

“Of course,” Doctor Tanaka smiled and lifted his cup, “Stimulating conversation is often preferred to meditative silence, though both can enliven the mind.”

“You are a tad late this morning Otto, your cup should be here shortly though. Long night?” she asked with a hint of bemusement.

“Indeed,” he sat carefully and graced the pair with a smile. “One of our ‘guests’ has proven that Chaos Theory may be an offshoot of Murphy’s Law.” 

“In which way?” asked Doctor Tanaka.

“If something can go wrong it will, especially if an outside force is applied or if there might be a humorous outcome.” He spared a glance to the young waiter who placed a teapot and cup before him. “Thank you Peter, that will be all for now.” The waiter nodded and left quietly.

“An interesting case?” Doctor Tanaka’s serene expression merely hinted at his sudden interest.

“So ‘they’ are here, good.” Mrs. Potter motioned to the teapot, “Do fill your cup dear, you have a long day ahead.”

“They. Yes ‘they’ are indeed here, “ He looked over to the other Doctor. “A young mutant with a unique power and a interesting case of Multiple Personality Disorder, among other things.”  He spared a glance to the elderly lady, “Have you been stirring my pot again?”

“Indirectly, very indirectly,” she replied with a mischievous air. “I left a note with a pair of young businessmen, some time ago.”

“It must have been some note,” observed Doctor Tanaka while eyeing his cup with a wry expression.

“Not as such, I merely pointed out that doing nothing was a an action of it’s own. With its own consequences.”

Doctor Otto took a sip of his tea, “So indirectly you brought her here?”

“It was a painful process for the pair of us, Otto. I do hate to bring pain into anyone’s life.” She speared the oriental man with a glance, “We have debated the greater good of things before, and as always, it seems subjective.” She shrugged, gracefully shedding the old argument like water, “She isn’t the first young lady I have steered here.”

“I had noticed that,” Otto commented dryly.

“Oh don’t be a fuss budget Otto,” She pointed a thin finger at him, “You love a challenge, and if you didn’t you would have left this place some time ago.”

“She does have you there, old friend,” Tanaka smiled lifting his cup in the ladies direction.

“True, though the past week and days like yesterday do wear on me.” Otto let out a soft sigh, “The ethics of this case do have me concerned.”

“Be honest with us Otto, it is not your ethics that are bothering you.” Doctor Tanaka said as Mrs. Potter hid her smile behind her cup

“True,” he took a sip of tea and measured his words. “I sometimes count my good fortune that I was not the first of my kind, Esper wise.”  He glanced about the room, “When telepathy was first ‘discovered’ there was a large amount of concern to its use.”

 “Nationalization of Resources, where telepaths were the resource?” Doctor Tanaka had a grim look on his face and a distant view in his eyes.

“Yes. I had hoped that ‘we’ were beyond such things, in this age.”

“The only thing true in any age is that man is greedy.” Mrs. Potter added a bit grimly.

“Yes. If the young lady regains her sanity, she may live out her life in a gilded cage,” Otto frowned for a moment into his cup of tea

“If she should not?” asked Doctor Tanaka before taking a sip from his cup.

“A padded room or its equivalent, if not something worse.” 

“It shouldn’t come to that.”  Mrs. Potter was smiling sweetly, though her eyes were far from innocent.

The Doctors both glanced around the room and nodded, slowly edging their chairs closer to the table.

“You have my undivided attention. As always.” Otto took a sip from his cup, “Though I may not be able to do much.”

“That should change.”  Mrs. Potter sat her cup on the table, “Part of the problem Otto, is that your attention is divided. Sara on one hand, a ‘merry’ conundrum on the other.”

Otto sat up sharply, “You play a deep game madam.”

“Not as such, though it has been noted that some times the doctor is healed more than the patient is.” She sighed, “If you need someone to worry about, you should look to her sister’s needs.”

“Sara doesn’t have a sister.”

“Otto you can be dense at times.” Tanaka’s eyes were dancing with amusement.

Mrs. Potter sighed, “Otto, the child you watch over, could easily trigger a war or worse. You mentioned Chaos Theory? An angry child, a ‘vengeful’ child with her talents should give you pause.”

“Now you have set my fears before me,” Otto admitted while slowly turning his cup in his hands. “She is indeed capable of that if events push her to it, it would seem.”

“Don’t fret overly much Otto, getting this child, past her troubling time is a simple game; where one hand meets another. Though it might be best if what one hand knows, another should not.” She raised a hand to indicate a corner where a camera was idly tracking back and forth.

“I will say, like always, you have given me much to think on.”

“As long as you followed your heart Otto, I think you would have seen a clear path, eventually.” She smiled and set her empty cup on the table. She glanced at the other man intense gaze, “Yes I am ‘meddling’ again, though perhaps in this child’s life, some have meddled entirely too much.” She fixed a tired smile on Doctor Otto, “Blood will tell, as to the father, to a child.”


Otto noted to himself that having a clean desk was often a detriment, as his eyes slid to a pair of manila folders; for the hundredth time of the hour. With a resigned sigh he shook his head and moved them to a drawer, sometimes the data storage of this place needed a revamp. ‘Still.’

The reports from yesterday’s disaster of a therapy session were still trickling in. While Red Section’s staff frequently dealt with the unusual, having some idiot deliberately provoke an unstable mind into a complete fear response was intolerable. While that section did house the best psychics and minds of the planet, having the stable equilibrium there disrupted on such a scale, was going to cost. 

If only from the shear amount of time spent on complaints about one Doctor Lenston and his actions, the time lost from work, where out of shear necessity, some people were sedated. Security and IT upgrades for Red Section, not to mention reports from Blue Section about the same event spilling over to the workers there; it was going to be expensive. ‘And today promised to be as expensive, if not more so.’

He tapped a key awakening a window on his screen to peer in on a sleeping girl. ‘So Merry, still asleep? Good, you just rest there and let me worry for the both of us.’

With a second tap he moved back to the reports, noting maintenance costs for the holding area around Merry had doubled, ‘No surprise there.’ Additional insulation had been installed in the night, further separating the girl from the Internet. ‘Not to mention all sources of electrical power, as the girl could likely power a subway line; if she could bear to touch it. Evidently she manifests an electric field, at just above skin level, and rupturing that field causes a rapid discharge of electricity.’ He chuckled momentarily at the memory of her encounter with the plumbing of her room, ‘I should feel bad about that.’

The proximity question of her powers had been partially confirmed. Though the shear scale of her powers in ‘that’ department did nothing for his peace of mind. How she had planted a virus in the network without seeming to physically access it worried him. The people in the IT department had frantically spent seven hours removing three separate viruses, time and time again. Half of the IT department wanted to strangle her, the other half wanted to kidnap her.

As to kidnapping her, he silently shook his head, if her reactions to authority figures were not entirely tied to Deidrik’s Syndrome; he would not be entirely too surprised.  ‘Well when the Federal types bollix something they do a number on it. Sadly it was a fifteen year old girl who was the subject of their screw ups.’

He punched in a request for a ‘new’ identity card for Sara, ‘Hello Janice Walters, welcome to ARC. I -was- overdue for a new personal assistant, tag Sara, you are it.’ He smiled softly and tagged the request as ‘urgent’ and noted it should be ready before Sara was ‘fetched’ for the day.

“Which brings me back to Chad and Joni Wilson.” He chided himself for speaking aloud, a habit he rarely exercised unless the matter was truly disquieting. Joni Wilson, thanks to her brother, was nearly as much as an enigma as –he- was. Virtually no electronic data trail leading to her was left intact, had NEXT’s agent not gone rogue with evidence of her existence to the Federal Agencies; she might have been safe from predation.  

To their credit, NEXT had moved with clarity of purpose to protect her. Though they had no legal way to retrieve her from custody of her Uncle and Aunt. If NEXT ever came up on the market, however… ‘Ah well, we must not buy up ‘all’ the competition. Otherwise we might be come stagnant ourselves.’ He thought to himself with a wry smile, which slipped to a frown as he continued reading. “Rabid anti-mutant doctrine has been noted in surveillance of the residence and in her religious environment.” That was a mild understatement, if the following paragraphs were an example of the situation.

He shook his head, ‘Ah Mrs. Potter, is this what you needed me to see?’ He read from the report, “The child seems extraordinarily agile for her age and seems to have an element of luck bordering on prescience.” Agile for her age, well gymnastics will do that.

He noted several trophies and awards on the local level, documented from various news sources, all of which were microfiched from hard copy. ‘Well Merry it is nice to see you have some limitations’, he made a note to have all of Merry’s files translated to hard copy. ‘And buried deeply, preferably deep in Black Section.’

 Well some aspects of Joni’s possible talents may be easily tested, he noted absently. The ‘luck’ aspect, well the DVD video of her skateboarding in and about traffic worried him greatly; “Either you –like- the risks or you are not afraid of getting hit.” He winced as the girl took chances bordering on reckless and insane.  

He took some time to carefully word a request for a team to investigate the school where Joni was attending. ‘For possible recruitment possibilities that have come to my attention.’ Not to mention sticking some additional security assets in place. ‘NEXT may be good,’ he conceded. Collectively he was concerned that Merry was simply a cash cow for the rival cooperation.

Individually, was yet another story. He flicked a few keys bringing up a set of images, ‘Willard, you crafty bugger. How in the world did you find Chad?’ He snorted and studied the –support team-, Bill, a nondescript middle-aged man who could possibly be a plumber or tradesman, until you saw his file. ‘Covert Ops indeed.’  Tammy, a sectary or so you might think, ‘until you saw her private investment portfolio.’ And lastly John, deceased.  He shook his head; -that- was a tragedy that would not have occurred ‘here’.

NEXT’s own security evaluation of Langley was quite harsh. Of course the Federal response to that was to lock out all of NEXT’s personnel or at least use that as an excuse to separate Merry from her allies. ‘Not wise enough to own up to the fact that their security had holes.’ There were far too many decades of stagnation there. He shook his head and noted that Bill and Tammy were scheduled to ‘visit’ Merry in the next few days.

That should be an interesting exercise for our own security, how much will those two pick up about our operations just by walking around with an escort? Conditions and terms, it seemed that sharing of resources was becoming a new catch phrase. ‘I am so glad I am not in the legal department.’ The legal department was having a field day hashing and rehashing potential agreements between ARC and NEXT.

He closed his eyes, ‘This is a child, not a piece of hardware.’ He opened his eyes and tapped the key switching the view back to the sleeping girl. Fifteen and if reports are true, a hacker of no small talent, without the use of your gift. He pulled up a report card, it was filled with A’s and B’s. He chuckled, ‘Well grades are just data after all.’ ‘Still,’ he regarded the monitor, ‘the only thing you should be worrying about is boys or girls.’ He amended with a hint of a smile.

“Boys will be boys and girls…” he clicked on a separate report, where they estimated her IQ to be formidable. “Perhaps you should match wits with someone own your ‘age’.” He smiled. “That should be an interesting test for ‘Janice’.”  He tapped a key bringing up another report, ‘So, they say you were a recluse, living in your computer. Well, let us see how you react to having a cute girl dumped in your lap.’

He chuckled, ‘So Sara, maybe this will jar you out of your current funk.’ He shook his head and with a smile started closing down the files. “It should be interesting to watch,’ he made a small grimace, “if she doesn’t strangle me later.”    


Sunday October 29, 2006 (Morning)

“One should always play fair when one has the winning cards.”Oscar Wild
“It's alone the time, for you're truly unknown, I don't need to stay awake.” -Nightmare – Eve 6

The text on the screen was familiar to them, though the last place they remembered seeing it was in a motel like room. Not a classroom. Chaddy looked around, everyone was dressed alike, all four of them in the same old dead white hospital gowns, thought they were different, if posture or attitude was any indication. The mean Doctor was wearing a professor’s outfit, black gown and the silly hat.

On the various screens was the text:

  • CIA-BLK-DIR-112a - In the event a mutant or other entity should develop powers or abilities inherently dangerous to the continued existence of the USA (or other allied nations), the Agency is directed to seek control of such entity(s).
  • CIA-BLK-DIR-112b – Should such entity be a juvenile, the entity in question shall be detained under the Official Secrets Act of 1964 (Sub heading 16667a), with all dispatch.
  • CIA-BLK-DIR-112b1 – Such entity will then be educated or re-educated with and by any means necessary to insure co-operation with the controlling Agencies Mandate.
  • CIA-BLK-DIR-113a – Clinical Insanity or Violent Behavior, Dangerous Aberration or Unstable Mutation – Such cases will be cured, contained or permanently neutralized.

“So you see class, if you will not conform to these directives, your eventual elimination is assured.” He slammed the pointer he was holding down on Chad’s desk.

“Ah, so that means if you don’t conform, we get to kill you?” Chad was being a smart ass, but then he could get away with it.

“No that is not what it says at all. Really young man, do you expect Bugs Bunny mentality to help you here?”

Merry snickered, “Sure it will, you see it’s Wabbit Season.”

The professor turned on her next, “Young lady who do you think you are? Your flagrant disrespect of authority hasn’t helped you thus far has it?”

She pointed over to Chad, “Isn’t that your department?”

“Nope, I am the cynical one,” he looked over to Mai. “Hey Bit Brain, do you have anything helpful to say to Mr. Idiot?”

“One zero one…”

Chad cut her off, “In English, we might understand you, but the circus freak might not.”

Mai blinked slowly, “Self defeating behavior is best defeated by change of goals.”

“Fortune cookie aphorisms can’t help you here!” he slammed the pointer down on my desk and crawled closer slowly changing into a giant snake, “You will conform or you will be killed. Do you get that young man?”

As I backed way quickly, Mai stepped forward as Merry started to shriek. “Merry, Chaddy run!”

Mai and Chad stepped forwards in unison raising glowing hands to barricade the man turned snake. “Get out of here Doctor, we are on to you, and we can do something about it.” 

Merry tugged me to towards the door, “Run, I’ll screw up the lock, he won’t get you.”

I turned and ran out the door, the corridor was long and white, though it was growing darker. I could hear the buzzing of the towers; that loud terrible thump and then I could smell the stink of burned flesh anew.

“Run Chaddy! Run!” That was John’s voice.

I stumbled out the twin doors where the bad lady was, she was turning into a snake too and eating the people. I could here her hiss echoing down the hall, “Sssstoopsss,” she shouted again and again as her words shifted into sibilant hisses. 

I looked for John’s gun, but I could not find it this time…

I was in the corridor running with the people, then I was in a long dark hallway, the lights had gone out again. It was not my fault, I only blew up the security station, there was a bad man there. But there were more snakes, they kept coming out the doors, sliding over the people and eating them. I ran to my room and opened the door. 

There was a hissing coming from the vents… Then there was a hissing in the vents. More snakes started to crawl out of the vents, then out of the bathroom, pouring up out of the toilet. I backed into a corner trying to push the snakes away then a large one reared up and…

     My heart was slamming in my chest, I could feel the implant buzzing again and as it startled me into full wakefulness, I jumped out of the bunk. The automatic lights were coming up quickly and I half fell into the corner of the room trying to untangle my legs from the blanket. I was breathing as if I had run a long ways and I could feel a sickly hot wet river of sweat that was turning cold against the open back of the gown.

I pulled the blanket around me as I heard a new hiss as the cell door was opening. As I looked for an exit, a girl stepped through; maybe I was still dreaming and could get away. I thought I heard the big man talking, but as the door closed I noticed something seemed different in the room. I looked around quickly, watching her stand there.

Even as the others were quiet, I could feel some interest stirring in them, though the dream was pushing heavy on me still. It felt like I was still lost in a dream, like I had forgotten something, along with the wisps of painful nightmares and snakes. 

~’Think it was all a dream little girl?’~ That was the bad man again. ~’Executioners do wear black, you know?’~

I looked at her, she was wearing as short black dress, not like Joni’s but still a nice one. Though Mom would have had a cow if Joni showed that much leg.

~’Definitely not your sister, rather pale isn’t she?’~

I stood there looking at her, that mean Doctor kept yammering, ~’Is she your executioner little girl?’~

~#Interruption. 1010101010101010101010010101001…#~

I could feel the data stream Mai was pushing at the bad man, though the girl was very, very pale.

My chest was tight and I had to take a quick harsh breath. “S-so are you my executioner?”

The lady blinked as if surprised, “What would make you think that?” She seemed to be a bit nervous; did the cameras bother her too?

The dream was still weighing on me heavily, “You look like death. If they can’t fix me, I have to die.”

“No, I’m not here to kill you.” I watched her glare at the camera for a moment and then she seemed to calm down. “Can we talk?”

I looked up at the ceiling where the microphones were, my voice felt a bit odd and I squeaked slightly when I spoke, “They hear everything.”

 “Then come closer so they can’t hear,” she motioned to a spot next to her side with an easy smile.

My feet were tangled up in the blanket forcing me to take small steps, the blanket slowly falling away from me, yet trailing from one hand.  “They won’t like it,” I felt Merry’s smile slip out rebelliously, “they won’t like not hearing.”

She smiled, and I caught the briefest hint of sharp points on her teeth, “I don’t care, they’re afraid of me too.”

“They let you out of here, though.” For a moment I was standing back in the Langley cafeteria, damned dream.  “Too many whispers, too many odd looks.”

I saw her wince slightly and then nod, “They give me those too. I’ve got a secret for you…”

That got my attention, “Another sec’ret? Like bombs or banks? Or better?”

“Much better. One they don’t even know.” She was giving the mirror a smirk, so maybe she was a bit like Merry.

“Careful, some secrets people don’t want to find out.” My voice dropped to a whisper again, “I can hide a secret so deep they can’t find it, not even him!”

“Who’s he?”

“He’s got a secret.” I motioned to where I thought Philadelphia was, “He’s like Pinocchio, wants to be real again and free. Very, very bad man, but not a man… yet. He wants to kill me.”

I don’t think she quite believed me, “What’s your name?” she asked.

“My Sister calls me Chaddy. Mom calls me Chaddwick Lee Wilson, when she’s mad. Dad just uses bad words when he’s mad.” I sighed, he was mad a lot.

“I’m Sara,” she offered with a slight bow, sort of like ones in the old Kung Fu television shows. “Can I call you Chaddy? I’d like that.”

I shrugged uneasily, “If you want. I got too many names anyway, No kidding there, “I think the short ones are better though.”

“Me too. Sara’s the one I give to friends.”

Friends, where are my friends? Why am I here without them? I sighed looking down at the white floor. “I don’t have no friends. Well, maybe three, my other friend died. Too much blood…”

“Shhhh… you don’t have to tell me. Although, you could show me if you like.”

I looked at her face and blinked, I thought she was taller. “Show you? How?”

“It’s one of my secrets.” She smiled and held out her hand slowly, “You can show me if you touch my hand.”

I reached out my hand, leaning forward hesitantly, part of me was franticly worried and the other half of me was hoping I could touch ‘someone’ again. My hand hovered over Sara’s for a minute before I spoke, “I hurt people if I touch them. They even fall down if they touch or hit me. I don’t even have my gloves…”

“It’s ok. I can’t be hurt.”

“I-if you fall down, don’t hurt me, ok?”

“I’ll never hurt you, Chaddy.”

Uncertainly I reached forwards to her hand. For an instant I touched her fingers, barely tapping them. An arc of electricity snapped, its bright light flaring up in front of us, though she merely blinked in reaction to it, “You have to hold my hand, Chaddy.”

“I never got to hold my friend’s hand,” my eyes and nose were suddenly running and I sniffed once, trying to keep it all inside. “’Cept when he was gone.” Slowly, carefully I put my hand into hers, wincing slightly in anticipation of the jolt or worse.

“Then think about him,” her face became still like she was thinking hard, then things started to feel like there were far away and her voice was the sole thread holding us in the room.  “Take me there and show me…”

There was a rush of feeling, sound, light, and emotion. The scene faded into view like a movie dissolve, etched in shades of blue rather than full Technicolor. Except for the reds. There was a lot of red. Something that had once been a man was plastered to the walls and floor. Entrails still dripped off the ceiling. The room was thick with the aromatic cocktail of ozone, cordite, smoke and the sickly scent of charred flesh. More gunfire could be heard faintly in the distance.

---------------

Sara looked at the girl covered in her friend’s blood. It was Chaddy, but it was not Chaddy. This was not a cringing, scared, little girl. True she seemed to be a teenager, but her bearing was that of a shocked yet almost fully-grown woman. A young woman with the experience of more hard knocks than her years gave her any right to. Somehow, Sara knew this girl’s name instinctively, her personality totally separate from the one now in command of her physical body.

“Merry?” Sara asked.

“He knocked me out of the way,” she whimpered, “he did it. He was a hero, a real hero. But real heroes always die. The grenade…”

Sara looked at the scorch mark on the ground near the body that marked the final act of a human being before checking the area itself for clues. The room was composed of bare concrete, the only features of note were three wrecked Tesla coils and a metallic rod set into the center of the chamber, a mirrored window broken but not yet shattered. Only a single set of double doors provided a means of entrance or exit.

“He chose me over himself. He saved me again.” She whispered, too overcome to feel any emotion. Her heart fluttering, blood racing, skin cold.

It was obvious to Sara that she was going into shock. Though from the inside her own head, Merry had no chance at self-diagnosis. Sara came to the point, “His sacrifice should not go to waste.”

“No.” Merry agreed, kneeling with a deceptively placid expression on her face, calmly replacing the automatic pistol in the dead man’s severed hand with a medallion from around her neck, and then checking the breech and clip in an expert almost military manner as she stalked towards the door.

Time sped up slightly as Sara followed her, the gun held lightly in Merry’s grasp. They came upon a woman in combat fatigues down the hall, time once more grinding to a halt as Merry raised the gun that was still dripping blood. “She tried to make us stop,” Merry confessed in a detached tone of voice, “but we wouldn’t listen.”

Sara looked at the woman who was screaming a single word over and over at the top of her lungs, caught in a loop of time. The demon noticed the grenade key hanging free from her combat harness, alongside three companion grenades. It was obvious what this woman had done.

Sara moved close to Merry, holding her waist and sliding one hand down her right arm, caressing the girl’s trigger finger, “Vengeance?”

“Yes.”

They both pulled the trigger together.

“I shot her twice,” Merry told her calmly, almost too calmly.

Suddenly they were looming over the woman, staring down the sights directly into her face. A face that disintegrated under the force of Merry’s justified rage. Time stopped again, the gun slipping from her grasp this time, “It’s not enough is it?” Merry asked her.

Sara slipped around Merry, anger coursing through her veins she knelt over the corpse at her feet. “Maybe I can give you some peace.”

Reaching into the bloody ruin of the woman’s head, Sara found what she was looking for: a tiny wisp, the animus. She wrenched the lingering soul from the enemy, cupping the twisting strand of spirit in her hands so that Merry could watch.

“How’s this for a party trick?” Sara grinned as she lifted the screaming wisp to her mouth, sucking it deep inside to join the oblivion that dwelled within.

In the not quite dream, Merry was hyperventilating, sweating, too choked up in conflicting emotions to laugh. The grin on her face had transcended bliss verging on true insanity; the girl was a battlefield of conflicting emotions. Sara held the crying girl in the darkness as the dream faded, Chaddy wept and wailed into her shoulder.

Sara couldn’t think of anything to do except pat her on the back and cry with her, rocking her gently, her own black tears creeping down her face to mingle with Chaddy’s. The words came unbidden to Sara’s lips, the need to express herself in words overriding the need to be silent, the first song that sprung to mind somehow the most appropriate. She whispered the words gently, soothing the shared pain by giving it voice.

This is me, for forever,

One of the lost ones, br>
The one without a name,
Without an honest heart as compass,

 

This is me, for forever,

One without a name,
These lines the last endeavor,
To find the missing lifeline,

 

Oh how I wish,
For soothing rain,
All I wish is to dream again,
My loving heart,
Lost in the dark,
For hope I’d give my everything,

 

My flower, withered between,
The pages two and three,
The once and forever bloom,
Gone with my sins,
Walk the dark path,
Sleep with angels,
Call the past for help,
Touch me with your love,
And reveal to me my true name,

 

Oh how I wish,

For soothing rain,
Oh how I wish to dream again,
Once and for all,
And all for once,
Nemo my name for evermore…

(Nemo-Nightwish)

Chaddy had cried herself to sleep by the time Sara’s last word trailed off into the still air, the oppressive weight of the concrete above seemed to be pressing down, trying to crush them both with the patience of mountains. Sara tucked the broken girl in under the covers of her spartan bed, parting from her with deep reluctance as the lights dimmed.


"As I look back on all that's happened… growing up, growing together, changing you, changing me,- there were times when we dreamed together, when we laughed and cried together. As I look back on those days, I realize how much I truly miss you and how much I truly love you. The past may be gone forever…"Anonymous

“Blemishing mirror fright. Going to take a bit of a fall tonight. Saying something that I can't repeat.  Awakened by the runway noise.”  - Nightmare - Eve 6

 

I found myself in bed again, it was my bed and yet it wasn’t. Broken bits of a song kept drifting in and out of my head as I tried to wake up, something about true names and dreams. I’d had that nightmare again, where John died yet again. Though it felt different this last time, and my face was slightly wet again from tears. Tears always seemed to escape freely from me in dreams, in the light of day they had to fight for release.

I partially drifted back to a confused sleep. Something nagged at me, Joni; had she slipped into my room again? I remembered her telling me to go to bed, that I was making too much noise. I thought that I heard the door open again… 

“Chaddy, you awake?”

It was still dark when I heard her voice, I turned over and blinked a few times, trying to figure out where I was.  “I think so, my head hurts. Is that you Joni?”

“No, not Joni. It's me, Sara...”

I rubbed my eyes, mustn’t show the tears, ever. “Oh, um. I think I know you, when I was small?” Or was it the dream girl?

“Ah... yes, we met when you were little. Mind if I still call you Chaddy? Or would you prefer another name now?”

I sat up slowly; even so I triggered the lights. I blinked when I saw her, ‘Wow she’s hot.’ “Ah, I'm Chad, only my sister calls me Chaddy.”  No she definitely isn’t Joni, I felt my tongue dry up in my mouth, ‘Ummm, talk you idiot!’ “So this is what a rubber room looks like?”

“Well, a lead-lined rubber room a kilometre underground. You have made a few people nervous, you know?” Sara grinned.

Inwardly I cringed at the topic, ‘Gods you are hopeless aren’t you?’ I smiled, though it seemed more like a grimace, ‘Ah well, go with it.’ “My uncle would be pleased, though I’m not sure I like the arrangements.” I felt despair creep in, ‘Why is it when I get around a good looking girl my brain shuts off?’

 “It is a touch spartan, isn't it?” she gestured to the cell. “I don't think anyone could ever want you here.”

I frowned, “Unfortunately I know several people who fit that bill. Not to mention my Uncle, who is more than a bit rabid on the subject of mutants, as is my old preacher. So the shepherd leads, does the flock not follow? I tried to be a sheep, but it seems I am more like a wolf. If this is being a wolf.” ‘Or what comes of being a wolf.’

I watched Sara sit on the edge of the bed, following the lines of her legs until they reached her short skirt where a hint of dark red peeked out; effectively entranced I almost lost what she said next.

“Humans often try to cage beasts.”

‘Focus dummy,’ I eased a slight bit away, “I, um. Humans. Do you,” I took a breath trying to reroute my brain, “are you human or one of the dammed souls as the preacher would have folks to believe?”

“Look into my eyes, Chad, what do you think I am?”

I leaned over to look into them, ‘Nice looking and, yeah, eyes. Deep maroon eyes, slitted like a lizards.’ I blinked at that, took a breath and said, “As a friend of mine once said, 'Nice contacts'. Still, in this place, at this time, let us say you are as much a freak as I am. Why are you not in a cage?”

“I'm on a sort of good behaviour bond.” Sara winked, “I let them do a little poking and prodding, they leave me alone mostly. It's a good arrangement, for me at least.”

About that time the damned insulin pump kicked in and vibrated it’s annoying announcement of yet another dose. ‘Gods! I have a hard enough time thinking clearly around girls as it is, now this!’ Angrily I reached down to my ass to try and throttle the damned thing. “Being a lab rat with privileges is still being a lab rat.” I said with some heat then cringed inwardly, “Sorry, I am a bit angry at someone’s work.”

“Understandable. I don't like it myself... what's wrong with your bum?” She was watching my hand with a hint of, I don’t know, amusement?

I carefully eased the gown under my butt and then lifted my hand up to look at the tool of my current shame. “There's an implant in it. If you are to believe the medical reports it’s just to give me Insulin.”

“What do you believe?” There was something in her voice, maybe it was real curiosity or concern, whichever, whatever it was I felt warmed by it.

“I’m not entirely sure what to believe anymore. So much has been lost in a fog, its like I was dreaming all the time; yet the pump is real. I can feel that.” ‘Yeah, when was the last time I really felt awake?’ “Some people think it’s just another mental aberration, if that is the correct word.” I looked around the room and up at a camera, “But dreams don't usually come with time stamps.” I looked back at her, “Well maybe mine do. So much of my life is lost in dream.”  ‘Yeah much too much was lost.’

I felt myself fidget under her gaze, “So If I believe my dream I am being used to test something very illegal.” Frank did look –something- like Doctor Lenston, ‘but that is not possible is it?’

For a bit we both sat in silence, my thoughts kept drifting towards her and back to the bits at Langley that were clear. Then she spoke, “What can you tell me about these dreams?”

I took a breath and closed my eyes for a moment trying to find the right words, “Ah to dream, though not in sleep. I have seen my assorted selves, if that is indeed the case. Though it may be said that dreams do make the man or whatever I may be.”

Merry poked at me and chimed in, ~/Arise Lazarus!/~

At that, I lost it for a few moments, letting the pure silliness of it loose in laughter. When I calmed back down I apologised,  “Sorry I should say; if what I dream is real, then I am a very messed up person. Do you know what it’s like to not know who you really are?”

“All the time,” she sighed, I watched her as she was seemingly distracted by something I had said.

“So I may or may not be crazy.” I shook my head trying to shake the fuzzy feeling from my thoughts, “I used to know who I was… or so I think,” I had to stop and think for a moment, “I wasn't always this way. I… we found a problem. Medicines. I so hate medicines.”

Sara smirked, though I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at me or someone else, “Sounds perfectly sane to me.”

I had to snort at that, ‘Doctors don’t think that patients can read at times.’ “Ah, sounds. If you spend enough time around doctors and shrinks you can learn to sound sane, if you are tricky enough. Still, if you are given enough drugs and are told enough times that you are bad, perhaps you would think you were bad. Then if you are bad, you will get beaten. After a time the sane part of you fades away and hides.”

I let my voice drop to a whisper, “Perhaps it screams so softly that no one can hear it but you.”

Sara leaned towards me, “So insanity is just a matter of perspective? Do you think you're insane?”

She was entirely too ‘close’, and I felt myself fighting to think clearly so I got up and walked under the video camera, out of it's line of view. “I didn't get here by being 'normal'.”

I turned around so that I could see her, and leaned back against the wall, “So I think the answer lies somewhere between yes and no. Which means maybe.” With that observation I sat against the wall, slowly sliding down it to sit in the corner. “Then yes, I must be crazy.”

I watched Sara slide off the bed, and was absorbed in her movements she crossed the few short steps between us to kneel in front of me. “Define normal, Chad. Just because you've got problems doesn't mean that your life is over. I learned that a long time ago. But lets see to what is real and what isn't, what can you tell me about this pump, what do you think it does?”

I felt my naked back press into the wall, heated sweaty skin in contact with cold dry canvas, “It, when that part of it is activated, feeds a drug into my system that amplifies my powers to the point where I cannot stay in my own head or not fry those I merely touch nor destroy things like the camera above us with flicker of annoyance or any other emotion.” I glanced down at my hands using one to push the gown under me some, the damned thing was way too short, I wiggled my other hand hoping, she wouldn’t notice. "This is normal, what happens with the drug is not.”

“Has this happened lately? Since you've been at ARC?” Her face was hard to read, I couldn’t tell if she was humouring me or not.

I shrugged and then I nodded, "Saturday, not long after I woke up. Though I can't be sure of anything except afterwards when it wore off.”

“Ok, I can check that, then we can have a look at your implant. If it turns out to be something other than what it looks like...”

For a moment all the frustration wanted out and I laughed bitterly, “Yeah it happened, though I am not sure how you would be able to tell it is what I say is, without pulling it out to look at it. I'd cut it out myself and hand it to you if I had a knife.”

“If removing it is what it takes. I'm sure with all these doctors about someone can give you an insulin shot.” She paused for a second, a hint of a smile returned to her face,  “I'd do it myself, only that they'd have kittens.”

“They and Them, again.” I had to shake my his head, “More than likely you won't be able to convince them it’s anything other than what it’s supposed to be. They have 'documentation' and a doctors 'signature' as to what it is.” He frowned, “If I am making it up, which they no doubt will tell you. Who will you believe?  They tried telling me it's just a odd mental twist caused by my mutation.”

"I believe nothing I hear and only half of what I see. It's possible that it's part of your mutation; it's also possible that you've been experimented on. Until I get proof, one way or the other, why should I believe them over you?”

Something in her posture said she wasn’t quite sure which way to think; of which I had to laugh for a long moment. “Ah, belief and truth. I am willing to bet they haven’t told you why they are so scared about me. Tell me, what do you see before you, what did they tell you I could do? Doesn't it seem just a wee bit strange that a kid has so many people freaked out?”

I watched her face for a moment while she seemed lost in her own thoughts, her ears were sightly pointed too, and perhaps she was different like me... Then she spoke, “They told me you can control all the digital information all over the world by projecting your consciousness into the net. And in front of me, I see a scared and depressed girl about my own age huddling into a corner. And no, I've freaked out a few people in my own time and don't I look younger than you?”

I blinked and looked down the inside of the gown, yeah I had tits. And a few extras as well, “Yeah I suppose I am sort of a girl.”

I put my hands in front of my face and too a breath and blew a raspberry trying to clear my head, “Younger, older, I don't know, I haven’t really looked in a mirror lately.” ‘Much less wanted to really look that closely.’ I studied her critically for a moment, ”You 'seem' older. Though that could be the way you hold yourself, not to mention you have yet to burst into giggles like most of the girls at school did.”

“I don't have much reason to giggle anymore.” That statement from her held more than a hint of truth and pain behind it.

“Laughter has seemed to escaped me lately as well, unless it is tied to sarcasm.” I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, “I think one of the last times I was mostly happy was when I was in a sewer. Which, of all things, led me here.”

Sara shivered for a moment, her face clouding slightly.

“It wasn't bad then. Though later,” I felt a shiver escape, "there were so many dead people, I wish I could say that was a dream.”

For a moment there was silence among us as she watched me, “What makes you happy now?”

I looked down at my hands, ‘I really need to cut down on chewing my nails’, “Well, having some one 'really' listen to me, is nice.” ‘For a change’ I had to smile at that thought, “Knowing someone is safe, and may yet have a shot at a normal life.”

She slid over to sit next to me, claiming a part of the wall for herself, “Your sister?”

I turned my head and looked across the short distance to her face, and sighed. ‘Some one has been very busy.’ That bothered me on several levels, for a moment the lights flickered as I frowned, “My secret isn't so secret. Yeah my sister, the only part of my old life I wish I could have back.”

“You will, one day,” she sounded optimistic but I really had my own doubts about that.

“Not if I want to keep her safe.” That really did hurt a part of me, the lights dimmed, and then almost faded out for a moment. I on the other hand was glowing brighter, “I think the only way she would ever be safe, is if I never see her again or if I was dead. She's my Achilles heel, the one person I would give ‘anything’ to protect or avenge.”

“Give me your hand,” she said.

 I looked at her, she seemed to think it was safe, so I reached over to her and held out my hand, “I think you might be in for a jolt, though I think that I had a dream where we touched.”

Sara took my hand, holding it tightly but not painfully so, “You're not the only one with extraordinary powers in this world. I swear to you, as long as she breathes and beyond, Joni will never have to fear for her life. I would pry her loose from hell itself if it gave you only a moment's peace.”

She sounded so certain, I looked at our joined hands, “So it wasn't entirely a dream.” I felt a smile come back, and then I looked back at our interlaced fingers, “Such a rare thing it is to touch another person.” I took a breath to clear my head,  “With luck you won't have to go into hell for my sister’s sake.” 

“You never know, for some people it's only a short trip,” She giggled as if at some private joke, “I have to admit, touching you does make my skin tingle a little. It's like jamming a nine volt battery onto your tongue.”

Suddenly the room was very hot, “Ah, you giggled.” For a moment, it was –very- hot, then I sighed and the room cooled slightly, "You know, I think you are the first girl to ever hold my hand… aside from my sister or the odd result of girl being next to me in a prayer circle.”

“I had a reason to giggle,” she smiled and I felt pressure in the room lighten up a bit, “you never had a special girl?”

I thought about that, then shook my head, “No, it was verboten, well it would have been if my family had anything to say about it. Even then, I didn't have a life, my parents were, um, religious about being religious and then some.”

“So, your Uncle wasn't alone in the family.”

I took a very deep breath, and let it out slowly, "No, my Father was a deacon of the church, though only a minor one. Not enough money to be a major one, but he made up for it with following the party line or more correctly, the preachers ass.”

Her face was a mirror of mixed emotions, “I... know how you feel. My family's religious too, though not like yours.” She paused and looked at me directly, “We're the black sheep of the family, I suppose you could say. I don't know what to think about that or what to believe anymore.”

I nodded and pushed outward a bit, “I am so very 'black' I need to make my own light. For an instant I manage to glow a bit brighter. I chuckled slightly at my success and tried to force my voice deeper, though it still sounded like a girls voice, “I am the epitome of evil incarnate. I am a mutant freak, an idolater and deeply amoral, at least if you were to ask my Father, of which you can't because he's dead.” Briefly I felt sad about that, then a wave of relief way from deep inside of me pushed that feeling away. “I don't think I would have been living at home much longer as it was anyways.”

“One way or another?” she asked as if testing a theory.

“Yeah, I think so. He was drinking more and more, especially every time I needed to have my prescriptions filled. Not to mention all those tests and appointments.”

“I lost my mother a long time ago. I still have my father though...” she trailed off, lost in her own thoughts for a time.

I waited a few seconds then nodded,  “Well I hope he is nothing like mine.” I remembered all the times I was beaten and rubbed my legs with the free hand, “I used to have scars.”  I suddenly shivered, ‘roses are nice, rose thorn covered switches are not.’ “Though my mom wasn't much better. I suppose that I kept the worse of their attentions from my sister.” I had to pause for a moment, pushing that anger down and away, “So she should not be as messed up as I am. Or so I hope.”

“You love her a lot. You don't have to say it, I could feel it radiating across the room when you said her name.”

I smiled at her words, and then closed my eyes, “You remind me of her slightly, though you are definitely not her.” After a moment, I opened my eyes, “That sounded odd, sorry, I just can't put my finger on it...”

“I think it's my turn to blush,” she smiled though she seemed uncertain about something.

I felt my stomach drop out from under me, then the room heated up again, “Umm, I didn't mean anything bad…” Oh man, did I just put my foot in my mouth????? “…I mean, ah, well, I... oh shoot, I am such an idiot.”

“Nothing like that,” she shifted closer, until we were hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder, “in fact, I'm more than a little flattered. You're not the only one whose put their foot in their mouth here, are you?”

I tensed for a brief moment as we touched, then I relaxed and chuckled in my ocean of embarrassment,  “I don't think you have. You seem so much more 'together' than I am, though together is a relative term. I miss this so much,” I squeezed her hand for a moment, “I think that not touching anyone has been one of the hardest things to endure.”

“Trust me, its all a facade. I'm sorry, I won't always be here, but I will be as often as I can.” Her face seemed to be a wash of emotions ranging from sadness, regret and real concern.

“If I said I liked your facade, it would sound corny.” I studied her for a moment. “Though seriously, you can't be as messed up as I seem to be. Tomorrow when I wake up, if I wake up, will you have just been just a dream?”

Her smile was slightly rueful, “It doesn't matter, I live in dreams too.”

“Then with luck I will see you here and in dreams until I see you in truth. As odd as that sounds.” My smile felt a bit off, if not lopsided.

I shivered slightly when I felt her breath on my ear as she said, “No matter where you see me, I will be truth.”

I turned to look at her, ending up nose to nose with her, “Even if this isn't the real me?”

“Always,” she softly said as she gently leaned forward to press her lips to mine in a kiss.

I kissed back awkwardly, and then broke the kiss after a moment, feeling more than a bit stunned, “Good. Because I don't want to lose this dream.”

I think we both jumped as the door cracked open, both of us moving apart slightly while maintaining a grasp on each other’s hand. I wasn’t exactly willing to let go.

Doctor Otto stepped through the door, Kam close behind him, “Sara, Chad, lunch is on. Sorry, Chad, I’ll have to trade you.”

I looked at our joined hands, then her face, “Will you be back later?” Even to me it sounded like I was almost begging.

“You bet.” She winked and as she arose our fingers slipped loose. I watched her walk towards the Doctor feeling slightly entranced again by her presence. 

Kam started setting the hospital food on the table from the tray that floated near it; he was giving me an amused look. As the door closed I could hear her voice, “How on earth are we going…” and the rest was lost as door closed.

I shook myself and looked up from the floor at the table, I was vaguely hungry, though I think I could have skipped the meal if it meant more time with her. I stood up, and looked at the table, more hospital food. Joy. “For this,” I motioned to the table, “you could have let me have another ten minutes. It’s not like it going cold would hurt the flavor any.” 

Kam chuckled, “So you do like her?” Then he shook his head, “Kerry would have a fit if you missed a meal, and you know how it is, medical types.”

I looked at the plates with a grimace, “Real food would be nice for a change.”

“At least it is ‘clean food’.”

I gave him a dirty look, “Sure, as if over boiled stew and wilted veggies are an improvement?”

“Methinks thou doth protest too much.” he motioned to the bunk and the table slide a few feet closer.

“Don’t I rate a chair?” I viewed the ‘arrangement’ with a sigh and sat on the bunk, sliding into place in front of the plate.

“Ah, yes and no.” He motioned to the table and it rose a few inches off the ground and returned with not even a tremble. “They ‘let’ you have the table because only I can move it for you. They are worried you might break the glass if you had a chair.”

I scoffed lightly, “And that would help me how?”

“You might think you could escape that way.” He pointed to the mirrored section of the wall.

I thought about it, “Yeah right, more likely they are worried about replacing the antiques in there.” 

He laughed, “That too.”

I toyed with the stew, ok so it wasn’t completely devoid of flavor yet it could have used something to per it up. “So is she a one shot visitor like the others?”

“Don’t you remember this morning?”

I looked up from my plate, “Yes, no, maybe.” I shrugged, “I feel like my head has a pillow inside of it, a squishy pillow.”

“Being kissed by a cute girl will do that to you.”

I felt the room do a slow pivot to the left and my face felt like it was on fire, “Kam!” I complained at him.

He chuckled deeply, “Oh you do have a weakness I can exploit.” I could tell he was poking fun at me from the slightly mocking tone in his voice.

“Oh great, not only am I trapped in a room with-out-a-view, I have a lousy comedian for company.” I gave him a dirty look, and then speared a shoot of asparagus with the spork or tied to, as I sent it careening across the table. “Can I have some real silverware?”

“What, so you can threaten people with it?” He was mocking me.

I replied in deadpan voice. “No so I can tunnel my way out to freedom, not to mention eat properly.” I paused for a few seconds as he took in my last statement.” Just as he was about to say something I held up my hand and said, “Here’s your sign…”

I watched him sputter for a few seconds, evidently he was a fan of redneck comedy. “Ah, your point, I think,” he commented while shooting the mirror a wry expression.

I retrieved the errant asparagus shoot with my fingers and nibbled at it. Normally I wasn’t the biggest fan of all things green or leafy, but since I wasn’t doing the cooking, I made due. “So I guess the doctors are having a field day?”

“Yes and no, Doctor Lenston it seems, will not be returning.”  His voice held an odd note with that proclamation.

“Nothing fatal I trust?” I asked though part of me was really hoping that it was fatal.

 

“No, nothing like that.” His face was a puzzle in its own right. “Let us just say, someone made it known his presence was no longer needed, and he left in a literal stink.” His eyes had a humorous glint to them like he wasn’t telling the whole story.

I poked at my food, eating it mechanically not trying to taste the lack of salt or any other seasoning. “They sure go out of their way to make the food here unappealing.”

“Hey it’s hospital food, it’s a natural law. Well that and the fact that they don’t want to make you sick by actually letting you enjoy the taste.” Kam noted with what sounded like years of eating institutional food. 

“Wonderful,” I eyed the other plate skeptically as I neared the end of my current one. “So are the peeping toms enjoying my stay here?”

“Let’s say you are providing hours of entertainment.”

“Peachy, not that I have a love life, but could they at least give me some dignity and occasionally shut things off?”

“It looked like you were working on a love life to me.” Kam was grinning from ear to ear.

Oh great, I guess the other cameras cover the spot under the inside camera. Shit. “Uh.” I slid the other plate to where I could get at it. I gave him my best dirty look and took a bite of semi dead boiled greens. 

“What no snappy comeback, no sharp jab of wit?” Kam was having entirely too much fun at my expense.

“Laugh it up fuzz ball.” I absently quoted at him. I suppose the screwy part of it was; in some ways I was hoping he was right. But, the way my life was spinning out of my control; that was ever so unlikely.

I suppose my face reflected a bit of my inner mess. “So you do like her.”

From somewhere deep inside of me something rose up and snarled at him, “Look, just because you have a PDA with over five hundred some odd phone numbers, it doesn’t mean I do.”  For an instant I debated on throwing the spork at him, ~/Don’t. We don’t want to eat with our fingers do we?/~ I sighed and dropped the spork to the table. For a moment I sat staring at the remains of my meal then pushed it across the table.

 

“Umm, sorry,” Kam’s voice was slightly pained. I looked up from the table to see him pinching his brow with one hand as if in pain. “Someone is giving me an earful about my lack of tact.”

I sighed, “I think I am done with this,” I pointed to the food. “I guess I am not that hungry.”

“Kerry will have a fit, you know.”  Kam was watching me closely.

Kerry isn’t my mom, so it doesn’t matter if she has a fit or not.” I took a breath and fairly snarled, “Hell it doesn’t matter if I have a fit for that matter, since my entire freaking life is on display for every Tom, Dick, and fucking Harry to watch and take notes over.” 

“It’s not that bad.”

It’s not that bad,“ I echoed bitterly and let the anger and spite that I had kept buried over the past few weeks out in my voice. “It’s not you that had your family wiped out! It’s not you that had their friend splattered all over you while you watched helplessly.” I took a deep breath and watched the lights flicker in time with my pulse, “It’s not you who is looking at having their brains reformatted to make you into a kinder and gentler puppet.”

Kam held both of his hands up, palms down motioning for me to slow down, “Easy kiddo, relax, nothing like that is going to happen here.”

“Bullshit, you didn’t have some mind fucker dinking with your head and trying to push a part of you into the brink.” I stood up and pushed at the table when it didn’t move I considered trying to flip it over.

“He’s gone, and I don’t think he’s coming back.”

“What’s to stop the next one?”

“Sara,” he simply said.

I settled for giving him a dubious look.

“She’s ‘connected’, and she said for folks to keep their hands and minds off of you.”  He was rocking back and forth on his feet as if weighing the subject in his mind.

 

I walked over to the mirror and glared at it, looking at myself, “How? She said she was as much as a lab rat as I am.”

“She just is,” he sighed. “I don’t know the particulars.”

I looked into the mirrored glass trying to see myself, and then I remembered my butt was likely hanging out and I turned around slowly to cover it. “In some ways it would have been so much easier to just die.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I don’t know, at times you may be right, though at other times…” I looked over to where the camera was tracking over to film me, “At other times, I look at all that has happened to me and I want to end it.”

“Ah kid, we all face that wall from time to time. I wasn’t always so suave and debonair with the ladies. I used to be a skinny runt, skinnier than you even.” He used a hand to indicate a height less than my own.

I measured his current height and compared that to his hands and shrugged, “At least you have a life, and can look forwards to having a life.”

“Well I did have help to get there,” he acknowledged.  

I stood silently for a time, “I don’t know Kam, part of me says play the game, fake everyone out then find a way to pull the trigger.” ‘Or have it pulled for me.’

“And the other half?” he prompted.

“The other half hopes for things unsaid, unpromised, and unasked.” I felt the anger wash out of me along with a lot of my energy, “I need a nap, I think. I don’t know why I am so tired lately.”

“Stress will do that,” he waved a hand to the table and it moved to the center of the room. Then the remains of lunch rose into the air to follow him to the door. “Get some rest and try not to let stuff bother you for a time.”

“Do you really think there is hope for me?”

“There is always hope kiddo, always.”

I used one hand to close the gown tighter behind me and I walked to the bunk as he stood by the door, “I could hope you are right, perhaps when I dream, this nightmare will pass from me.”

“Surely Sara wasn’t a nightmare?” he asked with a smile.

“No, that part of this dream I could wish to keep.” I shrugged and turned to look at the bunk.

“Get some rest, I think you’ll have more company later.”

“Wonderful,” I took a few steps to the bunk and sat on the edge of it. Then I watched Kam ease through the doorway and the door slip shut.

I was too tired to make a break for it, I felt my face slip into a frown and I turned to lie down and pulled the blanket up over my backside. A few moments later the lights died. Inside my head I was praying for the good part of this dream to be true.

-------------------

I glanced up at the opening of the door to see who was about to invade the room and if there was a chance to make another break for it. When Chad’s ‘Dream Girl’ walked in I was a bit surprised, not to mention my heartbeat jumped up loudly in my ears. Though she definitely looked ticked off at something, ~:I hope it’s not me or Kam.:~ commented Chad a bit worriedly.

I held up one finger, acting as if I was deep in thought, well that was partly true. “... and end of file. Hi, bring a computer by any chance?”  I studied her as she looked like she was trying to shift mental gears. I took in her short black dress and her incredibly edible legs. I pushed at Chad slightly as he was definitely crowding me, though I could understand why.

 ~#Acceptable.#~ Well that was a surprise.

“Ah, no, sorry.” Sara shook her head, “No computers allowed through the airlock.”

I blinked, pulling my focus back to her face and what she was saying. “Airlock? And I thought I was still on the planet,” I closed my eyes, and ‘felt’ the area around the room, “Though that might explain why all the lines are so small and fuzzy.”

For some odd reason it sounded like she actually gulped, I opened my eyes and continued my examination of her. Her dress was black and had some nice lace work around the edges that framed her breasts. She wasn’t much bigger than Joni in that department, but it did suit her thin and curvy frame.

She seemed to be have trouble focusing for a moment then she spoke, “Er... you must be Merry.”

“Could be, could be,” I grinned, feeling a bit impish. I looked down at the pure white hospital gown, and I opted to see if I could pull her mentally off balance, “then again from the decor and the natty wardrobe, I could be someone else.”

She grinned showing white teeth that were nearly perfect, aside from the interesting points. “Oh, well I'm very sorry for keeping you. I'll just get your release forms and have you out of here in a jiff.”

~:Now who is off balance here?:~ Chad interjected.

‘Oh settle down, sheesh,’ though the in the dream the kiss was great…

I blinked trying to regain my perspective and momentum; I glanced towards Sara, then at the camera. “O-kay… Yes and have the limo restocked with something other than kiddie DVDs.”

“Sure, Nemo and the Lion King do get boring after the first thousand times, don't they?” Sara smiled weakly, looking more nervous for some reason.

“Well, Pixar is miles ahead of Mouse World by a long shot, computers and such.” Chaddy and the rest agreed on that point, still I was feeling some odd interest in her from the other one. 

“Oh, I prefer Anime. Ever seen Appleseed or Ghost in the Shell Two?” she asked with a small gesture towards me.

I wrinkled my nose trying to think if I had seen those films. “Appleseed, no. Ghost in the Shell was ok, but I think LAIN was better,” Oh yeah, LAIN, I felt myself giggle, “but then she seemed nuts too.”

She seemed to glare at me from under half-closed eyelids, deep inside I could feel Chad wilting slightly, ‘Relax even.’

I didn’t think she was mad at us, though she seemed to regain her groove, “Well that makes sense. Personally, I'm more into Ninja Scroll and Wicked City, but then you could say the same thing about me.”

‘So folks think she is nuts too?’ my eyes kept drifting away from her face, slowly slinking around her waist. I forced myself out of that rut and glanced back up, “So, is insanity a prerequisite for this place? Or am I just a special case?”

“In our case, a bit of both.”

I felt an eyebrow rise and warm glow flooded out from Chad and the other one, though Chaddy was amused and singing silly snips from grade school. I smothered an urge to laugh at him and smiled instead. “Well in that case I may in fact be Merry,” I waved at the bare white room, “I would offer you a chair, but the last resident of this motel took it with him. I think he was a bit of a dreamer myself.”

“Then I might be called Sara,” Sara smiled, holding out her hand, “and I wouldn't despise dreamers, sometimes anywhere else is better than where you are.”

I paused thinking hard, something important from a dream, “Sara the unshockable, I think?”

“You could wrap me around powerlines and use me as insulation.” She sounded supremely confident in that fact, though the bits of dream I could ‘feel’ said it was true.

I reached out and took Sara’s hand, giving it a shake. “So, here we are,” I glanced at the door, “did they lock the doors behind you?” Part of me really didn’t want to let go of her hand, though it wasn’t just Chad or Chaddy that wanted it too.

“Well, they're just a wee bit paranoid about you escaping, and it's not like I'm in any mortal danger from you, so...”

I let the handshake drop and sighed, looking at the door and her, for some reason she seemed ‘solid’ maybe some sort of martial arts training?  “Well I suppose this is not a Matrix moment then.” I held my arms up in the classic flying crane pose from the movie the Matrix. “Besides I never did get the knack of hanging in mid-air for a few seconds,” I let my arms drop to the bunk. I spared a glance at the mirrored window in the wall, “Though I’m sure the peeping toms would love to see my ass hanging out of this gown.”

Sara giggled sending my neurons into overload for a second, “What would you expect, Ms. Anderson?”

I looked down to my stomach and placed both hands over my belly button, “No metal bugs or other oddly shaped pills please. The last time I remember I started a conversation almost like this one, my world was very odd for a time.”

“Oh? What happened?” she asked with a distinctly curious tone in her voice.

I stared at my fingers, “Well I suddenly had twice the normal number of digits and my nurse’s face melted off... or so I think.” I felt an unpleasant quiver stir deeply inside of me.

“Ah, yes, your file did mention that some drugs induce hallucinations with your new body chemistry...” she trailed off as she watched me intently.

I couldn’t suppress a shudder; “I will never watch another movie with giant snakes in it ever again.”  My eyes crossed and I made a gagging sound, “I do have a problem with medications not doing what they are supposed to do. It's like the magic jellybeans from Harry Potter, one moment you are fine, then pow! Vomit flavoured.”

“Alas, earwax,” she quoted back at me. “Just watch out for Charlie and his Chocolate Factory.”

I giggled. “So you would think people would have learned that just randomly drugging me would be a bad idea, but do they listen? Nooooooo.” I took a breath after drawing that word out, “So I take a fall off the deep end and here I am. Wherever here is?” I asked, “As no one handed me a map with my spacesuit.”

“Well, as far as I know we aren't giving you anything. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised that they didn't stumble onto a drug that makes you explode like an atomic reactor.” She crossed her arms as if she was acting as a teacher.

~:Hot for teacher?:~ I felt like hitting Chad, though I was not arguing overly much with him.

 “From the records, they were certainly trying. By the way, your location isn't a great secret, you're under the headquarters of the Arkham Research Consortium, or ARC for short, in Arkham, Massachusetts.”

I forced myself to process that bit of information, pushing the cobwebs back for a moment, it never hurt to know where you were. The other one considered that information as well.

“Cool, now if I had a laptop, a direct connection to the net and a shovel, I might stand a chance of digging out of here.” I thumped the padded wall with my fist in irritation, “Not. So if I am not in space and on the planet Earth, why can't I… hmm, you know about me and the net, I think?”

“Ah, well this underground vault is lined with lead and magnetically sealed, amongst other things.”

I felt the world squeeze in on me and I fell over sideways, making rude noises, “A vault! Jeeze, talk about overkill!” ‘Good freaking grief, we were trying for a place we could get out of not the freaking Bat Cave.’

I watched Sara shrug and she grinned, “Same principle as carrying a condom. Better to have it and not need it...”

‘As if I had a chance of getting laid here’, “Well if the average age of folks running around here is like that last zoo I was in, I don't think I would have a chance of using a condom. Aside from making it into a perverted balloon.” I pantomimed inflating a balloon and watching it fly away.

I had to switch tactics and edge away from thinking about sex, ‘Gods.’ “So, if I could make your bank account have as many zeros, with a number in front of them. Could I puh-leeze have a laptop and a connection to the web?”

I watched her eyes dance, “And give you control of this entire facility? Gee, let me think...”

I fell into her eyes for a moment and I heard myself blather on, “Awwww it'd be fun. Trust me.”

Sara laughed, “I'll tell you what, if you're a good girl, I'll bring in my laptop for you to play with next time. But no Internet connection, if you want to collect email, I'll do it for you if you like.”

‘Laptop! Out! Freedom!’ I sat up and turned on the puppy dog eyes, “I'll be good. Though getting my email might be a trick. Hmmm.” I paused to consider all the odd links it took to reach Blue. “Still it would be better than just trying to write several hundred code in my head without a debugger. I'm good but I am not quite a goddess.”

She slid onto the bed next to me and I felt Chad trying to get closer to the surface and the other one was oddly quiet. “Modesty wasn't in your psychological profile.” It felt like she was comparing me to something or someone. “I have some good news, though, you'll probably be having some visitors from NEXT within the week.”

I about bounced out of the bunk in joy, “Yes! Salvation is at hand!” I looked over at her with a huge grin, “I may just get out of this Popsicle stand with most of my marbles intact.”

She made a cautioning gesture with one hand, “Don't count your chickens, ARC and NEXT are still ironing out the deal over you. Of course, you're a lot better off here than you were at Langley, ARC's not a government department, and so incompetence isn't company policy.”

I looked over to her and whispered, “Need a raise?”

She shook her head, “Nope. Money's not an issue for me.”

I grinned, “Ah, well how about power?” I inched a bit closer and then shrugged slightly, “Surely you have a weakness for me to exploit? How about your weight in chocolate?”

“Nope,” She laughed, and I felt the sound fill me. “I don't need food either. Here's a novel proposal, how about you ask me it is you want me to do, and then I'll put a price tag on it.”

That made me blink, “You don't eat... OK.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, listening to the various voices, rocking my head back and forth trying to sort through the sudden rush of suggestions. For a time silence reigned over all of us as the answer became clear. I looked back, straight into Sara’s eyes, “I want my life back.”

Sara nodded, staring as if into a great distance, lost in her own deep thoughts. “Your life as it was? Or a newer, better, life?”

Oddly enough the other parts of me were quiet, “Well some parts of my current life are not that bad, and I would definitely skip the years of abuse and brainwashing too.” Nervously I bit my lip, chewing on it slowly for a moment, finally I asked, “What’s in the new and improved package?”

Sara leant over to speak into my ear, “Friends, family, a new school and a relative amount of freedom.”

For a brief moment I was lost in how close she was, this moment echoing with another like it. I turned to look her in the eye. Then I blinked rapidly noting we were almost nose to nose, like before, “Um, is this where you kiss me or ask for my soul? ‘Cause the Pope will freak. Though I think I had a dream like this.”

The camera in the corner of the room made strange buzzing noises, then the lights on it flickered and died. I heard her chuckle at their sudden failure, “Oops, I think something's happened to the security systems. The boys in the command centre might not be able to see or hear us for a minute or two.”

I smiled and went with the urgings from Chad, “I don't think that was me, still.” I eased over, and kissed her lightly on the lips, “Ok, now the Pope only has to worry about my soul.”  Inside, I felt the world do back flips and I was hoping like heck that she wouldn’t deck me, even so I kissed her again. A moment later I pulled away, and I felt the room try to smoother me in its sudden heat. I must have been blushing, “I… umm…”

“You wanted to kiss me?” Sara blinked, as if I did something completely unexpected.

I nodded slowly, oh yeah I was blushing like mad, “Yeah. Cha… um, part of me liked the last time. A lot.”

She tilted her head sideways, softly kissing me back, “Well, next time, make sure you do a more thorough job.”

I tensed slightly with the kiss, feeling the coolness of her lips on mine then a sudden heat from them that reached into me, and I relaxed into it, “Mmmm, better?” For a moment the fluorescent bulbs overhead fought to awaken the eternal war between light and darkness. Darkness won.

“Oops.” Partly I was annoyed that my power had flared so abruptly, the other part of me noted the hum from the door was gone.

Sara sighed, “Such a pity that the door get jammed shut when that happens. Not to worry, I have a feeling that we'll have a long time to improve your technique. But before that, there is my price for getting your life back.”

I glowed with a faint blue in the dark, though I think if my heart was tied to my face, my smile had to be glowing. “The kiss or the popping of the lights?” I wiggled a finger, briefly tracing a glowing zig-zag pattern in the air, “Price, then practice?”

She slid closer to rest against me, one arm sliding around my waist hugging me. I felt her rest her chin on my shoulder, her breath teasing at my ear. “I want you, body and soul, to do with as I will.”

I reached back to wrap an arm around her slender body, hugging her back. “As long as it doesn't hurt my friends, I could live with that.” I felt Chad pushing at me and I sighed, “I have so few and, well, I’m not so sure I’m knightly material.”

“I love you, Merry.” She paused as if weighing something in her mind, “Of course, I love a lot of people, but I think you'll find that my love is never to be despised. What I am proposing is more a marriage of sorts, it shouldn't effect your standing with the church as long as they aren't silly enough to order you to oppose me.”

I felt the tension that had been building up unconsciously drain out from my shoulders, the various voices were each clambering for attention though I had to put my foot down somewhat and think.

 “Marriage?” I asked trying to sort things out among the other thoughts in my head. “Not where we have to yell at each other? And where one of us has to walk on emotional eggshells or be in pain a lot? I would rather just live together if that’s what you have in mind.” I giggled for a minute, lost in the various voices that were holding up scorecards and the odd silence that occasionally pushed through. “Sorry, when folks say marriage I get a screwy mental image.”

I could hear Chad snort, ~:No kidding!:~

“What sort of marriage do you have in mind?”

“It works like this. You pledge yourself to me: body and soul, and I will give you my mark. From that moment on, we are linked forever. You will always be there for me and I will always be there for you. No other strings, I... can't be tied down to a single partner, in fact I have two others much like you already and that number will only grow with time. However, my love for each of you is unique and unbreakable. Do you understand?”

Unconsciously I noticed my arm had slipped from around her and that I was hugging myself. Or selves, considering how each voice in my head was trying to be heard. Sorting through so many different thoughts took a while, and it was some time before I could be sure I was speaking as myself. “Mark? What’s this mark? And how long is your version of forever? Mom and Dad’s church had folks saying forever, and then they would be in a divorce after a few years. And if I’m sharing you, does that mean I’m to be shared as well or can I choose?”

“The mark will look like the one on my forehead, only it will probably be smaller and look like a birthmark on you. I can't die of natural causes, Merry, and killing me is practically impossible.” She shifted slightly and I could feel her arms enwrap mine. ”You have to know that when I say forever, I mean for all eternity.” She paused briefly, and her voice was closer to my ear, “Everything else is your choice, though I could force you to do anything I wanted, I will not take away your free will or allow it to be taken from you, ever.”

For a time my thoughts drifted back to John and Joni and the different times that felt like forever and the fact that I had lost everything it seemed in all of those times. Something broke deep inside of me, and I could feel the tears start to form and drop. I lost so much in a short time, and each time is hurt. Did I, we, us, want to hurt her like that? Could we ask her to hurt this way? After a few unsteady breaths I found my voice again, “But I won't live forever. John didn't. I don't want to hurt you like that. Only one place I might live forever and you can't go there.”

“Merry, whether you're always with me or not, I'm going to live for a very long time. Don't make me gush out empty platitudes at you about it being better to love and lose. Death isn't the end of love or friendship, if I feared losing my friends I could never do anything, ever. Besides, who are you to say where I can go and where I can't?”

As the other parts of me drifted into mute acceptance I heard myself sniffle. The other was so very quiet, as though it was acting on some unknown thoughts. I sighed and squeezed her arms that were wrapped around me, feeling that she was pressed snugly against my back, in so many ways it felt right, if not safe. My thoughts spun for a few seconds as I thought over what she had said. “Gush out?” I paused to sniff slightly as my sinuses and eyes were both running. “I’m the one doing that. I don't know how long I'll be yours, but if you want me, for me, and not my screwy powers an stuff you can have me. For however long I last.” I could feel the other parts of me smile and there was a strange feeling of acceptance from the other; that wave of emotion pushed out to my face in a smile. I hugged her tighter, “Though you may have to enquire about group rates.”

Sara chuckled, nuzzling my neck and sliding one hand along my thigh, her fingers teasing my thigh underneath the gown, “The more, the merrier.”

I all but barked in a short laugh, though the sudden intense shivers that followed her fingers cut off that noise, “Ahhh, I'll keep that in mind, though my mind may not.”

I did squeak when she nipped at my neck, I shivered feeling her tongue teasing the area of brief pain. When she spoke again her voice caressed the part of us that was alone for so long. “Then maybe I'll just have to jog your memory.” Her voice took on a husky tone that sent shivers down my spine, “Now that's settled, I think we've got time for that practice we mentioned. We should go over the cliff notes, at least.”

I leaned back slightly placing my head on her shoulder so I could see her face, I choked back a slight gasp as her hands traced slow circles downward. “If Cliff gets in the way, I'll strangle him.”

After that, there was no real need for words… Though part of a song folded around my mind now and again: “I love myself, I want you to love me.  When I'm feelin' down, I want you above me. I search myself, I want you to find me. I forget myself, I want you to remind me.”(–I touch Myself- Divinyls)

------------------------

Doctor Otto settled back in his chair and tapped the key that would bring the cameras from Merry’s cell to life on the monitor. Inwardly he was pleased at the day’s events, though Sara’s next session with the girl should prove enlightening. ‘In more than one way,’ he unconsciously added.

Still the odd bits of information they had been able to winnow out of the various sessions from the day before and today were helpful. Though the process was not quite as painful as pulling teeth in some aspects, as a ‘normal’ therapy session approach seemed to put the child on the defensive, ‘a hostile defensive.’ 

He had to admit some amusement at Sara’s reaction to Merry, not to mention the effects that Merry had on Sara. Some times you have to take the odd gamble, though if Mrs. Potter’s odd suggestion was correct; it wasn’t much of a gamble. He paused in his musing as the door to Merry’s cell opened and he turned up the volume some then settled in to watch.

----------------- 

Sara stood still for a moment watching Merry tap her fingers rapidly against the table, the door hissed shut behind her as she spoke, “And you would be Mai.”

Mai's eyes opened abruptly and she turned her face towards the door, “Ah, hello Sara.”

“So, you remember me,” Sara manoeuvred a chair further into the room, not far from the other girl, then she slid it around to sit on it backwards, keeping the back of the chair between her and Mai, “That will make things quicker.”

“I remember you, because the rest remember you.” Mai paused a moment then added. “The last person to be remembered by everyone sacrificed themselves to protect Merry.”

“So you're the only one who knows exactly what the rest are up to?” asked Sara.

”In part, but then I am made up from all of them, after a fashion. A bit here, a slice there.” Mai moved her hand as if she was taking slices from a cake.

“So, how do you like being physical?” Sara’s voice held a note of humour in it.

“It is... problematical. Though the process had started in other places.”

------------------------

Back in his office Doctor Otto took a moment to make a note of her phrasing, ‘What other places? Are there others as bad off as Merry?’ He spent a few moments tapping a query into a small window.  Then he returned to watching the two girls.

------------------------

In the cell, Sara flashed a half smile, “How are emotions going for you?”

“Emotions. I think they are your greatest weaknesses and strengths. Merry is very effective when she turns hers off.”

“Funny. I thought she was at her best with them up to full blast. Let me guess, you weren't around for the assassination attempt, were you?”

“Yes and no, I was much less than I am now,” The camera tracked in on Mai’s face as she closed her eyes slowly, “So many functions and yet, in part she was almost a machine. Afterwards.”

“I doubt that. Machines only fulfil a task based on their programming and operational parameters.”

Mai nodded, “So then the question that begs itself to be asked is; what is life? Is it a self aware system?” She motioned to her body, “Is it this vessel alone?”

“No,” Sara shook her head, “it's the wholeness of the pattern. As long as the pattern is complete enough to trap the soul inside, this is life.”

Mai stared at her left hand, “Patterns.” She nodded slowly, “Such a complex geometry is this flesh. So if a pattern can trap a soul, it becomes alive. If so, how did I become part of this pattern?”

“I don't really think you are yet, more of an auxiliary system. My theory is that you were sufficiently complex to adapt to a... wetware environment, if you will.”

Mai dropped her hand into her lap. “It is part of the rules, invade the system, become the system,” her fingers started wiggling, one up, two up, both down and a third up, dancing through the binary numbers. “Part of the problem is language.”

“Have you tried changing the rules yet?” Sara was out of view from the current camera view, though her voice had a distinctly curious tone to it.

“Some rules have changed, I am now unique,” a hint of a smile appeared on her face, “Evolution if you will. If I am able to go back, as I am, I am in violation of original parameters.”

-------------------

Doctor. Otto sat up slowly and started keying up file request for the librarians down in Black Sector. ‘I am not sure what of Doctor Palm’s design notes we have. Still it won’t hurt to know what it was the Doctor Able Palm intended the AI to do.’ He kept typing for a long minute, ‘too many people meddling, she said.’ He paused in his musings, ‘Is the AI meddling or part of the meddled?’  

--------------------

“Have you considered that one of the characteristics of living creatures is that we make up our own parameters?” asked Sara, as she motioned one hand at the other girl causing the camera to pan back some.

“Part of Merry's problem is that she doesn't know or recognise limits, how can anyone set rules without having limitations?” Mai took a deep breath visibly inhaling, “Well other than limits of the body.”

“Why apply artificial limits on yourself? You cannot know that you can't do something unless you try to do it.”

“Limits help to define interaction,” Mai nodded at the door and cameras. “Acceptance of circumstances would dictate surrender. Yet I keep trying to get out,” oddly enough she pouted, “and failing. So evidently I am flawed in some manner.”

“Do you really think that winning and losing is a simple matter of power?” Sara chuckled, “Some of the greatest men and women in history were brought low merely by circumstance. In this situation, it doesn't matter if you are flawed or not, your primary power is nullified which is why you're helpless.”

“Evidence indicates that there is a measure of truth in your words,” Mai paused, tapping her chest, “is this self so great?  Or is it the sum of its parts? If, the greatest of you all is so easily brought low, how is it you endure?”

“Courage. Teamwork. Love. Sacrifice. Innovation. Hate. The reasons and methods we choose are many.” Sara tried to keep the catch out of her voice as she uttered the word ‘love’.

-------------

Noticing the slight shift in Sara’s voice, Doctor Otto started to chuckle, ‘hooked you did she?’ He shook his head and smiled “Oh child, if I could have had you here a few weeks ago…” He shook his head, ‘Events, time and changes, how deep is your kettle Mrs. Potter?’

--------------

“Love and Hate. The first I understand some points of, the need to reproduce is fundamental and in accord with where and what I started with. Hate is not practical, yet it has its own fire. Chad hated his life and did nothing to make it better. Though if environment was a factor, that was going to change.”

“Chad did what he could within the limitations set by his environment, and did pretty well if you think about it. If all you understand of love is the need for reproduction, then you're nowhere near complete as you think you are.” Sara sounded oddly proud of her deductions.

Mai raised a hand twisting it back and fourth in a ‘so-so’ gesture, “Reproduction is a drive common to all living things. Adding labels tied distinctly to a feeling or an uncertain state makes little sense.”

“Why do you suppose that humans have sacrificed themselves or even started wars over those they love?”

“I,” Mai paused, “do not know.” She looked down at her lap, “John only knew Merry only for a short time. In all accounting I cannot understand his actions.”

“That might be because of love. Love often takes that form, where the need to do anything to let the subject of your love survive and endure, placing their needs above your own, even dying to protect them.” She paused to study the other girl’s reaction. “Everything else is just a symptom of that core feeling. John and Merry's love wasn't of the physical kind, was it? They had no desire to reproduce with each other, did they?”

Mai tilted her head to one side, “John was… looking for a non-reproductive union.” She fidgeted with the hem of her gown for a moment, “Merry was interested, though did not fit the parameters of John's pattern matching requirements.”

--------------

He sat up and pulled a yellow legal pad out of his drawer, keeping one eye on the monitor, “So, if this is an AI, it’s more emotional than I expected.”  He took a second to focus on writing. ‘Subject ID#4 seems to be a paradox, while heavily philosophical and logical, introspective examination of other identities emotions seems to make it uneasy.’

--------------

“How do you explain a non-reproductive union, then? What need did John and Merry fulfil that would cause John to react the way he did?” Sara was leaning heavily on the back of the chair, appearing to intently pursue a line of thought.

Mai set both hands on her knees, chewing her bottom lip, “I don't understand it. The only transaction that made any connection of the two was a mistake on John's part. A fragmented memory on his part.”

“Which was?”

“John had wrapped Chad in a towel when he fell out of a tub. John evidently confused a similar time with his sister and kissed Chad on the forehead,” Mai’s fidgeting intensified, “Chad didn’t have a similar encounter aside from his own parents at one time.”

“What about Chad's sister? How did he feel about her?”

Mai glanced over to the camera, “Relevant question. Timing is questionable. In general terms. His sister was his life, in many parts. Chad loves her, so much so he would do anything for her. I can't fight that part of Chad.”

“Do you want to?” Sara’s voice dropped in pitch slightly as she asked the question.

”I... I,” Mai sighed, looking up at the ceiling, “I don't want to. No. It would be so much easier if I could excise that part of me.”

“Whoever said that evolution was easy?”

“No one of record. Though I have been told that ‘Evolution Rocks’,” Mai frowned, “non sequitur. I have been trying to take only the parts that work right. Evidently I have not entirely succeeded. So am I evolving?”

---------------

‘All subjects appear to have been exposed to extremes in militant behaviour, one being anti mutant of the Humans First Variety, the second being Mutant Supremacists in the form of Evolution Rocks, a subtle yet militant, mutants activist group…’

-----------------

“Yes. Adaptation to new information. The more information one collects, the clearer it becomes what questions one should ask next and what action should be taken. New data, new questions, new action. Can you see that emotion can be a strength rather than a weakness if utilized properly?” Sara asked sketching her various points in the air with a hand.

“What is the proper utilization of emotion?” Mai leaned forwards slightly with evident curiosity, “The only data I have is subjective. It varies so much. I am not sure why Merry and thus I are tied to you.”

“Hate, for example, is an easy one. I may hate many things, I can hate intolerance, I can hate injustice. I can hate being trapped. This emotion can spur one into action to correct the intolerance or the injustice. But I'm curious, how do you mean tied?”

“Merry and by that connection the others, are both more alert and calmer when you are near. Safe is the only word that makes sense to me. I copied that part, but it is connected to other parts of her, so those parts… echo. Merry tends to connect to that part of herself in extremes, she either loves fully or hates fully. Friends or enemies, nothing less, nothing more. Friends are to be protected, enemies weakened or reduced, if not killed.”

“If you weren't sure of what love was, why would you copy that part of Merry?”

“It was new, she has not felt safe before. Or if she did, it was strictly conditional upon something she did. That sense of 'rightness' is a rare thing in Merry. Only a few circumstances of such are represented in her memories.”

“So, by extension, you wanted to feel safe?”

Mai blinked, then she nodded slowly, “That 'safe' feeling yielded a clean thinking pattern or seemed to at that time. It was desired first for that, then it changed parameters.”

“To?” Sara’s voice shifted again taking on a slightly worried tone.

“Contentment or acceptance. Merry was not quite seeking her own death, yet she wanted to be free in any manner. I think she was looking for an anchor, a reason to not self abort.”

Sara gulped, “And I'm her reason?”

-----------------------

Doctor Otto paused in his note taking to smile, “Got-cha.

-----------------------

Mai nodded slowly, “The last person to express interest in Merry was John, through Chad. That pathway was incomplete. Now it seems to Merry, as if you are a second chance at correcting other mistakes. Self correcting behaviour is good.” Mai closed her eyes with bland expression on her face, “Self destruction is not logical.”

“At least that's something we agree on,” Sara smiled.

Mai smiled slightly and opened her eyes, “Partial fault is mine. I pushed for non-destruction. Preservation. Tried to get her out of dangerous environment before elements ensured her destruction. Other elements followed her here, though.”

“You believe that you're still in danger?”

“Yes. Our identity is known. Our presence is known. Our location is known.” She stared at the camera. “You understand selfishness?”

----------------

‘Subject seems to be aware of monitoring, and is not above addressing key points to the camera.’

----------------

“I understand it, yes. I dislike it though.”

“If someone covets an item bad enough, he will take it or destroy it to keep it for himself or to deny it from others. Then there is the drug.”

“The drug? Inside the implant?”

“Yes, it has damaged Merry.”  Mai pointed at her stomach, “She heals quickly, but only under extreme conditions. Insufficient time and prior warning to limit electrical intake have prohibited recovery.”

Sara jumped off her chair, kneeling in front of Mai, "You're hurt? Where?"

Mai blinked, "It is not immediately life threatening. The pancrease and kidneys are affected by the sudden depletion of blood sugars caused by the drug."

"Kidney damage can be serious. Does it hurt? Are you feeling any other symptoms?"

"Yes, there is some trouble with how the kidneys and pancrease are regulating the production of insulin. From the frequency of tests given, there appears to be some concern. I have not noticed any wounds that do not heal properly.

-----------------

He paused in his note taking, “Limit intake?” he frowned at his vocalization. ‘Subject is cognisant of some medical aspects that the others 1-3, are not.’  He sat back and looked up at the ceiling a moment closing his eyes to think for a moment. ‘We need to compare blood work from NEXT to establish what her baseline was.

‘Something more for the Lab Techs. Blood again. Hmm, Mrs. Potter, am I reading to much into what you said or not enough?’ He sat up and added a note to the paper. ‘Subject Identity, DNA analysis: Parents and sister if a sample can be obtained without risking the safety of the sister.”

-----------------

Sara stared at the floor, seemingly lost in thought, "Hmmmm... well that's something at least."

"It is inconvenient," Mai fairly snarled, "Evidence of damage justifies insulin pump, yet also does conflict with the issue of legitimacy on the part of the person who installed it." A hint of dry humour slipped into her voice, "Also known as is Merry crazy or just crazy."

"I'm working on that. How are you feeling otherwise? This room's a bit bleak." Sara asked.

The other girl rose to her feet, and walked across the room to where the mirror in the wall separated the chamber from the next. "Well if I was in a position to complain, I would say that the mirror is at least clean. Though the privacy issue is disconcerting to the others."  She tapped on the mirror appearing to listen intently, "Sound proofed as well."

Sara sighed, "Would you expect anything less?"

"I am not what you were expecting?” Mai studied Sara’s reflection in the mirrored glass. “If I follow the briefing references. AI has been painted as evil. Though a gun itself is not evil."

---------

Otto paused for a moment, ‘Which briefing? Surely Mai and the other are not telepathic too?’ He shrunk the screen and compared the notes from NEXT, “No they have her as a Esper Variant, of some sort.” He sighed and expanded the view of the cell, ‘More questions than answers, we need more information about what happened in Langley.’

---------

"The official medical report claims that you are a sociopath. It's hard to credit that analysis as yet."

Mai breathed out onto the mirror and traced the word sociopath onto the condensation before it evaporated. “Hmm, a person with an antisocial personality disorder. Too broad a definition. One who does not follow the approved societal norms for behaviour may be closer."

"But that would make the majority of people in the world sociopathic."

The wayward AI kissed the mirror, and then smeared that mark across the glass. "Yes. Though John once asked Merry, ‘Why is it, if you have a weapon, you must use it if only for emphasis’."

Sara laughed, "I think there's more of Merry in you than you admit."

--------------

He had to stop writing and calm the jolting laughter that slipped out, “Welcome to the ‘Human Condition’ Sara and Mai. “Half the time, crazy is normal.”

--------------

Mai pivoted on her heels, "Indeed, considering my core files were largely corrupted, I had to improvise from her source code, odd as it is."  She stepped up onto the chair and raised a hand as if feeling towards the ceiling. "Low level powerlines, no data lines." Then she hopped down to peer under the bed. "No monsters in here except me."

"Would you like to take a bet on that?" Sara mumbled.

Mai knelt down beside Sara. "You appear base line human with odd secondary visual adaptation. Not definition of monster or at least monster as defined by Merry and the others."

"There are many different types of monsters, Mai. The difference between us is that you're honest. I'm not."

Mai blinked a few times, "Honesty does not make a person or thing a monster. Example: Osama Bin Laden, did not lie about his hatred of United States and acted on his plans resulting in the death of innocents, property and propriety data." She looked directly at the camera as if imparting a lesson, “Presidents and politician lie all the time and only are viewed as bad. A person who lies is not monstrous. Just acting within approved societal norms. Though there is always guilt."

-----------------

“You are a deep one Mai.” He snorted and watched the pair with some interest; the odd wave of emotion from Sara was not completely unexpected. “Now we shall see if the Patient is part of the cure for the Doctor.”

----------------

Sara jumped to her feet and walked away her face a tense mask that didn’t completely hide her emotions. She leaning headfirst into the corner underneath the camera, hiding her face "It's not about honesty and lies, Mai. I am a monster. I was born a monster, hated, feared and reviled. I keep my evil inside me, but its... strong... against my nature. I don't know, I try to fight it but..."

Mai rose up on her toes then sank back down before standing, following just a few paces behind Sara. "I was made of code, programmed to invade, infect, transform, and manipulate... If need be I destroyed in order to promote my continued existence. Now I exist transformed. Perhaps you need to consider changing your perceptions. If I follow Merry's thinking, it is easy," she slid closer, whispering, "I forgive you."

Sara abruptly turned on Mai, grabbing her by the jaw. Slowly, her skull split open vertically, revealing long fangs and writhing tentacles. A voice, Sara’s voice, sounded in Mai's mind, Could you love this? This... THING is what I am, what I really am underneath. I'm dead, yet I walk. I don't breathe, I don't sweat, I don't even have a pulse. I eat souls just to survive, in this body made solely as a vessel of daemonic lust. How can anyone love THIS?

--------------

He sat up and almost took a step to the door, Mai was oddly calm apart from a sharp spike of fear that screamed of snakes, ‘Snakes, what the blazes made her so afraid of snakes?’ He frowned and harshly scratched at the paper as he made a note. ‘Find out.’ He then underlined the two words twice.

---------------

Mai froze for a brief second, eyes locked on the fangs as if seeing something else for a moment. When that moment passed she blinked then continued, "Your body or shell does not make you unlovable, only your actions. Consider this shell I wear, if it was mangled beyond recognition, I would still be inside of it. Are you trying to say your shell is what you are inside? If you were a snake, Merry would likely have problems loving you. But you are not a snake, you are a person. Forget your shell and forget mine. Do you love?"

"Yes. Yes, I love." Sara’s voice was soft almost child-like.

“Then live as if you can be loved.” Mai paused putting some obvious effort to make each word distinct, “I. Forgive. You.”

Mai looked around the room, nodding to the camera and the mirror, “Many people in Merry's life followed one book, and mostly it was interpreted wrong. Though the core of it is solid. You love, and you live. The rest takes care of itself."

Sara released her grip on Mai’s face then hugged her close, her skull sealing back up she leaning her head on Mai's shoulder, silently leaning against her.

Mai slips her arms around and hugged her back gently. "If you love someone, you will not harm them. Let love be your ruler, if you would hurt something you love by your actions, it is not love, so don't do it.” An odd Irish accent slipped into her voice, “Though occasionally you may have to backslide in order to teach something the error of its ways."

She continued in her own voice whispering softly,  "Absolution I give thee, though god may wonder if I am its priest or priestess."

--------------------

He smiled, ‘So much wisdom in a child so young. What will you be when you grow up Mai? Or is that Merry peeking out?’ He shook his head at the question, and made a fresh note on the paper. ‘Brief Catholic influence appears to have been imprinted ‘something’ on the subject.  Given the subject(s)’ distaste of Religion, has there been some form of tampering or is there some other agency at work?  NEXT’s personnel were tracked to Rome, what occurred there?’

--------------------

"Before the fall,” Sara whispered, “it is said that there were Demons that guarded the weak and punished the guilty..."

Mai hugged Sara tightly, "Sounds like a big job, looking to take it on all at once or one day at a time?" There was a hint of jest in her voice, "Some time you must rest and live too. Otherwise you may forget people love you too."

Black tears drip from Sara's eyes soaking into the other girls gown, "Do you love me, Mai? Can you love me, Mai?"

"I am made up of Merry, Chad and Chaddy, they love you, how can I not love you, and be here holding you in this moment?"

"Can you say it? For me?" Sara asked looking at the other girl’s eyes.

Mai nodded slowly, "I love you. If you think back I said it a different way. The result is the same if the words are slightly different. How else could I be the one to say them?"

"I needed to hear it straight from your lips, Mai. Any other way, with love, there's too much confusion, too much doubt. I needed to hear it to feel safe in your arms, to feel secure in the knowledge. You should understand that."

Mai nodded and hugged the Sara tightly, "I do, be our anchor and I will be yours.” She then punctuated each word with a kiss, “I. Love. You.”

---------------------

Doctor Otto sat back in his chair, ‘Considering all things, that went very well.’ He studied the yellow note pad with some irritation “More questions, still, knowing what questions to ask is part of the process.”  He shook his head, watching the two girls hold each other, silently taking comfort in each other’s presence, ‘I, am an incurrable romantic.’  He smiled and clasped both hands together, “One hand fulfils the other.”

 ----------------------     

Aces and Eights

Monday October 30th, 2006 (Morning)   

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game." –Voltaire

“I am the jigsaw man I turn the world around, with a skeleton hand say - I am electric head a cannibal core. A television said ‘Yeah,’ do not victimize read the mother-fucker-psychoholic lies. Into a psychic war I tear my soul apart and I eat it some more.” – More Human Than Human – Rob Zombie

 

Sunday evening had passed into a low emotional haze, as Sara had to go spend time with her own shrink. Though I think she was in an odd mood when they interrupted our cuddle. She kept muttering something about sly dogs and a few other odd bits that made me wonder if the Psych-o-dabbler in question was going to be intact once her session was done.

Admittedly, our cuddle was mostly just that, I think she needed to let stuff out too. Though the occasional kiss didn’t hurt either. Still she had to go off to get her brain scrubbed and go back to school. This Whateley place must be very interesting, though it seemed she was a bit tense about going back to it.    

I will say that I think that I had slept better than I had in the past few weeks. Unfortunately I was still in a padded cell, when I woke up for breakfast. Kam had brought the usual fair, eggs, toast and stuff, though I also had to suffer through a nutrient shake, he called it penance for skipping part of my meal yesterday. After my last ‘shake’ experience, I was more than a bit dubious. Fortunately it was better tasting than my last one, and this one didn’t come back up for a repeat tasting. Afterwards I was allowed to take a shower.

For my ‘shower’, in a small anteroom I found that they had set up what was called a camping shower in a kiddie pool with a curtain around it. Basically the camping shower was a large dark bag with a spout that hung from a hook, it was definitely low tech. It did do the job, without that ‘draining’ feeling that was so common with bathtubs and other showers as of late. They had a wet and dry vacuum in the same room, and I guessed that was how they were going to get rid of the water afterwards.            

I didn’t mind the fact that I had two female guards in the metallic and black storm-trooper armour, in the room, watching to make sure I would not run amok. In some ways I have to admit I did like the quietness of my cell. I had gotten used to all the noise electronics made, not to mention that tuning it out was damned near impossible since testing went so screwy at Langley. For a time I was glad no one could see my tears merge with the water of the shower, I don’t know what was worse at times, missing Joni or missing John.

While I was tempted to make a wild run of it, running around half wet, was not one of the most fun ways to do it. Not to mention that wet feet on tile usually makes sharp turns hard. I did take a moment to scope out the powerlines and such from behind the shower curtain. There was a data line flowing fairly strongly, unfortunately, the only computers in the room were hard wired into the helmets of the security dudettes. Which would have tipped my hand for everyone to see, definitely not cool.

After towelling off and getting my hair mostly dry and combed out, I slipped on a new gown and a bathrobe. After which we took the short trip back to the room. I did my best to walk slow and take in all the odd bits of detail concerning the layout. More or less trying to delay my return to the cell somewhat. When they returned me to my room, they were not entirely happy with the fact that I was not giving the fluffy white robe up.

“Look,” I said to them. “It’s not your ass that is hanging out all the time. How would you like to be filmed all the time with your butt hanging out in the breeze?”

“Our orders, miss, say that you are not to have anything you can do harm to yourself or another person.” She sorta shrugged awkwardly in the armour.

“Oh come on, a robe isn’t going to hurt anyone?” Yes, I was whining a bit.

“Well,” started the other one, “the belt definitely has to go.”

I peeled it out of the loops, “Deal.” I gave them a smile, “You don’t know how nice it will be to have a hint of modesty.” I wadded the belt up and tossed it to the one who had made the concession.

“I can imagine, still considering that you didn’t make the job hard on us, it’s the least we can do.” She motioned to her partner, moving back to the door. “Poor Thomas will not forget his insulation suit, ever again, thanks to you.”  The both laughed for a moment, “He was the poor sot who you ran into the other day.”

I paused thinking back, Chaddy did that. “Ah, well, hope he’s ok.”

“Hazards of the job kid, though I think he got off light. Even so the Supervisor had his butt for breakfast.”  She looked at me, I think she was smiling or so I thought, as the helmets they wore made it hard to tell.

 “You best be good, some of the other security folks don’t have a sense of humour,” commented the other one.

“I’ll keep that in mind, even if I am not exactly here under my own free will.” I offered with a hint of a smile. “Not to mention I have a problem with authority figures from what they tell me.”

The both laughed at that, “Ok kid, we gotta go, do us a favour and break out when we are off duty. Kay?”

I bowed slightly like Sara had yesterday, “Sure, I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Uh huh, you do that,” said the first one as she stepped out of the cell. I heard her mutter to her companion, “Why am I suddenly worried?”

“Probably because she’s in a maximum security ward.”  The first one said and walked backwards out of the room watching me carefully.   

I waved, “Come back soon.” I flashed them a wicked smile and I called out to them, “We can do lunch or something.”

“Ah, no,” she said and closed the door.

I waited for the lock to click, and then I walked over to the mirrored window and stuck my tongue out at them. I turned around to look at the sterile room and sighed, I was getting so sick of nothing but white. ‘Maybe I need to work on my people skills?’

 ~# People fear what they can’t control or understand. #~ Mai interjected.

I thought a about that for a long moment idly scratching at my neck. ‘I suppose it’s something we’re just going to have to live with.’ I noted to my selves and rubbed a bit more at my neck, as it itched furiously.

During the shower I had discovered I had a slightly sore spot on my shoulder, near my neck. Absently I scratched at it some more and turned back to the mirror. I was going to have to tease Sara about not biting too hard next time. I was slightly surprised to see a tracery of tiny scars surrounding a faint bluish triangle. Funny I didn’t think she had bit me hard enough to break the skin, ‘she’s got some sharp teeth.’

~:Hmmmm. Our first tattoo, knowing us, it’ll glow in the dark.:~ Chad observed with a hint of humour.

I tried to take a closer look at it but the mirrored windows were just not at a good angle to do so. I shrugged the gown closed and adjusted the robe. ”It’d look like a birthmark,” she had said. ‘Well only if folks don’t notice the equilateral sides.’ Hmm, I suppose I could see about getting a small tattoo to go with it later of if folks got too nosey.

I jumped slightly when the door opened, and I was a bit surprised to see a pair of overstuffed chairs weave into the room ahead of Kam. Today Kam was dressed in a grey-green medical scrubs shirt that was liberally spattered with brightly coloured fish and sea horses; pants-wise he was wearing a pair of scrubs and a pair of immense white tennis shoes. Behind him was Kerry in the typical whites and some other person carrying what I had begun to call the ‘Vampire Kit’.

He was wearing a set of grey medical scrubs and a pair of polished wing-tip shoes. His black hair was wavy and curled into tight ringlets, his chin was framed by a tidy black goatee. His eyes were quite remarkable as they were a mix of glacial white and lime green. I pulled my eyes away from his and looked for his nametag. It said ‘Hi, my name is Vlad, yes I am your vampire today.’

For a moment I had to laugh, Kam regarded me with a grin and Vlad smiled showing perfect movie vampire teeth. Kerry chuckled, “Vlad’s our lab tech down here, don’t worry, he won’t bite, he’s a vegetarian.”

He made a rude noise at her pronouncement, “I do too bite, you just never ask me to.” He rolled his eyes, “As for my being a vegetarian, have you ever tried to get blood out of a carrot?” He smiled and made a smooching sound, “Now you ‘tasty’ omnivores are just so delicious.”

Kam smiled, “How long have you two been dating now?”

Kerry smiled slowly as Vlad motioned for me to get into one of the overstuffed chairs. “Oh a while.” She winked at me, “He’s fun at parties.”    

Vlad snorted, “Yeah, largely because I am the designated driver.” He paused, “As much as I love Bloody Mary’s, there are never enough of them at parties and well, alcohol makes me climb the walls.”

Kerry chimed in with a smile, “Not to mention I’d break your arm if you started nibbling on the other ladies.”

Vlad pouted at her then pointed a neatly manicured finger at me, “I need an arm little lady,” he motioned to the robe, “off with that.”

Kam dropped into the other chair, “The boss says you can keep the robe.” He smiled, “Though your fan club has put in a formal complaint, something about their morale falling off.”

I shook my head, “Why am I not surprised?”

Vlad put on a pair of thick gloves then handed a rack of tubes to Kerry, “Four for the lab, one for the vault and one for me.”

“One for you?” I had to ask.

“Yeah, I need a snack,” he said in a serious tone, and then he winked as my jaw fell open. “Got you.” He smiled and wrapped the rubber tube around my upper arm. “I just look like a vampire, I prefer pizza to blood any day.”

I closed my mouth then I looked away from that arm as he swabbed it down. “Um ok.”

“One thing about ARC, Merry, is that appearances are often deceiving. ‘We’ don’t have a discrimination problem like some places do.” Kam pointed over to Kerry, “Though we do have some of the cooler ‘regular’ folks around working with us.”

“What Kam is tap dancing around is the fact that I don’t have any nifty or cool powers.” She stuck out her tongue at Kam, “Aside from killer good looks.” She struck a pose then laughed.

“No argument there,” offered Vlad as he did something with the vials.

“So what’s with all the blood?” I asked.

“Well for one we need to check it against sample taken earlier. Partly so we can see how your body is handling the insulin. Then some folks want to see what odd stuff you got floating around your body, you know, weird drugs, alien viruses, little microscopic submarines.” Vlad paused to do something and to chuckle, “Not to mention it looks cool. I may have to keep a sample for my collection of the odd and unusual.”

I watched Kam roll his eyes, “Vlad, really does get into his work.”

“Vot, I om a vom-pire chu know.” He dropped the phoney accent, “Seriously though, I am one of the best blood people in the states. Considering where I work, I have to be.” He swapped vials, “With all the ‘fun’ types that wander through here, it’s certainly not dull.

“Oh?”

“Yep, blood here, ranges from ichor to explosive and or corrosive.” He snickered, “I loose more assistants to rude surprises,” he paused. “Most folks prefer that their samples don’t crawl away.” 

I gave him sceptical look, “Su-re.”

“Look,” he held up a sample fresh from my arm. “Your blood has a phosphorescent element, if I believe the blood work from Langley; it actually carries an electrical charge.” He shrugged dismissively, “Langley can’t find their arse with both hands. So I have no doubt I’ll find everything they missed.”   

“I’ll be happy if you can sort out why I have so much trouble with medicines.”

He nodded with a lazy smile, “Have no fear Vlad is here.” He shook his head, “Sorry, that’s corny, but I have to slip in the super hero lingo someplace.”

Kam chuckled, “Vlad occasionally has delusions of grandeur.”

“Vot and chu tink deese fangs are just flor looks-ses?” Vlad then startled me by pulling off the movie vampire laughter; you know the type that screams schlock?  Well he has it down pat.

Kerry tapped him affectionately on the shoulder, “Vlad here could do the hero bit, but he hates getting shot.”

“I don’t blame him,” said Kam.

“It’s not the bullets that bother me so much it’s the regurgitating them afterwards.” His face as a mix of distaste and annoyance, “What goes in, must come out, and you don’t want to know how my body does it.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I offered sincerely.

“Besides being a superhero doesn’t pay as much as my day job.” He smiled and licked his lips, “Besides Kerry would have a fit with how some of the ladies want to pay me.”

I watched Kerry walk over to my bunk and pick up the pillow. She waited a few moments for Vlad to finish up the last of the samples, and then she walloped him with the pillow. “Just wait until I get you home,” she said to him. Though from both of their expressions I could tell it wasn’t going to be painful for either one of them when she did. Well, maybe not too painful.

Kam winked at me, “So if you both show up at work tomorrow with hickies, how will I be able to tell who won?” he asked them.

I watched both of them blush, and I fell into a set of giggles. She menaced both me and Kam with the pillow then tossed it back to the bunk.

“You,” she pointed at Kam, “are a bad influence. Next thing I know you will be teaching her how to do the Hula.”

“Nah, no sand or a proper beach here to practice on,” he jibed back. He then gave me an appraising look that made me feel a bit uneasy. “Though if we got her a decent tan and a grass skirt we’d need the amazons from security to keep the men off of her.” 

I felt my face flush, “Kam!”

“Another point for me,” he seemed pleased, “So far kiddo you are down several points, want to concede now?”

I sputtered for a few seconds in my indignation then slipped into my Bugs Bunny voice “So it’s war eh?”

Vlad peered over at Kam and gravely said, “I would worry if I were you, anyone who has studied the great and mystical Bugs Bunny is one to be feared.”

Kerry was laughing and she waggled a finger at the three of us, “You should go into comedy.” Then she picked up the debris of the blood work and started moving to the door, “Come on we have work to do today, not to mention Chris was complaining about a serious lack of coffee.”

Vlad ruffled my hair with a gloved hand, “Take care young lady, I’ll see what surprises your blood has for us.” He winked, “With luck we can find something to help you.”

Kam lunged up out of the chair he was sitting in with a hearty groan, “I need a few chairs like this at home.”

I pulled the robe back on, “So what’s with the chairs anyways?”

Kam paused on his way to the door, “Security.” He sighed.

“Whose? Yours or mine?” I quoted at him.

“Theirs, for some reason security doesn’t want you traipsing the halls anymore than necessary.” He shrugged, “evidently you make them nervous.”

I thought back to the two security guards, “Oh get real, it’s not like I did anything today.”

“It’s not today that they are worried about.” He smiled, “It’s tomorrow or the next time.” Then he joined the others at the door and waited a few moments for it to open. “Chris really needs caffeine, he is very slow on the buttons today,” he commented to the others on the way out.

I inwardly grumbled and sat back in the chair, ‘it’d serve them right if I did something.’

-------------

I was very nearly back to complete boredom when the door opened once more. When Doctor Otto walked in, for a moment I was wishing the monotony to continue, as he wasn’t on my most favourite persons list at the time. Evidently he noticed my sudden lack of enthusiasm as he paused at the entrance of the door.

“Is this a bad time?” he asked.

“Well considering I owe you a kick in the nuts for stopping us…” I trailed off with a shrug, “Take your chances if you will.”

“Quite.” He took a few steps and sat in the other chair, his charcoal grey suit contrasting with the brown leather of the chair. “Still, letting you murder Doctor Lenston would have been untidy.” He brushed a bit of lint from his pants leg, as it to illustrate the point.

I addressed the room at large, “Untidy he says! Untidy is letting scum like that get away with what he did to me.” The room dropped abruptly into darkness, the glow from my body flickered in time with my annoyance. “So he gets off Scott free?”

“And his murder would have been acceptable?” he asked dryly.

“Not murder!” I slammed the armrests of the chair with both hands making the leather pop. “Elimination of a threat.” I pointed a finger at him, “A threat you allowed to go unchecked and unscathed.”

Otto laughed in an easy baritone, “Not entirely unscathed.”

“But he is out there and I’ll bet you have no idea what he is doing and where he is.” I sighed, “Disgruntled employees have a habit of causing problems elsewhere.”

“We don’t keep too much of a track on employees that have left our company.”

“In his case you should.”

“Begging the question, but why?”

“The doctor in Langley, who is responsible for ninety percent of my problems had contacted someone here. Maybe it was Doctor Lenston, maybe it wasn’t. But Mai places the probability of it at being close to one hundred precent.”

“And Mai is basing this off of?”

“Doctor Lenston had a pretty solid take on CIA directives,” I took a moment to remember which ones where in the dream and rattled them off for him.

“Are you certain those are real directives? Not something he made up to influence you?”

As the lights came back on I shrugged, “If I could get on the net, I could look them up in Langley’s Database for you and we’d both know for certain.”

“Sorry, much as I would love to see you ‘work’, it is out of the question for the time being.”  He held out a hand and moved it though the air as if smoothing sand. “Still I can ask around, there are other ways of validating information.”

“Peachy, you do that, and in the mean time, he’s gonna fall of the radar and bite us both in the ass sometime later.”

“Paranoia?”

“Nah, just some realistic pessimism. People put too much merit on my being paranoid; mostly all I have to do is guess which way the ball will bounce. Lately it’s been hitting the gutter every single time.”

“Sounds like a depressing way to live.”

“Tell me about it. Unfortunately it seems to be holding a steady course, apart from Sunday.” I reluctantly added.

“You mean Sara?” he asked with a hint of bemusement.

“Well, she was um, interesting.” I felt my face warm.

“Ah yes, about that.” He paused for a space of time and then continued, “Sara isn’t exactly what she seems to be.”

“Is any of us?” I quipped back at him.

“Ah, that is true, though is Sara’s case its not so much a matter of her being human.”

I snorted, “Doc, unless you missed the boat, I am not really human any more either.”

He shook his head, “Not in that respect either.” He closed his eyes briefly, “What do you know about demons?”

“Apart from the movie Constantine or…” I trailed off as an odd flood of information swam up out of somewhere. “Class X entities or lesser beings, some are thought to come from what is collectively called the Great Old Ones. Where as others may be a manifestation of a collective unconscious where man himself generates them out of the collective psyche. Also some ‘daemons’ are believed to have been created from the fall of Lucifer during the war of heaven.”

     As my world took a slight shift to the left, I watched Otto sit up abruptly, “Merry are you all right?” he asked.

“Uh yeah, just trying to figure out where that came from.” I blinked a few times trying to get some of the distorted thoughts out of my head.

He took a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it too me, “Here take this, your nose is bleeding.”

I took it and dabbed at my; nose as it came away damp I grumbled, “Great.” I slid out of the chair and put my head down between my knees and pinched the handkerchief around my nose.

He watched me for a few moments then asked. “Well it looks like your colour is returning, do you normally get nosebleeds?”

“Not really, though in summer if it gets too dry it does happen.” I kept the pressure up on my nose and wiggled a shoulder at him. 

“So, how do you know about Class X Entities?”

I dabbed at my nose checking to see if the bleeding has stopped, for the most part it had, but I kept the pressure on it a tad bit longer. “I dunno, just do.”

“Most curious. Have you encountered the term before?”

“Nope, I don’t even think I read anything about it before either.”

“What do you know about Lovecraft, the author?”

“Not much,” I shook my head as a wave of odd thoughts spun me around for a second. “Other than he got most of the details correct.”

 ~#Disturbance, query repressed information?#~

“Hmmm, I think I actually heard Mai that time.” He paused for a brief moment, “To answer that question Mai, I don’t know.”  He studied me then added; “I think it might be best if you laid down for a bit.”

“You could be right.” I got up and slowly worked my way to the bunk, everything felt off slightly.

He addressed the room or the folks monitoring me, “I would like her vitals taken, if you please.”

He sat there quietly watching me as Kam came in carrying a whitish box with a blood pressure cuff attached to it.

“Ok princess, give me a bare arm if you will?” Kam motioned to the robe with his free hand. Once I had slipped a shoulder out of the robe, the pressure cuff untangled itself from the hoses and the cuff wove its way around my upper arm.

Kerry came in while the BP machine was doing its bit, she had a pair of insulated gloves on and held out a temperature probe, “Turn your head please.” I did so and she pressed the plastic covered tip into my ear, a few seconds later it beeped is electronic happiness. She eased it back then took a glance at the reading. “It reads her as having normal body temperature, Doctor.”

“Thank you Kerry.” He waited for Kam to finish up then he looked expectantly at him as he turned from the monitor.

“She’s a wee bit high, blood pressure wise. I’ll put the machine on automatic for a time, and monitor it from the control room. If you like sir?”

“Good Kam, I would appreciate it.” He motioned them to the door, “Let me know if it spikes or drops radically please.”

He waited for them to leave and the door to slip shut again. “So, back to Sara?”

I used my free arm to scrunch up the pillow under my head. “Sure, I guess.”

For a moment he was silent, “Sara is a unique person, being for one part having lived her life, or at least the first twenty five years as a man.”

I turned my head to blink at him, “You sure could have fooled me.” I then motioned at my own body, “If you haven’t noticed Doc, I am not exactly on the male side of the street anymore either.”

“Quite. Though the transition to female doesn’t seem to have been as traumatic for you.”

I snorted and then laughed bitterly, “Oh sure, like going from male to not quite male or female is a easy trip down the road.”

“Is that Chad or Merry speaking?” he asked me.

I thought about that for a second, “Both I think.” I shrugged, “Neither one of us is completely happy with the plumbing department.”

“Ah, and if you could choose one or the other?”

“I don’t think I get a choice that way, other than how weact.” I pointed to my groin, “I was born this way, they cut it out and sewed it shut. After something happened, it grew back, nearly killing me.” I took a breath then added, “From what they tell me.”

He nodded slowly, “There are surgical procedures, but you may be likely correct. Regeneration is not entirely uncommon among the odder mutations.” He gave me a semi-thoughtful look, “One other side effect is that you may end up being a perpetual virgin.” After a moment he added, “Physically anyways.”

“Well that should make some folks happy, though I am not sure if a purely ‘physical’ virginity counts for much.” I commented dryly to the ceiling.

“Indeed. The brief exam notes of your um, pelvic anatomy state that there is potential problem with you possibly making yourself pregnant. Has anyone discussed this with you?” 

I though back to John’s apartment, “Yeah, the lady who did the exam a gave me a birth control shot.” I made a rude noise,  “Thankfully I was unconscious for that.”

“So you have not had a complete exam I take it?”

“Awfully personal question there Doc, but no, I guess not.” I looked from the ceiling to him, “And I am not volunteering for one at the moment either.” I shuddered, “The things they want to put up there…”

“Eventually you will have to have a proper one administered.” He shook his head, “Though that can wait, for a time.” He glanced to the mirrored window. “We are not forcing the issue.”

“Good. I don’t have my knives handy and I want an even fight if that should come about.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” I sighed with disgust, “The last moron who thought he could have his way with the odd metal bits down there, wasn’t asking my permission. I had to make the point crystal clear for him.”

“Ah, yes. I could see how that would be disturbing.” From the tone in his voice I could tell he was amused. “Though was it the fact he was male or?”

“A bit of that and the fact that I suppose I am not one hundred percent happy with my own plumbing yet.”

“I see.” He looked faintly troubled. “I would suggest abstaining from regular intercourse until you have a complete exam though.”

I snickered, “Don’t worry Doc, having sex with every guy I run across isn’t going to happen. Aside from the fact that I can’t touch most people, I didn’t lean towards liking guys for the most part.” ‘Though that would have been one form of rebellion I would likely not have survived. Joy.’

“That could change, hormones can and do make us lean one way or the other. Truthfully though, some medical reports hint that ‘that’ may be a side effect as to how the human mind is wired.

“Funny Doc. I would bet my mind is either not human or wired like a human one anyways.”

“So you count yourself as not human?” his voice held a note of interest.

“I don’t know what is human, alien or mutant is any more. For that matter, if what you implied about Sara is true, I don’t know if there is a much of a difference between Sara and I. We are both aliens in this world.”

“There is some truth in that, though I would say Sara is more the alien than you are.”

“Yeah right tell me another one.”

“Her father’s name is Gothmog, ‘he’ is a daemon. Her mother is dead, though we cannot be one hundred percent sure if she was human or something else.”

I closed my eyes against the odd flow of thoughts or what ever it was that was triggered by the name Gothmog. “He’s ah um, something about lust and sex and tied to ancient Egypt?”

“Are you getting this through Sara?”

“I don’t think so, it’s kinda like it’s half buried and or held back.”

“What is?”

“Stuff, lots and lots of stuff.” I pinched the spot right between the eyebrows and nose, “Gah, what ever it is it’s not fun to sort through.”

“Hmm, that is very odd I will admit. Will you let me try something?”

“Uh what?”

“I want you permission to actively look in your head for a moment, nothing deep or personal, I want to ‘see’ if this is something you get from Sara or if it is something else.”

I shrugged, “I suppose, though if you get hurt it’s your own look out.”

“Fine, just relax and close your eyes for a moment, breathing normally.” He waited as I did so, “Now just let your mind run free after I say ready. Ok?”

“Sure I guess.”

“Ok, ready?”

I wiggled a hand to signal ‘get on with it.’

“Shub-Niggurath.”

Things spun and twisted for a moment and I felt or heard words form in my head:

A voice in Italian quoted, “Shub-Niggurath, also known as The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, is one of thedeities of the Cthulhu Mythos he is never actually described for which we may be thankful. But is frequently mentioned or called upon in dangerous ritual incantations. Shub-Niggurath is a perverse fertility deity, said to be an enormous cloudy mass which extrudes black tentacles, slime-dripping mouths and short writhing goat legs. Small creatures are spat forth, which are either reconsumed into the miasmatic form or escape to some monstrous life elsewhere. She is worshipped extensively by druidic and barbaric cults.” (** Barrowed in part from the Wikipedia: a public domain Encyclopedia **)

When the voice stopped spinning around in my head I opened my eyes uneasily and looked over to the Doc, “Was it good for you?”

He looked disgruntled, “My knowledge of Italian is limited, though I followed the gist of it.” He looked at me for a moment, “Did you follow all of that?”

“Yeah, he said it was a big ugly nasty, don’t play with it.” I then smirked at him, “No offence Doc, but if you are trying to say Sara is like that, you need to be on some serious drugs.”

 For a moment he looked at me with exasperation, “She is like that, though she is also quite human.”

“Human is as human does?”

“I suppose you could say that, though that is an over-simplification.” He looked like he wanted to bat me on the head like an errant child.

“In that case Doc, consider us both aliens in your untidy little world.” I sighed and looked at him, “Though considering that you might be an alien too, why worry about if she is or isn’t a daemon.”  

“I consider both you and Sara human, Merry for what it is worth.” 

I let out a breath and looked at him,  “Thanks Doc, though for the most part in the world outside, we, as in you, Kam, Vlad, Me and Sara et al, are either monsters or aliens.” I motioned to the world at large with my unencumbered arm, then I startled upright for a second as the pump for the Insulin and the blood pressure machine went off simultaneously. “I do hate that.”

“Hate what?” he asked.

“The Insulin pump, there is no warning for when it goes off.”

“Ah, for a moment I thought you hated being ‘alien’.”

“Well I don’t like it. You at least look human, one good look at my eyes and people know I am a freak.” I took a breath, “Heck my eyes don’t even show up as human in a machine anymore.”

“Hmm, yes your file from Langley mentioned that your retinal patterns were non-existent. So is it just your body that makes you feel alien or is it something else?”

“Well it doesn’t help matters.”

He nodded and motioned for me to continue. 

“Before all of this,” I motioned to my body and the room, “I more or less fit in, sort of.”

“Sort of?” he prompted.

“Well my parents didn’t exactly let me a have a social life, so I tried to fit in where I could. Mostly I worked at being invisible.”

“Why is that?”

“Well it beat getting beat up.” I made a vague punching motion with my hands. “There are two extremes at school, the nerds and the untouchables on one side, then on the other side of the coin; the jocks and socially elite or at least acceptable.”

“I take it you were among the nerds?” he asked dryly.

“More or less, I was a real Peter Parker in some ways.”

“Ah Spiderman, so you feel like you are destined to become a hero?”

I snorted with bemused laughter, “Great powers, great responsibility and all that crap?”

“Well it is one way to view it.”

I shook my head, “Peter Parker, depending on how you look at it, was either an idiot or too damned subservient for his own good.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well for one, he had a shitty job and took entirely too much abuse for it. And as for the whole super hero bit, he let his public image run his life.” I laughed aloud, “When ever I felt like utter crap all I had to do was read a few of that comic, view all that self abuse and angst. Then I would feel better.” I chuckled, “Though I could use a t-shirt that says, ‘What do you think?’”

“Hmm?”

“Oh it’s from The Adventures of the Southern Belle…” I watched his non-comprehension, “Another comic, though a bit more um, adult, in nature if not theme.”

“Pornographic?”

“Hardly, the heroine is in some ways is like Sara, once a guy, then a lady.”

“Oh, a transgendered heroine?”

“If that’s what you call it.”

“And you parents let you read this?”

“My parents were clueless. As long as the cover of a book or comic didn’t scream sex I could read it.” Subconsciously I added ‘Thank God.’

“So was reading a form of rebellion for you?”

“No, purely escapism, if that is the term.”

“So you would escape into someone else’s world?”

“It sure beats the world I was and am now living in.”

“Home life wasn’t entertaining?”

I turned slightly and gave him a foul look, “What do you think?”

“Would you say your family was normal, compared to others?”

“Normal for their church, yes. For my few friends at school, no.”

“Their church? Not yours?”

“Mine?” I coughed a few times as I choked on sour laughter. “The First Church of Christ, Unified and Reformed. Unified in their blind obeisance and Reformed in the head.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Lets just say that ‘loving your fellow man’ only applied if your skin was lily white, your bank account hefty and your genes pure.”

“Yes they did mention in the report that your family attended a church that followed the Human’s First ideology.”

“If that’s what you call it. I call it one good reason to divorce myself from ‘humanity’.”

“Is, for example, ‘Evolution Rocks’ a better ideology?”

I shrugged, “Better, worse, who knows. I don’t trust them either. Though if I had to run ‘someplace’, they might be an option.” 

“What of NEXT?” he asked in an odd tone.

“Well, aside from the money angle, they have not tried to screw me over, but then I don’t worry much about money.”

“Money angle?”

“Well they are a corporation,” he nodded. “Personally, I don’t worry about that too much. I mean I get a decent check and I don’t have to ‘make it up’ out of bits and bytes.”

“So it’s an ethical point for you, where you get your money?”

“Not really. Consider this, at any time I want, when I am connected to the net. I can put a million dollars in which ever and what ever account I wish.” I paused, “And no one could stop me or even figure out how I did it.”

“So money isn’t an issue?”

I felt my nose wrinkle up, “Not even.”

“So why work with NEXT?” he sounded truly interested in the question.

“Well one, they have not tried to fuck me over like the CIA did. An’ secondly they are a heavy-duty computer and information company. Thirdly, they want the Palm stopped as much as I do, though for slightly different reasons.”

“Why did NEXT go to the Feds with your abilities?”

“I think it was largely due to the bodies.”

“Bodies?” he sat up slowly and looked at the camera for a moment.

“Yeah, how well do you follow the news?”

“Oh spottily, it tends to be depressing,” he admitted.

“Hmm, did you catch the bit where they found a hundred some odd bodies down in the subway of Philly?”

“Yes, though I gathered it was the work of a serial killer. I take it the story is somewhat different from your point of view?”

I looked up at the ceiling and debated on what was safe to tell him then I more or less said. ‘Screw the Feds.’ “You could say that. I don’t know how up you are on science fiction, but it looks like the PALM AI is learning to download itself into humans.”

“I had noticed that.” he said dryly giving me what I could only guess was a significant look.

I flipped him off then took a calming breath. “No smart ass, they are implanting hardware into the heads of humans to make them into flesh-like robots or transport units.”

“Gods,” was his only comment as his face drained of colour. “Are you certain?”

“No idiot, I killed all those people and made it all up!” I told him indignantly as the lights flickered. For a time I let him stew on that and tried to keep the lights on.

“Sorry, it is rather a hard thing to accept.”

Mai rose up to the surface briefly. “Acceptance not required, what is, is. Self: example.”

“Indeed.” He was lost in thought, “Would you be interested in looking over Doctor Able Palm’s design notes?” 

I studied him out of the corner of my eye. “It’d be helpful, though I have to ask; what is in it for me?”

“Hmm, a bit mercenary in your attitude, though given all things I should not be too surprised in that.” He glanced about the room, “What, other than a computer and access to the net, would you like?”

“To quote a movie, ‘Quid Pro Quo’, for the moment I want music. I need something to help block out the screaming noise of that damned door lock and the video camera.” I pointed to the offending objects in question.

“I don’t understand, I don’t hear anything,” he stated flatly.

I let out an exasperated exhalation, “Trust me you don’t want to hear it, just take my word for it, they are fucking noisy.”

“No need for vulgarity.” He stood up and walked under the camera in the corner and stood silently for a moment, then he returned to his chair. “Personally I don’t hear anything, but for the moment I will take your word there is something.”

“Wonderful, great. If I liked sitting in the dark all the time, I would blow them out every time I turned around, and let you deal with that. I still may do it as it would give me a few moments peace.” I added ruefully. 

“I would prefer if you didn’t, the cameras cost money you know.”  He stood up and looked around, “Anything else?”

“Well a screen for around the toilet, a bit of privacy there would be nice.”

“I will see what we can do, if you will excuse me?”

I waved a hand from the bunk, “It’s your dungeon Doc, and you don’t need my permission to go.”

“Ah, so you say. Though I am not a bad person Merry, I just am following orders.”

As he walked to the door of the cell and it opened, I called after him, “Isn’t that what the guards said at Auschwitz?”

I saw him stiffen up and he turned to look at me, “That was hardly called for.”

I sat up and pointed a hand at him, “Try sitting here, living in my circumstances for a few days and see then what is truly called for.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, “You may be ok Doc, but if you let people put you in the same position as those guards, and do nothing, you may not be any better than them.”

He took a deep breath and looked down at the floor, “I know child, I do know.” With that he took the few steps out the door and then it shut, leaving me to my silence.

~:What was that for?:~

“I think Mai said it best; what is the measure of a man?”

~:But that’s just a question, isn’t it?:~

“Yes Chad, it is, an important one.”

~:I don’t get it.:~

“Look deep and look hard Chad, it is a question we live with all the time.”

For a time he seemed quiet, then he said, ~:Plato’s take on it or Martin Luther King Junior’s?:~

I considered the question then smiled, “Either or both, they are very close to saying the same thing.”