What Happened In The Alley
The next thing I know, JACK is in my arms. She's crying and so am I. I'm not going to even try to stop it this time it feels so good. She's holding on tight enough to crush my spine and even though it's hard to breathe I know what her grip on me means. I'm not going to bring it to an end any earlier than I have to.
Sobbing, my mind asks me the question: syl, when will it all stop?
How the glitch should I know, mind? I want to know the answer too. Somehow I doubt if anybody has ever had the answer to that one, so how am I--a lost little girl going to know the answer to that--the question of all questions? Get off my back. I'm not in the mood.
"syl?" JACK says, voice in my ear. "Thank you. I was so scared."
"So was I."
JACK pulls back, and I feel a loss--I need somebody to comfort me right now--even if it is a youngling wirewitch. But she is my only friend right now and I want to cling to something secure. She may not be secure, but she's all I have.
"But we're still alive," JACK says, "and that's what is important. That, and keeping ourselves alive."
The only thing I can do is exhale. Continue to breathe. And inhale. In. Out. In. In. Out. It's rhythmic and involuntary, therefore easy. Nothing is the easiest thing to do at this point. And I'm doing exactly that. I'll take the wide path over the narrow one right now.
"We have a..." JACK begins, but trails off, her eyes surveying the littered alley--I don't want to look again--the mess there, "...few things to talk about."
Quite an understatement, JACK. I nod.
"But now is not the time. We need to get out of here and to find a Haven--anything which can serve as sanctuary for awhile."
Somehow we find the strength to stand. Don't know where the strength or the will is coming from, but it's there, and that's all that matters right now. I want to go on. There's resolve inside me, boiling. It came from nowhere, but it's pulling at me, tugging me up, not letting me recoil and cringe like I feel like doing right now. Glitch it. Now I'm getting mad.
JACK picks up her cloak. It's stained worse than she is, but she dons it without flinching. Her wirewitch identity once again cowers beneath a thin shell.
The alley opens up back there. It's dark. Good. We won't have to go out where everybody can see us. Maybe we can stay out of the mainstream until we locate a Haven. We're so close to the center of the city, there's a good chance that there's one near here. I'd cross my fingers, but I don't believe in that garbage.
I follow JACK back into the darkness, further into the alley. Deeper.
"We'll survive, syl," JACK says, only a backward glancing eye to see at me beneath that hood.
She's reassuring me? I need it, I'm not going to deny that, but something tells me that it's all wrong and I'm the one that's messed up. "No doubts here, JACK." That's it--lie. I know she doesn't believe a word.
I keep my eyes up, avoiding the crooked corpses and stilled pools of drying blood below me. The end of the alley approaches, but I never quite reach it because--
I turn, and see that we are not alone in the alley. Another has joined us--now seeing the rotten fruits picked by my hands. From my angle the bodies look only like malformed lumps of silhouettes--motionless and completely dead. I did that.
The street is glaring at me, and I can't make out the gender of the newcomer. I hear JACK moving behind me, but I put a hand back, stopping her from doing anything.
"Hold on, JACK, we don't need another confrontation."
"Agreed, but we also don't need to get ourselves dead," JACK replies, talking with an authority that her girlish face does not immediately imply. She may look like a young teenage girl, but inside the picture is different.
The newcomer steps forward and I know that it's a man--something in the way he moved gave him away. He's not close, but I estimate that he's taller than I. Looks like his head is shaved. Another Dokk? I wonder, but then--
No, he's not wearing a trenchcoat. Never seen a Dokk without one. Also, he's not wearing a visor. Looks like he's ignoring us. He knows we're here though.
JACK whispers. "At least he's not a Dokk."
But if not a Dokk, then what? "Let's just leave. Maybe he's like the rest of the world and just really doesn't give a--"
"Hello there," the newcomer says. His voice is calm--deep, but not old--and his posture is non-threatening.
JACK is pressed up against my side, and I feel her tense. She's ready, but I want to avoid everything that can be avoided. "What do you want?" I ask.
"I saw what you did."
"How the--" JACK begins.
"Do you have a problem with us?" I say.
He steps forward. Can almost make out some features--almost. "The Dokks are refuse. A few less make this city a better place." Another step forward. His head's not shaved, but his dark hair is cut close. He has some sort of tubes extending from his nostrils to a device at his waist. Probably a respirator to deal with minor breathing problems. As he get closer, I can hear the device humming.
"Who are you and what do you want?" JACK asks.
"My name is Q'and'q, and despite what conclusions you may have already reached about me, I am a friend."
"What do you want?" JACK asks again, her voice a chilling buzz.
"Like I said, I saw what you did, and I think you need some help." More steps. He's encased in black clothes from neck to toe. For a second, they seem to shimmer in the shadows--environment sensing most likely. If he had wanted to stay hidden, he could have.
"How can you help us?" I ask.
"I can show you to the nearest Haven. You do want to find one, do you not?"
There is quiet between the three of us as we each decide in our own minds what to do and say next.
"Why would you want to help us?" I ask.
"I don't like seeing people being taken advantage of. I can see and understand that you don't trust me. That's fine. I saw what those Dokks were about to do to you, and it makes me sick. I was about to come to your aid, but..." He turns his head to the corpses. "...you--um, took care of them. Anyway, the truth is that I will lead you to the Haven if you wish. If you refuse, I will leave, and seek others who need help."
I'm tired. It only takes a short look at JACK to see the same about her. "Your help would be appreciated, Q'and'q. Lead us."
Q'and'q nods. We walk.
Another Visit From The Clown
Looking back now as I lie here in bed, a thin sheet of strange material covering me, making me warm, I realize that I didn't know a great many things. Recently of course. These are piled up upon all the other things I didn't know before. What I realize I don't know continues to increase the longer I stay awake. I can hear JACK breathing nearby, asleep finally, not even her hair stalks are moving. I'm tired and I want the embrace of the void, but my mind is at it again. Glitch.
The first thing I didn't realize at first was that Q'and'q is a Guardian-8 for this Haven. That was a minor fact which he neglected to mention when we first met. Telling us that straight out might have sped up the trust process. He had been looking through the dregs of the city's population and we were what he came up with. I don't think we were quite what he bargained for, but a Guardian-8 cannot refuse to help in a situation which calls for it.
The second thing I didn't realize at first was how handsome Q'and'q was. I think it's the first time I've felt that emotion since I've been awake. Attraction. Was it there with the warlock 3-43? No. He tried to infect me--to make me what I'm not. I felt nothing at that time, except... No--Nothing--Blankness. Q'and'q's features were hidden back in that alley, but once we arrived I got a better look. I even saw JACK looking at him in a curious manner--almost as if she was looking inside him. Don't know what to make of that.
Not going to deal with any of that now. No more complicating myself. Un r ave l.
I get up. Amazed that the Haven has a working one, I take a sonic shower. I put on the new clothes provided by Q'and'q. It's morning. We've been at the Haven for an entire day, sleeping. The Haven is crowded. The fall of cyberspace has created thousands of vagabonds and lower class citizens--equalization in a virtual instant--decapitation of society's head. Of course society was already a multiple-limb amputee, so outlooks are bleak. I can see it in the faces of the people I step over on my way outside. They're looking for a reason to live and finding only the barrel of a loaded weapon. Let's have another glitch party, boys and girls, because there's not much else.
If I didn't have my own problems, I'd let it get me down. At least more so than it already is.
The outside world greets me. It's morning, but the sky is a sick grayish brown, pollutants and sickness hanging heavy. I feel a tightness in my chest. Is it really this hard to inhale?--the result of a simple look at the outside world? The answer is an obvious pain inside me. Buildings all around. Towering, imposingly upward, yet menacing downward at me--suffocation of the newborn, and I am but a child.
Looking back from the street, the Haven is a small structure really, shoved between two enormous domes structures with no obvious entrances. The domes are tiles with some reflective substance. I can see my bent reflection staring back with its torqued gaze. Passerbys form new images upon the curved surfaces, waving and wavering as they move from left to right and far and near. I'm surrounded by twisted humanity.
I see other reflections. Building reflections. Cloud reflections. Calamity reflections. Vehicle reflections. Street reflec--
...and there I see the rivot bot. He's leaning up against a bomb scorched wall on the opposite side of the street. As he looks at me, he smiles--that wide smile which goes all the way across his face. His mouth moves.
"Come here, Blue."
That voice was in my ear, like he was standing in front of me on this side of the street.
"I'll tell you more secrets, blue-haired Beauty."
I'm stationary. Gust of wind sends hair into my eyes. I don't touch it.
"Don't you want to know? I know you do."
I'm moving, dodging the street traffic.
Voice still in my ear, "Excellent."
I'm across the street, facing the rivot bot. Passerbys are giving us a wide space. Don't blame them--the rivot bot's metal blades and spikes are a dull shine in my eyes. The points on his crown scrape the wall several feet above his head.
"How the glitch did you find me?" I ask.
Calamity Carl smiles wider. "I didn't need to find you. You came to me."
"How did you know I was here?"
"You found me."
"You didn't know I was here?"
"You sought me out."
Dead ends. He's avoiding. "What do you want, Carl? Why are you following me? Why have you come here?"
"I want nothing. And that is not the question that is to be answered, much less asked. The question is more of what you want, and that can only be answered when you decide why you have come here."
"You're not making sense." Senseless.
"Why have you come here?" His blades are actually moving, the spikes growing out of and shrinking back into his body.
The static is back, somewhere deep within. I suppress. "Tell me your secrets, tell me your riddles, tell me your lies."
He smiles even wider, inhumanly at that. "Ah, now we're making progress! At your request, I will speak to you that which you desire." And then his manner changes, as it did before. Smile fading and razors tensing. "Come closer. Nobody else wants to hear this."
My step forward brings me within his reach, and before reaction is possible, I find myself in his embrace, held tight enough that I can't even struggle. I felt his spikes and razors retract as I pressed against them. His body is cold and--vacant?--is that right? It's a feeling I can't find a word to put to.
"Much better, oh, blue-haired one. Much more comfortable."
I feel his hand in my hair, combing it lightly. His other hand is at my back. It's moving back there along my spine.
"What the glitch are you--"
"Shhh, don't worry, I'm not going to do anything. You are in complete safety." Brief smile.
Now he's drilling his eyes into mine. I look away for a second, but I find myself looking back, because for some reason I believe him. He's not going to hurt me. I know this. His fingers moving up and down my back get my attention. "What are you doing?" I ask.
Feeling for what?
His fingers stop dancing along my lower back. "Here is your newest secret, Blue." He pauses, then continues. "Close your eyes."
No use delaying. Go ahead and play the game. I close them, fading the world to black.
The rivot bot voice in my ear speaks, "The map is you."
And Calamity Carl is gone.
I fall to my knees as he disappears. His four words are in my head as I open my eyes and pick myself up. I don't even look for him, because I know he's not there. I cross the street and there I realize the third thing I didn't know.
That techtrash rivot bot ripped the back of my shirt to shreds.
Written On Flesh
"Where the glitch have you been?" JACK asks when I get back. She stands up, stretching. The Haven is crowded--sleeping bodies in a sea around us. "You haven't been outside have you? Don't tell me if you have because I don't want to know."
I catch her eyes. "I took a walk across the street. Needed to breathe some fresh air."
"Glitch, syl! That is not wise, not wise at all! You know there isn't a molecule of fresh air out there anyway! What were you thinking?"
"JACK, it's too early in the morning to jump down my throat."
She looks at her feet for a moment. "What if there had been dokks--or worse, eoas? What then?"
"This is a Haven, JACK! We're safe!"
"I don't think eoas can read the sign on the front door! You were outside the Haven anyway--that makes you prey."
"I don't know then."
JACK looks up. "You 'don't know' what?"
"I don't know why I went outside. I just did. Didn't even think about it at the time."
JACK just shakes her head. "Sorry, syl, just woke up. I'm in a real glitch of a mood."
I want to tell her about Calamity Carl--I should, but I don't. I stop myself or something stops me--I don't know which, but the words don't flow, and I say nothing.
JACK's hair stalks are moving in broad movements, lifting from their normal place at her back, waving and wriggling, waking up.
"They have a sonic shower," I say.
Eyebrows lifting and back arching, muscles extending. "That would be nice. And after, something to eat. I'm in need of replenishing."
Strange, I don't feel hungry, but I can't bring to mind the last time I ate. Was it yesterday?
Don't get to think any more about that question because JACK notices--
"What the glitch happened to your shirt? It's shredded back there!"
Now I have to tell her about Calamity Carl. I shouldn't be hesitant about it, but there's a motivation--a feeling there. It's pressing up against my throat, constricting and tightening like a knot. But I get my lips moving anyway, somehow.
"Let's go somewhere else to talk about this, JACK. Please."
JACK opens her mouth to retort, then nods.
In the Haven's overpopulated state, it is hard to find a room unoccupied, but JACK locates a dead ended hallway. The light here is dim. JACK's eyes are an opaque blue.
"It--it was Carl, Calamity Carl," I whisper. The whole story comes out easier after I get that first admission out.
JACK swears under her breath as I finish, and her voice is low and even when she responds, looking up at me, "That little scrap of j'aa! If he shows up again, I swear I will--"
I grab her arm. "JACK, calm down. He didn't harm me. I'm still here and breathing. We need to worry about things that should be worried about right now!"
"This is something to worry about, syl."
"Yes, but not right now."
Her eyes drop. "He could've hurt you. You know that."
I know that. I was completely at the mercy of his whims, powerless. As usual. "I know. But he didn't, and I don't think he will."
"You can't just go off of feelings, syl. That will just get you in trouble."
"I haven't been able to avoid trouble since I first awoke in that alley. It seems that trouble is all I can do. But that's not important to me right now. I want to know what he meant. Why go to all that trouble simply to tell me that I'm a map? I mean, what the glitch am I supposed to do with that?"
JACK reaches out, fingering my shirt where it touches my shoulder. "I'm not sure. Maybe it has something to do with that tattoo on your back."
I blink. "What?!"
"The tattoo--on your back."
Calming myself now. Static buzzing low somewhere. "JACK, forgive me, but I don't know what the glitch you're talking about."
"What am I talking about? I'm talking about the tattoo that covers your entire glitched back! That's what I'm talking about! Don't tell me you don't know about it!"
"How often do you look at your back, JACK?"
"It's your body, glitch it!"
"Well, I haven't seen it, and if it is there, I don't know how the glitch it got there. What is it of?"
"Turn around," JACK says. "I want to take another look."
I turn. "When were you planning on telling me about this?"
I feel material sliding up my back as JACK lifts my shirt. A quick glance over my shoulder ensures that nobody else is in the hallway with us. "I thought you knew. I noticed it when you first came barging through our door. Besides, I was the one who dressed you. And let me tell you, that's not easy when the person you're dressing is unconscious. I was going to ask you about it sometime, but I got distracted. Sorry I didn't bring it up sooner."
"No, I'm sorry, JACK. I guess Calamity Carl unnerved me a little." That's it, understate the situation as usual.
Wirewitch finger on my back, tracing the edges of the mark, lines unseen. "I can't describe it, syl. Sorry. It's too bizarre for that. You'll have to look at it yourself. Aw, glitch."
I hear ripping sounds, what few threads holding the back side of my shirt together are now severed. The garment goes limp, hanging loosely on my shoulders.
"Glitch it, syl, I barely touched it and it ripped. That g'ekk Carl! I'm going to--"
"Get me a new shirt?"
JACK smiles, "Yes. I'll be right back." And she leaves, muttering about rivot bots.
I turn my shoulder to the wall, exhaling. Why the glitch do I have a tattoo? Why the glitch didn't I notice it before? And how the glitch did Calamity Carl know? I'll just add those questions to the infinite number I already have. And then there are footsteps in the hall and I realize that it is not JACK.
It's Q'and'q. Cosmic glitch!!
I quickly spin and back into the corner of the hallway, hiding my back. The wall is cold and I pull at the edges of my shirt, tugging it backward where it will slip less. There is hair in my eyes, and I see Q'and'q approach with streaks of blue blocking my vision. I'm trapped, unexposed but vulnerable--oh so vulnerable.
"Hello, syl," he says plainly. His mouth is partially obscured by his breather tubes, but I see his teeth. He's smiling I think.
"Good morning, Q'and'q." He's within normal conversational distance now. His eyes are shadowed, the same color as his hair. For some reason, I want to reach out and--
"Have you eaten yet?"
"Not yet. I was waiting for JACK to get ready."
"Yes, of course."
Pause. Stares exchanged. I'm self-conscious suddenly. Why?
Q'and'q goes first. "What are you doing?"
Glitch! "Uh--um, what do you mean?" I stop my nervous fingering of my shirt's hem. I attempt to hold his gaze, but I can't for more than a second at a time.
"Well, I doubt if that wall is in danger of falling down, and you seem to be doing your best to ensure that. Is there a reason why?"
"I uh--" I have to stop my fingers from fiddling with the hem of my shirt again.
"Also, there's something wrong with your shirt. Did we get you the wrong size? We can have it replaced."
"JACK left to get me a new one." I see something about his eyes. The color in them is a bright green. Too bright to be natural. Must have some implants. Guess he's just like everybody else in this dying (dead) world--modified.
"I see," Q'and'q says. He seems on the verge of turning and leaving when suddenly he doesn't. Instead, he speaks, "I would like to sit down and talk with you sometime."
"Talk with me? About what?" Defenses up.
His eyes averting, flicking. "Oh...um--nothing in particular. You know, just...talk."
I can feel the texture of the wall digging at my shoulder blades. I've backed up and my muscles are tight, pressing harder at the wall. Exhale and relax now. Better. No reason to act like prey. No danger here. What am I doing? My mind tells my body to bring down the level of reflex shielding that it has up. I can't back up anymore anyway--can't climb the wall. He's talking calmly and I'm reacting like a small, cornered animal. Why? Mind sends the message that maybe Calamity Carl had something to do with it. No. He had no effect on me. I'm fine, glitch it. Just talk to him, he's not a threat but a friend. A friend.
Long exhale helps me respond with what I hope is a less frightened look, "I--I would like that." And I find that I mean it. Sitting down and talking would be a good thing. Might even call it normal.
"Well, we could talk over a morning meal."
"Yes. Yes we could." I realize that I have no idea what I'm going to do if he's referring to right now. Glitch it, JACK, where are you?
His head is crooked at me now. There is a curious curiosity gleam in his eye, green and intense, surveying me. I realize that I look foolish here backed into this corner, fingering the hem of my shirt and not even able to carry on a simple conversation. But I also know that if I move, Q'and'q is going to see more of me than I want him to. And that is not going to happen to this blue-haired girl.
"Are you okay?" he asks, concerned and stepping.
But I don't have to answer the question because JACK is back. "Excuse me, Q'and'q," she says stepping in front of me, "mind if syl and I have a moment in private?" She's shorter than the Guardian-8 , but she's forceful in her words, and it's clear that he doesn't have a choice.
Q'and'q nods. "I will wait for you over there." He walks down the hallway, back to the light.
JACK's mouth is smirking--I think. It's an expression that's hard to read, but I think she's teasing me without saying a single word.
"Give me that," I say, grabbing the shirt she brought.
She laughs softly. "I think it's a bit small, but it's all I could find."
I face the wall, turning my back on her. It's minuscule privacy, but I've had less, and JACK blocks me as much as she can with her body. The shredded garment practically falls off, and the new one is difficult going on, but I manage. Glitch! Stomach's exposed.
"Glitch it, JACK, I can barely breathe in this thing! My real skin's not this tight!"
JACK laughs. She's not helping, but my heart leaps to hear her laugh. If only for a second, I feel good, the horrors I experienced are in the background. Perhaps for only a second, but that is just enough time. Just enough.
"But the important thing is that you look good, syl. Don't you know that?"
"You'll pay for this. At least you could've got me something to go over this. Glitch! I can see my be--"
"So can everybody else, syl."
"What the glitch is that supposed to mean!?!"
She's laughing again--that grating laugh, the laugh of a wirewitch--but it is a laugh. "Let's get some food."
"No," I say, putting my hand on her shoulder. "First, we get a scan of my back. I want to look at what's there."
"Let's ask Q'and'q if they have that kind of equipment here."
Q'and'q is waiting at the end of the hall. He does have the device we need, and he is willing to let us use it.
Minutes later my back is scanned.
And I see on a glowing screen the image that is scrawled on my back, on my flesh, written.
image frightening before my
eyes don't know why it summons fear.
A cold something races up my arm and lodges in my brain. Can't stop it, it's natural, and I think I'm glitched because it's so natural, and so fast. It's so easy to be afraid. Perfectly natural and perfectly human, a response to even the mere threat of danger. I'm human, natural so far--that makes me the easy repository for fear. I shudder and I feel like a thin shell through which anything can bore. Right now, fear is in me. Deep in me.
It's just a tattoo. That's all it is. That's all. Nothing about it should cause this feeling I'm feeling.
But maybe it's the fact that I didn't know it was there. Unknown/unseen/hidden from my eyes, meaning also unknown/unseen/hidden from me. It is so close to me--on me, on my skin, on my thin shell, and I didn't know about it, glitch it. This unknowing never stops, and now it's struck closer to the core of my being than ever before. I am so entirely, completely, and utterly glitched. Don't know why I feel so strongly about this. Maybe there's something significant in that. Does my reaction have anything to do with this? I'm sure it does, and I'm sure that there's a darkness about it--I can see that as bright as the sun. And I'm sure that everything will only get worse, but I what I can't see is how it could get any worse right now.
"That's not a tattoo," Q'and'q says from somewhere behind me.
"What?" JACK says, somewhere behind me also. My head hurts. I think the static is back in some minute form, but I can't concentrate on it enough to care.
I feel a finger on my back, and I tense.
"Sorry," JACK says. "Do you mind?"
Ah, glitch it. "Go ahead."
Material on my back slides up a couple of inches. I feel a wirewitch finger back there, tracing the outline of that grotesque image on my back, textures of mismatched skins melding and locking.
"Look here," Q'and'q says. Another finger on my back. This time I can't help it. Back muscles recoil, tightening. The finger goes away.
"You're not ticklish are you?" JACK asks. Something almost teasing in that gravel voice.
"Glitched wirewitch," I say, grumble mumble.
JACK laughs at that.
Q'and'q continues. "You can see that it's not a tattoo, her skin is actually that color. The edges are too fine and precise to have been tattooed on."
"I can't see that," JACK says. "My eyesight isn't that good."
There is a slight, almost awkward pause before Q'and'q quietly responds, "I--I have optical implants. They enhance my vision in...numerous ways. I can see syl's skin on levels which neither of you can, and I can tell you with surety that she has not been tattooed. Even modern arc etching couldn't draw an effect like that, and laser inscribing doesn't produce results like that on normal human skin. And...well, that skin is most definitely norma--"
"That's enough of that," I say. I stand, pulling my shirt down in the back--as far as it will go, which isn't as low as I would like.
"--at least in the scientific sense of the word," Q'and'q finishes, flustered I can only hope.
Don't want to talk about this right now. "At least we've determined that about my body! But unless any of us can answer the questions 'what?' and 'why?', then we're just wasting time when we could be eating. So let's do that instead, shall we?"
JACK is giving me a look I don't want to think about, and Q'and'q is avoiding my eyes somehow, adjusting something on his breather unit. He nods though and we leave.
I say nothing during the morning meal--can't think of anything useful anyway, so what's the point? JACK and Q'and'q talk. I listen but I'm just a buffer, passing information streams without processing them, inactive and passive.
There's something about the way JACK is behaving that sticks in my mind, but I can't define it in any real sense. Is it her body gestures? Her hair stalk movements? Her voice inflections? What is it? Looking back, it's been about her since we walked into this Haven, and it hasn't stopped. I want to tell myself that it's an agitation, but I'm not sure if that's the correct word to describe it. It's there with every word she says to Q'and'q and every pellet of food she consumes, but nondescript. I'm too confused to pursue it.
But I can feel the static in my head growing, a little stronger now. It's not painful yet, just present. I close my eyes and lower my head to my hands. I drift in the blackness behind my eyelids for a few seconds and the static fades to near nothingness. But opening my eyes brings...
...nothing into sight because JACK and Q'and'q have left. Good. Can stop thinking for awhile. I want to lie down and close my eyes. That will feel good. Standing and walking down a narrow corridor brings a certain peace. Anticipation of the escape to the blackness, comfort in the hope of the null. I want to escape. I want to sleep.
But along the way I find that I've taken a wrong turn. The Haven is a maze despite its size, and in moments I'm misplaced. Lab animal, caught in the labyrinth. I twist and turn my way through the hallways, but I can't seem to make the correct combination of lefts and rights and straights. Only after a couple of minutes do I realize that the static is buzzing loud in my skull and maybe I've been going in circles, through the same three rooms over and over, or maybe I haven't moved at all. I can't be sure, the static is taking my thoughts and thought flows from me, drowning them in harsh modulations.
Abrupt sound stop. Halt the buzzy buzz. Silence is my friend once again, holding my head in its hand.
I'm in front of a door, partially open. Nobody is around, voices and commotion comes from down the hall. Probably only ten meters from where I just ate. I almost walk that way, but it's something my eye picks up that stops me. What I see is through that door--inside--it's there, framed close to me by the narrow space between the door and the wall. It's there on the floor inside.
Q'and'q's breather unit.
I'm through the door before the order could've had time to go from my brain to my muscles and the room is empty. Except.
Except for those two figures in the corner embracing. JACK and Q'and'q. They don't notice my entrance amazingly, and I catch myself before I make any exclamation. Embarrassing, wrong way, and my mistake is my dead end. Reverse motion initiate. I step back, turning to leave.
I don't leave the room because my mind sends me impulses quicker than my body can react. It sends me two pulses--a question, and right behind it--the answer. And for once, I know. I know, glitch it. I know what is going on--and I wish I didn't. Witchkiss.
This is a nightmare which I am powerless to stop. I think that one thought, and then I'm rushing at the two of them in the corner there, JACK shorter than Q'and'q, pulling his head down to hers, his body arcing over hers bent backwards, his mouth to hers, her hands at the sides of his face, holding tight, hair stalks wrapped around shoulders, his hands limp at his sides, fingers bending to claws, and his body supported by the wall, and then I'm close to them, static grinding in my ears and my soul above all else. I think I yell as I place my hand on JACK's shoulder and pull her outward. JACK separates from the Guardian-8 in a violent motion, her limbs and hair stalks flailing. She goes down, growling a high-pitched wail, a wirewitch sound, but Q'and'q remains standing, puppet-like.
"No, JACK," I say, spittle dotting my chin.
"It can't be stopped now, syl," JACK says, on her feet already, facing me. She looks hungry, but in a sensuous way. Her body appears to be glistening, almost shiny, more metallic. Her breaths are deep and heavy, rattling, her whole body moving with each cycle. She moves back to Q'and'q, initiates the witchkiss once again before I can react.
"Get away from him," I say as I move in on her. Somehow, I manage to get them apart again.
That's when I notice that JACK is angry. I can see it in her stilled eyes--nonflowing liquid blue. But she doesn't move to attack me. "Get away from me, syl!" For the third time, JACK performs the witchkiss, pulling Q'and'q's body to hers. Infection in an act of affection. An abomination to my eyes.
I move forward, but then JACK attacks. "GET AWAY FROM ME!!" Motion blurs blue and silver in front of me and the static in my mind is interrupted by a big black collision and then I'm sliding backward across the floor. She threw me! Spinning now and rolling, I collide with the opposite wall, almost eight meters away. Shoulder starts broadcasting pain signals, but I roll over and see that Q'and'q is on the ground, crumpled and not moving.
JACK stands over him, breathing heavily, her chest heaving in great breaths, her hair stalks moving with abandon. Her head is bowed, watching him, ignoring me.
Then Q'and'q starts to twitch and make noises. And I begin to witness a most horrible transformation.
The Darkening (ii)
I must get closer.
I'm not going to explain myself to myself either. I'm going to get closer and that is that. It is something that must be done. No explanations. No time. No options.
The noise is still in my head, spiking up at painful, poking my brain and the blackness I feel trying to cover my eyes. Shoulder hurts too. And my knee. Must have banged it when JACK threw me to the floor. My body is a reservoir for pain. I'll have some more please thank you that hurts me but at least it's familiar.
But I'm standing now, walking, watching Q'and'q writhe on the floor, his limbs periodically hitting the wall with dull thumping sounds which are the sounds of hopelessness to my ears. As I cross the room, JACK turns to me, wary. I don't get very close, and JACK turns back to Q'and'q.
She has but four words for me. "Be still and watch."
because it is...
all I can do...
I see a dark thing happening in front of me. Q'and'q is not making a noise yet, but he's like a fetus, wrapping himself with his own limbs, struggling to contain the hidden monstrosities within him. His face is covered in sweat, his eyes open, focusing on nothing. Then, the thrashing begins. Flailing wildly, blurs of misdirection are his arms and legs, hitting wall and floor and self. I want to turn away (please let me turn away) but I do not because--
There is the first.
I just saw a circuit pathway race through his skin. It flashed from his mouth all the way to his neck in just the briefest of moments before fading just under the skin, but my eyes picked it up and now I'll never forget it. There goes another one--eye to ear. And another. Chin to forehead. And another. Another. Then they're appearing too fast for me to keep track of. They appear and then fade, but so fast and so many now that his skin is fluxing, changing in waves of blue and gray color. He bends his neck, looking up at me, his mouth open in what I interpret as silent agony. I can see his teeth changing--modifying.
As his skin continues to ripple with faint color waves, he rolls over, knees and hands to the floor. Then he's crouching on his feet. I hear a high whine from him. It's human at first, but it slowly becomes a wirewitch sound as the infection spreads to his vocal cords.
Suddenly, the shirt he's wearing explodes in the back. Bulky, wirewitch muscles are back there, but something breaks the skin, poking out. It's a device of some sort, something mechanical, man-made. His skin flows around it, pushing the device outward, rejection of impurity. The device is small and blockish--some sort of implant--and it falls to the floor, dripping remnants of human blood as goes. His back is pure, unmarred once again.
Now his head is up, he's looking at me directly. I gasp...
...as his eyes bulge, expanding. They seem to be poking out at me, staring intense, all the while. I'm trapped and then I see cracks appear. Only a few at first but soon there are more cracks and in a second or two or three his eyes explode from their sockets, trailing blood and a slick slime in jagged arcs through the air, bouncing several feet away and then shattering into slivers on the floor. I want to vomit at the sound that passes my ears as that happens. Despite the static, I still heard it all. Can't put hands over ears, but it would feel good I think.
Q'and'q stares at me with warlock eyes of blue swirling chaos as the hairs on his head extend, growing. The majority of his short hairs fall out, uninfected, but at the back of his head, just a little to the right of center, I see his hair stalk form. It grows fast, flowing almost like water, the strands of silver wire shooting out, joining the others, forming a thick trunk of hair.
Eventually, the transformation is complete. JACK kneels, cradling the newborn warlock. My knees are weak, and I am finally able to avert my eyes, backing up, backing away. My mind tells me that what just happened did not happen, but it knows that I've just seen something that few have ever seen and lived to tell about. I'll never be quite the same will I?
But the static continues to grind my concentration from me. Got to leave, think, need to time to react. Too much--
"Wait, syl." I feel JACK's arm on my shoulder just as I lurch toward the door. I spin, throwing her hand off, but the JACK I see is not the JACK I know. She has changed, made herself older--in only seconds, it couldn't have been longer. No longer do I see a small teenager. Instead, I see a full grown wirewitch with JACK's face. She's mature, her figure long and strong, taller--taller than me, her body filling out the loose clothes which had been given her by Q'and'q.
I open my mouth to899#$ffffHaQQQlp(2####4fCVmmmmmmmm
zzzzzSTATIC BUZZING me hard and nothing else gets through, except for the fact that I cannot be around the wirewitches right now. I shout into JACK's face, "Get away from me, witch!" JACK doesn't stop me as I leave. Somewhere along the way as I begin to run, the static ceases.
But I see another candle go out in my soul. What have I done?
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