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062: The Undrowning     063: Heal : Reveal
064: A Stopping Of Time     065: All The Planets I've Killed


  Post: 12.18.2001
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning

The Undrowning

I'm able to wipe most of the blood off my arms, legs and torso. A little comes off easily, smearing at first, and then absorbed into the towel--not so white any more.  The rest is congealed and black, stiff and fused to my epidermis, encasing the tiny hairs all over, tearing them out as I scrub.  Only a few minutes and my skin is red and irritated.  Hard to reach my back and it's crusted throughout my hair. Taking another swim in the ocean might help in both areas, but the thought of jumping back into the cold water terminates that line of thinking. 

The sun hasn't fully risen, but somehow it's bright, brighter than I can ever remember seeing it. I'm forced to squint.  On the island, a perpetual haze always seemed to mask it--pollution and dust--as if the citizens preferred to live in a darkness of their own making. I think a lot of them hated the light--slept in the day, hunted and destroyed at night when the shadows hid their deeds from intruding eyes. Not that I think there are many intruding eyes.  My memory holds no images of the political situations in this world.  Who claimed control of the island before I helped detonate it?  Don't know, and does it matter to me now? Can't answer my own questions as usual. 

Out here on the ocean, it's brighter though. For a few seconds at least, the world is an undark place, shinning down all around me. And on me. The heat is against my skin, beating away the cold inside me, pushing back the feelings eating away at me from my encounter with One.  Feelings of violation.

Guess it's not so bright after all.

I banish the feelings trying to corrupt the peace I want to feel at the moment.  Just sitting here on my boat, rocking on the waves, a slight cross-breeze moving against the water, I can almost put everything out of my mind.  Static.  One.  Violence.  Death.  Peace.  Just a second to close my eyes.  Just a second to think about nothing...

                                        ...drifting...

                    ...drifting...

...drifting...

...

...

...

Eyes blow open.  Awake.  What?  How long was I asleep?  A few minutes?  A few hours?  So quiet and calm.  Still in the same position I was before.  Doesn't look like I moved a single muscle.  Mouth is dry.  Could use some water.  Standing and stretching.  Ah, there's--

   ...something      out

                                                        there...

It's floating out there, and it's different than the rest of the debris and j'aa being pulled by the global currents.  A few seconds of staring at it and I know that it's drifting towards my boat--bobbing on the waves.  Whoever it is, they're wearing something brown and holding on to something pale blue, perhaps the wing of some air vehicle.  Whatever it is, it's keeping him/her from sinking into the bowels of the ocean.  Another survivor, holding onto some meager instrument of salvation.

Just like me.

Now the question lurks: Should I help this person or not.  No.  Wrong question.  The question is really: Do I help this person?  It's not a question of what I should do, but what I will do.  Get it straight, angel.

There are real dangers to consider here.  I could be helping an enemy.  What if he/she is a predator?

I'm naked prey, ready to be preyed upon.

Tick.  Tock.  Time's up.  It's a he, and he just bumped up against the side of my boat.  A couple of steps and I'm directly above him.  Blonde hair.  Brown clothing--trench coat probably.  Can't see if he's breathing or not, but he's thoroughly soaked.

Glitch.  Not going to be able to lift him on to the boat.  He's gonna too heavy, and I don't have the leverage.  What am I going to do if he--

Oh look.  He slipped off.

My hand shoots out grabbing him by the sleeve.  The fabric is spongy, resisting my grip.  Slick, oily water everywhere and I have to dig my fingers in.  I'm leaning over the railing, my knee braced--just barely.  Got him.  Just barely.  Pulling up now.  I manage to get his arms up and grab on to the shoulders of his trench coat.  Pulling.  Straining.  Upward.  Glitch, now he's slipping out of the trench coat, sinking back down.  I implement a death grip on one wrist, and with my other hand I grab the back of his head.  Oh, that's not going to work.  No place to grip.

     (grab his hair)

Glitch that too.  His face is in the water.  Is he breathing or isn't he?  Need to get him out of there if I'm going to think of this as an actual rescue.  I bend further over the railing, think I heard my hip pop out of place, but I'm able to get a hand under his armpit.  He's the deadest of deadweight, so pulling him feels like lifting an eoa.  Somehow, the strength is within me though.  Somehow, I'm able to pull him half out of the water and shove his torso through the space between the railing and the deck.  I pull his arms through and stand on his hands--virtually corpse-like in their coldness.  With my weight holding him fast, he won't slip off while I pull myself back over the railing.

In the end, it only takes me two more minutes to get him fully on my boat, and my mind is still asking me if this was a wise move.

The stranger on my boat is face down.  Definitely not breathing.  Probably turning blue.  I turn him over.

...this

...is

...impossible.

It's Phoenix.  His lips are a pale purple.  My heart is drumming a rapid rhythm suddenly at the thought of him dead here on my boat.  Noglitchitno!!  This can't be happening like this!  Can't have him dead right here and now.  He's one of the good guys.  Well, he helped me out at least--against Sahris, and in the rioting...

Straddling his body, I fling the flaps of his trench coat open.  Water droplets fling across the deck.

The synthetic feel of drenched hyper-weave fabric is between my thighs, sending shivers up my back.

My head to his chest...a heartbeat, but slow.

I can resuscitate him.  I know what has to be done.  Somewhere in my brain is the knowledge.

Wipe his face off; clear his mouth.  Slimy, filmy water gliding off his skin.  Forefinger and thumb clamping nose.  Two fingers spread his lips, pull his chin down, pushing forehead back.

Exhale into him, deep.  Cold lips against even colder lips.  Exhale again.  I put my ear to his lips to hear nothing.  I take a breath, and cover his mouth with mine, transferring my breath to him, uploading oxygen--a gesture usually reserved for intimacy.  It has nothing to do with intimacy this time, but life.  All about life.  Lifting his eyelids, I see that his eyes are without focus.

     (dead eyes dark)

Ear to mouth.  I hear glitch.  Phoenix drowned, and this isn't working.  I can't undrown him.  I give him my breath again, feel it flowing into him.  And again.  I listen, and repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

After awhile, I'm lost in the rhythm, and I lose track of time, and somewhere in there I realize that his heart has stopped.

Phoenix is dead.

  Post: 01.16.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Morning

Heal : Reveal [p019-021]

Like a popped balloon, my heart deflates.  I let my head fall to his chest with a thick thud.  My forehead registers some degree of pain in that, but the inky blotch I feel creeping into my heart nullifies it.

Too late.  Too late to save him, glitch me down to the dark of Eiech itself for what I couldn't do.  He was already dead when you brought him on board, angel, my mind tells me, you know that don't you?  You wasted your precious breath on a soggy drowning victim.  Pitiful girl.  You can go ahead and cry now.

bomp bomp

Pulsing at my forehead.  Heartbeat.

bomp! bomp!

Head raises like a whip, neck cracking.  Phoenix is suddenly coughing and jerking, head thrashing side-to-side, unable to draw air into his lungs.  I get a hand under his back and turn him on his side.  More coughing, more struggling, then a truly epic spasm sends water gushing from his mouth and across the deck.  Thick webs of spittle trail from his chin onto his trench coat.

He lives.  I healed him.  Something sparks in my soul, warm.

I hold his shoulder as he continues to clear his lungs of the invasive liquid.  Each cough reverberates through my hand and up my arm.  It takes a moment, but he opens his eyes.  They're bloodshot through and through--a sea of red surrounding irises of blue.  It's a disturbing contrast.  Not sure I like what I see there in those unfocused retinas.  Confusion.  Pain.  Anger?  Then his lids flutter back down to cover up whatever emotions he was inadvertently broadcasting to me.  He makes some movement--touching his head I think...idiotic--and then he's coughing again, jerking away from me, legs curling into his stomach.

It's okay, Phoenix, I think, leaning forward, reaching out to touch his face.  You're alive.  I saved you.  At my touch, he rolls over toward me.  His eyes are only open for a second this time, but he recognized me.

"Oh, it's you," Phoenix mutters.

Not sure what response I expected, but that wasn't it.

"Yes," I say, thinking of how he looked only a few minutes ago--lifeless and not breathing.  I'm thinking of the fear I felt within me then.  "Me.  I thought you weren't going to make it."  I say it quietly, letting my eyes fall to the deck.  If he had been looking at me, I would've been avoiding his gaze.

Phoenix grunts.  "You can't get rid of me that easily."

Death was breathing on his neck a few moments ago, but he spits out a joke so casually.  His mind is quick, despite having been just switched back online.  His actions portray detachment, distance.  He's protecting himself from...what?  What makes him act like this?

Phoenix moves away, to the side of my boat, putting his feet over the side.  Still had his eyes closed, but now I can only see his back and his ocean-mangled hair, drops of water moving down the back of his trench coat with the small movements of his body as he breathes.  The drops are sparkling in the rising sunlight.  We're like this for several minutes, both of us floating in a kind of peace.

Wait.  Glitch, I'm still naked.  This thought disturbs the peace like a rampaging eoa.  He could turn around any second.  Turn around and see...more of me than I want him to.  Leaving him there recovering, I scoot backwards across the deck, until I feel unmovable railing against my back, arms and legs crossing in front of me, mind searching for an easy way out of the awkward situation certain to take place in only a few seconds.  Glitch my luck.

Then Phoenix is mumbling some questions about the wave and me pulling him from the water and how I was able revive him.  I manage to answer with my voice bordering on calm, hoping that maybe he won't turn around.  Maybe he'll never turn around.  His head is up now, not bent over; he's not staring at the water anymore.  He's staring at me.

"Thank you," Phoenix says.  For saving his life.  But his expression of gratitude fades as I see a certain realization dawning on his face.  Hey, she's not wearing anything!

He turned around before I could warn him not to, and now his eyes are taking in my unclothed state.

"Are you naked?" he asks

I can't tell if he's joking or if his eyes still aren't working properly.  There's hair falling over my view, but I'm giving him my best glare.  "Of course I'm naked."  Festering g'ekk, give me that trench coat if you're really one of the good guys!  Probably not gonna happen.  I'm on my own in this world when all is said and done, and that includes finding clothing to prevent people from seeing what I don't want revealed.

"Sorry."  Phoenix looks away for a second  "I didn't mean to upset you.  I was just--well, one can never be too sure with some of those skinsuits these days.  Speaking of skinsuits, what happened to yours?"

I wish I knew, Phoenix.  I think he sees my eyes darting, lusting after his trench coat, because suddenly his words are coming at a hyper rate, and he stands up, pulling the trench coat from his shoulders.  Just then, the boat leans to one side, carried by a wave.  Phoenix's eyelids flutter and I can see that he's losing his balance.  When he falls, he falls right towards me.  I roll sideways, knees banging against the deck.  Phoenix lands on his side, cursing in pain.  My foot kicks something across the deck--felt like the sever-whip.  Hope it didn't go overboard.  Using the railing, I pull myself to a sitting position and then I see Phoenix on his hands and knees

.....(looking my way)

...............(I'm)

...............(revealed)

frozen in time.  He's not even breathing.  I hear my body struggling for air.  Nothing is blocking my throat, but it's as if the muscles required for inhalation are locked up.  Primal reflexes kick in, my arms and legs returning to their previous alignments, quickity quick but still too late.  Glitch it.  I can't hold his gaze, both of us looking away at the same time, but not before I see some color in his cheeks.  I got to him, broke through a layer of shielding, good...but not all that good.  There are other ways of breaking through shielding.

Phoenix removes his trench coat and holds it out for me--some comment about being allergic to naked women as he does--but I take it without a smile.  I appreciate his attempts to pull our minds from the situation, but it's not going to be that easy for him.  Unscheduled viewings of my body don't come without a price.  You just don't know that yet.

The trench coat is big enough to cover me like a blanket.  I'll be swimming in it when I put it on.  Now, turn around, Phoenix.  You're more likely to dance with a Zannathan than to get a second peek at my bellybutton today.

"So," Phoenix says, "you're not going to actually put that thing on?"

"I would if you turned around."

" 'Never turn you back on a woman--especially a naked one.'  That's what my dad always said...but, I suppose I could make an exception, in this case."  Phoenix turns around, quiet suddenly.

The trench coat comes down to my heels and only my fingertips can reach all the way through the sleeves.  Just another article of clothing which hasn't fit since I woke in that alley.  Either second-skin tight or big enough to fit a Technomancer.

Phoenix turns back around when I let him know that I'm done.  "Looks good on you."

Most things probably do, my mind suggests, at least to the males you've encountered.  Maybe it'd be easier if you didn't wear anything at all.

You know, it's thoughts like these that make me not trust my own mind.

  Post: 01.24.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Midday

A Stopping Of Time

A little while ago, Phoenix (or, as it turns out, MU) called himself a con artist.  Even in the short time that I've known him--which can still be measured in hours--I suspect at least that much is true.  Something in the way he speaks makes me think that he's a natural liar.  Sitting here on my boat, we've been talking on an off for the entire morning, and I get a feeling that he's lied to me more than once.  Thinking about it, I can't determine which statements were lies and which weren't though, because everything about him--his complete persona--was beaming me just the opposite signals:

Trust me.

Believe me.

What I'm telling you is the truth.  Even though you may think otherwise, I am speaking reality to your face.  I'm not hiding anything.  My name is Phoenix.  That is the name my parents named me with the day I came into this world screaming.  It is my true name.  As it is written, so it is.  Accept.  Don't question.  I'm a con artist.  Believe me.  Believe the con artist in me.  The world will make sense if you do.

My words are fact.

You want to believe me...don't you?  Oh yeah.

Ah, just a feeling though.  Zero proof.  For all I know, he hasn't told me a single untruth.  I'll bide my time on these thoughts though.  For now, I'm fairly comfortable with him.

Here, on my boat, undulating on the waves, his trench coat enclosing my body, my core temperature finally beginning to normalize, time has almost stopped.  Phoenix hasn't said much in the past hour, barely ate any food substitute when I offered it to him.  My stomach was grumbling so I had to ingest a couple packages.  Now, I'm laying flat on the deck, food substitute digesting deep in my stomach, trying not to notice the filmy texture left in my mouth.  My hair is free--the three silver clips, now having gnaw-sized bites out of them, are clenched in my left fist.  Phoenix informed me, oh so pleasantly, that my skinsuit had been eaten by, oh I don't know, about a million little swimming creatures called gnaw.  Not something I wanted to hear.  And these gnaw--only one of the Seven Dangers of the High Seas.  Would kill for a sonic shower to blast away the crawling feeling on my skin I'm getting right now.  I'm going to put the clips back to work sometime, but...not...right...now.  I shiver.

Phoenix is just staring out at the ocean, giving the impression that he's been mesmerized by the waves.  "How many more of these Seven Dangers are we going to encounter before we reach the mainland?" I ask.

"You're assuming we will make it back to the mainland."

"I'm not assuming anything.  Just wanting to prepare myself.  Ever since I woke up I've been stumbling from minute to minute, never knowing what sort of creature I'm going to meet next, and never knowing exactly what I'm up against."

"We don't have anything we can do to prepare.  Our best bet is to stay out of the water and on this...boat."  Phoenix looks at my boat as if he thinks it's about to go under.  "No diving for treasure for me, and no skinny dipping for you, syl."

"Glitch you and your mouth, Phoenix.  Your luck isn't that good."  The thought of going back into that cold water chills me.  "Sorry my boat isn't as nice as the Lady Luck was, but she's holding together."

"True, for the moment.  Ah, Lady Luck..."  Phoenix trails off.  "Something is always ruining my technological gadgets--all my good toys.  Someone out there must hate me.  I just wish I knew who it was."

"You have a lot of technology?"

"Had would be a better way of describing most everything I've owned, but yes.  Technological gadgets are the tools of my trade."

"The trade of being a con artist."

"Yes, among other things."

Phoenix, my most recent enigma, turns and gives me a completely wicked smile at those words.  I'm not going to back away from where this conversation is going.  He'll have to be the one to sound the retreat.  "And where do you get all your technology?"

"I have my ways."

"You have the currency?"

"Maybe.  I can tell you I was a whole glitch of a lot richer before the island exploded.  I had a few cozy hideaways that went with everything else.  I'm starting to miss them already."

He's not going to be happy if I tell him that I'm the cause of all that.  No need to let him in on that particular secret just yet.  "So, if it's not money, and you aren't a genius inventor, then--"

"Wait," Phoenix interrupts, "who says I'm not a genius...inventor?"

Oops.  Interesting.  "Uh, well--"

"Do you actually think you know me well enough to come to conclusions like that?"

"Glitch, Phoenix," I sigh.  "Fine, do you actually invent all those gadgets?"

"Actually, no."  Again, he's smiling at me.

Of course you don't, Phoenix.  I think you're flirting with me again, trying to break through some shielding of mine you think I've got activated.  And you're beaming that innocent and oh-so-natural smile at me with all the intensity of a pulse displacer.  The con artist in you is always on isn't it?

"You steal your tech," I say, not even making it a question.

"Haven't you heard the saying: It's not stealing if you need it?"

"No, but that's because you just made it up."

"I'm quick of mind, that's true, but I can't take credit for that one.  Far wiser men than I have lived by that particular creed."

"Far wiser men than you have had their own fingers force fed to them for taking things that weren't theirs."

"Those Yoshirolan savages.  You heard that story too?"

Did I?  No.  The image just came to me, as if I had read it somewhere long ago.  Before I woke up.  The image wasn't a memory--it was remembered with no context, all alone, by itself.  "You're a thief," I say.

Phoenix dips his head and shakes it.  He pauses for a few moments before saying, "That's the easy conclusion to make.  Reality is...not so easy, and much more complicated."

"I'm not judging you.  I'm stating a fact.  Attacking you is not my intent.  You've already admitted to being a con artist.  Isn't lying a form of stealing?  When you are conning someone, aren't you withholding truth from them--in effect stealing it?"

"Some people deserve to be conned.  Some people deserve to have things stolen from them."

"And you're the judge of that?"

"Absolutely.  And why shouldn't I be?"  Phoenix slaps his hand down on the deck.  "It's how I survive.  Certain people don't like it, but with any luck, most of them were on the island when it went."

I've done things to survive too, Phoenix.  I don't like what I've done.  Killed.  I know how you feel, and I understand, but do you even have any regrets?  How do you live with the things you've done?  Somewhere inside you is something which lets you know when you've messed with how things are supposed to be in the universe.  How often does that alarm in your soul go off, Phoenix?  Do you feel the pinpricks?

The silver clips in my hand slide against each other, my fingers working them around; they glide against my palm almost liquid-like.  Simplistic, man-made metal tools, now ruined by God-made, man-modified creatures.  There's something ironic in that cycle of action-reaction-action, but my mind wanders...

"I'm going to survive, syl," Phoenix says.  "That's an instinct within myself I'm not gonna deny.  I'm deathly allergic to dying.  It hasn't been easy staying alive this long, and I'm not about to stop doing things to keep me breathing."

"Drowning wasn't a good way of doing that."

"Maybe not, but at least it was fun for you."

Wait.  Just what the glitch does he mean by that?  Wait...oh!  Does he mean what I think he means?!?  Just because I...

Somehow, I keep my body still and non-responsive.  Let his words waste away into the air.  Resisting the urge to push him back into the ocean with the gnaw and the Zannathan and the rest of the Seven Glitched Dangers of the Glitched High Seas.  He didn't affect me at all.  I'm calm.

After waiting for me to react and getting no response, Phoenix continues, "I haven't done anything that anybody else in my situation wouldn't have done.  I bet you've had to do things to stay alive too."

"Phoenix," I say quietly, rolling my head to look at him.

"Yeah?"

"You can be a thief.  It's fine."

"I'm glad I have your permission.  The weight on my soul is gone!"

"Glitch," I mutter.  "And I thought time had stopped."

"What?  Did you say something?  Ah, never mind.  You have had to do things to stay alive, haven't you, syl?  Things you're not happy about.  Things you wish you could take back?"

"Yes.  I have less than a month of memories, and already I want to take most of it back."

"Don't regret your life so much.  It's bad for the stomach.  Why don't you tell me about it?  If I don't get too bored, I'll actually listen."

And I let him pick gnaw out of my hair.

"Come on, tell me," Phoenix says.  "What did you do that has you so morally tortured?  Did you kill somebody?"  He looks at my boat, as if noticing the bloody streaks for the first time.  Crusted blood isn't a paint scheme, Phoenix.  Now, he's looking at the blood rather intently--like he's remembering something.  Doesn't appear to be a good memory from the expression on his face.  He blinks his eyes, turning back to me.

"Worse," I say.  "I...I'm not sure I want to talk about this."

"syl, it's your turn..  If I'm a thief, then what are you?"

Oh, I know exactly what I am.

"I'm a destroyer of worlds."

  Post: 01.30.2002
Date: 01.01.2196
Time: Midday

All The Planets I've Killed

"It's true," I say, "I have killed."  The sever-whip is laying right over there, currently a benign reminder of the malignancy I excised earlier.  The blood stains on the deck.  The blood crusting and flaking in my hair and skin.  The trembling in my fingers.  All present and accounted for, making sure I don't try to forget what I did.

"What happened to your finger?" Phoenix asks.  "That looks like it's more than a broken nail."

My finger is still bleeding a little.  My mind wonders why, of all the bruises and cuts on my body, Phoenix noticed that one.  Now that my attention is focused on my finger, my body is letting me know that it still hurts, small blobs of pain dripping from the third digit.  I've been ignoring it while more important events--staying alive and intact--were happening.

I hold the finger up for Phoenix.  "This?  It happened before."

"Before what?"

"Before I woke up and had to kill somebody with that sever-whip."

Phoenix waves his hand at the deck.  "Heh, so this daring paint scheme didn't come with the boat.  What happened?"

"It was a Dokk."

"Ah, he wanted your...parts?"

"He wanted all of me.  He said he was going to cut my limbs from me and use them, sell them, do anything and everything with them.  He was insane.  He was going to rape me, and then kill me, and then...who gives a glitch?"  Static manifesting just a little.  "Doesn't matter.  He was going to abuse me, and I wasn't going to allow that to happen.  He attacked and I defended myself and my purity."

"You probably did the right thing."

"Glitch, I wish I could kill him again for what he was going to do to me.  I'm glad he's dead, and I'm glad those other Dokks are dead.  I'm glad they're all out of my life forever.  G'ekks."

"There were others?  You killed them all by yourself?"  He looks impressed.  I think.

"No, the other Dokks--I killed them before, back on the island.  The one I killed on this boat wanted revenge for that.  Unfortunately, he didn't stay killed the first time I killed him, so he came back.  He won't be doing that again."

"One less Dokk in this world isn't a great loss.  You probably saved some innocent people from having their brain stems removed without the benefit of anesthetic."

"I know," I say, "but there's a war within me.  Most of me is fine with what I've done--telling me I did what was right and what needed to be done, but something else inside me says that I've made a terrible mistake--that I've messed with the natural order of how things are supposed to be."

"Listen, those Dokks were going to mess with your natural order, syl.  What they do is not how things are supposed to be either.  In some sense, you set things right when you stopped them."

I know that Phoenix is right, but I also know that I'm right.  How can that be?

I roll over on my side.  "Is that what you tell yourself, Phoenix?  When you kill someone?"

Phoenix narrows his eyes.  "I tell myself whatever I need to whenever I need to."

Is that how you get through life, Phoenix?  Is it really as simple as that? Your pulling the ultimate con--on yourself, and I don't know how to respond to that.  Sure wish I had a devastating response to send back your way.

"Don't you think 'destroyer of worlds' is inaccurate?" Phoenix asks.

"Each person has their own world inside them." I say.  "Each person is a planet, orbiting in this polluted atmosphere surrounding our Earth.  Destroy the person--destroy their world.  Kill somebody and their planet--their place in this universe--is obliterated.  So yes, I am a destroyer of worlds."

"That all computes.  I understand what you're saying.  Okay, so it's overly dramatic then."

"You wouldn't think that if you knew how many people I've killed.  If you knew how many..."  ...how many planets I've killed.  Calamity, glitch you for what you told me.  Glitch me for not being able to do anything about it.  All those people, dead, and if I believe you, it's all my fault.  Somehow, I caused it.  Not sure if the Bleed were there because of me...

"The Bleed," Phoenix echoes me.  "Are you changing the subject?"

I thought I was thinking to myself.  Must've been mumbling loud enough for him to hear.  "No," I say, "I'm not changing it, but expanding it."

"Are you telling me you brought the Bleed to that island?  I don't know anything about the Bleed other than what you told me before--how they consume--"

"I would say dissolve."

"Ok, how they dissolve everything--like the building that fell on the Lady Luck.  And now that I've brought it up, glitch, I'm still mad about that.  We might've been able to avoid that huge wave if we hadn't taken that additional damage.  Sometimes your luck turns no matter how in-your-favor the odds are--no matter how many backup plans you have.  But let me ask again: Do you think you you brought the Bleed to that island?  Forgive me for being skeptical, but that sounds insane!"

"My life seems to stumble from one insanity to another, Phoenix, and I'm not sure who, but I think somebody put a curse on me."  My hand goes to my forehead, static finally fading into silence.

"That too, sound insane.  Are you sure you weren't an attraction at The Universally Cosmic Circus of Amazing Wonder at some time?  Maybe you escaped."

"You're right, I'm not sure."

"Right.  Now please oh please answer my original question, and stop stalling."

"I'm not stalling, but fine, yes, I brought the Bleed to the island.  Not sure how or why; maybe they were following me from before I woke up.  I can't remember anything about that time in my life, so it is completely possible."

"And how exactly did you reach this conclusion?  I don't think you're a complete depressionist.  You must know something."

"Somebody told me if I didn't get off the island, I would kill them all--every last person on that island.  And now, I've done just that."

So many people.  So many planets.  Gone now.

"Well, one thing's for sure," Phoenix continues.  "You're not going back to The Universally Cosmic Circus of Amazing Wonder again.  I hope that's not a big disappointment."

"It's not.  I've only been there once.  That was enough."  I met Calamity there, you know.  And then he told me that I was going to kill everybody.  And then I did.  Well how about that?

"Who told you what would happen if you didn't get off the island?"

Calamity Carl, the rivot bot who tells me secrets about myself, my mind says, but my mouth says, "I...I don't want to talk about that right now.  Maybe later.  Maybe tomorrow."

Phoenix smiles in a curious way and shakes his head a little before finally nodding.  "Sure, we can talk about that later.  But I won't forget.  I'll be expecting an answer."

Don't know why I'm talking like this to Phoenix anyway--except to pass the time.  I don't feel threatened, but neither do I owe him anything other than superficial information about myself.  No need to give him too much more.  We just need to figure out a way back to the mainland, and we haven't done much of that yet.  I suspect we can survive for a few days out here assuming we don't get attacked by three or four out of the Seven Dangers of the High Seas.  Glitch I wish Phoenix hadn't brought those up.  Regardless, we have enough food substitute and water to last at least that long.  I hope.

"Phoenix?"

"Yes, syl?  Ready to tell me about--"

"No, I have a different question," I say, sitting up.  I reach across the deck and retrieve my sever-whip, cool and metallic in my hand.

Phoenix waits.

I smile.

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