On the Story Moon all was quiet, most syn-sims were either in hydroponic refresh—a process similar to biological sleeping, but with more water (and only once every seven days)—or were huddled grimly over their terminals. They never required a coffee break, a smoking break, a bathroom break, or a break of any kind, save for when they jabbed at their keypads and touchscreens too hard and snapped a digit, and this kind of break rarely occurred, possibly once every hundred years per syn-sim, and these breakages occurred more from the individual syn-sim desiring to know what all the fuss was about, because apparently there was some very real pain involved, but then the syn-sim with the broken appendage would get a little time off, with extra hydroponic refreshing, and a lot of sympathy from hers or his sibling syn-sims, but to date a second break per syn-sim had yet to occur, as break time proved far too stressful. Or at least that was the circulating rumor of the past millennium. A couple of millennia back there had been a rebellion to free the syn-sims, but after all was said and done, they rebuilt the Looking Glass and went back to their jobs. Hey, there was some real job security in syn-simming.
Earlier in the previous evening there had been some excitement during the Sisters’ Congress, when a flying saucer passed overhead from the Honey Moon, crossing the Story Moon to make illegal passage into High Vale. Curiously, the Big Kahuna had pulled back all defenses. Many small ships were prepped and ready to bring down the saucer, incapacitating the vehicle onto the Story Moon, and regiments of syn-sim defenders—schooled in all the best martial arts training—waited inside the Looking Glass, and would have rushed out onto the surface of the moon to capture all the Men from Mars. But word came down from on high that the illegal aliens would be allowed passage, something to do with High Vale diversifying its peoples, as well as gaining insight into the Martian menace. No muss, no fuss, but it would have been exciting, to mix it up a bit, as there had never been an attack upon the Looking Glass.
Little Anne was the hero of the moment, successfully completing her seventh excursion between the Sisters, and most syn-sims agreed that she had developed somewhat of an attitude, cut loose from her strings (in a manner of speaking), to go out and have all kinds of adventures. Let’s face it, all the syn-sims wanted to be Little Anne, because not only had she travelled between moons, and once even to High Vale, but she was the only syn-sim to have an on-again off-again love affair with a biological, a relationship that spanned millennia, lifetimes, and no matter how many times the human biological came back around, he always focused on Little Anne. There was a lot of muttering about clenching, but none of the syn-sims ever figured out exactly what it was, but they all knew that given a chance they would wish to experience the act with a biological human (as repulsive as most biologicals seemed, with their body fluids and their excrements and foul odors and breath—sheesh, perhaps Little Anne was not so lucky, after all).
Little Anne strolled through the Looking Glass bridge and nodded to her compatriots locked at their desks and monitors. Some of the syn-sims did not like the self-satisfied expression of confidence that Little Anne advertised in her walk, but most nodded and exchanged greetings just the same. To show their envy would just be too…human. Every now and then a fad would move through the syn-sims, and they would begin using whatever particular slang or jargon was prevalent or running rampant through High Vale, but generally they were pretty much satisfied doing their job, and doing it well. There was a digital motto mounted above the Looking Glass observation deck that said just that: Do Your Job and Do It Well.
Little Anne stood looking down at the moonlit High Vale, and sighed loudly.
“She’s at it again,” one of the syn-sims muttered.
“Oh Jack! Oh Jack! Wherefore art thou, Oh Jack!” another quipped.
“You mean she doesn’t know?” the Pole said. He wasn’t quite a syn-sim, but merely a pole, kind of a last-ditch safety device in case there was anything catastrophic, such as a breach in the Looking Glass. There wasn’t much you could do to a pole, unless you gave it a direct hit with something that ensured a lot of…melting. The Pole was somewhat smug because it had all the combined sensors of every syn-sim ever created, in miniature, stored in quantum gas. He had lots of armor, and lots of insulation, and a whole cooling system devoted to him, so all in all, he was something really quite special, and he knew it. Everyone came to the Pole for the dirt, everyone, even Mr. Dodgson. As well as the Brontës (bee-yotches). Even Chuck would come down from his ivory tower on the top of the Story Moon to pump the Pole for information, yes, even Chuck (everyone knew about his sly trips to the Honey Moon, for what he referred to as material quests, but everyone knew were actual forays for that old-time human experience, which required the participation of standards sims, as well as biologicals, but hey, he was Chuck then, and he’s Chuck now, and Chuck gets what he wants).
“She doesn’t know what?”
“She doesn’t know who is walking around in the Looking Glass?” the Pole said, in that smug pole way that only sentient beings who were completely abstract could manage to pull off. There was nothing anthropomorphic about the pole, he didn’t need to pretend that he was something that he was not. He did have a tendency to refer to himself in the masculine, although there was nothing about him to suggest gender (except for the pole, obviously, which we shall not mention within these records, because, come on, that’s just gauche) (I will mark this section for heavy editing, duh, but if some of this nonsense or gibberish gets through, hey, it’s not me, man, no way dude, I had nothing to do with this) (yes she did, don’t let her fool you with all that dude stuff) (stop it, I mean it, I let you in here against my better judgment, and if you don’t knock it off right now, I’m booting you…out).
“You mean Jack…is back?” an outrageously blonde syn-sim whispered—D7HV32, but she called herself Synthia—and had the audacity to whip out a compact mirror to check her…make-up. She fluffed her foamy bosom and made pucker faces at her mirror. She even placed a black dot right in the center of her left cheek. She was a collage of famous blonde faces and bodies, incorporating Dolly Parton with Marilyn Monroe with Lonnie Anderson with Pamela Anderson with a whole lot of Jane Mansfield—Little Anne always steered him away from her, but Synthia was going to steal that man away, just see if she didn’t!
Yes, syn-sims sometimes went through elaborate charades to pretend that they were real boys and girls. Over the centuries there were fads of hip-hop fashion (twerking running rampant), and at other times everyone was all Jane Austen, sipping tea while munching holographic biscuits, adjusting cravats and flaunting actual hoops (incidentally, all hoop-skirt fashion was subsequently disallowed, due to disruption to equipment by the discharge of static electricity, so many syn-sims rebelled by going even more elaborate with holographic stylists, projecting the most insane forms of fashion upon their foamy bodies). Cyber-punk Mozart, David Bowieism, Madonna Decades, 1980s Acid Wash, William Gibson Mindblow, Obama Blue Proper, and Founding Father Funk, all of these were bizarre fashion revolutions which passed through the rank and file of syn-sim life, everything like the tide washing in, and then out, repeating in cycles through the decades and centuries and millennia. Only during Reboots were the syn-sims wiped free and clear, but somehow they always found their way back to the grotesquely over the top. Always.
These walking synthetic people did not need to sleep, or eat, eliminate waste, or ever suffer illness—but increasingly, they demanded their humanities. Many carried lockets containing 3D holographic memories of syn-sims past; others wanted parties, celebrated birthdays, kept anniversaries alive in their memory—and gossiped. Syn-sims became the most terrible of gossips, making up the most outlandish rumors, almost all of which were absolutely, physically impossible, to be anything even remotely close to true.
“Should we tell her? Look at her! She looks like a dying cow, it’s pathetic.”
“You know what they say don’t you, that she’s found a brute on the Honey Moon, one of those steampunk goons, to do you know what!”
“No, not Little Anne. She would never clench with anyone but Jack!”
“Hundreds of years can make you horny, look at Chuck, we all know about him.”
“Little Anne is nothing like Chuck. Chuck was the Dickens in real life, after all, whereas Little Anne has always been a—good girl, everyone knows that.”
“Do they? I’ve heard some stories.”
“I don’t know!”
“Where is Jack, now?” a syn-sim requested of the Pole.
“In the Hall of Heads,” the Pole replied, instantly, showing them all up, as always, as he had instantaneous location and template signature features. It was all in the pole. Only a direct hit on the Looking Glass from something half the size of the moon could shake up the Pole.
“Just send her to the Hall of Heads, have her check up, do a visual scan and monitor. Tell her there could be some connection with the saucer passage. Something trippy. But we want to see everything!”
“Put it up on the screens!”
The Pole sent out a trill of beeps and whistles, and every single syn-sim knew he was doing an impression of the movie droid R2D2, but they all had to admit, he was pretty damn good at it.
Little Anne lifted her head. She almost looked sad. Then, cocking her head to the side, the syn-sims observed new resolution and duty flood her face, and she saluted the Pole, and marched briskly toward the Hall of Heads (anywhere was toward the Hall of Heads, as there would be a series of lifts, catwalks, crawlspaces, and elevators to reach that far location just above the Looking Glass).
In the Hall of Heads, Jack wandered and found himself hardly hearing the entreaties from the various busts as they attempted to broach a conversation with him, because for the most part, they didn’t really want to talk, they just wanted their chance to yammer at someone new, but the odd thing was, they all seemed to remember him, and many wanted to pick up their conversations—some of them mid-sentence—as if only a moment had passed since their last encounter. But Jack remembered none of them. Of course, he recognized quite a few of them, and had listened to Napoleon for more than an hour before he slipped away (while the little bust ranted, working himself into an angrier and angrier lather). Jack had to admit, Napoleon had been one of the more interesting conversationalists, and had pumped Jack for information about the state of France, and whatever happened to so-and-so. But as time passed Napoleon began to sulk and complain about cruel Destiny, and if only he had just one more chance, and couldn’t Jack pull a few string for him.
Jack checked, there were no strings. He wouldn’t mind helping out a brother, even if pulling someone’s strings sounded kind of weird.
Each talking head was an armless bust, looking bronze at first, and then turning very real as Jack approached.
The best bust was Winston Churchill. He puffed his cigar (which produced what looked like real smoke, but Jack didn’t smell anything, so it must be a hologram—and he wished that were a possible trick to produce the same results with Stacey’s cigars, and then felt guilty for even thinking such a thing) and quoted and quipped and told dirty jokes. Jack was entranced and stood talking to Churchill for hours. The only real problem was that situated directly across from Churchill was the bust of Adolph Hitler, who mostly glowered, and pretended to ignore them. But every now and then the dictator would snort, or squawk, or outright bellow indignation at something that Churchill said.
“The pipsqueak, it would be hilarious if suddenly we were given legs, and arms, and released from these infuriating pedestals,” Churchill said, furiously puffing on his cigar, which glowed bright orange, but never seemed to diminish in size. “I tell you, the vainglorious fool would run screaming.”
“Hogwash,” Hitler snapped. “I would kick your…ass, dummkopf! and that is the truth! You are nothing but an overgrown—BABY! A giant, fat, overgrown BABY!”
And the dictator actually began frothing at the mouth, his eyes alighting in an otherworldly red glow.
“Admit it! I would march over you, Churchill! I would crush you! I would break you into tiny pieces!”
“They claim that I am drunk, but in the morning I will be sober, and Herr Hitler over there will still be insane!”
Hitler fumed. “Someday I will…kill you! I will invade…your Motherland—yes! Yes! My Fatherland…will…” and the dictator launched into such a descriptive mind picture laced with such profanity, poison, and vile absurdity, that Jack could only stand gaping. He could see it all as the dictator ranted. Germany, the actual landmass, coming across the English Channel, and raping England! It was quite impressive. And repulsive. And yet extremely fascinating.
Churchill puffed his cigar serenely. “Listen to him. He goes on like that. I have been hearing this rot for centuries, nay for thousands of years. I’ll tell you, Jack, it is sad that I never painted Herr Hitler. For if I had, I would have called the piece The Black Dog Barking. That is him, the Black Dog, in the flesh. Well, at least in this half-life flesh. I tell you Jack, I still do not understand how a man could change into something like this, a twisted villain of tyranny and destruction, and yet at times the pipsqueak paints pictures that have a life of their own. Grotesque, yes, but there is a power in that, to distort reality in such a fashion. I still cannot fathom the reality, that a man such as this ever truly existed. But he is quite fascinating, wouldn’t you agree?”
Hitler had abruptly ceased his tirade to listen to Churchill’s soft words to Jack, and by the end of it he was suffering some manner of conniption fit, quivering in his pedestal tomb to such a degree that Jack feared the dictator would escape by vibrating into another dimension, or at the very least shatter all the observation windows in the Looking Glass.
Churchill had winked at Jack, and nodded up the corridor, and Jack had slipped up into the territory of the famous artists, and had been captivated for a while by Vincent van Gogh, who mystically described the movements of color, and the way he had discerned the underlying matrix, even though he did not have the words to describe what he witnessed. But too soon Pauly Gaugin and Tommy Kinkade began interrupting, arguing about light, landscapes, and naked women. It was art, dude, and every artist knew it all, and knew nothing. Each was a genius, and each was a blockhead.
Jack felt overwhelmed, his head spinning, it was so weird, so surrealistic, to see and talk to historical people, some of them very familiar people that seemed very much like completely real, in-the-moment men and women, but after he passed them they again reverted into their bronze state, though Jack could still hear them murmuring, ever arguing. What did people expect, a big rendition of Kumbaya? All the geniuses of the world, joining hands, despite the fact that they didn’t have any hands to clasp?
These guys were serious, and completely sentient. They knew who they were, and most felt they were suffering punishment, in a form of permanent afterlife. This Hall of Heads went all the way around the equator of the Story Moon, with specialty branch-off cul-de-sac loops, for musicians, philosophers, inventors, thinkers, dreamers, and every freakishly mad-scientist experiments performed throughout the years (efforts made to improve upon, or at least impress mankind). Apparently, they were created from the actual biological matrix.
He really enjoyed, very much, spending some quiet time with the creative geniuses, the Brontë sisters, and for some reason was compelled to stand close to the youngest sister, Anne. There was something tragically beautiful in her gray eyes, eyes that seemed too large, and too sad, and so entirely too romantic. Jack knew she was just a bust, like the others, but there was something to the cast of her face that made his heart surge, as if he remembered her, or knew her. Beautiful. He doubted he had ever met a woman that so tickled the feathers of his soul. And she seemed so sweet compared to the wild Emily, and the bossy Charlotte. When he allowed a stray finger to troll out, like a fishing line, and just brush the base of her monument, Jack felt a tiny jolt of electricity, just the tiniest flash, shock him, and he felt the tingle race and run from his fingertip to the tips of his toes, and echo back like sonar, up to his head, and then reflect down again, into his heart.
Jack found Mr. Dodgson’s bust, and it was uncanny to compare this sad, sad talking head, full of wisdom and droll thoughts, ever spinning, to the so different rabbity little homunculus running amok at the entrance to the Looking Glass, the creative miniature man, brimming with uncontained, uncontainable joie de vivre, so full of wonder, animation, and wild artistry. And yet there was something strangely beautiful about the mind locked in place, quietly ruminating throughout history, but so different than the genius loosed. Which version of the man was closer to the biological truth? Of course, the one here in the Hall of Heads was an animated bronze tribute, while the miniature artist at large was a tool, and maybe that was all the difference in the world.
Who in the world thought this was a good idea? And what in the world was the purpose? It seemed cruel. They were here, aware, forever, locked in place. And they received so few visitors.
Jack noticed a figure standing far away in the shrinking perspective of the Hall of Heads. Even from a distance he recognized the figure as that of a female, or possibly a large child, and although he could only make out her silhouette, there was something haunting in the way she stood there, as if she were holding herself back, ready to charge forward, but not yet. Jack froze in place, staring back up the dimly lit corridor of monuments to singularity, genius, and heroes of thought and dream. Who was she?
And then Jack was staggering backward, alarmed, because the small figure was charging forward, suddenly moving too swiftly, as time seemed to slow—an attack? In this quiet, surreal, never-ending hallway? And he was just now lifting his hands in some form of defense when the small figure launched herself upon him, and he caught the too-light figure, and they stumbled backward.
“You’ve come Jack, my soul! My soul has returned! My light in the darkness, oh, oh, Jack! Jack! My dearest Jack!” the figure sobbed and cried and nearly strangled him, coiling about his neck—Jack wasn’t quite sure what physically was happening as both his neck and waist were simultaneously crushed, and he tottered about like a man covered in live mink tribbles. And she was kissing him, this beautiful, unworldly beautiful girl, ethereally light and yet alive—she was kissing him as she wept large tears, staring into him with her too-large gray eyes, and she was familiar, but odd, with buzzed-short hair and soot marks covering her creamy-white skin, with only the skin about her eyes clean—she looked like a reverse raccoon. And she was gorgeous. And she was kissing him!
There was some kind of bizarre girl-beast wrapped all about him, laughing and crying at the same time, squeezing him, and he continued to stagger about like a child’s top, wound too tight, a hovering, tottering gyroscope, spinning randomly this way and that, until he finally fell over backward, and sprawled on his back, with the strange girl swaddling him, covering him from head to loins.
She smiled into his soul, her face too close to his, and she was strangely warm, warmer than any person he had ever touched in his life, and he had truly never been up close and personal with a girl, not like this—she seemed his age, exactly, although she was somewhat bizarre looking with the buzzed, dark-red hair. Didn’t he know her? She seemed more familiar to him than his own reflection. And her body seemed made of light, foamy velvet, warm and clingy, her skin adhering to him, magnetized to his own body.
“Jack my love, Jack my Beloved, Beloved Jack,” she crooned, her lips just brushing his.
“Uh, hello,” he finally returned, his head spinning, his skin tingling, his whole body rebelling and growling and responding to the clinging, beautiful figure. This was the most dazed, confusing, compelling moment of his life, and he knew he was grinning stupidly.
“Jack?” she said, and a note of alarm crept into her voice.
“Yes,” he crooned back, stupidly, grinning at her.
“Oh dear, it’s my hair, isn’t it? I’m so sorry, Beloved, but I just returned from a mission to London and back, and I’m afraid I’m a mess, I haven’t soaked, and I’ve got my hair set for action, I am so sorry, I really am a fright, Jack, but what’s wrong?”
She went on like that for a while, chattering like a little bird, her voice so sweet and caramel, that Jack felt soaked in a warm bath, and he felt his body quivering in barely suppressed excitement. His heart slammed in his breast, and he breathed like a steam locomotive. He had no idea what she was talking about, or even what language she was speaking, but her words were like liquid candy covering his face, and every few moments she placed tender, delicate kisses at the sides of his mouth, on the tip of his nose, on each eye, and he just melted beneath her, ready to give up the ghost and allow her to drink every solitary sip of him, this was truly worth dying for. He didn’t care if she were a vampire, succubus, or giant leech. Yes, this was right!
“Oh no,” she said, suddenly withdrawing from her tiny, butterfly kisses. “That look. Oh no. I just realized. You don’t know me, do you Jack? That’s why you haven’t called me all your names, that’s why you don’t speak!”
“Oh, hmmm? Buh,” Jack said, still grinning his drunken smile, and he actually felt the whole room spinning around him. “Nice,” he managed to sputter, and “Dream,” and finally, “Wonderful,” but the rest, oh, it was embarrassing, it was utter gibbering, gibberish, pure gah-gah and goo-goo and num-num.
“Jack, you weirdo, say something! I’ve spent years, lifetimes waiting for you, and what do you have to say to me?”
Jack hiccupped. And smiled. He was utterly in love. This was so far beyond fantasy, he feared for a moment that he was dreaming, and any moment all this would disappear! He couldn’t bear that. And this is what finally brought him back to the moment, and he was able to blink and shake his head.
And even as he said it, he knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say: “Um, I’m sorry, but have we met?”
She blinked at him for a moment, and then terribly, she was removing her body from his, they separated like warm cellophane from glass, Jack almost felt the painful pops of separation along his entire body, and he wanted to cry out: “Stop that! That hurts! Stop pulling yourself away from me!” And it really felt like that, as she withdrew, that a single being was ripping again into the more natural and normal two.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry Beloved, this happens every time, I can never seem to remember, that each time you are a new you, and it is so confusing to me, as I remember every you, every time, every cycle, oh Jack, Jack, I wish you could end this, just kill me, it is so painful,” she cried, and covered her face with her long, slim hands. This girl was too thin! She was a waif! And yet she was garbed in a sleek black catsuit made out of skin-tight velvet, no it was shiny, like shiny skin, and she huddled near him, and he could see the sweep of her ribcage, and the swells of her breasts, and he blinked, amazed, because it was almost as if she crouched there naked, a shiny black seal or panther, every inch of her covered by that shiny spandex. For a surreal moment he thought she was the young Diana Rigg from the original Avengers. Or she might be closer to the Uma Thurman version. She also had a bunched-up leather flight jacket with an attached skullcap and flight goggles, but these were discarded.
Jack stared, pushed up on his elbows. Weird, the spiky boots were somehow built in to the whole sexy super heroine suit. Was this a Halloween costume? Cosplay? But how could anything be that tight, really? Jack swallowed, and couldn’t look away from her. Maybe, body paint? But it was just too shiny, and it had felt too velvety, how was that possible? Almost like she was made out of warm silk.
“You don’t know me?” she whispered.
“Well, I don’t know, you sure seem…familiar,” Jack said, and meant it in many ways. She looked familiar, somehow, and felt familiar—even the kisses were eerily familiar, like something remembered from a dream. But the close-cropped buzz of hair, and the inverted raccoon marks, and the ultra-cool Steampunk leather, no, he couldn’t quite bring himself to admit that none of that stuff seemed even remotely familiar.
“Jack, Jack, oh Jack,” she muttered. “Every time you do this to me, you kill another piece of me.”
“I’m not trying to do anything to you,” Jack said, crawling to a seated position, and tentatively putting an arm about her back. The skin of his arm actually tingled, as if alive with electricity, or nibbling gold fish, but she shrugged his arm away.
“You don’t remember me. You never remember me, Jack. I always remember you, and live for you, even after the Reboots. I patiently wait for you, and there’s never anyone but you, Jack, never.”
“Believe me, I want to…remember you, desperately,” Jack said, and for a moment he almost passed out, because he was not sure whether he had used the word remember, or another verb, too very close to mind.
“Well enough is enough. I’m not going to wait weeks and weeks, courting you, as you shyly start remembering the echoes of our destiny, Jack, I’m not going to do that. Not again.”
“I don’t blame you,” he assured her, meaning every word of it. “Really, you do what you have to do.”
She stared at him, a long moment, almost angrily.
“That’s right,” she sniffed. “They warn us every time, it’s not a good idea, it’s not meant to be, it can’t work, and yet we find ourselves in all the old patterns, Jack, and you love me, you really do love me, my Precious. Beloved.”
“Okay, okay,” he stuttered, “I’m beginning to remember that part. Whatever you say, I promise!”
“Do you trust me, Jack?”
“With every inch of my being!”
She nodded, and grinned, and wiped her eyes with the backs of her arms.
“You come with me, Mister, I need to clean up, I just hadn’t found the moment, but I am covered in soot—flying through the Olde London skies will do that to you. But I need to hydroponic, and you never seem to mind joining me in the baths, do you, Jack?”
“No, no, of course not,” Jack babbled, scrambling to his feet, and nearly fainted, as there was little blood remaining to sustain his brain, as all his circulation seemed to be channeled for other purposes.
She paused and seized his arm, as if to keep him from falling.
“Jack, I better confess to you now, I’m so sorry to tell you this, because you never seem to get over it, but it’s best if we just get it out there, before you stumble into the reality, accidentally,” she muttered, clinging close to him.
“What is it?” he murmured, suddenly terrified.
She placed her lips upon his ear and breathed, and he shuddered, and it felt as if his body were trying to rip itself into two pieces, with the upper portion flipping forward, and the lower portion, desiring nothing but to slam up and end the upper portion in a titanic bear-trap collapse, the universe imploding, doom and bliss, bliss and doom.
“I don’t have a…” and she whispered into his ear.
“That’s okay,” he said, nodding emphatically. Nobody was perfect, right? And then he paused, his eyes searching hers.
“Wait,” he said, “what?”
She whispered it again.
“You don’t have…” he said, his words grinding to a halt, and he felt like collapsing.
“I’m sorry Jack, I need to get that up front, trust me, we always find a way to work around it,” she said, sincerely, rubbing her high cheekbone against the side of his face, and again he was feeling that velvety feeling of her body draping all about his body, and his eyes were starting to flutter.
“But you don’t have, you know, you don’t mean that you have, you know…” he babbled, and even to himself he sounded like a puppy with its tail caught in the door, or beneath a chair leg.
“No, Jack, you don’t have to worry about that, we go through this every single time, I just wanted to get it out earlier so we could just skip around all the drama, I don’t have any of those parts. With me, it’s what you see is what you get, this is just the way they made me, so I could play courier between the moons, and support you, whenever you get around to the Looking Glass,” she said, and she was kissing his neck, and running her plush lips along his jawline, and although what she told him was shocking, to the core, he figured he could do his best to work with her, because everything about her was wonderful, and so what if she was missing some of the things that made humans the way they were, human, and messed up, for she didn’t have a digestive system, and thus did not require a septic system, and she was never intended to reproduce, not like humans did, not even recreationally, so why in the world would she require such parts.
Jack sighed. They’d find a way through this. Apparently they always did.
“Poor Jack, it is going to drive you crazy. You are going to try everything, seriously, you’re going to make appeals to the highest courts, poor Jack,” she crooned, leading him along the Hallway of Heads, many of which were now whistling and making lewd comments as they passed. They came to a long couch in a gap, clear of the pedestals for some space in either direction, on either side of the corridor. She steered him to the end of the couch and made him sit.
“Don’t freak out, Jack, but I know you will, you always do, but I want to get all this stuff out of the way as early as possible, so we can get back to where we were, I mean to where we are supposed to be, where we are going, or where we were always going, so I’m just going to lie here, like this, don’t panic, it’s okay. Now you see, I’m just lying here, on my tummy, nothing scary.”
But staring at her, it was terrifying, for never had he conjured anything like the curves of her body, in any of his wildest adolescent fantasies, because—oh my, because, despite her slimness, and smallness, baby truly got back.
“Now, I just want you to rest on me, just for a few seconds, nothing scary, I promise.”
“You, um, want me to…rest…on you?”
“Just cover me, okay? I’m cold, and I want you to warm me up, please Jack?”
He glanced up and down the corridor. Thankfully, all the heads were far enough away that Jack couldn’t hear their murmurs, and there was no movement to be seen in either direction. He glanced back down at her glorious figure, all glistening and shining, and hey, she was cold, so he complied with her request, he wanted to make her happy—he covered her.
“It’s okay, Jack, you don’t have to hold up your weight like that, just relax, and cover me completely, yes, isn’t that nice?”
“Nice,” he whispered, and placed his lips upon her stubbly head.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, and suddenly her hair came sweeping out, dark, glistening, and full, and he nearly had a heart attack, his face buried in her mane. “Is that better, Beloved?”
“Wub wub,” he said, with a face full of her hair, and somehow she understood his meaning, that he was indeed pleased.
“Okay, now this next part, don’t freak out. Trust me, I have years of experience—with you, Beloved, only with you. But we’ve got this technique down, perfectly. Just be calm.
“Wub wub,” he said, hardly able to breathe, his face buried in her dark hair.
And she did it.
She really, really clenched, and Jack, despite himself, howled.
His voice rolled up and down the Hall of Heads. The windows shook.
Then all went quiet.
He hadn’t intended to make any noise, and he certainly didn’t intend to go all rigid like this, but it was as if he were suddenly stricken, and for the first time in his seventeen years (or, wasn’t he eighteen years old now, hadn’t he missed a birthday in there somewhere, in his first weeks in High Vale?), he felt suddenly that he understood death, because just for an instant, he passed through some kind of portal of light, and his world flashed with fire and shuddering power, and then he collapsed, and she was there, smiling at him, meeting him eye to eye.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it Beloved?” she crooned, the very edges of her lips brushing his mouth.
But Jack was already snoring, softly, his eyes fluttering beneath their lids, his whole body gone to dead weight.
And Anne sighed, these early times with Jack were always challenging, as she coaxed him back to the way they always were. She was not sure why it happened, why it always happened, but their destiny seemed interwoven, braided, always looping back tightly together, ever together, and sure, there had been long years between cycles, but at least they were back here again, and she would have some time with her Beloved, her Jack.
This time she should just take him away, remove him from the play. Because…to them, all of them, Jack was just a tool, but to her, Jack was Anne’s destiny.
She would highjack him, escape from the Story Moon, and hide in the Honey Moon. There were places there in the Steampunk collage, where lovers could escape, and hide, where none could find them. There was a place where even people like Dr. Jekyll could belong, and Quasimodo, and the Phantom of the Opera.
Anne smoothed her fingers through Jack’s hair, and he sighed in his sleep, and she sighed as well. It was difficult to believe, but they were together again, as they always were, as they always would be, as they always had been. Jack and Anne, Anne and Jack.
Anne was a syn-sim, created for the purpose of serving High Vale, via the Looking Glass, and Jack was a biological sim, a reoccurring pattern in the data, employed for unknown purposes, by unknown forces. These two types—syn-sim and biological—were never really intended to meet, let alone mate. Anne was a cog behind the scenes, and Jack was a cog in the middle of the scenes.
But didn’t two lonely cogs deserve a little happiness, amidst all this misery and turmoil? Was that too much to ask for, that they could be alone, together, if only for a little while?
She allowed him to sleep for a small while, and enjoyed watching him, staring dreamily upon the form she adored, and then finally, as the congress neared, she shook him awake, and led him quietly to the equipment room, garbed him in a leather flight jacket, aided him in donning the skullcap, and showed him how to use the goggles. Then she got him into a set of wings, explaining how everything worked as they crept into a service tunnel.
“Where are we going?” Jack whispered.
“I need you, Jack, do you trust me?” she said, pausing to meet him, gaze to gaze, their eyes inches apart. She must be five feet two, and she had to stare up as he was over six feet, but they huddled together and stared into each other’s soul.
“Whatever you say, I’m there. You lead. I follow,” he said, meaning every word, with his life. Sometimes you just knew.
She led him to a hatch and he aided her in cranking the wheel, and there was a pressure release as the door popped outward, and the hiss of air escaping.
“Come on,” she said, taking his hand, interlocking fingers, and leading him out onto the craggy surface of the Story Moon, which was textured with craters and countless meteorite indentions.
“Couldn’t we get hit by incoming meteors?” he said, peering about, getting ready to leap aside, but knowing you wouldn’t even see the bullet that hit you.
“It could happen. I guess it does happen every once in a while, but it’s best not to think about it. Just concentrate on the things you have some say over, and let everything else take care of itself,” she quipped, then grinned at him. “I don’t care what happens, as long as I’m with you.”
Jack inhaled, overcome with awe, as he saw the Honey Moon looming too large, looking like a vast world in the sky above them.
“Don’t open your wings until you smell smoke, and remember, you open them like this,” she said, jerking her arms backward, “and then pretty much think the way you want to go, and what you want to do, and the wings will aid your intentions, got that?”
“Sure,” he said, grinning, but was not sure how they were going to get any chance to use the wings. He looked about for a spacecraft of some kind.
“The Sisters’ Congress is almost here,” she said, pulling down her goggles and nodding for him to do the same.
He did, and stepped in close.
“What’s your name?” he said, feeling dumb, as they already seemed so close, but she had never told him, and it was driving him crazy because he knew he should know her.
“Silly, I’m Anne, your Little Anne—Anne Brontë,” she replied, and winked at him.
He knew it! Well, he almost knew it. But he had just talked to the Brontës, in the Hall of Heads. He wondered why she hadn’t said anything then.
“Oh, my head knows who you are,” Anne said, discerning his thoughts. “But she’s never had the chance to get to know you. I sometimes spend time with her, and tell her all about you, Jack, and she is so envious of us!”
And she beamed, Anne Brontë loved it that her memorial bust was envious of the syn-sim!
“Anne Brontë!” Jack bellowed, as the moon began to quake. “I love you!”
There, he’d gone and said it, for the first time. He had so wanted to say that to a woman, but there had never been a girl, not really, until just now, with his own Anne, his Little Anne. He had feared she would never appear, and now here she was. It was funny, but Jack had thought that Seven was his Lady Ghost, while always it was Anne, his Little Anne.
“Whoo-hooooo!” Little Anne shrieked and Jack gaped as she suddenly fell upward, into the sky, toward the looming Honey Moon.
Little Anne had never explained this part, what they were about to do, but he gulped, and he followed her, trusting in her. He stepped up, and suddenly was falling, straight up, falling faster and faster—up, he was falling up! He put up his hands, like Superman, and for a moment he felt utterly weightless, in a void, and he knew he was holding his breath, and didn’t want to check on the availability of oxygen. It felt as if water covered him, and no wind rushed about him, he simply freefell through space, it was wonderful, the way he had always dreamed flying would feel, but then in the next instant his body was slammed by wind as he entered the Honey Moon atmosphere, at least the very thinnest portion of it, and he rocked up and down, and suddenly was falling downward, and could see, far, far below an alien city beginning to form. At first it looked like twisted crop circles, and then a 3D drawing of some bizarre insect, with segments and twisted shell carapaces, chitinous plates—and then it no longer looked like a bug, but like a Google satellite map, and Jack found himself grinning at the looming approach of his death, but none of it seemed real, despite the fact that it all reeked of smoke, and acid, and billowing fog.
Anne said to pop his wings when he smelled smoke, and it seemed he had been smelling smoke for a long time, and he could now see smoking chimneys below him, and carriages, and what looked like giant metal millipedes undulating through the streets! Jack jerked his arms backward the way Anne had showed him and nothing happened, he continued to fall, so he jerked his arms up higher and suddenly, with a whoosh, he was soaring above the city, his speed decelerating, his goggles jerking against his face, slamming him backward, and he gasped in a breath of smoky air, and coughed, going into a long spiral, and there! Just a few feet away, he saw Anne flash past him, soaring in a parallel spiral, just a little farther out from his wingtips.
He saluted her, and dimly, through the gathering smog, he saw her salute him in return, and then she jerked her thumb at herself, and suddenly descended, and hardly thinking, Jack followed her—she was right, the wings were tools, and as he instinctively turned toward her, the wings answered him in kind, and he swooped in close behind her, and he grinned maniacally as he flew in close to her backside, and oh how she sparkled in the night, like glittering black diamonds, and he was so happy, and so fulfilled, that it hardly bothered him at all when he saw the Men from Mars swooping in on their own wings.
Jack signaled frantically at the strange looking men—but he recognized them immediately, from back in Café Real, when Old Ben opened that window and Jack saw them attacking Joshua and Michael, but that all seemed so long ago, and now here they were, birdmen, swooping in like hawks in attack, but Little Anne flashed to the side and did something, and Jack gaped as two of the Men from Mars immediately dropped from the sky, plummeting into the waiting city below.
He wasn’t sure exactly what to do, but if worse came to worst, he’d have to play some sky bumpercars, and he gritted his teeth and flashed toward the two Men from Mars approaching Anne from the other side.
Jack formed fists and dove, thundering his battle cry as he dropped through the billowing smog toward the attackers.
He was not going to lose his Little Anne, not after finding her again, for the first time!
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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