Blood Perfect : Part Four
"She came at me. We were stationed in the Galbraith Carbon Sinks, our commission to collect and analyse samples. I was a plant biologist living in exile. Not much call for my line of work in Murgatroyd. Not among the Gnostics anyway and I was always blood-loyal.”
Flick can feel herself blush. Is he judging her?
“Mother tagged along. Mother always tagged along.”
“It's all a mother ever wants,” says Flick, piqued, “to be around her kids.”
Edward smiles knowingly. “There are boundaries. Places even mothers shouldn't go.”
Flick nods. Reluctantly.
“I was in the samples hut one evening, working late. I'd found a type of Flood Orchis thought to be extinct. I was exhilarated by it. I couldn't sleep.”
Behind his eyes Flick can see he's bringing the orchis back to life, just by thinking about it.
“It had the rusty colour of the Horun Shallows, its anther flush as a gorged clitoris.”
Flick re-crosses her legs.
“And in she came, looking over my shoulder, resting her chin on it!”
Flick doesn't want to hear the rest. “Go on.”
“I could smell her breath. Taste it almost. She'd been eating a Tantalus Fruit. She leaned forward and touched the orchis, her pointy nails the colour of blood. Stroking the anther. Her other hand went into my pocket.”
“Oh. What did you do?”
“I... I let it happen.” Edward moistens his lips. “I... got...”
“I'm getting the picture,” says Flick, quickly, but then relents. This surely has to be said. “I'm sorry. Go on.”
“I could feel her fingers through the fabric. They were touching the end of it. It flared. She didn't remove her hand. She stroked the anther with her other. The sickly taste of eaten Tantalus hung in the air.”
Edward looks at Flick, but not in the eye. Flick shifts slightly on the bed, trying not to show her discomfort. Never before has she felt her nakedness the way she feels it now.
“I couldn't take it anymore. I felt ready to explode. And then I did.” Edward closes his eyes, remembering. His arm twitches. “I punched her in the face. Just flicked my arm back and my knuckles connected with her nose. She peeled away from me, like a wintercoat in a hot room. I shucked her off, pushed her away.”
“Is that all you did?” Flick is a little relieved, a little disappointed.
“No. That was just the start of it. I turned and saw the shock in her eyes, the blood on her. It drove me on. I kept on and on. Punching and kicking. I kept at it until she was a bloody, lumpen mess.” Edward looks at his knuckles.
“You killed her.”
“No. She lived. That's the worst of it. We were alone in the middle of nowhere. I could have run. Should have. I nursed her back to some semblance of life, there in the forest. Nothing more than an echo, really. The light had gone from her eyes. All I could see was confusion. She didn't know who I was. When I understood the extent of the damage I brought her to the city, turned myself in.”
The audience begins to clap, slowly at first but it builds, turns into applause.
“Welcome to The Aftermath,” says a disassociated voice over the hubbub coming out of the bandstand garden. The sound is overlaid but its texture is different from the ambient. It could be coming from the Davy-bird, boosted through an induction loop. Flick finds it unnerving.
“Please make your way to the private area, where you'll be taken to the Second Chapter: The Childhood Years.”
Edward looks to be in a state of shock. He attempts a smile. Flick can see genuine remorse in those Gnostic eyes. She feels, at last, a flickering of empathy. She reaches out and touches his arm: “Good luck,” she says. “I hope you find it. Redemption.”
Edward pads out, via the bathroom, a sorry-looking sight in just his underwear. Flick is left to her thoughts. She wonders about her own capacity for empathy, which appears to be minimal. Was she always like this? Perhaps she's just tired. Fried by this whole set-up. She gets up from the bed and goes over to the led-gel construct in the walls which still shows the bandstand garden. The audience in the raked seating quickly leaves, although one man in the front row loiters a moment. He waits around until most of the others have left then himself stands up to leave. Flick notices him glance directly at her. She goes over to that part of the wall, placing herself between this man and the Davy-bird. She has her back to the Davy, who doesn't try to find a better position. The man leans over to her.
“How are you bearing up?” says the man. She recognises the voice, although his face is different.
“Fuck you Shem.”
There is a bleeping sound as a disc opens in the floor, over by the beds.
“Think about the benefits,” says Shem.
“What benefits? I'm going to be in here forever.”
“Nonsense,” says Shem.
“How am I going to find this person?” Flick whispers. “We don't even know his name.”
The bleeping sound becomes more dramatic as the platform brings Flick her next cell-mate.
“Just get yourself into the system,” says Shem. “I'll work on getting you out.”
“Who am I working for, Shem?”
But the avatar has gone, and the walls have turned to mirrors.
Lizzy doesn't seem the shy, retiring type. Even her standard-issue underwear hangs off her like it's full of guns. “I'll take this one, alright chick?” she says, nodding to what was once Flick's bed.
She launches herself, back-first, onto the mattress. “So,” she says.
“Ah. Talkative type, eh?”
Flick is vaguely irritated by this younger woman, she feels like they are in competition. Lizzy, she notices, along with a couple of scars on her legs has a finger-end missing. The end of it is flattened, covered with a silver cap. Like a thimble. Her ear's a funny shape, too, like a piece of it has been hacked off and covered with a metal clip. “Can't wait to hear your story.”
“I bet you can't, darlin. Still, it's your turn now, not mine.”
“You were briefed?”
“Everybody knows how it works,” snorts Lizzy. “You not watch the feed or what? Too good for that type of thing are you?”
Flick can see she's playing to the crowd already. A political? Maybe they have more in common than she thinks.
“I've been away,” she says.
Lizzy hrumphs, disdainfully. “Nice if you can afford it.” She turns her head to look Flick in the eye.
Flick holds her steady and then some. The other woman's blue Gnostic eyes are stained with brown flecks. Mutattë. She can't have had an easy life. Flick is beginning to like her.
“So what am I supposed to do then?” she says. “Just start talking?”
“I guess so,” says Lizzy, lying back again. “The first part is never really explained.” Lizzy makes a small motion with her head, gesturing towards the private area. “Something to do with versimilt- something or other.”
“Means it's got to come natural, chick. That's the whole fucking point of it.”
“Ah.” Flick waits a moment then says: “I think I need to pee.”
“Too much information love. Lavs are through there.”
“Oh, right. Excuse me a minute.”
“No worries,” Lizzy puts her hand up behind her head, crosses her legs. “I'm not going anywhere.”
Flick finds herself in a suite much larger than it appears from the cell, extending beyond the line of the back wall. The walls are basalt, as they are meant to be, flecked in places with quartz, but nothing more exotic than that. No led-gel glaze which in itself makes the area more tranquil. There is a separate bathroom and toilet, a wet-room with a bath and shower and, beyond this, what looks to be a dressing room. She does her business then explores the various spaces like a potential buyer. She ends up in this inner room. There isn't much to it: a wardrobe with no clothes in it, a basket marked 'laundry', a dresser with a chair in front of it and, where a mirror would normally be, there is a monitor, turned off. To the side of this set-up is the back wall and, set within the rock, barely discernible except for that tell-tale shimmer, an opaque field-portal. She lays a hand against the portal just to make sure Edward didn't leave it open. He didn't.
She sits in the chair and pats the bottom edge of the monitor, looking for a switch. It pings into life. The screen is blank but for a line of text which reads: I have a confession to make. As she stares at the words a cursor whizzes backwards, deleting them. She feels a tightening in her stomach. After a moment, a new sentence appears on the screen: I wasn't always this dysfunctional.
A counter appears, set at 3.00. It changes to 2.59 and begins counting down.
Three sistine to come up with a convincing defence. All she can think of is the fact that she has three sistine to come up with a story. What happens after three sistine anyway? How are they going to compel her to leave the safety of the bathroom suite? What's stopping her or anyone else from simply staying in here? Why would anyone allow themselves to be so publicly humiliated?
Hope, she realises. The hope that the audience will like you, set you free. But it's more than that. What makes this place so peculiarly Gnostic is the notion of penitence that sits behind it. The prisoners don't just want to be liked, they want to be forgiven. They need to be forgiven. Flick feels it herself. There is this deep-seated urge within every Gnostic, born of hundreds of spans of cultural conditioning, the desire to be clean.
Even so, as a political, it's different again for Flick. She needs to get her name back before she can function out in the city. Without her status she is nothing and that can only be conferred by a public vote, whether that's within the prison system, if she makes it that far, or through a campaign run on the outside. If she simply disappears from prison and tries campaigning she's not going to succeed. She needs to be seen, either to serve her time or to get to the vote from inside. Shem's notion of getting her out through the back door is only going to constrain her, it will leave her powerless and that should tell her something about whom he's working for. Beth neStelle's deal was much more compelling, if more difficult to achieve. Operate within the system, look for this chemist, and allow neStelle, with the help of Arbitration, to nudge things in her favour, get her to an early vote.
The politicals tend not to feel guilty of anything other than disagreeing with whatever set of families control the sway of power. For the politicals the outcomes of the penal system can be applied in a more strategic way. Given its reach into the populace, it can provide a platform from which to genuinely influence the structure of power - not only within the Gnostic community. It is a difficult thing to achieve, however, with Arbitration in control of the Feed, unless they happen to be on your side.
Two sistine. What she needs is the rest of the evening, then she can make a proper start in the morning. Deliver a complex and compelling narrative that really puts her position across. She suspects that, in her absence, her brother has taken the family too far to the right, towards the side of the nationalists.
One and a half sistine. That's where Edward went wrong. He was too keen to get out and tell his story. He should have taken a bit of time to finesse it - present himself in the best light possible. She wishes there was a keyboard to go with the monitor. She could start to make some notes. I wasn't always this dysfunctional. How to subvert that? She doesn't have to play along. What can they do about it once she's on stage? She could take the initiative here, make them follow her lead. She takes exception to what she's supposed to be guilty of, fundamentally. She has never been dysfunctional. She just doesn't like the notion of an infinite multiverse: a fundamental part of the Gnostic dogma that's never questioned. You can have as much science as you like as long as you accept an infinite multiverse. When it comes to infinity, every imagined scenario exists, simply by virtue of it being imagined. It is literally imagined into physical existence. Godh and Her angels become something more than just an abstraction, they become inevitable. And if they can travel between universes then so much the better. Hence the belief in an infinite multiverse and in the wyrmals that connect them is hard-wired into Gnostic philosophy. Flick is fine with the notion of wyrmals. Wyrmals aren't the problem. It's infinity she can't stomach, and that, it would appear, makes her dysfunctional!
One sistine. And in any case, all of this abstraction is simply intended to deflect any discussion of the real reason Flick was sent into exile in the first place and the supposed reason for her being in jail now. The space she's in is beginning to heat up. It would appear her thoughts, however she might be attempting to direct them, are turning into babble. The air tastes of metal. Her heart-rate is increasing. She's finding it harder to... in fact, it is becoming hugely uncomfortable in here. She's becoming agitated, nervous. The atmosphere tastes like metal. What are they doing? Poisoning her? She could die of a heart attack while she's supposedly taking a shit. Unfortunate, but who cares? The stress of prison takes it toll. People die in here all the time. This isn't right. It's too hot. She can hardly breathe. It says thirty subsistine but what if she's dead in thirty subsistine? What if that's what it means?
She lurches out of her chair, reverses out of the room. She wasn't always this dysfunctional. She's sweating now. She has to use all of her concentration just to get out of here. Which way was out? The opposite to where she is, surely? She passes the shower room, the toilet. The bathroom passes by on the other side.
And she is out, back in the cell. As though she has been spewed from the belly of some pungent beast. She tries to keep a straight face. How normal is she looking right now? The last thing she needs at this point is to be looking out of control.
She goes to her bed and sits facing the other girl, whose name she has forgotten. She appears to have dozed off. Her heart-rate slows, the agitation eases. She breathes out. She still feels as though she might be on the edge of psychosis.
“You took your time,” says the sleeping girl, one eye open.