One day, he expects that she’ll wake up and somehow remember all that has happened to her. Not just the scars, but she’ll touch her face and remember how those happened and blame him those for those as well, as she well should. She’ll creep up the stairs as whisper soft as any active imprinted with stealth skills to where he has been curled up on his mattress.
He’ll wake up, in surprise. That’s a given. The springs of his mattress will shake and quake. But she will hush him, his Claire-bell is here and everything is all right and okay. It’s not; he knows how it will all end. But it is destined, so he’ll let it play out.
She will brush his brow, put a finger up to his lips, pretends she loves him, and then she will go in for the killing strike. She will take his pillow and cram it over his face. Automatically, his legs will flail and he will piss himself. That’s a given. But he won’t fight back. No, no… he doesn’t deserve to fight back. He won’t claw her arms or her once beautiful but now scarred face. They could fix it, but she doesn’t want to, because on some level, she wants him to know how much he’s hurt her. Not only that, but how much he’s hurting her still.
No, if anything, he’ll have the little presence of mind to stroke her arm, if he can find it, one last time. Hopefully she’ll see it as some small comfort versus the desperate pawing of a madman he knows she’ll most likely see it as.
Maybe on some level, Claire Brink can forgive Topher for all he’s done.
Or she’ll spit on his corpse.
Topher knows he deserves that and so much more.
He clicks down the days until Claire will probably kill him.
He did what he could to lessen the blow. Incest is very wrong, so he made himself smell as bad as possible. He read is to prevent father daughter incest, so he figures why not the same for brother sister.
She is still is his sister after all.
“Doc,” Topher called out, vial of pills rattling in his hand. “Yo, Doctor Saunders.”
The familiar scarred face of Dr. Claire Saunders peered from behind paper drapes from where she had been evidently giving a pelvic to the ever-diminutive Kilo. “In the middle of something,” she snapped with emphasize from a snapping of her one of her latex gloves’ fingers.
The active Kilo didn’t flinch even though from the sound, she had been smacked in the flank when Claire did her little glove stretch. That was actives for you, placid and calm even during the most humiliating of medical procedures. “Am I my best?” Kilo asked, dark eyes shining bright.
“A few more minutes,” Saunders said. She looked by at Topher. “Can this wait?”
“If I say no, will you hurry it up?,” Topher asked, trying to be somewhat endearing.
His attempt failed miserably. Saunders glowered from behind the drapes. “I can’t hurry something like this,” she said, somehow evenly despite the sour expression on her face. “Sit over there,” she added as an afterthought. Saunders gestured toward her desk. “Just wait five more minutes.”
“What if I don’t want to wait five more minutes?” he singsonged lightly.
Even with Haloperidol running through his veins, with his supply running low, Topher could feel his illness threatening well back up. God knew he was crazy enough to warrant a neural net and a head full of the best active programming money can buy. However, it meant losing the best programmer DeWitt has ever had and he would be robbing the world of his genius.
Saunders glared and for a moment, he saw her. That’s Claire’s glare… not Claire Saunders’ glare. No. It’s Claire Brink’s glare. The long vanished glare of his long vanished older sister. The same glare she gave him so many times in the course of his life. And it was replaced with Claire Brink’s pity.
He doesn’t need to see that face.
“I see,” Saunders said softly. “I’ll send up a new batch of pills for you this evening.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Topher replied in a hurry.
He doesn’t need his sister’s pity.
His sister is sleeping now.
The scarred version that wears her face is the cruel lie.
There’s the pity.
Priya Tsentang, the lost princess of Australia, was all insane, art, and poetry. A poor schizophrenic wasting away in a mental ward, she looked up at him with dark sharp eyes and reminded him of himself… if he didn’t pop pills like Fizzing Mints. He popped a lot of Fizzing Mints too as well as obscure candies and chips few people have heard of, little off market brands with hand-applied labels.
“I’m not crazy,” she insisted.
But of course, if you’re crazy and medication isn’t keeping it under control, how would you be even able to tell the difference? Like attracts like and he took Priya back with him to the Dollhouse. Surely they would be able to help Priya with her strange wildcat eyes and matted hair.
Adele DeWitt was already waiting with her warm arms and smiling mouth. There was a full tea service. No contract. The contract came later. Adele’s way was to soothe. “In other house,” Topher whispered, trying to sound soothing and not gleeful. He had to work on that. “They present you with the contract.” He grinned reassuringly.
Priya’s nails, even shortly and brutally trimmed, cut into his hand.
“Ouch,” he said.
“I don’t like this,” she repeated, “I didn’t do any harm. I’m just a kidnapped person. Against my will.”
“DeWitt,” Topher called as Priya’s nails somehow managed to cut deeper into his flesh, “A moment please?”
“As many moments as you would like,” their every gracious host said.
DeWitt rose to her feet, and passed by him, her jade and rose-colored elaborate dress rustling with her steps. Only DeWitt could make such a dress seem the garb of an Empress and not that of a streetwalker even though it showed off most of her back and legs.
As soon as the doors closed behind her, Priya looked into Topher’s eyes. “Do you trust me?” she asked.
Of all the things she could say. Topher licked his lips. “Priya, you are severely ill. If you knew what landed you in that mental clinic, trust me when I say it would break your heart.”
Priya had obviously been about land an epic comeback. There was no such response. Her mouth opened and closed like a dying goldfish. “What did I do?” she asked after a few minutes of mouth popping. “What could I have possibly done? I am a good girl.”
To be honest, Topher didn’t know and he never wanted to know what brought Priya to the clinic. But it must have been bad or she would have never been drugged to the gills. “There some things better left unsaid.”
Dark teary eyes met his. “I want to forget that horrible place.”
“And I… we can help you,” he said.
Well played, Topher Brink.
Some days the pills didn’t work. And her screams of pain when dad took the belt to her belt and whipped her bloody echoed in his head. She was just trying to protect him. His dad didn’t believe in childhood on-set Schizophrenia. He believed in the Good Book and the Good Book told him there were demons in his child’s head that could be beaten out.
Maybe there were demons in Topher Brink’s head. It would make sense because when Claire (not Claire Sauders, his Claire Brink, his sister) was twenty-nine, she tried to jump off a bridge.
Rossum helped him out. They already had him under contract and before he could blink, so was she. But not as a fellow lab tech. No, she had decided to become a doll. Again, maybe, if demons existed, Claire wanted them wiped from her mind.
It hurt. It was one thing to send actives out on their sex runs. It was another to have it happen to your own flesh and blood. It pained him when she looked at him with her trusting doll-like eyes as the chair tilted down and flash, boom… chair up and she was every man’s dream whore. She had hit on him a few times in her active state and if it wasn’t for his amazing willpower, Topher would have hurled on the spot.
The worst was when she groped him when he was taking a wedge out. Topher leapt back in shock as Claire or rather Cyprus Lee Price smirked back at him. “Brainy is the new sexy… haven’t you heard, chair jockey?” Cyprus drawled at him in her next Dallas accent.
She had been hired by some rich oil mogul for the weekend that was going to grope her as much as she had just groped Topher. Probably even more. “Yeah, that’s nice, crazy gropey grope person… person.” Her manhandling of his bits had clearly scrambled his smooth thinking brains and gift of the gab. “You’ve got to get to your assignment.”
“Maybe…” Cyprus fluttered her lashes and chuckled darkly before swatting Topher’s butt soundly. “Maybe I want less old executive and more chronically emotionally stunted nerd who never gets out.”
“No, no, no…” Topher squeaked. Why had he told her handler he could handle this himself? Why he had chased him out of the room? Right… because he was disturbed by the way the other man acted so protective and possessive around his sister or had once been his sister. “This is super ultra mega wrong and you and I… well not you, but I know it’s wrong.”
Her mouth was inching closer and closer to his. Topher found himself pinned to the chair, Cyprus pinning his wrists and wedge to the side. “So, cowboy,” she husked, “How about a ride?”
She laughed in his face. “I am kidding, you know.”
Topher found his wrists free as she casually stood back up. “Who would want a useless little sop like you?” She skipped merrily out of the room, pausing only to wave at the door with a little singsong, “Later, Little Useless.”
The fact she hasn’t killed him yet is surprising. Topher thinks its because she’s counting up all of the ills he’s committed against her. And in one fell swoop; she’ll let him have it.
He’s welcoming that day.
“How can anyone not want to know who they really are?” he asked.
Saunders frowned as another pill disappeared down his throat. “Double dosing yourself isn’t going to help anything,” she gritted out as she dapped more nanite cream on Victor’s face.
Victor’s cruel wounds had been allowed to reopen in order to for the nanites, tiny machines much to small to be seen by the human eye to work unimpeded by heavy black thread. Otherwise they would spin the fabric into the surrounding tissue and Victor would be left with a line of black dots embedded in the structure of his face. Saunders didn’t need to do much aside from monitor his signs, which were all in the happy color zone as Topher liked to refer to it.
“Who doesn’t want to know?” Victor asked curiously, the movement of his face causing his wounds to tear slight, blood running down his cheeks.
Saunders dapped at the blood, frowning as much as she could with her savaged face. Victor didn’t wince, being doped to the gills and even then, no active in the Tabula Rasa could possibly tell you where it hurt. It wasn’t that they lacked the ability to feel pain; they had just been robbed of the instinct to know where on their body it hurt. All they knew was that a hurt was a hurt and a scrapped knee was in the same pain class as a broken arm. In ways, they were worse than children. Children knew. Actives didn’t.
“Never you mind,” Saunders said. She meant to be soothing, but it came out as tense.
After all, Topher had been pushing her to know who she really was for a week straight. If she knew she was an active, there was no harm in checking out who she was. And then she would know what a monster he was and how much she was to hate him. After all, he had never programmed that in.
She must have known the whole time when she was still proper Claire, his Claire Brink, that he was broken and all together wrong.
“Where is she?” Topher called out.
“She died,” Alpha called out, “Defending the House to the last, the poor thing.”
Topher gave a thin cry of grief and threw himself at horrible collection of crazy men packed into a crazy active. “No, you’re lying. Claire isn’t dead. She can’t be.”
“Whiskey,” Alpha said softly, using her Active name for Saunders had faded away leaving nothing but a lonely ghost in a white gown to tend the lost, “Spent every waking hour in this house. She gave up her life to protect those she cared about.”
“But not me,” Topher muttered beneath his breath. “Did she die peaceful or did they rip her apart? No, no, don’t tell me. I can imagine it and it’s not pretty.” He hugged his head, his long untreated illness rewarding and punishing him with her mutilated corpse.
The voices whispered to him, “See, see… this is how you ultimately betrayed her. You’re an evil man, Christopher Brink. First… you broke the world, but it wasn’t enough. No… you had to kill her.”
Alpha placed his hand on Topher’s shoulder. “If it makes you feel better, she drugged them and herself. It was like falling asleep.”
The mutilated body of Claire Brink in her bloodstained rags left his mind. He could almost see Claire curled up in a soft nightgown, falling to sleep and never ever waking up.
“It still hurts,” he admitted. “But it’s not as bad an ache.”
“I have the codes for your original files,” he told her. “If you look, I won’t stop you. And if you want to become you again-“
He bit his lip mid-sentence and looked up. Claire Saunder’s face wasn’t the pure white that was associated with “she turned white as a sheet”. Her face looked a waxy grey-yellow that made sheets look even purer. If Saunder’s face was white as a sheet, her sheets need to be either bleached or set on fire and forgotten about. Overall, she looked like a warmed over human corpse. The pink ropey scars cutting across her face didn’t help. “Why would I want to that?” she whispered, “Give me one reason I would want to that?”
She interrupted him. “I haven’t looked up my original persona, but my God, by the way you carry on about me…” she trailed off and touched her scars. “Frankly I’m glad I’m twisted and ugly now. We must have been lovers. You sick, sick freak.”
“Sick, sick freak?” Topher asked. “Lady,” he continued, narrowing his eyes, “If you knew what I knew, you would be the sick one. Just read your files, just once.”
“I don’t want to!”
“And I can’t force, because it’s not what she would have wanted!” Topher snapped.
Saunders chuckled lowly in the back of her throat. “Don’t make me sick, Brink. When have you ever cared what Adele DeWitt has to say?”
There was a long silence. “Not DeWitt, Saunders. I made the promise to the Real You.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“I imagine it is. I’m not a nice person.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds. Saunders blinked slowly. Finally Topher licked his lips. “Do you think you could become her again?”
“No…” Saunders stared at her feet. “I’m real as she is.”
“No you’re not.”
“I programmed you.”
“Isn’t the human brain a computer anyway?” Saunders shrugged in a way that was Claire Saunders and not at all Claire Brink. “So what does it matter what program is on that computer?”
Topher swallowed. “Human personalities are different than the personality constructs I make up for the chair. They’re meant to last a lifetime. Eventually, a persona I make up goes poof and leaves behind the active.”
“So you’re saying…”
He shrugged. “One day, bye-bye, Claire Saunders… hello Whiskey.” He waved briefly for emphasize.
“You’re long lasting,” he corrected automatically. “There is a difference.”
“Every thing dies.”
“You shouldn’t,” he insisted. “Not as soon as you will. I don’t think you know how many shades of utterly wrong that is.” He bit his lip. “I hate to be the man to have killed Her.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Are you sure we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend?”
Topher nearly gagged.
“So…” Saunders trailed off, “You know who I really am or that is to say… really was… that knowledge must be driving you insane.”
“You have no idea,” he said.
“Well then,” she added, none too lightly, “I hope that knowledge chokes you.”
So, here he is. There’s not enough time to get away. The resulting explosion will pancake the floors and crush him like a grape. There are so many things that could go wrong with his jury-rigged bomb anyway, so Topher wants to see it through to the end.
Besides, after this… what does he have to live for? He’s just the flickering embers of the man whose killed his older sister and destroyed the world. Once the governments get back on their feet, they’ll need someone to blame and he’ll probably get a bullet between the eyes. Man, the excuses for not running that you come up with when you’re setting up a bomb to fix the world made wrong.
Topher quietly set the charge and turned to the great photomural as he quietly waited to die. So many pictures taken back when everyone was happy and carefree. When there were better times to remember, back when nobody was killing and eating each other.
Back when people could remember.
Of all pictures… they picked the one where she was smiling.
But her eyes weren’t. Claire Brink really had killed herself when he stopped to think about it. Refusing to be again. It didn’t help that he in a way had been her proxy. The man who killed her is still and will always be the man who killed her.
Perhaps it was one final reason to smile.
Topher Brink didn’t smile. He opened his mouth one last time as the last precious seconds ran out.
“Huh,” he said.