25. LA CHAMBRE GRISE – Agony

“Frank causing a ruckus, eh?” He chuckled. “Well, leave that to him.”

A golden arm tore through the lawn, snagging roots and mulch, hoisting up its body.

The warden had gone three weeks without seeing the sky. Nothing in his programming required open air; no quirk in his developing self-consciousness lent him an inclination toward outdoor activity. Without his wife, the world above him was an annoyance at best, and at its worst a stratospheric dome of hatred by way of prejudice.

How annoying that an escapee should expose him to the top layer of his world…and that it should happen today, of all days, when the lawn hosted such a noxious myriad of werewolves.

As a matter of fact, The Terminating Robot could not make out the sky! This crowd was so thick, ever-shifting, even now treading witlessly on his arm and the back of his skull, as if they were mere logs! “G’ih!” he moaned as his mouth hit the dirt. “No respect…”

Like a turtle retreating to the shell, he slumped back into the passage whence he came. Spider limbs extending backward from his spine anchored him to one wall of a dark dirt pit, a passage extending forty feet and connecting his warden’s office to the surface.

Just seconds prior, Adam had plowed through the dirt with a conglomerate of drills to form this conduit. Wherever that escapee the warden called “Frank” was, he would do more than raise eyebrows—and The Terminating Robot was not even worried about him raising hell. The more conspicuous that monster, the more dramatic the warden’s failings would become…the less pay he would receive, the less respect…

Oh, phooey. The golden robot mechanically sighed.

“Hello, Helen?” he said into his wristmmunicator, and yes, a glorified wristwatch on a highly advanced roboborg did verge on the comedic. “I’m not doing this anymore. He’s free. He’s freed himself.”

There was no response. Not a proper one, anyway…only the rolling roar of the crowd above, duplicated. Helen must have been on the lawn.

And was that roar rising? It could not have been his imagination, he decided, because he had no imagination.

“Frank causing a ruckus, eh?” He chuckled. “Well, leave that to him.”

The blue dots in his skull extinguished themselves. Dirt from above trickled onto his shoulders.

***

Seconds before, a pallid arm tore through the lawn. Strands of papyrus had ripped through first, guiding Adam by the head. The body was not only hoisted, but flung; as his wrappings became like the tails of snakes, his body balanced, and his feet dangled just above the heads of countless werewolf spectators.

He was here—on the surface—in plain sight. Perhaps he had been overeager?

Here he was, monster, looking down on the shaggy heads of normal society, and his fear was…lessened. Less than before. Having been exposed to werewolves many a time, having assumed this pose of domination, and having sheer escape still foremost in his mind—

“FLEE!” cried his liver, and his back, and an elbow…surprisingly little of him.

In the process of standing and bringing him aloft, his tendrils had knocked several werewolves into one another. How small and fragile they were…and how distant seemed the chiding hand of law!

And now, only now, were the citizens looking up, staring…and…smiling?

Their signs, he could read them: “WELCOME FLUTOS,” “PEACE ON UNIVERSE,” “WOLVES SEND OUR LOVE (MAINLY TO OTHER WOLVES).” Ah, so they mistook him. Three held a cardboard cutout resembling a syringe, and yet offered the most welcoming demeanor. Others were indeed bitter – but more sulky than virulent.

They yelled up to him, but the yells could not disentangle themselves from the general noise of the scene: the vast land of lawn filled to capacity and well beyond.

Adam rose a little higher on the “feet” of the wrappings. He observed that he was around a hundred feet from the front of the Brown House, so the bulk of the lawn lay behind him. The crowd repeated itself: the same themes and the same ambient jostling, the interpolation of frustrated guards with their attention drawn in all directions, and the red-brown of mingling fur and sunlight like a paintstroke over them all.

It was the stuff in front that gave him pause.

Just before the Brown House doors was something amorphously blue, gooey and succulent; it rose many feet higher than the werewolf heads, looking like a growing brain. Near it was something burning, as evidenced by snatches of smoke. Why were the citizens not fleeing?

“FLEE!” said the liver, back, and elbow, plus a dozen other parts besides.

“See what it is, wot,” said the remaining eye, shortly joined by a humble but mighty contingent.

“Do not be a crazy fool,” interjected an earlobe, “secure your health!”

“Are not you the crazy fool?” cried Heart. “My body is not my mission—have you forgot that? I gave that up for dead long ago, and if, as you say, we should risk nothing in afterlife, then there is no valor in nor under heaven.”

The body felt scorned, yet it knew this to be true. All voices fell silent, and Adam the brave amalgam forged ahead, toward that House which remained the nexus of his mission…and toward the brainy thing.

There was only a little guilt to be had in slithering at speed through the crowd; his tendrils pressed wolves against each other to make way, but they pushed scarcely harder than the multitude itself. And there was no reckoning, on Adam’s part, of the few guards he passed, of their troubled gazes and loaded weapons—who posed no danger to him, as the case would soon prove.

For the danger lay ahead in an otherworldly thing: a bulb of many mushrooms all living, whose stems became tentacles. It may well have been a Flutoidan itself!—and if that were the case, it made a poor show of diplomatizing…it was lashing out every which way! What tentacles didn’t go streaking wild hit werewolves, wrapping around them as the main body uttered a gurgle as deep as the core of the earth. In the gurgling were words, I think; some swear it was “fluto fluto” they heard, but the words, I say (and I am the authority), were, “Gotta get Alice to Wonderland!”

And those it wrapped, it plunged like knives into itself, and as it sent them to a land unknown, it seemed to swallow, and seemed to grow.

No werewolves fled. They couldn’t! The mushroom mass was before the Brown House door. To run through the crowd was impossible, to yell for help alike impossible.

Well, none of that would deter Adam—but as for the smoking thing beside it…

The smoke he had glimpsed was trailing from a gutter, one that, if he chose to dip through it, would take him nowhere but to sewage and aqueous cells. He would have turned his nose up and gone straight for the door, prepared to fight through a shroomy beast, and ready above all to stake his life on the aforeproclaimed mission, had someone not risen from that sewer hole.

Her eyes, of course, struck him first.

Something in them remained the same no matter which form she took. In this steel shell, she was, if Adam had to say, more like herself than as a werewolf—less flesh, but she had never exactly been human.

She stepped out of the sewer with a sort of white tarp, lightly singed, draped over her head. This she pulled off and around herself, toga-like, and cinched around her waist. The woman he knew as “Eve” looked up at him with fists at her sides, and she was, if he had to say, angry.

Conflict, conflict—conflicting minds in Adam’s body! His nervous system became an information-seeking highway, a network of impossible questions. Should he say “hello Eve, please let me through?” Should he not make amends here and now? If he ignored her, would she pursue—and was she not a danger to the whole monster crew?

And could he stand to ignore her?

In this confusion of thought’s profusion, he made the mistake of standing still.

A cry like a falcon drowning in a swamp interrupted the scene, and a tentacle whipped in the manner of a fallen tree. It smacked Adam; it did worse than smack. He fell clear off his own tentacles, which now streamered, and onto squealing werewolves, who themselves did not know whether to help him or push him toward the beast. They shoved him away weakly; he would have fallen slowly and thudded on the ground, had “Eve” not appeared the next moment positioned so close, and with such an electrified fist.

The people did not recognize her, but they did recognize the value of a living shield, so they lifted Adam and shrank behind his back. He could not process what was happening before “Eve” drove the fist into his core. It hurt more from a metal fist than from a hairy one. The shockwave was felt throughout the crowd, even to the farthest reaches; it was felt in Adam’s brain, which rattled in its casement; it was felt in the blood he spat.

The First Lady went for another punch, and another—for a hyperspeed flurry of punches, sped by her internal motors and their jumping circuits. But instead of punching, she seemed to slip. The blue monster was tugging her back by the ankle.

Adam watched mutely. The werewolves, crying out, threw him to the ground, where he landed on his shins. The creature was taking her, perchance to ingest, and itself crying out, tumulty in hunger. What stunned Adam and made him watch was the look on “Eve’s” face. Not frightened in the least. Not emotive in the least!

There was something sure in that face, though. Simply by reading those piercing eyes, Adam realized he could divine her mission. The stillness of her face and form told of a conviction that chilled him to the bone. It told him that she had no need to struggle. She was going to free herself from the beast and come out in peak condition.

And the eyes bore into him, her real target. Not her love? Never to be her ally?

He had a clear shot to the door! To Dracula, to the true companions! He was swayed, however, by unlikely hope. Traitor hope! He dove into the gutter!

Above ground, shots from the guards rang out at last. More ringing were “Eve’s” kicks, elbows, piledrivers and knee-bucks, and a crunching, splattering suplex, and the ghastly roar they ushered toward that dark stage of the world.

The reverberations jostled the earth and shivered through Adam’s body, electric snakes, as he tumbled through this gutter forty feet, down a pipe, through opened pit, and into a corridor he had glimpsed in passing and in upwardly drilling. The reverberations did not stop when he hit the floor. They only changed in quality, in timbre and in source, for snakes were rising from underneath.

These were dark halls, deeply grey, with only the dimmest illumination winking from the walls and their holosteel-alloy exterior…cheap halls, halls with the lights turned off. The floor, which trembled with a faint and constant seismism, was simply concrete. There was a guard here, perhaps, maybe two, two lingerers who had not been dispatched to the prison below or the crowd control above. Two mice in a veritable labyrinth.

Adam could not exploit this landscape, find a suitable position, or even move himself upright before “Eve” thundered through the pipe and rolled roughly onto the floor—and with an expert change in trajectory, rolled right onto her feet. She had an aura, radiated with vibrating, humming white, a running current, a fighting current!

“I am sorry,” said Adam.

She gave him a roundhouse kick to the skull.

“I have—hack! —transgressed by, ah, proposing to you, brawling with you, and, now, by attempting to break into your—”

She shoved her bootheel into his forehead, pushing him to the ground.

“—and I realize we should have made formal introduc—pheeph—ductions—”

She kicked him in the teeth. (They were strong teeth, so rest assured none were broken. The roots of his gums, however, seared with a lightning ache.)

“My name is—”

Kick.

“My name is—”

Kick.

“My God!” exploded out of him, from an anger unsuppressed. “Is this not excessive? We do not even know each other!”

“Exactly,” she said. With a stomp on the chest, she forced him to the concrete.

The aftereffect of her currents raged into him, hot maelstroms wreaking havoc on his organs, burning through…

He slowly re-rose. He stilled his mouth despite its verve, despite the urge to spill some intimate detail that might sway “Eve’s” heart. That verve, he prayed, would not leave him, nor weaken or stultify; it would crawl away from the eager palate, walk behind the skull, and stoke itself in another pit, the jelly of an eye—and turn that liquid ball to fire of plea and passion. That verve alone would speak to “Eve” just as her eyes had spoken to him, had even in metal and werewolf skein betrayed her to him, miraculously told all.

She watched him rise, remaining still – this action, too, miraculous.

His eye was a drill on its way to her heart.

That heart was found—but the drill buried too far! The drill misplaced on a sorrowful heartstring, or the drill too violent, boring through as if in rubble! Like the floor, she shook! Her bright hand flew to her chest as it seized, as her face contorted, as the teeth clamped, as defiance went slack!

This was not the First Lady he knew, and yet it was something old and striking. It was the Frankenstein’s Bride he knew! It was the look of terror unbound! Proof of utter agony within!

It was not an agony that they shared. What Adam was feeling, his boiling panic, was a separate agony: transcendent guilt, hubris, shame at his self-centered state, at his entitlement…a many-headed hydra nursed by the world which he had taken and raised himself. It was not Helen’s primal fear; hers was a purely hereditary demon. That is why she alone screamed.

The first fissure was too perfect, as if lightning were caught in the concrete. The impression of a bolt, driven between them. Not caused by Helen’s cry, and yet, what observer could help but think it so?

Bolt upon bolt forked out—a storm of fissures now! The walls heaved and started to split, and the ceiling began to shower rock, and Adam tore his eyes away from Helen’s as the distance between them grew, as the ground parted and lurched in two directions, and he saw the place below, the pure water.

And he saw the water rising, almost graceful, like the fold of a billowing skirt.

In some possible world, he took this moment to be a hero. An alternate Adam would notice Helen’s trepidation and the fact that her portion of earth was slipping below his own. He would summon his sweet papyrus, scoop her up and away, assuage the fears, and likely save her life. But her fear convinced him that such a rescue, entanglement, indebtedness to her creator, would be the true resurrection of the Frankenstein curse: unhappiness forevermore. He felt that this was the right course of action, albeit cruel or even suicidal.

To cut the ouroboros’ head, did she—did they—truly have to die?

Yes, “die!” I did not jump to a rude conclusion, I did not awkwardly raise the stakes; I reported a palpable possibility swiftly turning into fact. This earth-break was no simple revolution of fortunes.

It was an inescapable death trap—inescapable, and I will prove it.

Light and lightning are alike the fastest substances known to us. They would outspeed speed itself! To them, earth, water, and metal are but crude hurdles! When they bolt, what stops them? Not even the highest holosteel wall!

It is when they come into contact with substances that the situation shifts, that the light becomes diffuse. Lightning stops at a metal pole; no earth was ever killed by thunderstrike. As for water…oh, when it hits water! The results are diffusion on a deadly scale! When lightning dips its long foot in, it is bodily pulled under—and its body flies apart. The entire ocean is charged, and the life, and the matter, is all undone.

The concrete platform groaned into the ocean, taking Helen with it. Her life was ended, taking Adam’s with it.

The Brown House exploded.

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Author: Joi

I write, I draw, I do it all

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