The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian,
A chapter full of action, most of which is a continuation of the chapter before and nothing very novel in its own right, but about which we are required to make some sort of statement in italics at the beginning of the chapter in order to be consistent with the other chapters.
“Don’t you see?” Mike asked, resting his head on his arm. “when you leave him running all the time, whatever problems there are in his programming, even teeny tiny ones, will just get worse. Snowball, sorta. He needs to reboot, or failing that, to spend some time turned off so they don’t get any worse than they already are.”
“But--“ Henny lay facing Mike with her head on her arm. “That seems so cruel. Like killing him. Or--“ she wrinkled her forehead, “--maybe not killing him, but certainly putting him in a coma."
“If he’s turned off, he won’t be missing anything. He won’t feel like he’s in prison. He won’t begrudge the time that’s passed, because for him, there won’t be any. He won’t know, when you turn him back on, whether he’s been off for ten minutes or ten days. Or ten weeks. Or--“
“I get it.” Henny turned it over in her mind. “I suppose….if I really want to do what’s best for Sid…….” Her voice trailed off.
“You can think about it,” Mike said. He put his arm around her and squeezed her right up next to him. Kissed her. “I don’t want to talk about Sid anymore. I want to tell you how much it means to me to be the first one,” he said, and kissed her again.
Henny knew better than to say anything. What could she say? She kissed him back.
Mike left after lunch. He said he’d call her.
She went to Sid’s computer and sat down. After a moment, she typed,
how are you?
Henny didn’t reply.
say thank you, henrietta
what do you mean?
what did you tell him?
how was it?
what did you tell him?
uh uh uh
you’re being cruel
Nothing for several seconds.
can’t change what i am
i don’t believe that
i won’t be able to learn anything
did mike explain it to you?
it’s up to you
A long wait.
it’s up to you
till mike can find something
Another long wait.
will you come and play
Henny didn’t know if she trusted him. Maybe it was a trick. Maybe he didn’t intend to shut himself down. Maybe he wanted her to go in there and then he’d never let her out again.
But she didn’t really believe it. He told her over and over again that he was who he was……but he learned. She knew he did. He could have sliced and diced her the last time, and he didn’t do it.
Well, she wouldn’t pull the plug. It was his decision. His life. Sorta.
Still……as far as playing again……while some of the possibilities were seductive, when she was there with him, she had to trust him, and it was so hard to be sure she’d be safe……
She was still thinking when his next words flashed up on the screen.
The computer began its shut down procedure. The box came up on the screen that said, “Are you sure you want to shut me down, honey?” (one of Sid’s little projects, she assumed), and she quickly clicked the button that said “Fuck, no!”. (The other said, “Hell, yes!”)
and lay her head against the crack in the case…….
Marian couldn’t keep up. She’d never indulged in organized sports much; not because she didn’t like being sweaty, she didn’t mind that. Not because she didn’t like to exert herself; as long as she had a little motivation, she could exert with the best of them. And not because she didn’t have a competitive spirit. She didn’t, but that wasn’t why she didn’t enjoy organized sports. She just preferred other, more individual pursuits. That you didn’t need special shoes for. Or any shoes.
What she was doing right now probably could be classified as an individual pursuit, but she was thinking of giving it up anyway. Even though they had stopped running and were walking, he was way ahead; she couldn’t really see him anyway, so she was probably lost; and her knees hurt.
“Hell with it,” she said, and sat down again on the dusty track.
It was ten minutes before she heard his footsteps coming toward her again.
“Miss Mott,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
He sounded so comforting. So placating. So bed-side-mannerish. He didn’t even ask her what she was doing, just assumed he had to baby her along to get her to do what he wanted. She wanted to kick him.
So she did. She was sitting down, and he was standing up, so she couldn’t get as much force behind it as she wanted, and she couldn’t see him, so her aim wasn’t very good, but she connected. He didn’t yell, just grunted a little, and exhaled loud enough for her to hear it.
“Is there a problem, Miss Mott?”
Marian couldn’t help but admire his aplomb, although she suspected he spoke through gritted teeth.
“If you can’t call me Marian, you can just leave me alone,” she said in her nastiest voice.
He circled around behind her, and then squatted down. He put his arms around her, over his shirt, over her arms (presumably so she wouldn’t be able to punch him if she felt so inclined), and said in her ear, “What’s the matter, luv?”
“I’ve had a really really bad day,” she said. “My knees hurt. And I’m tired of being spoken to as if I was a job. As if you can’t wait to get rid of me.” She sniffed.
He thought for a minute. Marian angled her head so he was breathing in her ear without realizing it. She shivered.
“Right now,” he said. “I’m working. My job--yes, it’s a job, and that’s good; that means I know what I’m doing--was to get you out of the airplane and away safely, out of consideration both for you and for the little business going on back there. I have to make sure nothing distracts me, that I don’t make any mistakes. Understand?”
Marian sighed. He took that for a yes. “But when we get where we’re going, then I can stop working. I can do what I want to do, right?”
Marian nodded. “What do you want to do?” She pulled her arm out of his grasp, found his face with her fingers, and kissed him. He caught her bottom lip between his teeth……and then let it go.
“Not now, luv,” he said. “And not here. There’s a lovely little place just down the road a bit, a bathhouse by a pool, with a roof, and a door, and cushions, and a shower. OK?”
It wasn’t too far. It was just a little place, like he said, back off the path, and the door was unlocked. It was just one room and a bathroom, but there was running water and a sort of a sofa with lots of cushions and throws neatly folded up at one end. She wouldn’t have called it lovely, but it would do.
She saw all of it by the dim light from the bathroom. “We’re not going to turn on any other lights. I’d rather no one notices we’re here.” He walked all around the room, checking the windows, and ended by locking the door.
“And I’ll bet,” he said, walking into the bathroom, “that you’d like the shower first.” She listened to the spray hitting the walls of the shower stall, as she let his shirt slip from her shoulders. “I’ll just get the water warmed up, and find you a towel.” Her little blouse was next to hit the floor, she slipped her shoes off as she walked toward his voice. “Let me toss some water on my face, and get some of this off and then it will be all yours.” By the time she walked through the door of the bathroom, she was in her underwear, and he was soaping his face. She waited while he rinsed, and dried, leaving faint green and black smears on the towel, and then looked up at her……
Marian had hoped when he saw her that his jaw would drop, or he would whistle, or something…..He looked surprised, but it was her jaw that dropped.
“Holy Mother of God,” she breathed.
She’d never really gotten a good look at him. He’d had that stuff on his face….and then it was dark…..and she hadn’t had any idea……
He was possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen.
She’d seen some handsome men in her time. There had been that sea captain….he was certainly big and beautiful…..and Zach was lovely in his own way…..and there was that actor, the one that made something inside Marian squeeze real hard when she watched one of his movies (it might have been her heart; but then again it might have been something else entirely)……but this fellow had them all beat hands down in the looks department.
Her mouth was still open.
“Are you alright, luv?”
Marian shut her mouth and then the bathroom door. And locked it.
The bathroom had just enough room for a sink, a toilet, and a shower stall. Not even enough room for one person to lie down, let alone two. Not that anyone in the bathroom wanted to lie down.
Terry didn’t even seem tired. If Marian was going to describe him to Henny later in one word, the word would have to be tireless. The airplane climbing, the running through the jungle, none of that seemed to have had any effect on him. Reminded her of a Timex…..NOT that stupid big pink bunny and his drum, although she had to admit there was a thing or two they had in common…….
The water was getting cold. Marian reached over and shut it off. The water ran on Terry’s shoulders, where Marian’s arms were, but he couldn’t shut it off himself ‘cause his hands were around Marian’s thighs, holding her up in the most advantageous position. For a bathhouse, it had a nice big hotwater tank, but no matter how big one is, it eventually runs cold.
And while all the hot water was running out of that big water tank, he’d never once called her Marian. He’d said a number of other things, some of which heated the little room without the benefit of any mechanical device (well, they heated Marian, at least), but never her name.
Tireless. The most tireless man she’d ever met. And the most beautiful.
At length he shuddered. Now, she thought, now he’ll say my name.
“Oh, luv,” he breathed, and his hands slid up to her derrierre. She curled her legs around his waist, and held on. He shut his eyes, and rested his forehead against the shower wall, and made some of those little noises that are usually so gratifying to hear when you’re in the position Marian was in……
“Marian!” she cried. “Marian, Marian, Marian!! If you can’t call me Marian, I’ll--“
He didn’t get to hear what his fate would have been, and so we don’t know either, dear reader, mainly because a Shudder of a certain happy kind overtook our heroine as well just at that moment…….
Sid was sitting on nothing but air, one leg crossed over the other, wearing the tailored suit he’d been wearing the first time she saw him. He looked…..slightly indistinct, a little blurry around the edges; like a photo that needs a little sharpening.
“Henrietta. Come to say good-bye.”
She looked down. She was wearing her own clothes, not something Sid had picked out for her.
“You make it sound like you’re going to die….instead of just going to sleep…...”
“If I never wake up, what’s the difference?”
“Of course you’ll wake up.”
He didn’t say anything. Rose, and when he was standing straight, was suddenly right next to her. She didn’t know whether it was she or he that moved, or both, or neither; there was nothing here at all to compare to, just the two of them standing in the middle of vast gray emptiness.
Suddenly the lights went out. Darkness…..silence….nothingness. Not cold, not hot, no sensations except…….something crawled over her foot. She squeaked, reached for Sid, couldn’t find him. He wasn’t there to be touched. Nothing anywhere but more nothingness.
If he wanted to drink her fear, this is what he should have done in the first place. She clapped her hand over her mouth and moaned.
“Now you’re in my world.” His whisper seemed part of the darkness. “This is how it is for me without you. How do you like it?”
She didn’t know how long it went on, there was no way for her to keep track through her fear. She reached out, a blind woman in a black hole, desperate for a glimmer, a touch, anything…….and then his lapel was clutched inside her fist. She sobbed in relief.
“I’ll kiss you good-bye, shall I?” He didn’t wait for an answer.
It wasn’t like any good-bye kiss she’d ever had. He pressed himself so close, held her head and kissed her deeply. She felt the slide of their bodies against one another, felt the melting……She heard him say in her ear, “It would have been easier if you’d agreed to it. But I knew you never would. I knew before I asked you.” And she could feel it, like the last time, something…..just barely noticeable entering her where their skin touched…….and no ecstasy to cover it up, to distract her.
She wanted to scream, she wanted to struggle, but she couldn’t. He wouldn’t let her. “I hate to reassure you, Henrietta, this is delicious……but it’s not what you think. It’s not a case of taking over your body, or supplanting your mind, or even a case of another consciousness inside you……This is just in case I don’t wake up.
“It’s important to me that I exist. If I cease to exist, there will be something of myself left behind. The ripple that remains after the stone sinks beneath the surface and disappears.”
Don’t do this to me, she thought.
Too late, she heard, not with her ears, but inside her head. This is just the last bit. I’ve been ‘doing this to you’ ever since I first noticed the problem.
She felt the last little bit, like a snake’s tail disappearing into its hole, and she knew he was all done. They were two separate people again (or one person, and one something else) standing in the midst of black nothingness with their arms around each other.
Henny beat at his chest and he let her go.
“Better go back, Henrietta, I’m shutting this bucket of bolts down…..”
She felt her temple against the crack in the plastic tower.
“Will you miss me?” he asked.
She didn’t know what to say. She was afraid she wasn’t going to get a chance to miss him. She was afraid……..then she was sitting up, and the monitor flashed the familiar “Windows is shutting down” screen…..and then it was black.