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 Post subject: Original Fiction (Novel-- now with illustrations!) - Latency
PostPosted: Sun Sep 28, 2003 6:10 pm 
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2. Floating Rose

Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2005 4:03 am
Posts: 35
Location: New Jersey
Title: Latency

Chapter: 1/?

Author: Strange Quark

Plot: The future, A young woman copes with the world in which she has been born.

Rating: R (moderate language, substance abuse, violence, and sexual content)







 



        “Are you okay?”



        She saw Rodriguez peering down from the loft, zipping his jacket, preparing to leave. Their shift had ended, they had clocked-out minutes ago, and everyone else had left for the day.



        “Claire?”



        “I’m fine.” She looked back to her reddened hands as she rinsed them.



        Rodriguez made his way down the metal stairs to the shop floor, heading to the girl.



        “You’ve been kind of clumsy lately.” He smiled, the corners of his mustache raising. “Is everything okay?”



        “I shouldn’t have been using the parts washer without gloves.” Claire wiped her hands with the old, discolored towel that hung on a rusted nail near the sink. “It was just a stupid accident anyway.”



        “It’s your third…” Rodriguez pulled the towel from her enflamed hands. “This week.” He added, playfully snapping the towel against the girl’s torso.



        “What’s been bugging you?” His head tilted as he looked down to her.



        “Nothing.” Claire shrugged her shoulders, glancing back to the grimy sink.



        “Come on, you’re probably the best tech in the whole shop. You don’t fuck things up.” He pointed to her, “You ‘re the one who fixes the fuck-ups.”



        “I’m fine, really.” Claire fidgeted, rubbing the tops of her thumbs with her index fingers, looking away from him.



        Carlos Rodriguez sized up the girl as she avoided eye contact, taking a moment to decide the best way to address the problem.



“I could smell it on your breath, you know.” He paused. “That gum doesn’t cover it up too well.”



        She studied the greasy marks on the chipped gray paint that coated the concrete floor. She knew that lying wasn’t going to work. She revised the truth, scaling it to the realm of the acceptable.



        “Okay, Charlie, I had a shot, for breakfast.” She looked at Rodriguez’s eyes. “Just one.”



        He looked at her, placing a hand on her shoulder.



        “I won’t tell Smitty.” He said, “Just slow it down with the drinking, okay?”



        Claire nodded, her eyes lowered.



        “Come on, It’s Friday, We should have been out of here, like, twenty minutes ago.” His hand shook her shoulder, his tone cheerful.



        “Okay.” Claire smiled, “You go ahead, I’ve got to change.” She pulled at the collar of her coveralls.



        “Seeya Monday.” Rodriguez smiled. He headed out into the expanse of the garage, ducking beneath the lifts, dodging the tool carts as he made his way to the door.



        Claire watched him leave. She felt ashamed of her behavior. Rodriguez was nice about it, but she knew that he was disappointed. She promised herself not to come to work drunk again, but knew that she had already broken that promise every day that week. She always found an excuse, and on Monday, she’d find another.



        Sighing, she made her way to the loft. She passed through areas of light and dark as she went, most of the fluorescent lights above her had needed new tubes for some time. The flaking gray paint of the stairs was blackened from years of greasy boots, the tops of the railings rusted where the paint had been worn away. She rounded the corner at the top and entered the loft, heading for her locker.



        She never bothered buying a lock since the battered old box could barely close. Decades of abuse and break-ins had beaten the metal out of shape. She sat on the large old wooden bench in the center of the locker area, untying the tattered laces of her black boots. She winced as she stood, feeling the cold concrete through her socks as she unzipped her coveralls, squirming out of them. She hung them in her locker, reaching up to get her good boots from the shelf above.



        She laced up her newer boots, slid into her nylon aviator’s jacket, and zipped it closed. Before setting out, she checked her appearance in the smudgy mirror that she’d taped inside her locker’s door. She adjusted the short, brown ponytail that kept her chin-length hair out of her eyes, pulling a few locks of hair from it forward, to cover the silvery streak of the scar above her left brow. Checking her eyes to see if they looked bloodshot, she was reminded of the embarrassment and shame that she had been avoiding since Rodriguez had confronted her, minutes ago. She wanted to be better, the way she was before she had overheard the conversation.



        She had been going to use the toilet. Before she had opened the door, she had heard them; she knew it had to have been those bitches from the administrative office. Their voices were unmistakable; Bernice’s booming Staten Island tenor, Linda’s whine, and the slight Japanese accent in Amy’s little voice. She had known that they were talking about her.



        “Did you see what she was wearing yesterday?” Amy asked.

       

        “Like she broke into one of those donation dumpsters. Those jeans must be from, like, 2018.” Linda said.

       

        “Listen to this…” Bernice interjected, her voice lowered, “She’s definitely a dyke. A few days ago, Mickey told me that Charlie Rodriguez asked her out, like a year ago, and she turned him down.”

       

        The other two giggled, quietly.

       

        “She turned down Charlie? She must be gay.” Linda said.

       

        “You think Charlie’s that hot?” Amy asked.

       

        “Oh yeah.” The other two replied in concert.

       

        “No, I mean, Charlie’s a hottie, but maybe she’s with someone.”

       

        “Amy, she doesn’t wear makeup, she dresses like a boy, and she’s a diesel mechanic.”

       

        “And what’s with that scar? She should at least cover it with some foundation.” Linda added.

       

        “I dunno, she doesn’t look like one, I mean, my brother saw her, and he thinks she’s cute, like a tomboy… I mean, like a bad-girl, you know?” Amy said.

       

        “So you’re saying that she’s, like, some kind of biker-slut?”

       

        “I heard that she’s supposed to be some kind of genius.”

       

        “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Linda. When we got audited back in January, I looked at her file, and it said that she dropped out of college” Bernice said.

       

        “Mickey told me that she told Charlie that her IQ was, like, one-sixty-eight. He said that they tested her in high school.” Linda said.

       

        “Come on. She wouldn’t be working here if she was really that smart.” Bernice said.

       

        “All the guys in the shop say that she’s really good. She’s got to have some brains to fix all of that computer control stuff.” Amy added.

       

        “I don’t know. She’s just so annoying. She never says ‘hello,’ never talks to any of us, it’s like she’s too cool.”



        “I asked her about her overtime, like a week ago, and it was, like, I slapped her or something. She’s so nasty, like, for no reason.”

       

        “You know what Smitty calls her?” Linda started, “Scarface.”

       

        The other two laughed.



        Claire had heard more than she had needed to. She had always been self conscious of her scar, ever since she’d gotten it. She hoped that people would be polite enough not to point it out, but she had always known that those kinds of people only existed in TV and movies. So, it had been confirmed. She was Scarface, the bitchy, annoying dyke. That’s what they all thought of her. She never made fun of them, their idiosyncrasies, their deviancies, but she was just an easier target, or a better person.



        She needed to get to the liquor store on West Side Avenue. As she headed across the shop floor, she stopped at one of the tool racks, making a point to grab her favorite 42-millimeter crescent wrench for the walk to the liquor store on the way to the train. She slid the seven-plus pounds of cool metal up into the sleeve of her aviator’s jacket, resting the claw of the wrench against the bottom of her upturned wrist.



        The streets were mostly safe in the daytime, but the sun had already sunk behind the buildings, and long shadows were spreading out from every corner. Nighttime was the dangerous time in Jersey City. The police were strong, but they could only react to crime, not prevent it.



        Her breath was visible as she waited on the edge of the highway, trying to cross over to Culver Street. Sooty container trucks from the seaport sped by, bounding over the potholes and patches; rising a thunderous booming well into the distance. She crossed when the light for Culver turned green, and felt some relief as she saw the neon sign of the liquor store in the distance. She needed a drink, and her weekly wages had been credited to her account earlier; she could easily buy enough for the whole weekend.

       

        The door to the liquor store was stiff and hard to open. An electronic chime announced her presence. She looked through the filthy haze of the acrylic pane that protected the clerk from the store’s patrons. She saw the short Asian man look up to her from behind the scratched window.



        “Yes?”



        “Two 2-liter Rostovskys and a carton of Tossir filter.” Claire smiled as she placed her order. It was going to be a nice weekend.



        The cool fluorescent glow of the clerk’s touchscreen shined from his small greasy glasses as he punched in her order, failing to conceal his begrudging attitude. The total appeared at the bottom of the order summary on the screen that faced Claire through the dirty, bulletproof shield. She waved her credit stick in front of the scanner, and placed her thumb onto the slimy red plastic of the ID pad, long before the automated voice had asked her to.



        The items tumbled into an empty plastic bag near her knees. She checked them, making sure that the plastic bottles of vodka hadn’t come open in their descent. She nodded to the clerk before turning to leave. She headed back out into the cold night. The weight of the bag was comforting; she knew that she could stay holed-up in her apartment until Monday morning.



        Her spirits continued to lift as she walked up the stairs to the train platform. The place was empty. She set her bag down next to her as she sat on the metal bench waiting for her train back to her apartment building on Essex Street. She untied the plastic bag, looking around to see if anyone was watching. She pulled one of the large plastic vodka bottles from the bag, looking fondly at the label.



        It was not one of the finer brands, but for the price, it had the taste that she liked, and the higher-than-normal alcohol content that she needed. She thumbed the label smiling at the cartoon-like rendering of the hammer and sickle logo printed in black on the red paper label, under bronze faux-Cyrillic lettering. She twisted the cap off, looked to either side to make sure that no one would see, and took a few swigs of the vodka.



        She felt the warmth sliding down her throat, the hot tingling in her stomach. Her body shivered at the sensation. She was starting to feel better, and wanted to indulge her vices further. She unzipped her jacket halfway, and reached inside to get her cigarettes. She lit one, pulling in gently the harsh smoke of the cheap tobacco, mellowed for the first drag by the sweetness of the naphtha that fueled her lighter. She tasted the vodka, the smoke, the cold autumn air, all mixing together, feeling good.



        Two cigarettes and several gulps of vodka later, she heard the quiet whir of the electric train as it approached. After it had stopped, she stood in front of the automated doors, fidgeting as she waited for them to open. Stepping into the noisy, warm train, found a secluded spot near the back, and settled into the hard plastic seat. She passed the time on her twenty-minute ride by reading the graffiti that had been scratched into every piece of metal, plastic, and glass on the old train. The automated voice announced her stop; she got up and left, leaving the loud warmth of the train behind her as she went.



        She pressed her card against the electronic lock of her apartment building, bending the card, trying to get it to work. She heard someone walking up behind her. She didn’t turn to look, hoping that she could surprise them, not let them know that she was ready. She released her hold on the head of the wrench, its weight gliding silently down her sleeve, emerging from the cuff of her jacket, the box end stopping silently on the black knit palm of her glove. She was ready to swing. The footsteps got closer. It sounded like a woman.



        “Claire, you’re home late.”



        Claire turned to see Sheila Lansky, her neighbor from across the hall. She slyly pressed the head of the wrench against her thigh, sliding it silently back into her sleeve, unnoticed.



        “My card doesn’t work.” Claire held her card to the black plastic reader again.



        “Are you using the right one?” Sheila smiled. “The other day I was trying to use mine from, you know, work, and I was all, like, ‘Why isn’t this working?’”



        Claire felt embarrassment as she realized that Sheila was right. She started to dig into her pockets, looking for her building card.



        “I’ll get it.” Sheila held her card to the device; a green LED and a loud buzzing sound indicating that the door had unlocked.



        “Thanks.” Claire held the door open, her head motioning for Sheila to enter first.



        They walked to the elevator, and stood for several moments, waiting for it to arrive, both hoping that it wasn’t broken again.



        “So you goin’ out tonight?” Sheila fussed with the strap of her purse. “I couldn’t find a sitter for Tyler.”



        “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” Claire slurred a little.



        “Sounds like you’ve already started.” Sheila chuckled, her eyes pointing at the plastic bag bulging with vodka.



        “Do you want to, you know, have dinner with me tonight?” Sheila looked into Claire’s drunken gaze. “I still owe you for fixing that heater, and for fixing the light above my sink.”



        “S’okay.” Claire waived a clumsy, dismissive hand, “Just don’t tell the super. He’s gonna get all pissed again.” She sighed, starting to settle into the delicious feeling of numbness that was spreading to her lips and fingers.



        “How about dessert then?” Sheila asked. “Come on, everyone likes dessert. I could thaw some cream puffs.”



        She wanted to be alone, as usual, but Claire also knew that she didn’t have any solid food in her system, and nothing edible in her apartment.



        “Okay.” Claire smiled, her eyes half-shut.



        “Looks like we’re taking the stairs.” Sheila extended her middle finger at the doors to the dormant elevator. “Piece of shit.”



        They had climbed to the eighth floor, Sheila a little out of breath, Claire taking the flights of steps with aplomb; she was used to exerting herself at work.



        “Wait here and I’ll get Tyler from Mrs. Gutierrez. I hope that she only charges me till eight o’clock.” Sheila walked down the hallway as Claire held the stair door open, her head bobbing rather than nodding in concordance.



        Minutes later, Sheila returned with her child, holding the sleepy toddler to her torso as she carried him to the stairway where Claire waited. They made their way up one more flight to the ninth floor. Claire led the way to the single mother’s apartment; Sheila opened the door, balancing her child as she fumbled with her access card. Once inside Claire set her bag of smokes and vodka down on the sticky counter of Sheila’s small kitchenette. She moved to the lumpy old sofa in the middle of Sheila’s living area, sliding out of her flight jacket and untying her boots.



        Sheila emerged from her bedroom, smiling at Claire. She spoke softly.



        “I just put him in bed, so we should, kinda, be quiet.”



        Claire nodded.



        “I’ll get the cream puffs out of the freezer.” Sheila headed for the kitchenette, sliding out of her coat as she went.



        “So how’s the, um, garage?” Sheila had returned. She cringed a little, embarrassed. “You work at the city garage, right?”



        “Uh huh.”



        “I’ll bet that there’s lots of cute guys there.” Sheila smiled. “Or are they all, you know, old?”



        “They’re a bunch of fucking assholes.” Claire stood, her arms extended slightly for balance as she padded her way over to her Rostovsky, holding the bottle up to Sheila’s gaze.



        “Sure. There’s glasses in the left cabinet.” Sheila pointed, “And there’s orange drink in the ‘fridge.”



        Claire poured two glasses, filling one to the top with vodka, and the other half and half with the orange stuff. She carefully staggered back to the sofa, managing not to spill any.



        “They don’t like the fact that you’re a woman, doing their job?” Sheila sipped the mix that Claire had handed to her.



        “They don’t like me. They’ve got some big fucking problem with me. I don’t know what I did. I just mind my own business. Those fucking assholes.” Claire gulped from her glass of pure Rostovsky. She set the vodka down, fumbling for her cigarettes and lighter. She needed to put something into her mouth before she started another embarrassing drunken tirade about her job.



        Sheila felt bad for the older girl. She knew that Claire was a good and kind person, at least to her and some of the other tenants in the building. She always volunteered to fix things for people if they were complaining about them. She was quiet and polite, sometimes drunk, but still never caused anyone unhappiness. Sheila took another sip of her artificial screwdriver.



        “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to drink in a club. Just three more months.” Sheila changed the topic.



        Claire smiled, remembering how she had felt the same anticipation three years ago.



        “I don’t go out so much anymore.” Claire said from the corner of her mouth, a cigarette resting between her lips.



        Sheila detected extra melancholy in Claire’s voice. She had always noticed Claire’s dark moodiness, even two years ago, when she had first met the older girl, as she and Tyler were moving in. She was never good at reading people, and Claire was so quiet and mysterious, but she had to ask.



        “Are you, like, upset about something?” Sheila tried to make eye contact, establish a connection with the emotionally distant girl.



        “Like, you seem like you might have a problem.” Sheila bit her lower lip, shifting in her seat. “You know, like, all the drinking.”



        Claire sighed, lowering her head into her hands. She resented lectures. She didn’t want an intervention; she just wanted to be left alone.



        “You can tell me what’s wrong.” Sheila placed a sympathetic hand on Claire’s back. “I might be able to help.”



        Claire was quiet. She was spinning behind her closed eyes, enjoying the ride, the pain of her confused emotions and isolation much easier to forget on the merry-go-round of her inebriation. It was Sheila’s touch that was bringing her back. She started to cry, hating herself as she did for weakening.



        Sheila’s hand was stroking Claire’s back, slow, sympathetic, and comforting. Claire normally shied away from human contact, but her stupor and sadness now afforded her the luxury of receiving affection and comfort. It felt good to cry. She’d been holding it in for weeks.



        “What’s wrong?” Sheila asked.



        “They hate me.” Claire sniffled; she had started breathing through her mouth.



        “They think that I’m some kind of annoying bitch. They hate my clothes, they hate my face, they hate me.” Claire sobbed, sad and drunk.



        “They’re just a bunch of assholes.” Sheila took a big sip from her drink. “I’ll bet they’re jealous ‘cause you’re, like, smart and pretty, and they’re like ugly and stupid.”



        Claire laughed a little through her tears, she almost admired Sheila’s tack-hammer style of psychology, kind of cute in its direct and monochromatic explanation of human behavior.



        “You know, Claire, you’re like the coolest person that I know.” Sheila continued, thinking that Claire’s reaction was some kind of breakthrough thanks to her clever observation.



        The older girl began to wonder from which program Sheila had learned these lines. Over the years, she became accustomed to having dialog from television scripts parroted to her by others. It sickened her and it amused her.



        Claire began to compose herself; she was annoyed and entertained by the younger girl’s patronizing attempt at rational-emotive therapy. She decided to let Sheila have her fun, and endured a few more of the formulaic chestnuts.



        “You wear the coolest clothes, and like, you don’t care what anyone thinks. You’re all like, you don’t date anyone, and you’re totally happy like that.” Sheila felt very proud of her esteem-building technique as she saw Claire’s expression lighten further.



        “Thanks for the talk.” Claire smiled to Sheila. “I feel better.” Claire felt that a rapid, television-style resolution would placate Sheila into dropping the topic.



        Sheila smiled back, adjusting her position on the sofa, turning herself to face the older girl, rubbing her hand along the frayed denim that covered Claire’s thigh.



        “You’re unique. People don’t always like unique.”



        Claire rolled Sheila’s last sentences around in her fogged mind. It actually started to make sense to her. It was a perspective that she had ignored, unable to see objectively. She started to understand that the others were scared of her, like primitive little animals, frightened and confused by the things that made her different from them.



        Sheila turned on the television that faced the sofa. She flipped through the channels, scanning through the extreme violence and unsubtle semi-pornography, trying to decide which program to watch.



        “J’ever notice that TV is, like, all about sex and stuff?” Sheila said as she stopped her channel surfing to view a topless female contestant on a game show.



        “When I was little, they never could have shown that.” Sheila pointed at the screen as the audience cheered when the woman was asked to pull one of three blatantly phallic levers, each one corresponding to either a prize or surprise. Their excited hooting increased tenfold when a buzzer had sounded, and sticky orange goop had poured down over the half-naked woman because she had waited too long to make her decision.



        “Its stupid,” Claire started, “All TV is stupid.”



        “Do you want me to turn it off?”



        Claire shook her head, the depths of her inebriation evident to her as she did.



        “It is kinda funny,” Claire smiled, “Her giving up her dignity, like that.”



        “What do you mean?” Sheila rose to check on their thawing dessert.



        Claire hated explanations. Especially when she was soused. She sighed.



        “Tragic funny. What does her family think?” Claire held another cigarette between her lips, finishing her sentence through the side of her mouth, “Do you think they’re proud of her?”



        Sheila returned from her kitchenette, setting a plate of thawed creampuffs between them on the sofa.



        “Sure they are, she’s on TV.” Sheila stuffed one of the cold little pastries into her mouth, “She’s already won, like twenty-five thousand dollars.” She finished chewing and swallowed before adding, “I’d do that for ten-thousand dollars.”



        Claire looked to Sheila, smiling. She was reminded yet again of how she differed from most people. She may be a directionless, unloved, spiritually-vacant alcoholic, but she had her dignity.



        After snuffing her cigarette, she took a few of the creampuffs into her hand, eating them absently as she stared at the game show. A muscular young man, wearing only bikini underwear, was now smearing what looked like green cake icing on the belly and breasts of a seminude, pregnant woman as the audience cheered him on. Sheila giggled at the spectacle.



        “I mean, don’tcha think that looks kinda fun,” Sheila was chewing on another of the pastries, “It’s not like anyone’s getting hurt or nothing.”



        They continued to eat as they watched more of the lewd contest show. Two young women were now wrestling in a vat of blue gelatin, each trying to remove the top of the other’s scant swimsuit, without using their hands, as per the rules set forth by the show’s host at the start of the match.



        “Oh…” Sheila rose a little off of the sofa, engrossed in the action that played across the screen. “Almost.”



        “I’ll bet that you’d kick ass on this show.” Sheila said to Claire, her eyes still trained on the contest. “You’re strong, and tough.”



        Claire laughed suddenly and loudly at the idea.



        “No fucking way.” She smiled as her hand waved dismissal of the idea.



        “Come on. I could be, like, your coach or something.”



        Claire’s smile faded. She was uneasy with the very notion of teaming up with anyone. She was alone, and wanted to stay that way. She didn’t mind acquaintances, but friends were too risky, opened too much vulnerability for her. She hated moments like this, she’d have to try to be diplomatic, break it gently.



        “I crossed a line, didn’t I?” Sheila looked down into her lap, her hands folded. “I didn’t mean to make you, like, uncomfortable.”



        “S’okay.” Claire forced a half smile, her unease still evident to the younger girl.



        She was reminded of why she had always chosen to drink alone. She didn’t have to put up with any of these feelings, situations that only arose in the presence of other people.



        She wanted to escape, lie in her bed, headphones filling her ears with the old, analog synthesized sounds of Taschenrechner. They were a favorite of hers; an old 1970’s band from Germany, pioneers of electronic music that people from her generation took for granted. She longed for the solitude, the isolation that was often her prison became a sanctuary when she was stoned. She could listen as she closed her eyes, her head swirling, and her troubles forgotten until sleep would come.



        “I’m kind of tired, I’d better turn in.” Claire stretched, feigning a yawn.



        “Thanks for hanging with me… You’re a lot of fun.” Sheila gulped the last of her drink down.



        “G’night.” Claire gathered the plastic bag into her left hand, her right carefully holding her jacket so that the wrench wouldn’t slip out of the sleeve. She closed the door behind her, fumbling with her full hands for the key to her room. She managed to juggle everything despite her diminished coordination, opening her door, and slipping inside.



        She set all of her stuff on the floor of the cluttered, disorganized room, staggering to her futon, the one that was never in any other position than being a bed. She lay in the darkness, the cold air in the room sobering her a little. She crawled across the floor, reaching for the open bottle of vodka that she’d left near the door. Desperate to reverse the sobering process, she gulped some more. She lay on her stomach, amidst the mess of dirty clothes, magazines, and empty bottles that littered most of the floor in her tiny apartment.



        The belt clip of her personal communicator pressed uncomfortably into her pelvis under her own weight. She grabbed beneath herself, pulling the silvery plastic unit free and tossed it across the room. She passed out in minutes.



        She awoke hours later, cold and sore. She crawling to her bed, she pulled her pants and socks off, then pulled a large synthetic fleece blanket over herself. She felt some comfort as she began to warm up. Her thoughts were clearer; the vodka was wearing off.



        She resisted the urge to drink more, deciding to give her body a needed rest from the alcohol, knowing that she’d enjoy the drink more if she had to wait for it. She lay under the warm blanket, holding herself, dreaming of being held by someone else, pretending that she wasn’t alone. She knew that it would never be able to happen, but she had always fantasized anyway.



        Relationships were never easy for her. She’d been on a few dates in high school, but never once felt the attraction that everyone else seemed to experience toward other people. She knew of the idea, but did not comprehend what it was supposed to feel like. She saw herself apart from others. She was different, strange, alien, and she couldn’t identify why. She had always been told that she was super-intelligent, but there was more to her alienation than that. Even smart people fall in love; have feelings for other people, not the void that she experienced in lieu of romance.



Edited by: StrangeQuark at: 4/22/04 6:16 am


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 Post subject: re: Latency
PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2003 3:10 am 
Interesting concept, great start - can't wit to read more! :bounce



Wolfy :pride



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 Post subject: Re: re: Latency
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2003 9:37 am 
I'm intrigued.... more please!:bigwave



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 Post subject: Latency
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2003 4:08 pm 
I'm very interested in the characters you've set up here, and the way that you've introduced them. I've learned a lot about them already simply by their interactions, but there's still a lot of mystery here. Such as, why does Claire drink so much? What's happened in her life to lead her to a place that, so far, seems dark and depressing? Sheila is interesting as well. I get the feeling that she's a young lesbian perhaps looking to connect with Claire in some way. You also really captured the banal conversation that can occure between two people who really don't know each other that well.



I'm looking forward to more.



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 Post subject: Latency -- Chapter 2
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2003 3:46 pm 
Title: Latency

Chapter: 2/?

Author: Strange Quark

Plot: The future, A young woman copes with the world in which she has been born.

Rating: R (moderate language, substance abuse, violence, and sexual content)



***



        Morning came, Claire rose from her bed, removing her clothes and throwing them to the floor as she walked into her small bathroom. As she started the shower, waiting for the meager stream to heat up, she sat on the broken seat of her commode. Resting her head in her hands and closing her eyes, she waited until she could smell the steam. The sound of the falling water was hypnotic. She listened to the sounds hidden within the random noise; angry voices, laughter, all aimed at her, trying to get her attention. She had grown accustomed to them, hearing them ever since she was little. Though they were not always there, she knew that they would never go away.



        They sounded all at once, hard to distinguish from one another. They defamed and ridiculed her, insulted and embarrassed her. Long ago she had given up trying to ignore them. Now older and wiser, she settled into the truth that she was mentally ill. It was a revelation that provided no comfort, but, at least, an explanation for her dismal moods.



        When she was in high school, she had researched her problem. She disbelieved all of the evidence that indicated her schizophrenia. She tried to deny the findings, comfort herself that she was normal; depressed, like all teenagers, but normal. She medicated her dreary frame of mind with recreational drugs, alcohol, and even cough medicine. She had been spiraling, her moods grew darker, her indulgences more frequent. She had been losing control of herself, happily plunging into isolation and intoxication, safely distanced from the pain of her existence by numbness.



        Her parents once said that they had been proud of her, they had even tried to encourage her in school, hoping that she would become some high-paid genius in some field. When her grades started to fall, when she started getting into drugs and drinking, when she started skipping school, they had given up on her.



        She had grown to know the shame, accept the feelings of failure, and rationalize the disappointment of her mother and father. There were fights, shouting matches, heated exchanges that only served to further illustrate Claire’s isolation.



        She remembered making her mother cry, telling her that she felt like she did not belong in their family. She was trying to be truthful, to explain her feelings, she did not know that her words would be taken the wrong way. It had broken the thin, rusty wire that secured the relationship between her and her parents. She had barely seen them throughout her childhood, they were both working, going places, trying to enjoy their time off. She was raised in daycare, reared in public schools; she merely lived with her parents. They acted like her friends, too busy to get involved in emotionally messy acts of true parenting like affection or discipline. They were weary and sad, their lives devoted to an endless cycle of making payments, working twelve hours, living four hours, and sleeping eight hours.



        She had left home at eighteen, just after she had graduated from high school. Her truancy had threatened her chances, but the standards for urban education had sunk low enough that her test scores were sufficient for her commencement, regardless of her attendance. She had struggled through her first year in the city college. The lack of academic challenge, working menial jobs in order to eat, and her mental state had all culminated into her failing again, dropping out of secondary education altogether.



        Then she had read the advertisement placard on the train, while on her way to one of her minimum wage jobs. The city had been offering tuition-deferred enrollment to the Diesel Mechanic Institute in Hoboken. They had promised high pay and job placement. They had offered to help pay living expenses. She had felt inspired to try the place, a new direction in her life, one that may lead her toward, at least, some financial happiness.



        Sixteen months later, she had succeeded. She had been placed in the Jersey City Municipal Garage, thanks to her school-provided career counselor. It was a decent living. Her health insurance was excellent and the pay was respectable. Even after meeting her student loan obligations, she had enough extra money to buy a few gadgets and indulge her vices. It brought her no happiness, but it afforded her the luxury of not having to worry about scraping together enough money to meet her rent.



        Claire coughed through the steamy air as she shut off the faucet that protruded from the yellowed fiberglass wall of the enclosure. She had needed the shower. It had been almost two days since she had bathed, and the comfort of cleanliness was a welcome relief for her itchy skin and scalp. She toweled dry, waiting for the steamy air to dissipate. She dressed with haste; the apartment was cold. There was no complete outfit of clean clothes, so she forwent underwear, slipping her nakedness into her last pair of laundered jeans, and pulling on a tattered but clean sweatshirt.



        Laundry was on the top of her list of things to do that day, but after a few belts of vodka, she dropped the idea; her initiative had been drowned. She chose to lay back in her bed, a bottle in one hand, and a smutty novel in the other. She knew that the hours would pass quickly this way.





***



        Her Saturday had been a blur. She faced Sunday morning, cold and bright. Her stomach hurt, her teeth ached, and her body was weary. Claire rummaged through her kitchen area, looking for anything to eat, dreading the idea of leaving her apartment. She found a box of instant rice and decided to prepare it, the gnawing of her stomach stronger than her lethargy. She filled a dirty plastic pan with some water, placed it in her microwave oven, and heated it.



        She choked down the bland food. It quieted her stomach, but failed to satisfy her hunger. The starchy fare had no nutritive value, and her beleaguered body needed nourishment. She coaxed herself into getting dressed and walking over to the small café, just three blocks away, on Greene Street.



        While descending the stairs, headed for the street, she ran into a familiar tenant.



        “Hola, Ms. Galloway.” Mrs. Gutierrez’ arms were full of shopping bags, her breath shortened by the seven flights that she had lifted her heavy body and groceries so far.



        Claire nodded her greeting. She did not feel like speaking or being friendly.



        “We need you to fix the elevator. I know that you could get it done. Like my toilet.” Mrs. Gutierrez smiled, “Not that idiot, Hugo. He’s the worst super I ever had.”



        “I’ll see if I can take a look, Mrs. Gutierrez. The machine room is always locked.” Claire hoped to end the conversation.



        “You’re such a good girl.” Mrs. Gutierrez tilted her head, smiling. “See you later.”



        Claire nodded again, making her way past the wide woman in the narrow stairs. She was warmed a little by the woman’s words. She had not been called a ‘good girl’ in a long time. She knew the truth to be otherwise, but it still felt good to hear it. After making her way to the bottom of the stairs, she stepped out into the bright, raw cold of the clear October morning.



        The streets were empty of both cars and people. Most of the neighborhood was either sleeping off hangovers, waking up next to strangers, or camped in the warmth of their beds, watching television. The small café proved to be as desolate as Claire had hoped. She took a seat in the back, far from the few people who were in there, enjoying a late breakfast.



        A waitress walked to her table, placing a paper mat and spotted silverware in front of where Claire had seated herself. Claire waved her credit stick at the dark blue plastic box that hung from the waitress’ apron, just before the older woman handed her a menu. She ordered an omelet, waffles, and some fresh fruit, feeling that it would be a well-rounded meal after the torture that she had been putting her organs through for days.



        She ate greedily, peering around to see if anyone noticed her shameful, animalistic appetite. She finished sooner than she had expected, her belly full and distended as she sipped her black coffee. She gazed at the news report that played quietly on the many TVs that circled the dining area, passing the time by trying to discern which stories were real, and which had been embellished beyond fact.



        There were the usual reports; American peacekeepers wounded and killed in foreign countries, violent crimes, Senate investigations, and food additive health hazard alerts. Such fare was typical of the slow-paced weekend news programs.



        The waitress returned, taking Claire’s emptied plates. Claire reached over, pulling a small plastic box that hung from a coiled cord off of the larger credit scanner. She pressed her thumb to the red plastic membrane on top of the unit, and waited for the automated voice to announce that her transaction was complete.



        She headed outside again, back toward her apartment building. Her filled stomach was slowing her down a little, but she enjoyed the luxury of a stuffed gut as she made her way. The elevator issue was beginning to bother her, and when she returned to her apartment, she was going to try to do something about it. She knew that complaining to the superintendent was out of the question, so she decided to remedy the situation in her own way.



        In her apartment, she gathered some tools into a small satchel; a cheap little multi-meter, some screwdrivers, and adjustable wrenches. She slid the heavy little bag into her flight jacket and zipped up, concealing them. She gathered some laundry into a plastic trash bag, and headed for the building’s basement.



        She stopped in the laundry room, leaving her bag of dirty clothes next to one of the machines, just by the locked door to the mechanical room that housed the elevator system’s vital components. Looking both ways first, she pulled a large flat-bladed screwdriver from her concealed tool bag. Wedging the tool in-between the door and its metal jamb, she pried the two away from each other, just enough for the lock to clear the striker plate. With great effort, she managed to pull the door open as she pried, careful not to damage the door or its jamb.



        She slipped inside, closing the door behind her. It was dark, loud, and hot. She fumbled for her small flashlight in her tool kit. She scanned the room with the narrow beam of the small light, searching past the rusted boilers, clattering air-handlers, and greasy hydraulic pumps, looking for something that she believed would resemble an elevator control system.



        Across the darkness, she saw something promising. She set her tools down next to a large frame that was filled with relays. Sliding out of her jacket as the heat of the room started to make her sweat, she searched the area for some kind of schematic drawing or manual; anything that would give her a clue about the intricate machine that she was going to attempt to fix for the first time. Though she knew little about elevators, she knew that it had to be a simple system of relays and motors, one that she would have no trouble diagnosing, at least.



        With her small plastic flashlight held between her teeth, she started to examine the rack of relays, taking an occasional voltage reading, shorting control circuits here and there, until she was satisfied that she had an understanding of the system. The beam of her flashlight passed over a burnt relay. She pulled it from its socket, noting that the contacts had fused themselves together. She pulled another relay, just next to the burnt one, and plugged it into vacant socket.



        Small clicking noises sounded in front of her, the large drive motors of the elevator groaned into motion. She felt some satisfaction, knowing that she had been able to bring the system back to life. She did not know which floor she had disabled with her parts-substitution, but took comfort in that fact that the other twenty-four floors would be accessible by the lift again.



        She zipped her bag of tools up again, put on her jacket, and made her way to the door. She listened through the steel, trying to discern the voices that mumbled just on the other side, in the laundry room. They sounded like women, so she surmised that the super was not in there, yet. Careful and quiet, she opened the door and crept into the laundry.



        “Hey.” Sheila stood next to where Claire had left her laundry.



        “Shhh.” Claire raised a finger to her lips, emphasizing the need for secrecy.



        Sheila smiled, turning to look at the other women in the small, dank room.



        Claire quietly closed the door behind her, turning to look for any evidence that she may have left of her intrusion.



        “I started washing your clothes for you.” Mrs. Gutierrez was leaning against one of the running washers. “Is it fixed?”



        “I think that it’s okay now, except for one floor.” Claire said, her voice low, her eyes scanning the room’s occupants, hoping that they would keep her expedition a secret.



        “Which floor?” Emily Towson asked, pouring a box of soap powder into an open washer.



        “I don’t know.” Claire shrugged.



        “I hope it’s not our floor.” Sheila giggled, jabbing Claire’s arm playfully.

       

“She’s so smart.” Mrs. Gutierrez turned to Towson, smiling. “She’s such a good girl.”



        “Let me worry about your clothes, dear.” Mrs. Gutierrez asserted, looking to Claire. “I’ll bring them up to you when they’re done.”



        “Bring them to me first.” Emily interrupted, “I’ll sew up some of those holes and stuff.” She looked to Claire, a grateful and warm smile spreading across her young face.



        Claire’s discomfort was growing harder to conceal. She disliked attention and hated charity. She knew that she needed to be polite, let them do these things for her. It would make them feel better.



        “Thank you.” Claire forced a smile through her unpleasant feelings. “Please don’t tell anyone. I might get evicted.”



        “Tell about what?” Sheila winked to Claire, a silent assurance that she and the others would keep the secret.



        “I have to…” Claire started, as she left the small room, “Study.” She filled in her own blank, hoping that it would not further any conversation.



        The others returned to their laundering as she slipped out into the stairway, climbing to the lobby. She pressed the elevator button, delighted and guilty that the bell above her head rang and the doors to the waiting car opened. She stepped inside, pressing the button for the ninth floor, and rode the resurrected lift to her apartment.



        She lay in her bed, reading an old, trashy novel, trying to escape. She had managed to stay away from liquor all morning. She was trying to be the ‘good girl’ that she had been referred to as twice that day.



The slow Sunday passed. Emily had dropped off her clothes, most of them mended and all of them neatly folded. Sheila had knocked also, inviting her over for dinner. Claire declined, using the excuse that she had to get up early the next morning. She knew that Sheila would want to drink, and she wanted to stay away from alcohol. Her body needed the respite.



***



        Monday morning was easier to handle than Claire had expected. She felt rested, her mind was quiet, and her problems seemed manageable for the first time in weeks. She showered, dressed in her clean, newly mended clothes, and set out for work.



She arrived at the garage early. After donning her coveralls, she still had fifteen minutes before she needed to clock-in. She waved her credit stick at the vending machine that sat by the top of the stairs, near door to the administrative office. She pressed the part of the unit’s touch screen that corresponded to black coffee. She authorized with her thumbprint, and waited for the cup to drop, fill, and the small hatch to open.



        “Good morning, sunshine.” Rodriguez walked by the machine, on his way to his locker.



        “Hey, Charlie.” Claire reached for the cup of aromatic, scalding breakfast.



        “Good weekend?”



        “Yeah, me and Gina went to the city and saw Casablanca.” Rodriguez was zipping his coveralls. “You know, at that place that shows all of the old black and white movies.”



        “Never saw it.” Claire blew across the surface of her drink, trying to cool it to a less scorching temperature.



        “You’d like it.” Rodriguez’ hands were busy tying his boots. “Well, maybe you’d like it. But it’s kind of mushy near the end.”



        The locker area started to buzz with activity as the other mechanics filed in, changing into their work suits, bragging to each other about the gambling, street racing, and sexual exploits that had filled their weekends. Claire slipped down the stairway, eager to escape the cloud of testosterone that threatened to engulf her if she had stayed in the loft. She sipped her coffee, patiently leaning against the grimy wall where the time clock was poised. She passed her access card in front of the unit at exactly 7:30 and headed over to the aluminum-can-collection truck that was parked over one of the lifts.



        She pulled the clipboard that held the work order from the front seat of the large vehicle. She tried to interpret the operator’s description of the truck’s malfunction.



        “Fluid leaks, payload camera control system problem.” Rodriguez was reading over her shoulder. “That’s a job for you, missy.” He jabbed her ribs, smiling.



        “Charlie.” A voice called across the din of the now busy garage.



        “You get started on that. I’ll be right back to check the hydraulics.” Rodriguez walked away, toward the voice that called for him.



        She set her coffee high on the front fender of the large truck and walked over to the makeshift wooden rack that housed the dog-eared maintenance manuals for the fleet that they supported. She searched for the electronics book for the late-model machine.

       

        “I gotta help Little Joe replace the injectors on that street-sweeper engine.” Rodriguez had returned, leaning against the bookshelf.



        “Shouldn’t take too long. You know Jose, all you have to do is show is show him how to do the first one, and then you have to show him how to do the other seven.” The corners of Rodriguez’ mustache raised.



        Claire laughed out loud.



        Charlie was one of the few people that could make her laugh. He was jovial. He was everybody’s friend; he was even her friend. She wondered through her past two years at the garage whether his need to be so friendly with everyone was rooted in strength or weakness on his part. She had never been able to reach a conclusion on the matter.



        Claire busied herself locating the electronic fault and finding a way to repair it. Hours had passed, escaping her notice as she became consumed with the complicated task that had been assigned to her. She looked over the edge of the cargo hopper in which she was standing, noticing that the others had already left for lunch. She climbed out, dropping herself several feet to the garage floor, cushioning her landing by a slight bend in her knees.



        After wiping her hands on her coveralls, she made her way to the loft, back to the vending machine for some more coffee. She waited at the bottom of the stairs as Amy Nashumara, one of the harpies from the administrative office, was descending, and making sure to avoid eye contact with Claire. A car horn echoed through the now quiet building, startling both of them.



        Claire turned to see a sleek, shiny late-model car idling in one of the open bay doorways. The vehicle’s paint job was garish and bright, the small motor growled through a performance exhaust system, the vehicle’s media center was booming through fancy speakers. There was a young Asian man behind the wheel. He was looking at Claire, smiling. She turned away. Eye contact was something that she never felt comfortable with, especially from strangers. Amy passed by, heading for the fancy car. Claire surmised that it was either Amy’s brother, or her boyfriend.



        After Amy had gotten into the sporty coupe, the tires chirped as it sped away. Claire shook her head. She could not understand the love affair that people had with their cars. She had never owned one herself; she could not see past the fact that they were just expensive, breakable, steal-able machines.



        She took her lunch hour sitting in the driver’s seat of the truck upon which she had been working. She sipped her coffee, lighting a cigarette as she watched a news feed on the entertainment system in the vehicle’s cab.



        “You’re off the clock, right?”



        Claire was startled by the sudden appearance of the shop’s rotund supervisor, Smitty Coombes. His marginal service to the city over the last thirty years had been rewarded with a position of flaccid authority, of which he was fiercely proud. The municipal union was not, overtly, in the practice of rewarding ineptitude, but the least productive members were often elevated to less contract-impacting positions.



        “What?” Claire asked.



        “You’re on lunch, right?” The man huffed. “You don’t take lunch on the clock, Galloway.”



        “Shit. I’m sorry, I forgot to…”



        Smitty interrupted her apology, “Listen, Galloway,” His hands were in his pockets, fumbling with his scrotum as he spoke, “You think you’re hot shit. I don’t think you’re hot shit if you’re trying to steal from the city.”



        “I’m not stealing…”



        He interrupted again, “The clock says that you’re working, and you’re sitting up there, all cozy, watching TV. That’s stealing.”



        “It was a mistake. It’ll never happen again.” Claire said with as much conviction as she could muster. “I just got kind of wrapped up in this camera problem.”



        “Camera problem?” Smitty’s head pivoted back. His tangled, gray eyebrows rose.



        Claire pulled the clipboard from the empty seat next to her, handing it to the older, much heavier person. He scrutinized the work order, trying to find fault with her activities.



        “You can fix that?” His voice conveyed disbelief.



        “Come on, Smitty, she can fix anything.” Rodriguez had walked up to the side of the truck from where their supervisor spoke. He winked to Claire, smiling.



        “We don’t need to spend all of the technology budget on outside contractors for stuff like that with Claire on the job.” Rodriguez put his arm around Smitty’s shoulder, leading the man away from the truck as he further explained the cost savings that Claire’s abilities could mean for him.



        She silently thanked Charlie for standing up for her. When the others started trickling back in, she set to work on the camera controller again.



        Hours sped by like minutes as Claire lost herself in the problem that she had fought so hard to remedy. She had done it, with great aggravation, but she had managed to fix everything that was reported as being wrong with the truck that had been left in her care. She flashed her card at the time clock as she made her way to the lockers. The stairs felt steeper than normal after her exhaustive day.



        She had changed, washed her hands and face, fixed her hair, and was contemplating a big supper to celebrate. She wanted to indulge for her victory over the camera control system, and the fact that she had stayed away from alcohol all day.



        Knowing that it would be dark soon, she stopped to retrieve her favorite wrench, tucking it into her jacket sleeve as she made her way out into the chilly dusk.



        She walked up the side of the highway stepping over oily gravel, broken bottles, and litter as she went. She was planning to treat herself to some fast food at one of the many restaurants that lined the southbound side of the truck route. She stopped at the closest one, and bought herself enough of the salty, greasy food that she could have fed two people.



***



        Amy waited under the light above the doorway of an abandoned warehouse on Claremont Street, a few blocks away from the garage. She was checking and rechecking her personal communicator, hoping to get mail from her contact or her friends. He was supposed to have been there fifteen minutes ago. Her friends were already on their way to the Floodlight, the rave would be starting in a little while. She hated being the one who had to get the Ecstasy.



        She was looking down at the screen of her communicator, oblivious to her surroundings. She did not see the tall, dark man approaching from across the street.



        Claire stood on the corner of Culver and West Side, stopping to light a cigarette, enjoying the taste of the Churchill Reds, happy that she spent the extra ten dollars on the pack. She drew the sweet, smooth smoke into her lungs, relishing the flavor and feel as it mixed inside of her with the cold air of the brisk October evening. The fatty, starchy meal that she had eaten earlier felt good in her stomach; her body had needed the nourishment. To enjoy the fine British cigarette after such a meal made her feel like her life was not so terrible after all.



        She was rewarding herself for not drinking. She had gone over thirty-six hours without a drink. It was not easy, but she felt a sense of accomplishment, almost pride that she had been strong enough to stop. She stood at the corner, listening to the parade of trucks speeding through the cold night, on the highway that was just a few blocks away, as she enjoyed the rest of the premium cigarette.



        Amy noticed the man approaching as he stepped into the light. She knew that it was not Clay, her supplier. She hoped that Clay had sent this guy in his place. He continued to approach her, slowly looking to his sides as he crossed the street, centering his gaze on the small Asian girl in front of the old warehouse.



        “Hi.” Amy waved to the man, smiling. “Did Clay send you?”



        The dark-skinned man continued his approach. Amy began to sense menace in his stare.



        “Who are you?” Amy was clutching her purse close to her chest, her knees drawn together.



        The man stopped in front of the girl, towering over her by at least a foot and a half. His neck was thick, his features hard. His body looked enormous under the cold weather clothing that he was wearing.



        “Get in the warehouse.” He leaned over the small Asian.



        Amy pressed the emergency button on her communicator, hoping that it would escape the man’s notice.



        “I-I have to go.” Amy started to turn. The man’s hand blocked her escape.



        “Get in the damned building, bitch.”



        “Help!” Amy screeched. “Somebody! Help!”



        She felt a large, cold hand cover her mouth and nose, pressing the back of her head against the rough bricks of the warehouse’s doorway.



        “Shut the fuck up, or I’ll kill you.” With his free hand, the man drew a gun from the waistband of his pants, holding it to Amy’s head.



        “Get inside.” The man smiled, Amy started to cry.



        The heel of Claire’s boot had just scuffed out the butt of her new favorite cigarette when she had heard the screams. She thought that they came from a block away, off of Mallory Street. She pressed the panic button on her personal communicator, and held it in her view as she walked cautiously toward the place where her ears had indicated the sound had originated. The emergency operator appeared on the display of the silver device.



        “What is the emergency, please?” The operator’s voice was faint; Claire had not plugged in her headset.



        “Someone is screaming for help. A young girl.” Claire spoke into the set as she continued to stalk down the darkness of Claremont Street.



        “We have you located on Claremont, near West Side, is this correct?”



        “Yes.” Claire heard another yelp, coming from a few hundred feet in front of her. “I think it’s coming from one of the old warehouses.”



        “Police have been dispatched to your location.” The voice buzzed, a tinny whisper from the silver plastic box in Claire’s hand.



        Claire ended the call, deciding to put the unit back on her waist, freeing her right hand. She straightened her sleeve, allowing the weight of the axle wrench to slide down into her hand. She held it in a tight grip, her arm tensed, ready for action.



        “I said take off you’re fuckin’ pants, bitch.”



        Claire heard it coming from the brick building with its makeshift plywood door half open. She crept, fast and silent over to the opening, slipping quietly inside. In the pale orange glow of the streetlights that poured in through the high, broken windows, she saw a large black man, facing away from her. He was manhandling a small woman, whom Claire soon recognized as Amy Nashumara. She was crying, struggling against the man, desperate to break free. Claire knew that she had to act fast.



        She clutched the box end of the heavy, long wrench into her right palm, clasping her left hand just above, both arms winding to her side as she charged man. She swung, just steps away. The man turned to see Claire swinging the polished steel weapon at his head. He tried to dodge the blow. She managed to connect most of the wrench’s crescent head against the large man’s temple. He reeled sideways, spinning to the dusty, broken warehouse floor.



        A chime-like sound echoed throughout the old warehouse. The force of the impact had knocked the heavy tool from Claire’s hands. She was pulling Amy’s arm, trying to drag her towards the door. Amy stumbled behind, her wrist being tugged hard as Claire pulled her along.



        They were almost out onto the street when they heard the shots. The loud popping sounds that echoed inside the cavernous old building.



        Claire felt her leg give out from under her. She saw the sidewalk racing toward her as she fell. Amy was now pulling her, struggling to slide her out of the doorway as the shooting ended.



        Two policemen bolted from their cruiser. They had heard the shots as they had pulled up. With their weapons drawn, they rushed to the scene in front of the old building.



        Claire was dazed, her leg was stinging, and flashes from red and blue strobes hurt her eyes as she lay on the sidewalk. Amy had rolled her onto her back, and shouted to the policeman.



        “He’s inside!” She pointed, frantic, “He shot her! He shot her!” She was crying.



        Officer Grasso, young and cocksure, swung himself into the opening. His gun was trained on the dimly lit suspect.



        “Drop the gun!” Grasso shouted, “I said drop the fucking gun!”



        The man complied, placing his pistol next to where he lay on the dusty floor.



        “Lay face down! Hands behind your head!” Grasso commanded.



        Officer Epps was on his radio, calling an ambulance as he crouched over the wounded girl on the sidewalk. He saw the panic and confusion of the Asian girl.



        “Miss, what happened?” He addressed Amy in a deep, calm voice.



        “Oh my god.” Amy was in a trance, repeating the phrase.



        Epps placed his large, dark-skinned hand on Amy’s shoulder. She turned to look at him, emerging from her panic. She saw the older face, the friendly authority that exuded from the policeman. She calmed down.



        “He was going to…He tried to…” Amy’s crying resumed as she remembered the menace and terror of her encounter. “She saved me.” Amy clutched Claire’s hand.



        “Can you tell me your name?” Epps looked to the widening pool of blood surrounding Claire.



        Claire was too dazed to respond to the request. Her senses were leaving her. Everything around her assumed a surreal quality.



        “Claire Galloway. She works with me, at the city garage.” Amy’s voice was wet with tears.



        “What’s your name?” Epps pulled out his electronic tablet, his thumbs busy entering data as he asked.



        “Aki Nashumara.” Amy was staring at her unresponsive savior, watching her breathing, hoping that she would be okay.



        “Could you spell that please?” Epps asked.



        “Where’s the ambulance?” Amy’s panic grew.



        “They should be here soon.” Epps’ voice was low and soothing, conveying the comfort of years of experience on the JCPD.



        Claire’s eyes closed, the pain that radiated from her right thigh was turning to an overall numbness. She could still feel a small, soft hand clutching hers. She could hear the scratchy sound of low-band radios, the hum of the Police cruiser’s engine close by, the frantic voice of Amy, just above her.



        Amy was sniffling, still clutching Claire’s hand. “Oh my god. Please don’t die, please.” She whimpered, seeing the expanding pool of Claire’s blood on the sidewalk.



        “Cold.” Claire managed to say, her voice distant and faint.



        Another police car pulled up, an ambulance followed just behind it. The police officers scrambled into the warehouse, the paramedics rushed to Claire, unzipping their bags and snapping into gloves as they ran.



        “Miss, please give us some room.” One of the paramedics pulled Amy away from Claire, her hand being broken free from the wounded girl’s.



        “S-She’s cold. She said she’s cold.” Amy spouted as she watched the technicians examine and assess their patient.



        “Tourniquet.” One of the technicians said to the other, his fingers feeling Claire’s faint pulse below her ear.



        Claire had slipped into quiet darkness, losing consciousness.



        In the dim warehouse, Officer Grasso stood above the suspect, his sidearm pointed at the man’s head as his boot pressed against his spine. Officer Epps walked over to the scene, calm and casual, knowing that the younger patrolman and the others had the situation under control.



        “You might be facing a murder rap, son.” Epps said, matter-of-factly. “That young lady isn’t doing too well.”



        “Give a brother a break.” The man pleaded. “It was self-defense. That fuckin’ soldier-bitch hit my head with a fuckin’ wrench.” The man spoke, his right cheek and ear pressed against the cold, dusty warehouse floor, his bloodied, swollen, broken temple illuminated by a policeman’s flashlight that shone down on his face.



        Officer Epps picked up the polished chrome tool that lay a few feet from the suspect. He held the tool up to the light, facing away from their prisoner.



        “What wrench?” Epps swung his arm, throwing the silver implement into the darkness. Seconds passed before a bell-like sound echoed from the distance of the gaping, dark space. “I don’t see any wrench.”



        “There ain’t no fuckin’ wrench, homeboy.” Officer Grasso said as he leaned more of his weight into the suspect’s back, causing the man to groan.



        Epps shot an admonishing look to the younger cop. “Just read him his rights, Grasso.”



        Claire’s limp body was now on a stretcher, the medics loading her into the back of the ambulance.



        “Where are you taking her?” Amy hugged herself, tears running down her cheeks, her breath visible in the night air. Her voice was desperate.



        “Liberty.” One of the medics said as he slid the gurney into the truck, closing one of the doors.



        “Can I ride with her?”



        “Okay, get in.” It was against the rules, but the medic could not refuse the pathetic request of the cute little Japanese girl.



        Amy climbed into the semi-warmth of the emergency vehicle, alarmed at the sight of all the blood on Claire’s clothing. It had been a mellow, dark brown color under the street lamps, but now it was a vivid, urgent crimson in the overhead lighting of the ambulance.



        The medic was attaching leads to Claire’s chest, repositioning the clear plastic mask that covered the girl’s nose and mouth.



        “She’s going to be okay, right?”



        “Let’s hope so. They may be able to save her leg.” He replied, carefully monitoring the instruments that conveyed the vital statistics of the wounded girl in his charge.



        “Can I hold her hand?” Amy asked, her voice low and sad.



        “Sure.” The paramedic replied, “Just be ready to give me some room.”



        The other door slammed shut, and seconds later the vehicle jerked into motion, sirens blaring.



        Amy held a tight grip on the girl’s unresponsive, cool hand. She felt a mix of gratitude, sorrow, and guilt as she looked at her wounded savior. She saw Claire’s pretty face, the sad scar, the tousled hair, and the rugged old clothing of the enigmatic girl, the one that she had once professed to hate, silently promising never to be so shallow and spiteful ever again.



        Amy felt her hand being gripped, weak and cold. She squeezed back; comforted somewhat that Claire must still be able to feel her. She started to cry again.

Edited by: StrangeQuark at: 10/1/03 5:52 pm


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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 2
PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2003 2:08 am 
Loved your update.... characterisations are very well crafted, and I'm drawn to Claire's mysterious past. And do I sense there'll be a love triangle of sorts between Claire, sheila and Amy? lol



One thing nags me though -- the fic's set in the future, but I can't really see much description on this -- surely technology would have pervaded the human society in more ways than ever, fifty plus year later. Or maybe that's your intention all along? to show that the human psychology remains ever elusive despite changing of times?



All the same, great fic.. refreshingly refreshing!! :P More please!:applause







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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 2
PostPosted: Wed Oct 08, 2003 12:04 pm 
This is a brilliant story.



Your characterisations and your descriptions of the settings are wonderful :clap



I'm looking forward to reading more.



Anya in a wimple...I'd pay full admission for that. Gods Served And Abandoned - by Antigone Unbound


You know the worst thing about people in a relationship? The fact that they're in a relationship. - Hilda Spellman







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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 2
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2003 2:32 pm 
again - I'm intrigued. You've got great character depth and definition. :clap Keep up the good work - more soon? :pray



Wolfy :pride

"I don't want prawns I just want to learn how to play guitar" - me having a weird day....



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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 2
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2003 5:47 pm 
Thanks for the feedback, everyone.



The story is just getting started, and the main plot hasn't yet begun. :)



Expect chapter 3 sometime before Friday.



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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 3
PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2003 3:05 pm 
CHAPTER 3 -- LATENCY



        “Excuse me, miss. You can’t go back there.” The emergency room nurse had hooked Amy’s shoulder, pulling her back from following the gurney into the triage. “Are you a member of the family?”

       

        “I don’t know if she has a family. You’ve got to let me stay with her.” Amy pulled herself free, defiant of the nurse’s firm grip.



        “We’ll get her print. We’ll contact her family.” The nurse circled around Amy, blocking her path, arms folded. “Wait over there. When her name is called, go to the ER admittance desk.”



        Amy’s head hung as she trudged to the rows of dirty vinyl seats of the emergency waiting room. She stared at her folded hands as she sat, waiting.



        Her personal communicator vibrated, and she flipped the cover open to see her friend Jeanine, lights swirling behind her against a background of artificial fog and lasers.



        “Amy, we’ve been waiting for, like, half an hour. Where are you?” She heard through the thin sound of the unit’s small speaker.



        “I can’t. I-I’ve…” Amy fought back tears, “Something came up.”



        “Uggh. Whatever.” Her friend ended the call; anger and annoyance clear in her voice.



        After a few minutes elongated with worry, Amy called her mother.



        “Hello, dear.” Her mother answered.



        “Mom, I’m at Liberty Medical, I’m okay.”



        “Why?”



        “I’m okay. A friend of mine’s been shot. She’s in emergency surgery. I’m going to stay here until she gets out of surgery.”



        “Shot? Where? How bad?” Mrs. Nashumara’s English vocabulary was limited.



        “Her leg. They said that she’s in critical condition.”



        “Aki, you come home now, before you get shot.” Her mother’s face was stern.



        “No, mom. I’m not leaving. She needs me.” Amy snapped the cover of her M-lync shut, ending the call.



        She sat, shifting in her seat, glancing at the other people around her as she waited, impatient and nervous. An anxious hour crawled by.



        “Galloway.” Sounded above where Amy sat.



        Amy fussed with the shoulder strap of her purse as she walked to the ER desk.



        “I’m here with Claire Galloway.” Amy volunteered, her fingers drumming the edge of the high counter that separated the staff from the waiting room.



        “Please.” The nurse extended his hand across the counter, presenting an ID pad to Amy.



        “Um, why the ID scan?” Amy asked, as she obliged by pressing her thumb to the red square that glowed on the unit’s face.



        “No listed members of Ms. Galloway’s family have responded to us, Miss…” He looked to his side reading Amy’s name from the display of the terminal in front of him. “Nashumara.”



        “But why do you need to ID me?” Amy resumed her absent adjustment of her purse’s should strap.



        “It’s procedure, Ms. Nashumara. You won’t be allowed to enter the CCU floor to visit Ms. Galloway without the approval of either her doctor or her family.”



        “So, her doctor will let me see her now?”



        “Ms. Galloway is still in emergency surgery.”



        “Is she going to be okay?”



        “Her doctor will let you know.” He swiveled away from her, positioning his chair to face his terminal.



        Amy dragged herself back to the waiting area. She sat for hours, sometimes wanting to run off and go home to her comfortable bed, watch TV, and forget that any of the night’s events had happened. She could not bring herself to leave. She needed to know that Claire was going to be okay. She owed the girl at least that much.



        She spotted a short, dark-skinned figure speaking to the admittance nurse while leaning against the ER desk. Her hope that her vigilance would be rewarded grew when the man, who appeared to be a doctor, started walking in her direction.



        “Hello, Ms. Nashumara, I am Dr. Chapodahay.” He shook Amy’s hand as he introduced himself. “You are waiting for Ms. Galloway?”



        “How is she?” Amy asked, eager and anxious.



        “She is in critical, but stable condition. Her surgery went well, and I am sure that she will have a fullest recovery.” The doctor sat next to Amy. His hands rested in his lap as he spoke. “I had to repair a major laceration of her femoral artery. She may take some weeks to recover.”



        “Can I see her?”

        “She will be in the CCU in about a half of an hour, bay D-sixteen.” Dr. Chapodahay smiled, “She may awaken soon.”



                                #



        Claire’s senses returned. Her eyes remained shut. She was dizzy, pain and numbness alternating throughout her body. Her muffled hearing was starting to clear. Machinery and electronics hummed and beeped quietly around her. She felt cold.



        She could still feel the small, soft hand clutched around hers, just as it had been before she passed out. She opened her eyes, slowly, the light in the room stung with its brightness. She looked to her left, focusing her squinted eyes to see Amy smiling at her. She felt anger and revulsion as she realized that she was the one holding her hand. Her limbs were not yet responsive enough for her to pull away, her head felt too heavy to turn to her right, and remove the unwelcome sight from her field of view.



        “Hey.” Amy’s voice was soft and caring, a tone that Claire might have appreciated from any other human being.



        “Let go.” Claire whispered, closing her eyes.



        “Nope.” Amy replied, playful and defiant.



        “It hurts.” Claire exaggerated, hoping to break the contact with the person that she loathed.



        “Sorry, I didn’t know.” Amy released Claire’s hand, feeling guilty for causing the girl more pain than she already had.



        “The doctor said that you’re going to be okay.” Amy volunteered.



        “How long?” Claire whispered, her eyes still closed.



        “How long what?”



        “How long have I been here?”



        “Eleven hours.” Amy replied after checking the time on her personal communicator. “My parents went home hours ago.”



        “Parents?” Claire was getting curious now.



        “They were waiting here with me until a few hours ago.” Amy replied.



        “You.” Claire asked, still dazed, unsure that she was putting the pieces together in the right order.



        “I rode with you in the ambulance. I’ve been waiting for you to wake up for a while.”



        “Why?” Claire’s eyes opened a little.



        “Because you saved me. Because you’re hurt.” Amy looked away, focusing on the instruments that surrounded Claire’s bed. “Because you’re, like, all alone.”



        Claire sighed. She knew where the conversation would lead.



        “The hospital couldn’t reach your family.” Amy edged her chair closer to the side of the bed. “I didn’t want to leave my friend, here, alone.”



        Claire was disgusted with the hypocrisy, the gall of the smaller woman. The fact that Amy now wanted to be her friend was hollow and nauseating.



        “Thank you.” Amy started to get teary. “You saved me.”



        Amy felt terrible about so many things; the way that she had treated her; the way that she had laughed when the others made fun of her. Now Claire lay in the hospital in critical condition. She had nearly lost her leg. Amy’s guilt intensified with her acknowledgement that all of this happened because she wanted to score some Ecstasy for her friends, the same friends that did not have time for her unless she brought along the goods for their night out. Amy never wanted to believe that it was true, but Jeanine’s rudeness revealed the flimsy façade.



        “I’m sorry.” Amy brushed some errant strands of hair back from Claire’s forehead. “I never got to know you, I was, like, all stuck-up.”



        Claire fixed Amy in an icy stare.



        “Please let me make it up to you.” Her eyes pleaded with the wounded girl, a look that softened Claire’s attitude a little, almost convincing her to give Amy the chance.



        As the general anesthesia wore off, Claire rode out the waves of nausea and numbness. On occasion, she looked to Amy who still sat at her side, hours into the morning now. Claire read the sadness and guilt in the girl’s face. She was starting to feel almost flattered and appreciative of the fact that Amy was keeping her company. In her current physical condition, she feared the isolation in which she had so often sought refuge.



        Claire startled at the sudden presence of a strange voice.



        “Ah, Ms. Galloway, I see that you have awakened.” Dr. Chapodahay smiled as he entered the room. He moved to the side of Claire’s bed, his eyes performing a cursory scan of the instruments that conveyed her vital statistics.



        “I am Bhavesh Chapodahay, your physician.”



        Claire nodded to the doctor. She felt like smiling as she heard the lilting, musical sound of the short, dark man’s accent. It conveyed a sublime dignity and intelligent authority that comforted her.



        “As I have already told Ms. Nashumara, you are an extraordinarily lucky young woman.” He grinned, “You lost much blood, and the damage to your femoral artery was quite extreme.”



        Claire nodded again, trying to absorb as much of the information as her current mental and physical state would allow.



        “Did you have to do, like, micro-surgery?” Amy asked.



        “Not precisely, no. I was able to…” Chapodahay looked to the ceiling, searching for the right word, “…splice the damaged vessel with a bio-polymer construct.”



        Claire cleared her throat, “So, the artery will heal over the synthetic material?”



        “Yes, the cells of the vessel will grow across the bio-polymer,” The doctor looked to the ceiling again, for an analogy, “the way in which vines crawl up the trunk of a tree. In a few weeks, your immune system should reduce it to its constituents.”



        “When can I be discharged?” Claire asked.



        Chapodahay chuckled. “You are young and strong. I would guess that you may leave by the end of one week.” He raised a finger, “But you will have to keep the limb immobile for at least twenty days.”



        “So, she can’t go back to work for, like, three weeks?” Amy asked.



        Dr. Chapodahay raised his electronic tablet, scrolling through Claire’s patient profile.



        “You are a mechanic?” He said to Claire, “You shan’t work until November.”



        “Ooh. I’m jealous.” Amy wrung her hands.



        Claire shot an annoyed look to the girl.



        “How are your pains?” The doctor asked.



        “Pretty constant. Radiating, dull, sometimes sharp.” Claire tried to provide as much valuable detail as possible.



        “Your insurance provides for management of pain,” Chapodahay consulted his tablet’s screen again, “I will see to it that you are accommodated.”



        “Thank you.” Claire replied.



                                #



        Visiting hours had ended. Amy was exhausted from her twenty-four hour ordeal, and Claire had been asleep for almost an hour. Amy stood to leave. She stretched, looking down at the injured girl that lay before her. She left the room, quiet and tired, calling her brother as she walked down the hallway.



        “Yo.” Mike Nashumara answered his M-lync, seeing his sister on its small screen.



        “Can you pick me up at Liberty Medical Center?”



        “Yeah. How’s your friend doing?”



        “She’s okay. She’s asleep.” Amy sighed.



        “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Mike ended the call.



        Amy waited outside the hospital; the cold evening air was helping to wake her up. She looked at the Statue of Liberty, illuminated by floodlights, just a few thousand feet away. It stood facing away from her, alone, dignified, and solemn against the night sky. She had seen it nearly every day of her twenty-two years, but she had taken it for granted, she had never gone to see it up close. In that way, the silent copper lady reminded her of Claire.



        She could already hear her brother’s car approaching from blocks away. She heard the growl of the exhaust, the booming thump of the speakers. He pulled up to the emergency entrance, pressing a button on his dashboard, the passenger door swinging open for his sister.



        “You okay Aki?” he asked as she seated herself in the warmth of his car.



        “Tired.” She looked to her brother, “Guilty. Ashamed.”



        “Why? You’re the victim right?” Mike pulled away from the hospital driveway, his tires chirping from the abrupt acceleration.



        “Claire’s the one who got hurt. She saved me. I was just trying to get some ‘X’.”



        “Don’t feel so bad, sis.” Mike careened the car around a corner. “She’s going to be okay, you’re okay. That’s all that matters.”



        “But I was so mean. I let everyone make fun of her… I made fun of her.” Amy began to tear. “She doesn’t deserve any of that.”



        “So why don’t you make it up to her?” Mike offered, slowing abruptly to the speed limit as he spotted a police car coming the other way. “Buy her a present or something.”



        “I don’t know what I could get, I barely know her.”



        “So, find out.” Mike sped up again; the police cruiser had disappeared from his rear-view mirror. “I’ll bet that she likes a lot of the same stuff that you do.”



        “I’ll bet that she doesn’t.” Amy pouted, folding her arms.



        Mike laughed at his little sister’s bratty display as he pulled his car onto the clean, white concrete of the parking garage at the base of the condominium tower. “Come on, Mom said that she’d keep dinner warm for us.” As they headed for the elevator, Mike pressed a button on his personal communicator and his car’s doors locked, indicated by a bright pulse from its fog lamps.



                                #



        Claire looked around her room. She half-expected to find Amy still there. She was mostly relieved, yet a little disappointed to be alone. Her pain was still intense, but diminishing. Looking at the various machines to which the shunts in her arms were connected, she noticed a very small fluid-filled plastic bag attached to one of the tubes. She read the label and smiled a little. She had always wanted to try morphine.



        She had heard of these machines before. She could press a button, and the device would feed some of the drug into her blood. She searched for the button, found it, and pressed it. The relief was not instant, but once it had enveloped her, she wanted more. She pressed the button again, hoping that the machine would oblige. There was no response. In the back of her mind, she knew that she would have to fix that problem.



                                #



        The telephone next to Claire's bed rang, startling her out of her narcotic reverie. She was surprised to find that it was daytime again. She picked up the receiver of the old, audio-only instrument.



        “Hello?”



        “Claire, it’s Amy.”



        Claire inhaled deeply, and let out a long sigh.



        “How are you feeling?”



        “Okay.”



        Several seconds passed.



        “I’m at work, you know, the garage,” Amy issued an uncomfortable giggle. “Everyone here says that you’re a hero.”



        More seconds crawled by through silence.



        “Do you need anything?” Amy’s voice was shaky.



        “I’m fine.”



        “I could bring you something, after work, when I visit you.”



        “A book.” Claire said softly.



        “What book? Like a novel?”



        “I don’t care. Just something to read.” Resignation was clear in Claire’s tone.



        “Okay. I’ll bring some stuff.”



        “Amy,” Claire’s interjection was sudden, “Could you ask Charlie for my tech toolkit?” She cleared her throat, “Tell him that I want the small, black one.”



        “Sure. Anything. Just ask.” Delight had entered Amy’s voice. She did not know why Claire needed tools with her at the hospital, but she was glad to help with anything that sounded do important.



        “I’ll see you in a few hours, then?” Claire asked; her tone of voice was brighter.



        “As soon as I can get there.”



        “Thanks, Amy.” Claire ended the call.



        Amy removed her headset and placed it on her desk. She slid a notepad and pen in front of where she sat.



        “Was that Claire on the phone?” Bernice turned in her chair to face the small Asian girl, sipping from a mug of tepid soup.



        Amy nodded, writing down the list of things that she wanted to bring.



        “I’ve always known that she was going to be a hero someday. She’s so tough and brave. I’ll bet that the poor dear got that scar from saving someone, you know, before.” Bernice concluded her declaration with a loud slurp from the surface of her semi-liquid lunch.



        Amy stopped writing. She felt ill, listening to the change of heart that her brash supervisor had gone through since she had learned of Claire’s plight. She wanted to be angry with the older woman, but Amy knew that she was guilty of the same shallow turnaround.



        More than ever, she wanted to give up, faced with feelings that were too uncomfortable, but chose to continue. She knew that Claire deserved for her to try, no matter what anguish it may cause. Amy was resolute with the notion that she would become Claire’s best friend, whether she wanted a friend or not.



                                #



        After work, Amy had gathered everything that Claire had asked for, and some things that she had not, and set off for Liberty Medical Center. The train from West Side Avenue was crowded, yet a warm refuge from the chilly dusk that she had walked through. She waited for the Jersey Avenue stop; it would leave her right next to the hospital.

Amy made her way through the lobby and up to the CCU floor. She walked into Claire’s room to find the older girl asleep, once again. She sat quietly, looking at the peaceful young woman, resisting the urge to touch her for fear of disturbing her rest.



        Claire felt a presence in the room; she thought that she smelled a familiar perfume. With her eyes still closed, she started to awaken. She reached absently for Amy’s hand, finding an empty space soon eagerly filled when the small Japanese girl laced her fingers into Claire’s.



        “It must hurt.” Amy tightened her grip a little.



        “It’s like waves.” Claire swallowed loudly, battling nausea and discomfort.



        They sat in silence some more, hands locked together.



        “I brought you some stuff.” Amy began rummaging through a large canvas bag that she had set on the floor next to the bed.



        “I got you two books,” Amy held the paperbacks up to Claire for inspection. “One’s a romantic crime thriller, and the other’s, like, Sci-fi.”



        Claire nodded approvingly, her eyes half-hooded.



        “And I got you some socks,” Amy smiled as she pulled a pair of gaudy, pink and orange, warm-looking socks from her tote, “And Charlie gave me this…” She held up the item that Claire had been anxiously waiting for.



        Claire reached for the small black nylon tool kit. She peeled the zipper open, making sure that it contained everything that she would need. She smiled to Amy.



        “Thank you.” Claire’s voice conveyed an earnest gratitude that made Amy smile.



        “No. You don’t thank me. You’re not allowed to thank me.” Amy’s voice was playful, yet stern. “I’ll be doing the thanking. You will be doing the getting-better part.” She brushed some of Claire’s hair from her face, her fingers soft and warm.



        Claire found herself fighting an involuntary need to lean into the caress. She felt so many different levels of wrongness transpiring through the interaction that she froze.



        “Did that hurt?” Amy pulled her hand away.



        “N-No.” Claire was unsure of what to explain and what to keep inside. “It just tickled.” She groaned internally at her lame explanation.



        Amy took Claire’s hand into hers again, deciding to leave her forehead alone.



        “So, are you bored yet?” Amy asked, noticing that the room’s television was off.



        “A little.”



        “Do you want a drink or something? I could go get you one.”



        “Maybe later. I just…” Claire pressed the button for her morphine, “I just want to rest a while.” She squeezed Amy’s hand with a pressure so slight that the smaller girl almost did not notice.



        Amy pulled her chair a little closer to the bed, watching Claire’s eyes close as she held her hand. The height of the bed and the depth of the chair were proving to be uncomfortable for both of them to keep holding hands. Amy stood, moving the chair away, and sat herself facing Claire, on the edge of the bed, careful not to upset any of the tubes and wires that the taller girl was attached to.



        Claire was stoned again. Her eyes closed. She had disciplined herself to save the doses from the pain-management machine, hoping that the reward would be greater. The morphine was filling her with a deep, smoldering, and lazy pleasure. The world around her was in slow motion. Her limbs were gyrating; the leisurely movement of her skin against the sheets and blankets was scintillating and pleasurable. The warm pressure of Amy’s thigh against her waist was wonderful. She wanted the warmth and pressure against all of her skin, but she settled for the small patch on her side.



        Amy looked in wonder at the slow movements of the restless girl, unsure of what was happening to her, but comfortable with her perception that it was a pleasurable experience. She sat with Claire until the visiting hours had ended. She had taken the time to study the girl’s face, memorizing the small, faint freckles around her eyes and the bridge of her nose, her thin lips, neck, shoulders, and the length of her lithe form shrouded under thin blankets. She began to grow obsessed with the idea of getting her some new clothes, and mentally measured her for the right fit.



                                #



        Hours into the night, Claire woke, somewhat surprised to find herself alone again. Now that she was, she knew what she needed to do. She pulled the morphine machine closer to her bed with gentle and careful tension on the tube that linked it into her bloodstream. She drew her small tool bag out from under the blankets and set to work.



                                #



        Amy had called out from work the following morning. She went to Newport Mall, searching for some new outfits for Claire. She tried not to go overboard with the femininity of her own tastes, and struggled to buy things that she thought Claire would actually like. It proved to be a balance that was tough for her to maintain. In her consternation, Amy also bought a few things for herself, trying to stimulate her imagination as to what she thought might look good on Claire.



        Once she had bought three bags of clothes, she headed for the train station in the bottom level of the mall. The morning rush hour had passed a while ago, and she found herself on a nearly empty train, heading south to Jersey Avenue. She hoped that her mid-morning visit would be a pleasant surprise for Claire.



        She entered the room, smiling as she saw Claire reading one of the novels that she had bought for her.



        “Hey.” Amy walked to the side of the bed, placing her shopping bags on the floor.



        Claire looked up from her reading and gave a thin smile.



        “How are you feeling?” Amy sat on the edge of the bed.



        “Better.” Claire closed the book, placing it next to her on top of the bedding.



        “I got you some clothes. They had to cut-off your jeans in the emergency room.” Amy fished through the bags from her mall trip, holding up two new pairs of blue jeans. “They’re not too light, are they? I know that you wear darker jeans.”



        “They’re… they must have been expensive.” Claire shifted herself uneasily under the blankets. “You really shouldn’t have…”



        “Do you like them?” Amy interrupted.



        “Yes, I do, but…”



        Amy interrupted Claire’s protest, placing a finger to the other girl’s lips.

        Claire was irritated at the condescending gesture, but she let kept it to herself, not wanting to be any more ungracious than she already had.



        Amy pulled her finger away from Claire’s mouth. Her movement was slow, despite the embarrassment that she felt with the awkward, personal contact. She returned her attention to the shopping bags.



        “I got you this shirt.” Amy held up an oatmeal-colored garment.



        Claire was pleased with the choice. It was plain and functional, yet feminine in its cut. She knew that she would never have bought something like that for herself, and began to realize that Amy had a skilled eye for fashion.



        “That’s nice. You have good taste.”



        Amy blushed a little, reaching into another bag.



        “I thought that this would look cute on you too.” Amy held another plain, yet feminine shirt up for Claire’s inspection. This one was light blue. “It will compliment your skin tone.”



        Claire smiled in response to the thoughtfulness. She never expected anyone to consider her physical attributes so closely. It felt as though she were being pampered. The idea was new and pleasant to her. It was strong enough to help her forget the mild withdrawal symptoms that her body was enduring from her morphine indulgence of the previous night.



        Outside the half-open door of the room, a flurry of activity was starting to build. They had both heard the bedlam as it intensified.



        Amy gasped. She looked past the door, seeing gurneys roll by, the people on them bloodied in different spots, some motionless, some squirming and moaning. She looked back to Claire.



        “I wonder what’s going on.” She said, concern evident in her voice and expression.



        “I can’t see.” Claire said, “Why don’t you go have a look.”



        “Amy?”



        “I’m sorry, I’ve never seen so much blood, like when you were shot.” She looked a little nauseous. “Aki.”



        “Aki?” Claire asked.



        “It’s my real name, the name that my family calls me.” She looked back to Claire.



        “Autumn.”



        “You speak Japanese?”



        “I know some words.” Claire admitted.



        “Call me Aki.” She tightened her hold on Claire’s fingers.



        “Aki.” Claire smiled, “See if you can find out what’s going on.”



        Aki smiled back, releasing her hold on Claire’s hand. She walked out into the crowded hallway, staying close to the wall, out of everyone’s way. She walked up to someone wearing a white coat.



        “What happened, who are all of these people?” Aki sounded worried.



        “Suicide bomber on the PATH train.” The breathless orderly was too busy to explain further.



        “Again?” Aki’s face drooped.



        After a few minutes, Claire saw the girl come back to her, solemnly taking a seat next to her.



        “Did you find out?” Claire’s eyes were half shut.



        “A suicide bomber on the PATH.” She resumed her hold on Claire’s hand, staring at the floor.



        Claire closed her eyes. A part of her knew that to accept the event as routine was wrong, but as long as she could remember, there were the attacks, the foiled plots, the engineered diseases, the chemical agents. The civilian population were the target; they were the ones to suffer in the one-sided war of terror. Knowing that they may one day be sacrificing themselves, people had evolved to live more in the moment. Her generation had grown up knowing that they could die or be disfigured the next day. Through her thin despair and detachment, she wondered about the America in which her parents had grown up.



        Whenever she had asked them, they had spoken fondly of the days when the country’s largest problem was a philandering president, questionable elections, celebrity murders, or the cancellation of a long-running sitcom. Those were all big events before the air attacks on the Trade Center and Pentagon, the dirty bomb in Houston, the viral attack in Los Angeles, the New York subway nerve gas attack, and the endless string of suicide bombings in shopping centers, hotels, crowded busses and trains. She felt glad that she never knew the peace, the complacency that her parents had. She heard their sadness, their sorrow for its loss when they had explained peacetime to her as a little girl.



        “How many?”



        “I don’t know. A lot?” Aki motioned to the ever-growing commotion outside the door.



        “Bastards.” Claire drew a deep breath, fighting nausea.



        Aki walked to the door and leaned on the jamb, watching the flurry of activity, suffering, and sorrow filling the rest of the hospital. Stepping back into the room, she closed the door, walking back to the bedside.



        “Never mind all that. I don’t want to think about it.” Aki shook her head as she seated herself on the edge of the bed, part of her leaning into Claire. “How are you?”



        “It hurts.” Claire said, closing her eyes, feeling the warmth of the other person spreading through the blankets. “I’m cold, like, all over.”



        Aki rose, searching the room for something to cover Claire. She rummaged through drawers, finding a plastic bag full of Claire’s belongings, some blue polyethylene pans, and finally a thin, synthetic blanket. She unfolded it onto the length of the wounded girl’s body; careful not to snag or disturb any of the tubes and wires that were attached to Claire.



        “You know, your stuff is in here.” Aki held up the plastic bag, through which Claire could see the blackness of her flight jacket and boots as well as the silver plastic of her personal communicator.



        “Could you get my M-lync out of there?”



        Aki dug through the translucent bag, pulled out the communicator, flipped it open, and handed it to Claire.



        “Thanks.” Claire’s thumbs set to work, typing her password, checking her text mail, as Aki settled next to her on the bed again.



        Claire smiled as she read the only text message that she had waiting for her.



        “What is it?”



        “It’s Charlie Rodriguez,” Claire explained, “He said that he wants me to get better fast so that he won’t have to learn to code embedded hydraulic controllers.” Claire looked away from the small screen to Aki, “He hates programming.”



        Aki looked a little confused.



        “It’s Rodriguez’ way of telling me that he needs me back. It… I don’t know… It makes me feel good,” Claire saw the understanding settle into the features of Aki’s face. “You know, wanted.”



        Aki remembered her own callous behavior. Regret and shame were hers to deal with. She needed to make amends.



        “You’ve always been wanted. Everybody at the garage likes you.” Aki placed her hand on Claire’s.



        Claire pulled away. She narrowed her eyes, directing a spiteful look toward the small Asian. She could not forget the conversation that she had overheard.



        “Fuck you.” Claire said, her voice low, simmering with anger.



        Aki looked confused, hurt, and offended. She stood, turning away from Claire.



        “Go away.” Claire said.



        Aki tensed. Her voice was quiet and restrained.



        “I am trying to be nice, you know.” Aki’s hands knotted into fists at her sides. “I’m trying to thank you. I’m trying to be your friend.”



        “I don’t want a friend.”



        Aki’s knees bent a little, her shoulders sank.



        Claire realized that she needed to reign in her emotions; she was hurting the vapid little creature’s feelings.



        Aki turned, trying her best to look strong and unhurt.



        “You are the most miserable, unpleasant, bitch that I’ve ever met.” Aki covered her mouth after spouting the epithet.



        She regretted her words. She looked at the sad, lonely person, hooked up to machines, lucky to be alive, lucky to have both of her legs, now being insulted by the one whom she had gone out of her way to save. Aki’s expression softened, she moved to the side of the bed, her head down. She seated herself gently next to Claire, her thigh leaning into the wounded girl.



        “I’m sorry.” Aki’s eyes fixed on Claire’s. “I’m ashamed to admit I’ve said meaner things than that about you. You should hate me.”



        The frank admission surprised Claire.



        “I’m smarter now. I’ve grown up. I’m going to be your friend.”



        “Stay away from me.” Claire’s voice was low and menacing. “I don’t want your pity.”



        Aki reached out, leaning over to stroke Claire’s head, her expression soft and kind.



        “What are you going to do about it?” Aki’s voice was soft, caring as she continued to caress the girl’s hair. “How will you make me stay away?”



        Claire was caught off-guard by the question and the tenderness that she continued to receive after her tirade. She was starting to realize that Aki did not pity her. She had to be genuine; she wanted to be her friend. She had not taken any of the numerous opportunities to leave. She had stood up to the attitude, the language, and the insults.



        “You’re lucky you’re so cute.” Aki said, a broad smile crossing her face as she leaned closer into Claire’s side.



        As Claire closed her eyes, the corners of her mouth drew into an involuntary smile. Aki’s simple adjective embarrassed her. The sound of the word made the stroking of her hair feel special, different, and almost affectionate. It was a feeling to which Claire was unaccustomed. The sensation was new. She realized that she may now have somebody to turn to in this, the neediest time of her life; someone who cares about her.







Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 3
PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2003 2:28 am 
Just started reading your story :clap Great stuff you've got going here. Your descriptions are sharp and accurate, captures the scenario perfectly. Characterisation is wonderfully done. There's great depth in this story too. All this, and you say the story is only getting started. I'm definitely intrigued to see how this whole story works out. Keep up the good work!

~ Cassie

---

My fountain of strength that never runs dry

You are the shooting star across the midnight sky






Top
  
 
 Post subject: Latency -- Chapter 4
PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2003 6:33 pm 
*** Author's note ***

I'm not too happy with this chapter yet, but I figured that I'd post it anyway, to keep everyone interested in the story.



--Enjoy it and all of its flaws.







CHAPTER 4



        Sarah Berman was having a bad day. She found herself thousands of miles from home, away from her husband, on a business trip to New York City. The distance of her current location was not the deciding factor in her dismal assessment of her day. It was the radiating pain in her left arm, the blood that stained her fine wool suit, creeping beneath the hasty bandage that someone had wrapped around her injury, and the death and dismemberment that she had been pulled from; a chaotic scene that had unfurled beneath the streets of Jersey City that morning.



        She had almost missed the PATH train. She had run from the lobby of the Hotel in which she stayed to catch the last one into the city before eleven o’clock. She now wished that she had not run quite so fast. Everything would have happened just before she had gotten to the station. Still, she counted herself among the lucky. Her life had been spared.



        She leaned against the wall of a crowded hallway at Liberty Medical Center, listening to the moans of her fellow injured, the shrieking of small children, and the buzz of diligent activity from the hospital’s frenzied staff. She wished that she had stayed home, in Seattle. Her husband had always held a specious, yet correct-to-date belief that nothing like this would ever happen there.



        She stood, waiting for someone to examine her injury, accepting that others needed more immediate attention. She had called her husband and assured him that she was okay. News broadcasts of the attack were just starting to spread across the country, and Josh, Sarah’s husband, was thankful to have heard from her before learning of the sad event from the television.



        A door opened next to where she had propped herself. A small Asian girl emerged from it, bumping into Sarah’s wounded arm as she passed.



        “I’m so sorry.” The young Japanese turned as she issued her apology. She stepped back, confusion overtaking her expression.



        “It’s okay. I shouldn’t be standing here anyway.” Sarah smiled to the girl.



        Aki was starting to rationalize what she saw standing before her.



        “You’re Claire’s sister.”



        “I’m sorry, who?” Sarah tilted her head.



        “Claire Galloway?” Aki half-asked, half-declared.



        “I’m not sure what you mean.” Sarah shifted her weight from one foot to the other. The awkward situation was becoming less comfortable by the second.



        Aki was completely baffled by the fact that she was speaking to a woman whom she thought looked exactly like Claire, only with fancy clothes, long hair, makeup, and jewelry.



        “I’m sorry.” Aki was unsure of what to say. “You are, like… You look exactly like my friend, Claire Galloway.”



        “I’m afraid that I’m not who you take me for.”



        “I know you’re not. She’s in that room.” Aki pointed to the door from which she had emerged.



        “I’ll show you.” Aki headed for the door, a fast waving of her hand conveyed her excitement.



        Sarah’s curiosity over the strange girl’s surreal supposition and confusing behavior was too strong to ignore. She followed the Asian through the doorway.



#



        Claire looked up, seeing Aki push the door open, failing to notice that she had company.



        “I guess that they were out of…” Claire trailed off as she beheld the face of the person who had followed Aki into the room.



        The two looked at each other, silent, confused, disbelieving, unsure of the proper way to react.



        Claire strained to sit up, Aki rushed to her side to help her. At the foot of her bed, she saw herself dressed in a costume. It was a disguise of long hair, fine clothes, and a painted face. She sat, stunned, her jaw slackened.



        Sarah was shocked as she studied the scene in front of her. It looked like her in the hospital bed, her hair shorter, a scar on her forehead, thinner, maybe a little younger. She had to say something.



        “I’m Sarah Berman.” Her voice was distant and solemn.



        “Claire Galloway.” Claire looked to Sarah as though she were a ghost.



        Aki walked over to Sarah.



        “Aki Nashumara. Pleased to meet you.” She offered her hand, which Sarah absently took as she continued to stare at Claire.



        “Sit down. You’re hurt.” Aki ushered Sarah to the chair beside the bed. She then walked around and perched herself on the edge of the bed, next to Claire.



        “Where are you from?” Claire broke the silence.



        “Seattle. Well, actually my family moved there from San Diego,” Sarah shifted in the small, uncomfortable chair, “before the La MECHa coup in 2019.”



        “I’ve lived here in JC my whole life.” Claire said. She was trying to think of a plausible explanation for their similarity.



        “You two are twins, right?” Aki asked her blunt question from Claire’s side, resting her hand on the girl’s shoulder.



        Claire and Sarah looked to each other again. Several moments passed in silence.



        “We must be, right?” Sarah lowered her head. A rapid stream of uncomfortable thoughts was adding to the trauma that she had already been enduring since that morning. She wanted to dismiss the possibility that she was facing a twin sister. The very notion challenged everything that she held to be true in her life.



        “But how?” Claire pondered aloud as she shifted in her bed, leaning slightly into the warmth of Aki’s thigh. She had always questioned the truth of her origin, noticing long ago that she did not resemble either of her parents in voice or appearance.



        Sarah started to snicker, uneasiness restraining her expression.



        “I mean, my parents…” She looked to Claire and Aki. “They used to make a big deal about me watching some old video of my birth. It was gross and embarrassing.” She chuckled. “It was just me, though.” Sarah lowered her head into her right hand. “There couldn’t have been anyone else. It’s impossible.”



        “What’s your birthday?” Claire asked.



        “April 3, 2003.” Sarah answered.



        “June 16, 2004.” Claire offered.



        Aki looked to both of them, confused frustration contorted her face. She was not used to things such as this. She had grown up in a world of fast, convenient explanations, easily solved puzzles, stories that would conclude themselves in ninety minutes.



        “One of us must not know our true birthday.” Claire looked to Aki, trying to see if her explanation relieved the girl’s apparent distress. “Or, maybe neither of us knows the right date.”



        “Look, this is… weird. I have to…” Sarah stood, pacing around the room. “My arm is messed up. I have to get treated.” She headed for the door.



        “Wait.” Claire raised her voice.



        Sarah shook her head. Before she left, she turned, facing her double and the small Japanese.



        “I’m…” She faltered, “I need to think.”



        Claire and Aki watched Sarah leave. After the woman had pulled the door closed behind her, Aki leaned forward, folding herself on top of Claire, resting on her savior’s chest. Her hands cupped the taller girl’s shoulders. Her cheek rested on Claire’s collarbone.



        Claire closed her eyes, allowing herself to enjoy the fact that Aki automatically gave her what she needed the most at this strange intersection in her life. She lifted her left arm and rested it on the smaller girl’s back, holding Aki against her with a gentle pressure.



        She reached to her right, seizing the actuator for the morphine. She held the button closed for thirty seconds, knowing that her modification of the apparatus would then administer a triple-dose. She sank into the intoxication enjoying Aki’s convenient closeness, and pondering what she would do when she needed more of the narcotic.



#



        Sarah had sat for hours in a remote part of the hospital. She struggled with the bizarre string of events that plagued her day. She had the shrapnel removed from her arm, she had been sewn up and bandaged; her body would mend. Her emotional state became less settled with each passing moment. She could have walked out of the hospital at any time, but was unable to bring herself to do so. An inexplicable sense of responsibility continued to nag at her.



        She was fearful and fascinated by the existence of her twin. She grew up as an only child and the idea of a long-lost sibling disturbed her.



        After hours of turmoil and doubt, she mustered enough courage to confront the difficult possibility that faced her and the stranger whom she resembled. She made her way through the hospital, which had calmed from the whirl of activity of the difficult morning. She saw the exhausted staff dragging themselves from room to room, bringing evening meals to their charges.



#



        Aki rose as she heard the knock at the door. Beneath her, Claire looked to be asleep. Aki stretched as she walked to the door, trying to be as quiet as possible. She was surprised to find Sarah on the other side.



        “Hi.” Aki whispered. She turned to look back to Claire’s resting form.



        “Can I come in?” Sarah bit her bottom lip, her hands were tense, her left suspended near her ribs by a sling.



        Aki stepped aside, lowering her head, gesturing for Sarah to enter.



        “Is she asleep?” Sarah looked toward the bed where Claire lay.



        “I think so. It’s ‘cause of the painkillers that she’s on.” Aki moved to the side of the bed, crouching as she dug through one of her totes.



        “Can you tell me a little about her, her family and stuff?” Sarah knelt next to Aki, speaking softly.



        Aki pulled the pair of socks that she had brought for Claire out of the white canvas satchel. She stood and walked to the end of the bed. She pulled back the blankets that covered Claire’s feet she carefully slipped the obnoxious, striped socks onto them.



        “She can’t reach.” Aki explained as she drew the covers over Claire’s lower legs again.



        “What happened to her?” Sarah slid into the small chair that she had been sitting in earlier.



        “She saved me.” Aki looked to the peaceful, sleeping girl.



        “She was shot in the leg when she rescued me.” Aki looked to Sarah, “I was about to be raped, and then she appeared, knocked the dirt-bag over, and pulled me to safety. He shot at us, and she got hit.”



        Sarah’s gaze was sympathetic as she regarded the diminutive Asian before her and envisioned the terror of her ordeal. She looked again to Claire, feeling a measure of pride at the fact that her likeness was so heroic.



        “Is she going to be okay?”



        “Her doctor said that she’s going to be fine.” Aki sat herself on the edge of the bed, facing Sarah from across her sleeping friend. “She just needs some time to recover from the surgery.”



        “I can see you’re helping with that.” Sarah smiled, “You two must be really good friends.”



        “I want us to be. It’s kind of tough.” Aki’s features sank. “She hates me.”



        Sarah’s right hand covered her mouth, concealing her inappropriate amusement at the sad statement.



        “Why on earth would she hate you? You seem like her closest friend.”



        “I wasn’t very nice to her, before. I was stuck-up. I used to call her names.” Aki looked to the floor, her voice filled with shame. “I’m trying to make it up to her. I don’t think that she has any friends, and I’m trying to be one.”



        “Sounds like you already are.”



        “I’m hoping that she’ll feel that way soon.” Aki smiled to Sarah, absently stroking Claire’s blanketed shoulder with her hand.



        “So, you don’t really know her too well?” Sarah asked.



        “I’ve, kind of, known her for two years. She started at the garage about two years ago.”

        “Garage?”



        “The Jersey City Municipal Garage. She’s a mechanic,” Aki looked to her unconscious friend again. “The best one in the whole shop.”



        “Does she have any family?”



        “I checked her file yesterday, at work. She’s only got her mother and father listed.” A corner of Aki’s mouth pulled into an uneasy half-smile, “They haven’t shown up yet. I’m beginning to think they never will.”



        “She’s not close to them?”



        “I don’t think so. She told me that she, kind of, left home about six years ago, and hasn’t talked to them since.”



        “Where did she get that scar?”



        “She told me it was from an accident, when she was younger, but I don’t believe her.”



        “Why not?”



        “She got way too defensive when I asked her about it. Like she’s hiding something.”



        Sarah nodded.



        “What about you?” Aki asked.



        “I live in Seattle, I’m married, no kids, have a crappy job, and now…” Sarah looked away from Aki to gaze at Claire, “Now I have a sister.”



        “Is it a good thing?” Aki asked, “Having a sister?”



        “I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to make sense of all this.”



        “I always wished that I had a sister.” Aki smiled, her eyes focusing on something intangible, more distant than the confines of the small hospital room. “My brother’s nice and everything, but when I was little, I wished that I had a sister.”



        Sarah smirked.



        “So, you’re married. What’s your husband like?”



        “Josh is a really good guy. He loves me, he’s handsome, smart, and he makes a lot of money.” Sarah had to stop thinking about her husband and her home, the images that entered her mind made her want to flee back to Seattle.



        Sarah rose from her chair, propping her tired body against the wall that Aki faced.



        “I’ll bet that you want to go home.” Aki said.



        “I want to, but I need to…” Sarah waived her right hand dismissing her previous statement, “Claire and I need to figure out what happened, who we are to each other.”



        “And why your mother never told you.” Aki added.



        Sarah sighed.



        “I can’t believe that she would keep something like this from me. I can’t understand why.” Sarah shook her head.



        Aki noticed Claire beginning to stir. She reached out caressing the girl’s face with light, gentle fingertips. She delighted when she saw Claire’s cheeks perk into a smile.



        “Tickles.” Claire’s voice came from a dreamy distance, her eyes still closed.



        She opened her eyes, taking her time, letting them adjust from warm, blissful narcotic darkness to the austerity of the physical world. She was surprised to see that her mysterious twin had returned. She turned to Aki, who sat at her side.



        “Why don’t you go home?” Claire’s tone commanded more than asked the younger girl.



        “O-Okay.” Aki stood, looking deflated as she reached down to gather her belongings. She turned, smiling weakly to Claire and Sarah before slinking away in silence, closing the room’s door as she left.



        Sarah stood next to the bed, glaring at Claire.



        “She’s so annoying.” Claire said after a few moments of silence between Sarah and herself.



        “She wants to be your friend, you know.” Sarah scolded. “I’m beginning to wonder why.”



        “You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”



        “I’m sorry. That’s your business.” Sarah raised her right hand and fanned the fingers of her left, indicating her concession.



        Claire was quiet for a moment, her eyes closed.



        “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m the annoying one.” She looked to Sarah, “I guess that she’s been talking to you?”



        “I asked her a few questions while you were asleep.” Sarah resumed her place in the chair next to the bed. “She’s trying so hard to be your friend, why don’t you let her? She told me that she was nasty to you before, but you’re a big enough person to forgive her, right?”



        “I don’t know if I am.” Claire paused, “I don’t know why we’re talking about her anyway, given our,” Claire cleared her throat, “situation.”



        “Because she’s a lot easier to talk about.” Sarah smiled.



        “You’re right. We’ve got some difficult shit to address.” Claire became self-conscious after letting the curse escape her lips. She did not want Sarah to judge her further based on her use of the vulgar word. “I didn’t think that you’d come back.”



        “I almost didn’t.” Sarah’s tone was serious.



        “Do you have any ideas?” Claire asked, “About us?”



        “Let’s start with what we know.” Sarah sat up a little. “I have seen video of my birth.” Sarah shuddered at the memory, “Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I’m sure that I was the only one.”



        Claire nodded.



        “My parents have never told me that I was adopted, and everyone that I know says that they see a resemblance between each of my parents and me.” Sarah pointed to Claire. “You look like me…” she reconsidered, “Or I look like you. We sound alike.”



        “But we both have different birthdays, or so we think.” Claire interjected.



        “How about your parents? Do you look or sound like them?”



        “I never thought so, but they always insist on telling me the story of how I was almost born in the back seat of my father’s old Noyoba sedan, on the way to Bayonne Medical Center.” Claire smiled. “If I was adopted, then it’s a very clever ruse. Way too clever for either of my parent’s imaginations.”



        “You don’t think that you’re adopted?”



        “I asked my mother once, and she did get really defensive,” Claire said, “but she’s like that about everything.”



        “So, what does all of this mean then?” Sarah flipped her right palm to face the ceiling.



        Claire pondered the facts of their situation, the weight of her eyelids forcing them closed as she did. She thought in silence for several moments.



        “I think that I may have the answer.” Claire said.



        “What is it?”



        “It’s kind of far-fetched.”



        “I don’t care. What is it?”



        “Do you suppose that our parents might have had some trouble conceiving?”



        “I honestly never thought about it.”



        “What if they went to a fertility clinic, and there was a mix-up with the embryos?”



        “I don’t understand.”



        “Since before the turn of the millennium, when people had trouble conceiving, they would have their sperm and egg fertilized in a lab, and then frozen… for implantation.”



        “What does it matter if someone is conceived that way or the normal way.” Sarah shrugged.



        “Not a lot, really. The important thing is that several eggs are fertilized and stored from each candidate.”



        Sarah’s eyes brightened, as she comprehended Claire’s line of thought. “So, you think that your mother may have gotten one of my parent’s embryos?”



        “Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?”



        “So, you think that we could be related because of some accident? Some clerical error?”



        “It’s just a theory. We don’t even know if either of our parents went to an IVF or not.”



        “Aki told me that you aren’t on speaking terms with your parents.” Sarah moved to sit on the edge of the bed.



        “I can try to call them. But even if they answer, I doubt that they’ll tell me anything.” Claire reached for Sarah’s hand.



        “I’ll ask mine.” Sarah gripped the hand that Claire offered. “Tonight, when they’re home from work. I don’t want to start asking them about personal stuff if they’re not in a good place to discuss it.”



        “Will you let me know?” Claire squeezed Sarah’s hand, accentuating her question.



        “Of course.” Sarah smiled. “I put your M-lync address in mine already.”



        “Good.” Claire sighed, closing her eyes.



        “Your idea, do you really think that could’ve happened?” Sarah asked.



        “There’s probably a less far fetched answer.” Claire paused. “I just can’t think of one right now.”



        “What happened to your head?” Sarah asked softly, her thumb stroking Claire’s.



        “I had an accident when I was younger.” Claire failed to conceal her agitation from Sarah’s notice.



        “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay.” Sarah gave a warm smile. “I just want to know more about my sister.”



        “Sister.” Claire said as she pondered the implications of the new title. She was not warming to the idea as quickly as her double apparently had.



        “It’s kind of exciting.” Sarah said, “And weird.”



        “I’d say it’s more disturbing than weird.” Claire said.



        “What would make you say such a thing?” Sarah stood, pulling her hand from Claire’s.



        “I didn’t mean it like that.” Claire tried to recover. “I’m sorry. I just meant that it’s upsetting.” She reached to Sarah. “Upsetting that we’re just getting to know each other now.”



        Sarah leaned forward, clasping Claire’s hand in hers. “I’m sorry. I’m just so… I’ve had such a strange day, and I’m a little edgy.”



        Claire looked silently at Sarah for several moments.



        “What if we’re just separated twins?” Claire asked, “We would have played together.” Claire closed her eyes as she continued. “We would have told each other secrets. We would have shared our clothes.”



        “We would’ve had each other. We would’ve had our Bat Mitzvah together.”



        “Hugh?” Claire’s forehead wrinkled.



        “You know, your Bat Mitzvah.”



        “You think I’m Jewish?” Claire opened her eyes wide.



        “If we’re twins…” Sarah started.



        “I guess you’re right.” Claire admitted. “What do I get?”



        “What?”



        “For being Jewish. Don’t I get something?” Claire smirked.



        “Hated.” Sarah replied with a mix of humor and solemnity.



        “I’ve already got that.” Claire smiled to Sarah.



#



        Aki watched the buildings and people stream by, outside the window of the train. She clutched her M-lync, trying to stop herself from calling Claire. The way that Claire asked her to leave had hurt. She wanted to be angry, but felt only sadness and rejection. She knew that she could not compete with Claire’s newly discovered sister.



        She called Jeanine, hoping that they could go out somewhere and alleviate her loneliness and rejection.



        “Feeling better?” Jeanine scowled at Aki from the small screen of the M-lync as she answered.



        “Yeah. I’m sorry that I had to ditch you guys on Monday.” Aki bit her bottom lip. “I got into some trouble trying to get the stuff.”



        “Whatever. Are you gonna go out with us tonight?”



        “Where?”



        “Androids, on 23rd Street. They’re having live porn and ten dollar drinks tonight.”



        “I don’t know, I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. I called out today.”



        “Hey, whatever Amy.” Jeanine snapped. “I met a guy last night who can get me all the ‘X’ I want anyway.”



#



        Aki saddened as the screen of her communicator suddenly turned blue with white text indicating the duration of the terminated call. She sighed; her belief in the tenuous nature of their friendship had confirmed itself. She sniffled, running her thumb over the smooth plastic of her communicator as she wallowed in rejection on her short train ride home.



#



        Late in the evening, Claire was alone, lying in her bed. Sarah had left for her hotel an hour ago. She had said that she needed to get up early the next morning to catch a flight back to Seattle. She had promised Claire that she would keep in touch and return to visit her soon.



        Claire was anxious to settle the mystery of her twin’s existence, and the truth of her own origin. She exhaled, reaching to her bedside table to get her M-lync. She made the call that she had been dreading for years.



        “Mom?”



        There was silence. Claire looked at the small image of her mother’s hardened, scowling features.



        “How are you?” Claire asked, trying to break painful pause that illustrated her distance from the woman.



        “What do you care?” Her mother’s tone simmered with pain and forced detachment.



        “I… we haven’t… It’s been a few years, I know…”



        “Humph. What do you need?” The sound of her mother’s disdain caused Claire’s blood to curdle. “Money to buy drugs?”



        “No. I… I need to ask you something.” Claire was starting to tear. Her mother’s assumption hurt because of the truth upon which it was once founded. “About you and me.”

        There was silence at the other end.



        “I’m in the hospital.”



        “We know. They called us a few nights ago.” The older woman’s brow furrowed. “Did you O.D. or something?” She asked in as callous a tone as she could manage.



        “I was shot.” Claire snapped. “While trying to stop a crime.”



        “So that was you in the news.” Maggie Galloway’s expression lightened. “They didn’t mention any names.”



        Claire interjected, “Mom, I need to know...Did you and Dad have trouble,” she cleared her throat, “conceiving me?”



        Her mother sighed. “What do you care? Why do you want to know the trouble that we went through?”



        “Did you go to an IVF clinic?”



        “Why?” Her mother’s expression changed to one of curiosity.



        “I need to know, Mom.” Claire’s tone conveyed a neediness that softened her mother’s face further.



        “Yes. We haven’t even finished paying for it either.”

        Claire grew tense as her wild theory was reaching a more plausible state. Against her better judgment, she pushed the discussion further.



        “Which clinic did you go to?”



        “Hudson Fertility Group. Why?”



        “I just wanted to know, Mom.” Claire forced a smile. “You and Dad can come visit me, if you want. I’ll be in D-sixteen until Sunday.”



        “Maybe. We’re both very busy.”



        “Mom?” Claire’s voice shook.



        “Yes?”



        “Thank you.” Claire ended the call, choking back the pain of disappointment and distance that had grown to define the relationship between her and her parents. She looked around her empty room and started to crave the awkward comfort that her little Asian friend was always eager to provide. Her stomach sank when she remembered her miserable treatment of Aki earlier in the evening.



#



        Aki attacked the long list of tasks that she had neglected in her absence from work. She was the only one in the office that was qualified and willing to handle the information systems. Databases needed management, records needed sorting, disparities needed reconciliation, and she needed to distract herself from her personal problems.



        She was staring at a display, examining a datum filter code that she had written, struggling to find the fault in the script that had caused corruption in the payroll records of the previous week. She sipped her tea from a paper cup as her M-lync’s vibration startled her. She looked to the small screen, surprised to see that it was Claire calling. She flipped the cover of the unit open, answering the call.



        “Hi.” Claire’s voice was soft and timid.



        “Hey.” Aki answered.



        Several moments of silence elapsed.



        “Dr. Chapodahay said that I’m being discharged Sunday afternoon.”



        “That’s nice.” Aki sighed.



        “Are you coming by today?” Claire asked, her tone became more tenuous.



        “Should I?”



        Claire remained quiet, gathering her courage.



        “I’m sorry.” Claire said, “About last night. I was rude.”



        “It’s okay.”



        “No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.”



        “I understand. You have this new... sister and everything.” Aki failed to conceal the tinge of jealousy in her statement.



        Claire inhaled deeply. “I need to...” In frustration, she released the breath that she held. “Would you come visit me, just for a little while?”



        “Maybe this evening, but I may have plans already.” Aki half-smiled.



        “It’s kind of... I’m losing it.” Claire’s voice was confused and broken.



        “Is there something you need?” Aki interrupted as she rested her chin in her left palm looking into the small screen.



        “N-No.” Claire stuttered. She flashed a weak smile before ending the call.



#



        Aki felt uncomfortable in her new clothes. She had bought them at the Hudson Mall, during her lunch break. Her body jiggled and rocked as the train made its way through the chilly amber dusk to Jersey Avenue. She left the train, trudging from the platform to the hospital. She noticed with enjoyment that her expensive new jacket was keeping her very warm, despite the cold, damp breeze that persisted from the nearby harbor.



        The door to Claire’s room was ajar, and she pushed her way inside. Her head hung as she pulled the door closed behind her. She seated herself in the chair next to the bed where Claire lay asleep.



        Aki sat in silence for an hour, undecided as to whether or not to wake Claire. She started to enjoy self-pity as her negative emotions stewed in the stillness of the room.



        The vibration of her M-lync, which rested atop the blankets that covered her, awakened Claire. She noticed Aki as she opened her eyes and reached absently for her communicator.



        “Hi.” Claire smiled to Aki.



        “I think you have a message.”



        Claire blinked as she studied the strange sight seated next to her. Aki was wearing a black flight jacket, jeans, and black combat-style boots. She took several moments to evaluate what she saw.



        “You look... different.” Claire managed to say with enough tact as not to insult the smaller girl.



        Aki’s expression was blank. “It was a stupid idea that I had.”



        “What do you mean?”



        “Nothing. Ne’er mind.” Aki shook her head.



        “No, really, you’ve got me curious.” Claire reached toward Aki. “I mean you look, sort of... cute, like that.”



        Aki could not contain the smile that lifted the muscles in her cheeks. “I got jealous.” She moved from the chair to the edge of the bed, taking Claire’s hand in her as she seated herself.



        “Jealous?” Claire asked.



        Aki was silent, breathing slowly as she looked to their clasped hands. Her head tilted and swayed.



        “I want to be your twin.” Aki blushed. “It’s stupid, I know.”



        Claire squeezed Aki’s hand. “Why?”



        “I feel a c’nection...” Aki sniffled, “to you.”



        Claire’s expression was blank. She grew uneasy with the exchange and the direction that she thought it was taking.



        “I can be a better twin than her.” Aki pleaded, “Gimme a chance.”



        There was silence.



        “Are you on something?” Claire’s forehead wrinkled.



        “No... Yes.” Aki’s eyes watered as she continued to stare at their hands. “I took some Penerulozine, at work.” She started to sob.



        Claire sat up, drawing her arms around the smaller girl.



        “Just calm down.” Claire stroked Aki’s back through the coarse nylon jacket. “This is all my fault.”



        “No, it’s not.” Aki replied, her voice a jagged whisper. “I’m just being stupid and selfish.”



        “Shhh.” Claire sounded. “You’re a good person, Aki Nashumara.” Claire thought in silence after her last statement. She found herself holding another human being, telling her that she is good, comforting her. Claire’s mind was unable to connect the series of events and emotions that had led her to such a strange place.



        Aki pulled herself away from Claire. The taller girl looked to her in confusion.



        “I should get home, before I make an even bigger ass of myself.” Aki wiped her eyes as she spoke.



        “Stay.” Claire leaned toward Aki. “I’m worried about you.”



        “Don’t. I’ll be okay.”



        “I’m lonely.” Claire’s eyes turned down as she spoke.



        “Me too.” Aki sat herself on the edge of the bed. She and Claire held each other’s gaze for several minutes.



        “So, you think this looks good on me?” Aki held her arms out, displaying her new coat.



        “It’s a different look for you.” Claire’s eyes traced Aki’s form, stopping at the sight of her black boots, too small to ever look tough. Claire smiled, “It’s kind of charming, really. You look almost dangerous.”



        “Do you like dangerous?” Aki tucked some errant locks of her straight black hair behind her ears. “B’cause you’re dangerous.”



        “I am?” Claire narrowed her eyes.



        “Very.” Aki smiled. “I like dangerous.” She added in a husky whisper.

        Claire chuckled, “Yeah, I’m a real bad-ass. Stuck in a hospital bed for a week. Eating shitty food, being bathed with damp cloths by people who make less in one month than I do per week.” Claire smiled at her own sarcasm, “I’m really living on the edge.”



        Aki pressed a finger hard against Claire’s chest. “You prowl ‘round at night, breakin’ skulls with wrenches ‘nstead of running away. You’re brave, you’re strong, you’re smart, you’re sneaky, and you’re dangerous.”



        Claire concealed her discomfort from Aki’s notice. She disliked the tone of their conversation and where it was leading. She rationalized that it was a reaction to her rude dismissal from the previous night.



        “Look, Aki, I’m sorry that I blew you off before.”



        “Don’t be.” Aki’s expression brightened. “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. You’re entitled to be a little grouchy.”



        “Thanks for understanding.” Claire leaned back into her bed. “Sarah and I may have come up with an explanation, and my mother gave me some info last night.”



        “You talked to your mother?” Aki asked.



        “After Sarah left.” Claire replied, gripping Aki’s hand. “She went back to Seattle...”



        She told Aki about everything that they had discovered, going into more or less detail, as she felt necessary. When her account had concluded, Aki spoke.



        “You get out of here Sunday, right?”



        “Why?”



        “We can go to th’ Hudson Clinic. We could, you know, investigate.” Aki offered.



        “Do you have a car?” Claire asked, “I’m going to be in a leg brace and crutches for at least two weeks.”



        “It was stolen, a year ago, but I could get my brother to drive us.” Aki’s tone conveyed enthusiasm.



        “Okay.” Claire nodded.



        Aki keeled over, her upper body collapsed onto Claire’s.



        “Aki?” Claire asked, alarmed, “Are you okay?” She shook the smaller girl who was lying across her.



        “Jus’ tired.” Blankets muffled Aki’s words as she spoke against them.



        “I want you to stay here tonight.” Claire strained as she lifted Aki, straightening her onto the space that she had reserved for her on the mattress. “Okay?”



        “Mm hmm.” Aki acknowledged.



        Claire shook the girl, “Don’t fall asleep yet. You need to do something for me.”



        “Wha’?”



        “I need you to take off your boots and your jacket.” Claire’s tone was patient and tender. “Then you can sleep off the ‘pennies.’”



        Aki struggled to sit up. After managing to slide out of her jacket, she bent down to untie the laces of her new boots. She wiggled her feet out of them, and stretched herself along Claire’s side. Her eye’s shut and her breathing slowed.

       

        Claire had turned on her side, facing Aki. She reached to the girl, touching her sleeping face, stroking her hair, and enjoying the distraction that her companionship provided from the loneliness and psychosis that she had been grappling with since the night before.



       

               

       



Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 4
PostPosted: Sat Oct 25, 2003 9:21 am 
Interested I certainly am. I for one, am certainly very interested to know where this story leads to :) Keep up the good work.

~ Cassie

---

My fountain of strength that never runs dry

You are the shooting star across the midnight sky






Top
  
 
 Post subject: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Fri Oct 31, 2003 7:26 pm 
CHAPTER 5

       

        Saturday did not arrive soon enough for Aki. She had missed work again on Friday, wasting the day in torment and sickness as she suffered the consequences of her overindulgence from the previous night. Even with her miserable physical symptoms, her emotions stabilized with the hazy, yet flattering knowledge that Claire needed and cared about her.



        As she stared at the television, she remembered waking in the hospital. She remembered being close to a sleeping Claire, not wanting to break the contact or leave her side. She remembered apologizing and staggering out of the room. She reached for acceptance of the fact that even though the drug had amplified her embarrassing emotions, Claire had not rejected her. She did not understand why the older girl chose to tolerate the episode, but enjoyed the products of the strange circumstance.



        “You look like shit.” Mike dropped onto the sofa next to her.



        Aki nodded to her brother.



        “Do you have the flu or something?” He tugged at the blanket in which his sister had wrapped herself.



        “Still crashing.” Aki looked to Mike. “Pennies.” She added.



        Mike shook his head. “You should take it easy, sis.” He turned to stare at the television. “Those things can make you a vegetable.”



        Aki nodded. “Never again.” She stared at the screen that held her brother’s gaze. “They made me fall asleep at the hospital in Thursday night. I was lucky that I woke up before any of the nurses found me crashing there.”



        “Big deal. You can sleep there anytime you want.” Mike replied. “Mom and Dad own almost fifteen percent of that place.”



        “I collapsed onto one of their patients.”



        “Oh. That could piss them off.”



        Aki gave her brother a thin smile. “Could you take me there tomorrow? If you’re not busy?”



        “Sure. My schedule is wide-open.” Mike returned his attention to the television.



        “Not a lot of customers?”



        “I’ve scored some pretty big accounts.” Mike cleared his throat. “At least they’re big for an entrepreneur like me. My target clientele are starting to spend again. They’re outsourcing a lot of their info-sec stuff.”



        “Dad gave me the talk about going back to school and get my Master’s. He wants us to work together.” Aki sighed.



        “If things pick up some more, I’d hire you in a second.” Mike smiled.



        “Hire me? We should be partners!” Aki bumped her shoulder against her brother, scowling.



        “I’m just kidding.” Mike smiled.



        “Oh. Sorry.”



        “About giving you a job, that is.” Mike’s face beamed.



        They laughed together, gradually succumbing to the seductive trance of the television.



                                        #



        Claire continued to re-read the text message that Sarah had left for her on Thursday night. She grappled with the implications of her double’s findings and weighed them against her own discoveries. She drew the conclusion that her wild theory of an embryo implantation mistake was becoming more plausible. Sarah’s parents had confirmed that they had used IVF services to start their family.



        She confronted the idea that if she was correct, then Sarah was not her sister or her twin in the truest sense. Using her M-lync to access academic resources on BigNet, she researched; an exhaustive effort to learn about all of the possible genetic scenarios that would explain their similarity. The odds seemed prohibitive of the idea, but the scientific community considered it possible for two separate blastocysts to share the same gene sequences.



        Her hours of reading and searching had led her to another, far more disturbing conclusion. She could not bring herself to suggest it to Sarah until she had more evidence to support her new belief. Consequences of the frightening possibility unnerved and scared her.



She sat up in her bed, crying after she read more about the outlandish topic. She dropped her communicator onto the floor and folded herself over, sobbing, her right leg straining against the confines of the plastic case that held it straight.



                                        #



        Sarah’s restlessness was relieved on Sunday morning when she received Claire’s reply to her text message. She was excited to learn that Claire was soon coming to Washington to visit with her and her parents. She paced around the living room of her home, waiting for Josh to get out of the shower so that she could share the news with him.



        “Claire is coming to visit us soon.” Sarah declared as she walked into the bedroom where her husband was dressing.



        “That’s great. I can’t wait to meet her. Your parents seemed pretty eager too.” Josh smiled as he buttoned his shirt, watching his fingers work the fasteners in the mirror in front of which he stood. “When will her plane arrive?”



        Sarah’s shoulders sank a little. “Um, she didn’t say when. Just soon.”



        “Call her and ask.”



        “I’ll try. Her M-lync doesn’t seem take incoming V-V calls.” Sarah stood behind Josh, wrapping her arms around his waist as he combed his damp hair. “I’ll shoot her a text. I know she gets those.”



        Josh smiled. “Ready to go out for some breakfast?”



        “Almost.” Sarah squeezed Josh’s middle, raising herself onto her toes to kiss the back of his neck. “Just give me five minutes.”



                                        #



        Claire had endured another night. She had struggled ever since her morphine had run out, early on Thursday morning. She held herself as she lay on her side, staring at the shaft of sallow light of the late Sunday morning that poured in through the small window of her room. Her body twitched. She hummed and whispered to herself trying to drown out the cacophony of voices and sounds that echoed through her consciousness. They had started to creep back into her mind after she had exhausted her ration of the painkiller.



        Her body froze at the sudden swishing of a nylon aviator’s jacket behind where she lay. She smelled the tangy sweetness of an odd, familiar perfume that reminded her of Key Lime pie and wet tealeaves. She rolled herself over to face her visitor. Aki’s presence had stimulated most of Claire’s senses to the degree that she was able to focus on reality and compose herself.



        “Sorry I didn’t visit you on Friday or yesterday.” Aki seated herself next to Claire, on the edge of the mattress. “I wasn’t feeling too good.”



        “That’s okay.” Claire looked straight ahead of her, at a featureless wall.



        “My brother’s coming by in a little while. He’ll pick us up when you’re released.”



        “That’s okay.” Claire sounded like a recording, her face expressionless.



        Aki craned her head into Claire’s vacant stare, “Are you listening?”



        Claire closed her eyes and lowered her head into her hands. She fought for control. “I’m loosing it. It’s too much.” She admitted in an uneven whisper.



        “What’s wrong?” Aki slung her left arm around Claire’s shoulder. “What’s too much?”



        “Life.”



        Aki offered the most convenient help that she could to her friend. “Do you want something for the pain?”



        “Yes.” Claire raised her head from her hands, looking to Aki, “Please.”



        Aki fished into a pocket of her jacket, producing a small amber plastic bottle. “Take these.”



        Claire accepted the pills, examining the bottle’s cluttered label. “Zalenth? You’ve been eating pennies when you’ve got a prescription for Zalenth?” Claire fired a distrustful look in Aki’s direction.



        “They make me too, I don’t know… obsessive?” Aki shrugged, “I haven’t taken them in months. I bug out too much.”



        “Are you sure you won’t need them?”



        “I don’t think I ever really did. My mother got our doctor to give me them when I was in high school.” Aki looked to Claire. “She thought I needed help focusing on my studies.”



        Claire opened the bottle. She swallowed two of the small, triangular orange pills. Aki reached beside the bed, pulling Claire’s jacket off the floor. She swiped the bottle from Claire’s lap and slipped it into the inside pocket of the black coat.



        “So you don’t loose them.” Aki explained.



        “Thanks.”



        “There’s more where those came from.” Aki said, “My parents think I use them, but I’ve just been selling them.”



        Claire nodded.



                                        #



        Claire was ready to leave. She used her print to authorize all of the necessary release forms. She was wheeled into the lobby, given her crutches, and released.



        “This is going to feel good.” She smiled to Aki before stepping through the automated exit door.



        They walked out into the pale yellow brightness of the cloudless afternoon. The warmth of the fall sun was insistent and there was no breeze to relieve the skin of their faces from its radiance. Claire leaned on the crutch under her right arm, reaching across herself into an inside pocket of her jacket. She was fishing for her lighter and cigarettes.



        “Do you need a hand?” Aki asked. Her eyes squinted in the brightness.



        “No, I’ve got it.” Claire pulled a cigarette from the flat box using her lips. She fumbled with the wheel of her lighter, eventually coaxing it into lighting the Churchill. She pulled the smoke into her mouth, savoring the flavor, knowing that relief of her intense craving would soon follow.



        Aki pinched Claire’s left leg.



        “Ouch!” Claire looked down to the shorter girl, annoyed.



        “You shouldn’t smoke.” Aki scolded. “It’s bad for you.”



        “A lot of things are.” Claire dismissed the criticism.



        “You’re right. I’m sorry.” Aki rubbed the spot on Claire’s thigh that she had just pinched.



        Claire spotted the sad look on the smaller woman’s face. “It’s okay. You’re just concerned, right?” Claire smiled as she exhaled a cloud of sweet gray smoke. The cigarette was delicious to her after almost six smoke-free days.



        As Claire finished her smoke, Mike’s car squealed into the entrance to the hospital’s parking lot. Claire recognized the throaty exhaust sounding from the small motor, and the flashy paint. She also recognized the man behind the wheel.



        The passenger door popped open before Mike had even stopped the car. Pulsing drumbeats emanated from the interior of the flashy vehicle.



        “Do you need a hand?” Mike asked, turning sideways in the driver’s seat, looking above his sunglasses to Claire.



        “I’ve got it.” Aki interjected from Claire’s side.



        Aki helped Claire into the plush, cradling leather of the car’s front passenger seat. She tossed the crutches in the back, and slid in next to them, pulling the door closed.



        “I’m Aki’s brother, Mike.” He smiled to Claire as he lowered the volume of the vehicle’s media system as to permit conversation.



        “Hi.” Claire broke the fleeting eye contact, smiling weakly.



        “Feeling better?” He asked as he jammed the car into a forward gear.



        Claire nodded.



        “Good.” Mike scanned ahead as the car chirped onto the street.



        “Turn it up.” Aki said from the back seat. “I love this song.”



        Claire’s groan of displeasure went unheard as Mike turned the volume up, filling the small car’s interior with a painful thumping pulse. Claire’s head perked when she recognized the song that the obnoxious drumbeat was superimposed over. It was a favorite song of hers from Taschenrechner. She could not contain her enthusiasm.



        “That’s Taschenrechner.” She shouted over the music.



        “What?” Aki asked, peering between the headrests of the front seats.



        “Nah, it’s DJ Flourian and the BKA sound.” Mike corrected.



        “Under the beat. It’s a really old song that I like.” Claire directed a finger pointlessly at the dashboard media unit as she explained.



        “It’s pretty cool.” Mike said he jerked the car to the right, narrowly missing a large pothole.



        “I love it.” Aki said. She smiled as she curled her fingers around the top of Claire’s left shoulder.



        Mike dropped the two off at Claire’s apartment complex. They both declined his offer to accompany them in, so he left, telling his sister to call him if she did not want to risk a nighttime train ride home.



                                        #



        Aki opened the door for Claire, following her into the cluttered apartment. Her eyes widened as she took in the disarray and mess of her friend’s home. Empty liquor bottles, old magazines, books, fast food wrappers, and crumpled clothing prevented her from seeing the imitation wood flooring.



        “You don’t pick up after yourself, do you?” Aki winced as she watched Claire negotiate the precarious path to her bed, her crutches dislodging bits of the jumble.



        “It’s usually not this messy.” Claire blushed; her lie did not ameliorate her embarrassment.



        She lowered herself to the futon and let her crutches fall into the clutter as she reclined. Aki waded through the debris and sat facing Claire on the edge of the bed. She reached out laying her hand on Claire’s shoulder.



        “I should straighten this place up for you. It’s dangerous to have all this stuff on the floor.”



        “No, you’ve done enough already.”



        “Where are your garbage bags?”



        “Please, just forget about it.” Claire pleaded.



        Aki headed to the small kitchen area, opening cupboards and drawers. She found a roll of plastic trash bags, and opened one.



        “You shouldn’t…” Claire protested.



        “Shhh.” Aki hissed, annoyance clear in her eyes as she looked to the taller girl.



        She started picking up empty plastic bottles, placing them in the bag as she went. She tossed clothing into a heap. She gathered and stacked books and magazines, placing them into two columns next to Claire’s bed.        A knock at the door interrupted Aki as she started to place Claire’s dirty clothes into another plastic bag.



        “I’ll get it.” Aki dropped the bag and answered the door. She opened it to find a young woman standing in the hall.



        “Yes?” Aki greeted.



        Sheila looked over the short Asian to see Claire in her bed.



        “Is this your housekeeper, Claire?” Sheila directed her voice over Aki’s head.



        “Who are you?” Aki placed her hands on her hips and extended a leg toward Sheila.



        “No.” Claire shook her head, smiling at Aki’s defensive stance. “Sheila, this is Aki Nashumara.”



        “Nice to meet you, Aki.” Sheila enunciated the greeting like an insult.



        “Call me Amy.” Aki asserted. She turned to Claire, angered by her friend’s amused expression at the tense situation.



        Sheila pushed her way past the shorter woman, walking toward Claire. Aki glared at Sheila as she walked past.



        “So where’ve you been all week? Vacation?” Sheila sat cross-legged on the floor next to Claire’s bed. “What’s with the crutches? You’re okay, right?”



        “I’m going to be fine. I had a little accident.” Claire said, her eyes darting to Aki’s sudden approach.



        “Like a car accident?”



        “No, a gunshot.” Aki interjected as she sat herself on the edge of the futon, directly in between Claire and Sheila. She rested her hand on Claire’s forearm, stroking it lightly.



        “No way. You got shot?” Sheila craned her head to the side, looking to Claire from around Aki’s intrusive location.



        “It’s a long story.” Aki narrowed her eyes as she turned to address Sheila with the dismissive statement.



        “Someone shot me.” Claire said, smiling.



        “There’s more to it than that.” Aki clasped Claire’s hand. “She saved me.” She looked to Claire, squeezing the taller girl’s hand as she added to the account. “I was about to be raped, Claire broke the guy’s skull, and pulled me to safety.”



        “Oh my god.” Sheila stood. “I remember that story in the news. They didn’t mention any names. I guess that the PATH thing, kind of, made me forget. That was you?”



        Claire nodded.



        “You getting tired?” Aki shook Claire’s hand as she asked.



        “Wow. You’re, like, a hero.” Sheila smiled to Claire.



        “She’s had a long day.” Aki turned to Sheila, “She needs rest.”



        “I’ll get going then.” Sheila contained her growing hatred for the small woman, managing to smile. “It was nice meeting you, Amy.” She left, closing the door behind her as she went.



        “Who the hell is she?” Aki asked.



        “My neighbor from across the hall.” Claire replied.



        “She’s annoying.” Aki stated.



        “Sometimes.” Claire closed her eyes. “She means well.”



        “I don’t like her.”



        “Why not?” Claire grinned as she rolled her eyes, anticipating and entertaining answer.



        “She just rubs me the wrong way.”



        “It’s the whole housekeeper thing.”



        Aki nodded. “How long have you been friends with her?”



        “I wouldn’t say that we’re friends. Just neighbors. She’s a good person, overall.”



        “It just seemed to me…” Aki stopped herself, “I’m just grouchy, I guess.”



        Aki resumed gathering Claire’s laundry, pushing it into two plastic bags. She moved on to cleaning the kitchen and then the small bathroom. Taking inventory of Claire’s sundries was easy for her since the girl did not seem to keep much of anything on hand. She sat next to Claire again, tapping into her M-lync.



        “Who are you text-ing?”



        “No one. I’m making a list. You need a few things.” Aki rolled her eyes. “Like food, clothes, toilet paper, a new hairbrush, hairdryer, soap, pads, shampoo, razors, conditioner…”



        “I don’t condition.” Claire interrupted, smiling.



        “I think you should try it.” Aki reached to touch Claire’s hair. “How about conditioning shampoo?”



        “Alright.” Claire sighed.



        “I want you to look your best.”



        “For what?”



        “My mom wants you to come over for a special dinner on Wednesday.” Aki resumed entering items into her growing list.



        “Special?”



        “It’s kind of a ceremony. In your honor.”



        “I don’t think I can go.”



        “Why not? You busy or something?”



        “I don’t like gatherings.”



        “Come on. My mother made all kinds of arrangements for you. She’s really excited about the whole thing.”



        “Arrangements?”



        “Just come over to my place on Wednesday afternoon. Please?”



        “Okay.”



        “Mike and I will swing by at 2:00 to pick you up.”



                                        #



        Claire and Aki were jostled in their seats as Mike wove the car through the rough, broken streets that led from the Harbor to Newport. They drove to the base of the gleaming tower. Claire marveled at the cleanliness of the building, and its parking garage at its base. Mike parked the car and they made their way toward an elevator. They strolled past rows of expensive automobiles, Mike leading the way, Aki staying close to Claire’s side as she limped slightly behind.



        “You should have left that leg brace on.” Aki scolded.



        “I’ll be okay. It’s just a formality.”



        “You’d better not start bleeding internally.”



        “Or what?” Claire smirked.



        “You’ll be sorry. Trust me.” Aki pinched high on the back of Claire’s thigh, just beneath her buttock, causing the taller girl to jolt.



        During their walk to the elevator, Claire noticed a covered motorcycle. She recognized the emblem on the tarp; an oval filled with red and yellow stripes, surrounded in black.



        “Whose is that?” She pointed as she asked Mike.



        “That’s mine.” He answered with a measure of resignation in his tone. “I got it three years ago, before the switch to organic fuel.”



        “Its a DMW 785 right?”



        “989, actually.” Mike smiled. “I can’t get it to run right with the green gas.”



        Claire raised her eyebrows, “You haven’t converted it?”



        “I bought a kit, but I can’t get it to work right.”



        “I’ll bet you could make it work.” Aki tugged at the sleeve of Claire’s jacket.



        “Yeah, Aki says that you’re a genius.” Mike smiled as he pressed a button at the elevator’s entrance.



        “I don’t know much about motorcycles.” Claire shook her head. She tried to steer the conversation away from the favor that it she feared would be asked of her.



        “Or morphine machines, right?” Aki mumbled through the corner of her mouth as she pinched Claire’s arm through her jacket.



        Claire’s head swung toward Aki, an expression of surprise overtook her features.



        “You didn’t think that I’d figure it out?” Aki smiled.



        “Figure what out?” Mike asked.



        “Nothing. Just girl talk.” Aki replied.



        They entered the elevator and Mike pressed the button for their floor. They rode the lift in a silence soon broken by Mike.



        “You know, if you can get the bike to work, you’re welcome to borrow it any time.” Mike smiled to Claire.



        “Oh, I don’t…” Claire looked away; the awkward feeling of a stranger’s generosity overtook her.



        “She’ll do it.” Aki interjected, prompting an annoyed look from Claire.



        “I don’t really get the chance to ride much anymore, anyway.” Mike added.



        “Um, okay.” Claire failed to conceal her discomfort at the situation. “Thanks.”



        They stepped out of the elevator, walking upon the lush burgundy carpeting of the hallway. Claire looked up, noting the fact that all of the fancy lights in the long passage were working, the ceiling was devoid of stains, and the wallpaper was immaculate. She began to feel very out-of-place amid such opulence.



        They entered the Nashumara residence. Claire’s eyes could not focus their attention to any single aspect of the extravagance that she waded through. The furniture, fine decoration, modern electronics, and sheer size of the place made Claire feel as though she had stepped onto the set of a large-budget movie.



        “Nice place.” She felt stupid for saying it, but had to say something.



        “You come with me.” Aki took Claire by the wrist, guiding her across the vast living room and through a concealed doorway, leaving Mike behind.



        “This is your room?” Claire asked as she looked around.



        “One of them, yes.” Aki answered. “You’ll need to get changed.”



        “Changed?”



        “Into this.” Aki held a red silk garment up to Claire. “It should fit you perfectly. My mother made it just for you.”



        Claire realized that she could not back out of the commitment after such effort had gone into her accommodation. “For the aforementioned ceremony?”



        Aki nodded.



        “Will there be drinks?” Claire asked, eager to hear an affirmative response.



        “Yes. There will.” Aki handed the silk garment to Claire. “Lets go into my bathroom. We need to do our makeup and hair.”



        “Aki?”



        “Yes?”



        “Why do you work in the admin office?”



        “Who should I be working for?”



        “No one.” Claire swept an arm indicating their surroundings, “You seem to be well taken care of.”



        “My parents are pretty wealthy.” Aki admitted, “They let me and Mike stay as long as we’re working. He’s starting his own business, and I work for the city. They won’t tolerate laziness.”



        “What do you mean? You’re not lazy.” Claire smirked.



        “My parents won’t say it, but they’re disappointed in me.” Aki frowned.



        “I can identify with that.”



        “It’s hard for me. My mother and father both have master’s degrees, Mike has a double master’s in info security and data architecture. I barely got my bachelor’s.”



        “Your parents are unforgiving about under-achievement?”



        “No. They love me, no matter what I do, what I become. I hate myself for not doing better, not living up to the hopes that they have for me. I want to give them real reasons to be proud of me. Not some civil job and a lousy four year degree.”



        “You didn’t get your master’s, so you think that they feel unloved? Disrespected?”



        “It’s a lot more complicated than that.” Aki concluded. “C’mon, makeup time.”



        Claire folded her arms, glaring at Aki.



        “Please.” Aki grinned.



                                        #



        Together, Claire and Aki made their way through the large living areas of the Nashumara home. They entered a garden, taking a short, wooden walkway through a circuitous weave of plants and stones. Aki stood in the center of a low bridge that overlooked the pond and waterfall in the center of the room’s floor. Claire stooped next to her, looking at the red and white fish that swam in the clear water below them.



        Claire thought that they had stepped out of the building, looking above her she saw the vivid white clouds against the limitless blue of an afternoon sky. The clouds slowly drifted past, their movement corresponded to the gentle breeze that caressed their powdered faces and played with their flowing garments. She began to realize that the whole environment was artificial. The air was warm, like early September, the sky was too bright for the current time of day.



        “This is beautiful.” Claire said.



        “It’s all synthesized.” Aki replied.



        “I know. That’s what makes it beautiful.”



        “You like fake?”



        “Artificial nature can be beautiful, if you appreciate the details included by the people who created it. They take everything that’s essential to the setting, and duplicate it, sometimes improve upon it.” Claire stared at the bubbling pool beneath the waterfall, “It’s like stepping into a painting. Everything can be ideal, perfect, constant.”



        “I never thought of it like that. That’s deep.” Aki smiled, closing her eyes before speaking, “Um, can I tell you something?”



        A chime sounded from a distance, Onitsuka Nashumara approached Aki and her friend. She wore an austere robe of a smooth, dark blue fabric. She stopped in front of them, on small wooden bridge, glancing first to her daughter and then to the taller girl.



        “You look perfect.” She smiled, looking up to Claire.



        “Thank you.” Claire replied.



        “I did her face for her.” Aki added.



        “Very beautiful, Aki.” She returned her eyes to Claire after complimenting her daughter. “Shall we begin?”



        Claire nodded, unsure of what she had just agreed to.



        “Wait here. Relax. I will return.”



        They remained on the bridge above the flowing water, both of them gazing at their reflections, their faces distorted and normalized by the motion of the undulating surface.



        Claire stared at her platinum-white face and neck, her hair pulled back tightly, her lips painted deep red like the wood of the sandals that Aki had given her for their trek into the strange indoor garden. She turned her attention to Aki, feeling less like a spectacle seeing her friend wearing the same extravagant clothes and dramatic makeup.



        “Is this some sort of traditional Japanese ceremony for something?”



        “No. My mom just likes to conduct ceremonies. She makes them up.”



        “I was serious.”



        “So was I. She’s kind of spacey. You know, eccentric?” Aki said, “She had this indoor garden built when I was little. My father and brother get a kick out if it.”



        “They’re more western?”



        “My mother lived in Japan until she was eleven. My father, brother, and me were born here.” Aki explained, “We’re not as attached to the traditions that she’s so nuts about. She wants to stay connected.”



        “To her heritage?”



        “No. Ancestors. She thinks that she’s a fortune-teller.”



        “You don’t believe her?”



        “I believe her. I don’t believe in fortune-telling.”



        “So is this a Kabuki costume?” Claire smoothed the shiny, colorful fabric of her robe. “I feel like a clown.”



        “Odori. They’re similar.” Aki looked to Claire. “You look beautiful, by the way.”



        A thick layer of silver-white powder kept the blush of Claire’s reaction secret. Her red-painted lips curved into a smile.



        Mrs. Nashumara had returned. She led the two to the other side of the room where a flat, stone patio seemed to grow from the plants and earth of its surroundings. The crossed the shining surface to enter what Claire believed to be a formal dining room.



        Aki's mother stepped out of her sandals, Claire and Aki likewise, before entering the simple room. Aki helped Claire to seat herself on the floor, at the low table that occupied the center of the room. She then took her place across from Claire, looking to her mother for approval.



        Mrs. Nashumara nodded to Aki and started speaking the fast, jagged, rhythmic dialog of the Japanese language. Aki could not keep up with what her mother said, Claire did not even attempt to understand, she settled for enjoying the poetic sound of the rapid stream of syllables.



        Mrs. Nashumara placed an ornate porcelain bowl in the center of the table, between Claire and her daughter. She poured a steaming brown-tinted clear liquid in to the bowl as Aki briefed Claire, in as quiet a voice as she could manage, of the proceedings.

        “You drink first, then me.”



        Claire nodded before taking the bowl in both hands and raising it to her lips. She smelled tea, but tasted hot liquor as she drank. After finishing the odd-tasting beverage, she attempted to hand the bowl to Aki who shook her head in a small gesture, and motioned her eyes toward the center of the table. Claire understood and returned the vessel to where she had removed it.



        Mrs. Nashumara smiled, bowing to Claire before refilling the bowl. Claire welcomed the familiar warmth of alcohol spreading from her stomach, into the rest of her body as she watched Aki prepare to partake of the unusual beverage. The younger Nashumara rotated the fragile bowl so that the red mark from Claire’s painted lips would touch her mouth when she drank.



        Onitsuka bowed to her daughter before kneeling at the head of the table. She pulled a small chime, an aluminum tube suspended with string in a wooden frame, from beneath the low table. She struck the chime with a finger before bowing her head. Claire followed Aki’s lead, opening one of her eyes on occasion throughout the silence that seemed to last for minutes. Claire chanced to raise her head when she heard Mrs. Nashumara speak.



        “I welcome you into our home, Claire Galloway.”



        “Thank you.” Claire bowed her head as she spoke to the older woman.



        Onitsuka closed her eyes, lowering her head, bracing herself against the table as if straining. “This dinner honors you and my daughter. Your shadows fall over the same place, lost on the mountain. Luck leads you both.” Mrs. Nashumara stood, “I will return with our food.” She turned and left.



        Aki smiled to Claire. “See what I mean?”



        “I think she’s pretty cool.” Claire cleared her throat, “That was very… poetic.”



        “I think she’s cuckoo.” Aki grinned. “You’re staying here tonight, you know that, right?”



        “I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable with…”



        “You aren’t leaving.” Aki’s tone was playful and assertive.



        Claire sighed, shaking her head. “You said that there’d be liquor, right?”



                                        #



        Thursday morning, Claire decided to pass the mid-day hours attempting to get Mike’s DMW to run properly. Mike sat next to her, handing her tools, as she needed them, observing a master mechanic at work.



        “The intake valve timing has to change, or the injectors need a wider pressure range for this kit to ever work.” Claire appraised mike of the dilemma as she loosened the remaining bolts for the machine’s intake manifold.



        “Which is easier?”



        “The injectors. There’s only two of them, and we won’t have to mess around with the cams.”



        “Can we buy the right injectors?”



        “I’ll get them for free. The turbo-diesels that we use in the road department’s trucks use adjustable injectors that would probably fit. They’re both about 20 millimeters in diameter.”



        “You have them at your work?”

       

        Claire opened her M-lync, placing a call to Aki.



        “Hey.” Aki answered.



        “Can you do me a favor?”



        “Name it.” Aki smiled to Claire through the small screen.



        “Can you ask Charlie for three PZ-N00002034AF’s?”



        “You know the part number?” Mike looked to Claire in disbelief.



        “Got it.” Aki said, “I’ll bring them home with me tonight.”



        “Thanks.” Claire ended the call. “They all start with the same six characters.” She smiled.



        “So, you think that’ll do it for the old 989-RS?” Mike stroked the bike’s seat; it’s texture bringing back memories for him as it passed beneath the scrutiny of his skin.



        “It’s an RS?”



        Mike nodded, grinning widely. “Ever ride one?”



        “I’ve never ridden a motorcycle.” Claire said.



        “They’re fun. You should get your license.”



        “Don’t need one. My city job gives me license to operate and repair all motor vehicles. Except aircraft.”



        Mike raised an eyebrow. “That is fuckin’ cool.”



        Claire smiled.



                                        #



        Aki sat herself next to Claire on the sofa in her bedroom. She watched the taller girl keying into her communicator. She recognized the graphics of the BigNet Store.



        “Whatcha’ buyin’?” Aki edged close to Claire, the outside of her thigh leaning against her friend as she peered at the small M-lync display.



        “I need some things.” Claire said.



        “Like what?” Aki asked.



        “A helmet, suit, gloves, paper money.” Claire raised successive fingers as she cataloged each item, “Maybe a tent, sleeping bag, some camp food.”



        “You’re going somewhere?”



        “I’m going to ride out to Washington.”



        “Oh.” Aki sounded hurt.



        Claire sighed, rolling her eyes. “You wouldn’t want to come with me. It’s going to be really cold and nasty.”



        “I want to.” Aki restrained tears as best she could, “I want to go with you.” She looked to the floor, avoiding eye contact with Claire.



        “You’ll be miserable. I don’t want you to be miserable.”



        “Too late.” Aki sniffled.



        “I’m sorry. I need to do this. There won’t be enough room on the bike.” Claire tried to explain, to alleviate the hurt that she was causing. Aki’s tears forced her to cave.



        “Okay. We’ll go together.” Claire waited for the girl’s expression to brighten. “What’s wrong? I just said that we’ll go together.”



        “You don’t want me to go.” Aki wiped the drops from her cheeks. “I’ll just stay here.”



        Claire’s head dropped into her hands as she released a loud sigh. “All I said was that there isn’t a lot of room for two people. I didn’t say that I didn’t want you to go, just that you wouldn’t want to.” She placed a hand on Aki’s shoulder, shaking the girl gently as she explained. “There’s a difference between the two, you see.”



        Aki broke her stare with the floor and turned her head to Claire. “So what do we need to get?”



        “Not too much. It’s going to be cold, so we need really good suits and gloves. And some good sleeping bags, tent, maybe some rations.”



        “Why don’t we just fly?”



        “I don’t fly.”



        “How ‘bout a bus?”



        “And get blown up? Or highjacked to Aztlan? No.”



        “You’re full of shit.” Aki smiled to Claire. “What’s the real reason?”



        “I already told you.”



        “You’re not scared of flying.” Aki raised an eyebrow, “You’ve got some kind of plan, don’t you?”



        “I’m just trying to save money.”



        “You can tell me what it is. I’ll keep it secret.”



        Claire sighed. Her eyes looked around the room, instinctively checking for anyone who might overhear.



        She leaned in close to Aki and whispered, “I don’t want anyone to know where I… we’re going.”



        Aki nodded, wishing that she had the courage to press the mysterious issue further. “Okay. That’s good enough for me.” She rested her hand on Claire’s thigh, looking up to her friend, smiling. “Lets get shopping.”



        “Let’s get paper money first.”



        Aki looked to Claire, narrowing her eyes, grinning. “Paper money. You’re dangerous.”



        Claire smiled.



                                        #



        Claire started the bike, her discerning mechanic’s ear evaluating the sound of the motor’s fast idle as she waited for Aki. She had checked the lights, tires, and fluids twice. She had packed as much as she could onto the lithe body of the sporty machine. Fumbling with the wind collar of her suit, she watched Aki emerge from the elevator.



        Claire could not restrain her smile as she watched the shorter girl’s approach. Her matching suit, woven from gray aramid fiber, red impact panels, the little black boots and helmet; the ensemble looked almost adorable to Claire as she shifted herself in the cycle’s seat, moving forward to accommodate her passenger. She pivoted, patting the small pad of a seat behind hers. Aki obliged, straining to lift her leg over the back, struggling to plant her boots on the pegs, settling herself around Claire’s back.



        “This thing is loud!” Aki shouted over the grumbling exhaust that echoed throughout the concrete-walled parking garage.



        “It’s a nine-eighty-nine! It’s fast too!” Claire shouted back, turning her head to the side. “Put your helmet on.”



        After Aki forced her head into the tight-fitting helmet, she wrapped her arms around Claire’s stomach, squeezing the girl with the insides of her legs. “Let’s go!” She shouted.



        “No matter what, hold on to me! Lean with me when I lean! Okay?” Claire briefed Aki as they wound their way to the lowest level of the parking structure. Aki acknowledged with another coordinated squeeze around Claire.



        Once at the street, Claire opened up the throttle, rocketing up Washington Street, towards the Pulaski Skyway. The speed and rough road caused Aki to grip herself tighter to her driver, her eyes clamping shut from fear. Together, they sped westward into the cold autumn air, heading for the Interstate.

Edited by: StrangeQuark at: 10/31/03 7:40 pm


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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Fri Oct 31, 2003 8:15 pm 
Sorry for not leaving feedback earlier. I've been reading the story since the beginning and I just wanted you to know that I'm really enjoying it.:)



Yvonne:peace



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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Sat Nov 01, 2003 12:49 am 
Great update :clap

~ Cassie

---

My fountain of strength that never runs dry

You are the shooting star across the midnight sky






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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Sat Nov 01, 2003 12:38 pm 
Yvonne - Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad that you're enjoying the story.



Cassie - I hope that it was worth the wait ;)



All -



The next chapter will be up by Friday. The story is going to accelerate a bit in the next couple of chapters. The mad genius and her little friend have a lot of adventure in-store for them.



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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Sat Nov 01, 2003 8:10 pm 
This story is so cool and original, two big thumbs up!

You are a very skilled writer StrangeQuark, I'm looking forward to the next chapter.



"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."



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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Sun Nov 02, 2003 12:41 am 
StrangeQuark :wave



Updates to your story are always worth the wait :wink



Quote:
The mad genius and her little friend have a lot of adventure in-store for them.




The mad genius and her little friend :rofl This really cracked me up. Don't know why though hehe :blush



Gearing myself up for the wild adventure rush :D

~ Cassie

---

My fountain of strength that never runs dry

You are the shooting star across the midnight sky






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 Post subject: Re: Latency -- Chapter 5
PostPosted: Sun Nov 02, 2003 9:05 am 
I'm really enjoying this story.



I like the growing relationship you've got going on between Claire and Aki. Also I'm curious about the connection between Claire and Sarah. What is the possibility that upset Claire so much?



Looking forward to reading more.



Anya in a wimple...I'd pay full admission for that. Gods Served And Abandoned - by Antigone Unbound


You know the worst thing about people in a relationship? The fact that they're in a relationship. - Hilda Spellman







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 Post subject: Re: Original Fiction - Latency
PostPosted: Tue Nov 04, 2003 6:04 am 
I don't have time to properly review, I just wanted you to know that I am intrigued by this story and really would love an update!



Thanks :grin

~*@.......We are the weirdest person in the world.......@*~



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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Tue Nov 04, 2003 5:42 pm 
*** Author's Note ***



Again, I am releasing a chapter that I'm not too thrilled with.



Please enjoy it and all of its flaws.



Thanks,

SQ



*****************





CHAPTER 6







        They chased the sun, speeding westward for the better part of the day. When the sun had outrun the two, they traveled through darkness for several hours, both of them growing sore and weary from the compact seats and riding positions of the sporty motorcycle. Claire decided that she needed to stop for the night, and took an exit in a desolate area.



        She guided the bike to the side of a rural road, slowly proceeding off the pavement and into a wooded area. She turned the motor and lights off, stopping the cycle.



        “Why are we stopping here?”



        “We’re going into the woods to set up camp.” Claire pulled off her helmet. She fished through her suit’s pockets, finding and lighting a cigarette.



        Aki stood next to the bike, stretching the sore muscles in her back and legs before removing some of their cargo from the sides and back of the machine. Claire pushed the bike deep into the wooded area, stopping in a clearing to drop the kickstand on a large stone.



        “Where should I put this stuff?” Aki’s arms were full of equipment as she staggered through the darkness and dense undergrowth into the clearing.



        Claire walked toward her, taking some of the bigger items and carrying them to the flattest part of the small clearing. “I’ll set up the tent.” Claire’s breath was visible in the cold night air. “You can unroll the sleeping bags.”



        The white light of a half moon shone through the clear, chilly night air, casting dim silver illumination into the clearing in which they had settled. Once Claire had assembled the small tent, Aki slid their bedding inside.



        “Get in. It’s fucking cold out here.” Claire said as she untied her boots while sitting on her helmet. “Take your stuff off first, we’ve got to keep it clean in there.”



        “Can’t I sleep in my suit?”



        “Plastic body armor and abrasion-resistant cloth don’t make good pajamas. You’re going to be extra-sore tomorrow if you try it.”



        “Oh, right.” Aki bent over to untie her boots. “We should have brought some PJs, I guess.”



        Claire frowned. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking things through. Maybe we’ll stop somewhere tomorrow and get some.”



        “I’ll be happy just to lie down. My ass is killing me.” Aki slipped out of her boots, standing in her socks just inside the entrance to the small tent. She unzipped her riding suit, her teeth chattering as she wiggled out of it, standing exposed to the night air in her underwear and a T-shirt. Claire took Aki’s suit and draped it over the seat of the motorcycle, before removing her own. She made her way to the tent, pulling her boots off as she slid inside the cramped shelter.



        They lay in their sleeping bags, side by side, teeth chattering, shivering. Aki spoke through her quivering jaw.



        “I’ve never done this before.”



        “Camping?”



        “Any of this. The motorcycle, the tent, the cold.”



        “Neither have I.” Claire spoke through her teeth, trying to steady her jaw.



        “I’ve never been this far from home before.” Aki admitted. “Without my parents.” She turned to look at Claire. “Where are we?”



        “We’re somewhere in southern Ohio.”



        Aki giggled through her shivering. “So I can say that I’ve been to Ohio now. Whoop-tee-shit.”



        “Indeed.” Claire’s arms hurt, clenched by their need for warmth.



        “Do you think we’ll freeze to death?” Aki asked. “My M-lync said that it’s like eighteen degrees.”



        “These bags are rated to minus ten. Just give them a chance to warm up.”



        “I think that we got ripped-off. I’m f-f-fucking c-cold.”



        “We’ll warm up. Try to get some sleep.” Claire reassured.



        An hour had passed in frigid, dark silence.



        “Are you asleep?” Aki whispered.



        “No.”



        “I’m still freezing.”



        “Sorry.”



        “Um, I’ve been thinking.” Aki said, her voice quivering with cold and nervousness. “We should, like, sleep in the same thing.” She added, “I won’t bother you, I promise.”



        Claire was quiet for a few moments. Her silence did nothing to comfort Aki’s uneasiness about the suggestion that she had made. She gave up on the idea, realizing that she should have kept it to herself.



        “I’m sorry. I’ll keep quiet.” Aki turned onto her side, facing away from Claire.



        “It’s a good thought.” Claire murmured. “But we can’t both fit into one of these.”



        Aki turned over to face where Claire’s voice had emanated through the darkness.



        “Unzip your bag, I’ve got an idea.” Claire’s shaking hands found the zipper to her own bedding in the cold blackness. She unzipped it; regretting her choice as her body convulsed against the chill, protected from the sub-freezing air by only a thin T-shirt and her underwear. “C-Come over here.” Her teeth chattered.



        Aki slid onto the frigid nylon as Claire reached over her to pull the other bag on top of them. She shivered, her limbs tense as Claire busied herself zipping the two bags together around them.



        Once she had finished enveloping them with the bedding, Claire lifted Aki’s left shoulder, turning the girl on her side, and settling her front against the Asian’s back. Claire shivered; Aki’s bare, goose-pimpled legs against hers felt prickly and cold. The two huddled together shaking and chattering for several minutes until the combined heat of their bodies brought their bedding to a more comfortable temperature.



        “Better?” Claire whispered.



        “Mmm.” Aki pressed her back harder against the warmth of her friend.



        “Good night.” Claire rested her cold palm on Aki’s stomach, feeling the smaller girl’s heat through her cotton shirt.



        “Claire?” Aki asked in a whisper.



        “Yeah?”



        “I’m glad you let me come with you.”



        “Me too.” Claire warmed tip of her nose in Aki’s hair. “I might have frozen to death out here by myself.”



        “Good thing, then.” Aki readjusted her head’s position where it rested on the warmth of Claire’s arm.



                                                #



        Small birds squeaked from the treetops, the tent filled with a faint light, and Claire woke, wrapped around Aki. The smaller girl was still asleep; her face against Claire’s shirt, nestled within the warmth of her friend’s sheltering arms and legs. A part of Claire hated what she was about to do.



        “Aki.” She shook the girl gently. “Time to get up.”



        A small groan sounded against Claire’s chest. Aki’s limbs began to shift.



        “Come on. We slept for almost seven hours.” Claire continued to coax her friend into wakefulness.



        “Can’t we just stay here?” Aki asked, her eyes closed, her voice heavy with sleep, “Like this?” She adjusted her body, settling deeper into Claire’s warmth.



        “We have to hit the road.” Claire started to untangle herself from around the smaller woman. “We can go get some breakfast if you want.”



        “Okay.” Aki winced as she felt a rush of cold air enter the sleeping bag, filling the absence of Claire’s luxurious heat.        Claire slid into her boots, making her way to the motorcycle from which their suits draped. She jumped into hers as quickly as she could, zipping the freezing garment around her, teeth chattering as she stood, waiting for the aluminized insulation of the cold-weather garment to warm up. She placed her helmet on the ground, sitting on it as her shaking hands struggled to tie her boots. Her stomach and arms were sore, clenching themselves against the cold. She lit a cigarette, grabbed Aki’s suit and walked over to the tent.



        “I brought your suit over for you.” Claire spoke from the corner of her mouth that wasn’t holding her smoke.



        “Thanks.” Aki stood in the entrance to the small tent, snatching her suit and slipping into it as quickly as she could.



        “It’ll warm up to your temperature in a few minutes.” Claire exhaled a gray cloud of smoke through her chattering teeth.



        Once Aki had suited herself and tied her boots, she played with her M-lync. She held the communicator in front of Claire.



        “It got down to five degrees last night.”



        “Let’s just hope that we don’t hit any rain or snow today.” Claire flashed an uneasy smile. “C’mon.” She ground her cigarette into the forest floor. “Let’s get packed up.”



        Aki lashed their gear to the bike. Claire had started it minutes before, allowing the machine to warm itself. Claire looked at her industrious friend after consulting a map on her M-lync.



        “You did that really well.” Claire smiled, puffing on another smoke. “I could never get it so organized, myself.”



        Aki seated herself on the back of the machine. She pushed her helmet on and patted the saddle in front of her impatiently. She flipped open the visor of her helmet.



        “Come on!” She shouted over the sound of the engine, “I have to pee really bad! Let’s find a restaurant or gas station!”



        Claire scuffed out her cigarette and seated herself on the bike. She stomped the machine into first gear and began their journey back onto the road. They rode for a few miles before spotting an eatery. Claire pulled in, parking the bike in between two large trucks. They made their way into the heat of the quiet, small restaurant.



        After using the restroom to relieve themselves and freshen their hands and faces, they took a table near a window that overlooked their motorcycle. Aki read a small, greasy, laminated menu that a passing waitress had handed to them. Claire looked for an ashtray.



        “God, I wish we were still in Jersey.” Claire had taken an ashtray from the empty table behind them. “The best diners in the world.” She lighted a cigarette.



        “Like the Pink Parrot on Montgomery. I love their egg-white omelets.” Aki continued to read the smudgy menu. “My friends and I used to go there every morning, before high school.”



        “They’re good, I always liked the Pantry Café on Greene. They make their own fresh bread for the toast.”



        “What can I get for you?” The waitress had returned, pulling a pen from behind her ear.



        “Do you take paper money?” Claire asked.



        “Of course we do.” The waitress looked to them strangely, “Where are you guys from?” She stared at the silvery scar above Claire’s left eyebrow.



        “Jersey.” Aki explained.



        “Oh. Kinda cold to be riding a motorcycle from New Jersey.”



        Aki looked to Claire.



        “We’re doing it for charity.” Claire snuffed out her cigarette. “Raising money for…” Claire faltered.



        “Orphans.” Aki volunteered. “Hungry orphans.”



        The waitress regarded both of them with suspicion.



        “Orphaned by the bombing.” Claire continued the charade.



        “Oh.” The waitress softened, her tone compassionate, “That was such a sad story, on the news, about the train.” She shook her head, her features solemn. “Do you two live close to where that happened?”



        “We’re from Jersey C…” Aki stopped speaking when Claire’s boot tapped her shin-guard under the table.



        “Jersey Central.” Claire interjected. “That’s our local chapter… for the charity.”



        “Well, good luck to both of you. Bless your souls, riding around in the winter like this.” The waitress took up her pad again, “What can I get for you?”



        The insistent cold had made them ravenous. They had placed their orders, both opting for larger, heavier fare to satisfy their appetites. After the waitress had left, Aki leaned across the table, speaking softly.



        “What’s with all the secret agent stuff?”



        “For the same reason that we’re using paper money.” Claire replied, taking a careful look at their surroundings before continuing, “The same reason that we’re not going to use our M-lyncs to call or text anyone.”



        “What about searching?”



        “That’s okay. Just don’t originate any billable messages. They record your coordinates when you send one.”



        “Hugh?”



        “I want our location as hard to pinpoint as possible.”



        “I get that. But why?”



        “I’ll tell you later, when we’re in Washington.”



        “You’re going to leave me hanging?” Aki pouted.



        “The less you know, the better.” Claire asserted.



        They had warmed up, finished their breakfast, fueled the motorcycle, and continued their westward trek; covering as many miles as they could, as quickly as possible.



                                                #

       

        Sarah peeled the frozen boxes open, slit the plastic covers that concealed the entrees, and started to heat dinner for Josh and herself when the doorbell rang. She walked into the foyer from the kitchen, her eyes focusing on the image in the glowing display panel next to the door. She saw two of them, one tall, one short, dressed in gray and red uniforms, holding black objects at their sides. Once she had recognized the two fully, she opened the door, eager to greet them.



        “Hi.” Sarah sang as she stepped back, swinging the door into her home, “Come in.” She grinned as she swept her arm back in a welcoming gesture.



        “Hey, Sarah.” Aki stepped in first, accepting Sarah’s hug of a greeting.



        “You’re all wet.” Sarah said as she continued to embrace Aki.



        “It’s good to see you.” Aki said against Sarah’s shoulder.



        Claire walked in behind her traveling companion, stopping at the threshold of the door. She peered inside of the dwelling with a suspicion that captured Sarah’s notice.



        “Come on in. We don’t have mice or anything.” Sarah continued smiling as she released Aki from her embrace, looking to her obviously distraught double. “You two look adorable in your matching suits.”



        “Wow.” Josh entered the small room. “Which two are the twins? Is it you two?” Grinning as he asked the facetious question, gesturing toward Aki and Claire.



        “You must be Josh.” Aki approached the man, shaking his hand.



        “Aki.” Josh smiled. “Sarah told me all about you. Thanks for helping her sister.”



        “I need to change the oil.” Claire interjected loudly.



        The Josh and Sarah looked to Claire, unsure of what to say.



        “It’s dark. I need to change it.” Claire insisted.



        Aki walked to Claire, taking the taller girl’s hands in hers. “Okay. We’ll do that in a few minutes.” She turned, flashing an embarrassed smile to Josh and Sarah. She turned back to Claire. “You can take your time, okay?”



        Claire nodded, closing her eyes. “You’re not lying to me?”



        “Never.” Aki smiled to Claire.



        Josh walked toward Claire, extending his hand. “I’m Joshua Berman, Sarah’s husband.”



        Claire looked to the floor, silent.



        “If you like, you could change your oil in our garage, Claire.” He offered, maintaining a smile as he withdrew his hand.



        “That sounds like a great idea.” Aki gripped Claire’s hands, shaking them, trying to impart some of her patronizing excitement to the taller girl. “Why don’t you bring the bike into their garage?”



        Claire nodded.



        “I’ll go open the door for you.” Josh walked out of the foyer.



        Aki turned to Sarah, her expression apologetic. “She’s not feeling too good.”



        “You mean…” Sarah pointed to her temple, “Right?”



        Aki nodded.



        “What happened?”



        “She’s been, kind of…” Aki looked around to make sure that her conversation with Sarah would remain private, “paranoid.” She leaned closer to Sarah, “Scary paranoid.”



        “Do you think she’s dangerous?”



        “No. Just fragile. Delicate.” Aki frowned. “I had to take her pills away. She ate, like, half the bottle over the past two days.”



        “What pills?”



        “Zalenth. I think that’s why she’s so… obsessive.”



        “Why don’t you come in and have dinner with us.” Sarah changed the subject, “You can hang your suit up in here.” She slid a closet door open.



        “Okay.” Aki untied her boots, stepped out of them, and unzipped her suit, wriggling herself from it.



        “Um, do you want a robe or something?” Sarah asked, as she looked to the smaller woman standing in her socks and underwear.



        “Oh. That would be great.” Aki blushed, recognizing her immodesty. “We didn’t bring any clothes with us.”



        “Come on, let’s get you something to wear.” Sarah led Aki into her home.



                                                #



        “Do you need a wrench or something?” Josh asked his wife’s strange, silent twin as he stood above where she lay on the garage floor next to her motorcycle.



        “A pan, please.” Claire replied. “Big enough for three liters if you’ve got one.”



        “Oh, sure.” Josh was startled by the immediate, friendly, and almost cheerful response that he did not expect to get from the distant stranger. He fetched a pan that he thought would accommodate Claire’s needs.



        “Thanks. That’s perfect.” Claire smiled to Josh as she accepted the vessel from him. “How’s Sarah doing? I’ve been thinking about her.” Claire asked over the rapid ticking noises that came from her socket wrench as she loosened the drain bolt of the cycle’s oil pan.



        “We’re really glad that you came out to see us.” Josh crouched next to Claire. “Did you and your friend ride all the way here from New Jersey?”



        Claire pointed to the license plate on the rear of the bike. “All the way. It was fun.” She removed the drain bolt and stared at the dark stream of warm oil as it emptied into the container that Josh had given her. “And exciting. We were averaging one-thirty-eight across South Dakota.” She continued watching the fluid as it drained.



        “This is one fast looking motorcycle.”



        “It’s a Deutsche Motorwerken nine-eighty-nine… Rennsport model.” Claire said with obvious enthusiasm for the machine.



        “How long have you been riding?”



        “Three days.”



        “I’m sorry, I meant how long have you been riding motorcycles?”



        “Three days.” Claire pointed at the stream of oil as it fell. “That’s what I thought.”



        “What’s that?” Josh asked, looking to where Claire pointed.



        “One of the clutch disks must’ve broken. You see those granules?”



        “Can you fix it?”



        “No need, it’s still got five plates left.”



        “I see.” Josh smiled to Claire as he watched her replace the drain bolt. “I think your sister would like to spend a little time with you, when you’re done with the oil.”



        “Yeah. I can’t wait to see her.” Claire opened one of the bottles of oil that she had stowed in the tank-bag of her vehicle. She held the container high as she poured it into the small filler opening without spilling a drop.



        “You’re really good at this!” Josh exclaimed as he watched her repeat the same flawless motion with a second bottle. “How do you do that without a funnel? I’d make a mess for sure.”



        “Aki is being such a good sport.” Claire said as she poured the third liter of oil into the motor. “I don’t think that she likes me anymore.”



        “You could have fooled me.” Josh tried to improvise his way through the awkward convolutions of their conversation. “She seems like your best friend.”



        “She’s scared.” Claire turned to Josh. “I’m scaring her.”



        “You aren’t scaring me.” Josh offered.



        “Give it time.” Claire’s tone conveyed weary resignation.



        After Claire stood, Josh returned to his feet, trying to keep up with the efficient, mechanical movements of his wife’s twin. “I’ll take the empty ones for you.” He removed the bottles from Claire’s hands. “You go and wash up, there’s a bathroom just through that door.” His mouth pulled into an uneasy, yet friendly smile before she turned to leave the garage.



                                                #



        Aki sat on the foot of Sarah and Josh’s large bed, as Sarah dug through her closet. She gave Aki a tight pair of shorts and a small shirt that she thought might fit the petite woman.



        “I’m sorry that I don’t have anything that’ll fit you better.” She handed Aki a long red terrycloth robe before sitting next to the smaller girl. “So, what happened to her?” Sarah’s voice was low, near a whisper.



        “She had a bad dream two nights ago. It really bugged her out.”



        Sarah was silent.



        “She said that she saw herself, but she couldn’t see, and something tried to grab her.” Aki recounted, “She woke up crying and shaking. She’s been all weird ever since.”



        Sarah started pacing the floor of her bedroom. “The night before last?”



        “Yeah.”



        Sarah stopped to stand in front of where Aki sat. She knelt down to Aki’s eye level. “I know I can trust you.”



        Aki nodded, smiling.



        “I think I had the same dream.”



        Aki’s forehead wrinkled.



        “Two nights ago.” Sarah’s face was sullen. “I saw myself, my eyes were blind, like, blank. I was wearing a white… gown or something, and there were all these hands. It’s like they couldn’t reach me, their fingers were straining, trying to touch me.”



        “Were you scared?” Aki asked.



        “No, just freaked out. It was vivid… real.”



        “Maybe we should have dinner now.” Aki shifted the topic. “I’ll bet that Claire’s done with her oil thing already. She’s good at that stuff.”



        “Let’s find something for her to sleep in, since it’s getting late, already.” Sarah stood, heading for her closet. “Do you think she’ll mind these?” Sarah held up a pair of pink silk pajamas for Aki’s inspection.



        “Oh, she’ll love them.” Aki flashed a devilish grin.



                                                #



        Claire had finished washing her hands and face, taking pleasure in the warm water and gentle soap that she had been without for some time. As she left the bathroom, Aki grabbed her from behind. Claire turned to see her friend in an oversized robe. The length of the garment pooled on the carpet, surrounding the short girl’s feet.



        “The bike’s all set.” Claire smiled as she looked to her companion. “Where’d you get that?”



        “Sarah lent it to me. She has some stuff for you too.” Aki grinned, “These fancy folk don’t take to kindly to us runnin’ around in underwear.” Aki mimicked a southern accent as she took Claire’s wrist in her hand, “Y’all come along with me, ma’am.”



        Claire changed into the embarrassing yet luxurious garments that Sarah had left out for her. She saw Aki grinning at her from across the room. “What?”



        “You look like such a sophisticate. Very up-town.” Aki walked to her friend, pulling at one of the lapels of the silk top, speaking with an overdramatic lisp, “But pink just isn’t your color, dear.”



        Laughter boiled up through cracks in Claire’s stoic surface. She spoke between waves of giggles. “What’s with all the voices coming out of you tonight? Are you on something?” Her face beamed as she continued to snicker, looking to Aki.



        “No.” Aki smiled as she straightened the collar of Claire’s smooth, pink outfit, proud that she had found a way to make her dismal friend laugh. “I’m just in a good mood. You seem like you’re feeling better.”



        Claire smiled, “I guess I am.” She looked at herself in the mirror that hung above the large, expensive-looking dresser in front of them, “Why the pajamas? Does Sarah think that we’re spending the night or something?”



        “Yes, she does.”



        “No, we’re not.” Claire’s expression became stern.



        “She offered, and I accepted. I thought that you’d like to sleep indoors for a change.” Aki stepped back from Claire, cringing a little as she explained the arrangements. “After we have dinner with them, I thought, maybe, you’d spend a little time with your sister, and I could, maybe, sleep in a real bed.” She phrased the last sentence as though it were a question.



        Claire sighed. “Okay.” She laid a hand on Aki’s shoulder, “You deserve it. You’ve been so patient with me.”



        “Always.” Aki rested her hand on top of Claire’s, smiling to the taller girl.



                                                #



        They finished their dinner; Josh had opted to have food delivered so that he and Sarah could spend more time with their guests. They sat in the large living room of the Berman home, Aki had taken a wing chair and Sarah seated herself next to Claire on a large velour sofa. Josh had gotten up from his favorite antique rocking chair to tend to the cheery fire that snapped and flickered in the room’s imitation-stone fireplace.



        “That feels so nice.” Aki said to Josh as he shifted some of the logs. “I’ve got a few of those in my house, but they run on gas or something. Not real, like this.” She extended her hands and feet, feeling the radiance of the fire that crackled more than a yard away from where she sat.



        “It’s more work, but it’s worth it.” He smiled to Aki as he hung the tongs and poker that he had used onto their polished brass stand. He turned to Sarah.



        “I’m going to get the guest bedroom all set up for them.” He said, standing, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”



        “You’re so lucky.” Aki whispered to Sarah after Josh had left the room, “He’s so nice.”



        “Yeah, he’s really smart too.” Claire said, staring at the fire. “You see the way that he rearranged the logs?”



        “Hugh?” Sarah tilted her head, looking around Claire toward the fireplace.



        “He created a narrow opening for the inbound air and supported it with two of the wetter logs. They’ll dry out from the radiant heat and constant airflow.”



        “Hugh?” Aki peered around the back of her seat straining to recognize the hidden genius in Josh’s handiwork.



        “They won’t smoke as much. It’s like they’re kiln-dried. The narrow opening acts like a venturi… more velocity.” Claire defended her assertion.



        “You’re a walking knowledge-base, aren’t you?” Sarah patted Claire’s thigh.



        Claire gave her double a weak smile. She was accustomed others not understanding her. She edged closer to Sarah, turning to face the woman as she crossed her legs onto the plush cushions of the sofa. “I’ve been worried about you.”



        “Worried?” Sarah mimicked her twin’s posture, facing her with her legs crossed as well. “Why worried?”



        “There’s some stuff that we need to talk about. Stuff that I’ve… uncovered.”



        “Like what?” Sarah rested her hands on Claire’s knees. “I’m ready to talk about it when you are.”



        “When we’re alone.” Claire mouthed the soundless words, her eyes gestured to her right, where Aki sat.



        Sarah nodded.



        “Just some things that I learned about IVF technology and where it was twenty-five years ago.”



        “How’s your leg?”



        “It’s better. It’s still a little weak.”



        “How long can you stay out here?”



        “I don’t know. I didn’t think about that.”



        “I have another week until I have to be back.” Aki interjected. “She’s supposed to be back at work in about a week and a half.”



        “You’re welcome to stay as long as you can. We have plenty of room.”



        “Is there any good shopping around here?” Aki asked. “I need to get some clothes.”



        “Oh yeah.” Sarah smiled to Aki, “You two and I have a date with the downtown area tomorrow.”



        Josh resumed his place in his heirloom rocking chair. “The guest beds are all set. You guys can decide who gets the inflatable one.” He picked up his wineglass, stirring the dark violet liquid with a practiced, disciplined motion before raising the vessel’s rim to his nose. “Would anyone care for some wine?” Josh asked, “It’s my private reserve from 2008.”



        “I’d like some, honey.” Sarah said.



        “I’d love to try some.” Aki added.



        “Please.” Claire said.



        “No. Your medication, remember?” Aki interjected.



        “Half a glass?” Claire’s eyes pleaded to Aki.



        “Half a glass.” Aki agreed; her capitulation rewarded by her friend’s smile.



        “I’ll be right back, ladies.”



        “He’s very serious about his business.” Sarah enlightened the two, “Ever since his father passed away, he’s been really committed about making the vineyard world-renowned. Like a tribute to his father’s life’s work.”



        “He owns a vineyard?” Claire asked.



        “He was a partner with his father until three years ago. Since Benjamin passed away, he’s been working non-stop to get the brand recognized not only as the finest kosher wine, but the best West Coast wine.”



        “I guess that I’d better say that I like it then.” Aki smiled to Sarah.



        “Don’t worry, you will. It’s superb.”



                                                #



        Aki had gone to bed, Josh pored over invoices and shipping orders in his office, Claire and Sarah sat together in front of the fireplace. Sarah looked to her twin, “We’re alone now.” She returned her gaze to the animated blaze in front of where they lay on the lush carpet of the living room floor.



        “I don’t think that I was right.”



        “About?”



        “That whole IVF theory that I had. It’s flawed.”



        “How?”



        “The odds of us being so much alike are staggering. Practically impossible.” Claire cleared her throat, “I’ve done a lot of research.”



        “What did you find?”



        “What do you know about cloning?”



        “Nothing, really. That’s when you take a cell from someone and grow another person.”



        “In the movies. In real science, it’s different.”



        Sarah shifted herself, looking around the room. Claire noticed her unease.



        “Do you want me to stop?”



        Sarah shook her head, her eyes wet and glassy.



        “I think that we are clones.”



        Sarah sniffled, closing her eyes.



        “I don’t know who made us, or where, but it’s the only logical explanation.”



        “I came from my mother. I’ve seen it. I’m not some freak.” Sarah’s voice was an angry whisper.



        “A fertilized egg has it’s DNA extracted, replaced with the donor DNA, and then it’s implanted. That’s how they’ve done it with animals for all these years.” Claire looked to her identical, “Your mother carried the egg, with our DNA in it, instead of your parent’s combined DNA.”



        “And you think that’s even remotely believable?” Sarah moved away from Claire, closer to the fire. “That’s just science fiction. I suppose you think that your mother had the same thing done to her?” Sarah’s tone became belligerent.



        “It’s a theory. A better one than before.” Claire crawled next to Sarah, “I’m not trying to upset you.”



        “You are. A lot.”



        “Why?” Claire rested her right hand on Sarah’s left.



        “You’re saying that we’re, like, some kind of illegal experiment. Our very existence would make us criminals.”



        “Oh.” Claire nodded, “I thought it was the matter of not having souls.”



        “I think that you should go to bed.” Sarah muttered as she looked to Claire, anger in her narrowed eyes.



        Claire stood, confused, “I’m sorry.” She started to walk away, “I shouldn’t have told you.” She turned, “Just forget about what I said…” Claire extended her arms, palms facing the ceiling, “I’m… It can’t be true.”



        “You should get some sleep.” Sarah’s voice was cold.



        Claire left the living room, her head hanging.



                                                #



        She entered the guest bedroom. She could see Aki asleep on the inflatable bed. She crawled into the larger conventional bed, sliding under the smooth sheets and soft blankets. She lay on her back; eyes open, staring at the ceiling above her as she thought about what she had told her likeness. Claire knew that Sarah understood more than she had let on, and she fretted that she had just caused an unnecessary disturbance in the otherwise perfect life of an innocent couple.



        Aki stirred, noticing Claire’s presence in the large bed next to her. She crept up, sliding under the sheets, hoping not to wake Claire. She elongated herself along Claire’s side, resting her body against her friend in as gentle a manner as she could.



        Claire pulled the unsuspecting girl on top of her, wrapping Aki in her arms and legs, her emotions beginning to calm once she had. Claire stroked Aki’s musky, days-unwashed hair as she fought tears. She felt Aki’s arm snake under her shoulder and clutch her collarbone.



        “Aki?” Claire sniffled.



        “Hmm?” Aki’s eyes were closed.



        “Do you think I’m… wrong?”



        “About?” Aki whispered.



        “Me in general. Am I defective?”



        “Everyone is.”



        “What if I don’t have a soul?” Claire half cried in a whisper, “Like everyone else? Like you?”



        “Of course you have a soul.”



        “How do you know?”



        “What makes you so sure that I have one?”



        “I can see it. I can smell it. I can feel it. It’s what makes you Aki.”



        “What makes you Claire?”



        “Nothing. Knowledge, experience, ability, intellect; machines can have any of those. I’m just a thing.”



        Aki was silent.



        “I’m just a living machine. An organic robot. A monster.”



        Aki remained silent as she lay upon Claire. She inhaled deeply before speaking, “Why do you think so?”



        Claire paused before answering, unsure of the impact that her theory would have on her closest and only friend. “I might be a clone.”



        Minutes passed in silence.



        “You think that Sarah is one too?”



        “You believe me?”



        Aki lifted off Claire, lying on her side, facing the older girl. “You have a habit of being correct.”



        “You should stay away from me. I’m a criminal.” Claire rolled away from Aki. “You should fly home tomorrow. I’m going to get you into trouble.”



        “Do you want me to?” Aki asked.



        Claire sighed. “I… need to think about it.”



        “Yes or no?”



        Claire started to sob.



        Aki pulled herself against Claire’s back, “So what if you’re a clone. What’s the big deal?”



        “You don’t understand. It’s illegal. I’m illegal.”



        “So is buying Ecstasy. So is dealing out vigilante justice with an axle wrench. So is selling prescription medicine on the street. So is going a hundred and forty across South Dakota. We’ve both broken laws before. Why is this so different for you?”



        “Because I’m not human.”



        Aki squeezed herself around Claire. “You feel human to me.”



        “You were born of a woman and man. I was created in some laboratory from one person. Maybe no people; maybe I’m a hundred percent synthesized.”



        “I don’t care how you were created. I’m just glad that you were.”



        “Anyone could have saved you from that guy. It just happened to be me.”



        “I’m not talking about that.”



        Claire rolled over to face her friend. She felt the short girl’s soft fingers wiping the tears from her cheeks and lashes. She reached out, wrapping herself around Aki.



        “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”



        “I was afraid.”



        “Of what?” Aki rubbed her cheek against the warm silk of Claire’s pajamas.



        “Lots of stuff.”



        “You aren’t afraid anymore?”



        “I’m terrified.”



        Together, they drifted into sleep. Their minds were unsettled, but their weary bodies thirsted for luxury after days of ascetic existence, soaking in the comfort and extravagance of their accommodations.



                                                #



        Sarah had not slept. She tried to resist waking Claire and her friend, but her need to apologize proved too powerful. She stood outside the door to the guest room where the two slept, debating with herself the merits of her intrusion. She opened the door with quiet caution. Sarah grinned as she beheld the sight of the two sleeping in each other’s arms. Her speculation about the extent of their friendship became concrete.



        She walked toward the bed, resting on the edge, next to Claire. She tapped her slumbering twin’s upturned shoulder. She held a finger to her lips as Claire turned to her, opening her eyes.



        Claire tried to untangle herself from Aki. Sarah placed her hands against her twin’s side, holding her still. Once Claire had calmed, Sarah slid in to the bed, laying behind her, whispering into her ear.



        “I’m sorry, Claire.” Sarah hugged her double from behind.



        Claire swiveled her neck, straining to look to Sarah. Her body was immobilized between her double and her friend.



        “About before.” Sarah elaborated. “I was overreacting.”



        “S’okay.” Claire whispered.



        “I’m willing to accept that you may be right.” Sarah smoothed the pink silk that covered Claire’s arm. “If you are, then I want your help. I want to help you.” Sarah gripped the arm that she had been stroking. “We’re both in the same…”



        “Predicament?” Claire offered.



        “Am I making you uncomfortable?” Sarah asked.



        “No.” Claire whispered back.



        “Do you mind if I stay for a little bit?”



        “No.”



        Sarah molded her body against the more muscular contour of her double. She held herself tight against Claire; the comfort of their closeness relieved the distress that had overtaken Sarah’s mind since their conflict.



        “If you’re right, we’re still sisters, right?” Sarah whispered.



        “In some sense. We’re really the same person, genetically.”



        “So are identical twins.” Sarah proposed, “They’re siblings.”



        “Absolutely.”



                                                #



        Sarah knocked at the door to the guest room. Claire opened the door. She and Aki appeared to have been awake for a while.



        “Would you two like some towels and stuff?”



        “You mean for a shower?” Aki sprung to her feet, grinning at the idea. “Yes, please.”



        “It’s been a few days, hasn’t it?” Claire said, thumbing the hem of Aki’s T-shirt.



        “The bathroom, two doors to your left, is all set for you.”



        “Can I go first?” Aki pleaded.



        “Go ahead.” Claire smiled to her eager friend.



        Aki hurried toward the anticipated opulence of her impending shower.



        Sarah sat next to Claire on the edge of the bed.



        She cleared her throat. She smoothed a wrinkle from her skirt before speaking. “This is going to sound weird.” She started, fidgeting with her stockings, smoothing them over her ankles, “What’s going on between you and Aki.”



        “Nothing.”



        “You can tell me. I won’t judge. I just want to know, so I don’t say something stupid. Make either of you uncomfortable.”



        “We’re friends.”



        Sarah rolled her eyes.



        “We’re close friends.”



        “Are you in love?”



        “No!” Claire almost shouted.



        “Are you in like?”



        “No.” Claire restrained her tone.



        “I think that she has a crush on you.”



        “That’s just great.”



        “You don’t feel the same way for her?”



        “She’s a good friend. That’s it.”



        “You just wrap yourself around your friends, whenever you share a bed with them?”



        “We’ve been sleeping together…” Claire waved her hands dismissing her previous sentence, “Just sleeping. Slumber. We had to keep warm when we were on the road.”



        “It was cold in here last night?” Sarah giggled.



        “She’s just gotten used to sleeping that way. That’s all.”



        “I think that you’re lying.”



        “To what end?” Claire stood, pacing.



        “I think that you’re afraid of your feelings.”



        “I’m not afraid of anything.”



        “You love her. Don’t you?” Sarah stood, “You don’t hate her, that’s for certain.”



        Claire sighed.



        “It’s okay. You should be honest with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with loving someone.”



        “There is when you’re a soul-less… creature like me.”



        “Stop saying that. We’re just like everyone else. And we’re both loved. I have Josh, you have Aki, and we have each other.”



        Claire walked to one of the room’s windows, staring as she spoke, “I don’t want this. Any of it.” Claire closed her eyes. “She wouldn’t want me anyway.”



        “What’s not to want? You’re a wonderful, heroic, intelligent person.”



        “I have this ugly scar, I’m insane, and I’m an addict.”



        “Then why did she come out here with you? On a motorcycle? In lousy weather? Why does she nestle into you like you’re her salvation? Why does she dress like you?”



        “Because she has some sick, jealous obsession with being my twin.”



        “Jealous? Of me?”



        “She has issues.”



        “You’re one of them.” Sarah stood behind Claire, resting her chin on the Jersey girl’s shoulder. “Why don’t you ask her to help you take a bath? She’ll start drooling.” Sarah smiled.



        “You’re sick.” Claire laughed.



        “Maybe. I’m right, though.” Sarah hugged Claire from behind.



        “I’m too dangerous. We’re too dangerous.” Claire tensed. “She might get hurt.”



        “What do you mean?”



        Claire was silent for nearly a minute.



        “Do you want to know how I got this scar?” Claire’s voice was soft and distant.



        Sarah hugged Claire tighter. “Tell me.”



        “I was twelve.” Claire stared into the pale gray light of the rainy Seattle morning. “I was walking home from school. It was getting dark.” Claire cleared her throat. “Someone grabbed me from behind. He held a knife to my throat.”



        “You must have been terrified.”



        “I was. Then this stranger stepped in front of us. She looked familiar, but I didn’t know from where. She was saying stuff to the guy that was holding me. I tried to squirm away. He sliced my forehead as I broke free.”



        “You poor thing.” From over Claire’s shoulder, Sarah stared into the cold mist outside.



        “I ran home, crying, gushing blood. My father freaked. He took me to the hospital, and they stitched me up. I never told him how I was cut.”



        “Why not? There was some psychopath wandering around your town.”



        “Psychopath, yes. Wandering, no.”



        “What do you mean?”



        “When he was holding me, talking to the woman, he kept calling me ‘genius.’” Claire shifted herself. “Like he knew something about me.”



        “A stalker?”



        “The woman said a bunch of stuff too. I didn’t understand any of it until now.”



        “Now?”



        “She told the man that ‘they’ would never find all of ‘us.’”



        “What?”



        Claire turned to Sarah, resting her hands on her double’s hips as she held her gaze. “She had to be in her forties, but that woman was me… us. I didn’t recognize her at the time, but I’m sure of it now.”



        “You mean she’s our real mother?”



        “We are her. We’re copies of her. She made us.”



        “Who is she?”



        “I don’t know.”



        “I believe you, but could you be wrong? I mean, you were young. It was twelve years ago. You didn’t know what was going on then.”



        “You’re missing the point of the story.” Claire shook Sarah’s hips in a firm, gentle grip. “I was being hunted by that guy, and she knew it. He was part of something bigger. So are we. She said that they would never find all of us.”



        “So you think that we’re in danger?”



        “God, that felt great.” Aki entered the room, wrapped in a towel.



        Sarah seated herself at the bottom of the guest bed. Claire continued to stand by the window.



        “You guys look upset.” Aki observed, “Did I use up all the hot water or something?”



        “No, dear.” Sarah smiled.



        “It’s the gloomy weather.” Claire said.



        “That’s right. You’re Mrs. Sunshine.” Aki grinned.



        Sarah giggled.



        Aki walked to Claire, pulling at the pink silk of her pajamas. “Shower time, smart-gal.”



        Sarah smiled to Claire from behind Aki. Claire glowered back, knowing where Sarah’s amusement was based.



        “I’ll make it fast.”



        “Use the green shampoo. It’s the best one for… our hair type.” Sarah grinned to Claire as she stood to walk out of the room. She stopped, turning in the doorway. “You know, you should take your time.” Her wink to Claire failed to escape Aki’s notice. “Aki and I can go shopping without you.”



        “That’s a good idea.” Claire said, nodding to Sarah in silent thanks for the forethought, “You two go without me.”



        “We can wait.” Aki volunteered.



        “Claire told me that she needs to work on the motorcycle, dear.” Sarah was relieved that Aki appeared to accept the hasty excuse.



        Claire smirked, thumbing a lapel of her pink silk outfit as she looked to Aki. “You know my size. I trust your taste.”



        “As well you should.” Aki nodded, grinning.



                                                #



        As Sarah and Aki returned, Claire scrambled to close the display of the BigNet terminal in Josh’s office.



        “I have to go. Thanks for the help. I never could have gotten into their network so fast by myself.” Claire whispered to her M-lync, which rested in her lap.



        “Any time Claire. You’d better take good care of my little sister, or I’ll wipe-out your bank account.” Mike grinned to Claire in the small display of her communicator before dropping the call.



        She had discovered much during the few hours of solitude that the others’ shopping expedition had afforded her. She needed to get Sarah alone, to share her findings. She tried to make sure that everything in Josh’s office was as he had left it before setting off for his vineyard earlier that morning. She entered the living room, greeting Aki and her double.



        “Find some good stuff?”



        “Oh, yeah.” Aki smiled, scurrying up to Claire. She handed the taller girl a heavy bag of clothing, her face beaming with pride.



        “I can’t wait to see.” Sarah grinned.



        “Oh boy.” Claire rolled her eyes. “Anything pink that I should know about?”



        Aki shook her head, her mouth twisted into a devilish half-smile. “Come on, let’s get you dressed.”



        “You go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”



        Claire sat on the sofa, next to Sarah. “That was a smart move, before. We shouldn’t be seen together.”



        “Did you find anything out?”



        “Yes, and no.” Claire spoke quietly. “The IVF place that your parents went to, and the place that my parents went to… there were several of the same physicians on-staff at both of them, but at different times.”



        “And?”



        “Take a look.” Claire produced a group photo, enlarged to fit a letter-sized sheet. She pointed to one of the white-coated persons in the back row of the shot.



        Sarah gasped.



        “I almost missed her, because of the glasses, and the fact that the image is pretty primitive.”



        “Did you find out her name?”



        “She could be one of five women listed.” Claire stood. “It’s a start.”



        “How did you get this?”



        “Some light hacking. Don’t tell Aki about it yet. Or Josh for that matter.”



        “You think that they could be in danger.”



        “We shouldn’t take any chances until we know more about this… us.”



        Sarah watched Claire pad her way down the hall, and into the guest bedroom. She turned to scrutinize the photograph that Claire had given her. She recognized the woman in the back row, much like herself in appearance, her hair much longer, glasses hiding some of her older-looking face. She studied the picture for several minutes as her mind raced with all of the intriguing and upsetting possibilities that Claire’s findings pointed toward. Sarah quickly folded the photo when she saw Claire and Aki enter the living room, startling her with their sudden presence.



        “You look so adorable.” Sarah sang as she stood, walking to Aki, scanning her from head to toe. The petite woman wore a sand-colored synthetic suede blazer with matching pants, authoritative-looking black high-heeled boots, and a white silk shirt. Sarah continued to fawn over Aki as the Asian spun herself around, displaying her new attire.



        “Doesn’t she look wonderful?” Sarah asked Claire, winking to her identical.



        “Never mind me.” Aki pointed her thumb to Claire.



        She stood before the two in a dusty-lavender shirt, her black vinyl jacket and pants shining in the pale light of the rainy afternoon clinging to her unique fusion of angles and curves. The glossy leather of her new boots creaked as she spun herself around, extending her arms for the other’s scrutiny. Claire’s smile was evidence enough for Aki to know that she had made the right selection.



        “Don’t you just want to climb all over her?” Aki asked in a distracted tone as she lost herself in the mesmerizing glints of light that accentuated Claire’s contours. She reddened. “I said that out-loud, didn’t I?”



        Sarah nodded, grinning. “She’s so dark, gloomy, and sexy, all at the same time. It’s understandable.” Sarah stood next to Aki looking at her double in her new clothes.



        “I was going for soft, yet dangerous, but that’s close enough.” Aki said.



        Claire’s growing embarrassment was overpowering. The scrutiny and words of Aki and Sarah were unsettling her. She waited for the room’s attention to shift away from her.



        “You both look fabulous.” Sarah said, standing back from the two. “Aki has a real eye for fashion.”



        Aki continued to stare at her creation, unable to remove her eyes from the sleek, powerful outline of her friend. Her reverie shattered as Claire spoke.



        “I want you to stay here.” Claire addressed Aki. “Sarah and I have to pay someone a visit.



        “But… I…” Aki’s sad eyes met Claire’s.



        “I need you to stay here.” Claire took Aki’s hands in hers. “We’ll be back soon.” Claire gave Aki a faint smile.



        “Promise?”



        Claire nodded. “I want to see your other outfits.” Her thumbs brushed the backs of Aki’s hands. “Change into one before we get back.”



        Aki lowered her eyes, after giving Claire an uneasy smile from one corner of her mouth.



        “The car is in the driveway.” Sarah offered; unsure of where Claire’s sudden travel plans would bring them.



        “I’ll drive.” Claire said as she led Sarah out of the house.











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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2003 1:56 pm 
I'm not sure why you said you're not thrilled with this chapter since it's very good.



I'm also not sure why Claire thinks she's a criminal. Even if the way she was conceived is illegal that doesn't make her a criminal since she didn't have anything to do with it.



I'm curious what the point of the exercise was and why that man is hunting all the clones. For that matter how many are there?



Looking forward to reading more



Anya in a wimple...I'd pay full admission for that. Gods Served And Abandoned - by Antigone Unbound


You know the worst thing about people in a relationship? The fact that they're in a relationship. - Hilda Spellman







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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2003 5:14 pm 
Wow! This story is getting so good! :applause



The way you're developing the different pathways of the story is giving you so much creative room. I'm all jealous now because I wish I was writing it and had the imagination to think up such an interesting story.

And i'm looking forward to the claire/aki relationship and the clones. I'm going to take a hopeful guess and say government conspiracy...?



Please put the next chapter up soon, otherwise I think I will go mad from the withdrawal effects of having no Latency to read.:wink

"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."



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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2003 10:55 pm 
Hey SQ :) I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter (one which you aren't too thrilled with) and all of its flaws (as you claimed at the start) :wink Well personally, I was thrilled to read it, it was a rush, the adventure and all. I love the developing bond between Sarah and Claire. The whole sister thing kind of gets me, touches me emotionally :) I guess we are always our own harshest critic, but from my point of view, the story is going pretty much flawless. I will never say absolutely flawless cause I believe there's always room for improvement. Keep up the great work :)

Cassie





Ask me if I loved you yesterday. I'll say 'Yes'

Ask me if I love you today. I'll say 'Yes'

Ask me if I'll love you tomorrow. I'll say 'Always'







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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2003 5:11 am 
All,



Thanks for the feedback and encouragement. It’s the only compensation that I receive for this often-laborious effort :) . You have all read about 38,000 words (about 165 pages of a standard novel) by now, and I am excited that so many of you have been able to get some enjoyment from the characters and world that I’ve created for you.





Justin,



You get the prize for pointing out the biggest deficiency in this chapter. This was a point that I wanted to address in much more specific detail, but I couldn’t find a way to illustrate the past and possible future laws governing human cloning that was not (despite my best efforts) too dry. I’m trying to keep the story wet, dynamic, and interesting, and I lack the ability to integrate a legislative exposition that would account for Claire’s perception.

I tried three different approaches to the task, and each of them became unreadable and boring. I decided that the players of the story aren’t legal historians, and that acceptance of a seemingly unjust law would help to illustrate their detachment from the system of mock-self-rule in which they have been led to believe they are living. The players are at a point where a government that is ‘of the people’ has so many nonsensical laws that they have become detached and apathetic to the mirage of democratic process.



See what I mean? Even my explanation is getting dry :) .





Chameleon Girl,



I wish that I had the creative room that you’ve been able to find. My perception is tinged with some inside information about where the plot is going, so I’m unable to share your albeit refreshing perspective. Your comment has proven very beneficial to me, as you have reminded me that I DO have freedom to choose where this is all headed toward. It’s easy (for me) to forget that I’m in-charge.

I apologize for fostering your developing addiction to the story, but the thought of your unfortunate condition brings me great cheer :) . It’s a very high form of praise to a writer when a reader can become so engaged in your work. Thank you.





Cassie,



The sister-bond has been one of my biggest challenges, and I’m glad that I was able to reach a part of you through it. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad chapter after all ;) Thanks for the constant encouragement.





All,



Chapter 7 is almost ready, and I will post it as soon as I feel it’s ‘tight’ enough. I thank all of you for giving this story a chance, and I hope that someday, after some editing, it may fall upon actual paper, bound, with a cover and everything. I keep imagining the cover art as the scene with Aki and Claire standing in Mrs. Nashumara’s garden, their faces painted silvery white, their mismatched physiques brought into harmony with each other, and their surroundings by their identical clothes and disguise-like makeup. It could be an eye-grabber.







Edited by: StrangeQuark at: 11/6/03 7:23 am


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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 6
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2003 7:01 am 
You're welcome :) As a fellow writer, I understand what constant encouragement can do. For one, it helps with the morale ;) I could read a few chapters then drop a post irregularly but I try to keep updated as much as possible and drop frequent feedback/compliments. I feel that it's the least I could do for all the effort you have placed into this story. I can imagine the idea you've got for the cover art of the novel and I must say I like it too :) It's got quite a delicate touch in my opinion. And SQ, if you want it bad enough, it will happen. So let me know when the novel's out and I'll get my ass into the nearest bookstore asap just to buy it ;)

Cassie





Ask me if I loved you yesterday. I'll say 'Yes'

Ask me if I love you today. I'll say 'Yes'

Ask me if I'll love you tomorrow. I'll say 'Always'







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 Post subject: Latency - Chapter 7
PostPosted: Wed Nov 12, 2003 7:48 am 
CHAPTER 7



        “Where are we going?” Sarah asked after several minutes of silent driving had elapsed.



        “To visit someone at Seattle University.”



        “Who?”



        “Someone who may have answers. Someone who Aki’s brother helped me to find.”

        “He knows about… us?”



        “No. I asked him to help me locate someone. I didn’t tell him why.”



        Sarah stared out the car’s window allowing a few moments of the gray day pass by before speaking. “I had a weird dream, a few nights ago.” She looked to Claire, whose attention was fixed to the rain-slicked road ahead. “Aki said that you had a disturbing dream too.”



        “She did, did she?” Claire’s tone was pointed.



        “She told me about it after I mentioned mine. She didn’t just volunteer it.”



        “Lets drop it. Okay?” Claire snapped. “We’ve got more important shit to worry about right now.”



        “Why do you do that?”



        “Do what?”



        “You shut everyone down. It’s rude.”



        “I’m not shutting anyone down. I’m trying to stay focused.”



        “That’s a big issue for you, isn’t it?”



        Claire sighed. “I’m not like other people. I have some problems.”



        “That’s why you should let the rest of us help you.” Sarah watched Claire clench the steering wheel as she continued, “We love you. We want to help you.”



        “Oh yeah? Who is ‘we’?”



        “Me for one. And, of course, Aki. It really bothers her when you get so manic. She wants to help you so badly, and you just get upset with her when she tries.” Sarah gripped Claire’s vinyl-clad thigh, “Could you try to be more patient with her? She’s very patient with you.”



        “Why should I? I didn’t ask her to put up with me. If she does, it’s her own fault.” Claire reconsidered after hearing her thoughts out-loud; their callous message had crystallized in the relative silence of the car’s interior. She tried to alleviate her shame. “I’m just not in a patient place right now. All of this is getting too crazy.”



        Claire pulled into a large parking lot on the university’s campus. Sarah stepped out of the vehicle after opening an umbrella. She walked next to Claire, holding the flimsy cover over them as they splashed their way through puddles and small streams that flowed over the tarmac.



        They strolled through the persistent dampness, progressing across the campus toward one of the science buildings. Claire opened the door for Sarah, looking behind her as she slipped inside, after her double.



        “The faculty info that I pulled down from BigNet said that Doctor Loeffler is on the fourth floor.”



        “What do we do once we find him?”



        “Ask questions.” Claire started to climb the stairs.



        They found Dr. Emil Loeffler’s office. The door was locked and there was no light inside.



        Sarah relaxed, relieved that they could forget about the idea.        “Guess he’s not in. We should just go.”



        “Let’s try something first.” Claire tugged Sarah’s wrist, walking down the hall, their steps echoing down the distance ahead of them. Claire spotted a student about to enter a nearby restroom. She approached the young man, clearing her throat to get his attention.



        “Hi.” The young man looked to Claire, his eyes wandered over her shiny, tight-fitting outfit.



        “I’m looking for Dr. Loeffler’s class. Do you know where it is?”



        “I think it’s the room the end of the hall, before the stairs.” The young man gestured absently as he beheld the unusual sight of the twins that had stopped him.



        “Thanks.” Sarah said as they turned to walk in the direction he had indicated.



                                                #



        Josh left the vineyard early. He stood in the entrance to his home, shaking drops of rain from his coat and umbrella before slipping out of his shoes and venturing into the house. He headed for the large bathroom to tidy himself for the approaching evening with Sarah’s parents and their two guests.



        He jumped at the unexpected sight of Aki leaning over the large bathtub in the center of the room. She turned from her scrubbing, smiling to Josh.



        “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Aki cringed a little as she saw Josh holding a hand to his chest. “Just washing our riding suits. I’m almost done.”



        “That’s okay.” Josh caught his breath, “Take your time. I’ll use the other bathroom.”



        “Are you okay?”



        “Just a little edgy today.” Josh smiled. “Come on, I’ll help you hang those up.”



        “Okay.” Aki nodded. “Thanks.”



        They carried the damp suits down the hall and into the garage. Josh hung them near an electric heater, turning the unit on to speed the drying process.



        “Why are you so jumpy?” Aki asked.



        “Nothing in particular.” Josh gave a weak smile. “Sarah’s just been anxious about quitting her job, Claire coming, her parents meeting her. It’s not usually tense around here.”



        “She quit her job?”



        “Right after she got back. I demanded that she quit.” Josh sighed, realizing that Aki may mistake his stance. “I’ve never been so worried about her as I was that morning. We don’t need the extra money, and she doesn’t need the danger.”



        “It’s okay. You don’t need to explain yourself. I agree with you. She was one of the lucky ones that morning.”



        “It’s chilly out here. Let’s go sit in the living room.” Josh led Aki out of the garage. She followed him through the house. Once in the large room, she settled herself on the large sofa.



        “Well, don’t you look sharp?” Josh looked to Aki, “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice your new suit until now. Very becoming.”



        “Thank you.” Aki bowed her head.



        “Did Sarah go out somewhere?”



        “She and Claire took off about an hour ago. They should be back soon.”



        “You decided to stay here and relax?”



        “Yes.” Aki’s answer was tense.



        “How about I start the fire? There’s a real chill in the air today.”



        Aki smiled. “That sounds like a great idea.”



        Josh placed kindling into the hearth, setting it ablaze with a long match. “Aki?” He asked, crouched in front of the fireplace.



        “Yes?”



        “I’d like to ask you something.” Josh rose, turning to his diminutive guest.



        “Sure.”



        “Claire… is she…” Josh sat on the sofa, next to her, before continuing, “This is going to sound…”



        “What about her?”



        “She has a few screws loose, doesn’t she?”



        Aki chuckled. “I wouldn’t say loose.” She grinned, “Missing would be a more accurate term.”



        “Does it bother you?” Josh checked the progress of the fire that he had started, “Worry you?”



        “Sometimes.”



        “It must be tough, having a friend who’s so… complicated.”



        Aki rolled her eyes. “She’s like an adaptive puzzle.”



        “Adaptive?”



        “Once you find a way to reach her, she learns from it, blocks it. She locks whatever door you just thought you’d opened. She’s so distant sometimes.”



        “Why do you suppose that is?”



        “A lot of reasons, I guess.” Aki shrugged.



        Josh sighed, “My mother and Sarah’s parents are coming over tonight, to meet her.” He leaned back into the sofa, “Do you think she can handle it?”



        “Do you have any vodka?”



        “You think that might help her?”



        “It’s, like, the best medicine for her.” Aki smirked.



                                                #



        The classroom door was open. Claire entered the room first, Sarah followed close behind. An old man turned away from his work at one of the long tables in the laboratory. He stared at the two women that blocked his view of the doorway and had to force himself to avert his eyes after a few seconds.



        “Dr. Emil Loeffler?” Claire asked.



        “My office hours are posted on my door. Please stop by to see me then.” He turned away from them, returning to his work, his hands now vigorous at the task that they had dawdled with before.



        Claire reached back, closing the classroom door with a gentle pull. The white-haired man turned again to face them as he heard the sharp tick of the door’s lock engaging.



        “We want to ask some questions.” Sarah kept her distance from the old man, Claire was edging closer to him.



        “I will answer to the best of my abilities.”



        “You recognize us.” Sarah grew uneasy as she watched Claire’s activities from the corner of her vision. She was reaching inside her jacket.



        “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to stare. I thought that you both looked familiar.” The man stepped back. Claire’s slow advance was making him uncomfortable.



        “How?” Claire asked, pulling a hypodermic syringe from her jacket, pulling the protective cap off the needle. “From where?” She tossed the plastic cone to her side as she continued her slow, intimidating approach to the old man.



        “I’m obviously mistaken.” He swallowed hard, looking to the needle in Claire’s hand.



        “I don’t believe you.” Claire held the syringe up to her glance, pulling its piston back, and drawing air into the vessel.



        “I worked with a woman, long ago.” The man had backed himself into a table, the racks of glassware jingled as he made the abrupt gentle contact.



        “Go on.” Sarah’s chin rose.



        “Dr. Susan Huessman.”



        “Embolism.” Claire half-whispered as she held the air-filled needle inches from the old man’s neck. The menace in the girl’s solemn gaze made his legs weaken.



        “In San Diego.” He started to quiver. “She disappeared.”



        “What do you mean?” A dimple formed where Claire pressed the needle’s tip to the thin skin above the man’s jugular vein.



        “She looked just like you. She sounded like you. Please, I don’t know anything else.” His eyes clamped shut as he anticipated his death.



        “Thank you.” Claire withdrew the hypodermic needle and tossed it to the floor.



        The man relaxed, releasing the breath that he had been holding. He pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket and dragged it across his brow.



        “He’s lying.” Sarah surprised Claire with her declaration. “He knows more than that.”



        Claire reached into her jacket again, still standing inches from Loeffler.



        “Please.” Loeffler pleaded to Claire. “I have a wife… grandchildren.”



        “We just want answers.” Sarah said.



        The old man spoke in a hoarse whisper, “I can’t. They know where I live, where my children live.”



        “Who?” Claire mouthed, withdrawing her hand from her jacket’s insides.



        Loeffler turned away from them, scribbling onto a piece of paper, before handing it to Claire.



        Claire cocked her head back as she read the message. “What’s this supposed to mean?” She whispered, looking from the note to Loeffler.



        His eyes pleaded with Claire. “I’m sorry, young lady. I can’t help you.” He looked nervously about the room as he spoke.



        Claire folded the scrap and placed it into her jacket. “Thanks anyway.” She smiled to the old man. “We won’t take any more of your time.” She turned to Sarah.



        “Julie, why don’t you go wait for the bus? I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”



        “That… sounds like a… splendid idea… Darla.” Sarah left the room.



        “She has a speech… thing.” Claire offered before leaving the aged Doctor Loeffler behind.



                                                #



        Aki stood from the sofa as she heard a car pull onto the long driveway of the Berman homestead. She walked to the door, looking to the display panel, surprised to see Claire, by herself, walking toward the house. She opened the door for her friend, Josh stepped behind her, looking confused.



        “Where’s Sarah?” Aki asked as she pulled the door open for Claire.



        “She’ll be along.” Claire pointed to the driveway, where a taxi-van was pulling up.



        “I don’t understand.” Josh said, relieved to see his wife emerge from the green-painted vehicle, and walking toward the house.



        Claire, Aki, and Josh stood in the entrance to the house, waiting for Sarah to enter. She smiled to them as she walked through the front door, pushing it closed behind her, making sure to engage all of it’s locks.



        “Darla?” Claire asked her double, hands on her hips. “That’s what you came up with?”



        “I didn’t know that we’d be playing a game like that.” Sarah snapped. “Julie panicked.” She leaned closer to Claire, “What’s with the needle?”



        “I borrowed it from the hospital.”



        Aki and Josh looked to each other, recognizing their mutual exclusion.



        “Everybody, lets go into the living room. Sarah and I need to talk with you about something.” Claire spoke with authority and haste.



        They assembled in the spacious room, Claire slid next to Aki on the couch, and Sarah sat herself on Josh’s lap.



        “What’s on the paper?” Sarah asked, “Why did we have to perform a scene from the ‘Julie and Darla’ show?”



        Claire’s face was blank. She drew a deep breath before speaking. “1A -- The First Army.”



        The others looked to Claire, waiting for her to elaborate.



        “The First Army is looking for us.”



        “The military?” Josh asked, sounding incredulous.



        Claire shook her head, “The First Army is more dangerous.”



        “What’s all this about? What danger?” Josh asked, agitated.



        “I’m sorry. Josh. Aki. Sarah.” Claire started, “I need to fill all of you in. We all may be in danger.”



        The others sat silent, glancing at each other, peering out of the room’s large windows, looking out into the failing light of the late afternoon. Claire stood, pacing in front of the fire, lighting a cigarette before speaking.



        “Do you want an ashtray?” Sarah offered.



        Claire shook her head. “I’ll ash in the fireplace.”



        “Well?” Josh prompted his wife’s double.



        “I have good reason to believe that Sarah and I are not normal. Not like other people.” Claire took a long drag from her cigarette before continuing. “We’re duplicates of another person; clones.”



        Josh laughed, stopping once he realized that none of the others in the room shared his amusement. “You’re serious?”



        Claire nodded, flicking ashes from her smoke into the fire behind her. “It was in plain sight all along. I just couldn’t put the pieces together.”



        “What pieces?” Aki asked, “How did you figure all of this out?”



        “I haven’t. I’m still guessing.”



        “So who’s the First Army?” Sarah asked, stroking her husband’s arm in nervous swirls.



        “I’ve read references to them in some BigNet archives. They see themselves as protecting God’s children from his wrath. They seek out and eliminate anything that they feel could be construed as an abomination by their Almighty.” Claire tossed the remainder of her cigarette into the fire. “The First Army is a movement without borders, without political affiliation, and without recourse to any law.”



        “Sort of like the Temple Builders?” Josh offered.



        “More like a hate group. Like the Three-C’s, but world wide, and with a more serious agenda.”



        “Why would they want to come after you, or Sarah?” Aki asked.



        “Our origin threatens their beliefs. They wouldn’t want mankind to suffer the consequences of our blasphemous existence. They must have known about us for some time.”



        “Why haven’t they tried to kill you before, then? Why is this an issue now?” Josh asked.



        “They have, only I didn’t know it at the time. I was twelve.” Claire replied, pointing an angry finger to the scar above her left eyebrow.



        “One of them tried to kidnap her, or kill her.” Sarah filled in. “Tell them about the woman, dear.”



        Claire sparked another cigarette. “She must’ve been following me too. I didn’t know who she was, but when I met Sarah, I was reminded of her face. I started to remember more. The whole ordeal started coming back to me.”



        “Who is she?” Josh asked, shaking his head in disbelief.



        “I think that she’s our… mother. Creator.” Claire pulled a drag from her smoke, exhaling as she spoke the name, “Dr. Susan Huessman.”



        “So why haven’t the First Army gotten to either of you?” Josh asked.



        “I don’t know. Maybe they’re waiting for something. Maybe they haven’t pinpointed our location yet. Maybe they know that we know.”



        “Honey, your parents are going to be here in about an hour. Maybe we should start dinner.” Josh started to stand.



        Sarah nodded.



        “I’d love to help.” Aki offered.



        “That’s okay, sweetie, we’ve got it.” Sarah winked to Aki. “You two just sit here and relax.”



                                                #



        The husband and wife retreated to the kitchen. Aki looked to Claire, patting the vacant spot next to her on the sofa. Claire looked to Aki in annoyance and then softened, complying as she remembered her conversation with Sarah.



        “Hey.” Aki said to Claire as the taller girl seated herself.



        Claire smiled to Aki, reaching for her hand, sliding close to her.



        “So, you really meant all that? You think we’re in danger?”



        Claire nodded.



        “What can we do?”



        “Hide.”



        They sat together in silence for several moments.



        Aki held their clasped hands up to her gaze. “You know, I’ve always had a thing for hands. And feet too.” She started, “They tell you so much about a person. How old they are, where they’ve been, where they’re going, where they want to be.”



        “What do mine tell you?”



        “They’re strong, but soft. They’re skilled, but wasted. They’re elegant, but neglected. They’re scarred, but beautiful. They’re charming, but unsophisticated. They tell me all about you.”



        Claire smiled to Aki, “You’re too philosophical sometimes.”



        “Sorry. I didn’t mean to get so overdramatic. I guess that’s my mother’s influence.”



        Claire squeezed Aki’s hand, “I like deep-thinkers.”



                                                #



        “We have to keep them safe.” Josh whispered to Sarah as he placed their main entrée into the ultrasonic oven. “They should stay here, with us, until I can find out what we can do.”



        “Claire said that they’re leaving in two days. She isn’t going to change her mind about that. She’s stubborn.”



        “I’ll convince her to stay. I just need a week, maybe two to work this… situation. I have contacts, deep contacts in the ODHS. They can help us.”



        “I don’t think that you should tell anyone about this. You don’t know who’s connected to whom.”



        “I have to do everything that I can to protect you, your sister, and her friend. If you’re in any danger I will not just sit back and hide. This calls for action.”



        Sarah smiled, “You should have seen Claire take action today.” She chuckled, “It shocked me. She can be so threatening.”



        “Who did she threaten?” Josh’s voice carried concern.



        “One of the former doctors from the IVF that my parents went to.”



        Josh closed his eyes, sighing. “She’s a loose cannon.”



        “She can’t help it. She was traumatized when she was twelve, she’s mentally ill, and I think she’s got drug problems.”



        “So I guess that we should be congratulating her for being so sloppy?”



        “Don’t ever speak about her that way again.” Sarah turned her back to Josh.



        “I’m not defaming her.” Josh reached to Sarah, turning her around to face him again, “I like her. She’s just dangerous. She can’t go unchecked like that. We have to control her, for our sake as well as hers.”



        “So what are you saying?”



        “Let’s have her stay here until I can figure out what we can do.” Josh looked into his wife’s eyes.



        Sarah gazed back, silent for several moments, “It doesn’t bother you, then?”



        “What?”



        “That I might be a clone?”



        “You’re Sarah, my Sarah. You’re the woman that I love. Does anything else matter beyond that?”



        Sarah pulled herself to Josh, her mouth engaging his in a deep, thorough kiss. She pulled away from him, grinning. “You’re an amazing man, Joshua Berman.”



                                                #



        “I didn’t get to see you all day.” Aki said to Claire.



        “We’ll have a lot time together soon.” Claire offered, “Don’t tell either of them, but we’re heading back home tonight.”



        “We aren’t going to say goodbye, are we?”



        “The less they know, the better. I dragged everyone into some serious shit.” Claire closed her eyes. “I have to make sure that you make it home safely.”



        “What about you? You’re not going to stay in JC? With me?”



        “I shouldn’t. I need to go underground, where I can be safe.”



        “I’m going under with you.”



        “No.”



        “Why not?”



        “You need to keep your distance from me. You’re probably already in danger. I won’t be responsible for ruining you’re life.”



        “I’ll decide how to ruin my own life, thanks.”



        “I… Aki, I… care about you. I can’t put you through this. You’re real, I’m not. Your life matters, mine doesn’t.”



        Aki stared at their entwined hands for a few moments, “I understand what you said before.”



        “What?”



        “In the garden, when we were on the bridge.”



        “I don’t remember.”



        Aki paused, taking her time to formulate the right words. “Artificial things can be very beautiful.”



        “Hugh?”



        Aki squeezed Claire’s hand in a tight grip, holding her friend’s gaze for a moment before looking away.



        Claire cleared her throat. “I smell dinner. We should freshen up before Sarah’s parents get here.”



                                                #



        Claire and Aki emerged from the guest bedroom to join Sarah and Josh near the fire in the living room. They had finished preparing for their secret departure, and tried their best to conceal their collective guilt and lament over the difficult decision that they had made.



        “Where’d you two disappear to?” Sarah winked to Claire.



        “We needed some alone-time.” Aki grabbed Claire’s hand, smiling.



        “Don’t listen to her.” Claire blushed, shaking her head as she spoke, pulling her hand free from Aki’s.



        Sarah cleared her throat, looking to Aki. She performed a hair-smoothing gesture that had escaped the notice of her husband and her sister. Aki blushed as she nodded in thanks, neatening her hair with a hasty sweep of her palms.



        “Would either of you care for a drink?” Josh offered, “I’ve got some really good whiskies, gins, and vodkas, if you like.”



        Claire looked to Aki. The smaller woman nodded to her.



        “I’d like some vodka, please.” Claire requested, smiling.



        “Straight up?”



        “Please.” Claire walked to the fireplace and lowered herself to sit on the carpet in front of it.



        “When do your parents get here?” Aki sat on the sofa, next to Sarah.



        “Any minute.” Sarah turned to Claire. “What should we tell them?”



        “Lets just say that I came from their stock. It’ll be easier for everyone.” Claire turned her attention back to the fire.



        “Don’t you think the truth would be better?” Sarah asked.



        “You want your parents to know that you’re not their child?”



        “She has a point.” Aki interjected.



        “But what if they want to sue someone? They’d go to Loeffler, or one of the others.”



        “We’ll have to convince them that it’s impractical. Hell, it was next to impossible to track him down. After we lost California, it’s been difficult to get accurate information about anything that happened there before 2019.”



        “Vodka for the lady.” Josh handed a well-filled tumbler of the clear liquor to Claire. “There’s more if you need it.” He added in a confidential tone.



        “I think they’re here.” Aki alerted the others.



                                                #



        The evening went well, despite the tension that the four had tried their best to conceal from Sarah’s kindly parents. Claire did not admit it to her sister, but she did see a vague resemblance between the two of them and Sarah’s parents. Josh’s agitation was palpable, and Aki’s growing anxiety had interfered with her typically healthy appetite.



        After dessert, Sarah’s parents bid their farewell to their daughters, their friend, and their son-in-law. They retired to their rooms, Claire and Aki both holding the secret that they would be leaving soon. They lay next to one another, staring at the ceiling above them in silence as they waited for the right time.



        At 2:00 am, they crept out of the guest room, sneaking down the hallway that led to the garage. Claire pulled their suits from the brackets where Josh had hung them, and they dressed. Aki released the garage door, careful to let it rise with very little noise as Claire pushed the motorcycle out into the dampness.



        Together, they pushed the cycle down the long driveway and onto the street. Their boots slipped on the wet pavement as they labored to the top of a hill, panting from the effort. Once Claire was satisfied that they were far enough away, she thumbed the starter button. The engine cranked, but would not spark itself into operation.



        “Fuck!” Claire hissed, fiddling with the throttle body and electrical connectors to the fuel system.



        “What’s wrong with it?” Aki knelt next to Claire.



        “Someone’s been fucking with it.” Claire snapped. “The fucking ignition wires are pulled off.”



        “Why would anyone do that?”



        “To make sure that we don’t fuckin’ leave.”



        “I guess that we can push it back, and fix it tomorrow.” Aki placed a consoling hand on Claire’s shoulder.



        “Fuck that. I’m fixing it now.” Claire started rifling through the tank-bag. “You hold the flashlight.” She handed a mini-torch to Aki.



        “I brought new plugs and wires, just in case.” Claire set about snapping the new cables onto the motor. “They’re the weakest link in the whole engine. That’s why I like diesels.”



        “Hugh?”



        “No ignition system. Just compression.” Claire zipped the tank bag closed after installing the new wires. She pressed the starter button, and the motor roared to life.         “Let’s get the fuck out of here. Hop on.” She said as she mounted the bike.



        Aki jumped onto the back, resuming her familiar stance of being wrapped around Claire’s back. They sped down the wet road, hoping that their hospitable friends would understand the reasons for their rude departure.



                                                #



        Sarah lay awake, next to her sleeping husband. She listened to the motorcycle fading into the distance, her eyes wet with tears. She had heard them sliding into their suits, she had heard them open the garage, and she had just heard them leave, knowing that she may never see either one of them again. She prayed for their safety and hoped for their eventual return as she snuggled against the comforting warmth of Josh’s resting body.



                                                #



        The sun had risen well into the sky. They stopped for fuel in Idaho. Claire lighted a cigarette as she waited for Aki to return from the service station’s restroom. Minutes passed, and she grew concerned. She rounded the corner of the squat, concrete building to check on her friend. She knocked at the rusted steel door.



        “Are you okay in there?”



        There was no response.



        “Aki?”



        After several seconds of silence, Claire tried to open the door. It was unlocked. She peered inside with caution. She began to panic as she realized that the small, filthy room was empty.



        Claire ran around the building, searching the grounds for any sign of her friend, or as her fear suggested, a struggle. She almost tore a zipper off a pocket on her suit as she extracted her M-lync with haste. She called Aki’s, hoping for her to answer. She began to worry further when her display only showed white text on a blue background that flashed, “Alerting…”



        She wandered around the gas station, trying to hear the signaling tone of Aki’s communicator. As she passed the half-open door of the bathroom she almost cried when she heard the distinct sound of plastic vibrating against filthy tiles. She brought herself to peer into the small room again, this time spotting Aki’s M-lync; its cover cracked, small bits of its silver case scattered across the dingy floor.



        She began to cry, dropping to her knees, face in her palms. She started to sob heavily, just before a cold, acrid-smelling cloth covered her mouth and nose. Her vision went black, her ears rang, and she slipped out of consciousness.







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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 7
PostPosted: Wed Nov 12, 2003 10:48 am 
Oh My God :eek What's happened to Aki?



Well I guess she's been taken by this 1st army, but if so why?



I'm looking forward to reading more



Anya in a wimple...I'd pay full admission for that. Gods Served And Abandoned - by Antigone Unbound


You know the worst thing about people in a relationship? The fact that they're in a relationship. - Hilda Spellman







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 Post subject: Re: Latency - Chapter 7
PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2003 9:49 am 
It’s official . . . I'm hooked and can wait till the next chapter. This is an excellent story!!!!

Gina



----------

"I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time." ~~~ Charlie Brown



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W/T Love 24/7 since July 2000
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