|Return to the Doll House|
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|Storycodes: F/m; latex; maid; naked; bodymod; M2f; transformation; discovery; reveal; history; tease; preg; cons/nc; X||
|Return to the Doll House 3: Lauren & Nilma AmyAmy F/m; latex; maid; naked; bodymod; M2f; transformation; discovery; reveal; history; tease; preg; cons/nc; X|
story continues from part two
Part 3: Lauren & Nilma
She opened her eyes expecting everything to be blurred, indistinct, sleep muddled. No. Everything was bitter-sweet needle-sharp. Vibrant colours and shimmering detail instantly snapped into focus. Too much detail, too much light, too many sounds.
She was lying on pile of rubble, remains of broken walls around her, open sky above and a strong cold wind on her skin.
She hadn’t been outside the Hotel in years. Sun, wind, sky, she’d forgotten what they looked like. Her world had been stillness, black and white, dimmed lights, sterile corridors, plastic and rubber. The outside, with its light, and its weather, and strange sounds was too much to process, so she put it aside. Putting things aside was eminently possible.
Lauren sat opposite her, using a cracked toilet as a chair. It was still attached to part of a shattered concrete wall. She was human once more, casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Her expression signalled indifference, as ever. “Ah. You’re awake. Thought so. Can you speak?”
“Sorry. Yes. Mistress Four? What happened to me? Why am I here? Where is here?”
Lauren yawned, tilted her head forward, fixing her with a stare. “The most deserted place I could think of. Half way around the world from the Hotel. And drop the Mistress Four thing. I’m Lauren remember?”
“Sorry. My memory is a muddle.”
“How do I feel? Shocked. Confused. Too much to absorb. Strange dreams. Am I still sleeping? Am I dreaming this?”
“I don’t know. You look like you’re awake.”
“What did I miss?”
“You’ve been recovering. It’s been a few weeks. Now you’ve woken up. Not dreaming.”
“A few weeks. That can’t be right. Why aren’t we in the Hotel?”
She pulled herself into a sitting position. Effortlessly. Her body felt as light as air. Probably it was just being naked after so much time wearing layer on layer of heavy rubber. She seemed to have lost some weight, her breasts smaller, her penis gone, the gap between her legs seemed … natural … somehow familiar. Like it should have been there all along. She’d been worried that she might regret losing it, but no regrets sprang to mind.
She was sitting in the dirt, out in the open. In the dirt! Rain might fall on her at any moment, or snow, or she might get sunburn. This was almost worse than the pain had been. The world was terrifying, dirty, and big. Too big. Could she put something so big aside? Yes, she could, for a short while at least.
She held up a hand. Not burned. Not rotten. It was, in a word, perfect. Her nails, unlaquered, were long, pale and lustrous, as if made of pearl. Her naked skin echoed their flawlessness, translucent, like frosted glass, with tiny specks of golden light glimmering within its depths. Motes of light floated around her, like dust caught in a sunbeam. She’d never seen anything like it outside of a fantasy movie.
What a strange thought… A movie? She hadn’t seen a movie in years. There were no movies in the Hotel.
Astonished, she ran her fingers through her hair. It flowed in ripples over her shoulders, falling down her back to brush her naked thighs. It caught and reflected the light in a dazzling blend of reds and golds. Hair? She hadn’t had any hair since she became a maid. Hair and rubber didn’t mix well. Surely, this much would have taken years to grow, years and years.
A small, brightly coloured bird fluttered down and landed on her shoulder. It began to sing.
“Am I supposed to be glowing? It’s not radiation or something is it?”
Lauren suppressed a laugh. “Good question, but I doubt it’s that. Noticed it last night, but Mother said she could see it yesterday. Said it gave her a headache. Funny. She can’t stand to be around you… us. How’s that for a reversal?”
“What? Please tell me you’re teasing me. Why doesn’t she like me? What did I do wrong?”
“She’s probably quite fond of you but you’re still banished. The Hotel has shut down anyway. She just kept it going for you … the maids, and with them all gone, there’s no need for it, and besides, other reasons...”
“What? Did something happen? Are they alright?”
“Yeah. They’re fine. I got you out in time. Brought you here on instinct. Good save. I almost went for Mexico City. Probably a mistake to go there. Would have scored a death-toll big enough to bring all of you through at once, but I didn’t think you’d want that on your conscience. You’ll just have to squeeze in bit-by-bit like the rest of us. Could have done it though, already blew the secrecy part. Just saying.”
“I don’t understand at all. What are you saying?”
“I don’t know the toll here. Can’t say if the centipedes might have sensed something... Disturbances. After that business with Mother, the Hotel is a bust anyway. Using power openly like that, anyone in the world with half-a-clue could feel it. They must have the Hotel location by now. But as long as they don’t know we’re here, we’re peachy.”
“Figure what? Centipedes?”
“I’ve been thinking. Maybe Mother was right? Maybe we do need you.”
“I still don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me. I hear the words but they don’t make one tiny bit of sense. I must be incredibly dense. How long have I been unconscious?”
“A few weeks, that’s all.”
“Weeks? Oh no.”
“Have I been ill?”
“Have you? You were a rotting, smouldering ruin. Bones like melted glass. I guess you could call it ill.”
Twenty looked at Lauren, searching for a clue. Was she simply lying? Or telling a joke? What had really happened? Perhaps this was another one of those Hotel things where she’d never really know.
“When did you bring me here?”
“I thought I just said.”
“Could you try and put it simply please? I’m only a maid. I need basic explanations.”
“There you go, saying that again. Funny really. Only a maid?”
“Well, I’m just being honest. I am only a maid.”
Lauren snorted, made a derisive gesture. “I always wanted to destroy that place. Now my work is done, and what have we got out of it? A bona fide fucking fairy-tale princess, apparently.”
Twenty found it hard to follow Lauren over the birdsong, there were so many of them singing now, and the words were rather repetitive.
Birds didn’t sing words. What was happening? Was she going mad, drugged, or simply dreaming?
She jumped to her feet. The three little coloured birds on her shoulder fluttered up and began to circle. Three? When had the other two landed?
Where she’d been sitting, daisies bloomed. Mysteriously uncrushed. Big daisies, with pink centres. They were growing out of cracks in the concrete. How long had she been lying there? It was probably just luck they weren’t squashed.
“This is a trick yes? Some kind of jest? I’m still in the Hotel, in an isolation suit, veins full of drugs, being conditioned with a suggestive VR? That’s all it ever was. Punishment for spilling the nectar I suppose? This bit is not so terribly bad, not like the burning. I wonder if it will get worse, all of a sudden, to shock me.”
“Cute scenario. But no. This is real. Or as real as it gets, but that’s a complicated topic, so let’s just stick with plain-old-real for now.”
“No. No… This is just a delusion.”
“Sorry. I want to go back. I can’t be banished. I just… I belong there. Not out here. In the open!”
“Calm down Princess.”
“I’m not calm.”
“Obviously. That why I told you to… Mother says it’s over, and you’re out of the nest. No arguing. I’m out too, if that helps. Hot cousins together, hitting the big city, ready for fun. Hijinks ensue.”
“But we can talk her round can’t we? Even after what you said, you don’t really want to go do you?”
“It’s over. You’re all grown up, or at least, well on the way. You have responsibilities. I don’t know what you can do, but you’re going to be a parent, and the Centipede Cult, they’ll definitely be after you, and me, and our child. That guy hated Heather for some reason. Nuts about her, so I think you’re going to be the new number one on his hit list, now you’ve surfaced.”
The parent bit was just too difficult to make sense of, so she didn’t try. She needed to resolve the simple things first, the things she could work with.
“To start with, I just want my suit back. I feel naked.”
“You are naked. Anyway, no more suits. That place is finished. There has to be some silver lining to all this.”
Twenty edged backwards, pressing against the remains of an internal partition. The morning sun had warmed it. “Mistress Four. What are you saying?”
“No. Not Mistress Four. I’m Lauren, remember? As for you. You don’t even know your fucking name, do you? You think it’ll be ok to go around asking people to call you Number Twenty? They’d think we’d been cloning you. Those numbers are done. Abolished. Over. Just like the Hotel.”
“You wanted to end it? The Hotel? I don’t understand. You’re Mistress Four. How could you not want it to go on forever? What will happen to everyone else now? The Nurse? The maids?”
Lauren crawled closer, catlike. “Two and Three have their own interests, and your little maid friends spent the last ten years training, so I guess they’ll be bodyguards, admin staff, or whatever, just as planned. Bodyguards, bait, what’s the difference?”
Twenty padded over to the edge of the building, peered over the remains of a ruined wall, a gap where windows had once been. There were trees nearby, and a five-storey drop to a lush overgrown forest floor below. No car-park, no road. What was this place?
“I want to get down. Where are the stairs?”
“Stairs are blocked with rubble. No way up. No interruptions. Nice and peaceful.”
“You mean we’re trapped here?”
Lauren put a hand on her arm. “Well, that’s a matter of perspective. Are we trapped here alone, or is it just reassuringly secluded?”
“You’re kind of hot you know. It would have been creepy to fuck you while you were sleeping, but now you’re awake... Don’t you want to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end? I can grow a nice big cock for you. See how much you can take?”
Twenty gaped. “I can’t do that. I just woke up.”
“I thought you said you were just a maid? Aren’t maids always hot to trot? You can’t have it both ways. Want to see if we can handle a repeat performance without you catching fire and your flesh rotting off? Let me tell you, I never expected that. Never saw it happen to anybody before. I was just sick for a few days when my time came, but then, I had a peculiar childhood.”
Twenty twisted away. “Why are you so horrid all the time. Don’t joke about that sort of thing. I’m probably still busy dying and all this is just a hallucination.”
Lauren put her hand on Twenty’s chest, shivered. “It’s like a little electric shocks. Don’t you feel it?”
“No. But it tickles. Stop it Lauren. You can’t have it both ways. If I’m not a maid any longer, I’m not obligated to do as you say.”
Lauren leaned forward, pushing against her, kissing her. And there they were, those little shocks, setting her lips tingling. What were they anyway?
Twenty tried to back away, stumbled and fell backwards. Lauren caught her, lowered her gently to the ground.
“Get off me. I’m not in the mood.”
Lauren crawled forward, straddling her, pressing down with her weight. “You know, it’s more fun when you pretend you don’t want it. You’re starting to grow on me. A little.”
“I mean it. Get off me. Why are you doing this?”
“You used to get on my nerves. Such a good little doll, but I knew all along you were Heather’s spawn, and Heather was an evil bitch. I just took it for granted that you were evil too, like mother like daughter.”
“You’re nothing like Mistress… Number One.”
“Dee… Dehlia.” Lauren put her hand on Twenty’s breast. “Don’t you remember?”
The soft, well-worn denim of Lauren’s jeans rubbed against Twenty’s belly. Warm. It wasn’t unpleasant. No. That wasn’t going to happen. She couldn’t’ accept that kind of thinking.
Hadn’t she learned the lesson as a maid not to be a slut? After all, maids were always horny. It was a maid’s duty to please her superiors, not to indulge herself. If they were able to fool around whenever they liked, nothing would ever get done. If Lauren couldn’t order her, then it was her choice. If she was responsible for her own actions, there was no excuse for dirty behaviour.
“Come on, let’s fuck anyway?”
Twenty made a point of shaking her head vigorously. “How can you talk that way? I have nowhere to go. Nowhere to be. I’ve lost my family and now the maids. I’m alone, with nothing. It’s desolating.”
Lauren drew little circles around her nipple. “You are totally wet right now, aren’t you?”
Twenty knocked her hand away. “Don’t you have a shred of empathy? This is the end of everything for me. How will I live? There’s nothing for me to go back to. My life is ruined.”
Lauren collapsed on top of her in a fit of giggles. “How will you live?” She rolled off Twenty, onto her back, laughing louder. “Your life is ruined? Oh, poor little Princess. How will you manage without an entire staff dedicated to making you feel normal, and your personal harem of rubber-fetish maids to pamper you and tease your little prick?” She lay on her back, arms outstretched, still laughing.
Twenty sat up and poked her sharply in the ribs. “It’s not funny. Why are you laughing? You lost your home too, didn’t you? The Hotel? You keep saying how you hated it, but I don’t believe you.”
“Doesn’t matter. H-M has plenty of places board members can stay, and I’m well paid.”
Twenty poked Lauren again, prodding with a fingertip, without any result. “Fine for you. I see how it is, you probably have many things… Friends… Possessions… Houses… Money… If you’re really Mistress … Dehlia’s daughter, you’d be rich already, without being paid by H-M, wouldn’t you?”
Lauren spread her arms out like a starfish. “Sure. I have more cash than I can ever spend. Not that I need a penny of it. I can be anybody or anything without that baggage.”
“Anything or anybody? You’re being deliberately confusing again.”
“As you say,” Lauren said. She closed her eyes, the tension visibly melting from her body. She was relaxing in the morning sun as easily as a cat.
Twenty stood up, glanced down at herself. She was naked. Actually naked. Not a trace of rubber covering any part of her. Outrageous.
She prodded Lauren with her foot. “Excuse me. Did you bring any clothes here for me?”
Lauren’s eyes were still closed. “Oh sure, there’s a cooler chest next to the toilet. They’re on top.”
Twenty spotted the neatly folded pile. There was an ivory coloured slip made of some silky, satin-like fabric and a pale-blue sun-dress with velvet trim. There was even a big floppy straw hat, with a velvet ribbon that matched the dress. Next to the cooler was a pair of boots. She picked one up. Knee length, butter-soft white leather and two-inch wedge heels.
“Who picked these out?”
“Mother, of course. I don’t buy clothes. No need. I just make it look like I’m wearing them. So I don’t know the first thing about shopping.”
“Why didn’t she bring rubber?”
“Are you an idiot?”
“Are you always this rude?”
“I mean it. You’re outside now. You remember people don’t go about dressed in rubber outside the Hotel? Sure, those clothes aren’t ideal. Flashy, probably expensive designer one-offs. But at least they’re not weird. And that blue will go with your hair.”
“Yes, this horrible hair. I need to get rid of it.”
Lauren sat up, hugged her knees. “I wonder if you can. It grew in overnight. Probably grows back if you cut it. Like an Anne Rice vampire. Spoooky.”
“Never mind. It’s simple, if you grew hair, it means you want hair. You won’t cut it off. I’ll bet you if you want.”
It seemed unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility, given things like the nectar. Perhaps it was true? Twenty groaned. Wriggling into the slip, she muttered to herself. “This is all your fault. Everything was fine until you came and ruined it.”
Lauren stood up, helped her tidy the back of the slip. “I can hear that you know?”
“You were supposed to.”
“I don’t remember the part where you begged and pleaded with me not to let you screw me.”
“I begged and pleaded with you to press the alarm, and not to take me out of the containment room, after that you’d already decided to ignore my wishes.”
“No I didn’t. You’re just such an obedient little pet. Are you learning the down-side to following orders now?”
Twenty turned on her heel and slapped Lauren across the face. Not hard. Just enough to get her attention. “I am not a pet.”
Lauren rubbed her face with her hand, as if soothing the pain. “Woah. Careful Princess. If you hit a human like that you’ll knock their head right off.”
“What do you mean, a human? Aren’t we human? Though I’m not so sure about you, I’m still hoping I dreamed most of what I think I remember.”
“You think so?”
“If you’re going to be so condescending, at least try to make yourself understood.”
“Alright. You’re showing a bit of backbone since you woke up, don’t you think? Not much, but a little. How’s that gel with being a maid?”
“Again, you didn’t explain anything at all. You simply changed the subject.”
“Alright Princess. Of course you’re not human. Not even close. Never really were. Something comes in from outside, through us. You go on thinking you’re the same person, that nothing has changed, but it has. After that, powers start to show up, maybe other weird shit happen. Your physical body is just a projection of your self-image, so it’s often the first thing to alter.”
“Powers? Like those wriggly things that come out of you?”
“Out of Mother, and me, yes. But not Heather. She never did that, and you probably won’t either. Her trick, she spoke and people did what she wanted. They’d find a way to make themselves believe it was their own idea, but it was all her. She couldn’t turn it off, even if she wanted to. Just by speaking, she destroyed the freedom of everyone around her. Even I could feel the need to please her pressing in on me. It wasn’t easy to go against Heather. I think it used to get her down sometimes.”
“And you think I can do that? Seriously? No. Of course you can’t be serious. Powers? There’s no such thing. Whatever I saw, it wasn’t real.”
“Believe what you like. You’ll get them whether you want them or not. When Heather got upset, got in a panic. Eek! Boom! No control over it. Such a cliché. Not the sort of woman to put pressure on. Not unless you wanted to be caught in a sphere of expanding plasma that would vaporize concrete and steel.”
“You’re joking with me. Please be serious now. Can’t you explain things properly instead of making up nonsense?”
“Have it your way. You’ll see for yourself, sooner or later.”
Twenty turned away from Lauren, stepped into the dress and fastened it up. Clothes were better than being naked, but she felt like somebody else without her rubber. Maybe that was for the best, perhaps she really was somebody else now? There didn’t seem to be a place for a maid called Number Twenty out in the wide world full of weather.
“What am I to do now Lauren? Who are these clothes for? Where am I going? Do I have any say in it?”
“Any say in it? Depends what you mean. Power always ends up creating responsibility, and you have so much responsibility now, it’s not funny at all. I feel sorry for you.” She made a face. “Basically. Nobody demands much of me, and if they do, I usually kill them. But you… Heather set the bar pretty high when it came to taking on the big problems. There are expectations.”
“Whatever do you mean? The big problems?”
“You know, world peace, ending hunger, the mind-controlling Centipede Cult that wants to destroy the world and banish us to oblivion, stuff like that.”
“At least, I know how you work Lauren. You have two modes, flippant and absolutely incoherent. In one you don’t say anything you mean, and in the other, nothing you say means anything.”
“You should hear yourself Princess. You really don’t sound like Number Twenty at all. She didn’t have the balls. More irony or what? You traded real balls for metaphorical ones.”
“Then who am I?”
Lauren started to laugh. Paused. Laughed louder, then laughed some more. Eventually, the laughter faded to a chuckle.
“Ok. I thought you’d have worked this out already. Do I have to lay it out? Ok. Let’s have a quiz… You’ve been studying business. Let’s start with the biggest company in the world?”
“It’s Hanley-Muller isn’t it? Unless there’s something I didn’t learn. And you were saying you work for them, that Dehlia and Heather founded it all. It’s hard to believe. In fact, there are at least three points on which your story comes unstuck.”
“Firstly, Mistress One doesn’t look like she’s over a hundred years old, and she’d have to be to be at least that ancient to be Dehlia Hanley. Secondly, Dehlia Hanley died, years ago. There was a huge palaver after the funeral over the missing heiress before I even entered the Hotel.”
“Oh yes. The missing heiress. And your third reason?”
“The Muller in Hanley-Muller was Titania, often referred to as Anya. Not Heather. Definitely not Heather Mulligan, who I’m guessing would be my mother, assuming she took my father’s name.”
“Wow. You know all the details. I underestimated your study-powers Princess.”
“Will you stop that please?”
“But you missed a couple of things. Like, Mother dear is a shape-shifter, with consciousness distributed across multiple bodies, who has no more difficulty looking like she’s ninety-eight than she does looking like she’s twenty-one. Or a lamp-post, or an ocelot, or Richard Nixon.”
“Well yeah. She definitely wasn’t Nixon.”
“I direct you to my earlier statement about flippancy.”
“So, your refutation?”
Lauren put her head on one side. “Let me see. There are plenty of people you could ask about Heather. Yeah, you guessed the Mulligan part. That was a name she went by, but even that was a lie, because her real name was Heather Asher, and she was never legally married to your father.”
“Was there a reason for that?”
“Because she was legally Titania Muller at that point. Makes sense huh? I guess she could have married him under that name, but she never got around to it.”
“So you don’t know?”
“I guess she followed in her father’s footsteps when she ran off and left you. When her mother died, she was dumped by her old dad, left to be brought up by her grandparents, while he ran off to fuck Dehlia in a wide range of romantic locations around the world, one outcome of which was me.”
“Please. That would make you my aunt or something. Don’t you have any decency?”
“I used to have a brother too. He would have fucked you for sure. He would have fucked us both at once, then later got all angsty, thrown a tantrum over it, and said he had no choice.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that either. Please, can you explain how this sordid fiction relates to Anya Muller?”
“Because some of us knew that Anya Muller was a fake identity. Heather bought it back in the sixties from some passport forgers on Tottenham Court Road. The name of a poor kid that died at birth in Germany during the war. A girl whose parents were conveniently also dead. Seems that wartime German identities were easy to steal back then. Convenient, if you were a Russian spy, or a woman who supposedly died in a fire under some pretty fucked-up circumstances, and needed a new legal identity to set up a company without being arrested for arson, murder and fraud.”
“You could have made all that up though, couldn’t you? It’s not as if I can check?”
“I told you Reenie was over sixty five. Did I make her up too? You think this shit started yesterday? I’m over fifty myself you know?”
“Balderdash. I might be naïve, but I’m not that stupid. You could have made up the entire Reenie story. So, what am I supposed to think? You’re the missing Hanley-Muller heiress everyone was speculating about?”
Lauren started laughing again, struggling to get the words out.
When would Lauren put an end to this charade? Surely she’d admit it was a joke when faced with the facts.
“Sorry Lauren, but the missing heiress scandal is famous. I wrote a paper on it. The uncertainty over H-M leadership destabilized the world economy. At the time, they already controlled ten percent of world food production, forty percent of the petrochemical replacement market, sixty percent of the emergent biotech sector, and held a practical monopoly on nanotech research. Their annual turnover that year is much debated, but it was without a doubt the largest of any corporation of the period.”
Lauren managed to stop laughing, but it took a while. “Yes. Of course. Nice info dump. I thought maybe they changed the names around for you, like they hid the other stuff while they were making you play Ender’s game.” She leaned in towards Twenty, and catching her by surprise, planted a kiss on her lips. It was almost tender. Twenty pushed her away.
“You’re still kind of sexy when you do this idiot savant routine.”
“But you’re as horrible as ever,” Twenty said.
Twenty managed to stop her adversary from landing another kiss by pressing her hand up under Lauren’s chin and shoving her away.
“Alright then,” Twenty said, trying not to let her voice become a sigh. “So you actually are fabulously rich. I thought I was just making a joke. It turns out that you’re so rich it’s essentially beyond my imagination to grasp it. That must be very amusing? No wonder you’re laughing, and such a spoiled brat. I don’t even own the clothes on my back.”
Lauren blew out her cheeks. “Ooh. That smarts. Except I never had any of that as a child, but moving on. And this is going to be hilariously ironic … you’re going to kick yourself, Miss Facts-and-Figures poverty pity. Did you forget who was the founder and CEO of H-M? Who it was that registered the company back in 1970, ran it day-to-day and turned it from two women in a derelict shed into a super-power that dictates policy to nations? I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t ditzy, head-in-the-clouds Dehlia Hanley, who turns into different people on a by-the-minute basis. She was just the technical director.”
“Even if I didn’t know already. I could guess Anya Muller from your unsubtle hints. Is this going anywhere?”
“Yes. Well, let’s just pretend for a second that Anya Muller really was Heather Mulligan, or Asher. Maybe you also remember she owned sixty-five percent of H-M outright.”
“I know. I told you. I’ve studied. Do you have a point here? Anything at all, apart from an excuse to molest me? You said she was never legally married to my father, and she certainly wouldn’t class as a de facto.”
“Anya Muller left a will with a world-famous legal firm. There was a trust. You want to guess who inherited control of that trust, on her thirtieth birthday? Thirty… A funny age I know…”
“The mystery heiress, obviously. I was just a toddler then, and a boy, but I sort of remember it on the news.”
“And the heiress is?”
“I don’t know? Was it you? Lauren Slutpants Hanley? If you’re really over fifty, the dates might just work.”
Lauren giggled, clearly appreciating the embellishment. “No. It was some ugly ginger chick called Nilma Muller. Her identity was well established, on paper at least. But nobody had ever seen her in the flesh. Nobody had ever met Nilma, though there was a passport for her, and various other documents, including photographs, which seemed to be from the future. Obviously they weren’t real, just weird fakes. Unless you believe that somebody could look into the future and create a passport that wouldn’t look like it was real for another thirty years.”
“What? So Nilma died or something? She doesn’t exist? Never existed? Was she really ugly?”
“Of course she wasn’t really ugly, that was just me being rude, will you try and keep up?”
“Why say things you don’t mean?”
“So, Mother… Personally, I’d have said fuck Heather, but Mother is funny that way, she’d never go against that bitch’s wishes, however peculiar. Maybe it was Heather’s power, or maybe Mother makes a thing of keeping her promises. Either way, she got a bee in her bonnet to track Nilma down and make sure she got her inheritance.”
“You’ve lost me now. You’re worse than Lindsay. Didn’t you call all this anecdote stuff boring? Cryptic stories, apropos nothing, are all very well, but what does Nilma Muller have to do with us? Though I suppose we’re related, if you’re really my cousin, or aunt, which is still disgusting by the way.”
“Yeah. Yeah. We found the sister a few years back, not Nilma though. And sure, we knew from the get-go that Heather had a son. You. But that didn’t help. You were just a kid, and obviously, Nilma was a girl.”
“Now I think about it, how is that obvious? The name sounds more like a baby food company than a girl.”
“Because I said it is. In the pictures, definitely a girl. Also, you have to specify M or F on a passport. Now-”
“Are you just making all of this up? Is there any true part at all? Are you a compulsive liar?”
“Aw, come on. Cut me some slack. Do you want to know or not?”
“Sorry. Please go on. What does this have to do with Heather?”
“Anya Muller’s real name was Heather Mulligan. I thought you agreed on that part?”
“Right. Right. I didn’t actually agree, but I got that bit. You’re saying so many things, it’s hard to work out which parts are supposed to be true. Even harder to see how it all ties up.”
“Mother knew your father from way back, and he was an Association founder. But it was a dead end. He knew nothing about Nilma either. He’d retired from Association business to bring you up, which she certainly knew about. For a while back then, I was thinking Nilma was a red herring, some kind of prank from beyond the grave. But now it seems so obvious. Heather didn’t have a sense of humour. How could anyone have missed it?”
“What? Like Number One being the Goddess all along?”
Lauren gazed upwards, as if asking some invisible sky-man to strike Twenty down.
“I shouldn’t even grace that piece of retardation with a reply. Sure, Mother is like a God, but only the fucking horrible kind in H.P. Lovecraft stories. Probably, the whole Goddess thing was just a messed up rumour that started among the maids. There were a bunch of people with wacko magic powers hanging out on the island that we had before the Hotel. Not just Mother, but Heather, me, Sam, Marcus, Centipede spies. Things got pretty messed up at the end there. Though if I was going to blame someone for the Goddess shit, it would be Heather again.”
“I still think it was Dehlia.”
Twenty tried to beam a filthy look at Lauren. “So Ozma is my sister? Is that even a real name?”
“Nilma. But yeah, it’s a real name. I take it that it doesn’t ring a bell, at all?”
“Now you see how that’s funny? You see why I can’t stop laughing. Because yes, you do have a sister. Who isn’t Nilma. Not even close. Amy isn’t interesting. She didn’t get any power, she’s just a regular boring person. We thought she might be special, but she wasn’t. She does P-R for H-M now. I guess it’s a living.”
“So you didn’t find Nilma?”
“No. She found us. Ten years ago.”
“I thought you said-”
“You idiot. It’s you!”
“Do I have to spell it out? You are Nilma. You were supposed to guess, dummy.”
“No. No. That’s ridiculous. I’m just Number Twenty. I’d know if I was somebody else, like a Nilma. Besides, I was born a man, so I can’t be her. And you even agreed I was too young.”
“Except you weren’t born a man. Mother can do more than just change her own shape. Must have done the swap when you were a baby, to put the Centipedes off the scent. She must have known who Nilma was all along. Maybe the whole search was a charade to put Marcus, or the Centipede Cult, or me, or herself, on the wrong track. Hard to tell with her. But she knew who you were when you entered the Hotel, and so did I. Ask her what was going on if you like, see how much sense her answer makes.”
“But… Too young.”
“Well. Admittedly, you were too young then, but you’re thirty now, aren’t you?”
“I might be. I don’t even know the date. But it can’t be right. Passports don’t just have F or M, they have a date of birth. It would have to match mine.”
“Yeah. But you see, Mother accidentally on purpose only showed me a few edited images of the passport, then locked it away in a vault. Documents, from the future? Makes sense now huh?”
“You must be wrong. You don’t know for sure. I’m only a maid. I’m not cut out to be anything else.”
“Mother was sure. Besides, nobody else could have given me what you did.” Lauren patted her belly, as if suggesting there was a bump there. “That’s the real proof. Face it Nilma. You’re not a maid any more. If you ever were. You’re Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, all rolled into one. If you were a character in a story, you’d be the biggest fucking Mary Sue ever written. The richest woman in the world, the most powerful woman in the world, and probably going to be the most famous person that has ever lived.” Lauren shook her head. “Your mother leaves you that. Mine... You’ve seen how it is. Fucking Heather, still controlling everything, even now, the bitch.”
“Ridiculous. You’re playing with me again. And you know, you should try and work on your language. When you call a woman a bitch, you’re devaluing half the human race.”
“Oh, for fuck-sake. Political correctness now? From you? The happy self-effacing fuck receptacle? Men are all assholes, women are bitches, deal with it, Princess Nilma.”
“Please stop calling me that. Even if I’m Nilma, I’m no princess.”
“There are little bluebirds circling around us. Right now. And they are singing. In English. Earlier while you were sleeping, a bunch of squirrels came to lick your face. On top of a ruined skyscraper. Where you were sleeping there are fresh daisies. Growing out of concrete. Also, you glow. I doubt normal people can really see it straight, but Centipede Guy is not going to miss it. What part of any of that shit is not a motherfucking fairy-tale princess?”
“I think you’re the one who’s seen too many children’s cartoons Lauren.”
“Ah, maybe you’re right.”
“And what does it make you? The handsome prince? Honestly, I should be the one laughing.”
“There you go Nilma, you’re getting the hang of this already.”
“And the bit about you getting pregnant. I dreamed that, didn’t I? Please, just say yes.”
“Nope. That actually happened.”
“No.” Nilma put her hands over her face, peered through her fingers. “How would you even know?”
Lauren made an explicit gesture suggesting impregnation. “Bam. In the oven. Cooking it now.”
“Please. Goddess, no.”
“I can probably swap it into you if you like. Might be for the best. I’m not really parent material, and you look like you’d make a nice responsible mother. And you’d look good doing it.”
“Please stop now.”
“Hey. Just saying…”
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