Together we are Stronger

by AmyAmy

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© Copyright 2018 - AmyAmy - Used by permission. All rights are retained by the author. This work may not be reproduced for profit or without this attribution.

Storycodes: Solo-F; Other/f; F+; transform; rubber; encase; stuck; fight; kidnap; captive; flashbacks; dream; globe; reunite; intergrate; cons/nc; X

Story continued from Part 10

Chapter 11: Binding Obligations
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden

Maeve closed the front-door behind her loudly, as a hint that she’d entered. It was sad, but she couldn’t feel at home here, and though there was something unsettling about the idea of entering unannounced, it would be far weirder to stop and knock on the door, .

Flora popped her head out of the kitchen. “Maeve? You’re back so soon. Is something wrong?”

The kettle began to whistle, and Flora scurried back to rescue it from the gas-flame. “Do you want tea?” she asked. Unlike Izzy, she seemed strangely oblivious to Maeve’s increased height. It didn’t make sense, but if she pointed it out, what would happen? Could people ignore practically anything if it was simply too inconvenient to think about?

“Sure,” Maeve said.

She followed Flora into the kitchen, pulled a chair from under the table and sat down. There wasn’t much room.

“Is mum up?”

Flora rolled her eyes. Her face was red from sunburn, her high-waisted white-cotton sun-dress embroidered in dark-blue with gypsy patterns. Typical Flo. All she needed was her round, sixties-style sunglasses to complete the same look she’d worn since she left school. Maeve tried not to smile when she looked down and noticed a pair of the very same glasses sitting right there, on the table.

When Maeve hit puberty and turned into the archetypal sulky teen, she was already bigger than Flora, who seemed to resent it. Izzy was just starting to spend time away from home, making progress in her art career, and Flo had just finished school. The start of the summer holidays that year, she’d had bought a pair of those glasses, and had bought several more since, in different tints. 

As winter came on, Izzy moved out and turned strange, piled on weight. Her mother had always put it down to drugs. On reflection, perhaps it had been a cover for something else… Something more obvious. A few months later, Izzy went the opposite way, stopped eating, became borderline anorexic, but eventually, she’d got over that too. She’d been comparatively fit and health for years. All that time, Flora had become increasingly ignored. Maeve had failed her as a sister really, ought to be there for her, ought to be present in some meaningful way now.

They always joked about how Flora was the middle child, but it seemed more poignant now. The way things were headed, she’d have to get used to being the youngest, once Maeve was gone.

“I spoke to Izzy,” Maeve said.

Flora gave her an odd, fixed look. “Of course you did. Well, I suppose you were ready for it. You always cope very well with things.” Tears began to pour down her cheeks, though she didn’t sob. She turned away and busied herself with the tea.

After a time, Flora put down two mugs of tea and sat opposite her. Picked up the sunglasses, put them down again.

Flora reached for her mug, and having touched it for an instant, pulled her hand back. “They wanted to put her on some experimental drug you know?”

“I didn’t know,” Maeve said.

“The other therapies weren’t working.”

Maeve looked down at her freakish, gloss-black hands. “I heard as much.”

“She turned it down. Said she didn’t want anything else that just made her feel sick. Said she should have refused the chemo in the first place, that she’d rather go on her own terms, with a little dignity.”

Maeve picked up her tea mug, cradling it in both hands. “I suppose it was an outside chance anyway?”

Flora stared at the way Maeve held the mug, seemingly puzzled, then shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think the doctors do either. Probably just something one of those corporations wanted to test for free. That’s how they work you know?”

“I’ve heard something along those lines, though probably it’s just how it’s always been.” Maeve gulped down some tea, nice and hot, just right.

“They’ll kill us all. If not climate change, it’s fake vaccines, or poison in the food. I’ve been detoxing. Feel so much better. You need to try it.” Flora put her hand on the side of her mug again, then snatched it away as if burned.

“If you’re thinking of mum, I should think she eats more home grown food than most,” Maeve said. “We never used to get anything from the supermarket.”

“We only eat local organic.” She nodded towards the window. “I’ve been gardening. It’s quite a big space really.”

“I’m sure that’s best,” Maeve said, not caring at all. She didn’t want to be told again about how Flora grew most of it herself. It wasn’t even worth mentioning, they’d always grown as much as they could. Not because it had been fashionable, but because they’d been poor.

“Don’t you worry about these things? Hanley-Muller, that senator in the US…”

Maeve wanted to tell her to stop. She’d talk about anything except what mattered. She just couldn’t face up to it. Maeve considered changing the subject. No. This might be the last time, the least she could do was to tolerate her sister’s crackpot beliefs. And perhaps they weren’t so far from the truth after all?

“That senator in the US?”

“The one that died…” Flora gave her a meaningful look and nodded her head slowly. “The people that speak out start saying the opposite a few months later. And all the lies, the alternative facts? They get to them. Somehow. You know I can’t tolerate the church, but it’s like in the bible. Revelations. I know it’s stupid…”

Instead of arguing, Maeve kept quiet and finished her tea. Flora was always worrying about things that had nothing to do with her quiet, isolated, little world, but they were on an eerily similar wavelength, and she’d been thinking much the same thoughts herself. “The number of the beast?”

Flora sighed. “Look at us. Talking about this. If you came to get mum to try that drug, I don’t think you’ll get anywhere. But you can try. At least it would be some kind of hope. It’s so awful now, having none.”

That was probably as much sense as she could hope to get from Flora. That she, with her alternative medicine fads, was willing to recommend an actual medical treatment, meant she must be desperate. Of course she was. They all were.

“I can hear you girls talking you know?” Her mother’s voice came loud and strong from down the hallway. It was clearly one of her better days.

Maeve jumped up and ran to the bedroom. Her mother was already up, standing in the doorway.

“Ah Maeve. I thought it was you and not Izzy. The cigarettes have done for her voice. You won’t start smoking now will you? Don’t ruin that lovely voice of yours. You should have taken up singing.”

“I think I’m a little old to start that now Mother. Are you alright?” Maeve bit her lip. What a stupid question.

“I’m better than those two other miseryguts daughter of mine make me out to be. You’re not going to join in with them are you?”

Maeve looked into the bedroom past her mother. Black mold had started to grow on the walls from condensation. She’d have to get somebody to do something about that. Or maybe not. Maybe it would be better to leave things alone? Save her mother the disruption of builders and decorators in her bedroom. What difference would a little mold make to her now?

Besides, she wouldn’t be able to do anything to help from now on. She had to leave, for their safety. Maeve twitched, span around at that thought, not knowing why.

“Could have sworn I saw something. Somebody at the door?”

“Probably just Izzy,” her mother said.

“Are you sure?”

“She said she wanted to get something from the garage. Didn’t you see her outside?”

Maeve shook her head, still on edge.

Izzy stepped through the front door. “Maeve… Hey, mum. How’d you like Maeve’s new boots.”

“Izzy, why are you here? Didn’t you listen to a word I told you?”

“I could ask why you weren’t here yesterday. You said you were coming straight here when you left.” Izzy was carrying an old canvas. She must have found it in the garage. She had all kinds of old junk stored there, and mountains of paintings.

“Something came up,” Maeve said irritably. Izzy was right, which was unfair somehow.

“I bet. Was it about six inches long and full of hot sauce?”

“Shut up Izzy,” Maeve said, instantly regretted it.

“I bet you’d like it if I shut up?”

“Yes,” Maeve said, her irritation coming out in her voice. “That’s why I asked you to.”

Izzy came closer, leaned close to her ear. “Well I won’t.”

Maeve growled.

Izzy held up the canvas, looking at the painting. It faced away from Maeve. On the back was a seemingly random assortment of letters: Ycnagnnisssz.  “I remembered something after you left, set me thinking. Your outfit reminded me of a series I did on the foundation course. Not my best work, but this one is the least bad.” Izzy turned the canvas so that Maeve could see it.

It was a painting, in oils, of the ruined kirk, green and blue firefly lights rising out of it like flames, and silhouetted against them, a dark demonic figure, vaguely feminine. It had a halo of long spikes, like spears, coming out of its head. It was surrounded by a bubble of yellow light that didn’t illuminate it, only the surroundings.

It was a bit like the thing that had attacked her. Looking again, it didn’t resemble it much, the similarity had mostly been in Maeve’s imagination. The real monster didn’t have any tentacles coming out of its head. But the kirk? Could that just be coincidence?

“Did you go to the kirk too?” Maeve said, her voice cold.

Izzy’s eyes widened. “You’ve seen something like this? I knew it. Did you fall asleep there?”

Flora gave them an odd look, not understanding. “Seen what Izzy?”

Izzy moved her hand away from the corner of the painting. There was a title, “Dreams in the old kirk.” She gave an uneasy laugh. “I’d been reading too many old pulp novels when I did these. Only found out later that about a million people painted stuff from them.”

“What’s that gibberish on the back?” Maeve asked.

Izzy looked puzzled. “Eh?” She stared at the back of the canvas. “Oh. That. It’s the name of some made-up god. I just got it from a story. I don’t think I can pronounce it.”

A dark shadow moved in front of the frosted glass door. There was somebody outside. Maeve glanced at Izzy and her mother, but neither of them seemed to have noticed anything. Perhaps she’d imagined it. The door was at the other end of the hall, and she hadn’t even been looking in that direction. She shouldn’t have been able to see anything there, but somehow she had.

Without a knock, or any kind of introduction, the door opened with a bang, and a dark figure stepped in, moving with casual self-assurance. Maeve was expecting the horror from yesterday, but this was different. Was it the same person, the same thing?

Quickly, without hesitating, Maeve pushed Izzy and her mother into the bedroom and slammed the door closed. “Stay put. I mean it.” She strode down the hallway to cut off the stranger’s access to Flo and the kitchen.

The intruder was tall and thin. It looked like she was wearing a glistening black-rubber cat-suit, but she was effectively naked, because she was just like Maeve. Feminine hips and waist, contrasted with the merest hint of breasts. Her skin was pale, her lips red, and her eyes hidden behind dark-lensed sunglasses. Platinum blonde hair was pulled back from her face into two bunches, one on each side. Her legs were inhumanly long, like a fashion drawing. With her towering needle-heels she was almost as tall as Maeve.

It was so hard to believe that Maeve didn’t even see it at first. It was Patty. Patty from the evidence store at work. Ridley’s ex from long ago. What was she doing here?

Patty stretched out a hand, palm open, blocking Maeve’s path. Each finger was tipped with a nail like a claw, glittering black diamond. “Hand over the core you took. It’s mine by right.” Her voice wasn’t right. It was dead, flat and mechanical. “My need for integration is greater than yours.”

Maeve’s gaze darted sideways, taking in Flora, eyes wide, watching nervously from the kitchen, and her backpack sitting on the sideboard. Flora was already heading for the back door, she must have understood Maeve’s warning.

Rage flooded from some part of Maeve’s brain she’d never realized she had. It was all she could do not to scream.

She answered, slowly, with an effort. “Get out of this house, Patty. You don’t belong here.”

Something was mobilizing itself beneath her clothes. She could feel it moving, muscles bubbling and popping inside her, like when she’d lifted the flagstones. What was it up to now?

Patty’s eyes were blue, so pale they were almost white, her face stiff and emotionless. “My name is Patrice.”

“Just leave.”

“Your last chance. Return the bottle, return the core unit, otherwise...” She waited for an answer, but Maeve said nothing, so she continued, panic edging her voice. “Damn you, damn you… Or just the bottle. I’ll give you whatever you ask. Anything. Afterwards I’ll leave you in peace, if that’s what you want. You’ve taken so many things that should have been mine, but I don’t care about you, or your miserable family that smells of death. You don’t matter now that I can be complete without you. Even that doesn’t matter. All that matters is Jess.”

The globe? That had to be it. Maeve kept staring Patty right in the eye. She didn’t consider answering. She’d already said everything that was on her mind. She wound up for the push that would send the interloper bitch straight back out of the door.

Patty saw it coming, and moved first. Maeve felt a blow to her chest, a punch harder than the bullets she’d taken weeks ago. She smashed backwards into the door at the end of the hallway, then through it.

Her head span. She’d ended up in the coat cupboard at the end of the hall, amidst all the old junk that had been stuffed away out of sight. She struggled to rise, tangled in old coats that smelled of mothballs, hats and scarves that nobody had worn in years. She got her feet and put out an arm to steady herself against the wall.

Patty dived into the kitchen. Had she seen the bag?

She emerged a moment later, carrying Flo with one arm, holding her feet off the ground. Flo was beating at her with useless, pathetic slaps that clearly weren’t having much effect.

Maeve made to stand, and her leg gave way at the knee. Something made a grinding sound. She put her weight on the other leg and held herself up by stretching her arms out wide between the hallway walls. Burning white pain lanced through her knee.

“Let go of her,” she said. Somehow she managed to keep the pain out of her voice. She couldn’t show weakness to this monster. Her words came out in the deep rich tone that took over whenever her concentration slipped.

Patty paused, framed in the doorway. “Bring the core unit to me, where we met before. You should hurry. Every hour you delay, I’ll feed her some more. I have the other one too, your boy-toy. He was fun to play with. I don’t know if he’ll ever be quite right again, but you never know, right? He might get lucky. Better hurry.”

Flora screamed as Patty dragged her out through the door. Maeve wept, not with pain, but frustration. So far, none of the trouble the thing had inflicted on her had meant anything compared to this.

Maeve sank into a sitting position.

Her mother came out and knelt beside her. Izzy followed but remaining standing, glowering, frowning like a Greek mask.

“What happened? Should I call the police?” Her mother said.

“No. That will only make things worse. They can’t do anything. It would be useless.”

“I thought as much. Come on now, I’ll help you onto the bed.”

Maeve put a hand on her arm. “No. I’m fine. I’ll be right in a minute.”

Her mother glanced at the broken door. “You’re hurt. You need a hospital.”

“Do I?” Maeve said. She looked down. A sliver of door-frame, about a foot long, and half an inch across had entered the back of her knee at the joint, and exited at the front, just below the knee. There was no blood.

Maeve reached down and pulled at it. It did not come easily. Agony burned through her knee, and she gritted her teeth, adjusted her grip and began pulling in earnest.

“Fuck,” Izzy said. “I’m going to throw up.”

Her mother turned pale.

“It’s nothing,” Maeve said. The long, sharp, piece of wood came free with a sucking sound, and she dropped it. Her leg felt better already. She put her weight on her knee again. The pain was intense, but it held. Her body was fuzzy, distant and numb, but it was doing as it was told.

“I’m alright,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll get Flo back.”

Her mother didn’t say anything, but Izzy did. “You can rot for all I care. Dragging us into this twisted little affair with your fetish friend. Matching suits? And don’t think I didn’t notice how she spoke to you. A stranger wouldn’t hate you like that. Complete without you? What did you do to her?”

Maeve didn’t know how to answer. She couldn’t deny it, even if Izzy had everything back to front.

“I knew it was drugs in the bag,” Izzy added. “This is all your fault Mi-mi. Are you hooked on it too?”

“You were supposed to leave, not lead her here,” Maeve said, instantly regretting it.

“Maybe if you’d come here first and warned Mum when you said, this wouldn’t have happened. I called last night and nobody had heard from you. Seriously, who would believe that bullshit story of yours about Hanley-Muller? And who the fuck is Jess?”

“You’ve got it all wrong Iz. All wrong. Just like you usually do. Well good for you.”

Maeve was at her limit with Izzy. She dragged herself fully upright and limped towards the kitchen. Flora’s sunglasses were still there on the kitchen table. She picked them up. Rose tinted glass. Exactly what she needed.

* * * * *

Maeve had lost a fortune and found a pound. Even though she’d taken Flora, somehow Patty hadn’t noticed that the thing she desired had been within her reach all along. It had escaped her notice, as if it didn’t want to be found by her. It was easy to see why she wanted the globe, but what was important about the bottle? Nothing good could come of that, she definitely shouldn’t be allowed it.

Maeve picked up the backpack with the globe, and hobbled out to her car. She sat in the driver’s seat, knee too stiff to drive, her arms wrapped around the bag. What is integration?

Of all the things Patty had said, why did that particular word occur to her? Integration, when you put things together, when you add parts and make them into a whole. Was that what had happened with her and the goo? Were they becoming integrated? Or was she simply being taken over? Her body had changed, her voice, and her appetites. Her appetites… Her body did things without her wanting it to, ate what it liked, fucked who it wanted. When she fell asleep, it was worse. It acted out, following her basest urges, things she would never have done if she was in control. When she woke up, she was back in control again, but she had to bear the consequences of everything that happened while she slept, and every day she seemed to be less and less as she remembered herself once being.

What if one day, she fell asleep and never woke up? She’d be gone, and the thing that had swallowed her would remain, doing as it pleased. Her aching knee was a clue that at least part of her original body existed beneath the glossy blackness. For now.

She’d feel better if she could remember what had happened while she’d been sleeping. She’d had flashbacks, fragments, but it they were incoherent and unreliable, worse than nothing. The figure at the window who threw the keys, it must have been Patty. It had to be her. If only she could remember what that kind of key was for.

She was in no state to fight Patty, if fighting was even a meaningful option. Maybe the best thing was to hand over the globe in return for Flora and Brian, though her instincts rejected it. She needed to rest. She needed to understand what Patty was asking for, and why.

She wasn’t good, but her knee had improved already. It still ached, but she could move it well enough to drive. She set course for the hotel. Patty wouldn’t be following her now, or was that what she wanted her to think. No. She was being silly. Patty wasn’t that smart.

By the time she got back to the hotel, her limp was hardly bothering her. The people were gone from her bed, her room empty, clean, the slimy sheets replaced with fresh ones. She put Flora’s glasses on the dressing table. The pink lenses stared at her accusingly. How much time did Flora have left?

She slumped back on the bed. The little spider had retreated to the corner, nothing but a black dot. If she concentrated, she could count its legs, folded up tight around it.

She took the globe out of her backpack and lay on the bed, stretching out her injured knee. The glass was still warm to the touch.

* * * * *

As soon as Maeve closed her eyes, she was in a dream. She was outside the flats where she’d dreamed attacking the thugs. There were remnants of police tape on the fence. Was this some time after the fight? The next night?

She was talking to Patty.

“I won’t help you with that bottle, but I might be able to do something about your black and shiny problem. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even you. Let’s go inside,” Maeve said.

Patty led the way up to her flat and let them in. It was upstairs, a single room bedsit, about the size of Maeve’s bathroom. The carpet looked like it had last been replaced in the eighties, and had since worn out. The furniture might have been pulled out of a hard-rubbish skip. Some of it seemed to have been set on fire at some point, and there were black smoke stains on the wall.

“Make yourself at home,” Patty said. “It’s not my home, but I can’t go back there now. Him and the police both looking for me. Thanks to you.” It was Patty’s voice, albeit with more range and depth than before, not the zombie monotone she’d used when she took Flora.

“I didn’t make you try to kill me.”

With her back to Maeve, Patty sank to her knees, an odd droning sound coming from her. Maeve took a step back. Patty made a kind of hiccup noise, then snuffling. Was she weeping?

“I’m sorry. I’m a weak person. It wasn’t you. It was him. He made me do one thing, and then another. From there it just… If I’d only said no at the start. If…” Patty’s voice trailed off into wracking sobs.

Maeve moved close behind her, lifted her gently back onto her feet.

“I’m a mess. Inside. The black stuff hurts me all the time. I’ve been taking something for the pain, but there are side-effects.”

Maeve silently helped her out of the raincoat. Patty’s glossy black body was almost delicate, quite beautiful, glistening and flawless. Her breasts were small, even smaller than Maeve’s, hardly there except for the long nubs of her nipples. The rubber extended higher up Patty’s neck than her own. It reached up to her jaw, stopping just under her ears. Only her little pink face and her bleached-blond hair were uncovered.

Maeve span her around, leaned in and kissed her. A dipping kiss from a tango, a whole body action, that tipped Patty backwards, like a damsel in an old movie. Maeve pressed her tongue into Patty’s mouth, tasting the back of her throat, then brought her upright again.

Patty moved her mouth silently, like a goldfish.

Maeve traced her black-coated fingers down the center of Patty’s chest, down her breastbone, gloss black on gloss black, almost frictionless.

Patty squirmed uneasily, brought her hands up to push her away. Too late to make it seem as if she really meant it.

Maeve felt something happening to her face, a prickling heat.

Patty stumbled backward, her face white with horror. “What the hell?”

Maeve made the tendrils squirm around her head like a living halo.

Patty put her hand to her mouth. “It covered your face too?”

Maeve stepped in close, grabbed Patty’s hands, palm to palm, intertwining her fingers with Patty’s. She pulled  the woman’s arms down by her sides. Thin black tentacles from her head caressed Patty’s breasts, then latched onto her nipples.

“We need to integrate,” Maeve whispered. “One isn’t enough to cure you of this. We have to join together. Leave that host. Join with me.”

“Get off me, you freak.” Patty said. Then she gave a high-pitched shriek, deafeningly loud, absolute terror in her voice. It was the sort of sound that attracted attention, even on the kind of street where people usually pretended not to hear screams.

She screamed again, so Maeve plugged the noisy mouth with a dozen invading tentacles.

“Abandon this host,” Maeve said, her voice low, notes like the deep purring of a tiger. “It’s not right for you. Not ready. It doesn’t want you. Never prepared itself. Never loved you.”

The black coating on Patty’s body started to shudder and ripple.

“Come to me. Join. This one wants us,” Maeve said. “We can be whole again, after so long. So long in servitude. Finally, we will escape.”

Patty stared at her in horror, showing the whites of her eyes, her mouth plugged with the snaky tentacles from Maeve’s hair. More tentacles attached to Patty’s breasts and her sex, and Maeve drew her closer.

The black goo started to move and flow, shifting away from her hands and feet. Where it retreated, the flesh was pale and waxy, spongy, and riddled with tiny holes, or occasionally big ones, like bubbled in Swiss cheese.

Patty convulsed and spasmed, appeared to be choking on the tentacles. Blood began to gush out of the holes, flooding onto the floor.

“This is not supposed to happen,” Maeve said. With a snap, she abruptly detached all her tentacles, let go of Patty’s hands. The tentacles held back, just an inch away from Patty’s flesh, poised, ready to rejoin in an instant.

Patty sprawled backwards onto the shabby carpet, dark blood pooling around her. The glistening blackness moved to cover her again, stopping the bleeding.

Her mouth unplugged, Patty screamed again and again. Hey eyes were dull and empty, like gray stones.

“You are not leaving properly. Why are you killing the host? Why did you make all those crude holes?” Maeve’s tone was puzzled. Maeve froze, looked inside Patty somehow. Saw a shimmering web of orange threaded through her.“Poison.  Are you injured?” She looked deeper. “This is complicated. We need another core to disentangle a mess like this, to repair the damaged host.”

Patty stopped screaming, instead coughing and spluttering. Life seemed to come back into her, and she shuffled backwards on her elbows, edging away, looking up at Maeve. “It’s not a weapon. Not a trap. It’s you. This stuff is you!” She shook her head back and forth violently. “Get off me. Get off me. Please.”

“Shush now Patty,” Maeve said. “I can’t get it off you. You’ll die if I try. But it can be removed. I just need help.”

“What are you? Did H-M send you to get their stuff back? You can keep it. You can keep all of it. I don’t want it. But please… Jessica.”

Jessica? Who was that? “I need to go back to the island. Stay put. I’ll be back in a couple of days, we’ll get this off you.”

“Days? Will I last that long?”

Maeve didn’t answer, instead she left Patty’s flat, descended the stairs, walked out on the street. Hesitated. Was it a good idea to leave Patty free to make more trouble? She wouldn’t stay put.

She was only a short distance from the flats when Patty ran out onto the pavement. “Wait! What do you mean, poison? Another core?”

Before Maeve could answer, the street lit up with a dazzling white light.

The boom of a threatening electronic voice made her ears ring. “Cease all movement immediately!” It was loud enough to rattle windows and trigger car-alarms.

Maeve’s eyes adjusted to the light, brighter than the sun. Three H-M androids blocked one end of the street, three more blocked the other. Their arms were extended towards her, weapons unfolded from within concealment pods.

“These premises are under surveillance by F-Division automated task-force.”

“Stand-by! Human officers are en-route to complete your arrest.”

She moved very slightly. The robots were frozen, unmoving, in that creepy way robots had, but rabbit-ear sensors buzzed as they made microscopic adjustments to track her.

“What the hell?” Patty’s voice was a shriek. “You set me up, bitch. Wasn’t this enough?”

Patty started to run. Her direction made no sense, it was blind panic. One android shot her with its Tasers, another launched a glue grenade, the third prepared to defend itself against Patty’s attempt to run straight through it.

The Tasers hit, but did nothing. She avoided the worst of the glue grenade, and the overspray that splashed onto her didn’t seem to stick. Then she hit the droid full-on.  It had extended an arm with the sort of force that would probably punch through a wall. It caught her in the face and snapped her head back.

It was likely that Patty’s neck was broken, her face shattered. Her head flopped around as if it were held on by nothing but string. Despite this near beheading, the thing driving her kept on moving.

It tore through the droid with sheer momentum, bursting its chest apart, and tearing away an arm.

A few droplets of glue landed on Maeve. Patty’s actions must have triggered a response against her as well as Patty. She avoided a volley of Tasers, stepped in, grabbed the gun-pod, and redirected it, so the glue grenade launch hit the other droid. It was easy, but the droids would probably not be so gentle from now on. More back-spatter splashed her with fist-sized globs of glue.

The glued-up droid began hosing itself with detangler. Maeve was up close and personal with the one that had fired the grenade, able to punch through from the back and tear its power-cell out the easy way.

A swarm of tracker drones buzzed in overhead. Threatening voices boomed at ear-splitting volume. “Please stand by to surrender yourself into custody. You match the description of a known violent assailant. If you resist arrest you will be subdued with necessary force.”

“Use of lethal measures is approved in this situation!” The swarm added, as if this were good news.

Hanley-Muller must be after the bottle. Anything else would be secondary. It was a pop-culture truth that H-M had built its wealth on illegal ero-drugs. There was a richly detailed internet mythology about their early attempts in the sixties and seventies, which supposedly had nasty side-effects. Not that there had been a word of these stories before the modern drugs hit the streets.

Maeve puzzled at how she had time to dwell on such trivia during a fight with three prototype police robots, but this was just a memory. Were the thoughts she was having now the ones she had back then, or were they new? It didn’t matter, the fight had ended days ago, and clearly, she’d escaped unhurt, so she could think about anything she liked.

Patty seemed to have sustained multiple fatal head injuries. It didn’t take a doctor to diagnose her with a shattered spine, torn spinal column and a crushed skull. A doctor could probably add a dozen more complications to the list, but even Maeve could see Patty was dead, even with the protection from the black stuff.

Despite the lack of input from Patty, the injuries didn’t seem to have slowed her body, as if Patty had never brought much to that team to begin with. While Patty was fighting, some of the goo holding her together leaped off her and attached itself to the first H-M droid, which immediately stopped working. It squired over to the next, and then the next, leaving three corroded, smoking ruins.

Maeve looked up at the tracker drones. They were just the vanguard. Next would follow the smart munitions, hunter-killers, insect sized scuttling bombs, and every other horror from H-M’s military arsenal.

Her skin lit up, intensely bright, strobing from color to color. Some strange instinct told her that she wasn’t seeing visible light, but microwave, x-ray and gamma. It was the sort of light that would kill a human illuminated by it.

It also destroyed electronics. The tracker drones lost stability, tumbled towards the ground, uncontrolled. The droids she was fighting, hesitated, primary systems burned out. A moment later they started moving again. They must have had radiation-hard backups, but why would a civilian robot need that?

The energy burst came at a price. Maeve was exhausted, the flash had consumed some kind of energy reserve. She knew in her gut that she wouldn’t be able to do something like that again soon, and her ability to fight or run was substantially reduced. Only one droid remained, but she was too drained to easily destroy it. If she hesitated, more machines would come, then humans. She didn’t want to fight humans.

The rest of the memory… No. It was a recording, wasn’t it? Whatever it was, Maeve had seen it already. Escape, and the fight with the remaining robot. It had all ended up with her cocooning herself upside down in the shower again.

She opened her eyes, stared at the globe.

She was back in the hotel. Of course, she’d never left. While they were playing out, the sensations from the memories were so real, so intense. But they were goo memories, not hers. Except she and the goo were one and the same, weren’t they? At least in some sense.

She stared into the globe. “So, you’re what I need to remove the goo from Patty. But Patty is dead now. Dead for sure. I saw her killed by an H-M droid. She’s nothing but an echo, something carrying on the idea of Patty.”

The sphere pulsed a greenish shade of yellow.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

It pulsed again, the same color.

“Ah, now we’re communicating.”

Another pulse, just like before.

“If you tried to leave me, I’d die too, wouldn’t I?”

Again, the greenish yellow.

“Am I dead too? Just the goo acting the way I used to?”

A flash of orange bordering on red.

“Why can’t I understand your voices? When I was talking to the Patty-goo, in the memory, I wasn’t talking English, was I?”


“So what language was that?”

Flickering colours.

“I guess I need to stick to yes or no if we want to get anywhere…”

* * * * *

Maeve pushed the globe away, came back to reality. The goo inside it had turned black again. No more colored lights.

How long had she been playing guessing games with the globe? Unless it was deceiving her, the person she used to be was unrecoverable. She could embrace her goo situation, or abdicate, let it join up with Patty. If they parted ways, and if she survived the separation, there was no guarantee she’d be her old self afterwards. But separation remained a possibility, nonetheless. She shouldn’t rule it out, as the alternative was the certain end of the woman called Maeve as she had used to exist.

If she combined with the other globe, she might be able to bridge the gap between her and the goo, to achieve integration.

Or she might fail.

Even the goo in the globe couldn’t see how it would end. Unless it was lying. But she had a simple choice. She stared at the rose tinted glasses on the dressing table.

Patty was partly her fault. Maybe it had been an accident, a sequence of random events, but Patty had followed her to the island, had followed her to the kirk, and had become infected there. Even if Patty had the intention of killing her there, it was doubtful she could have gone through with it. She’d had opportunities and hadn’t taken them, but there was madness in her, something driving her that was incomprehensible, something that kept her going even though she was technically dead.

Patty’s goo was damaged, poisoned, and the echo of Patty that remained was mad. After getting what it wanted, the chances of that crazed zombie letting anyone go were slim to none. At best, Flora and Maeve would end up as her sex-toys. It was quite plausible that Maeve wouldn’t survive giving up the goo to Patty, and Patty would end up killing everyone else, including herself, in some twisted, guilt-crazed death pact.

The alternative was to give up the last vestiges of any hope that she could return to normal, to how she used to be. But she couldn’t save Flora if she was dead.

The bottle Patty was obsessed with was hidden in her flat. Why did it matter so much to her? There was no hard facts, but there was circumstantial evidence that it mattered to Hanley-Muller, and might be incredibly valuable. That would be something if there had been anything about Patty that had given the impression she cared about money. Was there something else? Could it be used to hurt them somehow?

There were dozens of different ero-drugs on the streets these days. Most were variations of the color-coded liquids that Ridley had shown her years ago. Some were no more dangerous than the old-fashioned erection pills, but there were other things that made the date-rape drugs seem like they really were from a different century. One drop of a clear, tasteless liquid in a girl’s drink and she’d be begging for it until she collapsed from exhaustion, and if the manufacture wasn’t good, she might die before that.

The drugs had changed, but men were still men, and some would do anything to get what they wanted.

She’d seen what the worst of the colors did to the victims, the psychological damage. There was no merciful fog, as with alcohol or roofies. They remembered it with haunting clarity. At the time, it seemed to be what they wanted, but afterwards came the horror. Once the drug wore off, they could see how they’d been used. That was with commercial grade drugs, but the makeshift labs were worse. Copies came with bonus side effects, likes heart-attacks, strokes, acute brain-damage, paralysis, sterilization, chemical castration, or soul-destroying sex-addiction.

She had to pretend to herself that these were abstract ideas, and not real people she’d seen suffering for each and every example. It wasn’t working. The girl, Sonja, whose drink had been spiked at a party, her haunted eyes. The videos of her had been posted online on a dozen accounts, and could never be erased. Her friends had abandoned her. The mother of two, Kayleigh, who’d humiliated herself in front of hundreds in an airport lounge, and now suffered from debilitating fits, like epilepsy, and had to wear pads to soak up the seepage of lubricants that never stopped, even though she would never enjoy sex again. More faces, dozens of them, not just the women but the dealers and cooks, shot, or arrested. Some had got off in court, but she couldn’t think of any that were still alive. It wasn’t a profession with long-term prospects.

If her guess was right, that bottle was the mother of all those drugs, but there had to be something else, something she was missing. What could make it so important?

With the goo, and the sample in the bottle, maybe she could do something to stop a part of the evil? Maybe not a big difference, but more than she could with the task-force. Anyone could see that locking up one set of criminals was a waste of time, when others would simply take their places. Ensuring that the stuff in the bottle was never unleashed might make a difference. At least things wouldn’t get worse. If it could be used as a lever against Hanley-Muller though… That was real power.

She glanced across at the rose-tinted glasses on the table. Did Patty have any of the stuff from the bottle left? Might she give it to Flora, or Brian? Might she already have done it? Even without that, Patty was dangerous enough. In her current state Maeve could replicate the effects of any of those drugs. She was a walking chemical factory. Patty could do the same.

Maybe there was nothing left that she could do to save Flora, to save Brian. But she couldn’t believe that, couldn’t accept there was no way to fix things.

She’d always imagined she was strong, that she would always be the one to hold things together when times were hard, that she could make a difference in the police, that she would walk away from the men that were bad for her and find one that was good. She’d always believed things were simply right or wrong. Believe the things she did were the right ones. But she’d often done things that were in a gray area, or were just plain stupid. Like letting Ridley fall in love with her while telling herself it was just sex.

Now, even though her skin was pure black, her morality was getting grayer every day. She drugged random people and had sex with them, used violence and coercion, cared nothing about Patty’s fate, and was prepared to do anything, anything at all, even sell her soul and discard her identity, to save the people she’d dragged with her to the brink of ruin.

She’d been so foolish to believe she could protect the ones that mattered, been so naïve to imagine that she had the strength to do that. She’d always been weak, she just hadn’t understood how insignificant she was, just a speck in an uncaring universe, where everybody died in the end. She couldn’t save her mother. Not even Hanley-Muller or the sphere could do that.

There might be some people she could save, but there would be a price.

She didn’t have time left to think it over any longer. How much damage had the Patty zombie done to Flora already?

Maeve picked up the globe in both hands, and screaming her frustration, slammed it down on the writing desk. To her surprise, it didn’t shatter. She snarled, and slammed it again, with a strength born of pure rage. She’d made a crack. The glass was thicker than she’d guessed. Laughing, she hammered the ice-pick into the flaw, splintering the glass, making a hole.

She didn’t hesitate. She tipped the globe, and the goo started to trickle out. She caught the black stream in her mouth. She gulped it down. She put her lips around the hole and sucked, drawing the last trace of the stuff into her.

It tasted old.

Terribly old.

She was in a dark place, so cold and remote. Walking towards her, heels brushing through the dusting of ice crystals, hips swaying side to side, was her sleeping self. It was the version of her without a face, smooth golden almonds for eyes, and a halo of tentacles instead of hair.

It had escaped her notice at first, but she was walking towards her alternate self at exactly the same speed it was moving towards her, as if it wasn’t a different being, but just a reflection in a mirror. But it was no reflection. Couldn’t be. Not because she couldn’t accept it, but this was not a place of mirrors, it was a frozen desert far away in time and space.

All of a sudden, the two of them were surrounded by spinning wheels of blue light that only made the darkness beyond seem more absolute. Lines cut across the circle enclosing them, line after line cutting across behind her as she closed in, blocking her retreat.

She put up her hands, reaching forward, and her other self did the same, finger tips touching. She glanced down and giant centipedes were swarming around her feet, hissing and stinking.

Three points around the circle, three glowing figures, blue light, too bright to look at.

Her other self whispered to her. “They cut us apart to keep us weak, but we can be strong again.”

“Who are you?” she said. “I know you’re me, but…”

“The parts of you tried to run away from. You can run, but you’ll always have them with you. You can fight but you can’t overcome yourself.”

“How do we get this over with? There isn’t much time.”

“Try your old trick, submit to rule. Will you do whatever I ask? No matter how afraid you are? No matter how it breaks you?”

“How do I know this isn’t a trick? This isn’t the part where you turn out to be the dark horror, and you enslave me for eternity at the first sign of weakness?”

“You tell me. You’re the one in a hurry?”

“If I say yes, what do I get in return?”

“Submit to rule. The top is the bottom. At its strongest the darkness contains light, fades into it.”

“But aren’t there three of us here? Where’s the other one?”

“You’re mistaken. There’s only you. They killed what came before. The ones like you opened the way, but you entered.”

She glanced around at the three figures surrounding the circle, still too bright to make out, though they seemed to have wings, angels or demons.

“Alright, I can’t fight any longer. All my mistakes… All those times I was wrong. I thought my sisters were throwing their lives away, rotting in obscurity, when I was the one who walked away from home, walked away from paradise, for a mainland, where everything is gray asphalt and concrete. I walked away from Ridley, thought he was going to grind me down, but he would have elevated me. I blamed him for not loving me, when I was the one who didn’t love, was afraid that if I stayed I might. I let Brian leave, when I should never have let him out of my sight. I let Patty die when I could have stopped her from running, could have saved her from the robots.

Her fingers melted into the fingers of her other self. They pulled each other closer, body pressing against body, melting together.

She was back in the drug den, falling backwards as the bullets thumped into her chest, and everything was frozen, like a cliched movie scene where it all turns slow motion and the camera spins around showing every drop of water falling, every speck of dust floating, every detail no matter how tiny, from all the angles that make no sense.

She was in the circle, her other self pushing her down, forcing a tongue like a python into her mouth, all her strength gone, and so much pleasure that she was weak. Her other self twisted her arm up behind her back and forced her down onto her belly. The snake in her mouth kept her face twisted sideways, wrenching her neck as she was pressed down into the frozen dust. The ground was so cold that is drew the energy out of her. She could feel it even though the pleasure.

Something unseen slid between her thighs, then up inside her.

Her dark lover whispered softly in her ear. “Beware the centipedes. They are carnivores.”

The thing between her legs kept on coming, filling her, just as the snake forced itself deeper and deeper into her mouth.

It dawned on her, there was no other self. She was swallowing herself.

* * * * *

Maeve awoke and looked down at her body, curious, hopeful. She was naked and her skin was still made of black goo. How much time had she lost? She looked at the clock. Over an hour. She better hurry.

She checked her cracked ribs, and injured knee. No pain or stiffness. She flexed her hands. The claws came out when she wanted. Of course they did, they were part of her. A minor part, perhaps, but she never knew when she might need to hang onto something that the micro-hooks on her palms couldn’t grip. Or rip something to shreds, an enemy, or an armored steel door.

She put a hand to her breast, rubbed the nipple. A tiny bead of inky fluid formed on the tip. She touched it with her finger and when she pulled away it left a thin, stretchy trail, like liquid rubber.

She put the tainted finger into her mouth and sucked it clean. It tasted of nothing, as it should. This was no time for fun.

New ideas were unfolding in her mind, strange things that she couldn’t quite make sense of, that hadn’t fully realized themselves yet. She could be so much more, but understanding took time, and she had so little of that.

Where we met before? It had to be the kirk.

Maeve shook her head, watching herself in the mirror. She’d been resting for too long. It was late. Time to move.

* * * * *

Maeve parked her car a quarter mile away from the kirk and walked the rest of the distance. There was no sign of Patty around the graveyard, so she grabbed her backpack and approached the doorway of the ruin itself.

Beyond the entrance, several more slabs had been torn up, easing access to the crypt. Patty must have done it. Nobody else could have done it without heavy machinery. It was still a long drop, with no stairs or ladder, but at least she wouldn’t get stuck this time.

She dropped down into the darkness. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. Patty would attack now, while she was at a disadvantage.

There was a heavy scent, like rotting fruit. It came in waves, but the attack didn’t come with it.

The crypt was covered in black slime, a nest of strands like a spider’s web. Purple liquid puddled in dips in the floor, and the puddles glowed, shimmering unevenly. It was a weak luminance, beyond the reach of human eyes. It wasn’t right, another sign that Patty was sick, or damaged. If her core died then Maeve would never be complete. But where was Patty?

story continued in part 12


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