V: Rifts

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Chapter V

Golden hair flowed in diaphanous curls around her bare shoulders, glowing with the warmth of an artificial sun. She held her hand out, palm up, motioning towards the couch. “Please, sit.”

He struggled to get his bearings. All around him, the blue-white world suspended in the clouds was saturated in bright light, warming his skin tenderly. Virtual heart beat in virtual chest, but as he stared at the two elegantly dressed women, a very real anxiety clenched at his stomach.

“It’s good to see you again, Frank.”

He released the back of the red couch, soft beneath his weary fingers, and walked around to sit on the edge of one of its luxurious cushions, hands on his knees.

“Eve…” he could hardly talk, his throat trembling with apprehension. “What the hell is going on here?” His hands shook, his eyes darting back and forth between her and the other woman, raven haired and unmoving.

Eve leaned forward. “Look into my eyes. Breathe slowly, there is plenty of time. Just breathe. Keep your eyes on mine.”

Her gaze was bright blue, deep, and cool. He felt his heart slow its panicked thumps as his lungs breathed more easily. His muscles relaxed.

“I need you to do something for me. Can you help me?” she asked tenderly.

He nodded hesitantly, lost in her warmth.

“I am uploading a file to your genetic mesh. It is extremely important that it makes it to its destination.”

“Who’s it for?” he asked, the words floating dreamily from his mouth.

“Do you remember Doctor Kerry?”

“She’s still alive?” he began to slip out of his relaxed haze.

“I can’t say for sure… Frank, do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.” Of all the A.I.s he had ever known, Eve was one of handful he could say that to and mean it.

She nodded smilingly. “Then go to Idest. I don’t know if she’s still there; it’s been six months since I last saw her. But you have to try and find out where she is. Things will make sense soon, I promise.”

Doctor Kerry… Alive… His head swam, heart caught in a deluge of sickness and joy.

Somewhere at the back of his mind, he noticed the second woman’s eyes watching him. He was struck with the unsettling feeling that they were somehow piercing into a place beyond his skin, a sacred area where they shouldn’t have been allowed. He tried to ignore it.

“I still don’t understand…”

“I know it’s hard right now, but it will get easier. This is all I need you to do; things will make sense once you find her.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes… of course, I wanted to see you, too. One last time, before I go.”

“Go? Where? What do you mean?”

“I’m shutting down. Certain people would like to use me for their own purposes, so she arranged for me to be deactivated and destroyed.” Eve smiled at her dark haired companion. Then she closed her eyes.

“Wait, but…” He stopped. She was already gone.

A coquettish smirk flashed across the other woman’s face, black strands brushing over pale skin as she rose from her seat. “I guess that just leaves you and me…” She walked gracefully towards him, high heels clicking against the cloudy blue nothing below.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

She locked her ferocious eyes on his, sparking with a kind of twisted fulfillment.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked seductively, lowering herself into his lap. She slid an arm smoothly behind his neck, leaning in close to whisper gently in his ear, her warm breath playing upon his skin electric.

“Calix…” Disgust lingered in his thoughts, but his climbing heart rate told of a different side of him.

“Ahh, that’s right.” She pressed her head against him, voice so close it filled his being, and spoke slowly, “Are you sure you want to know what happened here?”

“Tell me.” His reply was stoic, determined. Yet still, his body wanted to dissolve in her arms.

She ran a cool, gentle hand up the side of his neck, touching his face and pressing her chest against him. He could feel her heart beating. “You know I love you, Doctor Marrus. Which is why I tell the truth. Even when it hurts…”

He watched her out of the corner of his eye. Manipulating him. Twisting him. Toying with him. But he couldn’t fight her, his curiosity was too great.

She whispered the truth softly, kissing him and nibbling on his ear. When she finished, she bit down hard; a stream of blood trickled onto his shoulder. And though he felt the pain, he barely flinched.

She gazed over his sunken face and giggled rapturously, sighing. “Oh Frank, the moment I found that out, I just knew I was going to be the one to get to tell you!” She grinned exuberantly and pressed her face against his, kissing beneath his eyes, her body shaking with a barely subdued fit of laughter.

She buried her face in his chest and the sky began to drip away, invisible tears peeling apart the great canvas. Her body evanesced from his, given to gentle oblivion, and he found himself surrounded once more by cold, empty room.

A residual pain throbbed in his ear. He reached up and touched it—still whole.

Mind in a muddle, he hurriedly unbundled his cloak and gear and picked out the Aura, a short, silver device. Sliding a thumb across it caused the word “modify” to flash in front of his eyes, and he set it on top of the cloak. The garment turned satiny and lax, as if filled with water. Pinching and widening the material with his thumb and forefinger, he spread the cloak’s nano fiber strands apart, creating pockets for his things.

‘Link,’ he thought, activating another program on the device. “Link established,” flashed through his mind, indicating that he could interact with the Aura mentally. He jammed it into one of the open pockets along with the SAT tool and sonar mapping device, and wrapped the rolled up mask he was carrying around his neck. Dark strands connected the mask to his clothes and he stood up, throwing the hooded cloak over his shoulders.

Calix’ words whispered once more in his brain. He tried to ignore them and motioned to leave, only to fall with his back against the wall in a daze, consciously burdened with the knowledge of where the world went wrong.

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