Stef knew the voice without turning around. ‘Didn’t know you had dibs on it. Jon said I could have it, he said he didn’t expect you.’
‘I’m rarely expected, Spyder. I heard the news from his doctor, not from him, so he probably doesn’t know I’m here.’
She tapped her fingers on the disk. ‘So he really meant it when he said-’
‘When you’re that old, you know when your time is coming.’ He looked to the disk. ‘Be careful with that,’ he said as he placed his bag on the floor and joined her on the bed. ‘That’s very old.’
‘I know. I’m surprised it still works.’
‘His world was a lot more advanced than ours. It’s killed him being here.’ He picked up one of the disks. ‘It survived the Blitz, for gods’ sake. He buried it in order to escape detection.’
She snorted. ‘I don’t think it would have been mistaken for Nazi tech.’
‘True, but they still would have tried to use it to their advantage. Been watching Astrin’s logs?’
‘I just started. I never understood why the data was degrading, now I do.’
‘They’d been working on it for weeks before we recruited you.’
‘Geez…how far down that list was I?’
‘You might be brilliant, Spyder, but honestly, you’re not Neo, your name doesn’t inspire fear or awe. You never hacked any big government agency, or even The Agency itself. You were second string, all right, sixth string, but that’s ok, you’re the one who figured it out.’ He flopped back onto the pillows behind him. ‘Underdog wins, congratulations, you’re a Disney movie.’
‘Nobody won.’
‘Jonowoi likes to delude himself, he has, ever since his wife and child died. He needed the vain hope that Astrin would find Mela. He needs to believe that miracles can still happen.’
‘It wasn’t me. That killed him, I mean.’
‘Were you wearing a suit at the time?’
‘Then it was you, but don’t feel bad. Angels are a necessary evil. As much as some people hate them, they have to make the tough decisions so people can continue to be idiots. Can continue to be petty and can keep on hoping for one last miracle.’
‘I wasn’t there. I kinda wish I was, but I’m glad I wasn’t, if you know what I mean.’
‘Did you see the mirror?’
She bit the pillow in her hands then nodded. ‘Yeah…yeah, I saw it. Saw it up close. Really close,’ she said with a manic smirk.
‘It’s not easy being near one, knowing what it’s cost so many, it must have been hard.’ He reached for her, and she slid her legs off the bed, leaning over and placing the log recorders on the bedside table. He gently patted her on the back.
Here it comes…
‘Spyder…you don’t…’ He pressed his hand flat against her back. ‘Why don’t you have a heartbeat?’
‘I kinda don’t have a heart anymore.’
He pulled his hand away. ‘This is a story I must hear.’
‘Sorry, can’t, private diary kind of stuff, can’t tell you.’ She sat back against the pillows, and held the one in her arms close.
‘I’m an immortal, what do you think I have to gain from this secret?’ He rolled over and sat up, pulled the pillow from her arms and leaned over her, his face close to hers. ‘You shouldn’t have a problem telling me…unless you think I’m dangerous.’
‘You’re Dorian fscking Gray,’ she said, attempting to meet his gaze. ‘Of course you’re dangerous.’
‘And you work for the angels and could conjure a gun and shoot me through the heart, now tell me…’ he trailed off and placed a hand over her heart. ‘…why you don’t have one.’
She smacked his hand away. Jesus Christ man, give me some space! She waited for his response, then realised that she hadn’t spoken out loud. ‘Some idiot shot the mirror, and it shattered into a zillion pieces, then said idiot didn’t move quick enough to avoid getting stabbed through the chest through one of the bigger bits. So…that idiot now has a chunk of dead planet in her chest instead of a red squishy thing.’
He withdrew a little and let his hand drop into his lap, his calm demeanor broken for once. ‘I don’t think there’s a word for that. Maybe…I don’t know. Seriously?’
‘I could tear my chest open if you like,’ she said, fixing her gaze on a dirty spot on the carpet. Don’t even make the offer, you don’t want that to become a habit.
‘I’ve never heard of anything like that. I knew the mirrors could create copies, and that some people are happy enough with the incomplete dopplegangers of their loved ones, but…animating the dead, I didn’t know it could do that.’
‘Killing me probably would have been kinder. It…did something else. Hate to sound superstitious, but it stole my soul. Trapped it in the shard. Death said…I don’t get to die. I don’t get to go wherever, whatever comes next. For me, this is it. Only…’ She looked away from him. ‘Only possible loophole is if I commit suicide, then it, I don’t-, it gets treated differently. Stupid fskcing taboos.’
He put a hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s not the taboos that create the different laws. It’s the different laws that created the taboos. Of course, they only come into play very, very rarely, humanity has a tendency to amplify things and create a fuss around them.’
‘I’m not going to commit suicide.’
‘Good for you?’ he said hesitantly.
‘I’m not going to commit suicide. Just cause I was feeling like utter crap and punched out a mirror cause I couldn’t claw this fucking this out of my chest doesn’t mean you can talk me into committing suicide.’
‘I wasn’t-’
‘Not you. I still feel like a freak, but I’m not going to off myself, and you know why?’
‘Why, Spyder?’
‘Cause I want the weeaboo doll. I had the fscking gun in my hand I remembered the ad for Monkey Burger. Their new toy is this insanely cute deformed doll thing, and I wanted one. But there’s not a Monkey Burger in the Valley so I couldn’t get one. Then I realised it looked like the mascot character from this webcomic I read, and I realised I’d been dead for a month and I had webcomics to catch up on, and how could I kill myself without finding out what had happened in them? I didn’t want that playing out on my conscious while I pulled the trigger. Then I was kind of hungry. Then I didn’t know where my wallet was, then I realised it was at the Agency, so I couldn’t get it, and I couldn’t go to a bank and withdraw money cause I’m legally dead then I got really twitchy and wanted to get away. I came here for lack of anywhere else to go.’
Did you really just say all of that?
He nodded. ‘I’ll let you stay, but there are conditions.’
She shifted around to face him. ‘You’ll let me stay? You’ll let me stay? I didn’t see your name on-’ She stopped talking as he pushed her down onto the pillows and pressed a finger to her lips.
‘Condition one,’ he said, his hair falling over his eyes. ‘You don’t talk about the mirrorfall or your…secret around Jonowoi, he accepts the mirrorfalls as part of life, but his home was destroyed by one and his family torn apart, so it does nothing but dredge up old memories and hurt an old man. My son is going to Death soon, I don’t need him in any more pain than he needs to be.’
She bit her lip and nodded. ‘Sure, ok, whatever, now get off me.’
He withdrew and fluffed up his pillow. ‘It’s already painful enough for him, once he dies, I’m the only one who will know about Saiharan, the only one who knows about him. I’ve known Jonowoi his whole life. There aren’t many that can make that claim. I don’t stay in one place for long, too much to see, too many people-’
‘To shag?’
‘Partaking in pleasures is part of life. He’s different though, I kept in contact with him. He needed me. I’ve been his father, his brother, his friend, his best man, his shoulder to cry on, and now I’m the only man in the world who even knows his real name. And memories are so very important. They’re all that really last, our bones crumble, our possessions break or are thrown away, memories are our only true legacy.’
‘So what you’re really saying,’ she said as she sat up and drew her knees up to her chest. ‘Is that you’re terrified of being forgotten.’
‘No, Spyder, I’m one of Fortitude’s folk, we’re never forgotten. We’re known by those who last near to the end of existence. I’m the one who has to remember, I’m the one who carries on for people who are forgotten. I can’t let Jonowoi be forgotten, if he is, then his whole world truly is dead. You lost your heartbeat, but you’ve got a handy legacy for a whole world, and that’s so wonderful. He’s got me and a few pieces of broken technology.’
‘He never told anyone else?’
‘His wife, obviously. And his child knew she wasn’t quite normal. Poor little princess, happiest little girl in the world, even if she didn’t have any legs.’ He huffed and stared at the ceiling. ‘Do I have to remind you he’s not human? She was a miracle.’
‘Babies aren’t miracles. They’re the result of a chemical reaction. If that’s the criteria, cleaning my sink with bi-carb and vinegar is a fscking miracle.’
‘So…not planning on motherhood then?’
‘A child raised by me would need psychiatric care by the age of four, I’m not so cruel as to inflict that on someone who doesn’t deserve it.’
He was quiet for a few moments. ‘What are you really doing here, Spyder?’
‘What he did…he wasn’t supposed to. If I go back, I’ll just make a lot of trouble.’ She shook her head. ‘I’m hiding.’
‘You can’t hide forever, especially not from the angels. It’s always best to face your fears.’
‘This has got nothing to do with being afraid. I’m pretty sure if I go back, I’m facing a death sentence.’
‘So you’ll be staying here then?’
‘Just until I figure out what to do next.’
‘Any ideas?’
‘No. I’m too tired to think. I’ve been exhausted since it happened.’
‘The mirrorfall was a month ago.’
She looked up at him. ‘And I woke up yesterday.’
‘Then go to sleep.’
She held the pillow tighter. ‘I was planning on it.’
‘Not here,’ he said as he unbuttoned his top few buttons and slipped his shirt off. ‘This is my bed.’
‘I dibsed the room, you weren’t here.’
‘Don’t be childish, Spyder, it doesn’t suit you. This is my room, it’s on permanent reserve for me. So, unless you’re planning on putting out, you should find another room.’
She gave him a wary look. ‘Thought I wasn’t your type.’
‘When I’m conscious, of course you aren’t. However, I sleep in the nude, and you’re – how do I put this? Basically girly shaped…’
‘You know, Dorian, some people just walk in their sleep.’
He gave her a wink. ‘I’ve never had any complaints.’
‘Fine, but I’m not moving my stuff.’
‘I only need a few hours, I do plan on eating lunch with Jonowoi, if he’s up to it.’
She bit her lip. ‘Tell me something-’
‘Yes Spyder,’ he said as he removed his pants, leaving himself in loose-fitting boxers. ‘There are places to hide from the angels, their reach doesn’t extend to all corners of the Earth.’