Authors: Harry Steinman
“We were afraid that Dana would come out. We saw him at the door and shouted for him to stay inside, but he came out anyway. The ash landed on him, but he wasn’t burned at all. Dana just brushed it off and said, “I tried to tell you but you couldn’t hear me.”
“Then the dream shifted. Now it was just me. I was in an old-fashioned stationery store, the kind that had antique postcards. I was looking at different places I might like to visit. When I looked up, I saw superheroes from the graphic novels I used to read. I remember Superman in particular. I can’t remember who else. Then I saw my mother. She was angry. She reached over and touched Superman and he turned white, like plaster. She had drained his life force. She came through the store and touched the other superheroes and took their vitality as well. Then she was reaching for me. I was scared. She touched me but nothing happened. I realized that my own superpower was that I have good boundaries. That was my superpower. Weird, huh?”
Jim was quiet for several minutes.
“That’s the whole dream?” asked Marta.
“Yeah. It was scary and funny at the end. Weird.”
“Well, I think that’s a pretty good superpower,” Marta chuckled. “Hello, Boundary Man,” she said and in a moment, they were both laughing.
“Still restless?” Marta asked.
“I can’t sleep,” Jim said.
“Come a little closer. You may be Boundary Man but I’m a bohique and I know what’s good for you.” She rolled him onto his back grabbed his wrists and pinned him on the bed. She straddled him. “Here comes your medicine. A wise woman’s orders.”
Later, Jim, eyes wide, decided to get up rather than wait for morning. He slipped out of bed and looked at Marta. She had one arm flung up over her head and the other down by her side, as if she were demonstrating the size of the big fish that got away. She looked so peaceful in repose. Maybe her pain was gone for the rest of the night.
He’d left his clothes on a chair. He picked them up quietly and went into the bathroom to dress. He touched the wall to turn on the brightwalls and swept his hand down to keep the light low. He subvocalized and left a message for Marta that he was going to the office. Maybe he could do something useful as long as he was awake. Eva’d been working nonstop and promised results soon. He thought he’d go to the office and see how she was getting on.
The night air was cold. All the science in the world, he thought, and we still can’t touch the weather. Maybe it’s just as well—we’d just screw it up. Jim subvocalized a command instructing his clothing to warm him. His shirt had an inner layer of silk-like textile embedded with carbon fibers against his skin, and an outer layer, indistinguishable from cashmere. He wore denim jeans and a lining on the inside of them warmed. He tugged the back of his shirt collar and felt a moment’s resistance before it relaxed and allowed him to fashion a hood around his head. He invoked a heads-up display and from the transportation options, he selected a P-cab, a driverless personal taxi. He reached a corner parking lot where the car waited for him, glowing to identify itself.
By the time he reached the NMech offices on Boylston Street, he was warm. He left the cab and approached the building. After palming the door for entry, his clothing cooled to comfortable indoor wear.
Jim took the stairs to the sixth floor executive offices. He thought he would review the plans for the Rockford remediation project. He wondered if NMech would be ready to submit a bid on time. Perhaps Eva had managed some kind of breakthrough.
When he reached the executive suite, he was startled to see the entire floor alive with light and color. The brightwalls were dimmed, but so many holographs were illuminated that the suite resembled an outdoor celebration lit by paper lanterns. He saw displays of graphs, flowcharts, architectural drawings, and diagrams that had no meaning to him. He caught movement in his peripheral vision, almost too fast to notice, and he followed the blur to Eva’s office. She was coming back out. They were about to collide but Eva stopped faster than he thought possible.
Jim studied her. She was flushed, and a sheen of sweat made her glow. For a moment he thought he’d stumbled into a holographic display. She looked up and smiled. “We’re going to do it, Jim.” Her voice was uncharacteristically animated, loud even. “We’re going to do it. I’ll show you.”
Eva grabbed his hand and started running towards the conference room. “Slow down, Eva,” Jim said. “I can’t keep up with you. What’s going on?”
“I forgot. You move slower. I can fix that. First, I show you the proposal.”
“The ZVI bid? I didn’t think we were going to make it,” Jim said. He looked at her more closely. “Eva, what’s happened to you? You’re running around like a crazy person.”
“Ha! You know better than to call me that. But for you, all is forgiven. Come. Look!” She pulled him into the conference room. The glow from a dozen displays was unsettling. They were like grinning Jack-o’-lanterns. She pointed at one, then another and another. “See? See? Is ready. Is ready.”
Jim stood still and took in the room, understanding nothing. He looked back to Eva, still clinging to his hand.
“Eva, are you all right?”
“Better than ever, Jimmy Boy. We make proposal.”
“Eva, you’re acting strange. You’re even talking strange. You’re starting to scare me a little.” Jim tried a smile, to soften his words, but couldn’t move his facial muscles out of any arrangement other than slack-jawed astonishment.
“Not strange, Jimmy Boy. Alive.” Her words tumbled out in a rush. “They say people use ten percent of potential, but I use more now. Now I deal with all of, of...of what’s held me back. I can even deal with you. Come here.”
Eva was still holding his hand. She reached up with her other hand, behind his head and grabbed a hank of his hair. She pulled him roughly towards her. He felt an unexpected strength in her grasp. She leaned up and said, “Kiss me.”
She repeated, “Kiss me. Isn’t that what Marta says to you? Kiss me!”
“Eva, you’re freaking me out.” He tried to keep his voice steady. “We’re friends. We’ve always been friends. But I don’t
to kiss you.”
“Yes you do! You hide it all these years.”
“No, Eva, I don’t. Your friendship means too much to me.”
“I’ve done everything for you, Jim. I kept you out of jail, yes? I helped your wife with her public health, yes? I make you a lot of money. I teach Dana the things that Marta couldn’t. I even help you get married. Now it’s time for you and me. Now I’m going to take care of you.” She pulled him down again and smashed her lips against his. Jim grasped both her wrists in his hands. He held her at arms’ length.
“Eva, this is not what I want. I think you’ve been working too hard.” He saw her face turn slack with shock. “Please, Eva, I care for you as much as anyone in the world. Anyone.
But you are my friend, and I don’t want to lose my friend.”
Eva twisted and struggled to free her wrists. Jim gently but firmly pushed her away and said, “Eva, I don’t know what’s happened to you, but you’re not acting normal, even for you.” He tried to grin. She did not respond. “Listen, I’m going home. I’m not going to mention this to Marta—to anyone. This never happened.” He backed up with the same care he might show retreating from an agitated dog.
With a speed that astonished Jim, Eva leapt forward. She reached out and grabbed Jim’s wrists. Her grasp was like iron. He was trapped. He looked into Eva’s eyes, now twitching, feral, and in a sad and quiet voice, said, “Please, Eva. You’re breaking my heart.”
She let go and slowly crumpled to the floor. Jim turned back to her, but she held one hand out in a ‘stop’ gesture. Then she turned away.
Jim left the NMech building, numb to the cold even as his clothing refashioned itself to provide warmth. He looked up from the street to the sixth floor, the executive offices. The bright lights of Eva’s holo displays were flickering out, one by one.
Jim started to walk. The weatherproofing properties in his jacket were fully activated and repelled each of his tears.
Eva lay in the conference room. Something held her fast to the floor, something more than anguish, fatigue, or gravity. Her muscles twitched. At first it was a tremor, then a shiver, finally a feverish seizure. Her eyelids spasmed, like a parody of blinking back tears. She tried to subvocalize a message, to recall Jim, to entreat, to apologize. But she could form no words.
Then images replaced language. She watched from infant eyes as Mama and Papa looked at her, first with pride, then with horror. She felt Gergana’s arms and listened to her songs, then heard her screams. She saw Bare Chest’s face, looming and leering, then paling in death. Doran’s fat wattle reddened as he strangled Gergana and then bled as Eva strangled him with a length of piano wire wrapped around wooden handles.
Slowly, consciousness returned. The holographic displays had extinguished themselves. She opened her mouth to subvocalize, to bring the displays back. She had work to do. As soon as she moved her lips, she heard a terrible cacophony, a roar from the Table of Clamorous Voices that demanded her attention. The loud voices, the soft voices—they were now unregulated by any agency, any construct. Thoughts and memories, images and stored sensations, rushing up from the deepest trenches of her unconscious. She was overwhelmed.
When Eva was an infant, Gergana’s presence helped her to manage the growing din of sensory impression. The din became a roar after Gergana’s murder and organized into the Table of Clamorous Voices. Eva invested Jim with the role of mediator, regulator of the Table, and the fantasy role of mate. The illusion helped her weather her inner turmoil in order to meet the demands of the saner world around her. But flesh-and-blood Jim Ecco had just destroyed fantasy Jim Ecco, the construct. The mediator was gone.
Eva lost consciousness again. Her body took to repairing the damage inflicted upon it over the last many days. Her swollen and overworked adrenal and pituitary glands relented. Hypopituitarism replaced her chemically-induced hyperpituitarism, fatigue replaced zeal, indifference replaced libido.
Time passed and Eva awoke to disoriented incomprehension. Was it day or night? Had seconds passed, or hours? She had a pounding headache and her vision had diminished to a dark tunnel, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
She tried to move, to organize her thoughts. These tasks seemed herculean. She rolled to her desk and pulled herself up. She saw her coffee mug, still half full. With a grimace she swallowed the cold liquid with the bitter ingredient that had permitted her to work as quickly as she had. It wasn’t enough.
Her overtaxed endocrine system was in a state of rebellion. It ignored the chemicals she ingested. There had been too many demands and not enough rest. She’d pushed her body past Mother Nature’s limits for this wondrous design, this human form. Now she was weak, unable to focus. Her body demanded rest to repair the damage.
I just need forty eight hours. I can sleep when I’m dead,
she thought, and mixed another cup of the adulterated beverage. The effort was almost beyond her. Soon she would break a trail into new territory—all propulsion, no rudder, and with an impaired captain at the helm.
Ah, that’s better. I don’t care what it takes. Rockford is mine.