There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies
Than tir’d eyelids upon tir’d eyes
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies
Here are cool mosses deep
And thro’ the moss the ivies creep
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep
~ Lines from The Lotus-eaters (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
No finer wine than love
to drug the mind
and soothe the pain
but the press is still
the barrel webbed
and all sweet grapes decayed
Lift the empty glass to memory
to hope and need turned rust
and speak of a love that ended love
the death of dreams, and the taste of dust
~ Of Dreams and Dust (W.R.R.)
“Have you tried to confront him before?” Otto asked, mildly surprised, though he could guess her answer.
“Yep, little over a year ago, I caught up with the bastard in San Francisco.” She made a face. “He trounced me. That junk in my metal that you said is really magnetic? Mags used it to stick me to the Golden Gate, pinned my wrist with a piece of bridge. Didn’t even wait around to find out if I was alive or dead, or why I’d come at him. Must be used to it. That’s how I met the X-Men – officially anyway. Wolverine fished me out of the bay after I managed to claw myself loose.”
“You were drowning?”
“I was trying and failing. I think I breathe out of habit.” She touched one of the two tentacles that were lending him support.
Otto stood near the edge of the roof, grateful for the cold night wind. The young woman sat on the wide stone ledge. The harrowing drop at her back didn’t seem to concern her. She had gone straight to it to look over the edge the moment he’d brought her up here. He watched her stroke the metal actuator as if she were petting a dog. It wasn’t a sensation he could feel with his skin but his mind, connected to the sentient thing, was aware of the contact.
“You are a mutant – you didn’t get along with your own kind?”
“I’m not really their kind anymore. Cyborgs aren’t on the top of the list for dinner party invites. Wolverine was decent to me, though I’ve heard he’s got reason to hate people like me. Hell, they were all nice. Helping poor little wayward muties is their thing. I couldn’t stick with them, though. Xavier’s got the whitest hat around – he’s like a mutie Roy Rogers, even though he can creep you out, too.” She shrugged. “I didn’t want to spend my life helping people who’d rather kill me.”
“So why persist in the idea of helping me?”
“You’re a special case. You’re like me.” She leaned her head on the horizontal curve of the tentacle as if it were a piece of railing.
“Why do you use the term ‘mutie’? I understand it’s a slur?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. Learned behavior? You’re the scientist. I was raised by rope-wrapping mutant haters, after all.”
“How did they die?”
“Their apartment building fell on them.” The girl held his gaze without a hint of emotion in her black eyes. “All I wanted was to see them, to let them know I was better – but they wouldn’t even look at me. They did before I left, though. The begging was ironic after all they did to me.”
“Other people in the building were not harmed?”
“They bailed before – I made sure, made them go. ‘Pissed off’ is a great fuel for mutant talents.” Straightening, she glanced up at him. “What about you? Talk to your folks?” Smiling, she added, “Not since you ‘died’, obviously, but before?”
Otto shook his head. “My father was killed in a work accident while I was in college. My mother … died of a heart attack, before I was married.”
“Smells like a story.”
“You’re uncomfortable talking about her. What happened?”
“Nothing worth mentioning,” he muttered, looking away.
“Guilt. You feel responsible. Come on, it’s not that bad. I yanked a two-story building down on mine. Talking about it helps, old man.”
“You’re rather cavalier about it.”
“They shouldn’t have dumped me. So spill – why do you think you’re responsible? Heart attacks are pretty common.”
Otto settled on the ledge beside her. What harm could it do? “I wanted to marry Rosalie but my mother didn’t approve of her, so I called off the engagement.” He watched the dark city streets far below them. “Still, I couldn’t give her up. Then I found out that my mother was dating a man in secret while forbidding me to have a relationship. We fought … I’ve never told that to anyone but Rosalie.”
“What did she say?”
“That I shouldn’t blame myself.”
“I understand your desire for revenge on Magneto but it would be foolish to attempt it. He is one of the most powerful members of the homo-superior race.”
“If you don’t pay attention to mutant affairs, how do you know that?”
“I’m capable of opening a newspaper.” Otto turned to face her. “I hope you don’t have equal plans to rid the world of Spider-Man. Not only is that a daunting task, he is now someone I call a friend.”
“The X-boys and him were trying to fight Mags, so I guess I don’t want their heads on pikes.” She smiled. “What does Spidey think of you? You guys buried the hatchet and now you go for a brew here and there?”
“He helped me regain some measure of myself before my alleged death. I haven’t sought to change his perception of my condition.”
“So that’s a no.”
“What is the third thing you want, beyond revenge and a thirst for self-discovery?”
Shaking her head, she smiled again. “Nope, you don’t get to know that. Not yet.”
Otto frowned. When he rose and returned to the elevator doors, she followed. “I will allow you to help me if you can.” He turned and pinned her with a malevolent stare. “Any attempt to control my mind will get your limbs torn off.”
“You’re not a subtle guy, are you?”
~ ~ ~
He was afraid to sleep. Accepting her help didn’t make trust automatic. She had explained that her strongest power was manipulating dreams – and that she would use telepathy as he slept to bring his memories of Rosie back into his conscious mind, weaving them into his dreams.
Otto didn’t know what to expect. He had warned her not to attempt to put words in his wife’s mouth, or to do anything more than help him remember. Did he trust her to stick to that agenda? Not for a moment.
His bedroom next to the lab was silent and cold. Arms wrapped around a pillow, he felt one of the tentacles cover his body with a thick blanket.
“We’re taking a risk letting this creature roam around in our mind.”
This being isn’t strong. / We can sense the presence, track it / throw it out if it threatens. / Our mind is difficult to influence, impossible to control.
“I hope so – but if she tries…?”
We will / snap her in two. / Call for Her. / With Her, we have peace.
“Rosie,” he whispered.
Morphine raced through his blood, soothing the tangled ache in his spine and the constrictive pain of his encased ribcage. Lulled by its deadening power, he allowed it to pull him into the blackness that eternally waited in his mind, like an open grave.
Rooke didn’t consciously betray her promise but in the midst of coaxing his memories to the surface, she was powerfully drawn again to the emotions they stirred in him. It was shockingly intense and perhaps more than her abilities could safely handle.
She could feel him trying to reach out to the visions she called up from his subconscious. His mind remembered when she’d made it possible to touch them – to connect to the images rather than merely watching them unfold. Yet that was impossible unless she merged with the visions. He’d warned her against that when he agreed to let her try this, yet his own sleeping mind attempted to pull her into it.
Fighting the impulses, she witnessed thousands of fragments of a life that seemed alien to her but drew her inescapably. Then the flash of a scene steeped in desire caught her and pitched her headfirst into the events of the memory.
Her body lay on the divan in the penthouse, alone, but her mind was abruptly seeing a warm softly lit bedroom in some sort of loft home. A man pressed her beneath his weight, hunger in his dark eyes. His large hands were gentle, his lips hot against her throat, and her will to resist melted in the instant that she felt him drive himself inside the image she wore.
Knowing she should retreat, she lifted the hands of Rosalie Octavius like gloves over her own and ran the fingers through his thick hair. His mouth suckled the dusky nipples of the older woman but hers, pink and hard enough to ache, felt only the ghostly touch of the memory. Melding with him as she had before would strengthen the sensations, for both of them – but if he caught her at it…
Otto, she whispered, attempting to remain hidden inside his memory but hoping he would bring her into it like he had before.
She gasped when it happened. For a man heading into the deep end of his forties, he put to shame not only his peers but most of the younger men she’d had, too. Any fear of consequences was drowned in feelings she could barely understand but knew she could easily get addicted to.
Rooke smiled and tried to bring her telepathy in carefully, to fish in his mind for things his wife might say or do – to keep the illusion strong. She ran her fingers down his ribs, and up his hairless chest. The pectorals and biceps were amazing. Did he do pull ups on the lab equipment or was he hiding a gym?
A misty vision of movement over his shoulder caught her eye for a moment and then disappeared – one of the tentacles? If they were breaking through, she was slacking somewhere. Afraid he might abruptly see the wrong hair color in his dream or feel her piercings instead of his wife’s unadorned lips, Rooke tried to focus. She let her telepathy weaken slowly and spun the dream tighter.
Aren’t you happy I couldn’t sleep? he asked. His mind voice was husky, the thought full of amusement.
She was in too deep to see the dream as a whole or sense what Rosalie might have answered in the actual memory. Panic threatened to distract her. Then another voice, different from his or his wife’s, solved her problem. It spoke with an oddly familiar alien cadence.
There’s still time / for sleep, / once we relax you. / The demonstration isn’t early.
Rooke stared over Ock’s shoulders at the flicker of the tentacles as they spoke the dead wife’s words. How did they fool him? They couldn’t be mistaken for a feminine voice – but he smiled down at her, utterly taken in. It had to be what she’d said in this memory, which meant they were helping her. Goose bumps spread over her physical body even as the psychic image she wore was bathed in sweat.
His body soon took her mind off of her fear. Falling into it again, allowing herself to experience everything as completely as she could, she tumbled through a few mind-altering orgasms before he joined her in one.
~ ~ ~
The sun blinded Rooke as she struggled to sit up, a momentary disorientation making her feel dizzy. The loft bedroom was gone and the soft music of the fountain ran behind her. The heavy body she vaguely remembered falling asleep beside was missing. Did he get up early?
Cold reality washed over her as she looked out the windows of the Water Room.
“Oh bloody hell,” she muttered. She had fallen asleep connected to his mind.
Had she been discovered? She was still in one piece. Where was the inscrutable Dr. Octavius?
She ate breakfast alone and the uneasy worry increased. When the servant, Paul Balfour, finally returned, she signed a battery of questions at him. All he would communicate about his master was that the doctor was in the lab.
Rooke tried not to think about nerve gas on the way down to the lab level. She found Ock in a dusty back section of the vast laboratory, studying an incomprehensible four-piece structure. It was stark, weird, and ugly enough to be one of those modern art sculptures parked in front of public buildings. A mass of cloth lay in a heap to one side. Some sort of cover?
The doctor didn’t seem any worse for wear after her memory work had gone off the rails the night before. He was dressed to unimpress in brown slacks, brown work boots, and a black sweater. The sweater had been modified with an open back and ties at neck and waist. She might be wearing yesterday’s ensemble but at least she could claim to have a fashion sense.
She hadn’t bothered with trying to be quiet when she arrived. His tentacles’ ability to sense motion was a lot better than hers and though none of them were looking at her, she knew he was aware of her presence. Yet when he spoke, she only heard part of the conversation.
“It’s operational. We only need the fuel source.” The tentacles moved, touching the structure in places, as his human arms rose, palms up. “It must be a controlled experiment.” Two of the mechanical ‘mouths’ pointed back at him, opening silently. “In time, perhaps … but not until we’ve seen how the actinides will affect the fusion.”
“You’re a psychiatrist’s wet dream, Doc.”
He turned to face her. “Good morning. I was about to send for you.”
“Why, is it peeling time?”
One eyebrow rose in a question. “No. I need to study your cybernetics. The medical report is actually favorable, so in theory, your metal isn’t a hazard to your health at present. What it can do, and how, is still in question.”
“Maybe it’s not hazardous because I’m the poster girl for Romero’s Unholy Trinity.”
“If I must curb my collegiate diction, you could meet me half-way and use less vernacular slang.”
“Zombie movies. Romero’s the director.” She watched as the tentacles replaced the cover over the structure. “You missed breakfast.”
“Balfour brought it to me. I spend a great deal of time working and very little time upstairs.”
“A real workaholic troglowhatsit.”
“Troglodyte.” He approached her with a slight smile. “Balfour suggested you might need clothes. If you wish, he can take you shopping this afternoon.”
“Awesome.” She walked beside him toward the front of the lab. “Got any requests?”
“Clothes. You like your waifs in jeans and tees or skirts and cardigans? Not that I’d be caught undead in a cardigan. Then there’s always the Catholic schoolgirl look. Lingerie or leather? This burg’s got it all.”
“No requests,” he answered with a frown. “Have a seat.”
She dropped onto the stool she’d been spinning on before. He sat in the computer chair beside her and picked up her right wrist. Turning her hand over, he studied her palm and fingertips.
“The hand’s sense of touch is facilitated by these sensors – quite ingenious. Are you aware of touch otherwise? The skin can feel it?”
Repressing the urge to give a ribald response, she just nodded.
“What is the function of this?” His fingers brushed over the black stone in her palm.
“I don’t know. The left one got smashed once but it repaired itself.”
“While it was broken, did you notice anything different?”
“Well, it fixed itself pretty quick. I was a little wonky and almost numb in that arm but then it was fine again.”
“I suspect this is the reason you can feel this,” he said, and gripped her left shoulder lightly. “The feet are the same?”
“Yep.” She bent and fought off one boot and sock. The feel of his fingers on her foot gave her a shiver.
“Tactile sensation and muscle function are achieved but you don’t feel pain.”
“Nope. I can tell when stuff is broken and I can feel it fix itself but it isn’t like pain.”
“The metal must have stimulated the neural pathways linking the cerebellum with the motor cortex to allow movement but either bypassed or suppressed the nociceptors.”
“The nerves that sense pain.” He touched the black stone in the center of the ball of her foot. “If these components alone could be reproduced, they could improve the lives of many.” He frowned. “It seems to be a crystalline substance, not a constructed device. Are its benefits a natural property or is it programmable in some way?”
“You’re slipping into Geek again, Doc.”
“I was speaking to them.”
As one of the tentacles lent him support, the other three moved restlessly around him, all of them watching her.
“I’m trying to be good and stay out of your head but it’s hardly fair to have half the chat internally while I sit here like chopped liver.”
“Of course. I apologize.”
She couldn’t tell if his smile was mocking or just amused. “So how’d it go last night? You haven’t said a word about it. I was worried you were pissed at me. Did I help?”
His eyes evaded hers. He released her foot and took a closer look at the patch of metal on her face. The touch of fingers was impersonal – as clinical as any medical doctor – but she welcomed it as thoughts of the dream warmed her.
“My memories seem clearer, yes.”
Rooke reached out and brushed the bangs from his dark eyes. He sat back away from her immediately. “I wanted to ask – how did you manage to stay happy so long? Most people I spy on just bitch about their marriages.”
Ock gave her a searching look. “Most marry for the wrong reasons.”
“The number one reason seems to be wanting exclusive shag rights on someone – but that’s the men. The women fall for a guy’s bank account.”
“I stand by my statement. I imagine the percent that actually achieve a real bond is minimal.”
“Well I wouldn’t do it. It’s probably not legal for cyborgs in Illinois anyway but still. Why strap yourself to one person forever?”
“The concept of love seems to elude you.”
“Is it that simple?” Then she smiled and answered her own question. “For you, I guess it is. I could feel it when I accessed your memories – took a while to realize what it was. I’ve only read about it. I think most people are in the same boat.”
“While I appreciate the assistance –”
“You’d rather I shut up about it. Got it. Zipping the lip.” She sighed. “So what now?”
“You mentioned a motion-sensing function? This panel over your left eyebrow is also a sensor but of a very different nature. It is quite alien but if I’m correct in my guess, this is what gives you the input for detecting things around you. According to the CT scans, it appears to be connected directly to your occipital lobe. Does it create a visual image?”
“Um … there’s a grid it puts up over my sight. I can see through it but it shows me who is where, even behind me – very Terminator.”
~ ~ ~
Rooke lay prone in the Water Room, sheets of the medical report spread all around her on the divan. Ock had said she could learn a lot about herself if she read it but it was written similar to how he talked.
Shopping had been a lot more fun. Leaving the doctor to his public service projects, she had hopped into a limo with Balfour and raided both the finest and the funkiest stores she could find.
A new sense of freedom had gripped her and she selected clothes for their style, instead of their concealing ability. The short pleated black skirt and spaghetti string gray top she wore now displayed her alien complexion alluringly. She couldn’t wait for dinner and if he didn’t come upstairs, she’d go down and shock him there.
Not that he’ll notice the breasty swell going on. If he stares at my chest at all it’ll be to figure out what the lights do. Her fingers touched the artistic spray of them, feeling the warmth they gave off. What the hell are they for, anyway?
She fell asleep on the report and didn’t wake up until she heard Ock’s voice. The words didn’t register but at least he’d come out of his hole. The time must have come for more world-class grub and ransom-note wine.
“This is quite a change in appearance.”
Rooke sat up, noted that the black lace edge of the bra showed as she’d engineered it to, and smiled at him. “You want to look at specifics, so I thought I’d dress for easy access – and before you ask, I haven’t a clue what the lights do.”
“I believe they are collecting your seemingly limitless energy and are therefore the reason any damage can be repaired so quickly.”
“Someone’s been doing their homework.”
“It seems yours has been more comfortable than enlightening.”
“All the science-speak puts me to sleep.” She stood and stretched. “Did you want me to mess with your head more tonight?”
“Do you see the memories?” His reluctance was so obvious she didn’t need telepathy to feel it.
“Yes. I have to.”
“Do I need to remind you to keep it confidential?”
“Nope. Why worry about that, anyway? You’re just going to store my brain on a shelf and plug the rest of me into that contraption downstairs. I can’t call National Enquirer from my Mason jar. Your secrets are safe, Dr. Frankenstein.”
“If there is a way around harming you, that will be my first choice.”
“Warms my heart. Can I get deliveries up here?”
“Most things you might want can be sent in care of Mr. Rucker. Then Balfour would bring them to you.”
“Does that include a high-dollar escort service? A girl can’t live by gourmet dining alone.”
Otto drowned greedily in the flood of images and sensations, though they came faster and less vividly than before. Yet in the midst of joy was fear. They would fade again, wouldn’t they? In the end, they were memories only. Nothing could give him back his wife in the flesh.
Rosalie called out to him in his mind, begging him to get down from the controls of the machine, away from the fusion reactor – but that hadn’t been the last time he heard her voice.
The scream, the glass. No! He wrenched his mind away from the horror and guilt. See her alive, smiling, content. Sifting through the freshly reclaimed memories, he found her standing in the church dressed in flowing white. Younger, yes – though her beauty had never waned.
Snatches of verse she had read to him on their honeymoon in Tuscany slipped into his thoughts. The lines were from some sort of work called Sweet Incarnadine by a woman named Jane Siberry. Poet or singer? He couldn’t remember. As she had read it, his heart had filled with more love than he could ever hold.
The first time I leaned over you
and looked into your eyes
I said to myself
this is what it must be like
to have everything
you’d ever want
He had always been a man full of dreams, visions of how to make the world better. She had turned all of her energies and efforts into helping him achieve those dreams. As an equal partner in all aspects of his life, she had become his world, as much an obsession as the fusion project that killed her.
Yet obsession daily fulfilled cannot torment a man. It was only after he lost her that he knew the extent of how much of his life depended on her supportive and loving presence. Her loss had been as much a factor in the madness that followed the accident as the abrupt fusion of his mind with the metal tools that kept him in thrall to the old dream.
Now into this morass of despair and crippled good intentions walked a creature of fierce and stubborn will. A child-woman of unknown potential, capable not only of making his dream succeed at last but able to give him Rosie in the only way possible now.
It wasn’t real but he couldn’t care. Still half asleep, he searched for the other parts of his mind. “Find her. Tell her … anything.”
She is / here, directing the memories. / She has melded with / us before.
“What? When?” He stirred in the tangle of churned blankets in the subterranean room.
Last night. / The memory before we came. / She wore the mantle of Her you want. That is how She / could touch us. She makes Her alive.
The shock woke him fully. “Then it was more than a dream, like before.”
Otto rose and went to the elevator. He had fallen asleep in his clothes, so there was no delay. He wanted to confront her before his nerve failed him. He never moved silently, so when he found her, he knew she was awake.
“Oh God,” she whispered in the dark. Her silhouette sat up on the divan. “I didn’t do anything –”
“Do it again.”
“You made her real, made her become something I could touch.”
“That – that’s more your trick than mine.”
“I can’t. I let it happen, yeah – but your mind is the one pulling me in.” He was silent and she continued in a frightened whisper, “You have the strongest mind I’ve ever felt, after those X-telepaths. Your emotions almost suffocate me. You didn’t want me to meddle but I couldn’t help it. I could barely control it, either.”
“But you can make it happen. You can give her to me.”
“Yes, but – it’s just a lie –”
“I don’t care. It’s the only way.” Darting forward, he gripped her shoulders. “Do this – and I will devise a way to help you take your revenge. Give my wife to me – and I will tear Magneto to pieces for you myself!”
His mind reeked of madness as his hands held her fiercely. Desperation blended with anger – more at himself and fate than her, at least – raged in his thoughts.
Rooke tried to relax but he was scaring her. She’d thought he was going to hurt her at first but he wanted her to do the exact thing she feared he would catch her at before. Did he realize what it meant for her?
“Please calm down,” she pleaded. “I can’t do anything with your thoughts in a hurricane.”
He released her and stood straight. “I will trust you in this. I don’t believe you are capable of taking over my will.”
One tentacle watched her over his head, as the lower pair supported their collective weight. The fourth moved along the divan and ran its muzzle down her thigh.
“To be brutally honest, I can barely handle you calm and happy – pissed and intense sort of caves my talents.” She reached out and touched the tentacle that stroked her. It allowed her to pick it up. Trying to calm herself, she caressed the muzzle, holding it against her naked chest. “There’s an easier way,” she said.
“There’s nothing stopping you from just lying down here. I can help you with more than my mind.”
The tentacle in her hands moved and struck her throat even as she heard his inhuman growl. It didn’t try to throttle her or break her neck but its grip was terrifying. Her fingers tried to pry at it, popping their diamond claws – but they couldn’t even scratch the metal.
Frantic, she opened her telepathy, wincing at the backlash of his rage. Don’t!
“You think you can’t die – so why such fear?”
I’m sorry! Please… Tears ran down her face.
“You will not speak of that again. Understood? Not even in jest.”
Yes, yes! The tentacle released her and she gasped and choked, her hands flying to protect her throat. She leaned forward and coughed.
Metal crunched on wood as his shadow backed away. “Do what I asked and only that. In return, you’ll have your revenge. Play with me … and we’ll find out if you’re capable of dying.”
Rooke crumpled and sobbed as she listened to him retreating down the hall; whether he was still listening or not, she sent a vicious thought in his wake.
I wish I could die … but I’d do it in a way that wouldn’t even leave a scrap of me for your fucking project! She waited, full of defiance, but she got nothing else from him but silence.
He didn’t see Rooke over the next week. Taking his meals in the lab, he worked almost continually through long sixteen-hour days. If Balfour informed him that he was taking her elsewhere in the building at a particular time, he would take that opportunity to go up to the penthouse for a few hours.
Otto knew she was at least somewhat compliant, because when he did manage to sleep, his dreams were all of Rosalie – not scattered glimpses or confusing symbolism, but real memories. He was able to walk through them with his wife, able to touch her hand or lose himself in the warmth of her love. The scenes of her death and his failure were gone.
If he was calm, holding the madness at bay, he could gather Rosie to him and make love to her as they once had – languidly and perfectly. They would talk and laugh together when they were tired, until the respite allowed them to begin again.
The only torment that remained was waking. Rising to his feet every day, facing the work, he faced the lie.
~ ~ ~
We should / speak to her. / We can’t begin the test / until we do.
“We will … but not yet. There’s still much to do.” He finished keying a program into the computer and cursed, his hands curling into fists. “We were brutal to her. I – you – drove me to it!”
Her invitation upset you. / We do not / care if you have her, / but we will not let memories stop the work.
You are / able. / ‘Can’t’ is / incorrect.
“Machines don’t understand love. Don’t try. I’ve only ever wanted one woman. Death hasn’t changed that. I won’t allow it to.”