[Episode VII]

“… Any later, and I more than likely would’ve lost myself…” Echoing her own words, Eremis stood in their living space, examining what remained of the gruesome mess they had left her, “But why I must always wake up in the middle of a shit show, I will never understand.” She inhaled through her nose, the fetid smell of bad blood, and decay filling her lungs. Disturbed, the larvae crawling around her systems fluttered about in frenzied agitation. This resulted in her synthetic skin bubbling up with insect-filled pockets while her hair all but stood on end.

“You can keep doing that all you want, you manipulative fucking lunatic. Faustus made damn sure nothing is ever getting inside my head.” Still, she shuddered as she breathed out. Absentmindedly rubbing her brand new, scarless arms, she looked around for her music box. Finding it poised on the edge of the mantle where she had left it, she picked it up, side-stepping the shattered coffee table to go sit on the high-end, pretentiously misplaced divan.

“Who puts a fireplace, a grand piano, and a chandelier on an intergalactic spaceflight anyway? Extreme 1950s lounging enthusiasts?” With her human brain intact, Eremis had no problem imagining their former, middle-aged, ship captain, slipping into his embroidered housecoat, pouring himself a double whiskey sour, and settling down in front of a blazing fire. He would throw his feet up on the coffee table, and puffing away at the lit cigar clenched between his teeth, pore over his daily reports… Eremis clamped her hand over her mouth. Not only could she imagine it, she could practically smell it, wafting up from underneath all the other scents permeating the room as she forced herself not to laugh. It wasn’t funny, she knew. The Mad Maestro had murdered the older man, along with most of his crew, in a desperate bid for their ship. How unfortunate for everyone then, that it was Eremis now sitting here in all their stead.

“Because it always has to be, “me, me, me, me, me, me,” with you. Heaven forbid anyone ever be happier than you are.” Eremis couldn’t feel their pathetic excuse of an overlord trying to wrap itself around her spine, exactly; the incessant skittering was making her extremities twitch. As frustrated as she was annoyed, Eremis placed her music box on the cushion next to her, and got up. Throwing a few logs into the fireplace, she at first lit a fire, then went searching for a kitchen knife. Unable to find anything suitably sharp, she decided a pair of nail scissors, pulled from the bathroom’s medicine cabinet, would more than do the trick. It was only once she had returned to her seat, running the tip of a finger across her music box’s antiquated silver, wind-up key, that she was suddenly assailed by the memory of her grandmother gifting it to her, “So you’ll always have somewhere to tuck away your heart, and remember your family by when we’re all gone.” She had told her when she’d handed it to her. Of course, back then, Eremis had believed her grandmother had meant years, and years down the road, not

“That you would land in the Void before I did, and vanish into some far off dimension somewhere I’ll probably never find you again.” Eremis finished out loud. The metaphorical rabbit hole she would tumble into whenever reality became too much to handle, her Void would always remain. Upon its creation, however, it had been broken, checkered, and similarly to every other void in existence, lifeless, and empty, “Like my entire fucking life. How could I forget.” Eremis rolled her eyes as she conjured up its bright purple grounds, its dead trees, its sickly yellow skies dotted with chess pieces, and… Not much else. It had been her chill space, her quiet zone, the one spot in the universe she kept all to herself. After her grandmother’s suicide, she had even gone so far as to erect triple-thick, reinforced steel, and cement barrier walls. She’d topped them all off with electrical razor-wire, armed them with nuclear warheads, and surrounded the entire area with land mines; “TRESPASSERS WILL BE KILLED ON SIGHT!!” Her signs had read. At least that’s what she’d thought they had read… But real life had come rearing its ugly head, Eremis had been whisked away, and over time, had almost completely forgotten it was there.

Now, with an increasingly infuriated Maestro threatening to make her       operating systems seize up and freeze, Eremis took her hand away from the wind-up key in favor of the small scissors she had found. Holding them by their sharpened blades, she carved a u-shaped line into her left shoulder, and pulled the loosened flap of skin up. Attracted to the smell of death lingering around her, it wasn’t long before the Maestro’s grossly mutated, “brain-bug,” scurried out for a closer inspection, “Long time no see. Why don’t I make you feel as comfortable as you’re making me?” Eremis grabbed it by its legs, and one by one, ripped all of its wings from its back, effectively stopping it from flying away. Obviously displeased, the palm sized insectoid screeched in pained protest as it struggled against her, stinging her repeatedly as it vomited its acid over her hands. It didn’t bother Eremis any. This was why they had turned her into an android in the first place; so she would never hurt, or be hurt, ever the hell again.

“Mordred’s oh-so-clever solution to all my goddamned problems. He couldn’t just leave me alone, and let me go. God, no. He had to keep trying. Keep bringing me back. Keep doing this to me. Now here we are, with you scratching around the body I’ve officially died three times for… Scratching around without my expressed permission, might I add… And you honestly believe I’ll let you stay? Why would I do that? So you can royally fuck me up like you did with our mothership, and your last shell? Jesus, you really are fucking insane.” She said as she watched its newly plucked out, iridescent wings twirl lazily down to the floor. Wrapping it in her fist, she forced it to stop moving before she continued, “I heard it said our Maestro is near-immortal, but it turns out our overlord feels pain. Do you know what it feels like to die? What happens when you try to kill yourself? Because I do.” She talked, aware it couldn’t answer her questions in the state it was in, “The first time I tried, I was so fucking stupid, I slashed my wrists in the wrong direction. It took Mordred maybe half an hour to find me, stitch me up, and stuff me full of painkillers.”

As if it had happened the day before… She had sat on the edge of his bathtub, so strung out, and upset, she had flubbed her lines, painfully reminding herself she didn’t deserve to keep living. Cutting open new gashes, she had sunk down to the bottom of the tub as her blood had poured out of her fresh wounds. With her heart slowing down, she had closed her eyes, and lost consciousness, skipping over the tunnel, and all its lights. Finally, she had awoken to find herself, of all places, in the Void. Her Void. Looking exactly the same as she had left it all those years ago, save for the one building, standing by itself off in the distance. Where had that come from? She had wondered. She knew she most certainly wasn’t the one who had put it there; her alternate space had been empty, except for the trees, the walls, and the land mines.

She hadn’t had the chance to dwell on it. What had initially sounded like a gun shot, and looked like her skies ripping open, had quickly turned out to be Mordred. He had busted down the door, picked her up and resuscitated her, “So he could strap me down to his operating table, and eventually amputate both my arms right up to my shoulders. Then he replaced them with his fancy fucking robotics so I’d never do that to myself again. What a sweetheart.” Already she could feel the brain-bug’s wings beginning to grow back. She tightened her grip on it, “The second time, I got away, and hid at the bottom of the terraforming bay, behind all those machines we never used, and overdosed on pills. My grandmother would’ve been so proud…”

Her second attempt had landed her so close to the inexplicable building, she had nearly been run over, and swallowed by the equally strange pieces of furniture hovering around its perimeter. Not stopping to check, and see if that was where her missing chess pieces had gone off to, she had stomped (barefoot, through her Void, she had stomped) through its doors. Ready to scream bloody  murder, and kick out whoever had had the fucking gall to set up shop on her property, she’d been pleasantly surprised to discover the building had contained a bar.

“There was a huge chunk of wall missing near the back, something about an oversized pest infestation. Sounds awfully fucking familiar, don’t you think,         Maestro?” She sneered at it, its eyes bulging out at her, “In any case, I walked up to the counter, and there’s my favorite kind of coffee, already made, and waiting for me to drink it. Three sips later, and this lady with a file folder materializes out of nowhere…” The shock of which had nearly knocked her off her bar stool, but she wasn’t about to admit it, “… Long story short, she listed off a bunch of in-house, “rules,” I obviously already knew. I offered to patch up the place in exchange for some peace and quiet. She didn’t refuse, but she couldn’t tell me where the bar had come from, or how long it had been there. That was kind of lame.”

But patch up the building, she had. She’d even had enough time to enjoy a second coffee before Mordred, along with Faustus, had once again found her, and dragged her back to the mothership. Not taking any more chances with her, they had kept her locked, and tied up, till they had completed her transformation into the fully functional android she currently was, “So until the Ezramatheia exploded, I was convinced that had been my last time going to my Void. You need to be at least partially alive to get there, but robots have no souls. Can’t really lose consciousness when I have no consciousness left to lose… Oh, don’t worry, dear Maestro. I know you can’t possibly understand what I’m telling you. Us humans with all of our feelings are, well, pretty alien to you, aren’t we?” Eremis brought the mutated brain-bug up to her face, at which point it tried, and failed, to spew its acid into her eyes, “It seems I fell to pieces when the ship exploded though, and next thing I know, there I was.”

The building had been fixed, but stood completely empty. With no band, no bartender, and no other patrons in sight, she’d taken the opportunity to have a proper look around. There were huge windows she could push open to see outside. There was the stage, fully equipped with its gleaming instruments, simply not being played. There were cozy-looking booths, along with plenty of round tables; that was where she’d found the empty notebook, appearing long abandoned under a chair. Eremis had picked it up, and brought it back to the bar, spotting a pen holder, half hidden behind the unattended cash register, as she’d done so, “Does the absent bartender object to friendly patrons borrowing pencils? No? Well then, please, don’t mind if I do.” Giggling like a drunken teenager pulling off their first heist, she’d hoisted herself up into a sitting position on the bar, spun her legs around, and dropped down on the other side. It was then, reaching out for a pen, that she’d heard the door open up, and close. Thinking she had been caught red-handed doing something highly illegal, she’d accidentally sent the entirety of the pen holder’s contents flying as she dove, and ducked under the counter, “I didn’t touch anything, I swear!” She’d called out to whoever had come in.

“I’m sure the poor pens you catapulted to an early grave would beg to differ,” The male voice had sounded more amused than angry as it had gotten closer, “It’s been awhile since my last visit. Any idea who fixed the walls?”

“Depends on who’s asking,” Eremis had pulled her knees up under her chin, unwilling to move yet, “Are you the one who tried to destroy the building?”

“Not directly, and not on purpose, no.” Thinking it was odd he’d sounded as though he’d been speaking to her from directly over her head, Eremis had lifted her gaze. There, she had found the gaunt, angular male in sunglasses, and shiny black nail polish, had been, quite literally, floating over her head. Unable to stop herself, Eremis had half-screamed, half-squealed in sheer terror as she’d scrambled to get out of his way. Attempting to use the edge of the counter she’d been hiding underneath for leverage, she had only managed to slip, and fall back into the cupboards under the cash register with enough force to make the liquor bottles overhead rattle. In the meantime, her guest had pulled off his sunglasses, folded them, and sitting cross-legged over the bar stools, had stared at her in confused disbelief, “We’re in the Void, haven’t you ever seen a ghost float before?”

“… Not a real one.” More from pain than a loss of word, Eremis had squeaked, “Is that where the furniture outside gets it from?”

“Good guess, but no. They do that all by themselves.” He’d glanced over the glorified scratch pad she had found, “Are you writing a novel? It seems to be a favorite pastime around here.”

“The thought may have crossed my mind,” She’d said as she’d begun scrounging around for the collection of pens, and pencils she had strewn about, “It’s not like there’s much else to do here right now. Especially with all this excitement going on and whatnot.” Having grabbed what she could find, she’d stood up, put everything in their holder, and placed it next to her notebook, “So, what brings you back here?”

“Oh, you know, the usual… Apocalypse… End of the world stuff. I might’ve gone slightly overboard with the drugs, and the needles again.” He’d smiled a crooked smile, looking more than a little flustered, “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a bit of a pick-me-up for an old war veteran, would you?”

“Well, I’m not a bartender, and you don’t look old, or anything like a veteran, but I’m sure there’s something back here… How about some whiskey? Vodka? Gin and tonic? Oh, I know! Tequila!” She’d pulled down the bottle and twisted it open, “First things first though; what’s your name?”

“Me?” The question had seemed to catch him off-guard, “Officially I’m Number Four, but my… friends… Call me the Séance. You?”

“Eremis. I had a perfectly normal human name once, but that was so long ago, I honestly can’t remember what it was.” As she’d dug up a couple of clean glasses, and set them down between them, she had been horrified to realize she had completely forgotten her own birth name, “Would you like a chaser with your shot, dear?”

“I don’t know what that means.” He’d told her as he had grabbed the full bottle, poured his own drink, swallowed it all in one gulp, and poured himself another, “Eremis is a nice name. What brings you all the way out here?”

“… Um…” She could almost feel her face flushing bright red as she’d glanced down at her wrists. The scars from her first attempt weren’t overly pronounced, but they were there, and clearly visible, “I live here. Sort of.”

If he had caught her bluffing, he hadn’t commented, “It is awfully calm and quiet here. I like it too.” He’d smiled warmly instead.

“Thank you. I literally got it from my grandmother.” Taking the bottle from him, she had also poured herself a shot, but had yet to drink it, “Out of curiosity, when was the last time you were here?”

He’d blinked, downed his second shot, and still drawn a complete blank. Eremis had tried again, “Alright, what about your first time then?”

“When I was eighteen, if I remember right. Dad kicked me out of the house, I scared off the local dealer, overdosed on his stash, and woke up here. Well, not here here. Outside.” He had gestured towards a tree, not far from the entrance. So that was how he’d gotten past all her defenses; he had simply crash-landed inside of them. Eremis, deciding right then and there she wasn’t entirely hating his company, had bitten her tongue.

“Because you obviously don’t make friends by pissing people off, and scaring them away,” She was currently explaining to their oblivious alien master. With its wings fully grown, it had begun thrashing around for its freedom while its swarm was becoming restless without their insufferable leader… But Eremis wasn’t quite done with her story yet, “So, I told Mercy he’s my fourth cousin. It isn’t exactly lying.” Instead of getting annoyed at her guest’s indiscretion, she’d taken her shot, and kept listening to him talk, “It turns out there’s a bunch of different timelines, where a bunch of different stuff happens. In the one he lives in, the world already ended, twice. And here I thought we were the ones being overdramatic.” She snorted even though that little revelation hadn’t been too particularly funny either.

Citing dizziness, the Séance had eventually set his two feet down on the floor to go sit down at the closest table. Feeling oddly sympathetic for the first time in what had felt like years, Eremis had brewed him a fresh cup of black coffee, sashayed her way around the bar, and set it down on the table next to him. Then, she had spun on her heels, and rather unceremoniously, had let herself fall directly in his lap, jolting him straight out of his daydreaming, “You know, I’m not a relationship expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you’re supposed to stiffen when a girl sits on you, my dear.” She had laughed, “Here, have some coffee, warm yourself up a bit, Mr. Pick-Me-Up.” He’d wrinkled his nose, pursed his lips, and barely softened up his posture;

“Common sense would dictate you ask a guy before you do that to him,” He’d protested weakly.

“Common sense would also dictate you tell a lady before dropping a bar right smack in the middle of her own, personal slice of hell, but…” She’d gently prodded back.

“Alright, alright. I get it officer.” He’d put his hand up, the word, “HELLO,” scribbled across  his palm in what looked like black marker, “Guilty as charged. But to be fair, you chose to fix it up, and leave it here.”

“To be fair, I am still sitting on your lap, yes. Good job handling yourself.” She’d grinned, outwardly happy to have found someone she could get close enough to talk to.

“You know, I had a kid once. In Vietnam.” He’d let slip after a moment of mildly awkward silence, “I opened up a strip club for extra money, and really confused some of my family members.”

“Did you really now?” Eremis had raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and resting her head against his shoulder, had whispered in his ear, “That sounds insanely kinky, dear. Pray tell me; what happened?”

“… Um…” It had been his turn to look away in embarrassment, and Eremis had thought she’d gone too far, “Let’s say it’s a long, complicated story that involves talking monkeys, and time traveling elevators. How about we save it for next time?”

“Talking monkeys… And time traveling elevators. Are you serious?” The look on his face as he’d stared at her had made her believe he truly wasn’t lying, “You know what? You’re right. I’ve probably heard crazier, and we can always save it for later.”

She hadn’t been given much of a choice; all her senses had begun to tingle, as though her blood circulation had been cut off for too long, and was now rushing back, “… Shit.” She had muttered under her breath as she’d slid out of her spot, and stood up.

“What’s the matter? Did they find you?” He’d stood up with her.

“Yes, they did. I’m going to have to leave.” As much as she had loathed the thought, “It was nice meeting you, la Séance.”

“Hey now, silly French lady, it doesn’t have to be over quite yet…”

“… Told him a hundred and fifty times he didn’t have to follow me all the way out here. It’s too far and he wasn’t feeling the greatest… But he did it anyway. We showed up just in time for me to find out our wonderful Maestro only allowed me access to his private suites so he could use me. As your new replacement shell, you lying piece of fucking shit.”

The feeling must have been mutual. Arguably fed up listening to her, the brain-bug had puffed itself out between her fingers, growing its stinger long enough to pierce through what would’ve been her radial artery, had she been human… And exactly like a human, Eremis’ hand went limp, loosening her grip on it long enough for it to slip through her numbed digits. With movement speeds that matched Faustus’ own, lightning-fast reflexes, Eremis was nonetheless able to pin the insectoid down before it could find its way back inside her arm, “You want to play a game, Maestro? On behalf of everyone you’ve fucked over, I call it, “Thank you for not even pretending to pay attention”. I’ve been waiting forever to do this.”

Then, without another word, Eremis finally crushed the surprisingly soft-bodied, brain-bug in her fist. With a nausea-inducing noise she had never heard before, it popped between her fingers like an overripe pimple. Their Maestro was even kind enough to leave its acidic blood, and entrails, smeared all over the inside of her palm as she threw its lifeless corpse into the crackling fire not ten feet away. As it hit the brick wall and slid down between the burning logs, its brood, sensing the death of their leader, had followed suit, and puffed out in confused and violent rage. With her own skin on the verge of exploding like a balloon, and seeing no better option, she had grabbed the nail scissors;

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I just promised, and I know you won’t condone what I’m about  to do… But I really, for once in my life, want to last until I see you again.” Eremis apologized profusely, mostly to herself, but also to the  invisible ghosts she felt she was betraying. She then stabbed the blades into both her arms, this time appropriately dragging them all the way up to her elbows as the larvae spilled out of her system in sweet, undeniable relief. Far from dying, Eremis felt as though she had lost over a dozen pounds worth of deadweight as they piled up on top of the mess Mercy had left on the wall behind her. Unsatisfied with the little blood that remained, they expanded like a cloud, and quickly vanished through the cracks in, and around, the vestibule.

“Grow a better fucking brain before you come back and try your stupid shit on me again, you bloody bastard!!” She yelled after all of them. It wouldn’t take very long, she suspected. A few days at most with all the corpses laying around begging to be consumed. It almost made her wish she’d had a flamethrower; she could have turned their Maestro into an alien roast for dinner… Or, whatever time of day it was. She wasn’t entirely certain.

Eremis shook her head of her pointless train of though as she lay down across the divan with her music box sitting on top of her chest. Already her nanobots had stitched her skin together, so well, even Eremis couldn’t tell she had once again attempted to do the unthinkable. Letting out a deep sigh, she wound the small, silver key back as far as it would go, and gently pried the box’s cover open, “Well, hello there beautiful, I do believe it’s been a solid twenty-two minutes since the last time we saw each other.”

She smiled despite herself, whispering to the tiny, white, featureless, porcelain figurine holding an equally white violin under its chin, as it slowly spun around to the unbroken, and very not backwards notes of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major”. It had been, and always would be, Eremis’ absolute favorite.

(Now you’ll always have somewhere to tuck away your heart.)

(Please don’t forget me when I’m gone.)

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