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this is the last section of the story. don't start here. start HERE


Denise sat at the table. A microphone in a stand stood angled toward her face. The wall opposite her was half mirror, half painted cinder block. She wondered who was watching her through the mirror. They would be listening. They would be calculating an offense. They had appointed her a lawyer. She waived his presence at the interrogation. He resigned. They would look for another one for her while she testified against herself.

They had cut her hair. Every movement of her head reminded her of the ragged scraps they'd left. She missed its mass, the slide of it against her neck, the strands over her eyes when she leaned forward.

They had turned her green--green as the room. The lights bleached life from her skin. The prison shift and the underwear they had given her were olive drab and stamped in black. She was property of the state. The state wanted her green. It wanted everything soulless green.

Her bandaged arm tingled where it lay in her lap. She wished it throbbed. The injury was barely perceptible.

The skinny balding man walked into the room and sat opposite her. A half-dead cigarette smoldered where it hung between his lips. Detective Gleason introduced himself and sat without recognizing her reply. He moved as if each muscle contraction required substantial effort, as if his soul was as worn as the white shirt he wore unbuttoned at the collar. He took the cigarette from his mouth and searched the table top. Finding nothing, he flicked the cigarette to the floor and stepped on it.

"Dr. Foucault," he said. "Denise--can I call you Denise?"

"Sure," she answered. "Whatever you want."

"Good. Denise, did you kill Drs. Formentini and Bauchon?"


Gleason stopped a gesture in mid-movement. He relaxed.

"Oh, good," he said. Then to no one, "Are you guys getting this?"

She couldn't hear a reply. Gleason appeared satisfied.

"Why did you kill them?"

"I thought they were somebody else."

"Oh?" Gleason rubbed his balding crown, pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket, put a white stick in his mouth, and lit it. The tip flared circular orange. He threw the lighter and cigarette pack to the table.

"Who did you think they were?"

"I thought they were agents of Satan."

"Agents of Satan. . ." He took a drag on the cigarette. "They tell me you stabbed them fifty-four times apiece. The only thing holding their heads to their shoulders were strands of spinal cord. That thing you used, that sharp rock thing, it cut through the bones."

"Mine too," she said, holding her bandaged arm above the table.

"I can see that. I'm sorry you're hurt. That thing you used, that. . ."

"Space shuttle tile?"

"Yeah, space shuttle tile. That was really part of the space shuttle? The one that exploded?"

"No," she said. "It was a rejected part from an experimental payload. My father worked for NASA. He gave it to me."

"Interesting. . ." Gleason said. He took a drag of his cigarette. "Why did you stab them so many times?"

"I wanted to make sure they were dead. They would have been pretty angry if they had woken up alive." She laughed. Gleason smiled.


"Isn't it, though?"

"You worked side-by-side with these men for two years. You traveled with them to Arizona for some more research work. They come to your room at night and you don't recognize them?"

"They knocked the door off the hinges," she said. "Their eyes were glowing and they smelled like garbage. They didn't usually seem like that."

"Their-eyes-were-glowing?" Gleason slapped his hand to his face and rubbed. When he took his hands away, his eyes were red. "I can see where we're heading with this, Denise. I want you to know you're going to do time no matter what defense you use. It's simply a matter of whether you do it in Maricopa County Institute for the Criminally Insane or the state lockup. Any way you slice it, you're going away for a long time."

"Whatever you say," said Denise.

Gleason leaned over the table toward her. He put his hand over the microphone. His face darkened. His eyes narrowed to slits as he spoke.

"And if you play this card and lose, the D.A. will go for maximum," Gleason said in a half-whisper. "In this state it's the gas chamber. The stakes are very high. I want you to know that. We've got you cold on your colleagues. I'm expecting evidence this afternoon linking you to the double murder of that professor and his nurse. I know what you are, Foucault. You're a monster. Go for it. I love to watch dirt like you fry."

"Wonderful," said Denise. "Gyenes left me here to do all the dirty work."

"If you give up the insanity thing we'll take murder in the second degree. That's twenty-five to life for each of your friends. You'll be eligible for parole in say, thirty years. Better than the gas, don't you think? And we can cut you a deal if you'll confess to the murder of the old professor and the nurse. It's up to you, Dr. Foucault. Think about it."

Gleason leaned back in his chair, satisfied he had made his point.

"Wow. What a choice. Gleason's bargain basement of sentences. Pick your punishment from our well-stocked shelves."

Gleason ignored her. "What were you working on? What was so important you had to kill your partners for it? What did you discover?"

"If I tell you that I'll have to kill you, too."

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the tiny optical disk. He threw it onto the table between them.

"What's on this? It was in your computer at the scene."

"You shouldn't have that," said Denise.

"This is some kind of computer disk, right? What's on it? Is this what you were working on?"

"Believe me, you don't want to know."

Gleason took a drag on his cigarette and threw it down.

"Don't tell me what I want to know, sister. Remember where you are and who's holding the cards. You're in a lot of trouble. Talk and I can help you make it better. What's on this disk? Whatever it was you were working on is very interesting to Washington. The feds want this thing, but bad. They haven't let up since I brought you here. But what they don't know won't hurt them. This is my case and as far as you're concerned I'm the only one in the world you need to worry about. So tell me, Denise. What is it? What does this label mean--'Multiple self-actualizing processes?'"

"You wouldn't understand," said Denise. A spot of pure white light appeared on the wall below the mirror behind Gleason.

"Try me," Gleason said.

"I think, therefore I am," said Denise. "It's as simple as that. Get a machine to say that, it becomes somebody. Get enough somebodies, you control the world."

Gleason cracked a smile.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? Listen, I'm no rocket scientist but I know bullshit when I hear it, lady. You got some kind of military secret there, I know it. You'd better start explaining things in a way I can understand or I'll send you back to your cell to rot."

"Do what you like. You wanna screw?" She stood up, put a knee on the table, and knocked the microphone aside with her hand. "You look like an adventurous man. How 'bout a little ride? What are we here for anyway? You're alive. Enjoy the fruit of temporal existence. Love. Pain. Ecstasy. Anger. Despair. That's the meaning of life. What is the truth? Did I kill Formentini? Did I kill Bauchon or did I kill mini-bigfoot-put-through-the-rinse-cycle one time too many? Did I kill Gyenes and Bambi? By Jove, I don't even remember that one. Makes no difference, baby. Your jury would decide the truth if we gave them the chance. I'm not going to give them the chance. Nobody is going to find out anything about me or the disk. Reality is what we make of it and right now I want to get laid."

Gleason glared at her from his seat. He held his hand up and glanced over his shoulder toward the mirror either calling someone or waving them off.

The spot of light grew on the wall. In a second it would engulf them.

"What is God, anyway? What is Satan? They're just job titles. They could be any of us. Who do you want to be? What do you want to be? Want to feel immortality again? I doubt it. It sucks. It's full body numbness. I can't feel anymore, Gleason. Do you understand me? I can't tell time or feel love or hate. It's all lukewarm vomit to me. I can't let this happen to everybody else. I'm going to stop it."

On the supercomputer at the university a million fabricated souls flashed into existence and immersed themselves in a doctrine Gyenes had inscribed in a data base of static information. Their faith drove a spark that grew in an interrogation room at a police station in Phoenix, Arizona.

This time there was no shift in context. Denise's concentration remained unaltered as the light passed. The reality that came was as thin and tasteless as the one that had been. The hard tile floor sprouted a carpet of lush grass. The walls faded to air and wafted south on a warm breeze. Fluorescent lamps rose to merge with a midday sun.

Her hair flowing around her head and neck, she grasped Detective Gleason's tie and pulled him toward her. The man resisted for a moment, slightly unsettled by the transformation that occurred. She knew he would briefly doubt his sanity.

She let him have his thoughts. He rested his wine glass on the checkered tablecloth under them and touched his lips to hers in the shade of a great oak. Children played on swings behind them. Birds chirped amid clouds of leaves fluttering on becalmed trees. Old men fed crumbs to pigeons.

"I want to keep this forever," he said. "I wish I could live this moment forever: the perfect day, the perfect weather, the perfect woman on a perfect outing. My God, it's great to be alive."

Denise laughed. "Unfortunately, neither of us will ever forget this moment." She undid his tie and pulled it free. One by one she ran her fingers over his shirt buttons and unclasped them. He surrendered to her movement.

She said, "Life is short. Let's make a little history."

Back to Fragile Animation part 1 The next old story is Toby lied The first old story is The cheshire woman

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