Falling

by Lorraine Zaleski

FALLING

by Lorraine Zaleski

I am floating. Held up. Buoyed in a pocket of warm dry air. Safe. Calm. No pain or fogginess. Completely aware of the young girl's body next to me, as we both hurl through the night countryside.

She is my duplicate, same high cheekbones as mine, same long black hair. She must die so I can switch into her and live out my life in her body. No sacrifice for me; she is in her twenties to my fifty-eight

I saw her gasp starving for air. I watched her struggle, swinging her head side to side. Was she aware of me?

What was she feeling? I could accept that she was different from me, different life experiences. The train swung a wide left in the dark. It pulled her body into the strong wind where she couldn't breathe and she struggled to breath. Her gyrations worked against her.

One minute more she'll be gone. Thanks to the law of self-cohesion, I can afford to wait, at the same time I wanted the merging, to become her and then have my Toren again. Once I enter her I'll. . .

. . .in a heart-blink the girl's consciousness blacked out, and I swooped in like rubber bands extending then snapping shut. My fingers tore the hair away from my neck, mouth and throat as the train changed direction again. I sucked air feeling the wind pull at me, at my clothes. I felt the side of the train for knobs, grooves, thanking my stars the hand holding onto mine pulled as I moved my legs up rivet by rivet. So far the train was familiar to me, old fashioned but I recognized it as a locomotive with coal burning engine, trains I've seen in my childhood at museums. What kind of time am I in? I can't wait to find out.

He pulled hard on both my arms hauling me to my feet. The pain and cold vied with space as a third dimension, the train rocked and swayed as I clung to him though the vibration threatened to throw me off. In the dark he looked normal enough, slender and somethingnice, a citrus smell? Together we jumped down to the connecting platform. We had to stop, force open the sliding doors and then fell into warmth and light. I turned to thank

Toren. It was him. I felt tears on my cheek When he died I couldn't cry. Now it seems I can't stop.

I'm not imagining him its no dream. I looked at his thick brown hair, tussled and streaked with gold not gray. His body lean thinner than I was used to seeing. He looked back at me with cool blue-green eyes . . .

"Kilian, are you all right?" his eyebrows lifted with a concern I expected from him. I stared at him. I'd forgotten how he always used my maiden name, his way of acting tough. His later years it was 'darling-or dear

"Thanks. For saving me." I drew a deep breath.

"S'nothin'. I really didn't think you'd make it. What happened?"

I buried you a month ago and discovered I couldn't live anymore without you. "I just hung on." I said lamely.

"Let's keep moving." From his dismissive tone my answer didn't satisfy him. He scanned the coach. "Whoever is after us is still on the train."

My hand went inside his. The warmth of his fingers pulsed through me when a shot whined over our heads. What's going on now? Someone's shooting? I turned my head to look, but he yanked me between seats onto the floor.

I squatted and leaned into him, my bare legs against him, touching him. I reveled in the electricity from his body. The shooter didn't interest me, not even why he shot at us. If it kept Toren and me together, that's all that counted. Of course, I also wanted to survive and be with him. Reluctantly, I pulled my gaze toward our attacker who moved from the end of the car in our direction. "Gun?" I kept my voice low. I wondered why we didn't fire back, why all those gadgets he had hooked to his pant belt couldn't have been a weapon.

He croaked, "S'goin' to get one...in town . . ." and attempted to shift his body away from me.

"Why does he have one and not you?" He didn't answer. "He's the police, isn't he? It's legal for him to carry one." The look of chagrin on Toren's face brought another answer: "and we're running from the cops." Interesting. I had been given a present, beautifully wrapped, and I wanted only to dwell in the moment.

I jumped up. Still thinking like the 58 year old woman I'd been in the other universe, I yelled down the aisle to the gunman as I would to a stupid student of mine: "Stop this! Put that gun down." My voice came out high-pitched like a young girl, not the mature 58 year old I had been. Virginity, pregnancy, menopause, and here I am in a twenty year or so body about to go through it again. I wanted to throw up.

The man's arm followed as I moved. He pointed the weapon at me. Oh Stars, I stared back at him my legs turned to water and I couldn't move. Why would he want to kill us? Who is he?

Someone snatched me from behind and flung me into the horsehair seats, my knees jammed the floor sending up stabs of pain.

"You nuts?" Toren's his breathing came in short spurts. "You any idea the damage that shot can do to you? The ammo travels three miles a second. At that speed it'll rip your insides out." The shot had gone off target. Again. Lousy shot. Toren wrapped his fingers around my wrist and pulled me through the doors. The next shot exploded into a seat ahead of us, blowing a hole through the cushions. The fiber stuffing scattered in all directions.

I turned away from them and when I turned back, Toren and the other guy were clawing each other. I jumped on the big guy's back and wrapped my legs around him while Toren pummeled him in the groin. The gun clanged to the floor and I dropped down to grab it. I heard heavy breathing and snarling as I backed away and when I looked again I spotted a strap on the ceiling. Next to it a warning sign: don't pull this cord. I pulled it with a good yank.The train's iron wheels started screeching.

Toren grabbed him by his thick blond hair in both hands; drove his head two or three good times into the floorboards. The guy expelled his breath with one long sigh.

We picked his legs up and pulled him to the doorway. I she held the doors open the loudness of the iron wheels making talk impossible while the blond's body plunged to the ground below. The screech of the iron wheels made talk impossible.

The conductor would be looking for whoever stopped the train. We'd be lucky we still had our body parts with us when we're dumped off I thought.

The conductor forced open the doors and looked us over. There in the aisle he said "You two. You stopped this train?"

We tore our lips away from each. "The train stopped?" I saw another couple further down in the car grinning and shrugging their shoulders at the official.

That must have convinced him we weren't the ones he wanted. He threw his hands up in the air and left to continue his investigation in the other cars. The car moved into would be the one the blond guy shot up with that scramjet pistol now secreted safely between us.

.

***

I scrambled over Toren to the opposite side of the aisle and he laughed--why did he laugh? What a great kiss. At least I got to kiss him. Still, it seems he hardly knows me. I straightened my twisted top, smoothed the shorts, tucked my bare feet under me, looked out the window at nothing and sniffed. Yes, but does he like me?

"You okay Kilian? You're so quiet."

So far the move to this universe has been a disaster. What else could happen?

When we pulled into the station I saw quirky neon advertisements: Immolation, the mother of all vitamin drinks, the latest virch(virch?)and Spider from Hell. (some movie?)I must get to know this new home. Like an immigrant to a foreign country, I watched a lone young girl step off the train. The girl dressed in black. She wore nothing but a neon pink belt around her waist and crotch. The black didn't appear the color of her skin. It looked like latex body paint, a matte black. In the darkest part of the night I imagined only the pink glowing belt would be visible. Would I wear something like that?

Without a word, Toren latched onto my hand, pulled me down the aisle past the sliding doors, not holding them open for me. "Got to get the bike from baggage," he mumbled, looking around as I stumbled off the steps. "Be thinking of a place we can shower, change, a motel, something. This is your home town, not mine." He held my arm with one hand, shoved the gun in his waist of his pants under his shirt and moved us away from the train to cross the street. He said, "Your father's hosting a dance. You can't go in those clothes." He looked at me the way one does if he'd just found a piece of garbage clinging to his shoe.

"You brought me here for a dance?" Moist heat beaded on my face and the wind felt hot. So that's why I was along on this trip with him. An ominous storm brewed with distant flashes of lightning in the black sky.

"We're here for the job and that's all." He pointed to the shops. "Let's go." He dropped my arm. Hanging white paper skeletons danced maniacally from every post. Jack O'Lanterns in windows flickered.

"Job? What job?" I pranced from one foot to the other enjoying the freedom of moving my muscles. I more than wanted to help him do any job he wanted.

"Take out your father." he glanced at me, his voice low.

"What!" My face went suddenly red hot. "Take out my father...?. As in 'kill' . . ."

"Shhhh." He growled low in his throat, "stop acting like an idiot, playing these stupid games." He grabbed my arm forcing me to walk alongside him. "Scanners all over the place, remember? Keep your voice down. Even better, don't talk."

Suffocating dust sprayed everywhere and the air felt heavy. Toren wants to take out my father? People on the street and sidewalk were in costumes: there were winged angels, or gray skinned leathery demons, lizard-types, some seven feet tall and little three foot tiny men and women. Everyone laughed, chased each other, shouted. Kill my father? Why? "There's the Fisherman Motel." I pointed, a block further down the side street. "Then you'll tell me what you meant about my Dad?"

"Whatever." He sounded pissed...at me.

We signed in at the office and headed for the room. Toren went to the bathroom and closed the door. I heard the water from the shower. I flopped onto the bed. It sagged and squeaked. I noticed the rugs had holes and cobwebs clung to the ceiling. Not even a TV, but then, maybe they don't have television here or movies. Well they had music, I leaned over to turn on the gizmo box. Toren came out half dressed and snatched his shirt.

"Well?" I said.

"New York City is socialist. The Party worked mimetic and digital warfare. When ModGen, the main bulwark of the old capitalism crumbled, stocks fell hard. And so did the city. ModGen is only one of Reide's possessions.He won't even miss it."

"Lawrence Reide?" I sat up tense and tired at the same time.

He toweled his hair and finger combed it. "Yeah Reide, the man who messed with people's DNA so that when they had kids, the kids were born monsters like their parents. He created the cyborgs, bioborgs, clades, tweaks, shapers to help work the different worlds he has holdings on. Then he refused to reconvert them back to humans when the jobs ran out.

"We expect reprisals, contracts put out on us. They'll throw everything they have against us. Every group that has investments in ModGen, everyone who lost everything, us, your Young Revolutionaries and every other radical group around. They have to. Your father will head the counter-revolution using Dark Fire, a lethal . . ."

"Dark Fire?" My head was spinning. First time I'd heard of that.

"Flesh-eating nano machine guns. Look, he's the most dangerous of all the groups . . . we'll talk later, okay?" He tossed the gun on the bed. "Stay inside while I go get the bike and hide it. Our get-away. I'll be right back."

The door closed. Alone. He wanted to kill my father. What could I do to stop him? I had to do something. How? What? I couldn't hurt Toren. Besides, he was heroic taking down Modgen for the sake of the people. I traveled across a universe to be with him. He meant everything to me, my reason for being, and my connection to life. Yet Dad did nothing wrong. Not according to that drivel Toren just laid on me. Or did he?

How did this mess happen?

I ripped the halter-top off, tossed it hard as I could across the room. Why couldn't anything be simple? I grabbed an edge of my shorts pushing them down with a frenzy tugging everyway and tossed them straight up in the air and as they started to fall down on me I kicked them to the side of the room. The stupid underpants were twisted and damp. The more I tried to reach behind to unroll the elastic, the more entwined they became. Rage feeding rage, I undulated like a giant snake then thumped up and down, growled at the injustice of finally finding my heart's desire, Toren, only to see it getting lost in this stupid plan of his. I twisted and wagged my rear side to side and froze.

Toren stood at the open door absorbed, his mouth hanging open. Oh no. How long was he standing there? His eyes focused in that spot between my legs, his fingers curling and uncurling. And there I panted, exposed like meat being sold. Who would want to be in love with someone with gangly arms, legs, and bones sticking out where hips should be, unformed breasts, stars, why couldn't I die now?

"Get out! What are you doing back here? Get out!" I inhaled sobs, "how dare you look at me. Shut your eyes, damn you!" I jumped off the bed, hobbled to the bathroom, slammed the door with all the strength, and shredded dignity I had left . . .then leaned against the door gasping.

I heard his words through the wall. "I came back for bike keys." Silence, then, "I'm gone." The outer door closed. I turned the shower on. I climbed in the tub, pants still half off half on shaking under the lashing of the water. I am skinny looking down at my naked self, yes, while he looked lean, filled out, muscles, flat waist, and a man every inch of him. "I'm lost," I gave in to my tears and slid down the side of the tub--no energy left.

With the water flowing a memory of my husband emerged: "You aren't bad looking Rhea. You'll grow into yourself. Your hair, long and black silk, that's your best quality. That and those big brown puppy dog eyes that I get lost in." The mile long flower gardens Loren's mother Raine kept Cool cool wind blew that sunny endless blue sky day. Pink and white petals of flowers swirled in the sweet scented air: magic.

***

A pagoda dogwood and paw paw trees crouched between mossy stones along the river bank. Up ahead were the boutiques, antique stores and gizmo shops all with pastel awnings, jazzier than I remembered. Toren and I walked along the sidewalk toward town. I felt better after the shower, cleaner, and barely listen to what Toren was saying. "What is the significance of the lives of these people we're passing? Senseless idiotic pursuit of money, stupid diversions... If at least these --

"Hand me your card so I can get the dress, will you?" My head was aching and I knew he'd continue for hours. Inside the pretty pastel boutique, I leaned against the glass countertop and flipped through the catalog. I pointed to a dress and in a deep red color (his favorite) as a hand held devise scanned my body for size. The clerk then pressed a button and the dress rolled out in front of me. I handed over the chip which she wiped handed it back with the dress folded into the bag.

Each step we took was that much closer to my father's death. "You do have a plan beside being my date, right?" I fought a sob deep in my throat. "Like, when were you going to shoot my father? Will we dance and have some wine? Then you'll kill him? Or will you try to do it as soon as we see him: How are you, General and by the way, here's something for what you're about to do to us one day--and shoot him?" He gave no sign of replying so I started to reword the question when . . .?

"If it isn't my crypto-apocalyptic crud friends. How're ya'all doing?" a grating voice came from nowhere. The big blond guy, grinned, matched our stride as we walked along the sidewalk.

"How'd you get here?" I asked, trying not to let him see how hard I shook.

"You mean after your boyfriend threw me off the train? Knocked me out. My legs have long been modified with flexi rods" he lifted up his pant leg but it looked like a hairy normal guy's leg, "and fitted with motorized nano discs so I can walk fast no expenditure of energy.

"All us government workers have mods. One of the perks. Thanks for asking. I always enjoy explaining my superiority." He grinned. "It helps when I have to capture cruds like you two."

"This is the general's daughter, Rhea Kilian." Toren sounded annoyed as though we were just a bunch of acquaintances walking together. His eyes flicked at me. "We're headed to the dance at the mansion. This is Seithe Almy."

"Sure," Seithe said patronizing, "a dance, uh huh and if I didn't have a higher Turing rating, I'd believe you in a nanosecond. I've contacted Interplanet Net" he said lifting his head to the sky ### talking to someone above him, "and alerted them I'm bringing two subversive nerds in." His lips twisted over his teeth in a sneer and his shoulders rolled as he walked.

"Seithe." I swallowed painfully my mouth and throat dry as two dusty leaves rubbing together. "We have rooms at The Fisherman's, let's talk." I reached my hand out to touch him but came away with only air.

"I'd as soon not have spy-eyes connecting me with you two." His face immobile but his eyes shifted left to right. "Catch you later. Don't leave town." He turned to one of the cars ahead of us parked by the curb, slid in and was gone. I gradually stopped shaking. There were crowds of people with their kids and this had a calming effect on me.

"So what's the plan, Toren?" I felt claustrophobic, a bug in an upside down glass. "Do we follow the big guy to jail?"

"He's with us, Ninny." He said matter-of-factly. "We had to put on the act. Your father controls the train and has the hell bugged out of every inch of this town."

"Oh."

As we walked I saw a face form in the dark background, next to me. No body, just a smile and bright keen eyes hovering in the air next to the man I walked with. Playing tricks with me, are you my love? You wore your hair long, the same way this young man does, but yours had gray showing over each ear. You always had that distinguished air about you that I loved so much that made me always feel so safe. Your features melted over the young Toren's beside me. I laughed with the joy of seeing you. Your face grows more firm, deeper color more substance, better to see. It wavers and shimmers pulsing in and out. Slightly off kilter. The image floats right, then left. Your body is in another universe, under dirt and grass, flowers and leaves. This image of you isn't real. I know that. Yet I wish

***

In our room Toren demonstrated how the interface gadget molded him a new suit as his previous clothing dissolved. He called it 'smart matter cloth'. Nano and microbots programmed to emulate the properties of fabric. Neat. Pre-programmed designs, textures and colors switched from a tattered backpack, T-shirt and jeans to a business suit and then evening wear or hiking wear or sleeping wear all with the touch of the interface. Now that, I liked.

I didn't have the interface thing. We had picked up a small silver purse for me and silver heels. I stuffed the pistol in the bag. And stepped into the a blood red gown. Seithe strolled in as I finished tying the halter-top.

"Princess," Seithe said looking at me, acting humbler than before. I could tell from his eyes he found me attractive in the dress. "Talk about the secret entrance into the mansion." He took his shirt off. I liked his bare muscular shoulders. Err on him.

"How'd you know?"

Toren sighed and touched his head with his fingertips. "Sensors in contact with the Cosminet." Whatever that meant.

Seithe said, "I'm here to make an arrest. Word is that my quarry will be here tonight, my jurisdiction." He kicked his shoes off.

"I thought you were a federal marshal. Arrest who. . .?"

Seithe said, "Reide, he's been dealing in illegal antimatter, imported from one of the black stars. Long as he stayed west of here, we couldn't touch him." He slid out of his trousers. Hmmm.

"I don't understand. Are you saying New York State _is_ the United States?"

"Yes, of course."

"Seithe, Toren's going to kill my Dad. As a Marshal, you have to stop him." I countered looking at his olive green thongs, the only thing left that covered him. I tried to look away and still look at him. It was impossible.

"Princess, it's your Dad or us, the way I understand it. I answer to Toren, he's the Party. Look, we can talk later. There's a monster storm ahead of us." He headed for the bathroom. "I'm taking a quick shower. Catch you later."

Toren leaned forward, his hands on his knees. I sat on the bed opposite him. He had his plan, knew what he wanted, I came into this situation cold. I can't afford to lose this fight. I have to know more.

"Seithe is 'one of us'" I looked him in his eyes, "you knew it back at the train." I stood. Since the train ride I'd been betrayed, reamed and left to dry. The wind howled thru the cracks in the room. "I'm supposed to tell you where the secret entrance to my house is so you can kill my father. Why? Why should I tell you anything? You tell me nothing."

"Back in the City you said you knew a secret entrance to the mansion." He pulled at his lip.

"What?" I squawked. I felt numb. Even the dust motes in the room stopped moving.

"The comrades said you had a blow-out with your father. Kilian's security system seemed fool proof to us until you mentioned an entrance under the house no one knew about. Your father locked you in so often, you'd discovered a secret way out.

"Well, I changed my mind about. . ." my face felt like a furnace, "...you took me up on it?" I began pacing, wringing my hands. "Did you try talking me out of it? Let a young girl betray her own father? What kind of people are you?" Best to go on the offence when you're guilty, make them supply answers especially when it's your fault.

"You aren't the Rhea I knew back in the city." His face looked grim. "Your personality is different, you think and talk different. Like you switched while we were on the train."

"On a speeding nonstop train?" I stopped, stunned, what did he know? "Who do you think I am?" I shouted.

"An AI?"

"What the heck's an AI?" We glared at each other.

"Artificial Intelligence. Anyone on this planet would know that." He said reasonably. "If you're faking innocence, you're good at it, as good as an AI. Whose side are you on exactly? Are you here to take me out? Who sent you?"

"No one sent me. Let's get out of here." I said to him. We headed into the night toward the park. I thought furiously. "Can we call off the hit on my Father?"

"No. It's a valid reason to eliminate him before he does the same to us. The Party gives an order, you find anyway possible to carry it out. They're counting on me."

Smoked hot dogs perfumed the air, popcorn, candy airs and caramel apples, kids tunes cranking from the rides. I noticed the Shapers who walked among the regular looking humans. Upright animals in fur with human eyes.

"And if I don't tell you about the secret entrance?" I longed to sob and sob and just let the tension out.

He looked at me. "Then I'll go in through the front. If I get through, they probably know my face. But I have to get in tonight. The general doesn't often throw these parties."

"And get killed."

We stepped up to the food tent. On the sign it said, 'soy dogs and soy burgers'. A spherical droid rose up from the floor and took our orders.

"Sit over there, face the lake." He juggled the food and drinks. The black waters churned from the strong wind, sprayed water close by. We watched pinpoints of lightning in the sky while sitting next to each other on the bench.

"Kilian, you have the gun in your purse. Kill me now. That's the only way to stop me." I caught a feeling of black despair from him as we sat in silence. It cut into my heart. Who could possibly eat? He's going to kill my Dad. He wants me to kill him. I couldn't live if either of them died. It came to me then what I had to do. 'I' have to take the hit. I don't belong in this universe. I slipped in here because I couldn't deal with my husband's death. When the first Rhea died on that train, she hadn't told Toren about the secret entrance and he'd have had to return to his comrades without killing anyone. I changed everything when

I zapped into her body.

I changed everything.

This is my fault.

"I'm not the Rhea that got on the train with you back in the City. I'm in her body, her clothes. . . but it's my mind. She died. She's gone." Inwardly I cringed. It even sounded stupid to me.

He leaned toward me, studied my face. "The shock of almost falling off the train, struggling to hang on, that made you lose your mind?" He said flippantly.

I bit my lip. "One of us fell off the train. The girl you got on with in the city. I think she choked to death, a freak entanglement. I'm from another universe."

"This is not the time for humor, Kilian." He tossed the empty food wrappings into the container not far behind us. Then he slid down in the seat. He watched the people around us, an old man dressed as a clown. "You expect me to believe this?"

"I'm trying to explain to you why I couldn't tell you about the secret entrance, why I can't have you kill my father." I curled my legs under the blood red dress and leaned toward him. "In my universe when I switched consciousness with the Rhea you knew, I was fifty-eight years old, a widow. My husband, Toren, died test flying a prototype rocket. Something went wrong with the navigation system. We were always close, he and I. I felt that day something awful might happen. When they came and told me I . . .couldn't handle it. That's why I came here. To start over."

He laughed, sat back up in the bench and bent over laughing. "Oh Rhea. Fifty eight? A widow? With me as your husband? And I died?"

"In the other universe. Yes."

We stared into each other's eyes. I believe he wanted to laugh but his frustration stopped him. He sat with his legs splayed out. A lock of his hair had fallen over his eyes. I wanted to put my hands on either side of his face, work my fingers to the back of his head...pull his face toward me and bury myself in those lips.

***

My mind screamed: Get me out of here. I'll go back to the other world even with Toren dead there. At least he'll be the memory of Toren I've always loved and known, not this stranger with his hard heart.

"The secret entrance is through the sewers." I found myself talking slowly thinking furiously. Merry-go-round music played in the background. Millions of fireflies hovered in the hot night air.

We stood up. "I'd better be first up the ladder, there's a code you have to enter. Then you get into the sub-basement where the wines are. There's another set of stairs through a door and you're in."

"It's good to have you back. From whatever universe you're from." He squeezed my hand letting me know he appreciated my turn-around.

Seithe found us. It took only a minute to explain about the exit, where the water drained into the lake. At the moment the sewers were dry. That wouldn't last with that storm coming fast. We had to hurry. The air was cooler now and a breeze teased our feet. My heels clicked on the tiled floor and echoed off the white mosaic walls. Inlaid lights in the domed ceiling helped us find the ladder.

I looked at them. "Let's do it."

We climbed into the subbasement hearing the muted music and the feet of the dancers above. Before we emerged in the kitchen, he pulled the gun from the purse where I had been carrying it, shoved it into his waist belt.

A sudden flash of light came from the far window as we emerged into the room. The air felt heavy. A viola slowly played an old fashioned. We brushed against couples in costumes dancing, laughing, sparkling eyes full of lightness, having fun. It looked nice. . . to have fun. Someday...

"Daddy! How are you?" I ran smack into him.

"Rhea. I didn't expect to see you here."

He smiled his lie, eyes darting to the left. Tall, lean, dressed in his flashy dark blue military uniform; well, let him enjoy himself.

"This is Toren Gray, my date." Rhea said. "Toren, this is my father, General George Harrison Kilian. You can call him General. Daddy..."

"The name sounds familiar." Daddy mused and raised an eyebrow as he looked at me. "Rhea, you remember Lawrence Reide?"

Lawrence turned. I finally had a chance to study the younger Reide. An inch taller than me, dark long hair, a small golden earring in one ear lobe. Pale eyes, like those Chinese boxes you keep opening indefinitely until you get to the last one and find it's empty.

I grabbed Daddy's arm and urged him

towards the other dancers. ### I were in the ceiling looking down I watched everyone spin and glide. Should I tell him he was in danger? If I did, everything would spin out of control.

When the music stopped we were next to the wall and Toren quickly came over to us. "General. . ."

"Wait." I grabbed Toren's fingers pulling them toward me. They were warm, damp, soft.

". . . I need to speak to you General Kilian. Outside?"

The general turned to the balcony where the wind increased dynamically. The dark sky dazzled with vibrant quick spokes of light. Music bled into the room becoming faster, matching the intensity of the storm. The wind slammed against trees bending them over, shattered windows, opened, and slammed doors. The crack of trees being split apart were like firecrackers popping.

Toren said "My group took over Mod Gen." He had to raise his voice. "Your Dark Fire, are you going to use your weapons against us? Against your daughter? Say it now, what are your plans against us?"

With bad timing, Seithe's voice came over the microphone. "Lawrence Reide, You're under arrest under the authority of the New York Government and Transplanetary polities for the illegal possession and marketing of antimatter." His voice mixed with the chaos of the storm and the shouts of the guests.

Rain pelted sideways. The wind howled. Branches, leaves, blew everywhere. Blue thunder and lightening cracked just as a tree in slow motion came toward us. When it crashed onto the balcony and at least three feet inside the room, all the lights went out. Then the emergency lights, dim red returned. Toren had the gun pointed just to the right side of Daddy. In the red glow I watched his finger hit the trigger and at the same instant I moved in front of where Daddy stood and I took the hit. I heard the remainder of the energy charge from the scramjet smash into the stone wall behind me.

Like a giant heavy knife the charge ripped through me, shoved me against my will next to the stone. I saw blood seeping through the brand new silk with a dark color on the blood red dress. The metallic spice of my blood filled the air.

***

Pinpoints of light sparkled like millions of stars.I tried to catch my breath and couldn't. Faces of all my old friends, my Mom, Lawrence with his thick white hair and kind eyes the way I remembered him, my sweet dog Angelo with his mournful eyes, all flashed in and out before me. White and pink rose petals floated languid and listless, turning and twisting becoming an everlasting present as time slowed down.

An icicle jammed into my shoulder.

"Medbots." Daddy said under his breath. You'll be fine in a couple of minutes. Stay still, let the nanobots repair everything."

"Idiot" Daddy said to Toren.

"No, don't. . .hurt him." I whispered. Daddy's face flushed; his eyes full of venom. "Promise."

***

Poor Toren. He looked confused, how well I knew the feeling. Everything is slow motion, nothing makes sense. . .the lights kept going out. Then back on. He tried standing up.(Why was sitting on the floor?) His knees kept giving out. The bike keys dropped from his hand. Seithe squatted down beside him and asked for them, said he wanted to go after Lawrence. He took the gun away from Toren all the time watching him. Toren on hands and knees brushed the floor trying to locate the keys. He found them, dropped them again and searched for them in the dim light.

Voices. "I'm the legal authority here. . .house arrest."

". . .so close to having Lawrence Reide tonight. Damn storm."

". . . Lawrence probably escaped into the sewers. . ."

"Not likely. Hear the rain? Those sewers are gutted with water, body there has long since been. . ."

"...Morphing," now that sounded interesting "into a fish and swimming to freedom" Lawrence turned into a fish? I wanted to laugh but it hurt too much. Breathing now seemed easier.

The storm had run away. Only a terrible cold remained.

On his knees he watched me inhale and exhale. So I had his complete attention now.

"I'm so cold."

He touched my hands my hair, my face gently.

"Help me up." I shivered violently.

He lifted me up gently. Someone had a fire in the fireplace and a couch rolled out from the wall. He carried me to the warmth and covered me with the throw.

"Stars. I thought they'd never leave."

"You almost died. Rhea, at the last moment I aimed the shot away from where the General stood. Why'd you move in front just as I fired?"

"I didn't know. . .you weren't going to kill my father? ...I couldn't think of anything else but to take his shot."

"Rhea, when that bullet went through you. . ."

"Shhhhh. Its over."

"It's not over, Rhea. . ."

Feathery at first, then with increasing hunger our lips drew together.Our tongues danced with each other, darted, flirted, teased, ached, with the raindrops suspended, the wind silent and nothing between us except the warm fire and all the time in the world to fall in love, again.

The End

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