Slinking through the student accommodations I felt like a teenager again. It was both exciting and embarrassing at the same time. There was a strange sense that the clock had been turned back to a simpler, but more crude time.

I avoided all the creaking floor boards and removed my shoes, knowing full well that if anyone heard or saw me they wouldn't be terribly interested in my appearance or extended curfew. But it felt like the right thing to do. I felt sneaky and figured I should act the part.

It was those actions that probably allowed me to get so close to the tiny dormitory that I shared with my boys without notice. I was fumbling with my key, trying to fish it out of my purse when I heard them arguing. At first they were muffled mumbles behind the heavy wooden door. But as I focused on Gerald's deep and confident voice and Hanz's staccato, rapid fire logic a queer thing happened. Like earlier in the evening I began to fish in the ether and I ripped their conversation from elsewhere.

"We can't afford to let her slip through our fingers, Hanz. She's too important. Without her she'd run amok without any self control and we'd both be where you were at when this whole thing started."

Gerald's mind was difficult to resolve, but I didn't think about it. It was a strange, alien thing. But it felt natural, like it was nothing more elaborate than putting my ear to a glass.

"You seem to think it's going to end up all right. That when this is all finished we're going to be some big, happy family. That's your problem. You always see whatever is most convenient to you personally. Well, I'm telling you now. I'm not impressed by your plucky logic or your plastic emotions.

"She is a predator. You of all people should know that. She's going to chew Wendy up and spit her out. Literally for all we know. She's not strong enough. Hell, you weren't. I sure wasn't. She's been amused with playing with her for this long. But when she's finished she's going to wind up a mindless little wind up toy. I don't want to turn her into that."

I crouched before the door which we shared and breathed heavy. There was a strange fog absent from their minds. Earlier in the day when I first reached out and stole words from Hanz's mind it was as if I was sticking my arm into a thick soup. But that polluting factor was conspicuously absent.

"It took weeks to turn you into a slave. It took hours to turn me. Who's to say she hasn't been trying this whole time on Wendy, but she's failed? Haven't you noticed she's changed, Hanz? She isn't as blood thirsty. We can actually think for ourselves now. This all started when we brought her into the mix. You told me she changed when I came in. Maybe she's strong enough. Maybe she changed Altima. Loosened her grip.

"Oh, by the way. Have you noticed a strange lack of dead librarians in the past year?"

I gasped and despite the chilly hallway I began to sweat. I wasn't attending the university when the macabre librarian homicide took place. But I was in town and everyone knew about the terrifying events that took place that night. The poor man had been dismembered while still alive and his pride and joy, an inspiring thousand year old library was butchered.

It was actually the reason Aeolus' unit had been deployed, to investigate and defend the town and university against whatever inhuman horror that been the cause. They never figured out who or what did it.

"She isn't a drug. She's a human being, damnit. She's not here to temper our insanity, Gerald. Regardless of how Altima has changed since Wendy came into our lives, we still have a responsibility to protect her."

My beautiful Hanz sounded indignant through that strange mind ether. He was almost furious.

"You started this. You wanted this. Don't you dare forget that and blame me. This whole crazy thing was started by you. Lonely little Hanz, sulking in his room because he didn't have any friends. Boo-hoo. You got them. You tore us both, Wendy and I from human society. You introduced us to whatever the hell Altima is and you changed us. For better or worse, you did it for yourself, Hanz.

"Now you have the gall to want it both ways? How did you expect us to pay for your classes? You made the choice to give your opportunity to Wendy. The only way you can get your way again is if she takes her like she took me."

The clouds were gathering in more ways than one. I could feel the throbbing anger that was boiling between my boys. Gerald's red hot anger was almost as if he had been wronged, a bitter toxic thing that I could nearly taste on the back of my pallet. Hanz indignant rage was largely projected self loathing, a vibrating type of thing not unlike a malfunctioning machine. It rattled my teeth and fingernails.

But there was something else, a third thing that stalked them both. It's influence was growing, spreading out and sinking its hooks into their emotions. It tempered their anger, but it didn't remove it. There was a strange clockwork ticking, a noise that grew so loud it nearly populated the audible world.

Instinctively I reached out again and touched it. The thing burned red hot in my mind and I flinched. But it was cooler than before, the pain perhaps eased by my previous encounter. So I ventured another grab and seized it. It struggled and burned, but I felt like I had some control over the strange thing. But just as quickly it escaped.

The thing, a being in the gulf between their minds was aware of me that much was clear. I felt a sense of dread creep over me. It tried to touch back, but it couldn't quite sink its claws into me.

I was scared. Who was Altima? And how exactly was she capable of "taking people" and "tearing them from humanity?" Up until then I had been under the impression our fights were minor and trivial, largely about who was supposed to do the dishes or a lone crass comment. Had their battle been hidden from me up until now? Or was this recent, sparked by Hanz's decision to return to school?

It was difficult not to run into the night and disappear. They talked about me being some sort of sacrifice and of the terrible horrors that befell the poor old librarian. But it was cold outside and my friends were few then, most of them were not students and a long, dark walk away in the town center.

I waited for a couple minutes, willing the strange thing that stalked my mind away. It eventually receded, but it did not disappear. Like a lion it hid in the scrub. Still dangerous and stalking, but removed from immediate danger. Gerald and Hanz did not resume their conversation and a quiet seeped into the hallway and my mind.

Still terrified I produced my key and shoved it into the lock. Turning it I entered. They looked up with bright shining faces from our small table. Books were piled high and their notebooks were full of furious scribbles.


I offered meekly, expecting something horrible to befall me. That some monster from a shadow would emerge and devour me. But it never materialized.

"Sweetheart, hello. Did you have a nice time?"

Hanz said as if his argument with Gerald had never occurred. I was left wondering whether I had imagined it. It didn't seem too far of a stretch that I might had been going mad and losing my mind. But it didn't feel like that.

He stood up and embraced me. After a moment Gerald joined us. His expression was likewise genuine and happy to see me. Every trace of the anger that existed before was wiped clean.

I mumbled an answer but I was too distracted by their roaming hands. They pounced on me like animals and rained kisses upon my neck and shoulders. I wanted to run away screaming. But my fear eased and it began to feel right. I eyed the ominous stacks of books on the table. It felt like they were watching me squirm and writhe with their eyeless spines. They had a gravity about them, a heavy dense thing.

Through fleeting concentration as I further lost myself in a tangle of quickly discarded clothes I felt its clockwork heart beating. I couldn't help but notice that every single one that I could see dealt with the Progenitors and their technological legacies. But that seemed so far away and insignificant.


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