We did what men most often do after that sort of thing. Altima and I departed from Wendy's tiny apartment with a promise of return. I know she didn't intend to keep the promise as she already had what she wanted, but I did. I had a connection with the young woman, however strange and twisted through Altima's magic it was. On our way home Altima grew tired and relinquished control of my body.

The road to campus was blissfully lonely.

"She was very nice, I wish you hadn't taken advantage of her."

I said before too long.

"She was very nice. But she wanted it just as much as we did."

She replied, lounging in my mind. I pictured her on an antique sofa kicking off a pair of high heels. I didn't bother to contest her using the royal "we," when I was very much not involved. I should have.

"We both know that you did something to her at the bistro. I could feel you.. I could feel you.."

The words escaped me.

"Manipulating, dear. I was only playing with what I was given. There was a tiny seed in there that wanted us. Badly. I just nourished it. I caused evolution. Just like I'm doing with you."

She said, moaning a little with self content. Altima was getting better at using my voice to speak. At first it was a pale mockery of a womanly tone, like a man wearing a dress. But now she was indistinguishable from the real thing.

"We're never going to see her again, are we?"

I questioned.

"Oh, my no. You like her far too much. I can't have you just running anyway with any old trollop. She was a lovely little cow and she gave me what I needed. But she's dangerous with you."

"Gave you what you needed?"

I asked, confused.

"It took a lot of work to reverse your little pathetic display of self loathing, Hanz."

We passed into silence. I tried to bury my thoughts, unsure if she was able to skim them for information. I wondered what she meant. Clearly her dark power was woven into my very core. Was she that enigmatic, shifting and freezing cold metal? The clockwork heart that I could feel ticking next to my own? Did that somehow heal my cut wrists after Gerald bandaged me?

Moreover, how did sex with Wendy help her do this?

We were nearing campus. The lights of the common area were spilling through the trees. It looked beautiful, like the first time I ever saw it. But Altima denied me this vision and cast my gaze to the stars. They too were beautiful, but it was something more for her. I could feel a sense of loneliness. A hollowed sense of entrapment. She wanted escape. How and where to eluded me.

Then it was gone, obscured by a willow's lazy leaves. She immediately relinquished control and fell quiet. I felt sorry for her. I was sure I wasn't feeling half of what she was, squirreled away in the back of my mind. It pulled on my heart strings and I admired her for the brief flicker of humanity, or whatever passed for it with her. I left her alone.

I could smell Wendy's stink on me. It made me feel dirty and in need of a shower, but I didn't immediately return home. I wandered, eventually finding myself at the library. It had been reopened during my haze. The library guards stood vigil outside of its repaired doors. Whether they expected a return of the monster or just stood out of respect for their fallen comrade, the librarian, I didn't know. But they were armed and quite intimidating.

Not wanting to give Altima any ideas I returned home.

Much of the building was asleep by the time I arrived. I let myself in and made my way to my out of the way dorm. Something immediately felt wrong as I neared my door. A sense of dread overcame me. I slowed my pace and prepared myself.

Altima was conspicuously absent from my thoughts.

I gingerly put my hand on my door knob. I could hear movement inside my room, rustling of papers and foot steps. I narrowed my eyes and thought of a robber. I had few valuables, but the sense of violation made me angry. It was a blind, undirected kind of anger. Like a toddler witnessing his cheap plastic toy being stolen. It wasn't important, but it was mine.

I flung open the door and stormed in. A shout escaped my throat, an uncontrolled primal thing with no meaning. I held one of my fists high, expecting a fight.

There was a gasp of surprise as I advanced. It took me a moment for the scene to materialize in my mind. To realize that my original thoughts were false.

It was Gerald, his arm useless in a sling. He had my book bag opened on my desk, crammed with what I had stolen from the library.

It hit me like a sheet of hot iron. He was stealing my books! The precious things that gave birth to Altima!

I forget all of my fears, my dislike of how she manipulated and controlled me. My loathing of her forcing me on Wendy in some disgusting act of mock physical love. Fight or flight kicked in and I wanted to fight.

"What are you doing!"

I roared.

"It's for your own good, Hanz!"

He said, grabbing the bag with his good arm and throwing it over his shoulder.

"They're mine!"

I said, advancing on him.

"They're not! You stole them! You're losing touch with reality!

We struggled. I could feel Altima's grasp loosen on me. The separation was palpable and painful. Never before had I felt such dread and agony. I could lose her for eternity. If he succeeded in his deranged plan I'd be left alone in the world, naked and unable to defend myself. I'd be my old self, the Hanz that was a son of a farmer and the brother of a whore. The Hanz that could never hope to be with anyone, let alone a woman.

It was if he was cutting off one of my limbs. His actions were driving us apart. I envisioned him dragging her off by hair hair to some cave where he would ravish her. Enraged, I struck him with all of the force I could muster.

He gasped and sucked in air. It wasn't long before he returned the favor.

"Stop it!"

He shouted as my hands clawed at my bag. He pushed me away and I felt my connection with Altima nearly snap. I could feel my mind nearly dissolve, she was the mortar holding my fragmented self together. The clockwork heart faltered. He rushed toward the open door.

"She's mine! You're stealing her from me. She isn't yours to have. She wants me!"

Gerald looked at me queerly, almost meekly. I realized I was right. It came to me in a flash. He was reading one of her books when I woke up that morning. He saw for himself the wonder she could offer, the power. He wanted it for his godless self.

I rushed him and slammed the door before he could escape. There was another brief struggle, but I succeeded in twisting the bag's strap around his good arm.

I kicked him to the ground, an alien sort of strength flooding my limbs. I heard him shout and I felt his arm snap but I wasn't concerned. I kept my grasp and pulled it around and up. He screamed. I wrapped the strap around his neck and squeezed.

I was growing aroused, even as his pathetic mewing body slicked my floor with panic shit. Gerald was beyond me. He was bathing in the afterbirth that was the new Hanz. I grew disgusted by how much I had lusted after him. How I tried to manipulate him so that he would find me attractive and lay with me.

He was talking to me, pleading for his life. But I couldn't hear him. He was too far removed from my life. It was as if I was somewhere else, safe and secure witnessing the terrible things I was undertaking. But she was listening intently. She was learning for me. That seemed to suffice.

The clockwork heart returned. It felt wonderful. I concentrated on its regular, mechanical sound. Before too long it grew louder and more powerful than my own. I welcomed it. I felt my skin strain against muscles that I didn't even knew I had. I was swimming in a sea of strength. My eyes vibrated against my skull.

Altima was dead silent. But I knew she was there. Watching enthralled in the corner of my mind that was her home away from home. She studied him through me. The curves of his muscles through his ruined arms, his heaving chest that rose and fell like that of a little wounded bird.

Her connection to me was a queer thing and whether I influenced her at all is still beyond my guess. It stands to reason that all those days and nights as she flipped through my memories she might have grown to like him.

But as she glared at him with predator's eyes I felt a tiny twinge of something altogether different. I felt what she must have experienced when she first sank her teeth into my those weeks distant.

I felt cold forethought. So she took my body from me and she reached out with my numbed fingers. Her influence poured from me and I could feel her mind caress his. Gerald seemed to welcome this. His breathing slowed and a look of contentment smeared across his contorted face. I could see that he too was growing aroused.

But she wasn't in the mood for sexual conquest. She wanted much more than that. Before long he too was hers.


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