The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Thirty-two: Death

       Alex was feeling somewhat depressed. He hadn't played a gig in months and missed it. There was a time when he was just too busy with all the NASA stuff and the media hoopla to take any calls from bandleaders, so they had pretty much stopped calling him. In any event, some of them were probably not eager to have even anything peripheral to do with the Susan controversy. It wouldn't do to have some stormtrooper in the audience recognize the alien's keeper and start a row. Very bad for business.
       There were a lot fewer Russians in Mrs. J's Workers' Paradise. Some of them had passed away, others were in nursing homes, many had opted for less conspicuous circumstances, and a few of the more robust ones had actually moved back to Russia, preferring to take their chances in the snow rather than face what they perceived as an ominous direction for American society since Wayans' inauguration. It was that bad.
       Strangers filled the apartments. At least there wasn't as much noise as there used to be, and all of the formerly slovenly, unpleasant and obnoxious types were suddenly trying to affect manners and careful conformity. There were you'd-better-be-there consciousness-raising rallies in the Rec Room now, sponsored by the neighborhood Courtesy Committee…
       Mrs. J had mostly retreated to the 'A' unit, keeping to herself and her books unless Sara paid a visit. Dinah had become irritable and aloof, snapping at Alex over stuff so trivial he didn't even know what it was about. He just didn't get along with his boss, Lanna — and the feeling was mutual. Sara… Well, it seemed to him in his present state of mind that she just didn't really need him all that much anymore. So much for the women in his life.
       There wasn't really anybody to hang with. The Cubans had vanished, except for Raoul and Maria — who were always busy. Jimmie was never around, and Silvers hadn't spoken to him since the unfortunate accident at the press conference.
       Money wasn't a problem, but Alex didn't care about that. He was well-paid by Exocybernautics to do as little as possible and hardly bothered to even make a pretense of showing up for work. He wandered around aimlessly sometimes, but the people he met didn't seem to have as much fun as they used to — all anybody talked about was politics these days.
       He was so bored and lonely — with Sara off on some NASA salvage mission in deep space for what promised to take the better part of a week — that he didn't notice the constant surveillance when he was out and about. He felt almost a sense of relief when a couple of grim-looking MIB types hustled him into a van outside of a movie theater. At least it was something to do — but they didn't talk to him at all.
     He was handcuffed and blindfolded and hustled onto a plane for a long ride, then transferred to a helicopter and later a truck, still bound, still without a word being uttered by his captors. Eventually, he felt like he was on some kind of elevator that seemed to descend forever, followed by a squealing ride in a cold and uncomfortable contraption that traveled on bumpy rails. They took off his handcuffs and stripped him to his shorts, then thrust him into some subterranean room, still blindfolded.
       A heavy door clanged shut behind him and then there was silence. He was miserable, hungry, very thirsty and had to go to the bathroom in the worst way. He cautiously reached up and removed his blindfold and discovered he was in a windowless steel and concrete version of a No-tell Motel room. He  barely made it to the bathroom in time.
       The door to the room belonged on a bank vault — locked from the outside, naturally. There was no phone. What looked like it might be a closet turned out to be a large storeroom filled with enough survival rations to last him a very long time. He had running water and air, electricity and a kitchenette, evan a washer and drier so that he could keep the grey penitentiary ensembles they had provided him with clean. All he had for company was a TV.
       Breadcrumbs, he thought. Never leave home without 'em. He wished he could've left a trail.

       "Missing?" Sara demanded. "What do you mean, missing? How can he be missing? You mean, he wandered off somewhere? Isn't there a note or anything?"
       Dinah was even grimmer than usual. "The day after you left the planet, he went to a movie and never came back. I checked with everybody. No word, no calls, not even a postcard."
       "You think he just decided to take a road trip?" Sara asked. "I know he wasn't… That he was…"
       "Vas feekink sorry for self," Mrs. J finished for her. "He vas thinkink ev'rybody ignorink him, beink too busy all the time. Maybe so, but I am not thinkink he vould be takink trip vithout sayink bye-bye."
       "He didn't even take his toothbrush," Dinah said. "I tracked down his car to a police impound lot on Washington Avenue. It had been towed from the theater lot after a couple of days. You know how he always kept a stash of mad money in the ashtray? It was still there." Actually, it hadn't been, but Dinah had somehow managed to wring a confession from the tow-truck driver.
       Sara closed her eyes for a few moments. Dinah and Mrs J could only guess what vast resources were being brought to bear on following any kind of electronic trail that might shed some light on what might have happened.
       Finally, she looked at them, obviously worried now. "He hasn't used his credit cards or his cell phone or cashed a check. There are no records anywhere of plane tickets or motel reservations or police reports or sightings. His car shows up on the ATM camera tape across the street from the theater, and a few minutes after the only movie he would have watched lets out, a rental van pulls up next to it. There was someone in the way for a while, so I couldn't see anything else, but that same van's on a security cam tape at some apartments on Highway 3 just 21 minutes later — and isn't on a jewelry store's tape just past Ellington Field until nearly an hour after that. During that time, a government Learjet took off from there heading west without a flightplan. It was logged through San Antonio air traffic control as an unidentified aircraft and doesn't show up again until later that evening in Chicago. There's no record of where it went or who the flight crew was. There was enough time for it to have landed somewhere in west Texas or New Mexico. Or it could've turned somewhere and landed anywhere in between, or not even have landed at all. The van rental was to John Doe for cash and their tape's been looped too many times to get a latent image."
       "That's pretty tenuous," said Dinah.
       "You gots better idea?" Mrs J challenged.
       "No, it fits," she replied. "Bogus rental, no flight plan, Ellington Field, govenment plane, Chicago — all conveniently while you were lost in space for NASA, who hasn't otherwise been too friendly lately."
       Sara added, "Team Blue, Wayan's special project to save the world from alien monsters and win elections. They're based in Chicago. I don't have any kind of electronic connection to them at all. The CIA and KGB are practically transparent compared to them."
       "Vould be pretty dumb, Wayans kidnappink Alex," Mrs J said. "Couldn't be hidink him from you forever."
       "If he's far enough underground somewhere, it might take forever to find him on my own."
       "But vhat for they hidink him? Blackmail? Ransom? Maybe provokink you to be doink somethink stupid?"
       Dinah said, "That's certainly something to keep in mind, Sara. You've got to stay calm about this."
       Sara looked anxious. "I don't know if I can. I mean, the thing with Alex — it's just like Gundolf said, which is probably why it was in my dream or whatever. I just have to look out for him. It's something that's built in by the Cryptos, or I'da probably accidentally fried him that first day. It's a compulsion, and it's so deep I don't have to think about it — something that Susan would take care of automatically. Like if — I dunno — someone took a shot at him…"
       "Hah!" said Mrs J. "Bullet easy to catch, no? You cannot be around all the time, keepink him from cuttink himself vith razor. Cannot keep him from catchink pneumonia or gettink old."
       "Well," Dinah said, "Maybe we should've looked into the secret identity thing a little more thoroughly. Or made sure he was stashed somewhere safe while you're away."
       "Alex would never agree to be 'stashed', and I'd have to respect his opinion. Anyway, it's too late for that, and now I gotta do whatever it takes, if he's in real danger. If there's any kind of potentially serious threat of harm that Susan sees, and any way to do something — anything…" Sara looked almost desperate. "They could make me do things that… That I don't even want to think about."
       Dinah was thoughtful. "So if anybody knew about this, or figured it out, they could use Alex to try to gain some kind of control over you. The Cryptos had to have been aware of the potential for mischief. They must have purposely designed you in just this way so as to make you vulnerable to humans after all. At least, ruthless humans — or ruthless governments. Part of whatever damned experiment or test they're running, I suppose."
       "There's not too many other people besides us who know all the details about my virtual-reality dream-trip. Unless Jimmie talks in his sleep…"
       "You mean, Lanna?"
       "Wouldn't be the first time she ratted me out to Wayans' people."
       "Bah," Mrs. J said. "Is not too hard to be figurink out that Alex beink important to you. Alvays lurkink somevhere close by. Maybe not knowink how important, but takink hostages is beink very old tradition for gangster regimes."
       "I don't know," Dinah said, "The fact that Alex survived the first couple of days with you is a pretty glaring clue to something like this. Wayans might have suspected something that maybe Lanna confirmed. I don't think anyone in a position of reponsibility would take such a risk unless they knew something…"
       Mrs. J interrupted, "Vhy you thinkink Wayans is beink in 'position of beink responsible'? You givink him too much credit, maybe. Wayans vas alvays sayink he take care of nasty alien. Vhat else he goink to be doink? Hah!"
       "It's has to be a control thing. He knows something, I'm sure of it. He wouldn't take Alex unless he thought it would give him some kind of special leverage. He'd just have to have more to go on than sentimental attachment to a father-figure."
       "Family is alvays making best hostages. Is reason enough."       
       "If he is a hostage," Sara said gloomily.
       "Dead hostage no good. If Wayans holdink him, Alex is now safest man on planet. Pretty soon, you vill be gettink phone call."
       "I have a bad feeling about this. I sure wish the Cryptos had just made me allergic to some kind of Cryptonite, instead. Seriously, I'd eat a box of the stuff if I had to do it to protect Alex. I mean, if that was the choice, I really would — I'd have to. Not that I wouldn't anyway."
       "Is like Russian fairy tale," said Mrs J, "about ogre vith heart in egg. Guy stealink egg vas havink his vay vith ogre, threatenink to break egg and squeeze heart. Ogre givink him anythink he vants."
       "So," said Dinah, "I wonder what Wayans wants."

       Sara thought about trying to check out every cave and mine in the area the plane could have overflown, but it would take weeks to cover each possibility one by one. She'd have to come within a few hundred yards of Alex to detect him reliably through a lot of rock, and would have to keep her speed down so as to avoid causing enough damage to collapse whatever void space he might be in. Also, he could have been transferred to another plane and be practically anywhere by now — and for that matter, the whole scenario might even be wrong or a decoy. After all, she hadn't actually been able to spot Alex or any positive sign of him on the security camera tapes — which had been recorded over enough times so that Susan was barely able to pick out the latent images from the foreground noise.
       So she went to Chicago. She had to make sure it was actually a kidnapping and that Wayans or his people were behind it. For all she knew, it might've been common street thugs, or maybe Alex was jamming with his musician buddies in some jazz bar, laughing at them. What the heck, she really should try to find out what Team Blue was up to anyway.
       She sneaked into town on a freight train, covered her uniform with civvies, stuffed her hair into a floppy hat and donned some oversized Ray-Bans. Looking like a tourist, she took the el into downtown and then walked casually to Wayans Manor, joining a tour of the now-famous landmark. Parking herself in a stall in the most centrally located ladies' restroom in the public-access area, she started a very careful kreen search, wary of sensors that might tip off those who might be expecting her to eventually show up here (and not necessarily in a good mood).
       She didn't really know what she was looking for. It was unlikely that a conspiratorial conclave would be in session. She knew that the Team Blue modus operandi was to not commit anything to electronic media. If they had Alex, they certainly wouldn't keep him here.
       The tenuous fingers of her awareness reached out cautiously, mapping room by room, following the plumbing and wiring, scanning for security cameras and lines of communication. She categorized each individual according to the jobs they seemed to be doing, keeping tabs on their movements, logging their keystrokes, measuring the sympathetic vibrations of nearby objects as they spoke and converting the signals into the sounds of their conversations.
       The private living quarters of the mansion were tightly guarded. The adjoining offices were busy with the routine work of the Chief Executive of the nation. Wait a minute… Here? Instead of the White House?
       Hmm… The heavily armed security forces wore earplugs connected to two-ways in their suit jackets along with inconspicuous microphones under their lapels, tied into a sophisticated central radio network. Their chatter was efficient, precise and disciplined. Ah — Secret Service. Wayans was here, evidently having arrived only hours before. If he anticipated a showdown with Susan, maybe he felt more secure in his old fortress. Lotta good it'll do him, she thought.
       She cast about for his location, eventually following the architecture down below the house and grounds into the warren of interconnected bunkers and tunnels. She could just make out a heavily shielded cavernous central command room at the edge of her range. She had to keep her EM emissions down to the absolute minimum to avoid detection, so it was extremely difficult to get a decent enough reading on the people below to distinguish Wayans himself with any degree of certainty. But there was an enormous space on the barely-perceptible lowest level that corresponded with Dinah's description of his ultimate lair. A flickering presence made its way down the hall and through the adjoining anteroom, followed by a smaller wraith. They entered the cave-like space together, nearly impossible to focus in on at this distance.
       She concentrated, sending quick pulses of tightly-beamed awareness in their direction, gingerly skirting the traps set to detect just such an intrusion. A picture of their surroundings slowly developed in her mind — the massive desk, the high-backed dark leather chair, a minimal scattering of other furniture. The man who took his place in the chair behind the desk resolved even more slowly, seeming to emerge from enveloping shadows until she was fairly certain of his identity. She could guess who his companion must be.
       There was something else. Something more familiar somehow, another presence of some kind that beckoned to her. It was fainter by far, teasing her with its call to her probing tendrils. It spoke to her of potential significance. She had to get closer.
       She made her way to the kitchen, playing the same hide-and-seek games she'd played on the Enterprise. Her lasers made a fleck of paint explode minutely, the tiny sound distracting for a moment a watchful eye that never saw her fleeting form streak by. Puffs of cold air made other eyes blink. An image from one camera flickered briefly when the agent watching the monitors sipped his coffee. Another camera seemed to have developed a temporary problem with its horizontal synch. In another place, an overloaded circuit breaker tripped, plunging a corridor into sudden darkness. A copper kettle unexpectedly boiled over, drawing the attention of the cooks for a few seconds. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.
       Sara wound up huddled at the bottom of the dumbwaiter shaft servicing an underground staff dining room, now half-filled with people on break. No matter, she was where she wanted to be for now. Her senses reached out.
       No doubt about it. The President of the United States was at his desk, examining something on it, with Robbins in attendance. The package on the desk drew her attention. It was a bundle of clothes, radiating an unmistakable familiarity to her that was like a comforting smell. With an ever-increasing feeling of dread, she abandoned all caution, kreening the bundle with full intensity, setting off alarms that scrambled defenses and bodyguards throughout the complex.
       She could feel the smooth texture of a credit card, reading the pattern of raised numbers in an instant. It belonged to Alex. That's all she needed.
       The panicked staffers in the dining room heard the ripping sound of Sara's civilian clothing being torn from around her costume shortly before the dumbwaiter door and half the wall shattered, revealing a little blonde girl who wasn't at all cute anymore. They tried futilely to run, but she passed them in an instant, leaving them falling in her wake like bowling pins.
       The Secret Service tried valiantly to do their duty, but Sara swept them aside without pausing, the whining sound of richochets from their uselessly expended rounds mingling with their ineffectively shouted commands to halt. Steel doors slammed shut in her path, designed during the Cold War to be blast-proof. They did not measurably slow her down, the concussion of their sudden destruction shaking the foundations of the manor above.
       She tossed the last two Praetorians into next week, flung the door to the inner sanctum off its hinges, and confronted Wayans across his desk.
       "Ah — Miss Corel," he greeted her charmingly, ignoring the clangor of alarms and frantic shouts from outside. He rose from his chair to offer his hand to her. "I was just about to send for you. May I call you Sara?"       
       She pointedly spurned his handshake. "This is not a social call."
       Wayans told her calmly, "Then I will assume that you understand the significance of these garments."
       She answered with barely controlled fury, "Don't mistake me for some comic book wimp. If anything happens to Alex, I'll hurt you for a very long time, in ways you can't even imagine."
       Unpreturbed, he motioned her to a chair. She ignored him, so he sat down. Another bodyguard loyally flung himself through the ruined doorway and bounced off of Sara. Robbins helped the stunned man to his feet and told him to take care of the noise and see to it they weren't disturbed. Quiet soon descended.
       "Well," Wayans said graciously, "I believe your timely arrival has exceeded the most optimistic entry in the office pool. I'm impressed by your capabilities — I see they have not been exaggerated."
       "You'd be surprised just how capable I can be," she told him. "You can't possibly expect to keep me from finding him."
       "Maybe not forever," Robbins said, "But long enough. He's in protective custody. We wouldn't want anything to happen to him — but it's been arranged so that it's up to you. When you do locate him, I suggest you think twice about blindly barging in to try to effect a jailbreak, if you're worried about his safety."
       Well, that was plain. He was booby trapped somehow, in a way that made them feel completey confident.
       "We are not thugs or gangsters, Sara," said Wayans. "Alex is in custody for resisting arrest at the Federal Building in Houston. The part you played in thwarting the exercise of law enforcement was not appreciated by some of the officers whom you humiliated. The extraordinary nature of your protective instinct in his regard requires an extraordinary response."
       Oh hell, thought Sara, they know. No wonder they're so damned smug.
       "You have to realize that we regard Alex as something of a foster father to you, just as you do. As such, he bears some responsibility for your wanton disregard of laws, regulations, private and government property, and the negligent destruction in which you have engaged."
       Robbins read from a list, "According to reports filed with the Houston Police Department, you vandalized an apartment, damaged a cement truck, partially destroyed a city recreation center, broke numerous downtown windows, and recklessly endangered a young man — requiring a risky and expensive rescue operation by city emergency workers. Federal complaints include theft of govenment property, dumping of said property in a restricted area, aiding and abetting, conspiracy, interfering with lawful arrest, illegal wire-tapping, interstate commerce violations too numerous to mention — and a host of charges stemming from your unauthorized visit to the USS Enterprise, from piracy to inciting mutiny. Which, I might add, appears to have been inspired by Mr. Luther. Then there's the little international incident involving what used to be called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Oh, and today's assault on the President of the United States ought to pad out your record quite nicely."
       "Yeah," said Sara, trying not to look taken aback, "There's also Singapore…"
       Wayans waved his hand dismissively. "Please, Sara. We know your heart is in the right place. That is not the real issue here."
       "The real issue," said Sara, "is that you cannot possibly imagine how pissed off I am right now — and how much you're gonna regret it."
       "My dear," countered Wayans, "The real issue is how committed I am to fulfilling my mandate."
       Wayans leaned back even farther into his chair. "I have no doubt whatsoever that you can exact a terrible revenge. Believe me, I don't want to find out. And this potential for incredible destruction is at the crux of the matter."
       Sara said evenly and precisely, "I have never purposely hurt anyone. I would never do so without good reason and sufficient provocation."
       "As determined by you?" Robbins said. "Or how about maybe some musician nobody ever heard of. Or a bunch of former Communist party bosses. Or a disgruntled ex-employee of Mr. Wayans."
       "By me," she said firmly.
       "What about Congress or the United Nations — or the President? Who set you above the rest of us?"
       "I do not claim to be 'above' anybody. But I have the power to make my own decisions as I see fit. I am, after all, very well informed, you know, and not exactly stupid. And I am also unbiased — I can't be bribed, lied to or intimidated. And I don't have a secret agenda."
       "Well, I, for one, do not agree to be judged by some irresponsible space creature who is unaccountable for her actions."
       "And I, for one," replied Sara hotly, "will not be bullied by a jumped-up little hoodlum. No matter what you say, the fact is that you've taken my father hostage and are threatening his life. This doesn't look much like 'The Rule of Law' to me."
       "Sara," said Wayans, "Are you a citizen of the United States?"
       "Not technically," she admitted.
       "Of course not. You are, in fact, an alien. Like it or not, you have entered our country illegally and caused a certain amount of unwitting — perhaps even good-natured — damage. Frankly, I don't care about that. You've also been a great help and even an inspiration to many people, and I commend you and actually admire you for that. However, you are by your very nature a source of nightmares for others. Partially as a result of the fears of a significant proportion of the populace, I was elected President."
       "Fears you manipulated," she countered.
       "Fears that are, nevertheless, no less real, whatever you may think. This election has given me a mandate to deal with you as a potential threat. I have therefore invoked the War Powers Act so as to be able to accomplish this mandate by whatever means are necessary. Do you understand?"
       "Oh, I understand perfectly. Do you think the rest of the people do? Or are they irrelevant now?"
       Wayans smiled. "For the moment, everybody is focusing on you. In any case, this does confer upon me the legal authority to take extraordinary measures, however regrettable they may seem to be. You must appreciate the credibility of my seriousness in this matter. I am perfectly aware of the risks involved."
       Wayans continued, "You are, unmistakeably, a gift to our whole planet. A gift that we did not ask for, but one which could well impact great numbers of our citizens. Obviously, we are being challenged to come to terms with this gift, and our decision could well determine our entire destiny as a species. Our use of you as a gift, for all the powers you can place at our disposal, leads inevitably to our dependence upon those powers and makes us subservient to your will and judgement. That is the nature of any relationship between unequal partners.
       "A decision is required of us, and I am in the position of making that decision."
       Sara objected, "You're just the President of one country, and only just barely at that, thanks to me."
       Robbins said, "The Speaker of the House is just the representative of one small district. No matter how close his election back home, or how narrow his party's majority, once he becomes Speaker, he controls the entire House. By apppointing committee chairmen and setting legislative agendas, he is one of the most powerful men in the nation."
       Wayans said. "So it is with the leaders of nations. We are such a backwards, tribal planet, I'm sure — but our tribe is the preeminent one on this world. I have consulted with the leaders of other nations, and the consensus is with me."
       Oh, yeah, she realized, the last thing political leaders want to do is to have to deal with me. Especially the nasty ones....
       "We must reject this gift, Sara. You must leave us to our own devices, to make our own future and fight our own battles. Your help, even your presence, stifles us. Our ultimate growth depends on learning from our own mistakes and finding our own solutions. If we must therefore suffer when we could have had ease, then we shall be the better for it in the end."
       "You expect me to agree with that?"
       "Yes I do, for I am as one with the destiny of this world."
       He's a looney, thought Sara, a complete megalomaniac.
       "I know that this is my decision to make," Wayans continued, "because your makers have provided me with the means by which to accomplish its implementation. And I believe that you are aware of this fact."
       A sudden apprehension gripped Sara's stomach. She could only stare, wide-eyed.
       "Alex is the key," said Robbins. "Maybe you don't have any scruples about zapping whoever you decide is a bad guy, but he means a lot more to your programming than just being dear old Dad. You can't hurt him even accidentally, and can't do anything or fail to do anything that'll keep him from getting hurt."
       "You're guessing," Sara replied, hoping it didn't sound as desperate as she felt.
       "Oh, yeah?" he taunted her. "Then why don't you just vaporize me? I'm the one who planned this whole thing, I'm the one who's pointing a gun at his head. Go ahead — here," he said, holding up his hand, "Take a finger. Blast away. Show me you mean business."
       Sara hesitated — and that brief blink of an eye confirmed everything.
       "You can't do it, 'cause you know you'll get one of his in the mail. And you will, too. You'd better believe it."
       She was transfixed, unable to move.
       "So stick this in your programming," Robbins went on mercilessly, "Somewhere far from here, where it'll take even you too long to find it, a timer has started. A short one. The only thing you can do to prevent Alex from having to learn to play the accordion with one hand is to deactivate yourself."
       "What? No way," she shook her head. "I'm not gonna…"
       "Oh, yes you will," he emphasised. "That's the deal, and there's nothing you can do about it."
       "Even if I wanted to," she said, "I can't… I don't know how."
       "Susan does. Anything you've ever seen done in the comics, or you've ever decided that you wanted to be able to do, Susan figured out. This won't be too hard, 'cause you've been there before. You're going to turn back into a popsicle, just the way your pop found you."
       Sara somehow knew that he was right.
       Wayans sounded reassuring, "We'll take very good care of Alex, my dear. You can count on that. We wouldn't want anything at all to happen to him for a long time. Certainly for as long as you remain deactivated."
       "Just in case you do decide to thaw out," Robbins said, "You'll see a little offering on the desk here, just for you. The first time you wake up, there'll be twenty recent finger- and toenail clippings and a lock of freshly cut hair. You'll know whose they are, and what condition he's in — and we'll know if you take a peek. The timer starts again, same conditions apply. The second time you defrost, there'll be five fewer fingernails. And so on. And what with all the recent advances in medical science — who knows? — we all might be around for a very long time."
        "I think you'll be safe right here, as well," Wayans added. "I'll have this room turned into a copy of your well-shielded Fort Solitude in your honor, so that your slumber won't be disturbed by a lot of radio noise."
       "You can't possibly be sure of this," she protested. "Lanna couldn't have known everything. Not like this. Not enough for you to risk everything…"
       "Lanna?" said Robbins. "Who's Lanna?"
       "Not Lanna?" Sara said, confused. "Then who…?"
       "Ah. She wants to know who our expert advisor on computers and aliens is."
       Wayans nodded. "It is time for her to find out."
       "The final nail in the coffin, so to speak," said Robbins.
       She kreened a figure emerging from the control room and making his way to Wayan's office. With the sickness of terrible betrayal, she turned to the door.
       "Jimmie," she wept.
       "Sara…" He seemed to be almost as stricken as she did, but also determined to go through with some awful deed. He looked pleadingly at her. "Please, listen to me. It can't be helped. It's the only way. You've got to let Susan do this."
       "Yeah," said Robbins, "and you don't have a whole lot of time left to do it in, either. Tick, tick, tick — and Alex is a lefty."
       "Why, Jimmie?" Sara's mind wailed, You said you'd always love me. 
       "There was no choice. It has to be done this way. Just think of this — you'll be gone, but not forgotten. We'll still have your memories. Be sure of that — that we still have your memories. Susan will know what to do."
       Sara stood before them, unmoving. She felt herself slipping away somewhere. Her consciousness unraveled while she stood by helplessly. There was nothing she could do to break out of the box of compulsion, nothing she wanted to do. She just slowly went out. Dimly, she heard a voice, repeating, "…your memories…"
       The three men watched as the first flecks of frost began to appear on the still figure. It was rapidly becoming uncomfortably cold in the great room. Robbins looked triumphant, Jimmie looked anxious, and Wayans shook his head sadly.
       He quoted softly, as if offering a fitting epitaph, "To be, or not to be…"
       Jimmie looked at the frozen figure and added, "To sleep, perchance to dream…"

End of Part Two

Next: Second Interlude
Chapter Thirty-three: Welcome to Hell

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© Patrick Hill, 2000