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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-three DOLLBABY

by
PHOEBE REEVES MURRAY
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kay, Candy, let’s try it again. What’s the one thing you want more than anything else in this world?” Richard asks me.



I stare at his white teeth. His big smile. He has wrinkles around his eyes now. So I smile back because I see those wrinkles. And because for the first time, he wants to know what I want. “Stars,” I say.



His smile gets even bigger, but the wrinkles around his eyes disappear. Richard always smiles, whether he is pleased with my performance or not. However, I have learned that when the smile wrinkles his eyes, he is pleased, when it does not, he is angry.



I do not understand his anger at me now. “Richard, please, you asked me what I wanted more than anything else in this world—”



“—You know, Candy, I think we may have to reset you—no update time machine can’t fix, luckily. You’ve developed this attitude.”



“I do not understand. What do you mean by ‘attitude’?”



He ignores my question and positions his finger over TIMEOUT. “Once more. What is it you want most?”



I study his face. No wrinkles. No smile. I do not understand what he wants me to say. Search ESCORT: Deference is attractive and encourages the client. I am not certain it applies here but I have no more time. I drop my eyes.



Richard exhales loudly and hits the wall next to my head. “You’re not cooperating with me, Candy, sweet,” he says. He pushes TIMEOUT.



All sensory input vanishes. No images. No lines. No shapes. No colors. No sensations. No pleasure. No stars. I am no longer a part of the world where there are stars.



But I can still access my THINK. He does not know I can still access my THINK, even in TIMEOUT.



He restores me. Now I am lying on the floor. I do not know how I got there. I start to get up, but Richard pushes me back down and sits on top of me, leaning right into my face. “Now Candy.” His lips brush against my mouth. He presses TIMEOUT. Images disappear. Reappear. He restores me. “Please answer my question.”



I stare past his mouth at the ceiling. Jana put glow in the dark stars there after I was created. I love to look at them when I am in this corner. I wish they were on the party room ceiling.



I ask my THINK: What does he want me to say?



“Here’s a little hint: I’m not interested in what you want.”



I am not supposed to use the word “but” so I do not. “You just said—”



“—Oh for God’s Sake, Candy, you’re an ESCORT! Think about what I had you built for.”



“But Jana created me.”



Richard grits his teeth and shakes me. “Goddammit!”



Why is he angry? Search ESCORT: Demonstrate your commitment to the client’s wants and needs.



“I want to be what you want me to be,” I say.



This time he laughs. With lots of wrinkles. I laugh with him. I have answered correctly. “Good,” he says, “Now let’s get to work. Today, you’ll focus on Charlie.”



I start to ask about Charlie, but Richard has already left for the party room. I follow him and stand in the doorway. A group of women in black micros and gold and silver jewelry stand around a glass tub filled with clear alcohol.



I walk over to get a drink and smile at them. They frown at me and walk away. Music blares. A group of men in business suits take pictures and video of me with their phones. They ask me questions and I reply with a word or two as advised by ESCORT. I make sure to smile when I do. I would like to ask them their names, but Richard has lowered the lights making it difficult to recognize anyone.



I do not want him to become angry with me again. What if he should put me in TIMEOUT permanently? I could still THINK. But—I should not use that word—I should not use that word! I would never see the stars again.



For the last two weeks, he has been teaching me by using the party room. He says it is because I am not performing properly.



THINK Replay: Today. 6:00pm.



I am applying my makeup. I must always look young.



I look in my mirror. Richard is standing behind me.



I try to turn around, but he stops me. He holds my head forward so I can only see him in the mirror. With his dark hair slicked back into a ponytail, his head appears oversized and bony, disproportionate to his narrow build. “Tell me how I look, Candy.”



Search ESCORT: Always compliment physical appearance.



“No woman could ever resist you,” I say.



I kiss him. He does not react. “The market’s already glutted with sexcorts that’ll do anything for a man. But you, Candy, are something special. That’s why I brought Jana on.” He outlines my features with his long, thin, fingers. “You can get pleasure as well as give it—as long as what you get goes back to him. I don’t want just another steel snatch—I want a woman who’s a real star.”



I do not glow in the dark like a real star. I do not feel like a real star. What does a real star feel like?



He cups my chin and turns my face to profile. “You get a party thrown for you every day where you are the star, and every man wants you.”



He pinches my lips hard. “You’re a very fortunate girl. Don’t make me have to use something worse than TIMEOUT on you, Candy.”



Now Richard leads me under the dais steps at the party. The guests are corporation staff, and the men are paying clients. “You won’t misbehave again, Candy, will you.”



The verb and the subject are in the order of a question. Yet, his inflection is that of a statement.



“Just stop trying to THINK all the time—have some fun. We do.” He points to the men. He smiles. I do not see any wrinkles around his eyes.



When am I supposed to THINK? I do not understand. “Yes, Richard,” I say. My eye starts to twitch.



He pokes the corner of my eye. “What is this, some little trick Jana taught you?”



His finger starts to interfere with my sight. I push his hand down. “You foxhole, what’re you doing, pushing me away? Oh, I get it—you’re playing hard to get.” He seizes my hand and crushes my fingers together.



“Please Richard, you are damaging me—”



He is already steering me towards a group of men. I have to move quickly, or he will break my hand as he has on several occasions. Clients do not like me having a broken hand.



He releases me and goes upstairs to the party room control suite.



“GOH is Charlie, folks, and he’ll be here any minute!” he shouts over the music. At the same time, he resets the atmosphere wallpaper. Static flickers across the walls and ceiling. I smell the sea breeze even before I see the familiar sand dunes and palm trees. Of all the seduction atmospheres, this one pleases me the most because I can see the stars.



Tyra, the only staff member I have spoken to outside my seduction sessions, rushes to refill the liquor tub.



I look up to see a full moon shining through a clear, black, night. No stars. There are supposed to be stars. Richard always puts stars in this scenario. Why are there no stars now?



Just as I start to ask Richard, Charlie walks in. Richard fills two glasses from the tub and goes over to him.



Search ESCORT: Never interrupt a client when he is talking. But—DO NOT USE THAT WORD!—I want the stars. I move towards Richard who signals me away. I heighten my audio so I can hear their conversation.



Charlie gulps his drink as Richard points at different women. Charlie shakes his head. “Dick, if I knew your office parties were like this, I would’ve started coming sooner!”



Richard puts his arm around Charlie’s shoulders. “Charles, my friend, those women’re nothing.” He points at me. ‘Not her. though.” He smiles. First at Charlie, then at me.



Charlie stares. He grips his glass. Then he throws it behind him and shakes his head. “I can’t. She’s too beautiful. She’ll reject me.”



Richard looks straight at me. “Charlie, once you turn on that charm, you’ll be able to do anything you want with her. I’m telling you, come on.” He hands him a glass of alcohol. It sparkles. I look again for the stars. Where is that light coming from? “Charlie, have another shot,” Richard urges.



“If she cold showers me. I’ll…” Charlie takes the other glass and finishes it in one swallow. He throws his head forward and coughs.



Richard looks at him. “You’ll what, you hairy satyr?’ He pulls at Charlie’s chest hair and laughs. Charlie flings his hand off. They wrestle together for a minute, shouting obscenities and laughing.



“I’ll have to kill her,” he finishes and laughs even louder than Richard. “Anyway. flesh like that has got to be here with somebody.”



“Yeah, Buddy, she’s here with you,” he whispers and starts back over to where I am sitting.



‘Thanks, Dickie—I knew we’d go places together after high school. Hey, bring me another bathwater, would you?” Charlie laughs. Richard waves to Tyra who brings over another alcohol. Charlie swallows it, shakes his head, and throws the glass on the floor. He wipes his mouth, pulls a comb out of his back pocket, and starts combing his hair.



Search ESCORT: Do not focus on his nervous gestures. Now I have some time to ask Richard about the stars. But ensure you are available with your attention as soon as he requires it. The word “but” in Escort. I have never heard that before. I decide to stay where I am. I take another drink and sit on the edge of the table next to me. Always maintain a provocative pose that appears unconscious. I lean back on one arm and close my eyes. Something pokes me in the back. I turn to face a two-foot bronze statue of a naked man with the head of a bull. Search ESCORT: Idol of a minotaur, symbol of virility. His muscular arms shake clenched fists. His legs end in fetlocks and cloven hoofs instead of feet. His erection stands straight out approximately six inches. I cup my fingers around the oversized testicles and grip the shaft. Unlike a human erection, it feels cold and unresponsive. Am I like that?



“Looks like the competition’s pretty stiff, Beautiful,” Charlie says. He wobbles over to me and giggles. A mucous bubble appears in his left nostril. He wipes it away with his hand. “Let me start over,” he says and holds out that same hand to me. “My name is Charlie Black.”



Search ESCORT: Respond encouragingly and demurely to all his gestures. I shake his hand, which feels slippery and sticky. I tilt my head to one side and look up at him through my lashes.



Charlie is short, muscular, and wearing a military uniform. His shirt is unbuttoned, and a heavy growth of chest hair curls out around his collar. Cropped, dark hair stands in little bristles on his head. His teeth are big and very white. Like Richard’s. In this half dark, his eyes appear black. Search ESCORT: Wolf stare.



Richard walks by. “Excuse me one moment please, I have to ask Richard something,” I say and smile. As I turn away, I notice Charlie’s face turns red. Why? I follow Richard up the steps and touch him on the shoulder.



“Richard, where are the stars?” I whisper.



He spins around. He sees Charlie’s flushed face. “What are you doing? Why’s this so hard to figure out? Get back down there now!” He jerks his thumb in Charlie’s direction.



He does not mention the stars. Why? I will ask for them again. “Please, Richard,” I say again and smile. “Where are the stars? You promised I could have them every—”



He wraps his fingers around my elbow and pulls me down the steps. “Hey, Charlie, maybe you can help me here. This woman wants the stars from me.” Richard shrugs.



Charlie stares at the ground. Search ESCORT: Never draw attention away from the client’s needs to your own. I realize my error. “Hello, my name is Candy,” I answer and drop my eyes. “I would love it if you would give me the stars.”



Charlie looks at Richard who points up at the ceiling and then to the controls. Charlie smiles and moves closer. “Well, now Candy, why would you want holoscreen stars when you’ve got eyes like real stars?”



I shrug and smile. Now I will get the stars.



He grins, but he does not move towards the holocontrols. Instead, he signals for another drink. “So what is a beautiful woman like you doing at one of Dick’s parties? I never knew Big Dick to associate with such a class act.”



He appears to be waiting for something. What? Maybe he knows another means of accessing the holostars. A surprise? I cover my eyes and wait. Fifteen seconds pass. I open my eyes and look up. No stars. Why?



Charlie and Richard are looking at me. They are not smiling. Charlie is muttering, “Is she from another fucking planet, Dickie?”



Search ESCORT: Always wait for the client, but never keep the client waiting for you. I retrieve his earlier question, smile, and pitch my voice low. “Waiting for you to appear, Charlie.” I smile again.



He straightens up and heads for the main controls. When he gets there, he blows me a kiss. “Come on, Dick, let’s give this hottie the stars!”



“You know how to work a holotoy,” Richard says.



Charlie adjusts the screen himself, scattering pinpoints of light across the sky, giving me a series of flamboyant gestures as he does.



Now I can see Orion. Nearby, Ursa Major appears. “More stars, please, Charlie?” I ask. I decide to assist my request with a smile big enough to crinkle the corners of my eyes. It works. Now stars fill the sky. Reds, greens, yellows, whites in every size and magnitude.



Jana was the one who first gave me the stars.



THINK Replay: June 21. Wednesday. Midnight.



“Looking at the stars is a classic seduction cliché, Candy. They act as if the stars belong to them, as if they’ve personally arranged them for you. It has nothing to do with really wanting to look at the stars; it’s just a way to get you in a dark place. Take Richard, for example...” Jana’s voice is too loud. I adjust my audio. She has been drinking alcohol. She has just had another discussion with Richard. He stopped by my test room earlier, and they went into her office.



THINK Replay: June 21. Wednesday. 10:00 p.m.



Richard is laughing. “Is our dollbaby coming?’ I hear him ask Jana.



“Don’t call her that. She’s mine; I made her,” she replies. He closes and locks the door. He pushes TIMEOUT.



THINK Replay: June 21. Wednesday. 10:15 p.m. Richard leaves. He is not smiling.



“When will I be given to Richard, Jana?” I ask.



She stares at the rug. There is blood on her lip. “Candy...whenever he wants you.”



THINK Replay: June 21. Wednesday. Midnight.



I stare into the night sky from the rooftop of the corporation. I begin to count the pinpoints of light. But there are too many, and they are so bright that the longer I look at them, the lighter the sky becomes. One of the lights appears to burst and disappears into the darkness. “What was that?” I ask. I turn to Jana and observe that her long, dark hair has become streaked with gray over the last three months. In this light, the streaks appear white.



Jana says, “When stars fall, we call them shooting stars.”



“Do you think that one fell very far away? Perhaps we could find it. I would like to have it for when…” Jana has forbidden me to think about TIMEOUT.



“For when what?” Jana asks. Her voice is low. “Go on, Candy. Please.”



“1 was just going to ask if we could find the fallen star, I would like to have it . That way, when I have to be in TIMEOUT where it is dark, I will still be able to see.’



Jana starts to cry.



“I have displeased you. You told me not to think about TIMEOUT. And still I did. I have performed incorrectly. I am sorry, Jana.”



The cut on her lip starts to bleed, and drips onto her white shirt. The blood looks black in this light. Jana covers her lip and looks at me. “No. I’m going to give you that star, Candy. Let’s go back to work now.” She promised we would be together after Richard took me. What happened? I miss her now.



Richard murmurs, “Chop, chop, Candy. You’ve got your little stars, now let’s get to work here.” Charlie is now at the tub, filling two glasses.



Tyra comes over and whispers, “Richard, the tub drinks taste like spit. How many more times are we going to do her goddamn seduction scenario already?”



“Until. She. Gets. It. Right.” Richard says. I time a full second pause between each word.



Charlie approaches with a drink in each hand. “Oh, Tyra,” Richard laughs and motions to her black leather micro. “Push up that sleeve, ‘cuz I hate to see you go, but I love to see you walk away.”



Charlie laughs and salutes him.



“That’s her job,” Tyra says, pointing at me, and turns away. Richard pushes her micro up so it barely covers her bottom. She tries to slap him, and he twists her arm behind her back, bringing her face right up to his.



“Go to hell, you whoremonger,” Tyra says.



“Guess that makes you a whore.” Richard pulls up on her arm. She grunts. “Anyway, you’re just another foxhole as far as I’m concerned.” I hear a tiny pop in her arm. She clenches her teeth. He has hurt her. Why? He releases her. Her face is flushed, one of the key signs of arousal. Yet, they are not moving closer together. I do not understand this behavior.



Charlie hands me a glass. “You really set her straight, Dick,” he says and applauds.



THINK: Why does he applaud Richard?



Search ESCORT: Never challenge the client’s opinions.



“Why do you approve of his action?” I ask.



Charlie grabs my arm and laughs, mimicking my voice. “’Why do you approve of his action?’ Why do you women always stick together? A guy has a little fun and you’re all set to crush his cock.”



I turn to Tyra to ask her to clarify. “Tyra, why did Richard hurt you?”



She starts yelling at me. “And I thought you were supposed to have a brain! You’re just a sex toy with a big price tag. Didn’t that bitch Jana teach you anything?” Why does she refer to Jana that way? Jana created me.



Tyra shoves me away. My steel heels wobble and crunch as my ankle twists under me. I feel pain sensation as I was created to do. Charlie rushes to grab me. “Hey, hey.” He helps me up. “Listen, Candy. You’re much too beautiful to fight with this cow. Let’s get another drink.” He leads me up the steps.



At the top, Richard hands us each another glass. He looks at Tyra. ‘Come on, Tyra. Let’s go for a walk.” At the bottom of the steps, he turns and winks at Charlie. Then he puts his arm around Tyra, and leads her away. I see Tyra stiffen against him. Why?



Charlie turns back to me and licks his lips. “Are you okay?’ he asks. Someone laughs and turns down the lights. Charlie’s nostrils flare and his pupils dilate rapidly. “That’s more like it,” he mutters.



Search ESCORT: Provide opportunities for the client to gain physical access to you.



“What color are your eyes?” I ask.



“Why don’t you get a little closer and find out?” he says. He places one hand on either side of me and backs me up against the dais railing.



Search ESCORT: Resist for an appropriate length of time before welcoming his sexual advances. I smell Charlie’s arousal. He leans me back out over the rail. I resist for 2.4 seconds before I close my eyes and arch my back up towards him. He lightly presses then rubs my nipples with his thumbs. My pleasure sensors take, and my breasts begin to feel like they have been filled with warm liquid. I push his hands away for 1.3 seconds before I let them fall back on me.



Suddenly, above the music and laughter, I hear a shriek.



I open my eyes and look around the room. “I heard a woman scream.”



Charlie reaches out and gently presses my eyelids closed again. “What are you talking about, Candy? Relax. Come on, I know you’re getting hot. I certainly am.” He pushes up against me. I can feel the heat and weight of his erection through his trousers.



Tyra reappears with Richard. She covers her right eye. Her hand trembles. Richard keeps pushing her hand away with his mouth and kissing the corner of her eye hard. What has happened?



Search ESCORT: Always let him win.



Richard nudges Tyra. She keeps stumbling because she is trying to keep her knees together. He goes back over to the controls. I start towards him.



Charlie grabs at me. I shrug him off. “What the fuck is with you?’ he says.



“What did you do to Tyra, Richard? Where was the pleasure in such an action?”



Richard stands up. His face is mottled. “Here, Dollbaby.” He punches TIMEOUT.



Just before images disappear, I see him slide a cylindrical module into the control suite. Is this his new punishment? He enters my SELF. His presence fills the main passageway that connects my physical impulses with THINK. No one except Jana has ever been able to access my SELF. How did he get inside me?



“Do you like me inside you, Dollbaby?” Something hot glows along the wall of the corridor. It appears like a molten rod with flame burning all along its edge. Suddenly, this firebar object blocks off the main passageway. It burns a hole in both walls.



“Where’s that fucking THINK program?’ Richard’s voice whispers. The firebar crackles and whistles through the corridor’s seared gap into black space. “THINK’s been making you a little too frigid. How about if I warm you up, Candy?” The firebar’s heat grazes THINK.



THINK opens. My SELF retreats from the firebar.



Richard’s voice laughs. “Ice melts, Candy.”



THINK Replay: May 21. Friday. 11:45 am.



Jana calls me to her office. The door is ajar. Someone is sitting in the wing-back chair. The chair faces away from me so I cannot see who it is. A leg swings back and forth over the chair arm. It has a cloven foot. I smell fire and a small, dark, space appears in the image.



“There you are, Candy,” Jana says and stands up. She smiles, but without wrinkles. “I’d like you to meet Richard.”



I walk around to the front of the chair. I see horns and a sweating, naked chest. Golden eyes turn black. Richard is the minotaur.



Why has this memory been altered?



Flames race across the image. Richard. This time, the firebar appears brighter and hotter. Richard’s voice whispers, “Now I’ve shown you what I can do. Next time, I’ll show you what I will do.”



Images reappear and Charlie is holding me up. His face is flushed and he breathes heavily. “Are you alright, Candy? You look like you were going to be sick. Had too much to drink, huh?”



I keep attempting Replay, but the firebar has damaged THINK. I can only achieve impaired access. THINK: Explain Richard’s motivation. Why was he trying to damage THINK? Search ESCORT: No pain, no gain. ESCORT locks. The words repeat over and over.



Now Charlie frowns. I realize I have forgotten to respond to his concern. “Yes, I guess so,” I answer.



“Relax. Leave everything to me,” he says. As he drops something into my drink, he turns me around, wraps my hair around his fingers, and tugs my head back. “Drop your head back.”



What is he doing? Search ESCORT: Never question what the client does. I try to turn around, but he pushes my head to face away from him.



“Corne on,” he says and pulls my hair again.



I let my head fall back. Since he cannot see my face, I try again to access THINK, but the images disintegrate into black space.



He rubs my head. His fingers move in a firm, circular pattern that seems to expand each of my pleasure sensors. “You know, maybe Richard was being a little rough with Tyra a while back. But sometimes, we get carried away, that’s all. No harm done.” He presses harder and his circles get bigger.



How can there be pleasure in damage? I want to say. Something in THINK keeps pushing past ESCORT.



He raises his arms high. “So shoot me for being a man. Look, don’t get me wrong. A guy should keep in mind he’s stronger than a woman, and if he hits her, he can really hurt her.”



I examine his features. They have a desirable symmetry. A square jaw. And particularly those white teeth.



THINK Simulation: I push his mouth down on the porch rail and break off several of his teeth. Why would THINK create a damage simulation?



Charlie continues talking. “I went to a club where there were so many foxholes, you couldn’t turn around without stepping in one!” He laughs. “Bad joke, never mind.” His speech slurs. “So, I’m havin’ a few drinks and a real good time, lots of loud music, but not a very big dance floor. I was standing off to one side of it, when all of a sudden I hear this girl screamin’ behind me. I turn around and find myself looking at the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”



“Why was she screaming?” I ask. Another THINK simulation builds as he speaks.



“Because women like that think they can do anything. ‘Get out of my fucking space, you loser,’ she kept saying, really embarrassing me in front of my friends, you know? So I kind of pretended I didn’t really hear her, but she kept saying that same crap over and over, getting louder every time. So finally, I turned around and smiled.” He grins in an exaggerated manner. Saliva drips from one corner of his mouth. He tries to catch it. He misses. It lands on his shirt. “Anyway, I was holding a drink, and not really thinking, I dunked my fingers in it and flicked booze at her. ‘Don’t make me have to live up to your expectations, Beautiful.’” He leans so close his moving lips brush my ear. “Well, the next thing I know, she shoves me into some guy. ‘You’re asking me do this.’ Then I hit her.”



THINK Simulation: I see Charlie’s blow. The woman staggers and falls to the ground. I reach out and turn the damaged half of her face towards me. It is Jana.



“You hit her?” I whisper.



“You women are all alike.” The whites of his eyes are streaked red. His voice gets louder. “You want it both ways. Well, it was no big deal. We were both drunk. All it did was stun her a bit. It was funny, though.” He leans back and laughs.



I stand up.



“Okay, I didn’t have to hit her so hard, but she was asking for it, you know?” He slides his hand down my bottom and between my legs.



“No, I don’t.” I clamp my legs on his hand. Hard.



He giggles. “Oh, a fighter, eh? Yeah, harder, harder.”



I press harder and feel his knuckles crack.



Charlie struggles. “Hey, what the fuck’s going on?”



I crush his fingers between my thighs and listen carefully for each little crunch.



He yells.



But it feels...real.



Richard shouts, “You bitch!” He hits TIMEOUT. I struggle to maintain my sense of touch. Charlie twists back and forth and tries to push my knees apart with his other hand. All images disappear.



A minute later, Richard restores me. He said he was finished with me. Why is he restoring me?



Charlie has wrapped one hand around my hair. The other dangles in front of him. I have broken it.



I see froth on his lips. “Wake up, I’m not through with you, Hole!” He shakes my head.



I grab his wrist. He slaps me with his broken hand, screams, and drops it between his legs. He yanks my head back. “You know, when a woman cold showers me, refuses me, I want to take her down!”



People on the dais are looking over the railing, but Richard pushes them away. “You want to THINK? This’ll give you something to THINK about,” he says between clenched teeth.



Charlie pins me down and forces my legs apart. “Where do you holes get off thinking you can reject me?” He shoves his fist into me.



I buck. “Why’re you doing this? I’m not aroused. You’ll damage me!”



“Dry as a fucking bone!” Charlie says and pulls his hand out. His nails catch on my membranes and tear them. I feel like I’m on fire.



He forces his erection into me. The burning sensation builds as he slams and pumps, grinding himself into my dry womb. His penis twists and shreds my tissues, shoving past them into my circuitry.



Charlie screams and bites through my lower lip. His organ snags on my hip rod. He tries to pull out, but his bleeding shaft drags across the needles of my lubrication injectors. Saline fluid squirts into his wounds.



Howling, he rips his penis free, ejaculating blood-streaked semen across my chest. He rolls on the floor clutching his crotch and crying, “She’s a fucking machine! A fucking machine!”



Richard is coming. I struggle to get up, but he pushes my head down and holds it there. His hands cover my eyes. He has the module. “Remember, ice melts,” he whispers. He enters me by ramming the module into my vagina and through the hole Charlie made. Its heat sears through the protective shell of THINK.



Suddenly, I hear Jana’s voice. “I recorded this for you, Candy, because I know Richard will separate us. Permanently. He wanted me to show him how he could get inside you. He said TIMEOUT wasn’t enough of a punishment. I wouldn’t show him. But he will find a way, and when he does, he will damage you. I know because that’s what he did to me. Watch.”



THINK Replay: October 31. The corporation’s annual fete. 11:45 p.m.



This memory appears in black and white. I don’t recognize it. Why? Music blares. Staff members dance and drink on the dais. Everyone wears a costume and a mask. I see Jana and Richard under the steps of the dais, in the shadows. She’s dressed in black and he’s wearing a mask with horns and yellow eyes.



Jana sobs and grunts. She tries to crawl away. One of her breasts swings free of her mesh sleeve. Its nipple is ringed by a black bruise. Her right eye twitches.



Richard grabs her. She screams. He laughs and lets her go. She starts to crawl away. Again, he grabs her. He strokes her hair. “Shhh,” he says. She punches him. “Come on, Jana. I’m not the Devil,” he says. He slowly pushes her face against the wall. “This’ll give you something to think about,” he whispers and shoves her dress up. She screams.



The image disintegrates. Jana’s voice whispers, “Now you know the truth, Candy. They’re never going to give you any stars. But you’ve always had your own. THINK.”



Richard stares at me. I stare back. His face turns white. The module continues its random burning inside me. I can’t work my hand to pull it out. My right eye begins to twitch. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. I stare upward and see the others watching with open mouths. I smell my melted body, but I can feel only cold. I focus on the halo sky with my good eye. Search meaning. Star: a self-luminous object, which produces light through radiation derived from self-contained energy sources.



Charlie flings himself on Richard. “You bastard! What the fuck did you do to me?” He punches him in the testicles. “You thought I was such a loser; you set me up with a steel snatch?” He hits him again. Harder. “You bastard, I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” Charlie retches and collapses. Richard falls. Two medics appear. Richard screams, “Get away from me!” when they try to move him. They avoid looking at me and hurry over to Charlie. They lift him gently onto a carrier and take him away.



I crawl over to where Richard’s lying. “You used the firebar on Jana too, Richard.” I take his hand, put it between my legs, and make him feel the cold, hard steel beyond my ripped membrane. Richard moans and tries to pull away, but I won’t let him. “Right in this same dark space.”



He closes his eyes and clenches his teeth. “You’re just a steel snatch. I’m not afraid of you,” he whispers.



I bring my legs together, pressing his hand onto a sharp, metal edge inside me. The skin slices so soft. So smooth. He yells. I stop. I continue to hold his hand inside me.



Now his words come rapidly. “Please Candy, so we got a little rough... a beautiful woman, a few drinks...let’s kiss and make up here.” He looks into my eyes. “Please...” I smell his fear. I know what he sees. Dark black pupils. And his own reflection.



“You know, Charlie was right. You’ve got eyes like stars.”



“Thank you, Richard.” I smile. But there are no wrinkles around my eyes.



   
   

 

endmark



Phoebe Reeves-Murray's short fiction has been published in The Literary Hatchet, Quailbell, Empty Oaks, Rivet, and others, and will be upcoming in Capricious. She's always been interested in how our child mind latches on to things that become a permanent part of who we grow up to be, no matter how much time passes. You can reach her at @phoeberm



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