Alright, I’ve decided I’m only going to post up to chapter 11. I knew it was a bad idea to post unedited stories, but I let my excitement carry me away. Creative types will know what I’m talking about (‘I’m doing this thing! It’s so cool! I must tell EVERYONE.’) But Chapter 11 is a good breaking point, and once I’ve edited it I’ll repost chapters 1-11 and then post the rest.
As always, comments are welcome, whether good or bad.
ETA June 2013: Trigger warning for discussion of Ostanes’ killing people (not much) and child abuse.
Neill was running late on Wednesday. He turned on the camera as soon as he came into the control room. Ostanes was half-way through applying the red. He looked up at the camera as Neill sat down.
“Problem, doc?” he said, still rubbing on the make-up.
He fumbled for the mic. “Ostanes?”
“No. What’s the date today?”
“July 16th. Why?”
“Oh. That was it.”
He smiled wryly. “Sorry, doc. That’s why I was upset on Monday. It was Mother’s birthday and I always visit her. I only just figured it out today.” He added a white dot under each eye and rose to wash his hands.
“You could write her.”
“I don’t have her address,” he said over the noise of the water. He flopped down on the bed. “Do you suppose she’s worried about me?”
“What do you think?”
“Hmm… maybe. I’m sure she misses me, at least. We always worked well together.” He sighed. “So what’s the plan, doc?”
“I thought you could clear up some things.”
He rolled his eyes. “Alright.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m not telling you yet.”
“We had a deal.”
He sat up. “Doc, you know that argument is based on shaky logic at best. It’s not going to work on me. I’ll tell you when I’m ready, and not before.”
“Alright. Last time you wouldn’t tell me what I could do to earn it. Will you today?”
He sighed. “Have you read up on alchemy yet at all?”
“I haven’t had a chance.”
“Alright. When you can tell me what the opus alchymicum is, and the four stages, with their colors and animals. Then I’ll tell you.”
He laid back on the cot.
“Can you tell me about the baphé alektruoneios?” He only stumbled on the phrase a little.
“What does it mean?”
“Hmmm… cockerel dye.”
“It’s used to dye… roosters?”
He grinned. “Once you do your research, you’ll be able to figure that out on your own.”
“What is the purpose of the different patterns?”
“Ah. In general, they say what I’m doing.”
“So the one you were wearing when you were admitted meant you were going to kill someone?”
“That I was going to kill Bill Erens. Yes.”
“And that doesn’t seem unwise to you?”
“Very much so. But there’s a reason. Can you guess?”
“I don’t feel like playing games with you,” Neill said.
“Oh come on, doc. I’m sure you can figure it out.”
“Is it the cost?”
Neill thought. “If anyone could understand it, they could stop you.”
“Almost there, doc,” he said encouragingly.
“Can anyone else understand it?”
“That’s right. So?”
“So if he was an alchemist, he would tell you.”
“Wrong. Try again.”
“Not for the victim then.” He paused. “For other people. If someone saw it, and understood it. It’s not just his name, is it?”
“What is it?” Neill asked. “It has to be… why you’re going to kill him. His supposed crimes.”
“So if another alchemist saw it, they… They wouldn’t help you, would they?”
“Alchemy tends to be a solitary art, doc. So no.”
“But they could tell you if you were wrong.” That wasn’t it. He didn’t need to be told that. “Or… that… they were, they were… they had claim on him or something like that.”
“Katochi. That’s right. It’s rude to disturb other’s experiments.”
“But it’s alright to experiment on people.”
“Don’t sound so disgusted, doc. There are hundreds of psychology experiments, drug tests, a dozen of other things, going on all the time. Why should alchemy be different?”
“So that’s the metaphor? Not lead into gold, but changing people?”
“That’s one area of study.”
“No. Not exactly.”
“What is yours?”
He licked his lips. “I’m not sure I should tell you. I’m not sure you can understand.”
“Oh, alright. Only because you’ve been so nice to me.” He looked up, thinking. “Chain reactions is the closest I can get.”
“Chain- chain reactions?”
“Yes. One thing causes another causes another.”
“And the ultimate goal?”
“A better world. Not perfect. I- I haven’t figured that out, not well enough to try it. Better.”
“Sometimes chain reactions have unintended consequences.”
He looked up. “Trust me, I’m aware. That’s why I have to be so careful.”
“And you’ve set one off.”
“Not yet. I’m still preparing.”
“How, precisely, will the world be better?”
“I’m aiming for no more abuse.” His lip quirked. “Not me, doc. I can feel that look. I wasn’t ever.”
“Then why that?”
“Besides it being a good goal?”
“Usually things like that have some sort of personal meaning.”
“I had a friend. A very close friend. And her father ended killing her.” He looked away. “I suppose you want details.” He jumped to his feet and started pacing. “I was eleven when my family moved there. We went to school together. We were both shy, and outsiders, so naturally we became friends.”
“It’s hard to see you as shy.” He stopped and glared at the camera.
“Doc, this hurts. If you want to hear it, shut up.” He resumed pacing. “We called each other ‘Stay’ – her name was Stacy. I- ohhh. I only went to her house once. I was curious, you see. I felt sick. Her-” He swallowed. “It wasn’t anything I saw. It was a feeling. Horrible.
“She ran away one night and came to stay with us. She was all cut up, but she wouldn’t tell my parents how. She said she fell. I got her to tell me, finally. We were twelve. He- doc, he’d hold he down and cut her. The scars! He’d been doing it for years. Her mother didn’t care – her mother was a drunk and a druggie and gone half the time. What was I supposed to do? I was just a kid!”
He sat down on the cot, shaking. “Her mother died of an overdose when she was fourteen. She started living with us. They didn’t want her to – because of the alchemy, you know. It’s not safe to have outsiders around. But they couldn’t say no. He – when he found out where she was staying he made the police drag her back. He said we’d kidnapped her. She was dead not long after that. I don’t know exactly what he did.
“He was the first one I killed. When I was 19. Are you going to tell me that was the wrong thing to do?”
Neill swallowed. “No. No, I won’t. Why wouldn’t the police do anything against him?”
“He was the mayor’s brother, doc. It’s funny how things like that happen in small towns.” He went over to the sink and started drinking, cupping the water in his hands.
“Are you okay?”
“Sick to my stomach.”
“When did you and Ostanes separate?”
“I figured it out when I was sixteen. I did it for my 17th birthday.” He sat back down on the cot.
“Did your parents know?”
“No.” His mouth quirked, although his eyes were still haunted. “They knew I was suddenly sleeping and eating regularly. Ostanes, you see?”
“Right. Is his demeanor a result of that or…?”
“I don’t think so. I think that’s just the way he is. It’s not something I set up anyway.”
“How did you set it up?”
“I hope you mean the costs, doc, because I’m not going to tell you the process.”
“Yes, the costs.”
“I suppose you want to know why as well.”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Well…” He thought for a while. “I had made myself sick before, working. And schedules and alarms didn’t work. I was beginning to tease out my magnum opus. But I realized I would most likely kill myself doing it. So I decided a transfiguration – a resolution, principle to mixt. Not the usual route, but sometimes useful.” He shook his head. “But I’m getting technical.”
He stood up and starting walking from wall to wall. “He gets the body, and I get the mind, more or less. It’s not possible to distill like that, and live. But he deals with routine, while I think. And the baphé alektruoneios is the trigger. That was one cost. There are always costs, and if it involves people, the cost is not money. We both had to sacrifice things I loved. Can you imagine what it’s like not to know your parents’ names? Or not to be able to smell the rain?”
“You can’t smell?”
“No, doc, I can’t. Or taste, beyond the basics.”
“What did he give up?”
“Motivation, primarily. He does things because it’s time to do things.”
“That doesn’t seem right. He said-”
“Yes, yes. I’m not a monster, especially to myself. He can amuse himself anyway he wants, perfectly fine.” He looked at the camera. “He can’t say my name. Ever. He can’t speak Greek without sounding worse than a first year student. Greek is one of my native languages, doc. I love it. That- that hurt. It all hurt, that was the point. You can’t sacrifice what you don’t care about.”
He flopped down on the cot. “I can’t remember faces. I recognize them when I see them, but I can’t visualize them. Drugs don’t affect me, unless they’re strong. No aspirin for me, no marijuana. I’ll admit that last was a trick – I had a weakness at the time.”
“Was it worth it?”
“Today, you spoke to me before you were done applying your face. How much do you need?”
“About a milliliter.”
“What are you going to do if you run out?”
“I-” He looked away. “I can use other things. Really, anything red with that sort of texture will work. But it’s more difficult to get through.”
“I see.” Neill checked the clock. “We’re running out of time, I’m afraid.”
“I have one more question.”
“Why do you never want to talk about your parents?”
His hands tightened on the mattress. “I suppose if I stall, you’ll just ask again and again.”
“Hmmm.” He started taking off the make-up. “I don’t want you to think poorly of them, doc. It wasn’t… I had an odd childhood, but I was happy. You can judge me, I don’t mind, but my parents were better people than you’ll think they were.” His face went blank.
“Doc, can I ask you a question?” Ostanes said.
“These are taped, aren’t they? And our Monday sessions?”
“What happens to the tapes?”
“They go in a safe in my office.”
“Who has the combination?”
“Just me. I change it every month.”
“Oh, good. You are properly paranoid. Thanks, doc.”
“I’ll see you next week.”