tagSci-Fi & FantasyDulling the Pain Ch. 07

Dulling the Pain Ch. 07


Sorry, no detailed sex in this one. This is where I wrap up the plot. (Please tell me you care about the plot.)

Also, the chapter descriptions are from the Disney movie
The Little Mermaid--specifically the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

On the day before the supply ship was scheduled to land, Manuel finally opened the door.

"I've been alone for a month and a half," he told Maria, who'd been sitting amidst the flowers not far from the ship. "I'm starting to wonder if I'm crazy."

"You were crazy to lock yourself away like that," Maria told him. "And for a while, I was crazy for you. I'd almost given up hope." She stood, and she reached out to him . . .

"Please, not now. Not yet."

Maria glared at him. "Damn you, do you have any idea how much you've hurt me? You told me you loved me, and then you treated me like a monster! So I waited and waited for you to come around, and now . . ."

Manuel's voice stayed soft, neither accepting nor rejecting her words. "I don't know you any more, but I want to. Not in that way--I mean--I just want to talk to you."

From the tone of Maria's voice, it was clear that she considered that an apology--and that she'd rejected it. "Talk, then."

"How's Cat doing?"

"She's the happiest of us three. She doesn't think much about past or the future--she just wants to make everything a little more chaotic." From there, she unfolded an anecdote about Ida's attempts to study the effects of metal shears on the local plant life, and about how Cat had ruined the study without even trying. This reminded Manuel of something he'd tried to relieve the boredom inside the ship, and in an hour's time, the two had begun to remember how they'd fallen in love.

-- -- -- --

Manuel's final question for Maria had an air of deliberation to it. "Why were you outside the ship? You didn't seem to be waiting for me."

Maria chose her words carefully. "Metal feels weird to us. Ida dislikes it, and Cat really hates it, but to me, it's just different. They never go near the ship, so I come here when I want to be alone."

"Away from the moans, away from the yells . . ."

"I used the word 'screams'," Maria replied. "How did you guess all that?"

"You write all your poetry in words like that. You were writing just now, weren't you? You hid the notebook among the flowers when you heard the door open."

"I've been doing a lot of writing. Is that a crime?"

Maria had no idea what emotion Manuel was feeling now. "You really are Maria," he said.

"Duh! What made you think I wasn't?"

"You're just like Cap was, before Flora made him into Cat. You're not brainwashed. You're not hypnotized. All Flora did was make you more of what you always were--and you were always someone who wouldn't let someone else suffer or die if you could help them."

"We're all who we are, Manuel. Flora reached inside us, and she fixed what was broken. Some of us were more broken than others, but all of us are better people now." She put on a fake smile. "Well, that plus the whole 'bisexual' thing."

Manuel seemed one step away from a trance. "Maria, I'm ready to see what you really are. I promise I won't run this time."

Maria began to get nervous, but she tried not to show it. "Well, that was sudden."

"When have I ever lied to you, Maria? Please, show me your wings."

Only Maria heard Flora's intrusion into the conversation. I can't read him well, with that metal in his head, but I think he's sincere.

Maria did not speak. She simply arched her back and waited for the change.

-- -- -- --

"You're beautiful," Manuel told Maria, and this, at least, was the truth.

"I'm an angel," she replied. "Not an angel of God, but still an angel of faith--faith that Flora can save us from ourselves. We'll end war, and disease, and even starvation, and no one will ever have to live in pain or fear again."

"Give me faith, Maria. Make me believe in you."

She flashed a lewd grin. "You know how I'll do that, right?"

"I still love you, whatever you are." This, too, was the truth. "No matter what happens, I'll never stop loving you."

For the first time in two months, they kissed, and there was more of tenderness in it than there had been in any of their lovemaking in the flowers. She wrapped her wings around him, holding him close, sheltering him from the world. And then . . . What words could possibly suffice? It is easy to talk of the details of the act--the moans and the screams, so to speak--but there is no way to truly convey the closeness that they felt. In this act, they denied both fear and pain.

-- -- -- --

When at last it was over, he shoved her wings aside, and he withdrew from her. As he rolled into the flowers, he spoke the words he'd been fearing. "I can't finish it."

"What?" It was clear that Maria couldn't imagine what he meant.

"I love you because you're good and kind, and it's because you're good and kind that you're helping Flora. I think you love me because I laugh at the darkness in everything, and I see the darkness in Flora. But I can't do the one thing I need to do."

"Manuel, you're scaring me."

Manuel had never hated himself so much as in this moment. "I can't reach out and snap that frail little bird neck. You'd die in the last happy moments we could have. You'd never know that I betrayed you, and you'd never live to see the bombs fall."

"But--the alert beacon--"

"The most important object on the ship. It's almost impossible to break in such a way that it can't be repaired, if you're willing to gut the rest of the equipment. I set it off, at maximum threat warning, and I recorded a message explaining everything that happened here. I locked the door behind me--there's no way to stop it in time."

His heart broke at how much rage and fear could be heard in a single word. "Why?"

"I did it because you're the only one of the three who's really alive--Cat and Ida are just puppets. And I did it because no matter what I did, there was no happy ending for me. But most of all, I did it because if I let you go to Earth, then what would happen to everyone like me, and Cap, and Isaac?"

It was then that he learned that even an angel could cry. "We could have helped so many people . . ."

"Die free, Maria. You're the only one of us who can. That's always the best hope you have, in movies like this, when the monster starts taking over people's brains."

At that, the voice beside him changed. "Maria's seen a few of those movies, too. I know from her that the monster never really dies in the end."

Manuel sat up, and he turned and looked into eyes that now had a different presence behind them. "Flora?"

"It was easier to do this than to talk to you through the metal. Manuel, I know now that I'll never make it off this planet."

"The bombing will be pretty thorough. None of us will survive it."

"It won't be thorough enough to kill me. I haven't been honest with any of you."

-- -- -- --

I told Maria that I reached out to those who came here before you, offering them peace. That was a lie--at least, it was one at first.

Can you imagine it, Manuel? Thousands and thousands of years alone with the pain, not knowing any minds but myself. I'd never even imagined that anyone else could exist. And then a little metal ship crashed down from the sky, and in the wreckage, life stirred that wasn't of my making.

There was no metal in those minds, and it was a simple matter to wipe them clean. I put bits of myself into the empty husks, and I made an amazing discovery. The parts of me in them were no longer in pain!

This was the first time I had ever wondered whether I might free myself of the pain entirely, and I became obsessed with collecting other minds. In truth, I was no better than Procne, and only my lack of a functional spaceship prevented me from becoming as much of a menace. But something still more amazing awaited me when the second ship arrived, filled with explorers and scientists.

I found someone who could fight back.

He was a priest by calling, and his mind was not unlike Isaac's, though the religion he followed was not one that your species has ever created. He felt no fear or hatred when I went into his head--he merely preached to me of the love his gods held for all life. His will was too strong for me to control him, and in time, I learned from him. When the third ship arrived, investigating what had happened to the second, I spoke to its crew rather than controlling them.

They fled in fear, and the fourth ship to come bombed the life from this planet. The priest died. My puppets died. Everything on this world died, and I was alone again.

But I didn't die, though I lay silent in pain for a thousand years. I don't think I can die, unless this world is blown to pieces--and even then, that may be how my kind reproduce. But once I'd known companionship, I knew loneliness as well. I don't know what's normal and what's not for whatever sort of creature I am, but I'm afraid that I'm beginning to go mad.

-- -- -- --

"Why are you telling me this?" Manuel asked. "Why should I care?"

"Thousands of years from now," Flora replied, "another species will come. I'll give my gifts to them, too, and then they'll bomb me again. I'll never be free, and I'll never get to die, unless I do so in someone else's place."

"I don't understand."

"Manuel, my soul is not so large that it cannot be compressed into a human frame. Nor is yours so small that it cannot grow to fit a world. Call this my last gift from me to you, or else take it upon yourself as pity from you to me. Give me your body, and the death that awaits you, and I'll give you this world. When another race lands, you'll give them your own gifts, and perhaps you'll do a better job than I did."

Manuel's response was immediate. "You want to make me a god? I don't deserve it. If any of us does, it's Maria."

Flora was taken aback. "You really are in love."

"Give this to the only one of us who never betrayed herself or anyone else." He hitched up his pants as he stood, and he ignored everything else Flora said as he walked away.

-- -- -- --

It was sunrise, and he'd spent the night awake. He had nothing left to do, no affairs to set in order, but still he'd tensed at the shadow that blocked the stars.

A psychic tingle had run across him all night, but he had blocked it from his mind, giving himself a headache. He was ready to die, and he was certain that nothing would change his mind.

And then, as he waited for the assault of bombs, a different assault began. Memories rushed through his head, of kissing, and touching, and making love, memories that broke down his defenses.

You're stubborn, Maria told him, but so am I.

"Flora actually gave you the planet? Keep it, then. Live, and forget me."

I've found something that Flora didn't. I may be new to this, but I'm still stronger than her. And then a sudden pull ripped him from himself, and he felt himself fall down into the ground.

He thought that he landed in darkness, but he lacked eyes with which to tell. And then he wondered what he'd landed on . . . Maria?

All grown up,
she told him, her voice surrounding him. Well, not quite grown. Flora never switched with anyone before this, so she never even realized she had space to share. Cat and Ida are in here, too, but don't look for them yet--it's enough that they're with me, taking the pain from me, helping me to focus my power.

But . . . why did you save me?
he asked.

You couldn't follow Flora, because that's who you are. But I couldn't let you die, because that's who I am. I couldn't save Flora--she flew high into the air, and she let herself drop. But she was old and tired, and you still have life in you. You even have hope, though you might not realize it.

I don't expect you to forgive me,
he told her. And I'll never choose to become like Ida or Cat. It might be better for you to let me die.

I can see inside your soul,
she replied, and there's a certain beauty to it that I won't change by force. We might have thousands of years to argue until another ship comes. In the meantime, there's something I think you need.

The new goddess of the world clasped her follower in an immaterial embrace, comforting him as the bombs began to fall.

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