Friday, September 30, 2016

Reckless Behavior Chapter Fifteen


Aster used to make me chuckle with the story of his brother's search for the 'perfect place.' Apparently, Albie has a bunch of esoteric beliefs about sex and its sanctity, and so he drove his mate crazy looking for a spot with the perfect balance in all five senses. Lupine, his mate, got so frustrated that he convinced Albie to consummate their relationship then and there. They did it under the teacher's hoverplate in Albie's Holistic History classroom. 

 Neither Aster nor I are sentimental people, so it's funny that we ended having sex for the first time in outer space. In a simulation of it, at least.

It's a foggy day at the end of the first semester. Aster is visiting and we had breakfast together, peaches and almonds in my capsule apartment, overlooking the 32nd floor preschool in the Education building. He accompanied me on the walkways until we got to my first class of the day, Life in Twenty-First Century America. The mats were mostly filled with yawning, chatting students. We stopped walking when we reached the archway.

"Remember, the tenth evening hour," Aster said, leaning in to kiss my cheek. I felt myself blushing, although my students couldn't hear us and had no idea what we were talking about.

"It's a little strange how we're planning it," I admitted, lingering behind the arch. 

"Why?" Aster said, genuinely puzzled.

"I don't know... Shouldn't it be spontaneous?"

Aster smirked. "Cassia, are either of us spontaneous?"

I sighed. He was right.

I was barely able to focus that day, which definetly made quite a buzz, since I'm normally the most prim and proper professor at the University. 

Now, at five minutes before the tenth evening hour, I'm waiting for Aster in the corridor outside my capsule. I can't stop thinking about how he said that neither of us are spontaneous. There's something I don't like about that.  When he turns the corner, looking orderly in a one-piece suit, I walk toward him. I've gotten a blanket from my capsule, which I've compressed and stuffed into the pocket of my robe.

"Come," I say. "I want to show you something."

He stops in his tracks. "Aren't we supposed to-"

I just raise my eyebrows, beckoning him. Whenever I take Aster somewhere new in Rhodium, he doesn't ask and I don't tell, at least until we get there. This time is no different. We take the exterior elevator all the way up to the 78th floor, and then the east walkway towards the Uni's cluster of cone-shaped buildings. Aster looks puzzled, but hurried along with me. We must seem like we have an appointment to catch, the way we hustle down the tree-lined paths. In a way, we do. 

The Astronomy building is adjacent to the Administration building. It's open plan like the rest of the campus, except for the top floor. I lead Aster into a giant room, dark and empty with a domed ceiling. The door clicks shut behind us, resounding in a hollow way. The accoustics here are wonderful.

"Here?" Aster says, craning his neck to look around.

"Almost," I say, locking onto the room with my Q-band. "Okay. We're not supposed to use the Simulator after hours, but it's technically not off limits for Uni staff. Where do you want to go?"

My mates eyes me uncomprehendingly. He's lit by a single light coming from the apex of the dome, his features eerily shadowed. 

"It's a Simulator," I say. "We can go anywhere you want."

Aster's folds his arms. "Anywhere on earth?"

My Q-band buzzes. We're locked into the Simulation system. "Anywhere in the Milky Way."

His jaw drops, and it pleases me to watch him as he lets it sink in. I imagine his mathematical mind churning, sifting through every location he's ever seen or heard about.

We drift to the center of the room and sit down cross-legged.

"Somewhere dark," Aster says.

I snort. "Like a cave?"

"In serious. Totally dark."

I make a face. "We could go anywhere and you want to see nothing?"

He tugs at his collar. "It's not about what I see, it's about what you see. We talked about this."

I lower my Q-band arm. We did talk about this. I completely forgot about his insecurities towards his body.

"Aster, I don't care about your wires."

He flinches at the last word. "I do. It's just another reminder."

Quswàk. I'm not about to have another argument about this. I pick a crater on the dark side of the moon, and the Simulation creates it for us in each sense. The ground beneath us is a crumbly gray slab of rock, and above us are the stars. I can't see him and he can't see me.

"We're just two people having sex," I say, fumbling for him, unclasping the button as he neck when I find him. I can feel his hesitation.

"Wouldn't you want me," I ask, "If the situation was reversed?" 

I seem to have hit the right spot. "Of course," Aster says. "As long as you're still you.

"Exactly," I say. The moon is supposed to be cold, but I'm feeling all warm, even as I pull my robe over my head. Soon, my naked flesh is on his, and our breaths are mingling under the stars.

∆∆∆

Dr. Moscowitz's workers undressed Aster with no regard to his limbs or his head, like he was a floppy doll, rather than a conscious being. Perhaps they didn't realize that he was conscious. He hoped to use that to his advantage.

He was in a white, sterile room, with only an examination table in the center and a few floating shelves. His blindfold had been strewn carelessly. When he was down to his diaper, he was wheeled out on the table, lying his side, one arm swinging over the side. They hadn't given him any drugs, so he was conpletely alert. They pushed him down a corridor, the same corridor he'd seen through Cassia's Q-band last night. If it had been last night. After he and Cassia were brought here, he'd been left on the table for a while. He had no idea what time it was.

He hadn't seen his mate or Dr. Moscowitz since then, either. It was quiet, except for the squeak of the table's wheels, but he heard muffled voices, nearby but behind a closed door. One of them was Cassia's. He couldn't do a thing, couldn't call out or lift his his eyes, only lie there and stare at the ceiling.

He was rolled into a larger, airier room, also white but a few degrees cooler. It was the one with the observation deck. The way his head was slanted, Aster could see a dozen or so people sitting in the deck, most dressed like doctors and holding iPads or clipboards. A large shape loomed over him, and a beefy hand slid under his head, lifting it up. He stared directly into the pale eyes of Dr. Moscowitz.

"Hello," The Doctor said in Menghish. "You're looking quite well." He chuckle at his own sick joke, and let down Aster's head, leaving him to stare at the chains hanging from the ceiling.

"I asked you to undress him," the older man said to someone behind Aster. There was some grumbling, until finally Aster felt the tabs on his diaper being ripped and the whole thing pulled out from underneath him.

"Now," the Doctor said, waving a glowing cuff above Aster, "I wonder if you'd recognize what I have here. Oh, I know you're in there. And you can't really ignore me, can you? There's nowhere else to look." Still smiling to himself, he opened the cuff and snapped it around Aster's wrist. "I thought I'd do the honors." 

He pulled out another cuff, and then another, snapping them around Aster's other wrist, elbows, knees, ankles, and neck. They were cold where they touched his skin. He felt them locking into place, snapping to attention, and then the Doctor pulled the examination table out from underneath him. Aster experienced a moment of trepidation, but he didn't fall, although his midsection sagged down, held up in midair by the cuffs. He still couldn't move his neck, but he heard the Doctor clicking the controller, and soon his levitating body was moving up, stopping when it reached the Doctor's shoulders.

Then he heard Cassia's voice. She sounded like she was struggling, but he couldn't make out the words.

Dr. Moscowitz peered at his face, his hands behind his back. "Look at those eyes," he said, as if he was examining a child. "You're all agitated, aren't you? Don't you worry. You're mate is right here." The Doctor receded from view. "Cassia, don't you want to say hello to your mate?"

He heard her spit. The next thing Aster saw was Cassia standing beside him, Dr. Moscowitz's hands firmly squeezing her bare shoulders. He felt a surge of disgust.

"Now that we're all here," said the Doctor, "Let's begin. Here's the situation. We've got two Hybrid bodies here, and I need at least one to study. You two will-"

"Two?" Cassia interrupted. Her arms were crossed over her breasts. The Doctor dug his fingers into her flesh, inching closer to her chest.

"I believe I was still talking," he said calmly. Cassia barely grimaced. 

"You didn't know, I surmise," Dr. Moscowitz continued, moving his hands up and and down as if he was massaging her. "Aster is the only known hybrid at your point in history, mostly because his model, an early prototype, was an abysmal failure." He released Cassia, coming around to Aster's other side. "Your model, my darling, worked out a lot better."

Out of the corner of his eye, Aster could see Cassia's face had drained of all color.

The Doctor patted Aster's thigh. "I'm not surprised your parents never told you. I was quite well known in some circles, at least before I came here. They called me the Miracle Doctor."

Aster felt Cassia's fingers on his, squeezing them. "I don't believe you."

"Oh, you don't have to." The Doctor smiled. "You know, not a lot of people in your time know this, but playing with embryonic DNA has its dangers. Whenever a baby was born dying, they called me. They never cared to know what I did, that I was turning their children into mechanical devices. As long as I saved lives, right?"

Cassia grip was trembling. "So what do you want?"

The Doctor took a step back, and his voice began to recede. "I told you. Decide who's body to give me. I only need one."

His footsteps stopped. "Oh, and to make it a little easier, here." He whistled. "Jake, bring me the chip." 

There was a lot of clanging and talking and people walking. Cassia had moved out of his line of view. Aster hated not knowing what was going on, especially as he felt a syringe prick the back of his neck. It was colder than ice, and suddenly his mind was flooded with an electrifying jolt, and then he blinked. He blinked on his own.

And suddenly he could turn his head and open his parched mouth. A wave of dizziness overtook him, and then a straw was shoved between his lips and when he sucked, cool water flowed onto his leathery tongue. He drank and drank until the straw rumbled with empty air. Then it was pulled from him.

The lights went out, and the only illumination came from the blue florescence of the observation deck.

Aster struggled to turn his head. It seems like everyone had left, save Cassia. She was standing in the corner, arms still wrapped around her naked body protectively. A tinny voice came through a speaker."You have a half hour."

Cassia came up to him, tears in the corners of his eyes. "Say something," she whispered.

He shook his head, scared of what would come out. But she took his hand, so he patted his lips and said, "I love you." It came out in a raspy croak, but Cassia liked it all the same. She wrapped her hands around his chest, smoothing down his hair and stroking his chest . She tried bringing him down a bit, but the cuffs were stuck hard where they were. 

"Are you okay?" Aster said. The words tasted sour.

She leaned in close, even though every word was probably being recorded. "Me? I'm... I'm fine."

Aster strained to lift his head. He couldn't, because of the cuff. "You just found out that you're…"

"Like you." Cassia cleared her throat. "I don't know, maybe it makes sense. But I know I'm a conscious being. And I know that you are. So it doesn't matter."

"Not everyone believes that I'm sentient," Aster said. "You're taking a leap of faith."

Cassia smiled thorough her tears, cupping his head and tracing his cheeks, like she was seeing him for the first time. "So are you, I guess."

They were both startled by the sound of drizzling urine. Cassia took a step back.

Aster swallowed. "I'm sorry."

Cassia just shook her head. She stalked over to the side of the room that was right beneath the observation room. "Don't put have any sense decency?" She yelled, looking up. "Why do you need to do this to us? To humiliate us?"

"Twenty-five minutes," the unseen speaker boomed.

"Cassia forget it," Aster said. The stream had stopped. "I think it's pretty obvious who should be the guinea pig."

"I'm not letting you go," she said.

"Cassia, think. If you were to be taken, who would take care of me? You still have a life ahead of you."

"But he can cure you," Cassia said, coming close again. They both tried to ignore the smell in the air. "He just showed us he can. There is no way I'm letting anything happen to you."

"I want to go."

"Too bad."

Aster raised an eyebrow. "We don't even know what he's planning on doing with us. Is that why he traveled back here? To dissect humans?"

"Twenty minutes," the speaker boomed.

∆∆∆

Molly opened the door slowly. She'd managed to get around the room thus far without waking Samuel, and she just had to get her shoes and then she was ready. She tiptoed in sock-clad feet to the side of the bed, and reached down.

"Where are you going?"

Molly shot up. "I need to pick up some things," she said.

Samuel's eyes were already alert. Damn him, being a morning person. "No you're not," he said, sitting up. "I know you. You're feeling wishy-washy about last night."

Molly hesitated. But the comeback or the perfect lie didn't come to her, so she grabbed her shoes and brushed out of the room.

Samuel threw off the covers, slipped his shoes on and rushed after her.

∆∆  To be continued…




Devo Diary updated!

New Devo Diary!

Chapter 21

The Rollerboy saga stretches on, including a scary encounter with autonomic dysreflexia and a big fight with my parents once I reveal disabled boyfriend #2.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reckless Behavior Chapter Sixteen


Reckless Behavior: A Guide to the Early Twenty-First Century
Chapter Seven: Medical Advances

…although they consider themselves medically advanced, such technology would be laughable nowadays. Diseases and illnesses abound, including many types of mental illnesses. Interestingly, the curing of many of these in the late Twenty-First Century caused a major shift in society. Contemporary people are far more likely to take seriously an individual who says or does something out of the ordinary. This the primary reason that the time traveller must be increasingly wary the later she travels, because she is more like to be believed if…

∆∆∆

They'd shackled up Cassia as well, and had her levitate right next to Aster, except her head was on the other end. Looking at the two of them, it was probably hard to tell who was paralyzed, as Cassia had ceased moving. Aster couldn't even detect a twitch in her toes, the only part of her he could see clearly. Croton was in the little arena again, prattling away. Thete must have been a point to his chatter, but none that Aster could detect.

"It was pretty funny how nervous you became after meeting with that old professor," the Doctor said. He was standing at Cassia's head, and Aster's feet. "As if I had anything to do with CRISPR or any genetic advances. I've been trying for years to break into the field, but haven't-"

"Years?" Cassia finally spoke up. "How long have you been here for?"

"This year will be twenty, I think." Croton chuckled. "Another little miscalculation, hm?"

Aster strained his neck, trying to roll it to the side to get a glimpse of the Doctor's face. This was getting ridiculous. They'd been brought here, tied up and floated in the air, and then… nothing. It was anticlimactic. 

"I wasn't trying to speed up anything," the Doctor said, pacing. "That's another blunder you made. For a mathematician and a professor, I have to say I'm disappointed. I'd expe-"

"Just tell us what you want," Aster said. His voice was slight a bit sore from its recent underuse. "Or is this all just fun for you, having us in here as captives? What do you want?"

The Doctor's relaxed expression hardened. "You know what I want. I want a body. Which one am I getting?"

"You're not getting either," Cassia said, as exasperated as Aster was. "So now what?"

"Now is lunch. But before I go." The Doctor looked at his watch. "We up the stakes, of course. Firstly, Aster, I think you've run that mouth of yours a little too much."

"No," Cassia gasped. "Don't you dare."

"Cassia, that won't help," Aster said quietly. He saw her fingers flutter, as if they were trying to reach his, but the cuff kept her hand outstretched, away from his.

"Let me explain how this works," Croton said, coming dangerously close to Cassia's face. She stared rigidly at the ceiling . 

"I've worked for years to harness the power of the minds I've created," Croton said. "I can do whatever I want with either of you. Aster's neurons are the easiest targets. I'm still willing to take either of you."

"You can take me," Aster said. "That's what I've said all along."

"Aster, you can't-"

"Face it," Aster said. "I'm the obvious choice."

"Alright," the Doctor said. "Cassia, do you agree?"

"No!"

"Well, then," the Doctor said. "On with the demonstration. I can do anything to Aster's biological body. Suggestions?"

He turned to look up at the observation deck. Andrew was there, along with a couple of workers. They seemed to watching less as a demonstration and more as a boredom reliever. One of them, a short woman in a tight bun, was eating a bag of chips. 

"Anyone?" The Doctor said. The observers eyed each other nervously.

"Raise his arm," Andrew said finally.

And so it happened. Aster watched the cuffs on his arms pop open, and his right arm straighten and fly up, like an old-fashioned salute. Then it dropped, and the cuff caught it before it fell. 

"Wiggle his toes!" Someone else called. It wasn't long before everyone wanted to see him do something else. "Make him shit himself!" Said the woman with the chips, and she was quickly shushed by a man in white sitting next to her. But the Doctor did it, and for the second time, Aster was relieving himself in front of an audience.

Neither he or Cassia had anything else to say afterwards. His body was quivering from all the excertion.

"Now let's make this simple," the Doctor said, carefully stepping around the excrement on the ground, which a worker was busily cleaning up.  "Aster, I'm going to allow you to blink. Yes is one blink, no is two.  Cassia, just yell when the two of you are ready."

With that, he turned and left them to it.

∆∆∆

So it had come to this. Molly glanced down from the rear-view mirror long enough to catch the turn, her tires screeching as she spun the wheel. She merged into the sparse, fast-moving traffic, but Samuel was still behind her. Now that he could see where she was going, he was keeping his distance.

What was he going to do once they got to the strip mall? 

What was she going to do, exactly? Stand outside? She didn't know how to get in. She and Samuel had been left out of that part. She felt herself easing up on the gas pedal, then pushing harder, hovering just above the speed limit and getting to the strip mall by catching the next green light.

Samuel was on her tail as she screeched into the half-filled lot and jumped out.

She found herself standing on the pebbled concrete, just waiting. There wasn't anything else to do. The stores loomed behind her, casting a dark shadow. Samuel's car drove up to hers, and he parked right beside her. He climbed out slowly, teasingly, and didn't move towards her. 

A couple of teenagers coming out of a bookstore stared as they passed by. Molly ignored them, but lowered her hands from where they'd been resting in her hips.

"Are you going to help me?" Molly said, not raising her voice. Fading adrenaline was making her quiver, the last vestige of two coffees and a hell of a week.

Samuel stayed by his car, as if afraid to leave the safety of a fast escape. 

"I've been holding onto thin air, haven't I?" He said, matching her flat tone. "Since Aster got here. You've just been sticking to me because you're afraid to be alone. Is that it?" The last sentence was loud and rung through the parking lot.

Molly glanced around, but no one had been around to hear. "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" Samuel's face was clenched as he touched on a growl. Molly took a step back.

"I just know that I've been doing something wrong," She said. "All this time. Speed dating can't work. It can pick up on attraction but people take more than six minutes to get to know."

Samuel was still scowling. "What are you saying, Molly?"

"That maybe I don't know what I'm doing but I know we should help them," Molly said. "You know that as well. Don't be clouded by jealousy."

Samuel folded his arms. "Even if I wanted to help you rescue them, how would we get in?"

Molly didn't have to answer, as the sound of her jangling phone filled the air. 

The number was local, but unfamiliar. She picked up with a sense of foreboding. "Hello?"

The voice at the other end almost made her knees give way.

Samuel was studying her. "Molly, who is it?"

"It's Aster," she said.

∆∆∆

"There has to be an easy way out," Cassia said. Talking herself hoarse was easier than listening to the grumble of her stomach. "I mean, if you work here every day, it would be a hassle to have to go through a labrynth every time." She twisted her wrist, in the tiny space the cuff allowed. She was still stretched out,suspended horizontally in the air, but for some reason Croton had lowered her. She now hovered a meter from the ground. 

"Aster, look at me," she said. His eyes were trained on the ceiling, and he was blinking away, too fast for her to interpret. And there was only two choices. Was he trying to say something?

"Aster!"

He finally lowered his eyes to the side. They were wary, as if to say, what do you want from me? His gaze found the ceiling again. She squinted up, trying to see what he was seeing. Her neck ached from the strain on her back.

She heard the hiss of air escaping. Someone was in the arena. She wasn't sure how they got in, since the door on the white wall opposite her remained shut. Now there were steps behind her. Andrew came around. His hands were in his pockets.

"So, you made up your mind?" He said in English, very casual, as if they were discussing movies. He looked as shrimpy as ever, especially against such an imposing backdrop.

"Do you not feel bad for us?" Cassia said. She was already trying to invoke pity. Things were going down, fast. She monitored his eyes, waiting for them to rove over her unwashed, pale body. They never did.

"Not really," Andrew said, shrugging. "I know my Dad's got the right idea. You know, there's talk all the time about artificial intelligence, and Elon Musk's freaking everyone out about how you guys are gonna take over the world. I'm glad to be a part in preventing that."

"You know that we are not mechanical devices," Cassia said. She felt flush, and she was too weak to know if it was fever or anger.

Aster was looking straight at them.

Cassia played her last card. "In bed," she whispered, too ashamed to say it aloud, "Did I, in any way, give the impression of being a robot?"

Andrew lowered his eyes. "We've already invented sex robots, so nice try. Japan makes them and stuff."

Aster was blinking rapidly. Andrew cleared his throat. "So anyway, I just had a little chat with your boyfriend, and he thinks you should go."

"I won't- what?"

"Yeah." Andrew shrugged again. "So do you agree?"

Cassia floundered, her lips moving on their own. "Of course."

There was a clang. The cuffs, all eighteen of them, snapped open. The two of them fell, Cassia like a wounded animal, Aster heart-breakingly floppy. 

The short distance shouldn't have ached at all, and the wave of dizziness was uncalled for. Cassia hugged her knees to her chest, trying for some absurd reason to hide her nakedness. She shouldn't have been hungry, either- she'd spent days without food in the past. Aster's breathing was heavy, on the slick floor beside her. When the room stopped spinning she rolled over, and took her mate's lifeless hands and set them out nicely at his sides, because she didn't know what else to do. His skin was so white that it made his pubes look dark, and his pale face almost matched the glinting hair on his head.

"Let him go," Andrew said, and she couldn't detect an ounce of emotion in his voice. "Come with me."

But Cassia was rooted to the ground, loathe to move or to follow Andrew anywhere. She waited there dazed, as her mate was carried away by two workers in jeans and black t-shirts. The door slid into the wall, and after Aster was swallowed into the darker corridor beyond it, it clanged shut.

He didn't force her to come, but he didn't answer her one persisting question, either. She wanted to know what deal they'd made. What they'd told Aster to make him give her up.

Or, as Cassia suspected, Aster hadn't agreed to anything at all.

Andrew stood in front of her, arms folded. "Come with me," he kept repeating, "And I'll answer all your questions."

Finally, wearily, Cassia dragged herself up, hugging her chest tightly. She went with him.
Andrew offered her a bathrobe and a tiny bottle of body wash, and showed her to a small shower stall inside what looked like a doctor's office. 

The stall's door was completely translucent. Before stepping inside, Cassia turned back one last time. Andrew was slouched on a chair at the other side of the room, tapping at a small portable telephone with his thumbs.

"Now you must tell me," she said. 

He startled, sitting up. "Oh, yeah. We offered him all his mobility back if he'd agree to trade you in. He said yes right away."

"Oh," Cassia said. She stepped into the stall, her back towards him, and turned on the water.

∆∆∆

The Doctor's promise didn't come instantly. Aster was carried into a mostly empty room, where he was given a sponge bath. He watched, in a detached way, as he was handled and carried and washed and dried. He noted the sparseness of the lab, how the Doctor had scrimped on decor. It was the main reason this place gave him an eerie feeling- it had all of the technology of the Twenty-Third Century, but none of the aesthetics. Greenery, harmony and clean lines were very important in Croton's time, but he seemed to have left all of that behind.

Aster was operated on. They didn't tell him what they were doing and he couldn't see much, as they'd lain him on his stomach after toweling him off.  A cold square was stuck to the back of his neck, and as soon he felt it he knew what was happening. The square would interact with the proteins in his brain, eventually coaxing them to fix his neural pathways. This thought occurred to him for only a second, because before he had a chance to feel apprehension he was asleep.

He woke what seemed like an instant later, but he knew that hours had passed. The voices around him were cheerful and refreshed, and people were still greeting each other and mentioning the snow outside. It was morning.

He raised his head. It felt like a lead weight. The muscles in his neck cracked as they were forced into action. He moved around the saliva in his mouth, grimacing at the taste. His head became too heavy so he lowered it back onto the table, but already he felt different. His body felt available to him, if not burdensome, but still available.

A minute later he tried to lift his head again. It was hard, since he was still on his back. He managed to turn his face the other way,where he was greeted with Croton's unnerving stare.

"Good morning," the Doctor said, rising from his chair.

Aster felt bile in his throat.

"You might feel a bit sore,” the Doctor said, "But your muscles are as good as if you exercise   them every day. Your speech, too, should be unaffected."

Aster said nothing. His mind was churning. Croton stayed for a minute more, and then he cleared his throat. "You will not be able to stay here, of course. As soon as you get your balance, I'm afraid you'll have to return home."

Still, Aster waited. At another time, another place, he might have pounced then and there, grabbed the Doctor's throat and smashed him against the wall. But he was not a violent man, and his paralysis had made him patient. He waited until Croton left, and a male nurse was sent in to monitor him.

The nurse, short and chubby and bald, gave him a wide grin. "I've heard about you," he said. 

Aster sat up slowly. It was as easy as if he hadn't been confined to a wheelchair for weeks. He noted, for the first time, that he was somewhat clothed, in jeans and a cheap undershirt. He kept his movements rigid, as if he was in pain. The cameras were at each corner of the ceiling.

He leaned forward. "Come here," he said, rasping. The nurse took a tentative step forward.

"Closer."

When the nurse was right above him, close enough that it looked like he was examining Aster, Aster grabbed the man's wrists and squeezed them so hard, the nurse gave a shriek of pain, and sank to his knees. 

"I need to borrow your cellular device," Aster said, his voice rough, but clear as day.

"Don't- have one," the nurse gasped. "We aren't allowed phones here."

Aster lessened his grip, just by a fracrion, to allow the nurse to stand. The man didn't attempt to squirm. He just stared at Aster, whimpering.

"I guess you'll have to show me where they are," Aster said.

The nurse looked down at his hands, pressed together inside Aster's grip. "You really are a freak," he said.

"I don't like to make use of it," Aster said. He stood up, still gripping the nurse like some kind of dance. "Truth be told, I could probably kill you with a smack to the back of your head. So I will release you now, but you are going to take me to a telephone."

Eyes wide, nurse nodded. Aster dropped his hands. He'd never had to make use of his strength before. As a mathematician, it had never really come up.

He really was a different person now.

The nurse walked with him out the room and down the hallway. Aster shuffled in the manner of elderly people in the century, and avoided eye contact with anyone he passed. They reached an elevator at the end of the hall, which had a slot beside it at about neck level.

Aster saw the nurse looking around. Aster flailed, and grabbed the nurse's upper arm. The man slammed into the wall.

"I apologize," Aster said, releasing him. "I have been so unsteady since this morning."

The nurse rubbed his arm without a word, and waved his finger over the slot. The glass panel covering it slid open. Inside was a tongue scanner. Aster watched the slot re-sanitize, and then it beeped, and the nurse slid his tongue inside.

This was just one more piece of technology that Croton had brought into the wrong century. Finger scanners were still relatively new here, and it would be decades before fingerprints became easily forgable and tongues became the new ID.

They entered the elevator in silence, when it arrived.

"Do not say a word when we exit," Aster said. "Just point."

It opened a terse minute later, inside a bland office floor. Desks were separated up here by flimsy walls, and a receptionist sat at the far end of the floor, near the window. The nurse raised a trembling fat finger at her.

Aster kept his gaze straight ahead. He didn't even need to locate the nurse's cellular device- this place was teeming with telephones. He just had to locate an available one. He narrowed in on a young woman at a desk, downing the last of a tall beverage. She threw the styrofoam cup into a bin beneath her desk, and pushed back her chair.

A washroom break naturally. It would not last long, but her desk was partially hidden and Aster would not take long. He told the nurse to follow him, and slid into the desk chair, picking up the receiver. It was an older model, and it still had a wire.

He dialed a number that he'd only heard mentioned once. But when Aster heard a number he never forgot it.

Molly answered on the fourth ring.

"Where are you?" He said when she picked up.

"Aster?"

"Quickly tell me. I do not have time."

"We're… we're by the strip mall."

Aster happened to glance out the window, and saw that they were in fact across the street from the strip mall. The elevator had taken them into the building across the street. He stood up, and far below, he saw tiny but familiar figures, standing in the middle of the parking lot.

"Wait there," he said, and hung up.

∆∆∆

To begin with, there was a flurry of samples taken from Cassia's body- blood, urine, skin cells, saliva, hair, and a nail. And that was just the beginning. The poking might have been painful, but she was numb all over. 

She wanted to believe that Aster knew what he was doing. But from the looks of it, he was… gone. The thought drained her. She didn't even have the strength to argue with Croton, who came several times to the examination table where she was strapped down.

"I don't know if I've thanked you enough," he said. "Truly, my darling, you're the reason I've journeyed to these dark ages."

"To torture us?" Cassia said. She regretted opening her mouth the moment the moment the words were out. Croton was goading her and she'd taken the bait.

"Close, but no," Croton said, coming to sit at the foot of the examination table He watched as a nurse prodded a short stick down Cassia's throat. "You see, I regret making the adjustments I did on you and your mate, and on myself. Strength is one thing, but the ability to time travel is quite another. Someone may one day use it quite dangerously."

Cassia gagged as the stick was pulled out. She licked her lips, wetting them. "You can't change history," she said.

"Ah, but I can," the Doctor said, standing up. He beamed at her. "If I can make this generation realize the dangers of creating a creature like you, there won't be any future of genetic engineering. You and I will be stuck here, but that's a minor casualty."

She had no more patience for this. Cassia lay her head back. She refused to believe that Aster wasn't coming back. He wouldn't leave her here.

∆∆To be continued...

For The Love Of Not Walking Chapter 23

Happy Thursday! Another week gone by and I have for you another chapter of FTLONW. Thanks so much for your comments last week. I give you Chapter 23 where you find out Kieran's fate after the chaotic night. I hope I'm keeping you happy and excited to read the story and follow along with Kieran and Erin. Are you wondering if they are finally getting a break? Well, read on and thanks for your loyalty and for all your wonderful comments. You keep me going :-)
Hugs, Dani