The reception down the block from the strip mall was terrible. "What?" Molly said into the receiver. Puffs of air accompanied her words. The car's heat had been off for at least twenty minutes, and the passanger window was opened a crack.
"I said, are you outside?" Dr. Moscowitz's voice, though grainy, was thoroughly irked.
Samuel leaned forward, to where Molly's phone glowed blue and white. "Yes," he said.
"You guys are great," the Doctor continued, relaxing. "Trust me, if we could bring this to the police, we would. But at least I've got you two."
Samuel's fingers were on the door, locking and unlocking it, his other fingers drumming on his thigh. "Should we go in?"
"No! Not yet. Wait until they're settled, until they stop checking to see if anyone's coming."
Molly squinted out the window. "Aster is sitting outside. We saw him go into a bunch of trees on the side."
The Doctor's laugh was a gentle one. "I don't think we have to worry about the cripple."
She sat up. "Wasn't your wife-"
"Molly." Samuel shook his head at her. "Not now," he mouthed. He was revved up, ready to go.
Molly furrowed her brow. "Two more minutes and we're going inside."
I've been warning Cassia that someone's coming into the empty store, but I can't see who it is. Even in her mind, she's gone silent, though I can faintly detect a hint of what's going on in her head. It's all black on her end, but then the closet door opens slowly.
She doesn't wait. That's my Cassia. Her vision tunnels as she leaps to her feet, knocking past the- yes, it's a man- and she's running, running straight towards me.
Go, I say in her head, Get away. They can't even see me!
She ignores me and runs, feet pounding on the cracked pavement, and when she reaches me she begins to unbuckle the straps holding me down.
Stop it, I say.
I try to speak aloud but I don't think I can anymore. Maybe it's the weakness. The brought-together is fading, maybe that's why I can't hear her head and she can't hear mine.
She swings me up as if I'm a doll , and she starts to run, my head bobbing against her chest. The man is right behind her. When I see his face I almost vomit in my throat.
Samuel grabs her from behind. Cassia screams. She spins wildly with me, finally setting me on the cold ground and lunging at Samuel.
My head falls to the side. The wrong side. Quswàk. I hope she doesn't kill him. If Samuel knew how strong my mate was, he'd stay away. There is no one alive today as strong as her, and in fact, as strong as I was.
Samuel yells in surprise, and on top is Cassia's growl, and I hear a thud and I think they're on the ground next to me.
I see someone else running towards us. She's in my line of vision for ten seconds before veering away. "Cassia, stop!" Molly says.
I reach for Cassia in my mind but she isn't there anymore.
"We're here to warn you," Molly says, sounding desperate.
"Get off of me, you bitch!" Samuel's voice is muffled.
What follows is a lot of screaming (Samuel), soothing speech (Molly), and silence (Cassia). I can't hear exactly, as one ear is squashed into some sharp bits of gravel. Finally, I feel someone pulling me into a sitting position, and it turns out they've all got their hands on me. Cassia sees my head loll and cups it in her hand, steadying my back against her chest, so that the only part of her I can see is her arm on my belly.
"…came to warn you," Molly is saying. She and her mate are sitting on the ground, facing us. "Dr. Moscowitz is trying to get access to you guys. He knows you're here."
"We know who he is," Cassia says. Her voice come from right behind me. "You must not trust anything he says."
"Right," Samuel says quickly. He's got blood on the side of his face, and his coat has a rip in the sleeve. "That's why we fol-"
"Wait," Cassia's says, shifting positions. I'm scared she's going to let me drop, but she sits me back so that I'm slumped against her chest. I can feel her heart pulsing.
"Why should we put our trust in you?" She says. "You followed us to this location. I believe that is not normal behavior."
"We wanted to warn you," Samuel says.
Don't trust them, I want to tell her. I wonder what she can feel from my head now. Her grip around my waist is tight but shaky. I know she's going to cave.
"Aster?" She says in Menghish. "What do you think we should do?"
Don't trust them. They're too friendly with Croton, they've always been, and I don't think their loyalties have switched so fast. Plus, Molly has a score to settle with me.
When I don't respond, Cassia picks me up again and scoots to face me. The fact that I haven't spoken in a half-hour is dawning on her. "Aster?" She nudges me, squinting to see my face. Molly and Samuel watch us. I try to move my eyes to face her but they stare straight ahead.
"I did this," she says in our language. "All the energy I took, I… Aster, I'm so sorry…"
I want to comfort her but I have nothing left to do it with. She shifts again and my worldview changes, and suddenly she's standing again and I'm in her arms.
"You can stay at my house tonight," Samuel says, as he and Molly get up. "You'll be safe. We'll move you somewhere else tomorrow."
He's lying. It's clear as a mirror that he's lying. Cassia, apparently too tired to think, trudges back to the trees, where my wheelchair waits patiently. Molly's car can't fit me inside, so Samuel calls a taxi, and Cassia waits beside me, dazed.
I want to to tell her to focus on the mission. That we don't have much time left, on my end or on Croton's. Instead, I sit here like a stone. The taxi arrives, a big van that has a ramp on the side. Cassia loads me in and straps on my seatbelt. She holds onto my head, which wobbles at every bump in the road. It seems like she's angry at my silence, but I'm not sure whether her anger is directed toward me or herself. I wish I could see if she's looking in my direction or not. Molly is in the front seat and Samuel's in the back, behind us. They stay pretty quiet as well.
We stop off at Molly's home to pick up our things, mostly just clothes and a pack of diapers. She doesn't bring the shower chair. I guess I won't be showering tonight.
Just as we turn onto Samuel's block, I relieve myself again into the already soggy diaper. Only then does Cassia lean forward. It's too dark in the taxi to see her face, but I'm guessing she's smelled something. It's instances like this that I almost wish I couldn't feel what's going on down there.
No one says anything, even as I pass gas, but in the rear-view mirror the taxi driver seems relieved when he pulls up in front of Samuel's house.
Understandably, everyone is in a rush to get me inside, even though none of us have thoroughly processed what's happening yet. Samuel has a few steps in front of his house, but Cassia doesn't skip a beat in scooping me up and carrying my through the open door.
We follow Samuel into the house. I'm mildly surprised to see what a mess it is. The table is strewn with empty plates and a pile of clothing is clumped on a corner in the hall, as Cassia swings me around and we enter a bedroom. I think it's the only one in the house.
I don't like the idea of being changed on Samuel's bed, but I don't really have a say in the matter.
Cassia is silent as she pulls down my pants, and peels open my soiled diaper. The wipes are cold against my penis. She cleans me up in between my legs and then lifts up each leg at a time, to clean behind there.
I feel something coming and I wish I could warn her. Cassia pulls her hand back in time as a spray of urine hits the bed. Great. If Samuel wasn't out to get me before, now I've wet his bed.
Cassia makes no move to cover me. Instead, I hear her sink down onto the edge of the bed. "We have to go back," she says. "I don't care anymore. I'm not going to sit and watch you deteriorate."
I wish she'd touch me. I need to talk to her. Instead, she sighs, and procures a fresh diaper and fits it onto me. She doesn't put my pants back on. Instead, she pulls the covers over me, and turns off the light. I can only see the ceiling, right on top of me, but I hear her leave the room. A twinge of panic runs through me.
It's only now sinking in how helpless I am. How utterly alone Cassia is now that we can't communicate.
She returns a few minutes later, lowering herself under the covers. "Goodnight," she murmurs.
Reckless Behavior: A Guide to the Early Twenty-First Century
Chapter Sixteen: Towards the Future
…although outwardly, there is an attitude of excitement towards the rapidly accelerating progress of science, many people are afraid. Phrases such as 'going too far' and 'crossing the line' are common in reference to scientific progress. Looking back, this stems from the natural human instinct to protect oneself from danger. The unknown can be daunting.
It is believed that at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, efforts were made by a man named Croton Rhodium to halt the progress of genetic engineering, which…
At precisely three o'clock am, the agreed-upon time, there were two loud knocks followed by three short ones. Samuel sprang from his seat at the kitchen table, where he'd been waiting anxiously.
To his surprise, Molly got to the front door first. There were tracks down her cheeks, but when she spoke, her voice wasn't the least bit trembling or tired.
"We can't do this," she said, one hand on the knob. "It's crazy, Sam. It's getting out of hand."
Samuel's felt himself filling with rage. She just couldn't let him go.
"Baby," he said, "The Doctor is a gentle guy. He wouldn't hurt them. He's doing us a favor, really, because we do this even know what those two are capable of."
Molly shook her head. "No. Fuck your stupid… mind games, Samuel. Dr. Moscowitz want to kill them. Or worse. We don't even know."
The code knock sounded again, and even the quiet part of it sounded aggressive.
"They aren't trustworthy," Samuel said. "When Aster first came, he was sucking up to you. Do you remember that? He was all nice. You thought you had feelings for him."
Molly didn't say anything. He knew he'd gotten to her. "He wasn't... He was nice."
"It was all fake, Molly."
The wear of the last couple of days was showing on her face.
"If you want, we can go along," Samuel said."Make they're okay."
Molly hesitated. "Fine," she said. Still facing her boyfriend, she tugged the door open, letting in a slight, red-headed man. When Samuel's eyebrows shot up, Molly turned around.
"Andrew?" She said.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets. His Minecraft shirt had flour clumps on it. "Hey," he said. There was another man behind him. They stepped into the house together.
Samuel cleared his throat. "Bedroom's down there."
Andrew nodded. "Great. Thanks." Motioning to the bulkier man behind him, he made his way towards the room.
Aster never fell asleep that night. He lay awake, Cassia's gentle breathing in his ear, the blanket hanging loosely over them both, the distant hum of the heater just loud enough to hear. Cassia's face was almost angelic when she slept. The toughness in her lips faded, and her razor-straight hair was mussed on the pillow.
Her hand was strewn across his chest, as if to keep him safe. It was the thing, in fact, that was preventing him from sleeping. The brought-together had definitely faded, but there was a sort of white noise coming from her, the theta waves riding through her brain as she fell deeper asleep.
The door opened and a silhouette, frizzy on top, backlit starkly, faced him. Aster was propped up on the pillow, so at least he was able to see ahead. He was sure he was dreaming now, because that face was familiar- it was Andrew, the bartender from Molly's speed dating event. He'd been their first suspect as Croton. Cassia had had sex with him.
"Hello, Aster," he whispered.
Aster tried to answer, before remembering he couldn't. Andrew stepped aside to allow another man to enter the room. "This is gonna be easy," the other man said. He had a gruff voice, and he didn't bother whispering. "Dont need any restraints or nothing."
He approached Aster and waved a hand over his eyes. "Hey, you know if he can see? Is he retarded, or just paralyzed?"
Andrew shrugged. "Pretty sure he's a vegetable. You don't need to sedate him or anything." He moved to the side where Aster couldn't see him anymore, but he was holding a scarf. Aster's heart plummeted as soon as heard Cassia's muffled shouting. She was awake, and she scratched the side of his face, getting one kick to the bed before the pangs from her thrashing body were silenced. He felt her weight being lifted from the bed. He tried to reach out to her, looking for any thread that still held them together, but he couldn't find anything. They were alone again.
"Aw, fuck," the man complained, lifting his side of the blanket and sniffing. "He pissed himself. I thought you said he was a vegetable!"
"Vegetables still gotta use the bathroom," Andrew said from the other side of the bed. His voice was strained. He must have been holding Cassia.
"Do I got to clean it up?" the man said, disgusted. "This is nasty. Man, I feel like he's looking right at me."
"Do you want the car to smell?" Andrew came around to the front, Cassia drooping over his shoulder. "Do something about it." He looked like he was struggling with the load, threatening to drop her with every step.
"If he's gonna shit himself every hour like a fucking baby I'm telling the Doc that Rosy can have him." The man changed him, looking close to gagging. Then he lifted him up, leaving him in just his daiper and t-shirt, and carried him out the door. Aster's head hung at an uncomfortable angle, and his left arm swung freely. His right was pressed between his side and the man's sweaty chest.
Samuel and Molly were nowhere to be seen as Aster and Cassia were carried through the house. A black car was waiting outside, the engine running. Aster felt his gut clenching. The man lay him down across the floor of the back seats, folding in his legs, and threw a blanket over him. He didn't see where they took Cassia, but he heard the trunk slam.
A beaty song came blaring through the speakers, blasting into Aster's ear.
Oh, oh, oh, I really don't ca-
"Shit," Andrew said, shutting it off. "Who had the car last? You took it to the lab on Tuesday. Huh?"
"Wasn't me," said the man. "Do I look like a fucking teenage girl to you?"
Andrew muttered under his breath. The radio came on again, softer this time.
An unexpected win, don't you think?
Absolutely, Jerry. I mean, Donald Trump. Donald Trump!
Yeah, it's something. He-
The car took off, and Aster's head knocked against the door. Even with the blanket over him, he was shivering, the hairs on his bare legs standing straight. There were plastic bags strewn on the floor beneath him, and an agglomeration of crumbs beanth his left thigh. The car jolted and he bounced painfully, hitting his head. The rest of the short ride was a haze of searing pain.
∆∆ To be Continued...