Previously: “Five years ago, the Sky Spiders descended from space and wrought untold destruction and change on our world. Una and I, among others, set out from sanctuary to try to find answers with the EON thinking machines that had interfaced with Sky Spider technology. We discovered the paradoxically benevolent intentions of the invaders, and were offered - by the successors to the human race - life, knowledge and happiness.”
Part 39: Further Revelations
I closed the door carefully behind me.
Una sat on a chair beside a simple, white sheeted bed. “What did you see?”
“Oh, you know,” I answered. “Fantastic visions of space. Otherworldly cities both immense and ancient. Sky Spiders. About what you'd expect.”
“You didn't look did you?”
She sighed and stood up. “Somehow all your few acts of stupidity seem to revolve around me. I'm not sure whether I should be flattered.”
I shrugged. “Remus said that you rarely have much of a sense of time in the panopticon. I didn't want you to leave without me.”
She closed her gloved hands around mine. “I understand what it means to you, Peregrine. I'm a scientist too. I'm curious. I want to see the mysteries of the Universe. Please, please don't deny yourself that because of me.”
“Then stay here a little longer. Look into the panopticon yourself.”
She looked down at her hoop skirt. “I can't. For five years I've... Peregrine, look.”
She let go of one of my hands and brought her fingers to her mouth, tugging the tip of the glove with her teeth until she had pulled it off completely. When she took my hand again, it was with fingers of articulated metal.
“This is what my hands look like, Peregrine. They're the hands of an EON unit. I could still play the piano, if I'd ever learned, or chess. But I can't paint. I can't uncork a wine bottle. The Sky Spiders did this to me. Whatever noble goals they may have had, this is what they mean to me. They mean that I can't even feel the warmth of your hands. Whatever fantastic, amazing things they may have to offer me, I want nothing of it. They can't buy off five years of pain.”
I squeezed her hands gently. Warmth or not, she felt that, her fingers curling in response. “Remus isn't the Sky Spiders,” I said. “I believe that.”
“Me too. But the panopticon is.”
“Fair enough. But Remus offered to help you. To help to end your... discomfort. Doesn't that count as making amends in some way?”
She pulled her hands away from me and folded her arms. “I just want to leave. I'm used to the physical pain by now. I hardly notice it. But it hurts me in a whole different way to be staying here. When Remus wants to end the suffering of everyone in Fortress City, then I'll be front of the queue, okay?”
“And if Remus is to be trusted, that might not be too far-fetched a scenario. If we can find out what the deal is with Fortress City.”
Una smiled. “Right. So I leave in the morning. We leave, I mean, if you insist on being a fool.”
She turned to face away from me and straightened her back. “Help me undress. The trouble with these fabulous old dresses is that as much as they keep from getting caught in your treads, they were all made for women who were attended to by legions of servants. Getting in and out of the things is a bit of a logic puzzle when you're by yourself.”
I undid the top button of the dress - a tiny, delicate fastening, almost invisible from a distance. Her high neckline loosened, a little patch of pale white skin was exposed, just below her hair.
And unfastening the next button revealed the metal staples holding that skin in place over the steel armour below, and the thin plastic tubes that supplied it with blood.
“You may find some gruesome things beneath this dress,” Una said. “But you might as well learn what your heart has got you into.”
Placing my hands on her shoulders, I brought my mouth to that patch of skin and kissed it. “Are my lips warm? Can you feel that?”
She reached back to untie her hair, letting it uncoil fluidly from its bun. It was longer than I'd expected, and she gathered it up in her hands, pulling it forwards over her shoulder, keeping the back of her dress exposed.
Una said, “Undo the rest of the buttons.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Back to Fortress City! But if Remus and the Sky Spiders are so pleasantly disposed towards it, why is it in so much danger? And while we're on the subject, who was that trying to kill the Five the last time they visited? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!