Upon the screen, Daedalus has pulled up files on Lil. He does not resist the temptation of giving her profile another look, as he hovers upon the numerous photos of her, taken during various candid moments from her life. Some when she was Donov's adorable little princess, where you could tell that once, she innocently carried a zesty sparkle for the world. Others as she's grown older, a patina of cynicism in her eyes which gives her a somewhat intimidating quality.
Daedalus still feels like a pervert when it comes to having access to Lil's personal data. In his younger years, he's dreamed of knowing her intimately; now he can't help but feel proud at the mention that Lil has been saved from Sinclair's rot.
Today though, his thoughts dwell on what kind of perfect environment would suit her, and him together. Argounova promised him a paradise to live out his dream together with Lil, but only in the hellish layer of her world.. where anything is possible.
After going through her personality profile and deriving no new insight into Lil's desires, he shuts the terminal off, sighing as he kicks the floor, spinning his chair around in circles. Yes, he could have her work as his medical assistant and make love with her in the off time, however he wants, but he doesn't want just a mere second life, constrained by practical concerns or anything –
One of her favourite memories: waltzing in those fields of lavender. Daedalus can extend that vista out, mingle it with his own so that they'd have an entire space to live out their dreams. He'd add in mountains, a lake and surrounding forest – a castle for the both of them to reign over. And as he becomes king, he could offer salvation for the poor souls in hell who're willing to lay their lives down for him, their fealty in exchange for his benevolence..
Then he gets wracked with shivers.
What's the matter Daedalus? This is what you've really wanted, isn't it? To be with your beloved by leaving her trapped her in a false world, where nothing is really of any consequence? Where she'll possibly live out the rest of her days wrapped in a cocoon, while you stop by and visit, using her like a doll to comfort yourself with in private..
He takes a deep breath, trying to recover his composure. His thoughts up to now must resemble that of a madman, moreso than any respectable scientist. But aren't scientists just glorified madmen, until their intuitions and intelligence end up proving them right, vindicating them from ordinary judgment? No – I'm only rationalizing..
Would she truly love me back?
It's like peering at himself from the outside-in, penetrating past the egotistic veil he's worn for his entire life. Thankfully he's alone in his own office, where there's no one to witness just how naked he is feeling.
His fingers rubbing his eyebrow, Daedalus finds his own reflection on the terminal's empty glass surface. A crease has been steadily forming under his eyes, since Lil's departure of the dome, and he senses that crease isn't going to go away anytime soon. He knows it's just a part of adulthood, but only now, does it hit him how so little of his dreams in his younger years has ever materialized, and now that he's serving as chief medical officer.. where do his responsibilities end, and his chances to fulfill his soul begin?
Daedalus gets a notification – it is Raul Creed, who requests his immediate presence.
"I'll give it to you straight – records indicatate you've been shirking your duties, Daedalus."
The Regent's security officer seems to arch over Daedalus, who tries his best not to be fazed by Raul's comments. Instead, the doctor pours his gaze upon Raul's office – the polished placard upon the desk, the shelves full of replica novels and statuette busts, and a bystanding Kristeva whose blank, eyeshadowed eyes offer him no sympathy, whatsoever.
"A month ago, I asked you to oversee the resurrection project. You were supposed to deliver me the scoop on Monad's rejection of Romdo, three days ago! Explain it to me.. what have you made of her so far?"
Daedalus could only think of the way those kisses with Lil had left him awash with a joyous afterglow.. let alone how she felt in a total bodily embrace, wholesome..
Then the good doctor musters an equally cold gaze at Raul. "The reason I have for the delay is just that – science isn't omniscient. I thought you'd have realised it already, Raul; the amnita cells left by Monad have decayed, so the answers I have to give you are only vague, at best."
Raul shoves his fingernails into his thumb, as he runs his hand over his desk's smooth mahogany. "So your option is to pour over Lil's personal files and make unauthorized connections outside the dome?"
Bummer. Daedalus has the mental wind knocked out of him, as he's really at a loss for any words. "I- I don't understand."
Raul's hand slams down onto his desk, a fist shut into a deafening thunder. "ARE YOU PLAYING.. with me, Daedalus!? Kristeva has snuck by your office, seeing you laying there for God knows how long – sometimes with your prick pressing up under your coat! Knowing how smart you are, I bet you might have even fooled the regent into this role-"
(a nerve is struck)
"You're only fooling yourself," Daedalus says, the words rolling out his tongue in a way that holds back the spittle he wants to hurl into Raul's face. "Who are you to get on my case? You know jack about what's truly going on; there's life and mystery out there, Raul. Other proxies, other worlds we don't know about. I'm not wasting time on a dead-end case that you insist about -"
"You don't know that Lil is a copy of Monad, do you?"
Daedalus freezes. "What?"
"For the brief time you've served as medical officer, the regent has restricted this information specifically from you. Donov knows about how obsessive you've gotten with his daughter – it's what's served you well in that quest of curing the rot from everyone, but it won't do you any favours to have your adoration of her be justified. At least, not from his point-of-view."
It's like an ice pick has been wedged down his sternum, flooding Daedalus with a morass of.. swirly emotion, as he feels Raul's room lose all sense of orientation..
"What's wrong, Daedalus – you thought it was all a secret, you and Lil?"
Raul touches the doctor on the shoulder.
"Don't fucking touch me!" Daedalus goes, trying to shrug off the man, but he ends up stumbling and falling down on his back, with Raul hovering close over him in such ragged breaths – Raul's garlic breath is just replete with recently-drunk whiskey and cream. It's quite unpleasant to soak your lungs with.
"Now listen here, bud," Raul says, his lips almost touching Daedalus's in a repugnant kiss. "I personally don't give a damn what you think you're doing. But if we don't get a suitable replacement for Romdo, and soon, our civilization is going to go ka-put. You know, I could get it on with you right here, and no matter how hard we fuck, it's the same result as with any woman – get the concept?"
Daedalus nods his head, knowing full well how he could almost feel Raul's bulge. Then Raul strokes him upon the face, brushing aside the loose bangs of hair. "Attaboy. Wouldn't want to disappoint everyone, least of all your lover's grandfather, would we?"
Daedalus spits out the minty foam; his third time doing so. When he brushes his teeth this time, he wants to just throughly rinse away any traces of that taste out of his mouth, as he resists every urge to just gag. He looks at his reflection in the mirror, his face dripping with fluids. He's so worn out.
Then, after a drink of jasmine tea, where he could feel more like himself again – Daedalus slinks his way back to his medical office. He glances up at the ceiling, noting how it doesn't matter anymore about trying to hide his involvement with Zaporizhzhia. They know. They already know. What more are they going to do to stop him..
"Here's to it," he mutters, as he pulls out the patch and lays it over his frontal lobes. As Daedalus drifts off, the reality of his medical office slipping away, and his mind fluttering off once more into the world of fantasies..
Oh Lord, I beg not for thy forgiveness, but for thy strength.
In the asylum's office, which has all but been cleared out – Daedalus calls out for her to appear: "Argounova! Where are you? We gotta talk!"
It takes a little, but like a feverish hallucination, she's there.
"Yes, my dear?"
The hazy sunlight glimmers past the window blinds, such that Daedalus feels its warmth all over upon his neck and upper body. "Argounova.. I'm in trouble. The regent and security bureau know of my involvement with you. I don't know how much they know.. oh God -"
She listens attentively, her gaze half-facing out the window.
"I don't know what's worse.. the way I allowed Raul Creed to thrust himself over me like a depraved animal, or my own damned selfishness.. allowing Lil to be trapped in here with you! All this role-playing, our talking of fear and desire and FOR WHAT?! So that I could just leave her caged, a bird who'll sing to our whims until she dies?"
She catches his eye. "You haven't mentioned Vincent Law at all.. isn't he a person you'd contend with?"
Daedalus is panting, already letting his emotions that would otherwise have been kept close to the chest be brought forth. "I've actually forgotten about him.. and I don't care. This isn't right, Argounova."
"Why have you changed your mind? I thought by now we'd both get what we've always desired – you having a chance for Lil's heart once more, and for me, an equal. As you may see.."
She waves her arm over dusty air, wiping a circular vision into view. It's hard for Daedalus to make out the silhouette, seemingly suspended in amniotic fluid and wires connected upon the little child-sized body, but his eyes adjust, and he recognizes.. it looks like a young girl. Not a real girl, an autoreiv..
He's seen that model advertised from the boutique stores, and Raul even had one with his wife, before the freak accident in the mall..
"What is this?" he asks.
"Her name is Pino," Argounova goes. "Once, she accompanied Lil and Vincent in their journey through the wilderness. Now, she will be my surrogate child."
"Surrogate- she's just an autoreiv..!"
"Like I once was?" Argounova flashes a look of disgust as she says so. "In my world, impossibility is only a stretch of imagination away.. just watch."
The vision shimmers, and it's a scene where Lil, laying upon a couch, is steadily being approached by a masked man, who's much in the guise of the Ergo Proxy. Already, Daedalus's heart is trembling far out of control. "No, are they going to-"
"Oh, справді.. together, they'll conceive Pino."
Daedalus won't stand another second of seeing them about to engage in the act. "Okey, I get the idea, can you turn it off or switch it to something else-"
"You sure you don't want to witness it? A man and a woman together can be such a beautiful thing.. like out of a nature documentary, in the right frame of mind.."
"I just can't. I envy Vincent too much for me to bear it."
"At least you're honest." Argounova shuts off the portal in an instant, so that it's just a file cabinet in its place, with the top drawer slightly ajar. And then slowly, as a cat would cautiously approach a piece of leftover tuna, she wades closer to Daedalus – in the real world, her exoskeleton and pulsating veins would make any normal person revolt in horror. Here.. Daedalus wants to believe that the woman he sees, steadily approaching him is the soulful essence of the proxy, made flesh. (In the olden days, they'd call her a classical Slavic beauty.)
"I want to read your thoughts," she whispers, as now she's face-to-face with him. Daedalus stands still, letting her run her hands – all over his skull. Her touch is that of a gentle masseuse, leaving fluttering butterflies where her fingertips trail, and all he needs to do is close his eyes, and find calmness in his own breaths while his recent memories get untangled out of his unconscious, one at a time.
When she's done.. Daedalus pops open his eyes, gasping as if he had been the recipient of a warm kiss, full of darkness in a slow, eventual buildup towards an orgasm. "Please," he pants, "I want more.."
"I cannot." Argounova shakes her head no, as if in disappointment. "I'd risk mental damage to you if I delved any more."
"I understand better," she goes. "Out of respect for you, I won't voice what drives you outright – because no one ever wants to be fully transparent.. not to anyone, especially not themselves. But Daedalus.. you're not the first to have wanted to run away from a seemingly harsh world, into the realm of fancies where at the very least, your own thoughts make sense in a privacy beyond the reach of others. Have I ever told you.. my first name, Tetiana?"
"Tetiana.." he mutters, enjoying the sound of her name.
"Yes. Nobody has called me that in over a hundred years.."
The birds are chirping outside. "Do you ever get lonely like I do," Daedalus goes. "Where you get so absorbed into something, like the way the human skeleton is just so elegantly made, and your.. your heart swells.. if only you had someone by your side, who also understood too..?"
"All the time," she says, so wistfully that it betrays how much her heart aches.
Without a word, Daedalus reaches for her hands – the same fingers and joints which had caressed him – and even touching them is the start of something genuinely electrifying. He glances over how smooth she has made her alabaster skin, and how her fingernails have been clipped to perfection. Part of him thinks that maybe Lil could have something to be jealous of, even though it's only an imaginary beauty..
His hands then crawl over her wrists, and run slowly up her arms – there is something statuesque in the way Tetiana is poised, ever so patiently, while she is taken aback, receiving love for the first time from another human being.
And then, when his hands go all over her back, Daedalus does not hold back himself any longer, and he embraces the proxy by his side in a hug, long-awaited.
It's different from when he'd held Lil. Tetiana is more full-bodied – taller than him, with her breasts as voluptuous as those of the old Roman statues. As she returns his hug, Daedalus rests his head upon her chest.. there is a strange hollowness that he could detect, as if he could tap upon her, and hear his taps resonate through hollow space. But all the same, it's a rare moment in his life, where he feels that it is OK just to simply exist and be – it must be like how a newborn baby must feel, carried in the arms of its mother.
Daedalus feels a warm wetness pour out of his eyes, his nose. Is he catching his allergies again? No – he's outright crying. Many times, he's wanted to let out his own emotions.. but there has never been a time he could recall, when he's ever felt safe enough to do so.
And maybe he's put too much of his emotional side, entrusting that onto Lil, who has been his only love. It's really an unfair burden to place upon someone, but there's just so much of the soul that could only go on without another..
He cries and cries his heart out, until his energies subside, and he looks up at Tetiana whose dress has gotten all dirtied up, a moist stain in the vague shape of a face. When she smiles at him, it's a smile with a quality of eternal reassurance – as if she'd faced the world with all the coldness and indifference it has to offer, and then willingly filtered all of that out as she concentrates on you with an irresistable prejudice in your favour.
And then she leans into Daedalus, kissing him.
If Tetiana had been a statue before, now she is all over him, an animal who is re-discovering the joys of bonding with another of its ilk – this is a person who she's come to respect out of everyone else who's been birthed and then later recycled, who'd go through the rigamarole of daily life and routines until eventual death, and never bother to ask if it had ever meant something against the backdrop of an all-pervasive void.