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[um_loggedin show_lock=no]Allie dropped to the floor, face up, her eyes blinking upon impact. In that moment, the arctic air descended even further, to the extent that if she sat up, she was sure she’d make contact with Darnight. A quick glance through the binoculars confirmed her assessment.
Allison breathed. Blinking one eye at a time, she wriggled her way backward until she was clear of the cold air; unfortunately, the exit now stood on the opposite side of Darnight. Maybe I could jump over him, she mused; more practically, she elected to run her problem by Aaron and Grace.
“ENIIC might be able to make you another doorway,” Aaron proposed. “I’ve never actually tried to remove something from reality before, but it should, theoretically, be possible to make a hole in the wall.”
“Do it,” Allie requested, her eyes burning with the need for closure. Sure enough, moments later a quarter of the right-hand wall disappeared. “I’m through,” she told him, stepping into the hall.
“Great, meet us back in the lobby.” With a nod, she hurried down the hall and turned left.[/um_loggedin]
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]Grace watched while Aaron busied himself, preparing to leave the room. She couldn’t help smiling. Aaron Wright was many things – brilliant, quirky, and really not so bad looking, save the earlobes. Yet above all else he was endearing, and Grace was grateful to have known him, even if only as Allie’s spunky little friend. She really did hope that she would take him up on his offer of coffee.
“I want to thank you,” she spoke without thinking; Aaron’s hands stopped typing as he glanced over.
“Thank me for what?”
“For this,” she gestured. “For bringing us along tonight, for having our backs.”
“For giving Allie an invisible stalker, and placing your lives in constant jeopardy? Sure, no problem,” he laughed, looking back at his computer screen. Grace looked down.
“Thanks for saving my life,” she expressed, glancing up, then away as their eyes made contact. “That was a…pretty sweet tackle.”
Aaron smiled sympathetically. “Sorry you had to go through that.”
As he finished powering down the computer, Grace turned and made a face. A ‘pretty sweet tackle’, she quoted herself, incredulous. Nice.
Soon they departed, covering quickly the remaining distance to the entry hall. What they found there, however, made Grace groan. “I’m guessing that’s the wall from the security room?” she surmised, staring at the the giant obstruction before them; it spanned most of the width of the hallway which Allie would have to come through.
“Looks like it,” Aaron sighed with a nod; Allie’s voice then rang out over the walkies.
“Guys,” she said. “I have a problem.”[/um_loggedin]
[um_loggedin show_lock=no]“We’re looking at it,” Aaron’s voice returned over the walkie. Strangely, Allie thought she could also hear him through the security room’s wall. “I’ll head back to ENIIC and get rid of the wall.”
She returned the thermal binoculars to her eyes. “More to the point,” she replied, “I have a serial rapist staring at me from down the hall. And I need to blink.”
“Well sit tight; I’ll go as fast as I can,” he replied; Allie heard then the sound of footsteps departing from the other side of the wall. Leaning her back against the barricade, she slid to the floor and sat down. Soon, Grace’s voice came whispering through the inches-wide gap on the right-hand side of the security wall.
“Hey, you all right in there?” she asked. Allison blinked.
“Aaha, yeah,” she replied, immediately unnerved by the approaching man in blue; Darnight had traversed nearly half of the distance between them in the blink of an eye. She stared at his frozen figure, determined not to blink again.
“How long until Aaron gets rid of the wall?” she asked. “It shouldn’t be long, right? ENIIC isn’t far from here.”
Grace’s hesitation was not reassuring, nor was the sound of her own back sliding down the opposite side of the wall. “It could be a while,” she finally replied. “He’ll have to boot up the machine again, which takes time.” Allie heard a sigh come from the other side of the wall. “I really wish more people would use Linux.”
Allie didn’t bother to reply; she was too focused on keeping her eyes open. She blinked each eye in succession.
“Are you scared?” Grace asked.
Allie looked down. “A little,” she admitted, then realized with a measure of panic that she’d broken eye contact with Darnight. She looked up.
Blue filled her vision as Darnight loomed over her. Okay, she swallowed, maybe more than a little. Looking to her left and right, she could see that Darnight’s arms and legs were surrounding her. She was trapped. “Grace,” she said, “I need a favor.”
“If I don’t make it out of this,” she conveyed, “I need you to write about what happened here tonight. Expose Ex Nihilo in place of me.”
“Ugh, don’t talk like that,” Grace chided her. “You’re going to be fine.” Allie grinned wryly; the giant blue man overshadowing her begged to differ.
Slowly, her smile faded, and was replaced by the incessant loneliness of her life. “What if I’m not fine?” she wondered aloud. “Grace, what if it’s actually easier for me to return to my own world; maybe I’d fit in better there. Would that be okay?” She blinked each eye in succession.
“Don’t you dare, Allison.” Grace warned. “You were brought here for a reason.”
“Yeah,” she interjected, “Aaron’s reason, whatever that was.”
“I should think it’s rather obvious,” Grace retorted with incredulity. “And he’s a good man, Allie. Maybe you should ask his perspective before you think about undoing everything that he is offering you.”
She felt a tear form, and almost closed her eyes. Then she grew angry.
“Aaron!” she called into the walkie.
His reply was apologetic. “Sorry, I know this is taking forever. It’s this computer; it’s in the middle of installing updates.” Allie heard Grace’s groan from the other side.
“Linux, people, seriously.”
“Aaron, I need to understand why you created me,” she told him, blinking her left eye, and then her right.
“Really?” he asked. “We’re honestly going to have this conversation now?”
“It’s not like you’re doing anything anyway,” Grace put in. “Just waiting on updates.”
Aaron’s walkie caught the tail end of his sigh. “It just isn’t important right now.”
“Ohooh, it has never been more important,” Grace countered. “It seems, Aaron, that your girlfriend has gotten it into her head to simply throw in the towel, and throw herself into Darnight’s arms.”
“What? That’s ridiculous, don’t do that,” came his immediate reply.
“Then maybe you should explain to her why she should stay in this world, rather than the next.”
The walkie remained silent for a number of moments, but eventually he conceded. “Derek Winthrop,” he told her, “was created for the good of the company, as were all of the others before him. They give their money, we give a return on investment, and everyone is happy. But you, Allie – I created you for a more self-serving purpose.”
“You wanted a girlfriend,” she assessed, condescension tainting her tone.
“I wanted a wife,” he replied. “Someone compassionate and kind, who cares more about helping other people than serving herself.”
Allie snorted. “And I’m the best you could come up with? I have been nothing but mean to you all night.”
Aaron laughed. “I created you with wealth, Allie, just like Derek, just like everyone else before you guys. And you know what? I saw what you did with it, for that boy under the fig tree.” She caught her breath. “It’s why I fell in love with you. So you can pretend to be an angry, hateful woman until we all die of old age, but in the end, I know who you truly are, and I don’t really care if you like me or not. I just need to know that there are other people out there who are running in the same direction, who value people above their own personal wealth and happiness.”
Oh, how she hated him in that moment – hated him for his obstinate patience, and for giving her a desire to stay. As she stared at the man in blue, barely keeping him at bay, she could not stop her heart from turning toward Aaron in grudging, grateful appreciation. And as it turned, it broke, because in that moment she understood that she could never be with him.
“This is never going to end,” she grieved, blinking each eye in succession. She blinked them each once more, noting how difficult it had become to keep them both open.
“Just a little longer,” Grace tried to encourage her. But she didn’t understand.
“No,” Allie reiterated, “this is never going to end. Think about it. Even if we make it out of here tonight, Darnight will still come after me tomorrow night, and the night after that, and the night after that.” She blinked both eyes in succession. “That’s not a life that we can sustain.”
“Allie,” Grace objected.
“Look Grace, I don’t want to leave you. And even though I’ll deny it if you ever tell him, I kind of don’t really want to leave Aaron either. But as it happens, we don’t really have a choice.” She stood, almost touching Darnight’s outstretched arms. Now positioned within his poised embrace, she shuddered, perhaps at the cold, and hoped that her contact with him would be brief.
“Allie, what are you doing?!” Grace demanded, probably hearing her stand. “Don’t you dare!”
“Tell Aaron that I’m sorry,” she requested. Then, with a simple, relieving close of the eyelids, she let Darnight’s cold, his sweat, and his cigarette smoke envelope her body like straightjacket.[/um_loggedin]
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