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X. The Wheel of Fortune (A Quantum Tarot Part II)

Written by AuGoose :: [Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:30] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 29 May 2019 11:02]

X. The Wheel of Fortune

(A Quantum Tarot Part II)

By Au Goose

A work of Erotic Fiction (unsafe for the workplace). Any resemblance to anything or anyone in the real world is too much to hope for. It’s surprisingly good to be back. Fuck the neurotypical – they’re boring.

Zoe slept and did not sleep. Did she contradict herself? Fine, she contradicted herself. Easily done when your soul contained multitudes.

She was back at the lake in Australia. Still a month before her apotheosis. It was a dream she had bound herself to with black ribbons. And blood.

She had lived there at the edge of the waters for a week, clothed chiefly in mud. Scrubbing herself with reeds, eating simple foods, and slowly losing the scent of civilization. Time spent moving among them, establishing her presence. The cobs, the grand males of the flock eyed her with suspicion. Sometimes they bit her or battered her with their wings … attacks she had been so impressed by when they were stories happening to other people. But the pens – the gentle females – had taken to her. They allowed her to feed them and eventually to groom them. A long lost daughter despite her clumsy swimming and gangly limbs. She was reminded every second they allowed her in their company of why she had held them in such esteem. It kindled a hunger she was ashamed to admit was pure jealousy.

As her time ran short she finally earned her way into the presence of the alpha female, the great pen, a bird of truly iconic majesty … and her target from the outset.

No match for her in open water, Zoe lured the queen to the shore with the promise of sweet treats. She had scattered less savory food along the banks elsewhere, luring the court away from the circle she had crushed in the reeds. The theater for her next great act, the culmination of this stage of her quest.

As the matron fed from her hand Zoe stroked her crest and looked into the bird’s black eyes, seeing wisdom … recognition … and a serene resignation to what was to come that almost froze Zoe in her tracks. She knew. Oh gods and goddesses, she knew.

But a queen does not go to her death meekly. As woman’s hands closed around her regal neck, swan lashed out with both wings, one immediately dislocating woman’s shoulder … Even though woman out-massed swan by a wide margin, she fought woman undeterred. She nearly escaped, taking flight despite the anchor of woman’s deathgrasp, dragging woman from the shore and into the shallow margins. But woman pulled her down, finally forced not just to choke her, but to drown her in her own ancestral waters. Woman was victorious but she paid a price as well, bruised from head to knee by the broad black wings she dreamed would be hers.

The lake was silent. The flock had heard the crying of bloody murder and fled. Then she heard them. In the distance. Singing a dirge for their queen.

She was so exhausted, so completely spent, she simply lay there in the reeds and the mud. Her head on land, water lapping against her bare legs.

Slowly she pulled herself out of the muck and began to cry. Shudders shaking her body as she cradled the glorious creature that would in a very real way soon become her mother, her sister, herself. The stately pen was so beautiful, so full of life … and she’d betrayed her in the most craven way.

In that moment, more than ever before in her life, she knew why all the good Peoples of the Earth, the hunters since the dawn of First Days, had prayed to the animals they had taken. Ames had encouraged them to seek a connection … How could she possibly have avoided a connection! God, the word itself was too small. Too clinical. Inadequate to her gratitude and her shame. She threw back her head and keened, her animal wail a weak echo of the trumpeting in the distance.

She laid the black queen out gently, wiping mud from her back and wings. Washing her with cupped handfuls of lake-water. Her token was made plain in that moment, a single feather from her left wing, pristine despite their struggles. It nearly glowed with black radiance to Zoe’s tear-blurred eyes.

But to take only that and leave the rest to scavengers … that would be sick. An abomination. Instead, she carried the queen in her arms to her camp, took the one perfect feather in the blood-red light of the setting sun, and then with a reverence she had not expected lay within her, cleaned and prepared the body. She cooked her flesh over a campfire under the southern stars and ate, offering silent wordless prayers as old as human DNA. They were as one, joined in the eyes of all Nature.

This was how the dream ended. That miraculous night had passed with the most unsullied sleep that she had ever known. Her heart washed clean despite the blood on her hands. Mother forgave her. The dream was but a pale reenactment of her monstrosity and redemption that bore down on her soul with far more weight than the human lives lost to her rampage in the hour of her rebirth.

But tonight the dream did not end there.

She woke in the Australian wilderness, wrapped in black feathers that were both blanket and her own. The stars were gone, the night a vault of infinite shadow. She was both woman/bird, a distinction unimportant in the lands of the soul. The smells of the lake struck her with the force of black wings. She was home. She was home.

A presence, a looming force even darker than the empty sky stood at the edge of her nest/camp. She could feel it’s regard, though she could not see its eyes. The Great Cob, her swan-king, whose wings enfolded the world, whose darkness was both shroud/balm. He came to her. Surrounded her. His hands/wings touched her. He began to ravish her as was his right and purpose. As she gave herself up willingly/powerless their long necks entwined, she drew back to look upon her lover/enemy …

Her king had human eyes. Eyes she knew … Eyes she had seen closed as death approached …

Zoe awoke with a gasp uncertain if she were still dreaming. The warm September air coming through the windows was filled with feathers and the faint scent of rosemary and garlic. She had torn the soft down comforter to bits with her thrashing. Her copious juices stained the bed, the physical aftermath of her dream/not dream. She realized it was the night of autumn equinox. The turning of many tides.

In that moment she knew pure fear. “I am a FOOL!!” She berated herself without mercy, her shout shattering the open windows of her temporary abode and shivering glass across the entire Italian town, the word ‘fool’ still echoing off the hills.

‘What kind of idiot child thinks she’s made herself safe by killing a necromancer …?’

She grabbed the only set of clothes in her wardrobe that mattered, not even bothering to draw the black armor over herself. Her eyes blazed red and she burned all evidence of her presence from the rented room before she blasted through the ceiling, tearing through two more floors as she rose. Leaving wreckage Carabinieri special investigators would pour over in the morning wondering what sort of shaped charge or missile left no residue. An unforgivable breach of her usual discretion and etiquette, but she was shaken deeply. She wouldn’t be coming back. This op was now categorically aborted in favor of new directives.

She shot west through gathering storm clouds, the autumn weather on the verge of turning wet and cold. She flew across the Atlantic overtaking the sun just before reaching the East Coast. She landed in a modest cemetery on the outskirts of New York. She paused finally to pull on her one piece of Kryptonian garb, unconsciously acknowledging his presence even in death. She would not go naked before this grave. If the swan had been her mother and Dru-Zod her missing self, then he had been the father of her ascension.

The tombstone – a powerful symbol – was missing and she could smell churned earth under carefully replaced sod.

Zoe tore into the ground with her bare hands, launching a plume of flying soil, burrowing down the traditional six feet with a speed that would have made a mole-totem augment weep with envy.

Her senses worked together in effortless concert: smells and sounds and tactile awareness allowing her to tailor the last few inches of her blurred attack to leave the casket almost spotless and certainly undamaged despite the haste she had displayed.

She pried it open, popping the latches gently. If she were wrong she wanted to leave him the profound dignity he had shown her in the moment of his death …

Zoe looked down at the empty lead-lined casket. His voice softly proclaiming “He was feared by a Goddess.” echoed over and over in her mind.

That cunning, brilliant FUCK! He’d played her. He’d played her from beyond the goddamn grave!

She slumped to her knees. The future was overwhelmingly uncertain.

- - - - -

For a year now the world had teetered on the brink of extinction and never knew it. Even now there were days when the urge to stomp on them like ants was overwhelming. It sang in her blood, an essential part of her nature as integral as breathing or sex. More integral than the breathing actually – she could go hours without doing that. Sex on the other hand … For the first few months, the time between her licking her lips and the subtle quickening of her breath at the sight of a robust man and his annihilation in a maelstrom of pleasure and blood was short enough that the media called it ‘spontaneous eruption’. An outbreak that reached across the globe as she wandered. Back then she felt little inhibition and even less guilt: If 2-3 males liquefied each day to take the edge off she was in no danger of depopulating the stock. If she wanted … she took. Simple as that. The really special ones didn’t explode … they vanished. Best not to think about their fates. No, seriously, don’t even consider it. You might not be able to keep solid food down for days if you came even close.

No, the salvation of mankind wasn’t brightly costumed heroes rising to oppose her or a timely attack of conscience turning her into a boy-scout/messiah. Mankind went shambling on day after day in the unseen shadow of a god because of a really good loin-chop. Not that supermarket shit posing as prime cuts. The real thing. Small farm, cunning sauce, a perfect sear, and just the right dash of black pepper to enlivening the nose without unbalancing the wash of flavor across the tongue. Paired with a bottle of rich, complex wine and fresh roasted vegetables picked that morning. One sumptuous meal: the turning point of a species. Because after she’d laid waste to her birthplace and the surrounding city blocks for good measure she’d been supremely hungry.

The company had been lacking, but Zoe often preferred to eat alone. The plip-plop of blood falling from the ceiling had dampened the waitstaff’s enthusiasm until one brave girl figured out that she’d better just shut up and keep their single living guest’s water glass filled. Her tip had been spectacular- to even Zoe's surprise it turned her ‘condition’ was mildly infectious. One long, deep and yet coolly detached French kiss had driven enough of Zoe's hyper-evolved feminine hormones into the girl's system that she'd started changing on the spot. Watching the slender servant blossom into something echoing her own sensual curves with just a kiss had turned into the perfect dessert. Now genuinely interested, Zoe tore her clothes off and licked every inch of her swelling body, driving the process faster and faster. Best of all she found she didn't have to overly restrain herself as she toyed with her creation: the girl's buxom body had also gained a small measure of Zoe's durability and strength. One percent of the near-infinite still being quite a lot. The lovely, ample, and very vocal creature that she had left in the ruins certainly wouldn’t be bussing tables ever again.

Zoe never imagined super-taste would turn out to be the most sensual of all her powers. Flying was easy to imagine and every bit as good as you would expect. The world opening up with whole new planes of sensory awareness was something you could never really encompass until it happened. I was blind, but now I see. After a few five star meals taken in every corner of the world, she’d been able to fight down Dru-Zod’s despair-driven deathwish. In the moment of his death he had wanted to die. The impulse to kill and kill and keep killing was but a shadow of that greater darkness. One slip and she would drown in it. So completely alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. No one left. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. No one like me. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Rao, let me just die!! Alone …

But she was not his puppet. No cheap knock off. She was Zoe-Drew, her own animal in every way. And she could never tire of the culinary arts. Or the artists who served her better than they could ever know themselves. Plus she was a terrible cook. She could burn water even before she had death-ray eyes.

The real problem was how to compliment the chef without killing them. Money was easy enough but impersonal. It lacked … connection. While taking them aside and allowing them to taste her body in private had seemed like a poetic solution it had backfired. She’d ruined three of her favorites before realizing what she had done. She wanted to inspire them. Instead, they’d withered away, betrayed by their own superior appreciation for the unparalleled organic chemistry seething within her divine body. The best she had hit upon was to simply enjoy the meal fully, allowing her pleasure to become the unseen but deeply felt ambiance … and try not to laugh too hard as some of the most elegant dining rooms in the world turned into a raucous orgy at her unspoken command. She always arranged for there to be no pictures, no recordings, and for the chef to be the guest of honor at the party even if she dared not take him herself. A growing urban myth that the fortunate attendees swore was true.

She was developing a reputation in the Agency too. Flawless completion of the objectives as outlined, but with an ever so slightly gratuitous body count. There were always cleaners required where she worked. La Belle du morte the men and women who hid the bodies called her. The beautiful death. An old title and a worthy one. She liked it that way – she would rather be the Agency’s hammer and a scalpel only for her own purposes. Most spies lead many lives but hers could get complicated in a big way at times. She couldn’t be in two places at once, but she could certainly make it look that way to people who thought of intercontinental flight as the undertaking of a full day …

And the assignments just kept coming. Ames might have been the greatest of the new quantum sorcerers, but he was never going to be alone of the field. Other nations were fielding living weapons of ever-growing potency. That Zoe was without peer now did not mean it would always be so. Working through the agency gave her an edge even her abilities could never fully replace – knowledge from a million secret sources, ten thousand slinking eyes. Assassinating rivals before they could be iterated on was just sound tactics.

And to be honest she respected her director. Feared him a little. If anyone on this fragile globe had a contingency that could ruin even her day, it was him. He’d glaze the world for spite, she suspected. Even she might starve before finding an answer to that. She did NOT want to make him her Luthor.

And most of all she felt the trail of not-really-coincidences was leading her ever closer to the mystery the was Professor Ames. The shadow community was abuzz with discoveries far too similar to the now destroyed Project Menagerie to be mere parallel developments. There was a leak and it might just be Ames revenge from beyond. She’d killed him. There was no doubt of that. But now she knew she should have burned his body to ash and ground his bones to powder … and then hidden even those traces on the dark side of the moon or somewhere even less accessible. To leave him whole had been to invite his harvest. Corporeal proof of his death and the release of his virtues. If someone had made a token of his flesh … There was no way to write him out of her story now. He’d made himself a legend, a mad scientist to match the likes of Frankenstein and Oppenheimer. A name to conjure with.

After her extended dream – which did not recur – she had found new purpose. But even she needed help with the intel.

- - - - -

He checked his watch, nervous even as he was certain he was on time for the meeting. Early even. Punctuality was critical in the information trade. He set his hat aside, drank his coffee, and waited like a good independent broker. The little café she had chosen for the meeting had excellent coffee.

That’s when he spotted his client “the swan”. He had only had a name before, but there was no doubt in his mind THAT was her. Her choice of codenames now seemed like an almost unavoidable pun.

Someone walking with her through the blustery open space of the courtyard wouldn't think to look down at her feet, but from his longer vantage he could see she was barefoot despite the glaze of ice slicking the ground in places. If they looked at her at all their eyes lingered on her magnificent chest, swaying slightly as she glided across the canyon between the tall buildings. Their motion compellingly natural even if their size made it difficult to believe anyone could be so blessed. Even barefoot she held herself just so slightly elevated as if she were wearing low heels, flexing her calves alluringly as if she needed any such artifice to enhance her crushing beauty.

Her dress was a masterpiece of understatement and promise, black with a palm-wide red strip down each side from armpit to thigh, leaving the tops of her large and firm breasts bare. A blood red scarf and long black gloves completed her outfit, covering some of her buttery smooth skin – clearly inadequate protection against the cold when one paused to actually think about it. He also appreciated that neither bra- nor panty-line marred the display of her long curves. The whole was provocative from certain angles, yet from others almost invisible in the financial district crowd of black suits. Like her namesake, she navigated the churning tide of the lunch crowd with a seeming complete absence of concern. His trained eye sensed more than saw her dodging pickpockets and would-be gropers without ever seeming to adjust her stride. She was untouchable. He wanted to touch her anyway. To let his thumbs linger in the gentle hollow of her hourglass waist, fingers dimpling her lower back before... sticking to business.

He swallowed, shifting to conceal his growing erection and saw the most minute tightening of her eyes as she took that and everything else about him in from 10 yards away. She licked her lips as if in anticipation of a good meal. Evidently satisfied she joined him at the table the encrypted message had told him would be waiting.

She didn’t speak and he didn’t mistake it for an invitation to start. Her esteem of him visibly rose, signaled with a faint smile and a softening of those dark eyes. He was about to flag down his waiter to refresh his coffee when the man arrived with plates and laid out silverware. Like a magician’s trick, a warm and fragrant cinnamon roll appeared before him. On her plate there had manifested a large glazed tart, swimming with sliced tropical fruit and shining with the delicate crackle of torch-caramelized sugar. Cinnamon is one of the few truly verified male aphrodisiacs. He heard her silent message clearly, though he could hardly believe it. He had his way with women, but she was out of even his class. And what she was paying him... Not so much as to scream 'set-up' but certainly generous. He'd tried to research her as a matter of due diligence but had come up with nothing. Perhaps she was the wife of some corporate super-mogul? If so, he had no doubt she was the one who wore the pants. Figuratively. Pants would be a crime against that body.

While she didn’t speak, the rise of her eyebrows and a flick of elegant gloved fingers indicated that he should eat.

Breaking bread together is one of the oldest and most powerful of human rituals – the fundamental expression of hospitality. And while this hauntingly beautiful woman seemed as distant as the stars, sharing food with her made him feel vastly safer in her presence. Why he had felt unsafe before eluded him, but he trusted his instincts enough to not question that foreboding.

Using nothing more than the sign language of clutched silverware she requested a piece of his roll and presented him with a slice of her tart. Both were heavenly. The gesture put him further at ease. He was a gifted talker, a professional charmer who gathered information in ways entirely closed to hackers and police. He took his prizes through confidence games and lies that were more welcome than truths. As he warmed to the moment, some small part of him wanted to set himself against this woman and steal her heart. His pulse quickened ever so slightly.

She watched him, seemingly no less hungry for having eaten. He saw her pupils dilate and the much less subtle rise of her dramatic nipples under the satin cupping her breasts. Oh, to feel their rise, butting against his palms... If he was stunned it was because every bit of her was stunning. She leaned forward as if to … then froze. Her eyes flicked to one side, pausing in their constant examination of the crowd swirling around their table. Her breath caught in her throat. For the first time, she spoke. “Excuse me a moment.”

She flickered, seemingly not having left her seat at all. At the far corner of the square, a mixed chorus of startled shrieks and laughter rose in a rough circle where a 6’2” black man in an impeccable suit was abruptly naked, revealing a body well cared for with both exercise and grooming. He fell to the ground howling, covered in bruises around his mouth and groin, blood oozing from 4-fingered claw marks across his steely buttocks and back.

The only real difference at Zoe’s end of the cafe table were two bright red droplets of blood that had appeared under her left eye. She was obviously aware of them but liked the dramatic contrast it had presented on her already heartbreaking face. It also dispelled any hope he might have that the nearby event was coincidence. More sign language.

“Does that happen around you often?” He fought the urge to stammer, falling back on a lifetime of experience remaining smooth under pressure. But at last, the ice had been broken.

“Moreso when I’m in a major city. I like my scratching posts well fed.” she purred. They looked across the courtyard together at the aftermath. The better people amongst the crowd had already given the man their long winter coats to comfort him and assuage his battered dignity, enduring the chill air on his behalf. An ambulance could be heard coming to collect him, rather than police. New York had adapted to the strange incidents without understanding their cause. “I’ve been experimenting with restraint. For the good of your species.”

Truthfully, his half-erect dick didn’t know what to do: he was equal parts powerfully aroused and deeply terrified of the woman across from him.

“Oh, don’t look so frightened. You have good genes and you smell delicious. Though you might want to cut back on the wine and get that mole on your calf removed.”

Now he was sure. Being compared to food by this woman was not a set of crosshairs he wanted to be in. Especially with her offering self-seasoning tips. His penis had no desire except to crawl away and hide.

The crowd around them had changed character. There were fewer men in the mix – the earlier incident was a thing known to sometimes happen in bursts and clusters once it started. However as the news spread through social media, the number of women looking to take a stroll around the site dramatically increased.

He didn’t ask the question out loud, but she answered him anyway, watching the crowd with him. “Because sometimes one shows up who actually smells good, a few percent more genetically compatible than the sludge covering this world…” She smiled innocently. She looked down at the crumbs on her plate. “…and if I am feeling generous, this happens.” She took a long sip of water, her jaw chewing the insides of her angel-perfect cheeks a moment. This time she flickered and then was actually visibly gone for three long seconds.

As she reappeared in her seat the courtyard suddenly crackled with the sound of a hundred playful slaps all at once, the volume turned up to 12. Like firecrackers. Zoe inhaled wetly, sucking her own tongue and hinting at the amount of saliva she had just produced. Then came another outburst of screams. Seven women slumped to the ground dead, their clothes tattered, their bodies covered in huge blood-blisters in the shapes of delicate, long-fingered hands. Obviously hideously painful, but probably not fatal in and of itself. A few droplets of thick drool dribbled from their slack, bruised lips. The flesh of their cheeks darkened with the last swirling of blood in their veins as if they had been poisoned. But two women in equally tattered clothes and similarly beaten were still standing. The first, an old Chinese woman, coughed spewing a thin spray of the heavy spittle on her arms. The other, a slender plain-faced Latino girl maybe barely in her twenties had her head held back, trying not to spill a drop of the tiny splash of the fiery elixir that had flooded her mouth. She held herself with dignity despite the obvious agony of her reddened skin.

“Hmm. Two survivors… Must be the pleasant company.” She looked at him fondly through the eyes of a murderer. “What? They’re all volunteers. After a fashion.”

Her concept of informed consent was alarmingly flexible, he decided. “Did you just …?” He paused. One did not say “spit down their throats and watch them die” in such a nice eatery. He wasn’t even disgusted actually. He’d enjoyed his share of deep tonguing. And judging by the way the Chinese woman was now licking herself it wasn’t that Zoe's fluids tasted bad. The old woman had simply been caught unawares and was now trying to salvage her blessing. But the total absence of remorse in the swan’s eyes for the other seven … It was more chilling than the shadows of the buildings around them.

She actually seemed like she wanted to reassure him of the rightness of events. “All my secretions are rich in hormones tens of millions of years more evolved than their own bodies produce. In an hour or two they’ll look like … well, not like my sisters … more like the inbred country cousins. Fabulous by the standards of this rock.” And if they were now genetically re-wired to be her loyal soldiers, well, discipline had to be maintained somehow even in advanced cultures. All of Zod’s house were bred to command. Every cell an instrument of domination.

“Does that … work on guys?” He sprinkled just the right amount of hope over his words. The Chinese woman already looked a decade younger and the Latina, likely a member of the adjacent hotel's staff, was experiencing a dramatic second puberty in extreme time-lapse. The bloody palm prints had vanished entirely as the two of them continued to sway euphorically before the astonished crowd.

“No.” She purred again, “My taste has a bit more immediate effect on males…” for a moment her smile was less innocent and more like daring him to inquire further. Or even presume to…

Now police sirens could be heard. Lots of them. New York’s finest might overlook a bit of mysterious public indecency, but multiple homicides were sort of a hot-button issue for them. The two super-maidens she'd spawned would be an effective diversion, but no need to tarry. She took a deep breath, nearly stealing his. “Well, it's been lovely seeing the Big Apple in winter again, but my time is precious. The information I asked for?”

He slid the drive to her smoothly, confident of its value. His next words were less so. “And my fee?” In this, he knew he could only rely on her honor. The hired sniper covering them both was not going to be much leverage if she decided to short him. Maybe none at all.

She looked at him, with just the tiniest narrowing of her brows. “Of course. But you tell me: Would you prefer cash … or a favor of comparable value? Possibly with a bonus depending on what’s in here.” She tapped the thumb-drive with a long, sleek finger, shimmering black in her sheer gloves. She sat very still, almost primly holding her knees together.

The mental calculus should have been easy. He needed the money. And if he took her cash he might be lucky enough to never see her again. It was the smart play on every level. But the alternative was unique.

He had no idea how carefully she was controlling her own chemistry to give him the neurological breathing room to express free will. The truth was she could make him answer either way but wanted to know the outcome for its own sake. Like flipping a coin just to see what came up. No vested interest in either outcome.

“The favor.”

She smiled, only a hint of wicked amusement in the corners of her eyes. Flirting among humans had proven to be more fun human-style. Well, with a few modifications … She took off her glove and raised the back of her curled hand to his face. She let the arousal brought on by their conversation bubble to her skin. Beneath the table out of his sight, long toned thighs parted inside the black-red dress, inviting cold air to caress her exposed womanhood. Essential oils of alien complexity evaporated, tinged with just the faintest saltiness, an aftertaste of the man she had just violated minutes ago. The breeze filled the space with her scent. Free will was overrated.

He kissed her hand, lips pressing into her bare skin. He was such a cutie. She felt the tiny bold lick of his tongue, hidden between his pursed lips. A shiver rocked him and he fell back in his chair with a woof of escaping breath. With more composure than most, he slid his jaunty rakish hat off the table and covered the spreading wetness darkening the fabric of his pants.

She laughed once, not kindly, and pulled on her glove. “Feel free to finish eating but don't stick around too long.” She inclined her head towards the two women holding the center of all attention in the square. They were floating above the ground now as their bodies struggled to absorb the scraps of power Zoe had forced on them. “They tend to wake up hungry. And without my restraint.” She tossed a black business card onto his hat, blank save for a phone number in elegant red script. Then she walked away unhurriedly, effortlessly sliding past the police cordon still being assembled around the square. From his sweetly drug-addled perspective, she had simply vanished.

Taste really was the best of all senses.

As his wits returned he realized she had stuck him with the bill. Only when he prepared to pay – and find a washroom to clean up – the waiter assured him any guest of Miss Cygne ate for free. The least they could do for such friend of the establishment. The waiter also had a clean pair of pants in his size folded neatly on his serving tray … and if the man smirked at his condition it was with the knowing look of a fellow victim of Miss Cygne’s charms.

He realized he had come into what could be a very valuable secret in his line of work. And he dearly wished he hadn’t.

- - - - -

Meanwhile, in a very dark place …

“You’ve read the dossier.”

“I have.”

“Your take?”

“Classic organic sociopath. All the signs are there in her childhood. She was born that way. And that’s before the dissociation of believing she’s an alien.”

“All true, but not precisely helpful. We need to be able to fight her. Or at least divert her.”

“Not at all. She can be coaxed. Channeled. Turned even. You simply have to understand the neurodiverse. She’s not broken. She has next to no native empathy for other people but she still craves connection. The only way she finds it is through ritual. Shared patterns. Etiquette, you might say.

The voice in the darkness waited for him to go on.

“If you scream she will mow you down. Ask her to ‘pass the salt’ and she’ll give you a sizable slice of the world … or at least the part that includes your life.”

The darkness stirred, perhaps uneasily. “You’ll be betting your life on these assumptions. But we are prepared to place our bets with you – in the form of the considerable backing of our alliance … so long as you appear to be making progress.”

“Well,” he smiled without warmth. A gesture trained, but not really felt. “You know what they say: Takes one to know one …”

End Part II

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