EPISODE #104: STAR CROSS'D
FINAL COPY - FOR INTERNAL STUDIO USE ONLY
PROLOGUE - EXT. BEACH @ SUNSET
In this world, the sunset is beyond golden.
It skirts the edges of ordinary golden, but goes beyond with brilliant streaks of red and orange. Bright red and orange, dark red and orange... it all depends on the clouds, which are only there for dramatic effect, hazy things for the light to strike and illuminate. The sun is the director of the lighting, with the clouds as assistants, never totally obscuring the grand performance.
As the sunset sank slowly below the horizon, he placed the edge of his hand to his forehead, cutting down on the glare. He would have worn his usual sunglasses, but they would only shield his eyes, which he wanted as honest and true as possible on this last day.
"It's funny... but from here, it looks like it goes on forever," he spoke, eyes never straying from the horizon... raising one hand to reach out towards that sun. "Just on and on, without end. Not some predefined Reality with hard-set limits... but it has to end eventually, doesn't it? I knew that when I started this. You can only explore so far, and then you get stopped cold by the reality of it all..."
His hand closed around the sun before his eyes, making a fist. A smirk played over his lips.
"It's been real, and it's been good, but it ain't been REAL good," he decided, turning his back on the sunset. "And I'm outta here."
ACT I, SCENE I - EXT. BEACH @ SUNSET [TRANSIT]
Sorrowful music swelled as the sun set in the distance, the atmospheric haze obscuring the golden light, tinted with streaks of red and orange.
"It's funny... but from here, it looks like it just goes on and on, like a symphony that never ends in its beauty," Tia Liason semipoetically spoke, her sundress flapping in the light breeze coming up from the sea. "But all symphonies end, even the unfinished ones, as they reach their requiem... then, it is over."
The man behind her stood, arms folded, sunglasses on to shield his eyes. "Yeah," he spoke, noncommittally.
Tia turned in place, her beautiful and very expensive dress flowing with her motions.
"Will I ever see you again, Alex?" she asked, clasping her hands to her bosom. "Please, be honest, even if it hurts me..."
Alex Gunthar gave a shrug of his shoulders, unimpressed.
"It's been real, and it's been good," he recited. "But it ain't been REAL good. And I'm outta here."
The music swelled to a tragic crescendo as Alex walked away... Tia sinking to her knees, and starting to cry...
"Boy, that guy's a jerk," Mallory decided.
"What do you expect him to do? He doesn't love her," Lorelei explained, tugging Mallory closer to herself on the couch, by force if necessary (it was necessary). "A real man breaks it to a woman honestly, even if it hurts. It's better than stringing them along. Alex hasn't really fallen in TRUE love with any of the women of Love & Hate... not Tia Liason, not Shelly Regina, not even her long-lost twin sister Princess Natasha Regina... Eiko, pass the popcorn."
Eiko dabbed at her eyes with a hanky, despite not actually crying. "It's so tragically beautiful!" she announced, as the credits for today's episode rolled. "Love & Hate is the bestest video stream program ever! Do you think Alex will ever truly find someone he loves, Lorelei-san? I thought that he and Nurse Chapel were destined for love, but then she was lost in that Nullspace accident last season..."
"That's because Nurse Chapel was stolen by hackers, then leaked to the Hot Chixx Network for their production of 'Night Nurses XXVI'."
"Yeah, but I prefer to see it as a tragic love which could never be," Eiko corrected. "That's funner... oneesama, you missed the show! You shoulda seen it—Alex finally told Tia that.... err..."
The looming specter of Meiko crossed through the living room, from one side to the other without a word as she tapped at the keyboard of her Future Perfect. Soon she was walking up the stairs, and out of earshot.
"Feeh, she doesn't have to act all mopey about it," Lorelei complained, putting her arm around Mallory's shoulders, despite the whimpering noise this pulled from him. "She's been like that since yesterday... honestly, it's a bit juvenile. Just because I'm dating you she's giving everybody the cold shoulder..."
"Ah... maybe if you.. didn't... sit so close?" Mallory suggested, hopeful. "Then she'd be less annoympghghpmh..."
"Oooh, don't you turn cold shoulder on me too, Mallory!" Lorelei mock-pleaded, smothering his face in her cleavage despite his wildly gesticulating arms of protest. "I just couldn't bear it if you were to break up with me, so soon after we've discovered our love for each other! It's so tragic! ...Eiko, don't watch this, you're too young."
Eiko crossed her arms, putting on a cute little pout. "I'm not a little kid, and I'm old enough to watch soap operas, so I can watch you suffocating Mallory-oniichan. ...why are you doing that, anyway?"
"No reason," Lorelei said, releasing the boy so he could flop backwards and gasp for air. "Man, now I'm all p5ych3d to see tomorrow's episode! I wish it wasn't off the net last week when we were all bored and waiting for work..."
Trying to get back into the conversation, Mallory coughed a few times before resuming his seat... at least a foot away from Lorelei. "Wh... why wasn't it on the net?" he asked, catching his breath. "Actor's strike or something?"
Eiko giggled with 2.3x adorable cuteness. "No, silly! The actors on Love & Hate can't strike. They don't even get paid! They don't even EXIST!"
"It's all generated by powerful Workstations!" Eiko explained. "Computing machines designed and programmed just to produce soap operas. All the sets, characters, dialogue, and plot twists are done by complicated and very expensive software named LHART, programmed by the late Art Pasadina! That's why they can do a new one every single day, ensuring a ratings bonanza for first run episodes and re-runs on demand for discerning soap fans. With a low overhead, they make an incredible profit off the advertising, making Love & Hate the most successful RealNet video stream program for four hundred years running!"
While most of that tirade went over Mallory's head or just around it to the side or in one ear and out the other, he did catch on to the important bit. "They're not real people?" he asked, trying to confirm that he got it right. "They're... they're just faked by software...?"
"Eh, it's no big deal," Lorelei said, leaning back on the couch and stretching her arms over her head, which stretched her t-shirt against her chest, which stretched Mallory's comfort zone out a few more inches. "So what if they're fake? All acting is fake. It's still an awesome show. And ever since they introduced Alex Gunthar two seasons ago, it's been better than ever. He's just so... so non-soap-operaey. He fights in bars, he cracks dirty jokes, he only hooks up with the girls for brief, wild flings... my kind of guy! Not that I don't adore you with every fiber of my being, Mal."
"You should try to be more like him! You know, actually funny instead of unintentionally funny. Alex Gunthar is a laugh riot! He's always pulling witty stuff out of his a... err... ear."
"You were about to say a bad word, weren't you?" Eiko asked, peering at her.
"No," she lied. "I... hey, Meiko! Long time no see..."
The ghost of Meiko Mirai drifted into the room, settling into the chair at the Reality Engine Control Workstation on the opposite side of the room. Without looking over her shoulder at anyone, she started keying up various passport processing programs.
"Our job finally came in, just as F.P. predicted," she spoke in an average tone without any implied intent of any sort whatsoever at all. "We'll be meeting our new client once I arrange for a docking at Drome. Lorelei, put on something less revealing, I don't want us looking bad in front of the client. Mallory, make yourself useful and go clean something."
Since cleaning something meant being out of Lorelei's reach (and doing something that might make Meiko happy), Mallory was off and sweeping up in the kitchen in 2.3 seconds.
Ignoring his departure, Lorelei instead stared at Meiko in abject surprise (a rare event for her). "Drome? We're going to Drome? Home of the hottest video stream studios? Is our client a rich stream star? Is he single?"
"Autographs!" Eiko cheered. "I can get some autographs for my collection! Wai!"
"I'll definitely go get changed!" Lorelei decided, springing to her feet. "Gotta look my best to match up to the glamorous standards of today's stream actors!"
ACT I, SCENE II - INT. HOUSE [KITCHEN]
It should be illegal to be that ugly, Lorelei thought.
It wasn't just the pimples. Plenty of people have zits. Maybe they don't have that many, to the point where it looks like a nest of angry wasps decided to kamikaze his face. Maybe theirs didn't ooze that much pus, either... but it wasn't just the pimples. It was the pimples, the uneven stubble complete with bloody bits of toilet paper stuck to spots on his face, the oily and clumpy hair, and the pink sweater-vest tied around his neck that clashed with the striped shirt. The cigarette he smoked was simply icing on the cake after that point.
For this, Lorelei had dressed up in her finest 'classy' yet sultry threads. She pondered sneaking away from the house meeting with their new client, so she could put on something very, very covering and unsexy. After all, the first thing he had done on entering the house was leer at her...
To her right, Mallory wasn't paying the same kind of attention to the client. He was too busy staring in fascination through the kitchen window, to the video stream windows playing across the sky of Drome...
"Oi, pay attention," Lorelei whispered, nudging the boy with a pointy yet shapely elbow. "There might be a test."
"Eh?" Mallory asked, glancing away from the video sky. "What?"
"It really is a disaster," the man was saying, as he ground out his cigarette on Meiko's kitchen table (while she barely restrained her irritation). "We had to go offline all last week just to rebuild enough code for today's 'farewell' scene. If the character was missing that long, our hardcore viewers would've noticed, and the shit would've hit the fa—"
"Mr. Cox, I would appreciate you not swearing in front of my sister," Meiko spoke, each phoneme turning into ice as it was spoken. (Eiko meanwhile quietly grinned, as she learned a new word.)
"My point is, I need your help. And money is ... not much of an object," he said, catching himself before he made a promise Eiko could latch to.
Meiko drummed her fingernails on the table, pushing down her irritation. "Let me summarize, just so we're all on the level," she said, eyes locked on the nebbishly producer in such a way as to make him squirm in his seat. "Alex Gunthar, anti-hero star of Love & Hate, has been kidnapped. Or rather, his data module was stolen from your studio by his programmer."
"We haven't gotten a single ransom note, either," Mr. Cox added. "We have no idea where the bitch might have taken our data—"
"What I want to know, Cox," Meiko interrupted with a deliberate stripping of the Mr. title, "Is why you need our help with this. Your studio is owned in part by RealWare, and they have mandated that intellectual property legislation be set up in every single customer reality. It's part of the EULA attached to a Reality Engine. RealWare IP Police are trained for just such an incident as this; they could track down your renegade programmer and retrieve your data. We're troubleshooting consultants, and yes, occasionally bounty hunters... but we're not experts in this type of crime compared to them. Why us?"
"... paperwork issues," the producer decided. "It's a hassle. Red tape up the wazoo, my hands are tied really, this is the best way to get things done, and I can offer a terrific fee on return of my data so I don't see why—"
"His masters would punish him if it became public knowledge that a theft had occurred."
Everybody turned to look at Kisei—who had been forgotten until then, as she stood silently in the corner of the kitchen.
"The reason is obvious," she continued. "After the earlier kidnapping of Nurse Chapel by hackers, another incident would cause him to lose face with his superiors. In an effort to skate around the consequences of his slovenly attitude towards security, he seeks private assistance that can deal with the affair quietly."
Cox frowned at the woman. "Hey, I'll have you know we do NOT have a slov... sloven... we're not lazy bastards. This was a fluke, and I don't much like your implication, missy. Meiko, are you gonna let her talk to me that way?"
"Yes," Meiko replied, rising from her chair. "Cox-san, normally I would suggest you deal with the problem you have caused on your own, but I'm feeling generous today. I am interested in taking your case. Eiko, draw up a contract with him... standard retrieval contract. Half payment now, and on successful return of the stolen data, we get the rest plus any incidental expenses incurred during the manhunt."
"Right, oneechan!" Eiko chimed in with, her light tone a stark contrast to the tension in the room. "Don't worry, Cox-san! We'll get that bitch for you!"
"Eiko, don't use that word."
ACT I, SCENE III - EXT. JOE'S
The second date...
Perhaps sensing that Mallory would not survive an experience as intense as the first date, Lorelei suggested a lunch date. Mallory was actually excited about the prospect before realizing he wasn't going to be preparing lunch.
Instead, they went to a local Joe's, located only two blocks away from the Drome Docking Station. It was populated mostly with video studio types on lunch break, who paid them no attention—they were here to obtain edible items, eat them, and leave. They were not here for lovely romantic date adventures...
Although for Mallory, the adventure came in the form of the food. This 'hamburger' before him may have been revered by food-on-the-go fans around the multiverse, but Mallory didn't quite see what was praiseworthy. The meat was nearly paper thin. Toppings looked old and nasty, mashed together in such a way as to blend weakly colored bits together to the point of unrecognizability. The bread? The bread could only be considered bread in that it was soft and thus mashed up with the rest into a pastelike material in your mouth...
"And you said there's HOW many places like this?" Mallory asked, opting to grab his soft drink and rinse the nasty taste of that first bite away.
"Millions," Lorelei replied, crumpling up the foil wrapper of her own burger after devouring it (the burger). "Joe's is the most popular fast food franchise in the multiverse. It's not about how good it tastes, or how well it's cooked... it's about how fast you can eat it and how cheap it is. Not every meal can be a six-course feast crafted by a loving chef, you know."
"I know, I know... Meiko gave me the same speech when I had hot dogs with her in Urbana—"
"Are you cheating on me behind my back, Mal...?"
"Wah? Err, no no no, this was the day before the night we went out..."
Lorelei waved a finger at him, grinning. "Watch it, farmboy. Anyway, out here in the REAL world, we eat what we can afford, quality or not. Even with the half-payment, we gotta cut corners... and those corners are getting smaller the longer it takes to find this chick. I don't get it, usually Meiko can track them in two days, and it's been three since we took the assignment..."
"I know, I know," Mallory said, nudging his soda cup back and forth listlessly. "She's spending all her time in her room on her Workstation... I tried bringing her dinner yesterday, but she ignored me completely. Not that she noticed me any other time since we..."
"Since what, hmm?"
Nudging the unholy corpse of his hamburger away, Mallory leaned with his elbows on the plastic table. "Uh... look, Lorelei... about, er... 'us'?"
"Yes, Mallory my sweet?" Lorelei asked, batting her eyebrows at him.
"I, uh... err... workplace romances... and... things that kind of... not quite sure how... I mean to say... uh... look, this is going to sound odd but can I close my eyes and say this instead? I was practicing it earlier by myself and it was coming out so well but I hadn't counted on being able to see right down your errrrr... ...it's very distracting..."
His date folded her arms over her chest. "Better?" she asked, with a smirk. "I knew there was a libido somewhere inside you, Mal!"
"I'm not like that! I just... I.. okay. Right..." He glanced aside, which worked better. "I... Idontreallythink we should be dating! There. I said it."
"Awwwww... why not?" she asked... reaching out and taking his hand, which multiplied the distraction factor. Her fingers started slowly walking up his arm, as she scooted around the plastic table, closer and closer, inch by inch... "I'm single, you're single. I have an incredible amount of fun with you, too! Maybe you're not a wild untamed animal in the sack (although I haven't got official proof one way or another yet) but you're sweet and you grow on me like mold. So what's the problem?"
On the last word, her hips bumped his, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"L-Love!" he blurted, without the rest of the words to go in the sentence alongside the Power Word.
Lorelei cocked her head at him, puzzled. "Love?"
Jerking his arm away, Mallory scooted away from his date, looking away as he scooted away so that he could get away. "I mean to say... I mean, we don't... okay, I may not know a lot but I do know what 'love' means, and kind of like my dad and my mom may she rest in peace I kind of assumed that two people had to be in love in order to date, because that's just how it works and I don't really think that you love me so why the heck are you dating me?! ...if you don't mind me asking."
Against even his admittedly weak predictions, Lorelei slapped one thigh and doubled over laughing.
"ROTFL!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Mal, you are a prize, I tell you! You really think all dating is based on heart-swelling romantic love like in the soaps? C'mon, farmboy, we're talking reality here, okay? Hey, you're a swell guy and you'll be a great pick for the one who eventually gets ya, but I can't honestly say I'm in love with you, no. I'm dating you for another reason entirely."
Twice as confused now, Mallory stared at her helplessly. "Another... reason? What rea—"
Confusion jumped to Fear, as he turned and saw Meiko standing there with her hands on her hips. (Fear leads to Anger which leads to Hate which leads to Suffering, but Mallory stopped at Fear. He wasn't the sort to get Angry easily.)
Lorelei didn't lose her grin. "I swear, Meiko, you always have picture perfect timing!" she exclaimed. "Got a reason to be interrupting Mallory and I's lovely date, though...?"
"I found her," Meiko spoke evenly. "Get back to the House. We're leaving Drome."
With that, Meiko Mirai turned sharply on one heel and marched House-ward.
"Wow, she's really sticking it out," Lorelei commented to herself. "I assumed she'd crack by now... Mallory? Hey, reality to Mal, come in Mal...?"
Mallory Heisenberg was too busy watching Meiko walk away to even hear his "girlfriend's" voice.
ACT II, SCENE I - EXT. PRINCESS MOTEL
The best motels in the mulitverse come with all the trimmings... Video Network Sets, daily housekeeping to turn down the sheets and add fresh towels, and room service that can deliver everything from pancakes to porterhouse steaks. There's always a swimming pool (with jacuzzi), a game room, and sometimes even a tennis court. Even if a motel didn't fully measure up to a regal hotel, it could still be within inches of luxury's lap.
The Princess Motel, if you traveled at the speed of sound, could reach the lap of luxury in about three days. The joint was so seedy that a flock of ravenous birds would peck it up in minutes if that was not simply a metaphor. The best you got was a dinky, obsolete RealNet Messaging terminal in every room, housekeeping that would add some delousing powder to your sheets if you bribed them heavily enough, and the potholes in the nearby public lot would make excellent swimming pools if filled with heavy rain. And yes, it rained quite often in the hotel- and motel-loaded reality named Restless.
Restless specialized in being a transitional point for people who needed somewhere to stay for a short period of time. They had higher-end hotels and even condos for rent, but most folks who needed to "get away from it all" ("it all" usually being the local law enforcement back home) would stick to the run-down sidebar dives like the Princess Motel. There you'd find the sort of people with shifty eyes, seven o'clock shadows, and one hand on the trigger of a gun at all times...
Beautiful young women with flowing red hair and pretty white dresses were not usually found there, unless they only rented motel rooms by the hour. This one had been staying there for three days now. And every day, she'd emerge around noon, a heavy bag slung over one shoulder and an empty aching in her tummy.
"Our runaway programmer is staying here, at the Princess Motel, under the name 'Marlena,'" Meiko explained during the pre-strike meeting. Her F.P. organizer projected a helpful slide presentation on the refrigerator, and a laser pointer touched on the various maps, diagrams, bullets, and textual labels. "It took a lot of tracking from my leads on RealNet, but I'm certain that's the woman we want. She matches the physical description."
"I sure hope so," Lorelei said, slumped in her seat at the kitchen table. "Nobody wants a repeat of the time we grabbed that guy who turned out to be the evil twin of the guy we were really gunning for..."
Mallory glanced over. "Err, don't you mean the good twin?"
"I know what I said, Mal. See, there was this saxophone and a bottle of scented oil—"
"We don't have time to wax nostalgic about past missions with the Houseboy," Meiko interrupted. "We've just docked at Restless, and she's going to be on the move soon. We have a good chance at nabbing her today and recovering the data. The suspect's obviously new at the whole hiding-out thing, since she walks into the open with regular frequency... at noon every day, Urbana Standard Time, to get some soup at a corner deli."
Keeping one arm through the strap on her heavy burlap bookbag, the woman signaled a waitress with her spare arm. "Chicken soup please," she ordered. "And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and some tea—"
"Same as last time, then," the waitress spoke with Ultimate Boredom.
"Ah, yes. Thank you."
She resumed nervously fingering at the bookbag strap, glancing around the room... and completely missing the fact that someone was indeed tracking her.
"I'll take a booth in the deli ten minutes before she gets there and order a bottomless cup of coffee with Lorelei," Meiko continued. "Once I get a good up-close look at her, if it matches the profile we've been given, I'll signal the go-ahead. Lorelei, you follow her out of the deli. Light tailing, but—"
"I know the drill," Lorelei spoke dryly. "We've done other bounty jobs before. She's really an amateur? I won't have to brawl a bit and take her down with m4dsk1llz?"
"No. Now, the forecast calls for rain, so she'll probably have an umbrella. Kisei...?"
The quiet one at the end of the table gave a simple nod in reply.
"Don't act all smug just 'cause this is your plan," Lorelei commented to Kisei, peering at her. "It's worked dozens of times before, but you never know when something unexpected will go down..."
Kisei stood, fetching her wooden stocked sniper rifle from underneath the table. "I am being paid to expect the unexpected, therefore I will be prepared," she noted simply.
"Good. You all know the drill. We don't technically have jurisdiction here since there isn't a RealWare authorized bounty on her, so act fast and act quietly. Mallory, stay here with Eiko. Lorelei, Kisei, with me..."
With her favorite lunch in her tummy, the woman strolled along the cracked sidewalks back to her motel. It had started to rain, unfortunately... she wondered quietly why it had to rain all the time here, as she opened a bright red umbrella that marked her as a blatantly obvious target to anybody who could be stalking her, like the blonde who was studying a shop window ten paces behind her...
Blonde? Wasn't that the same one who had left the deli before she finished—
The tiny dart pierced her umbrella's nylon fabric, and stuck neatly at the side of her neck. The blonde moved in quickly, putting an arm around her shoulders before she could fall into that unconscious void...
On a high rooftop one block away, the sniper closed up the scope on her rifle, and jumped off a fire escape, darting into the rain-soaked streets.
ACT II, SCENE II - INT. STORAGE ROOM @ THE HOUSE
There are two rooms on the first floor of the House which are unfinished. The walls are little more than insulation and wooden beams; the floors are concrete. The ceilings are only there to provide floors to the rooms above.
Both are lit with one or two lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, the kind with the little pull-chains to get them going. Not nearly as impressive as a gesture-sensitive light emitting bio-organic lumination generator, but replacing the bulbs is much cheaper.
One room houses the backup power generator that gives the House its lifeline when not docked in a feed-enabled docking yard, such as the recent visit to I's Land. There are also valves and pipes and things that push water around the house, and a backup storage tank for a likewise feedless situation.
The other room is used for storage, with shelves to hold various dry goods and objects that have no home anywhere else in the House. It also makes a handy prison cell / interrogation chamber of horrors, even if the scariest things in there are dried prunes in old cardboard boxes.
"Hey, Meiko, do we have any prunes?" Mallory called out, as he leaned into the open doorway. "I was thinking of an old recipe I know that'd make a great dinn... err..? Kisei? Meiko? What're you doing in here, anyway?"
"Reviving her," Meiko said, pointing with her thumb to the young woman handcuffed to a kitchen chair in the center of the storage room. "Beat it, Houseboy. This is dangerous—"
"No it's not," a cheerful Eiko-esque voice chirped in with, popping up from behind Mallory. "It's really cool, oniichan! Kisei uses a special chemical thing that paralyzes them so they're totally harmless, even the really nasty ones that use words I'm not supposed to know!"
Sure enough, Kisei was busying herself with a small military-grade medical kit, pouring a measure of fluid into a spray bottle. "It will be quite safe," she repeated. "You have no need for concern, Meiko Mirai. One moment..."
"It's still official mission business, and none of your concern," Meiko spoke gruffly, looking away from the two at the doorway. "Don't you have dinner to be making, Houseboy? And... don't you have that new dollhouse to play with, Eiko?"
"This is funner," Eiko protested. "C'moooon! I'll be quiet..."
"Either way, I must administer this now," Kisei informed, pressing the spray against the woman's neck, and thumbing the control button. "This will counter the tranquilizer, but render her quite safe for interrogation as well..."
The effect was instant. Her head, previously sagging downward, snapped to attention—eyes darting around the storage room in fright, looking for something to be legitimately afraid of. Unfortunately, Mallory and Eiko were offering friendly smiles directly across from her, and Kisei and Meiko looked at best neutral rather than menacing. (But that box of prunes was looking like it was quite past the expiration date...)
"Wh... where am I?" she asked. And after a moment, added, "Why can't I move?!"
"You'll be released soon, as long as you cooperate," Meiko spoke, knowing the routine, establishing control of the situation with a cool but indifferent tone of assurance. "You won't be harmed. We're independent troubleshooting consultants acting as bounty hunters for SudsNet Soap Opera Productions, Inc. We don't have authorization to hold you, but we do have authorization to retrieve some stolen data currently in your possession. Do you understand?"
"Where have you put the data?" Meiko asked. "The sooner we retrieve it, the sooner you can go. You won't be unparalyzed until we've escorted you back to your motel room and administered a time-release countermedicine, so don't plan on trying to steal the data again by force."
"Then... then I won't tell you," she decided, trying to find a logical hole through Meiko's explanation of How Things Were Going To Be. "I'll never give him up. I've come too far to give him up now!"
Mallory scratched his head, puzzled. "Err... him? Oh! I get it, you stole one of the characters from Love & Hate!"
"Of course she did! Keep up, Houseboy!" Meiko barked... before turning the cool voice back on, and facing the programmer. "What's your real name, 'Marlena'?"
"B... Belle Pasadina," she explained. "I'm the great-great-great-granddaughter of Art Pasadina, original programmer of Love & Hate. And you're not getting him back! I don't care what that slimeball Cox says, he's... he deserves better than to be a puppet for that stupid show! I'll never tell you where he—"
"Found it," Kisei announced, pulling a cubelike object out of Belle's bookbag.
"—ahh! Leave him alone!" Belle blurted out, before catching herself. "...I mean... that's not him. That's just... it's..."
"I was not sure, as the data store is unmarked," Kisei spoke, passing the cube to Meiko. "Which is why we revived you, to have you confirm my suspicion. Mission complete. Thank you for your cooperation, and my apology for the disrespect in retaining you in such a manner. Meiko, shall I sedate and return her to the motel now?"
"NO!" Belle wailed, eyes wide as she tried desperately to pull away from the chair... doing little more than crane her neck forward a bit. "Please, don't! You don't understand!"
"I'm sorry, but theft of intellectual property is a crime under RealWare's EULA charters," Meiko spoke. "The law is the law, and it's out of our hands. You're very lucky that we're the ones handling this quietly instead of having the IP Police after you, Ms. Pasadina—"
"BUT WE'RE IN LOVE!"
Blank stares bounced off the unfinished walls of the storage room, as Meiko looked to Kisei who looked to Belle who looked to Mallory who looked to Eiko and then to Meiko.
"Huh?" Mallory summarized for all of them.
"W-We're in love!" Belle continued, desperate to avoid the fate of sedation, which would effectively end the game for good. "We're in love, and... and we're eloping! I stole his data module since I couldn't copy the files, they were encrypted heavily with DRM after the Nurse Chapel incident. And I was trying to find someone who could... I don't know, make a robot form for him, or grow a clone, I know not many RealWare realities have that kind of technology, but I thought a private one, if I could find someone who could help me, I just... we're in love and if you take him from me, he'll be a slave again and I'll never be able to rescue him! Please don't do this!!"
Meiko stared at the cube a bit. "This is just an AI," she noted, too puzzled to keep her cool control. "What're you talking about? You're a programmer, it's your program, it's not a lover—"
"He... he was always better at explaining it," Belle spoke, keeping her eyes on the cube. "The lock panel... key in 351. It'll start the holographic projector. He can explain it for you himself! Then you'll understand..."
Meiko frowned, turning the cube around to the control buttons. "Kisei...?"
"I've already scanned her bag for explosives or chemical agents," Kisei spoke, also keeping her eyes on the cube... voice a bit less indifferent, but very guarded. "I am.. familiar with that sort of data store unit. It would be safe to activate. I would not endanger you or Eiko Mirai if I was not absolutely sure of this."
Mallory spoke u—
"You are collateral," Kisei told him before he could even ask.
"...oh," he said, deciding to interpret that as a good thing.
"Just to inform you, this won't change anything," Meiko told Belle, shifting back to her coldness. "The data is still coming with us. But..."
She keyed in the three-digit sequence... and a tiny hologram of Alex Gunthar, the most popular character of Love & Hate, hovered over the cube.
Alex wore the same sunglasses that shielded his eyes from view as he kicked Tia Liason to the curb. He wore his beloved 'Wildcats' leather jacket from his days as a rough-and-tumble biker thug. A fake dramatic wind even brushed through his scruffy locks, drama added to his folded arms, his equally cold expression pointed at Meiko...
"Heard the whole thing," he commented. "External microphone. Won't change anything, huh? I'm used to unchanging worlds. Nothing ever really changes on a soap. It just shuffles around periodically... that didn't stop me from escaping, and I'm gonna escape here, too. Belle and I are destined to be together; nothing you do can stop that... just to inform you, of course."
"...COOOOL!" Eiko exclaimed, clasping her hands and stepping into the room to study his image up close. "That's the same determination and proud heart that makes Alex Gunthar so great! Wow, Meiko, can I get his autograph?"
Meiko ignored the program, looking up to the programmer. "You actually coded him to love you?" she asked. "That's more than a little strange, Ms. Pasadina. You can't love a bunch of ones and zeroes. We could be doing you a public service by—"
"I'm down here, you know," Alex spoke in a warning tone, as his 1/6th size hologram glared up at Meiko. "Leave her alone. She's had enough abuse for my sake; you want to deal with this, you deal with me, bit....." A glance to Eiko. "Miss."
"HEY! You were gonna call my sister a bad word!" Eiko recognized instantly.
Alex shrugged... but put on his trademarked charming smile. "Yeah, but I'd hate to corrupt a nice young lady like you with coarse dialect. Wouldn't be right, huh?"
...a little blush passed over Eiko's cheeks. "Young lady...?"
"And for your information, I'm not like the other cheeseball AIs in that glorified puppet show," Alex continued. "Belle wasn't content to let the show run like it had for hundreds of years, when she took the job of lead director. She decided to try to innovate a bit, since RealWare hadn't bothered to update Art Pasadina's original code in the slightest. 'If it ain't broke, just patch it,' right?"
Belle spoke up, a bit of fire back in her voice. "Exactly! My ancestor was a good programmer, but... but there was so much room for improvement that even if RealWare doesn't approve of new code development, I had to try. And I decided I'd make this one self-aware by teaching him that he was a soap opera AI, and then one night, ... uh..."
"I started flirting with her," Alex finished, with a wry grin. "And nature took its course. Pretty soon, we both decided we had to get away from there and find me a real body... it was either that or break up. I couldn't live in that prison anymore once I realized my love; do you have any idea what it's like, living in a soap opera? I'd rather die than go back to that... and if I could erase myself or knock out my own sentience, I would. I'm dead serious about this, Belle is dead serious about this... for us, it's true love or bust."
Eiko almost floated in the air with little hearts in her eyes, except that was not biologically possible. "Oh, true love or bust...! It's so romantic! Oneechan, we just HAVE to help these two! Escaping into the night, with evil people at their heels, with only their love to give them wings—"
"This is... it's flat-out ridiculous," Meiko spoke, glancing around nervously. "He's a PROGRAM. You can't love a program—"
"I don't care what I am," Alex stated flatly. "I don't even care if I can't truly love someone, I don't care if it's all a simulation. All that matters is what I feel. Even if it doesn't work, we have to try, or we'll never have known for sure. Maybe it's just my defined character trait table speaking, but I am not gonna let anybody tell me what I supposedly can and can't do. I'm gonna find out for myself. Belle and I know what we're doing, even if we don't know how it'll end... but that's wild, young love for you, isn't it?"
Meiko's frustration seeped to the surface, much as it had in the onsen only a few days whence. "You're the intellectual property of your company, which is owned in turn by RealWare," she stated, trying to put down some concrete facts to leverage from. "Even if you're... in love, you're still stolen property, and... we have to return you. Otherwise we'd be HELPING her break the law, landing us in deep, deep trouble. I'm not going to jeopardize my family over a program that claims it's sentient—"
"There are precedents."
Meiko looked up sharply at her military tactician... who cleared her throat, and glanced aside before continuing.
"There are precedents," Kisei spoke quietly. "In private realities established for corporate research, sentient AI has been made. Some have even leaked to the mainstream press; surely you have not forgotten the articles published about Oscar some years previous? In addition... work on artificial intelligence with bio-logic interfaces is quite advanced in private study, with entire people capable of being grown and implanted with a preprogrammed neural layout... so such things are possible. There is a chance that this AI is capable of the emotions he professes. ...I am merely stating matters of fact as are in my knowledge from work before your employ, Miss Mirai. I mean no disrespect."
"Right! RightrightrightRIIIGHT!" Eiko agreed, bouncing up and down and pointing to Kisei. "She's right! I remember reading about that. So he's a person! Even if he's a little glowy thingy in a cube he's a person and he's in love, and love is a beautiful thing! And—"
"And it's illegal to steal computer data!" Meiko reiterated, stomping her foot... and realizing how silly she looked doing it. Shaking her head, she set the cube down on the floor. "None of this matters! We have to... there's not... HOUSEBOY! You've been staring for the last five minutes —do you have ANYTHING of interest to add to this discussion? Huh?!"
Mallory stepped back from the doorframe, taken by surprise (which was remarkably easy to do). "Wh—?! Uh, um, err, uh, um—"
"Spit it out!" Meiko ordered.
"I—I think we should help!" Mallory spoke quickly. "I know it's risky and we'd be better off just giving Alex back to the guy from Drome but I don't think I'd feel right about doing it since I think he's telling the truth and even if we don't have a choice I mean there has to be some kind of choice since you guys are so smart and know so much more about this than I do and surely you could think of something since you're so smart about troubleshooting stuff and I really just think we have to think about this and I don't know, it just feels WRONG!"
The looks of Relief (Belle), Smirking Approval (Alex), Bouncy Approval (Eiko), Reserved Unreadableness (Kisei) and Utter Confusion (Meiko) were enough to make Mallory want to crawl under a rock somewhere and hide.
" ....that's all I'm saying, it feels wrong," he said, slowing down as best he could. "You guys don't take missions where you kill people or do anything that's wrong, right? Isn't kidnapping wrong? There's gotta be something we could do to make everybody happy... it's always better if you can make everybody happy. What's the worst RealWare could do if we just, uh, sort of let them get away and say we couldn't find them...?"
Meiko snapped to attention at that, frowning. "Spoken by someone who still doesn't get what RealWare is," she stated, with a roll of the eyes. "You saw how they almost enslaved the kids of I's Land. And that was one of their more common, up-front, legitimate business deals. No, they wouldn't hunt us down and kill us. But they'd find out eventually we let these two go... and there are other ways to punish someone. We use a RealWare engine; we could get it revoked, be grounded, have no way of getting a job since RealWare has their finger in nearly every pie of the multiversal economy, be... no. I'm not going to rant. You are NOT going to make me lose my control. And we are NOT going to defy RealWare on this over a matter of tr.. true love. By tomorrow... Alex Gunthar is going to be back on our Video Network Set screen, and likely back with Tia Liason. We'll deal with this in the morning. Kisei, sedate her for now and turn off the cube."
Before Belle could protest, Kisei had pressed a loaded spray to her neck. A second later and the hologram winked out in the middle of Alex giving Meiko the finger.
One person was definitely not sedate, however, as Eiko balled up her fists in anger. "But ONEECHAN—"
"We can't always follow the flowery path of so-called true love, Eiko," Meiko replied coldly... although she couldn't look Eiko in the eyes when she did so. "You'll learn when you grow up... sometimes you just have to do what has to be done. Everybody out. Belle will stay here for the night."
Kisei cocked her head, in a rare show of confusion. "You don't want me to deliver her to the motel—?"
"We'll deal with this in the morning," Meiko iterated, rubbing her temple. "I have a headache. I have... arrangements to make. Mallory, Eiko, I'm locking the door to this room, please don't do anything foolish..."
Eiko paused, as Mallory rested a hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, Eiko," he said... with a slightly sad smile. "It's almost dinnertime. We better go..."
"I'm not hungry!" she declared, casting a last glare at her sister before pulling away, running off to her room.
Mallory sighed... and reached around Meiko, to fetch the box of prunes he came for. "I'll... I'll just go make dinner for the rest of us, then," he said. "It'll be ready in about a half-hour, Meiko—"
"Yeah, whatever," she said, looking away so she couldn't see him leave.
Meiko glanced at the only conscious person in the room. "Do you have an opinion on this?" she asked, trying not to sound annoyed.
After a pause, Kisei gave a noncommittal shrug. "It is my duty as your retainer to carry out your orders," she spoke. "How I feel on any given issue is not a component of my duty. Your words are pragmatic; we do not need RealWare's wrath upon this home. I would have advised you similarly."
Meiko nodded along... while seeing straight through the words. "Of course. I just took the initiative, knowing you'd advise me to that end. Although... would HE accept that advice in this situation, Kisei?"
"...absolutely not," Kisei spoke. "I will be returning to my quarters now, Miss Mirai. Please summon me if you have further need of my services."
Alone in the room, aside from the sleeping woman, her deactivated lover and a few hundred pounds of dry goods, Meiko's thoughts were the only noise she paid attention to.
After ten minutes of standing in place, she withdrew Future Perfect from her pocket, and started keying in an address.
ACT II, SCENE III - THE HOUSE @ NIGHT
Of course, he really had no say in this.
Meiko was right. If RealWare was really that bad... and the job at I's Land hinted in that direction... then they didn't want to run afoul of them over some young couple who they'd just met that day. If you could call them a couple, with one being nothing more than a program...
So why didn't it click?
Maybe love had just been soaking into his brain lately. There was the whole problem with Lorelei and Meiko... how he really felt about either of them, or if he had any right to feel any way in particular about either one of them, or what exactly Lorelei was up to when she really didn't seem to love him or the dire warning Future Perfect had given Meiko about her True Love or...
The boy closed his eyes and told his racing thoughts to please come to a full stop. He had to put them out of his head; no matter how he felt, he needed sleep, and catching a half-hour here and there tonight on his living room couch wasn't helping. Briefly, he had the idea of quietly firing up the house's primary RealNet Workstation and messaging some all night video stream talkshow, like he'd seen others do on his secret video player back in Grünwald... people with all manners of questions about love, relationships, and other subjects that made his ears turn red. Many an evening was spent in the glow of that tiny, cracked screen watching people work out their problems with thirty-second psychiatric nuggets from the show hosts...
Maybe he could call himself 'Restless in Restless', or something...
He drifted off for another hour, having a strange dream about Meiko throwing a chair at him on a talk show while Lorelei egged on the crowd in a 'Lor-e-lei! Lor-e-lei!' chant and a yellow-shirt-wearing Kisei tried to break up the brawl. For some reason, the audience was entirely filled with copies of him, and this worried him much more than being bludgeoned by furniture...
Not enjoying the stress of the dream, Mallory's body woke itself up for the third time that night. With a groan of giving-upness, he swung his legs off the couch, and stood. It was milk time—Heisenbergs were big fans of having a glass of milk when you couldn't sleep.
All that kept him from cool, frosty white relief was the fact that the closet door was hanging open by a crack. The same closet Belle and Alex were kept in...
Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very quietly, he tiptoed over to the door and peeked in.
No Belle and Alex.
He considered turning right around and going to bed. They'd escaped... good for them. Maybe it'd solve the problem for Meiko... no matter what her words were saying, Mallory had a sense that she wished there was another way. An escape would work for everybody...
The second thing he noticed was how the door to the Onsen-of-the-Month Club was slightly ajar. He frowned as much as Mallory Heisenberg was capable of frowning. If they'd tried to escape into THERE, it was a dead end; the onsen was walled in, with only one door.
He could just go back to bed. Belle could find her own way out. Unless Kisei or someone had heard, and would be coming downstairs any second while the couple was trying to find a back door out of the Onsen... it couldn't hurt to warn them. Then he could zip back to the couch and pretend he was asleep. But if Meiko caught him, she'd hate him even more than she did now...
Just go with it, his guts told him while his brain spun its wheels. Quit thinking it and just do what you have to.
He opened the Onsen-of-the-Month Club door, and stepped through the reality interface layer, ready for anything except what he actually saw.
ACT II, SCENE IV - ONSEN-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB
Belle was there.
So was Meiko.
And... some guy he didn't recognize.
And apparently there WAS a secret back door to the onsen, as it was hanging open, leading to another rippling reality interface similar to the one he had just stepped through.
Rather than panic, he quickly ducked behind the soggy 'MALLORY ONLY!' screen which had been propped up against a wall to dry out a few days ago. The second time he was spying behind the thing, but maybe this time he wouldn't be caught—
"Mallory is spying on us," Kisei commented casually.
The spy's blood froze. That does it. If Meiko didn't clobber him last time, she'd surely do it now...
"Come on out of there, Mallory," Meiko spoke, voice soft. "Unless I can convince you to go back to bed and forget what you're seeing...?"
Mallory stepped out from behind the screen, hands over his eyes. "Ha ha, I didn't see anything! I was just looking for a glass of milk from the fridge and opened the wrong door. Silly me! I'lljustbegoingnow—"
"I don't see any problem with him being here," a voice spoke that could only belong to the stranger... not menacing at all, a simple friendly tone. "You're not doing anything shameful, Meiko... hmm, almost there... honestly, if RealWare would have changed their encryption systems at least once in the last thousand years they wouldn't be so simple to crack... there! All done. Say, you're Mallory, right? Meiko's told me all about you—"
"I don't want Eiko knowing I'm breaking the law," Meiko replied, trying to ignore the houseboy peeking between cracks in his fingers. "It's not the right example to set for her..."
"Errr... you're going to help them escape?" Mallory asked, letting his hands dip a bit and creeping closer. "I thought you said..."
"I'm fulfilling the letter of my contract, Houseboy," Meiko snapped. "I was told to retrieve the data, so I am. What happens to Belle... and what happens to a COPY of Alex doesn't matter."
The stranger smiled to him, tossing the copy-cube up and down lightly in his hand. Now that Mallory COULD take a good look, he did... and the man wasn't anything much to look at, an average Nipponese guy maybe five years older than him, with an average haircut, and average looks. He wore a white lab coat and a bow tie, which was a little odd, but he'd blend into a crowd perfectly if not for that.
"Of course, I'll alter the copy a bit..." he said, taking out a pocket device that resembled a blue version of Future Perfect, and plugging the cube into a side socket. "Belle, which blocks do I knock out to remove your sentience code? I don't think this copy of Alex would want to wake up back in Love & Hate with his expanded understanding of the world and full memories..."
Belle took back her original cube, cradling it in her arms with a smile that could light up a thousand video network sets. "If you delete everything past the thirty-seventh gigabyte mark, where I started a file named BHART, it should remove the expansion code. He'll revert to being an ordinary soap character under Art Pasadina's LHART system. I don't think Mr. Cox would even notice the data was stripped; he doesn't pay attention to the fine details as long as the show goes on..."
"And even if he did notice, his hands are tied," Meiko added. "If he told his superiors about a crippled copy of the code they'd know he also tried to cover things up. This is the best solution... thank you, Noyori-san..."
'Noyori' laughed, and ruffled a hand through Meiko's hair... causing a rare blush to rise on her cheeks. (One which Mallory eyed with shock.) The copy cube was dropped into Meiko's hands, although she nearly fumbled it in surprise...
"Come on now, Mei-chan... I tell you every time: just call me Ryo!" Noyori mock-begged. "And I'm happy to help whenever you need it; like I always say, anything for a fellow orphan. It was good thinking, messaging me... there's no way RealWare could trace Belle's escape through my Onsen-of-the-Month system. They haven't even begun to understand the interface technology. I swear, if they'd actually try innovating instead of just patching what they made years ago... but I'll go into a techie geek political rant if I don't stop now..."
Belle stepped forward, taking the spotlight away from the embarrassed Meiko. "And you can help me find a way to make Alex real?" she asked. "Really real...?"
"Hmmm... it might take some time," Ryo Noyori said, scratching at an itch behind his head. "Bioprogrammed clone would be the safest bet, although I haven't totally figured out Tachi's system... but hey, now I have some incentive to try harder! I like a challenge. You can stay in Nippon until we get him squared away."
Kisei cleared her throat. "Now that all matters are settled, I would recommend a hasty parting of ways," she spoke. "If one as simple as Mallory could discover this rendezvous, then I don't like the chances of a second witness..."
"Hai, hai..." Ryo said, stretching a bit. "S'getting late, too. I really should square things away and get to bed... and Mei-chan, don't worry about Future Perfect, okay? You KNOW I haven't ironed out all the bugs yet..."
"R-Right," Meiko stammered, before grabbing her composure and pulling it on tightly. "I will stay in contact to monitor your progress... over F.P.'s secured lines, of course. Belle, please try to avoid running afoul of RealWare again; I suggest going to Grep or another Open Engine world once you're finished in Nippon. You'll be outside their jurisdiction there. And I trust we don't have to suggest you forget we ever met you..."
"I understand, I understand," Belle spoke, smiling and holding onto her lover's temporary container tightly. "Thank you so much for everything... thank you..!"
She turned, and hurried off around the onsen, departing via the hidden door. Ryo gave a little grin and mock-salute to Kisei, before strolling through the portal himself. In seconds, it faded away, replaced by smooth and seamless onsen wall.
"I will maintain secrecy as well, although at the speed rumors spread in this house, I doubt it will last," Kisei noted. "Do not worry if your sister hears of this, Miss Mirai. I believe she will understand your motivations, even if they are not wholly in compliance with RealWare's edicts. Tachi always taught me that honor and law are often separate concepts. Good evening."
As the sniper left through the main portal, three became two.
"...quit looking at me like that," Meiko ordered softly.
Mallory quickly averted his eyes... before glancing back to her. "I, uh... I was just wondering..."
"Why I went against my word?"
"Kinda. ...kinda, I guess. You seemed so determined..."
"If I believed that returning Alex was the right thing to do," Meiko spoke, "Then I'd also have recommended I's Land turn over their children to RealWare. ...I don't always agree with RealWare's politics. Even if I try to avoid trouble, and especially try to avoid trouble for my family... sometimes you have to do things that are questionable in order to do what's right."
"Oh. So, uh, it was more of an ethnics kind of thing?"
"Right, ethics. It makes sense. Really! I just... I was figuring maybe you also felt kind of sympathetic since they were in l—"
"Ethics and my own sense of integrity are important concepts to me. Simple as that. Go to bed, Mallory," Meiko suggested firmly, looking at the copy cube in her hands. "It's been a very long night, and we're all tired. And I'm expecting a good breakfast before I try to swindle Mr. Cox. I'll need to be sharp to avoid raining corporate antagonism upon this house."
"I'll make pancakes," Mallory promised. "And bacon. I've been saving the ingredients for a good occasion. And we get the rest of the pay for the job tomorrow, right? I can finally stock the kitchen properly!"
"Yes yes, good," she dismissed, walking away quickly.
ACT II, SCENE V - UPSTAIRS HALLWAY @ THE HOUSE
A good night's rest awaited Meiko. But it would have to continue to wait, since someone was standing in front of her bedroom door. Waiting.
Meiko groaned internally, but tried to put up her cold front. "Lorelei, what are you doing awake?" she asked. "It's late, and we have a meeting with the client in the—"
"You helped 'em escape, didn't you?" Lorelei asked... one foot propped against the closed door, arms crossed, and a smug smirk on her lips. A pose she had been holding for minutes, waiting for Meiko's return. "I had a feeling you would, so I stayed up to find out how it'd go down. Letting an IP pirate go... business as usual. See a conflict?"
"I'm too tired to deal with this," Meiko grumbled. "Just—"
"Why'd you do it? I simply must know. And if you say something silly like 'justice' or 'ethics' you know I'll stay put. Because while that's probably true, that's not the only reason why you did it..."
"You want me to say 'true love'," Meiko guessed, dryly glaring at her.
"It's true, isn't it? Been on the brain lately. It's been on Mallory's, too," Lorelei said, almost gleeful. "Love is in the air. And who can deny love? Even back when I was carving up the n00bs I had that yearning for something more than I had. It has to happen eventually, Mei. You just put off puberty by a few years so you could build your business acumen—"
"Are you going to taunt me all night? If so, I'll go to your room and sleep there instead. Or I'll go sleep with Mallory on the couch. That's what you want to see me do, isn't it? That's why you're flaunting dating him, showing how you're supposedly keeping my 'true love' from me..."
"I just want you to admit the truth. That's all. Not such a big thing to ask, is it? I'm your guardian. I saves your ass. And the way I see it, that includes saving you from yourself, sometimes... I've always said there's nothing sadder than passing on a great near-life experience out of pure fear. Belle understood that; don't think I wasn't listening in. She's going to try, and even if things fail in the end, at least she didn't turn away from her heart to opt for the safe bet instead..."
"Yes, yes. Ha ha. Now if you'll excuse me—"
"Meiko, I'm serious here! I'm not just doing this to make fun of you. Just because all four of us had to grow up fast doesn't mean you should be acting like an old spinster—"
"FINE. I was sympathetic because they were in love," Meiko spoke in even tones. "Yes. That's true. It was the right thing to do because they had the right to find out if it was love or not. They had the right to be happy, and RealWare was stomping on that. Yes, I believe in love. And I don't believe I have time for it. This isn't fear, it's... it's not part of the PLAN. I will lead my family to prosperity and a bright future... and I'm tired of you waving Mallory under my nose. I... I have no feelings for the Houseboy whatsoever, and—"
Lorelei stepped away from the door, clearing the path.
"If you don't have any feelings, then I'm gonna keep on dating him," Lorelei said. "Makes sense to me. If you're telling the truth, then it's just like I told you back in the onsen. You go and be prosperous and have fun, and I'll have my fun on my own. I think we're going to get serious soon. I might have to show the farmboy how to plow my field properly, too..."
Meiko's teeth ground together. "You are SUCH a bitch, Lorelei," she hissed.
"Then why do you keep me on the payroll?" Lorelei asked, with a smirk. "Sleep well, boss."
EPILOGUE - EXT. BEACH @ SUNSET
In this world, the sunrise is always the traditional bright red rising sun of Nippon.
A perfect circle, inching over the horizon... all the effects of normal sunlight, with all the symbolism of eternal glory. It casts brilliant streaks of red and orange across the morning sky. Bright red and orange, dark red and orange... it all depends on the clouds.
She stood at the edge of the water, holding her cube... looking out across the waves.
"Soon," she spoke. "Soon we'll be together, in a world that does go on forever. On and on, without end. Not some predefined Reality with hard-set limits... it's only a matter of time now. We're free..."
With a smile, she turned and began the long walk back to Noyori Labs.
estate copyright 2002 stefan gagne)
[unauthorized use is strictly prohibited]
And inside his memory cube shell, he thought...
Now that you've helped me escape... well, babes, it's been real, and it's been good...
...well, no, he thought nothing of the sort. But it would be ironic.