Archivist note: This article is from an older recovered archive and might be obsolete or in need of updating.
Most recent revision is shown below, by Bookworm.
((Posted by Scottie Melnik on July 26, 2010))
“How do you know?” she asked genuinely She was inquiring as to my declaration that the unbridled fury of the woman I had fought with this evening wasn’t her, “You never knew me, none of you did, not even my own adoptive father.”
I had to grasp quickly at a reply after this little bombshell. I didn’t know Bianca had been adopted. I just assumed that this trip to the desert had been in search for Armand, “So your real father is from Ireem? Did you find him?”
Her voice grew cold again and she turned away from me completely, “That doesn’t matter. Let us say the search still continues. Foehammer was in the desert. I didn’t know which one but I read about the city of Ireem in my adoptive papers.” She shrugged and almost seemed to be speaking as if she was coming back into balance. Finally. But with that coldness I decided to tread lightly, letting her pour her heart out. “So I started there. There I learned who I am when pushed to the limits. Now I too am stuck with a regretful past. And I pushed you because I wanted to know if I was alone in said regrets.”
Her voice was a bit shaky now but her face remained stony, “It had to be you… the moment I saw that hint of animalistic flare in your gaze…” She looked over her shoulder at me and lowered her voice, “I knew you understood more than what you let on.”
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and met her eyes. I stepped closer and nodded sympathetically, “I see now. I wish you had just told me, Bianca. I could have helped you, maybe. Perhaps I still can.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, “If I had told you to show me who you really were, would you have?” She knew the answer to that and so did I. She turned away from me again and stared out the window in front of her, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and mine is his playground. Balance… that is all I know.”
“This is just a part of who I am, a guy with a bit of a beast inside that comes out when a friend, or myself, is in danger. It’s truly the dark abyss you want to see in me?”
She turned around fully and faced me for a moment, looking at me with a demanding gaze. After a few minutes (it seemed like minutes) of silence she walked toward me with empty hands and grabbed the lapels of my jacket, burying her face in my chest, “Yes. I want to see how bad it is, so I have something to hope for when I see you control it.”
And there it was. That’s what she had wanted to see all along. That’s why she had been pushing and taunting me. At least, that’s what this girl wanted out of the experience. The other? I’m sure she just wanted to see a kindred spirit and then kill it. But all of this talk of beasts, animals, dark sides; all of it was just a metaphor for an infected soul. Both of us, it seemed, had experienced some sort of traumatic event that had altered our lives forever. While mine had not manifested quite like this it had taken time to accept the truth and move on. She would need help and understanding and I resolved to help her in any way I could.
I was still holding the letter opener in my right hand so I brought my left up to her head, holding her to my chest, “I very nearly killed you tonight and I held back. You’ve seen the darkness rise and fall a few times, Bianca. I’m what keeps it in line. It’s part of me and it obeys me.” That was stretching the truth a bit, but all in good time.
Her face grew hotter against my chest as she replied, “Why are you so lucky? Is it because you’re a man and the expectations don’t drive you further into your rage? The expectations of being who they think you’re supposed to be instead of who you really are?”
Is this how it really was for women or was this just some poor, traumatized girl trying to rationalize? I really didn’t know for sure, but I drew on what I had seen in the city around me. “This is Babbage, Bianca. You should know you don’t have to be anyone but yourself here.” I said, and then quickly added, “Within reason, of course.”
“But what is reason? Is it their reason? Their logic?” She tightened her grip on my lapels, “Maybe my reason is to snap back when spoken to rudely without the fear of being ‘improper’. Isn’t it my reason that should be followed?”
“Reason is meeting with equal force. When someone is rude to you verbally then you come back verbally, not with a knife. And it’s not ‘their’ reason or logic, it’s our reason and logic. It benefits us all, Bianca, surely you must see that.” She remained silent, further tightening her grip on my lapels. Something was building inside her but I let the words sink into her. She shook her head and just held on.
I spoke softly to her, “We have to be a bit civilized, Bianca. We all do or the world tears itself apart. We make our dark sides work for us. They become part of our arsenal when we need them, not the other way around.”
“I… don’t want… to…” she growled slightly. She had her own war to contend with and it was threatening to overwhelm her.
“But you must. Accept that and life becomes much easier.” Again, a bit of a stretch but I believe it to be true enough. “And if anyone, anyone, tries to tell you to be something you’re not, forces you to try and be some doll, then you just tell them what they can do with that notion.”
She was shaking now, her hands releasing my lapels and sliding around my back in a hug, holding on tightly as she managed a stuttering whisper, “S-Scottie… I’m… slipping…”
My hand slid down from her head to her back, holding her tightly as I kept my voice steady, whispering softly, “Stay here, Bianca. Stay with me. Don’t go, don’t slip, just hold onto me.”
She suddenly pushed back from me, her eyes wide as she looked into mine. There were no tears but they were red, like she had been squeezing them closed tightly, perhaps fighting back the wave. “I hate this, and I’m sorry,” she said as she brought her hand to mine, the one still holding the letter opener. I was a little shocked I still had it, but she guided it up to her side. I looked down at my hand dumbly before the realization set in. “Bianca? What are you doing?” I immediately flipped the letter opener onto the floor where it landed with a clinking sound that was almost deafening in light of what was about to happen. She had lost all hope.
Her reply came a bit too quickly, “Nothing…” and looked to the floor, crossing her arms and shuddering in disgust. At what? A failed suicide attempt?
I stepped forward and gazed down at her even as she stared at the floor. I reached for whatever I could muster, she needed hope. Everyone needs hope. “You can be happy, Bianca. Being a woman who is free and independent, not trapped in some role your father has cooked up for you. You can just be yourself.”
“There is no happiness for me, Mr. Melnik.” She clenched her fists in her crossed arms and shook her head slowly.
I whispered softly, “There can be. If you want it.”
Defeatedly, she said, “Name one thing that would be worth not finishing the job Iniko started. One thing at all.”
I mind reeled, what did Miss Iniko have to do with all of this? I had thought the woman was helping Bianca. Was it something far more insidious? Had she pushed Bianca to this point? No use dwelling on it now. I filed it away for future investigation. “I don’t know what you mean by that, but if you want a reason, what about yourself? That’s plenty of reason not to destroy everything that you could possibly build here. All of the happiness you could find if you truly want it.” Then I risked a smile, “And you do want happiness, I know you do.”
“I think you missed my point, Mr. Melnik,” and she looked up at me, “Nothing is worth this town. Nothing. No one. Not even myself.”
I sighed heavily, “Everyone is worth this town, and you certainly are.” And then I went for it. She’d been fixated on me, confided in me, so I used that knowledge for her sake, “What about me, Bianca? Am I not worth it?”
She met my eyes in a slight state of shock that engulfed her entire face. I pressed on again, my eyes locking onto hers as I spoke, “Were you to attempt to destroy the town, would I be one of those that burn in the flames, lost forever?”
Her eyes told the truth where her lips ruthlessly lied, “Yes, you are all just coal for the fire. In the end… none of you mean a thing to me.”
I closed the distance between us again, “You don’t believe that.”
“I do…” she said softly. I shook my head slowly and matched the softness of her voice, “You don’t, Bianca.”
“I-I do,” she stammered, her eyes nearly closing. I leaned in close, my voice soft and quiet now, “No, you don’t.”
“Prove it,” she whispered, almost inaudibly. I simply smiled, “You haven’t tried to kill me for the last hour.” She stiffened and her eyes narrowed on me and she pushed back yet again. Her voice was dry as she arched her brow, “That can altered with ease.”
My smiled faded. Back to killing me again? That was getting old. I sighed, “Do you want to? Do you really want to kill me? I don’t think you do. I’m almost certain of it or you would have done so. You’ve had many chances.”
She turned her head quickly from my gaze and blushed. Wow, I was right! I stepped forward and put on another smile, “See, you know it’s true, Bianca. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Really, it’s natural. It’s human.”
She stood there and clenched her fists again, looking read to strike. Fists I could deal with. I stood before her and awaited a response, for better or worse. It was a bit of both.
She cut me a sharp look and out of the corner of her eye, “Nothing more to say? Good, then that means only actions are left.” I remained a bit guarded but nodded calmly, “And what actions would those be, Bia-“
She slapped me, hard, right across the face. I can honestly say I didn’t see that one coming. After a night of sharp objects and general insanity (on both our parts) it was kind of refreshing that we were back to a good ol’ slap in the face.
Her voice kept a sharp tone that softened as her incomplete thoughts came tumbling out, “Don’t you ever make sense to me again.. I may find that attractive… and if you thought I almost killed you before-“ She grabbed my tortured lapels again and pulled me down into a kiss, our lips meeting and my cheeks growing as red as hers. One already halfway there from her openhanded (thankfully) assault. I raised my hands to her shoulders and, unlike last time, I didn’t push her away but held her close.
I don’t think she was expecting that from me as much as I wasn’t expecting a kiss from her. She pulled back and cleared her throat, looking at the floor and whispered, “Some things should be read, like poetry or a good book… others should not, like a kiss.” Her cheeks were on fire. I dropped my hands from her shoulders and smiled, “Perhaps, but that had to be better than killing me.” In retrospect that sounded a bit presumptuous, although even now I desperately hope it’s true.
She smirked from beneath her bangs, the true malevolence gone and a bit more of a playful attitude creeping in, “I would need to dive further into both aspects in order to know.” I chuckled at her sense of humor returning, darker though it may be, “No you don’t. I doubt you’ve ever blushed like that thinking of death…” Me and my big mouth. When would I learn to leave well enough alone?
Her face grew stern and she said dryly, “I’ve felt pleasure physically in the wake of death.” I was shocked but I knew my face didn’t show it. After all the revelations and surprises that night I don’t think I could have shown it if I wanted to. I really didn’t need to know that little piece of information. I hoped desperately that she was talking about what happened in Ireem and not about Babbage.
I kept my smile regardless, “Still, you chose a kiss from me.”
There was no humor in her voice when she said, “Best not bleed too much then… that would take my mind places it should not know…” I could only sigh again, shaking my head, “You’re close, Bianca. You’re to the point where you could truly obtain happiness, not just the fleeting thrill of some violent desire.”
She walked to the reception desk and slammed her fist upon it, shouting, “Then point out this blasted happiness you put so much faith in! I’m tired of not knowing of it! Where is it?”
My reply was forceful but I kept my voice even, “It’s being happy with what you have and yet not being afraid to strive for more. It’s having friends you care about and who care about you. It’s the sadness you feel when things go poorly that make you feel overjoyed when things go well!”
She kept shouting, “What do I have, huh? An absent-minded father? A bookworm librarian who I thought understood me but is probably just as lost as I am?”
I maintained a calm tone, “You’re right. I’m a little lost. Probably a lot. Most of us are a bit lost, Bianca. Most of us grope our way blindly through life. Do you think it’s easy for me not to tear out the throat of someone who truly crosses me? I don’t because I mustn’t. We must maintain control. And if you can’t see the blessings you truly have here then you need to look a little deeper.”
She mumbled something that sounded rather unladylike and I continued, “You have those performances you want to do, at least it seems you’re moving that way, anyway. You have work to throw yourself into. And you’ve made and excellent start of it.”
She nodded and shrugged, “Yes, I’ll be busy, but will I be happy?” and then she shook her head in frustration, “I guess there’s only one way to find out…” She placed her hands on her hips and looked at me, frowning slightly. I nodded in agreement, “And if that doesn’t work, move to something else you love. And if you can find someone who makes you happy, then all the better.”
She looked like she bit her tongue but agreed, “Perhaps someday I will be that lucky.” I nodded in agreement, “We should all be so lucky. Until that day, if you feel the urge to become… uncivilized, please don’t hesitate to find me.”
We exchanged goodbyes and parted ways that night. Well, sort of. The building next to hers granted access to the roof and so I crept up top and settled in, watching the hostel, now performance theatre, closely. I felt I had to watch her for own sake as well as everyone else’s.
As I watched the lights finally go out I reflected on all we had said, especially our little social morality talk. A week ago I would have believed everything I had said and even tonight some of those higher ideals were necessary. But I had opened some old wounds to bring her back and now those words seemed a little too sweet, not quite true. I was emotionally drained after our encounter and I began to think that maybe there was a façade hiding the ‘real’ me. Or maybe I was just exhausted. A good night’s sleep would probably have me back to my normal self, whatever that is.
Of course, I didn’t get a chance to sleep much the following few days. I grabbed naps where I could but my goal was to watch out for Bianca. Sure enough thought she made herself busy with the theatre and the opening of a new shop dealing in Arabian wares. Once again I ran into her when I could, hoping not to show how utterly tired I was and passing it off as an all night bender when she noticed.
After several days I finally returned to my lab and slept my first full night, relatively certain she was going to make it. It was a risk but it really seemed she had turned a corner. And then I learned Armand Foehammer had returned to Babbage.