Gerard was aware of nothing beyond the white of his hospital room, so unbroken
that staring into gave him a glimpse of infinity, and the jigsaw puzzles he
spent hours constructing on the floor. This state of detachment was for the
best; to expose him to the healing process would have been gruesome and cruel.
....To put him back together, they had to start from the inside. The damage was so great, they removed flesh until the muscle and metal below were visible. The body was then cut methodically with needles filled with Substance P to make this body stronger, more durable than the last when faced with his penchant for self-destruction. The cuts, running from his skull to his feet, intersected, forming squares an inch long and an inch wide. While he surely saw his reflection in the window of his room, Gerard did not react to the sight of himself, skin slowly growing back, tendons stretching, the cuts pulling open whenever he moved to reveal gleaming pink tissue. Instead, his eyes fixated on the large luminescent face on Seidhr, the clock tower.
He was allowed to leave the hospital after a full week. Dazed, head fuzzy and unsure of what's happened or why he's been there, Gerard was glad to leave the over sanitized building. ....Substance P had kicked in, further speeding his recovery so that there was no trace of the cuts, his body grown back in full. He left in the evening, after the sun had gone down and followed the map he was given to the zeppelin station, which would take him home. Or, he was told it would take him home by a man who wore sunglasses in doors. Gerard took the sunglasses as a symbol of authority and desperately hoped he wouldn't wind up lost in some alleyway.
....As he was walking the first block, Seidhr caught his eye, a golden, warm glow. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, staring up, until someone stopped beside him.
...."Beautiful, isn't it?"
....Gerard turned to see a head of tousled auburn hair a few inches below his own. As the figure dropped her eyes from the clock, she reached out to touch Gerard's wrist.
...."You're leaving the hospital, too?" She asked, holding up her own wrist, where a hospital bracelet hung. She gave him a small smile. "When I was in there, the clock looked so close from my room, like I could climb onto the hands and ride time out." Turning to face Gerard, she held out a hand. "I'm Ashton, former self-destructer."
....Gerard ducked his head, smiling at her introduction. "Gerard. Not a former anything, I think."
....Ashton nodded, a sly smile playing on her lips. "Being mysterious, are we? That's okay. What were you in the hospital for?"
...."I was in an accident. I don't really remember much about it. What were you there for?"
...."Suicide watch. Pretty much the dullest week of my life," Ashton snorted.
...."That's no good."
...."No," Ashton sighed,"Anyway, where are you headed?"
...."To my apartment, I suppose."
...."Those," pointing to Gerard's hand," are directions to it?" Ashton asked.
....Smiling sheepishly, Gerard nodded. "Like I said, I don't remember much from the accident. Or before."
...."Alright. Looks like we're headed in the same direction. Care to walk together?"
...."Sure. That would be nice. Thank you."
....Gerard couldn't name the warming rush of emotion he felt at seeing her, or identify the tug of familiarity he felt as he watched her figure walk across the street. When she turned to look back at him over her shoulder, Gerard dismissed the thoughts, hurrying to catch up.
....The ramp at the entrance of the zeppelin creaked as they mounted it. It was a smaller version than those used for international trips, for it was really just used to pick up and drop patients off. As all the passengers settled into their red velvet seats, Gerard stared intently out the window. He had no recollection of the machines and was in awe of the metallic wings he could see slowly beginning to pump. His attention was kept when the zeppelin took off, rising from it's platform on the Hospital's cloud. The city below was obscured by fog, save for the bright lights of the many street lamps, which shined up at Gerard as if welcoming him home. While he watched the ground grow closer, Ashton studied him. Wearing a worn black leather jacket, his dark hair disheveled, eyes gleaming and full lips parted, he looked for all the world like the most innocent debauchee she had ever seen.
....A week later, Gerard slouched in Ashton's old relic of a car, a Lotus Exige Sport 240, she had said, twice as old as Gerard himself. They glided into downtown Williamsburg that evening to grab dinner at China Sun. An absolutely fundamental part of the Williamsburg life, Ashton had said to Gerard when she arrived at his apartment. He jumped at the chance to get away from the place that was filled with things he pointedly could not remember. Amnesia, the doctors had told him to expect. He just hadn't expected this vast feeling of not belonging, as well. Before they entered Williamsburg proper, Ashton pulled into a parking garage.
...."We'll have to walk from here," she told Gerard as she slid out from behind the wheel, "They don't let cars into the city."
....Stretching once he was out of the vehicle, Gerard was never more happy to be on the rather short side of average. He was able to keep a nice pace with Ashton while they walked down the cobblestone streets without having to worry about slowing down or taking smaller steps.
The night was foggy, as every night had been since Gerard returned to ground level life, and the weather damp but never raining. The rouge red bricks of the buildings seemed to gleam in the light from the street lamps. In the alleys between buildings, Gerard could glimpse small fires and huddled forms. In one alleyway, he made out a pristine old woman in pearls and heels standing next to a tarted up young teen. The teen, androgynous from a distance, held a long pipe to her mouth. The old woman's hand was curled around it, as if waiting to take her turn. When a blue lighted cop car, the only kind of car allowed within the city, rolled slowly down the street, the two moved farther back into the shadows. They were lost to Gerard when even the pulsing beats of blue light illuminated nothing but a dying fire and metal trashcans.
....It wasn't until Ashton stumbled and he reached out to catch her, that Gerard realized anything was wrong. A fine tremor was growing in his body, and thin lines were visible on his skin. Ashton was staring almost as if in horror at his hand, where between his splayed fingers the lines were bigger. Gerard could see that they weren't lines, but cuts, splitting in a pattern of small squares. Frozen and dumbfounded, Gerard remotely noted the blood slowly leaking from his nose. Ashton had pulled away from his hand, run across the street to the Caller on the corner. Time seemed not to move at all, as Gerard watched, mesmerized, as the lines in his skin became more pronounced. He was shaken out of his reverie by Ashton, her hand on his arm, face pale. She was saying something, but her voice was dim and far away, overpowered by a rhythmic rushing sound. Gerard let himself be propelled onto the zeppelin that was suddenly in front of him, surprisingly empty for so early in the night. Gerard's world faded to black as the mechanical bird ascended to the sky.
....Sitting hunched forward in the hard chair of the waiting room, Ashton kept an eye on the door leading to the hallway which she had been refused access to.
...."It was just sensory overload, Ms. Gardener. We knew to expect this. I'm surprised you took him out at all. Now, please, don't waste your night here," the Suit had told her. Two more men, dressed just like the first down to the pointless black sunglasses they kept perched upon their noses, guarded Gerard's door and the door to the hallway. Under the drone's watchful gaze, Ashton grew tired and cramped and frustrated from lack of information. Finally, she relented to their idea, shrugging into her purple coat, and left the hospital for the night.
....Following the dinner that almost was with Ashton, Gerard was introduced to the Suits. More accurately, he was kept very busy by the Suits. They spent hours talking at him, about things, experiments and tests and government regulations, that he didn't understand. They called on him often in the morning, taking him out and keeping him through the day, and always one rode home with him, in a car much more rarely than a zeppelin. Gerard learned their names, but never remembered them. They were obviously interchangeable, and he found their faces indistinguishable from one another.
....One night, after a week of Suits and constant activity that he didn't understand, Gerard feigned illness in the middle of a meeting. All the Suits there, nearly twenty of them, turned to look at him as he groaned, hand to his mouth. Their blank faces were mirror images, as if reflected from the same shadowed, uncaring soul. When he groaned again, curling forward over the hand he placed on his stomach, two of the nearest Suits stood. Without question, they escorted him home, leaving him with strict instructions to get better.
....Settling on the worn couch in his living room, Gerard picked up the phone to call Ashton. When she answered, he asked if she would grant him the honor of escorting a lady to the theater. She seemed incredulous to hear his voice, listening shocked as he told her he had faked sick.
...."And that worked?" she asked.
...."Surprisingly well. They treat me like a glass baby kitten that will break at the smallest provocation."
....Ashton directed Gerard to meet her at the theater, giving him directions unbidden. Though he had asked her to a play, he didn't have the faintest idea how to get to it. The smile he had heard as she hung up the phone was a sharp contrast to the distant girl who met him outside the theater. The golden lights of the marque lit up her face, but her eyes remained fixed anywhere but on him. Through the play, Gerard could feel her arm tensed next to his on the armrest. ....When Intermission came down on the stage, Gerard and Ashton stepped into the lobby of the theater. Stopping her from walking to the table set up along the wall that was piled with food, Gerard asked,"What's wrong?"
....Ashton's face froze, her lips pinched together. "Nothing,"she said.
...."Did I do something? Do you not like the play?”
....Ashton pressed her lips together, unanswering.
....“Ashton, talk to me."
....Cutting her eyes to his face, an emotion he couldn't name flashed across her features. Still stiff, but eyes fixed to his, Ashton said,"I can't do this again. I can't watch them take you apart and away from me again."
....Brow furrowed, Gerard leaned in. "Who's taking me away? I'm not going anywhere."
...."Not yet, but you will. They'll keep you busy and give you work that will break you down. They'll use you up just like they always do, and I can't ever stop them."
...."Are you talking about the Suits? What are they doing? What do you mean?"
....Face closing off suddenly, Ashton shook her head. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it. Can't we just go home?"
....Gerard felt a rush of familiarity at the question. "Home?" he asked.
....Seeming to realize she'd slipped, Ashton hastily back peddled. "Yeah, home. You go to your apartment. I got my house. Maybe I get some sleep."
....Staring hard at her face, Gerard pulled forward the feelings he had felt when they first met. She was familiar, but he didn't know why. She talked as if she had been with him before. Her eyes were always soft and knowing when she watched him stumble with the unexpected world around him.
...."Did we know each other," Gerard asked,"before I had my accident?"
....Ashton looked away from him then, and understanding began to dawn on Gerard.
...."You knew me," he accused. "Tell me where you knew me from."
...."No, Gerard. I want to go home."
...."I'll catch the next bus back. You stay for the play."
....Before he could object, Ashton hurried from the theater, her purple jacket quickly swallowed up in the crowd. Dejected and confused, Gerard slowly exited the building, deciding to walk home.
....Once within the relatively familiar walls of his bedroom, Gerard logged onto his computer. Quickly typing a description of the Suits into the search engine, Gerard hoped to find answers. Instead, he was met with absolutely zero articles regarding the mysterious men who had invaded his life. Backtracking, Gerard began to type in phrases he had heard repeated enough times over the course of the week to drill them into his memory. When he was overwhelmed with results, Gerard added his name to the search. As the new results filtered onto the page, Gerard froze. The page was littered with his name and face.
Doctor Gerard Visson's Ghost in the Machine
Visson Plays God
Swedish Academy Debates Nomination of Gerard Visson
Visson's Tragic Death
Gerard Visson: Memorial
....Gerard began clicking through articles, skimming them for his name. The information overwhelmed him, and he felt dwarfed by the blue light of the screen. When his eyes lighted on Ashton's name, nestled next to his in the last article he read, Gerard stopped reading. Mechanically, he stood up, walked to his phone, and called the woman in question.
...."Ashton, I need you to come here right now. We need to talk," he said, his voice recorded by her answering machine.
....Numbly, Gerard walked to his couch, ignoring his computer. He sat down heavily, staring into the void of space in front of him.
...."Gerard. Gerard! Wake up!"
....Gerard opened his eyes to see Ashton standing over him, tousled hair falling into her face.
...."I died," he croaked.
....Ashton's eyes widened, shocked. "Ger-"
...."I died, and so did you," he said. "I told the world how to put human souls into machines, and then I died in a plane crash. And so did you, Ashton. What's going on?"
....Wearily, Ashton lowered herself to the couch beside him. "Gerard, you don't need to worry about it."
...."Worry? I died. I think I need to worry."
...."You're here now, so what does it matter?"
....Gerard choked, eyes wide. "What does it matter? What did they do to me, Ashton? Did they put me in a machine?"
...."That's ridiculous, Gerard."
...."Tell me what happened, then. What else could have happened?"
...."Nothing, okay? Calm down. You're just as human as I am."
....Gerard felt his anger disappear in a flash. "Just as human as you. You died, too. Are you a ghost in a machine, Ashton?"
....Looking over at her, Gerard saw a deep sadness cross Ashton's face. "You are. God, Ashton. I'm so sorry."
...."It's not your fault," she replied, eyes locked on the floor.
...."I made it possible for them to do this. You died, and they brought you back. Why?"
....Sighing, Ashton looked at him. "Because they brought you back. They brought you back, but you didn't want to live. So they brought me back, too, to convince you we could be normal. But you were so guilty over it all, when you tore that second body apart-"
...."Tore it apart?"
...."Never seen anyone drink they way you did, Gee. When you poisoned that body, they decided when they brought you back again, they would wipe your memory."
...."Is this the second time?"
....A dark look passed over Ashton's face, warring with the unexplainable loss that rested there.
...."Third time? Fourth? More?"
...."It's the third time, Gee."
...."God, Ashton, I'm so sorry."
...."It's not your fault. I told you."
...."But you look so sad. I did that."
...."It's not because of you," she assured him, hand on his knee.
...."Then what is it?"
....Looking down again, Ashton shivered. Raising her head, she looked into his eyes, her own shining. "Last time, you told me something. You said, you want me to be happy. You said, you didn't want me to be trapped by those awful Suits anymore. You-," Ashton broke off, voice cracking. "You told me what to do to make sure they couldn't bring me back after this. And I did. And you said, you said, 'Once I remember everything, unplug yourself. Please.'"
...."Ashton, what does that mean?"
...."It means I'm going away now, Gerard. I can die, and try, at least, to go on to whatever happiness is waiting outside this smokey town. Unless you don't want me to."
....Gerard swallowed past the lump quickly rising in his throat. "Of course. You should never have been caught up in this. I want you to be happy."
...."You could come, you know. You could fix it so they couldn't bring you back anymore, too."
....Gerard shook his head. "I can't. Now that I know, I have to figure out how to stop this. No one should be pulled back here after their gone. It's unforgivable."
....Crying now, Ashton nodded. "That's what you said last time, too. I'm going to miss you."
...."I'll miss you, too, Ashton. What's going to happen?"
...."I'll just- I'll die. It won't hurt, but. That's what's going to happen."
....Gerard pulled her into a hug, pressing his wet cheek against her shoulder.
...."Oh,"Ashton whispered, pulling back. "You gave me a chip, before. You said to give it to you when you realized what was going on." In her hand, Ashton held a small green computer chip.
...."What do I do with it?"
....Showing him how to put it into his port that rested in the hollow of his collarbone, Ashton said,"You wouldn't tell me what's on it, but I think it's important you watch it, now."
....Eyes lingering on Ashton's face, Gerard tightened his hand on hers. "I will."
...."I'll be gone when you're done."
....The pit of his stomach dropped out, again. "Okay. I'll really, really miss you, Ash." Wiping his eyes, Gerard pulled Ashton into another fierce hug. "Be safe."
...."I will," she replied, giving him a watery smile. "Take care of yourself."
....Holding her hand, Gerard pushed the chip fully into his port. The world in front of him suddenly flickered, black. Then, as if watching a movie, Gerard saw his apartment in front of him. Instead of the decor he knew, it was covered in rich reds and golds, warm and inviting. His own figure suddenly entered the room, face tight. Ashton followed, lips moving. Slowly, the sound returned.
...."Why can't you just say no, Gerard? They can't make you do anything."
...."Ashton, I'm not going to risk it. They're pretty damn serious about this project. They want them brought back, and they want me to do it."
...."Well, what did you think would happen? You gave them step-by-step instructions on how to bring people back to life. You showed them how to put those souls into nearly indestructible bodies! What else were they going to do?"
...."I don't know, okay? But, not this. This isn't right."
...."That's what I'm saying. Just tell them no."
...."I can't. You're too important. What if they hurt you?"
...."Don't do that, Gerard. Don't make me the reason for your revolting science projects."
....Gerard watched as his own face closed off, a broken look flashing through his other self's eyes.
Ashton moved to rest her hand on his arm. "I didn't mean that, Gerard. Look, I told the Suits to unplug me today. They said they had to file the paperwork, but. You won't have to worry about me anymore."
...."What? You did what? Without telling me?"
...."It's for your own good! If I'm not here, they can't make you do anything, and you can follow me. We both know you can."
...."They'll just bring me back, Ash."
...."Not if you keep unplugging."
...."Not if I keep killing myself. No, they'll find a way to trap me and take away all my options. I need to find a way to stop this Ashton. God, I regret ever looking into the Ghost theory. We need to go down to the office and stop your papers."
...."No, Gerard. It's for the best."
...."Oh- I. If you want to go, I- I understand."
....Gerard watched his own movements grow jerky and stilted as he moved towards the door.
...."It's not like that. I-"
...."I'll go fix this, Ash. I'll fix your papers and then I'll fix both of our plugs. Okay?", Gerard said to her, his voice desperate and low.
...."You don't have to-," Ashton's voice was cut off by the soft click of the door.
....Gerard's view was suddenly shifted to himself again, now descending a spiraled staircase. It was night out, and the large glass windows showed the city outside. The blue lights of the police swarmed higher up the street. Gerard's attention turned to himself, where he was descending the stairs faster and faster, running when he hit the ground floor. Behind him, Gerard heard other footsteps, but he couldn't move to see who they were. As he exited the highrise, Gerard was visibly shaking. As he saw himself run down the sidewalk, Gerard could hear someone following him. Ashton, he realized, when she called his name. She shouted his name twice more, but he didn't seem the hear until he weas in the street. Stopping, he turned to look at her. Ashton caught up to him, arms encircling his neck.
...."I'm sorry," she whispers against his throat. “I won't go away.”
....Suddenly, watching the two, Gerard tried to yell. Bearing down on the couple in front of him was a large truck, the driver distracted, then blaring his horn. With the impact, everything again dissolved to black.
....In the darkness, a sudden flame was ignited, and it grew and grew. Gerard must have programmed the chip to feed his new body data, because he knows now how he unplugged Ashton, and how to make it so no one can ever be plugged into this hell again.
3 Months Later
....Gerard walked down the gray street, the fire raging behind him. Lighting a cigarette, Gerard heard the fire engines coming. They've been delayed, and the Suit's building will be ash and rubble before they can put the blaze out. Satisfied and exhausted, Gerard stood on the corner, humming softly to himself, hands in his pocket. As the first firetruck rounds the corner, coming towards him, Gerard stepped off the curb. The impact was sudden and welcome, sending him into a sweet bliss. As the fire engine screeched to a halt, a small picture fluttered to the ground next to Gerard's still frame. On the back, words were written in a spikey hand.
"Even at our swiftest speeds, we could not break free from the concrete."
Lyrics from Death Cab For Cutie, Plans 'Brothers On A Hotel Bed' Copyright 2005