“Life sucks!” Nervous energy shook Cammie’s body. “It’s a proven!” At times like these, her Fawn persona vanished and she was no longer a slave even in theory, simply a woman terrified for her man. Teal quietly continued serving the steaks, having well learned to leave it alone during these episodes.
“Easy, baby. Did you remember your evening Soother?” Garrett laid a calming hand on the little redhead’s forearm, steadying her.
“No. Forgot. Got scared waiting for you and forgot. Now you tell us that woman insulted you and either she’s right or she’s wrong and if she’s wrong she’s a bitch and if she’s right you might die or get sick and be a veg’able and–”
“Steady now. Slow down. You’re dieseling badly. Slow-w-w-w dow-w-w-wn.”
She made a visible effort. Garrett rose and went to the safe concealed behind the swing-out microwave. Her prescription drug cache was his responsibility, one he took seriously.
“Thanks. I–thanks. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Tossing the pill down dry, she looked up, looked her Master in the eye for the first time since he’d gotten home. “Be just our luck it’s not just a theory but a real freaking conspiracy, you know. Proven beyond a reasonable doubt. All that.”
She was coming down all right now. Teal moved in on her other side and held her slave sister’s hand. Cammie gripped it fiercely, or as fiercely as her arthritis would permit. Garrett kissed her on the cheek and thumbed the remote. The Simpsons, the episode where Santa’s Little Helper mistakes a Twiggie for a really skinny tree and gets abducted for interrogation by a confused Invasion Fleet Officer.
They avoided the topic for the remainder of the evening, though all thought about it. Aside from the question of love–and there was much love in this house of three humans and one gray cat, as long as you didn’t ask the mice for their opinions–it was a matter of survival for both girls.
If Garrett did become ill, heaven forbid, most of the hard work would fall on Teal’s sturdy back because of Cammie’s arthritis, fragile bird bones, and intermittently unstable equilibrium. One caring for two was not feasible; it would be a disaster all around. If the worst transpired, if they actually lost their Master entirely, both of them could literally face starvation. There was little government assistance available in this postwar period, the lion’s share of taxes ending up in graft riddled political pockets with nearly all leftovers going to law enforcement and transportation infrastructure.
In other words, no epilepsy medicine for either of them and no expensive, mood balancing Soothers for Cammie’s panic attacks or SkelPower for her bones. Maybe not even any meat protein.
True, the Seeder had long since purchased two sizeable camp trailers, one registered in each girl’s name. They would not be without shelter. But most of the man’s huge earnings this past decade had gone into various business ventures with over half of the total tied up in a small music distribution business based not in L.A. (which no longer existed) or in Nashville (which was going stronger than ever)…but in, of all places, Rapid City, South Dakota.
Key of C, LLC, had great upside potential. It also had great debt. Even early retirement, though not a killer issue in and of itself, could mean hardcore belt tightening.
“I’m not going to die,” he repeated one last time before they all headed to bed. “I’ve told you both, the Zarellan has shown me my departure date from this planet, and it’s a fair piece down the road.”
He did not mention the obvious, that he could be in a brain dead coma and still be technically alive. They needed reassurance. Worry and any necessary fighting were his jobs, not theirs. These girls had seen enough hard times in their earlier years; he had no intention of letting them face the world alone from here on out. True, that made him some sort of Knight Protector even while commanding two lovely lasses to his bed whenever he chose–a complex arrangement, but it suited them all amazingly well.
He wasn’t about to give it up.
They slept in separate bedrooms, but Garrett knew from experience that he had to shut off his buzzing mind or else. Not that he couldn’t sleep in if he chose; no new Assignments were scheduled for several days. But Cammie, being a powerful sensitive, could read his mind. Surface thoughts for sure, maybe more. If he was lying awake worrying, she would be, too. Or worse, she’d be asleep and his fretting would bring her awake crying or kicking or screaming or all three, wide eyed and unable to shake the nightmare.
He did sleep, albeit in fits and starts, finally sitting bolt upright in bed at 3:00 a.m. sharp. A thunderbolt of an idea had just bombed his brain. Flipping on the nightstand reading light, he made a quick note in his dream journal and went back to sleep, peacefully this time.
Teal usually slept deeply without much tossing or turning and very little dream recall, then rose every morning at five to have her own private time and get breakfast ready for the others. Coffee, the most important item for Cammie. Orange juice and either a Belgian waffle with raspberry topping or just a couple of doughnuts for their Master. This particular morning, Cam was on her third cup, talking quietly with her slave sister, when the man of the house padded out in robe and slippers to join them. He passed on the OJ and poured himself a cup of tea from Teal’s porcelain teapot.
“I have an idea.”
They looked at him somewhat apprehensively.
“Nothing bad, but what if I trained one of you to use the Box? Then–”
“No way!” Cammie’s sudden panic set her whole body trembling.
“No! I mean please no, Master. Please.”
“Okay, okay. I think I understand why you wouldn’t want to do it. Well then, what if Teal–”
“Hey.” The stocky ex-con set her mug of tea down carefully as if afraid she might otherwise forget and drop it. “You don’t really think my sister could handle knowing I was running around inside you on a more intimate basis than she could, do you? In her eyes, that would be a conspiracy theory proven in and of itself, right here in the house.”
“Oh.” The German girl had summed it up nicely. Cammie’s health limitations, both physical and mental, made the redhead a poor candidate for the job. Her IQ was high enough and then some, but not her endurance. Not these days. Too dangerous, not to mention too stressful. It would also be entirely against Guild contract rules as well, of course. No Seeder owned the Box he used; the super-tech gizmo was simply on loan from the organization until the Guild Rep retired, at which time it was turned in to be checked over and assigned to a new Rep.
Nor was Teal a viable candidate even if Cam didn’t care. Not really. She was sturdy enough in many ways, but not exactly a mental giant. No known Seeder had ever had a measured IQ below 140, at least according to the Supervisors. So, moot point. He hadn’t thought about Cam being so dog-in-the-manger about her First Girl position, though. Should have. But hadn’t.
Cammie didn’t like it when he went silent, either.
“You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” Her voice was under control, but the fear in her eyes gave her away.
“Do what?” Teal had risen from the table to refill her teapot but stopped at the stove before finishing the task, waiting on the reply.
“Sis, our Master is going to gamble with his life to prove or disprove the A.S.P. conspiracy theory. I know it; his thinking has been in my head all morning. Don’t you get it?”
“No, I don’t get it. Gamble how?”
The redhead replied without taking her eyes from Di Marco. “He’s going to use the Box to go inside himself.”
“But…” The older woman, forty-one last November in fact, scratched her head in puzzlement. “That can’t be done. Can it?”
“Exactly. Master, you explain it.”
“Please.” Di Marco’s tone was mild, a simple admonition. Cammie never could remember all the rules when she got excited.
“You explain it, please.”
“Okay. Here’s the thing. You’re right, Teal, the Guild training classes all stress that point. The most popular explanation as to why not involves the Paradox Theory which states that if you were to meet yourself inside yourself, trolls would dance and witches would waltz and something bad bad bad would happen. Like maybe you’d blow up half the city and your atoms would be scattered out to, oh, say at least Pluto or so. Real science fiction stuff. But.”
“But?” Teal poured her Master a second cup of tea as she asked her one word question. Not that she understood half of what he was telling her. Not a quarter, really, but having his attention one hundred percent on her was wonderful. She kept her eyes wide and wondering, a look she’d found helpful with men from the time she was in diapers.
“But.” Garrett was warming to his subject now, adopting a lecturing style and clarifying his own thinking as well. “Even though we really know nothing so far–it’s all theory, theory, theory–logic does apply as follows. A, the Guild states flatly that it simply cannot be done. Therefore, B, if they’re telling the truth, I’m in no danger, because if I do the unthinkable and dial in my own coordinates, nothing will happen. Nothing at all. But if I can do it, then, C, we’ve been lied to big time. We Seeders, I mean. Therefore, D, if they lied about that one all-important thing, it follows that they’ve lied about others. And if that turns out to be the case, the conspiracy theory nuts are proven right. I admit freely,” he smiled sadly, “I’m hoping like crazy it can’t be done.”
“Me, too,” Teal breathed fervently. She had no clue what might happen if he could go inside himself, but the monster in the closet was just that much spookier for its very invisibility.
Cammie, however, shook her head. “Me not sure what me think except me think Master crazy go la la land never come back but going do it anyway so do it before me go nuts. More nuts, that is.”
“All right.” The Seeder rose to his feet. “Let me get dressed first.”
Thirty minutes later, attired in his usual on-the-job fatigues, he decided against giving out any hugs or kisses that might shatter his lovers’ fragile shell of phony calm. He nodded to each of them in turn, dialed the necessary coordinates, pressed the INGOING stud…and vanished.
“Uh-oh.” The German girl stared bug-eyed at the spot where Di Marco had been standing an instant earlier. “It worked.”
The redhead just nodded. “I knew it would. The question is, can he come back?”
“I don’t see why not. If he can go one way, he ought to be able to go the other. In theory, anyway.” But they both knew that was Hope talking, not Knowledge. Now came the waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Two girls ever at risk for stress induced seizures, yet somehow they helped each other hold it together through the first hour.
And a second.
And a third.
Cammie began losing it at three hours and forty-seven minutes, alternately pacing and sitting with her head in her hands, crying. “He’s not going to make it,” she sobbed. Full of her own doubts, Teal was hard pressed to find enough optimism to share any.
At three hours and fifty-three minutes, the Seeder suddenly materialized, stumbling raggedly across the living room and collapsing on the couch. He was conscious, but his face had no color and his eyes told everything. The left sleeve was gone from his shirt, a long gash in his forearm dripping blood on the carpet. No one paid any attention to that. Both girls went to their knees on the floor, never minding the blood, clutching their beloved owner desperately yet ever so softly, ever so gently. For a full minute, the only sound to be heard was Di Marco’s breathing, ragged and harsh, sucking in great gasps of much needed air.
The man finally spoke. “Get me a soda. Lots of ice.” His breathing was evening out, but his voice sounded terrible, a scratchy bass rather than his usual clear baritone. Teal leaped to her feet and ran to comply, slowing on the return trip only enough to avoid spilling. Garrett took down the desperately needed hydration, sugar, and caffeine in great gulps, slowing only toward the bottom of the glass.
His color began to return. Cammie let herself breathe again; she could feel the difference in her man, feel him coming back from the brink. Her panic level began to slowly subside. Thankfully, because she knew she couldn’t dump any extra burden on her Master’s shoulders right now. He needed her to cowgirl up, not go straight to basket case….
Nineteen minutes after arrival, he propped himself up on one elbow–the elbow on that gashed arm, but at least the bleeding had stopped. The carpet would never be the same, but the blood donor was ready to talk. He looked Cammie in the eyes, then Teal, and laid it on the line.
“It’s worse than you could possibly imagine. Everything A.S.P. is saying is true. Everything Doc James said is true. Everything I’ve believed and practiced the past two decades–almost two decades–is a lie.” He shook his head ruefully, his last words softly spoken, clearly meant mostly for his own ears:
“A complete and absolute lie. Damn A.S.P. to Hell and beyond; their conspiracy theory is proven.”