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He was so close I could sense him. The force between us drawing us together was unimaginably strong, and he must be able to feel it. I had been without him for so long, from so far away, thinking with such solidity that I would never see him again. And now even the possibility of his current existence was impossible; a miracle.

My eyes were dry, and I couldn’t shake the moisture from my lids to wetten them, no matter how many times I blinked. The skin on my hands and feet was so desiccated it had started to peel off, layer by layer, shedding no blood. My lips felt like hard, stiff, lifeless stubs that no longer served any purpose to me. Once I found him that would all go away. I would be replenished, and my hope would be restored. We could go back to normal, run away from this cruel place filled with evil and death. I picture his face in my mind, over and over again, how thrilled he will be to see me. How his arms will feel when we embrace, how the smooth skin of our hands will slip together perfectly as we clasp again to never let go, how his lips will feel against mine. I missed him. I was nothing without him. This was my last hope: if I didn’t find him here, I would be nothing. I would carry my already-dead body out into the oblivion of this terrain and lie down, sprawled on the ground, nothing to aid my fall. I would stare into the never ending sky and wait for death to find me, to creep up my spine and let my eyes look my last before my brain shut down. I will allow the elements to disintegrate my body: I will be nothing if I don’t find him; I will have no reason for life.

The walls of the fortress are high- not high enough to brush the clouds, I was sure, but my eyes didn’t have the strength or energy to strain and admire the handiwork of the demons that built it. I had to find him. I had to find him. I had to find him.

He has to be here. He has to be here. He has to be here.

I clicked the small round button that glowered blue on my wrist, embedded into my skin for my eternity as a worthless human. My fingers were numb. I dragged them over the button, hoping the signal would recognize my finger prints with what was left of my fleshless tips. It engaged, and the scintillating pathway lit up with radiant bright blue colors that triggered nothing in my memory. Everything had been erased. What I was sure was brilliant sapphire registered as faded sky blue, of nothing of importance to me. He has to be here.

I stepped through the portal and gazed around me, dumbfounded. Any other day, these sights would have amazed me. I was sure I had seen them before, positive they must be locked away somewhere in my memory. But as far back I could reach in my mind, there was just blank nonexistence. My mind couldn’t form the words to describe the wonders, the wonders that didn’t matter to me. Only one thing mattered. He has to be here.

I stumbled about the magnificent palace, unable to separate what was outside from what was in. The doors were translucent, as were the walls, and everything melted together, the line unnecessary. There were no secrets here. He has to be here. I must find him. It was more than a longing now, he was a missing part of me, like a huge, complicated machine that needed to serve its purpose but couldn’t function properly because it was lacking a single bolt. He was that bolt.

After what seemed like hours, but could have been seconds, as time in the fortress fades out and runs together, no past and no present, only future, I stop. A single guard stands resolute around the basin of the oracle. I knew she must be marvelous, and the guards would assume that I was here to steal her, deface her, tarnish her in some way. It would be impossible to them that I would go to all this trouble, all this pain and loss for something less magnificent than her. For anything that wasn’t her. He was magnificent to me.
I had to hide from them. Behind what? There were no obscene structures in the palace that I could use to dissolve into the shadows. Shadows do not exist in the palace.

Guards are incoherent. They do not think or feel or wonder or dream or have emotions. They are the shells of human men who have been stripped of their free will in order to serve a single purpose: protect the oracle. What was once a human, capable of incomprehensible thought to create and thrive and flourish and love beyond measure, now is a useless crust of a being with no way of being recovered. The only hope I had of cover, the only way that I could ever hide would be to walk in plain sight.

The guard stands alone. Where are the others? My question is answered as I approach. They are there. Unnamed, unintelligible, inexplicable. Their holographic illusions can only be seen from certain angles, viewable only a few at a time, cast under the immense power of the oracle. I despised her.

As I approached the first guard, I knew to keep within a 5 yard radius from him. As soon as I entered that space, he would present me with a formal greeting. Then information about his purpose, and a gentle warning. When I didn’t move, he would remind me of his rules and if I didn’t move, it wouldn’t take three of their strength combined to strip my body of my skin and dislocate all my joints, before burning my pieces individually, and only then allowing my life force to escape. I knew the process only too well. The oracle is none to play.

Their faces remain unmoving as I walked along their perimeter. When one fell out of view, another came into it. There must be a way to get past them into the basin without disrupting them or the oracle. I didn’t care about them, and I didn’t care about her. I cared about accessing the database to find him. He was my only purpose. My only reason for existence. I have to find him. He has to be here.

All hope is lost, some might say. There is not a speck of reason that I have, nor intention I serve, to keep surviving, and wasting space. My life force could be helping someone right now, being used to save someone’s life who actually wanted to live. I was a walking, breathing, living waste. While everything in the fortress was perfect, being unique was frowned upon. I was unique. I couldn’t be found here. When all hope is lost for some, most, everyone, I press on. But I know my boundaries. If he isn’t here, there is no hope. There is no reason. There is no existence. He has to be here says my last glimpse of anticipation.

When I see him, his face registers immediately. It is the only face that matters, that I so much as peek at for more than a millisecond. Memory erased, yes, but a love like this couldn’t be held back in a million years. There was nothing they could throw at me that I wouldn’t be prepared for, not a single obsession in existence that would keep me from performing everything in my control to find him. But I stare and I lurch for him, no hesitation. He’s here! We can be together again! The fantasy plays itself in my otherwise blank mind. I grab hold of him and yank him away from the guards, they have no power over him anymore, he is not one of them, he is human! And that means we have hope.

When church bells and happy birds should be ringing and singing through the air at our reunion, the only sound that meets my ears is a deep, automatic, robotic voice: “Good afternoon, citizen of The Fortress.”

No.
“ My name is Job, and I have been chosen to guard the oracle.”
No, no, no.
“It is a job worth fighting for, and I intend to do it properly.”
NO!
“If you will notice, I stand before the Basin. It is a magnificent building. I am going to have to ask you to step away from the perimeter, in order to maintain security and proper management of the oracle.”
“No!” I scream out loud at him. “No!” My voice rings in my ears, unreal. This can’t be happening, this isn’t real. “No! You are NOT ONE OF THEM!”
Sensing I haven’t stepped out of his radius, he begins again. “While the glory of the oracle is open to all, I am going to have to ask you to step away from the Basin. It isn’t safe for commoners here.”
My shock knocks me from my feet. I stumble backwards in disbelief and fall to the floor. Silent, waterless, dry and terrifying tears hesitate from falling down my face. My dehydration is taking over my corpse body. My breath comes out in short gasps. I have fallen out of his radius, and his half-bare body resumes his original position. I can see the dried blood on his temples. I can see the tiny, glistening bolts on the outermost of his forehead. I can see where the evil, inhuman creatures entered the metal and the radioactive materials into his brain to control him. Unthinking, emotionless, inhuman. This can’t be true. This isn’t true. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.

My death is certain now. They won’t let any outsider commoner enter their radius more than once without cautious and careful disembodiment. My fate lies ahead. I have but minutes. I leap near him, his stiff body lifeless and still as he recites the only words engraved in his robot brain. I turn behind him, dreading what I will find. BLACKOUT . The word is branded into his tender flesh that lightly covers his strong back muscles. His skin is burned and broken, disgustingly blackened and scalded and blistered, though clean cut at the same time. The scar on his neck is new, the cross they engraved into the very skin of their slaves that controls them, his flesh is raw. They are just being vile now, they are worthless to me, they are below the lowest of the low I can ever even imagine.

His voice is pure, computerized and magnetic, oblivious to my screams, my cries that pierce the otherwise unadulterated silence that consumes the palace. From the low end of his hair line the deep gash that cuts the tendon that allows his brain to control his body movements travels down his split spine about ten inches. The cross section is to make sure the tendon is cut, that his brain cannot function, that his body cannot be controlled by his own self. The staples are entered precisely into his flesh, though sloppily and not deep enough, carelessly not even serving their purpose of allowing his inhuman skin to reform, with no chance of healing.

I trace my coarse fingers over his ripped and torn flesh, and I delicately touch the open wound. As I had expected, his last memory takes over my mind. The vision of his pain, I can feel it. His beautiful face distorted into misery and agony, more than any human can endure. As he breathes his last breath as a human, as a pure, perfect, flawless human, a human that I loved and will never stop loving, he thinks of me. I can see the picture of me in his brain. I can feel his memory of our hands entwined, our bodies pressed together, the delicate locking of our lips. His last breath he uses not to curse them, to exclaim his pain, to blight and deny and squander every moment of being of existence he survived under their reign. No. His last breath he uses to utter my name. The clarity of the sound of the letters on his breath turn my quivering into convulsions as I am yanked back into reality. Life has no pity. No empathy.
I deactivated him. The contact of a human finger tip neutralizes the guards and they are considered impure. His head hangs slowly, in a continual, unwavering movement as his eyes close and his arms stretch out to his sides. “No.” I come to his front. He doesn’t stop. “No, no, no! This can’t be it! You can’t die on me! I’m here! I’m here! Stay awake!” His movements are firm. His body is stiff. I can see the rigidness that existed even in his short being as a guard. His perfectly tan skin starts to turn gray. The process that begins instantly when a guard is recognized as impure and therefore useless to the oracle. He will be replaced within the hour. Though now all that matters is that he is decaying before my eyes.

“This CAN’T be it!” I scream into the open, my lungs feeling as though they have imploded, abandoned me in all my despair. My emotions run together into a blur, and I use what unreal strength I have to drag him out of the fortress. I retrace my tracks, his body turning soft with the gray decomposition that will soon take over. It takes me twice as long to get out of the fortress that it took me to get in.

When I reach the portal, my strength is gone. Less than gone. My strength was gone when I collapsed on the ground in front of him, and even then I bent the realm of reality by carrying his dead weight for countless minutes. I use the lack of strength as motivation to heave him and myself through it to collapse on the base beyond. I crumple on his lifeless body, still partially in the cross shape, his face towards the sky. He is past recovery. Far past. We both are.

I rip the metal tabs from his skull using strength that isn’t present in me. I don’t know where it’s coming from, or why I am wasting it. Each of the two tabs is a round silver ball on a three inch sword containing radioactive material used to take over the brain. They slide out of his skull easily, and no trace of blood follows. I trace the holes with my finger tips and turn him onto his side. I outline the burned words on his fleshy, torn back, once so glorious and beautiful. I scratch at the burn marks and flick away the blackened flesh, leaving only the reddish wounds beneath, bloodless. I tear the staples from the cross wound on his neck, opening the gap even more than before. I rip his black boxer-like shorts off, revealing his total broken body. I don’t want any of them inside him when he dies. I want us to die together, free from them. I want us to die as ourselves.

The metal is gone. The radioactive material is gone. The insignificant staples are gone. The clothes that disgust me are gone. The futile burn marks that defined him are gone, flung into the stupor of oblivion where I couldn’t care less about them. I have been infected too, and the clothes that cloaked me are pitched away as well. We lie there, bare and completely ourselves as my dehydration begins to drain my life source, and his grayish, rubbery skin has almost completely swallowed his flawlessness, the only reminder I had of who he once was.
His last breath was used to utter my name. My last breath.

“I love you.”



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