“Is this what it is to be a Lothario?” we/Paul asked. Always the least compassionate of us, Paul was in awe of this man’s brusque-but-charming manner that kept him surrounded with hangers-on.
“I do my best at it, yeah,” our maker Ryan Budden admitted.
Ten minutes ago, Ryan had come out of the bathroom with another man, much younger, and both had had wild eyes when they parted ways. His eyes now still flickered around the room, pupils dilated.
“You’re pretty rude to these people,” we/Paul said. “I don’t see how this gets you what you want.”
Ryan shrugged. “Some people like that sort of thing. I can be sweet, too. Watch me.” He got up and headed to the bar for another round.
We quietly watched him. He sat, leaning and whispering into the ear of the young man beside him. The bartender sat a shot of a clear alcohol in front of Ryan at his quick tap on the bar.
When he turned to the young man again — Marcus Kilburn, we found — there was something desperate in his stare, covered by a smile and a laugh. The last nine years showed on his face as if they were fifteen.
We/Paul stood from our table. Anima and Paul struggled for control as Paul slowly made his way over to the bar and sat on Ryan’s unoccupied side. He gave us a glance that became a double-take and a slow grin.
He called over the bartender, then leaned over and whispered, “We’ll make a person out of you yet, Lina.” Ryan never forgot who we were, never forgot us in the face of one of our shards.
“I don’t want a drink,” Paul said as Ryan ordered him a Bloody Mary.
Ryan shook his head. “Have one anyway,” he said with a charming grin. We didn’t miss the bit of powder that fell into the drink as he passed it to us. We swirled the drink quietly, disappointed.
Ryan leaned back so that we and his other companion could see each other. “I think you two fellas should come with me,” he said. “It’s too loud for a good conversation here.” He held our hand as he stood without the slightest waver.
We left our drink on the bar and followed Ryan and Marcus up the lift to a small hotel room. Ryan talked non-stop the entire way, and Marcus seemed unable to do anything other than giggle and hang from Ryan’s arm.
“Come on, make yourself at home,” Ryan said as he ushered us into the room. We stepped over a small pile of dirty underclothes as we entered. How long had he been staying here? Even Hourig was quiet in the wake of this messy view into Ryan’s life.
Marcus danced across the room and sprawled on the rumpled, stained bed, and then bounced back up. We pushed some food packets and drug ampules on the desk into a tidy pile, then leaned on the edge warily.
Ryan watched as Marcus did, in fact, make himself at home. Clothes flew as Marcus stripped with sashaying hips, shooting us both sultry but glazed looks.
Ryan clapped us on the shoulder. “You didn’t have enough to drink. Hold on, and I’ll get something to fix you right up. Let’s see… what do I want this body to feel tonight?” he mused.
“I don’t want alcohol or drugs,” Paul said as Ryan reached around us to rummage through the desk drawers, fingers grazing Paul. Paul didn’t flinch.
“I’ve got something guys like you love,” Ryan said into Paul’s ear.
“You’ve done this before?” we asked quietly.
He smiled slowly. “Over and over again. Enough to know that there’s a special bond between maker and made.” He found an ampule he liked. “Trust me, this is going to be a fun ride.”
We held the ampule he handed us without using it and gestured over his shoulder at Marcus. “We think he’s going to have all the fun by himself,” we said.
Ryan whirled to look. Marcus had sprawled himself on the bed, touching himself. Ryan grinned and grabbed several of the ampules from the desk behind us. Sirpa began to pay more attention as he injected Marcus with one ampule and himself with two. He stripped and positioned Marcus as he wanted. Anima withdrew as completely as she could. Where was our mentor within that manic, dominating man?
Paul waited until they were thoroughly entranced with each other to tentatively join in. He had done this before, although typically with people less… frantic than Ryan.
The drugs kept the two men going far longer than their organic natures would have typically allowed, and Paul’s body sat empty in a chair while they continued without him. Even Paul had been repelled by the snarl etched on Ryan’s face. Ryan took shot after shot of narcotic, never flagging, while Marcus lay nearly insensate below him. Blood and other fluids stained the sheets.
In the early morning hours, Anima took up control of Paul’s body. She moved jerkily into the bathroom and took a scalding water shower, drowning out the noises from the other room. Anima scrubbed until Paul’s body was red and raw, then stood dripping after turning off the water.
The bedroom was quiet.
Sirpa slipped into the body as Anima retreated and moved us gracefully into the dark bedroom, wet footprints trailing behind. Head tilted, she observed the tableau on the bed: Ryan was collapsed on top of Marcus, both slack in their exhaustion.
Sirpa stepped forward and flicked on the light. Neither man breathed. Blood had noticeably pooled in Marcus’s body, but not yet in Ryan’s. Ryan’s eyes were still wide, mouth open, but his hands were finally slack on Marcus’s hips. That aching desperation was finally eased. We watched him in shocked silence, an indescribably heavy feeling filling us.
Stepping back, Sirpa put out a call to Congress member Stephen Galen.
“What?” Galen snapped sleepily when he answered.
“The Congress has been keeping secrets on Ryan,” Sirpa said in her low, quiet voice.
“Who is this?” he said asked, annoyed. “What are you talking about?” We heard rustling in the background and a woman’s sleepy voice.
“This is Lina, of course,” Sirpa said calmly. We couldn’t tear our eyes away from the bed. Ryan wasn’t waking up.
Galen sighed. “Alright, Lina,” he said with exaggerated patience. “What’s wrong with Dr. Budden?”
“That might be something you can answer better than I,” Sirpa replied. “Tell me what you know about Ryan, Stephen.” We had evidently known so very little of him.
Galen was suspiciously quiet for a moment, and then he asked, “Where are you?”
“In a hotel.” Sirpa gave him the address and room number.
“Okay,” Galen said slowly. “What state are you in?”
Sirpa’s voice was nonchalant as she said, “I am unclothed.” Beyond that, we weren’t sure what state we were in. “How long have you been covering for Ryan’s indiscretions?” she asked.
“Is he unconscious?” Galen asked, a sense of urgency finally coming through. “Has he been… indulging?”
Sirpa closed her eyes for a long moment, and then opened them to stare down into Ryan’s sightless ones. “He’s dead.” She wiped a tear from her cheek.
Galen swore. “You should have called before he died,” he barked. “We might not be able to recover — hold on.” The line went silent as we were put on hold.
Sirpa held us together ruthlessly, dashing away Anima’s escaped tears and kneeling to ease Paul’s shaking knees. She breathed slowly and deeply, centering us, drawing us together as Lina. We could not show weakness to Congress. Not after Harold Chase.
“Lina? I’m back,” Galen said quickly. “Look, stay there for the moment, and don’t touch anything. I’m sending out a team. We have to see if we can recover anything; worse case, we’ll try the revivification from his latest backup…” Galen muttered quietly to his wife for a moment as Sirpa’s eyes widened, then narrowed. Revivification of an organic? Very risky business.
“Right,” Galen continued. “Lina. Remember, don’t touch anything.” He closed the call.
With a steady hand, Sirpa reached out and closed Ryan Budden’s eyes. She found her/Paul’s clothes and dressed without drying, then left the hotel room at a stroll, handily missing Galen’s cleaning crew.