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What comes after

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After they had dealt with Jill came the moment Dr Bleak had been dreading, when he had to tell Jack about Alexis. She wanted to see of course, so he took her down into the cold storage cellar where what was left took up a whole wall of iceboxes.

There hadn't been enough of her for him to try bringing her back. Oh of course he could have found substitutions, but what came back would then not have been entirely Alexis and tobring something back that was like Alexis without being her would have been unfair to Alexis and cruel to Jack. And whatever else he was (and he was a great many things, and a fair number of them horrifying) Dr Bleak was not a cruel man. But still he had been unable to let go of the parts of the woman who had meant so much to his apprentice, even though he desperately needed the chiller space.

When she proposed the automaton he was stunned. He had always known that one day her genius would exceed his own, but had never expected it to be so soon. When she showed him the interface she had devised to connect the spinal chord to the circuitry he blamed acid vapours for his tears and wished his choking surge of pride had come under happier circumstances.

Jack worked like a demon and finished it faster than he could have imagined, because it was easier than thinking. They connected it to the electrodes and when lightning struck her painted eyes flicked open. Jack leant down to kiss her and her lips tasted of cold steel and Alexis felt nothing.


Some things were wrong, and some things were Wrong. Oh there were some questions of morality that only applied to those without imagination, and there were some fundamental laws of the universe that could that could be violated at will by anyone with a mind audacious and brilliant enough, but there were some things that were Wrong and could never be made to fit. Square pegs in round holes. Nonsense girls in logic worlds. Boys in bodies that society treated like girls. The dead trying to live the lives of the living.

Jack knew Alexis was unhappy. Alexis knew Jack was unhappy.

Alexis also knew that Jack would one day kiss another girl in front of a roaring fire, the room even cosier for the shutters barred tight against ghouls and ghasts and the wolves howling outside, and she was glad of it.

On the chill moor with the mist caressing the heather she guided one of Jack's hands to her hip, placed the other on her metal breast. The other woman offered no resistance, and her lack of fear of contamination was just another reminder that her body was no longer flesh.

"I used to be soft Jack" she said gently. "I used to be warm. Now I'm just this cold lump of metal with a face painted on."

"I don't mind!" lied Jack desperately.

"I do. I can't feel, I can't taste, and can't do any of the things the living do." She paused before continuing. "And I don't want to anymore, either. Because I'm not living. It's time for me to move on Jack, to wherever comes next. I don't belong here anymore. Will you let me go please, to somewhere that I do?"

There was only one answer Jack could give to that.


Her consciousness returned slowly, as if waking from a deep, refreshing sleep. Alexis found herself standing in a grove of pomegranate trees in front of a statue of a girl with white hair with black steaks, the dew-spangled grass deliciously cool against her bare feet. No sound shattered the perfect silence, no breeze disturbed the stillness of the pomegranate leaves or rustled the filmy fabric of the gown she found herself wearing.

Alexis felt no urge to move from this spot, none of the desire she had felt in life to hurry to the next event or the next or the next when this stillness was so satisfying to her. So she remained there, under the black velvet sky frosted with ten hundred thousand diamond stars, and slowly came to realise that the girl was not a statue but was beginning to move by the tiniest increments.

She was content to wait as long as she needed to for the girl to speak. Haste was for the living. She was grateful to have led a rich, joyful life of delicious meals, lively dances kicking the straw off the inn floor to the cheerful tune of the fiddle, and love both deep and eager, whispered words and hungry mouths and keen young bodies saying yes, oh yes to pleasure. But she no longer felt any desire to experience such sensations. Now was the time for reflection, to savour those memories slowly and reverently over the centuries.

Slowly, so slowly, the girl with the black streaks in her hair blinked her eyes, and Alexis calmly waited another aeon for her to be ready to speak.

"Welcome." said Nancy.