Their chances of survival had gone from unlikely to well nigh impossible, yes, and Mr. Murdoch was at least partly to blame fort that. Might things have turned out differently though, if the fraction that had been named Mr. Hand, had not failed to correctly predict the actions of the man?
They can`t help but wonder, even though it hardly matters anymore, Mr. Murdoch has scattered them, has destroyed their continuum and they are either already dead or soon will be.
Mr. Hand sees no reason or possibility to interfere with the inevitable anymore and maybe that is Mr. Murdoch`s work as well, it was becoming difficult to tell. Slowly and on legs that don`t quite want to obey anymore, they leave the others to fend for themselves.
The streets are waking, some of them already busy with life again, their control over the humans is slipping, yes, but, much to their surprise, they find themselves not minding as much as they should. It seems familiar to Mr. Murdoch that way, teeming with people, a little further down the street they`d find the automat where they`d forgotten their wallet, they recall.
No, that wasn`t correct, he had been supposed to have forgotten it there. Mr. Hand staggers and pauses, the walls between them and his memories were crumbling ever faster, making them dizzy with the rush of the invasion of thought, of feeling. Emotion as a slow- acting poison that divides and unites at the same time, that gently at first, but now so much quicker breaks down their synchronicity.
The vessel protests, gasping for breath and someone`s fingers tug at their collar, brushing against the skin there. A strange thought occurs to them… him…them. Me. Whose skin is this, whose fingers are those if not mine?
Mr. Hand begins to walk on again and for the first time they notice the feel of the leather against the skin of the vessel and can`t grasp why it does not seem wrong. Carefully they wind their way through the throng of people, that now has begun to pulse through the streets in full force and even though there is no place they`d go or they could go, there is a slight feeling of…frustration, thank you, Mr. Murdoch, at the now rapidly advancing decline of the vessel.
It has now started to perspire freely from the exertion of simply walking and they have to pause again. Right next to them a burly man is carrying wooden crates into a shop and Mr. Hand gazes down at those still waiting on the sidewalk to be brought inside, apples, red and green, Mr. Murdoch remembers eating apples quite like those when he was a child. Mr. Murdoch liked their fresh, tangy taste, they recall. Mr. Hand bends to take one and slowly walks, or rather totters on.
Slipping into a narrow alley, off the busy street, Mr. Hand leans against a wall, the vessel would like to rest, would like to lie down and sleep, but that is irrelevant now. Mr. Hand lifts the apple to his lips and carefully takes a bite, ah yes, he remembers that but it is quite new to them, sweet and crisp and juicy. They suddenly remember summer and playing ball on the beach and climbing trees and playing hide and seek and… no, Mr. Murdoch remembers it, even if they can still feel the soft sand under their feet, can still feel the rough tree bark under their fingers. Slowly and awkwardly Mr. Hand chews and swallows the bite, the vessel does not want to eat, but they posess the memory now and they need to know if he recalled it correctly.
Mr. Hand finds he now needs to support himself on the wall if he wants to keep on moving towards wherever it is they`re going, carelessly he drops the apple and staggers on. Should they have tried that apple, they wonder? That memory, that summer seems to have…weakened them, seems to have made dear Mr. Murdoch suddenly so much stronger still.
Summer…night…the smell of the sea…lights reflecting in the water…Emma`s hand clasped tightly in his, Mr. Hand`s fingers grasp nothing as they form a fist. Emma, sweet Emma, Mr. Hand closes his eyes, one of Mr. Murdoch`s most important memories, yes, their marriage, their love…her betrayal. Mr. Hand`s teeth dig into his lower lip until they taste the vessel`s black, nearly curdled blood, salty and metallic, another new experience for them. Would the blood of those women he had to kill have tasted the same, they wonder. Maybe they should have tasted it.
Mr. Hand`s eyes snap open, the vessel now shaking, the things he had done only because of her, the blind rage she`d made him feel, the hurt and yet…yet how he remembered the love that had been twisted into this abomination. Emma`s eyes, her smile, her lovely silken skin, so real under fingers that have never explored it. A raspy chuckle that ends in something almost like a groan escapes Mr. Hand`s throat, he closes his eyes again and now blindly, aimlessly stumbles along. They cannot understand what it was that Mr. Murdoch felt for Emma, but the imprint can, the imprint can understand that need, that longing that would kill them because they had failed to learn to experience it.
They had failed to understand how even at the height of bloodlust he had still missed her so terribly, yes. But they didn`t miss her, did they?
Someone bumps into him and Mr. Hand`s eyes open reflexively, a woman, in her early thirties maybe, dark wavy hair, blue eyes that gaze at him with a mixture of surprise and wariness. They know their appearance is not perceived as trust inspiring by the humans. They would never look at them with that kind of pleasant curiousity Mr. Murdoch had seen in Emma`s eyes when she`d glanced at him that very first time.
Emma, her fingers gliding down his cheek, her mouth so close to his, so warm, so soft.
Mr. Hand blinks, grabs the woman`s shoulders, she struggles, but they can`t let her go before they know. Mr. Hand kisses her fiercely, licks, bites her lips before abruptly letting her go again.
The woman screams, her eyes now wide and terrified, before fleeing down the alley. The kiss has been a …fascinating experience, but not quite how he remembers it because kissing someone like he had kissed Emma is not within their abilities, because no one could ever kiss them like Emma had kissed him. Mr. Murdoch would be disappointed, no, he was disappointed, yes.
Suddenly a sharp spasm of pain causes the vessel to almost double over.
Oh, what was that? Mr. Book has left them, Mr. Hand can feel it, poor, poor Mr. Book. But it will soon be over for Mr. Hand as well, the vessel`s demise is approaching rapidly. The ground is shaking now, something is changing, but not for them, never again for them. Mr. Hand awkwardly sits down on the cobblestones, there is nothing left to do for them but wait now, yes. Wait for the end of their kind. Mr. Murdoch had been devastated when he`d lost his parents, they recall and now they shall lose so much more.
There are footfalls in the darkness, approaching steadily and confidently. Mr. Hand raises his head, oh, of course, Mr. Murdoch would come here, to the city walls, where there was no Shell Beach, it was only natural that they all should have found their way there. Mr. Hand rises with some difficulty, follows the man`s shadow down the claustrophobic alley.
They can already feel the rumble of change, of destruction begin to shake the city, it does not really matter anymore what happens now, but he needs to know, yes, he needs to know.
“John,” Mr. Hand whispers,” been waiting for you, yes,” and it is true, he hadn`t been expecting him, but he had been waiting for him, that man he`d become. “What are you doing?”
Mr. Hand indeed was curious what would become of their final experiment now, because the memories of a killer could not tell him that and what John Murdoch would choose to do now, only he himself could know.
“I`m just making a few little changes around here, `s all,” Mr. Murdoch replies almost off handedly, as if it were hardly worth mentioning.
“Are we sure that`s what we want?” Mr. Hand enquires and suddenly `we` seems so many fewer, because they certainly do not want any changes.
“I`m prepared to take my chances,” Mr. Murdoch replies, but of course that is easy for him to say as they are only his chances.
“I`m dying, John,” Mr. Hand says, not quite sure why, because what does he expect? Sympathy maybe? Are they and him not…brothers in… spirit in a way? “ Your imprint is not agreeable with my kind, but I wanted to know what it was like…how you feel.”
And that was the truth, it always had been, although it is much clearer now, it was not them, they had been suspicious, wary, no, it was him, who had wanted to know, who had needed to know, to feel.
“You know how I was supposed to feel,” Mr. Murdoch says and there is something almost like pity in his eyes, pity for their failure to understand.” That person isn`t me, never was. You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human, “ he lifts his hand to his forehead, “ well, you`re not gonna find it…in here. You went looking in the wrong place.”
Mr. Murdoch turns and walks away, their little exchange over and Mr. Hand can only stand and watch the man take a deep breath and begin to create the last chapter in the long history of their extinction. A shifting in the very foundations of the city, a creeping twilight already beginning and then Mr. Murdoch opens the door and they shrink back in pain as the deadly light hits Mr. Hand`s sensitive eyes.
They cannot stand looking at it, although the sun was a vivid and pleasant memory for Mr. Murdoch, pale winter suns, hardly peeping over the horizon, scorching golden summer suns, warming and sometimes burning his skin.
Mr. Hand staggers back into the darkness where they belong, his legs now finally collapsing under him. Mr. Murdoch was right, yes, they indeed had been looking in the wrong place, but unlike them, Mr. Hand now understands why.
He is gasping for breath again, as the vessel, that now could as well be his body, Mr. Hand cannot tell anymore, finally, finally wants to die. It is quite tragic that he should understand only now, now that it is too late and yet, maybe it is a realization he could not have shared with them anyway. How could he have explained to them that tiny sliver that was neither them nor John Murdoch? That tiny sliver that wanted to experience a kind of closeness and connection their omnipresence could never offer.
There is a feeling now, as if a storm was rushing through him, cold and devastating, that seems to drown out their constant murmur. Mr. Hand shudders feebly, and then…then there is only silence, their voices are gone…and they are gone.
Mr. Hand blinks, once, twice, listens, but no, there is only him now, only him.
“Only me, yes,” Mr. Hand whispers.
He smiles his first and last truly own smile and gratefully dies alone.