Caïn slid into the engineering lab’s darkness, back against the wall, unwilling to face away from her, as though she might lash out to end him too. Like a lover, he had always whispered to her in his native French. But tonight, alone with her coiled in the dark, he spoke aloud in his clumsy Universal.
“Do you know what you have done?” His words wavered at the end, forcing him to swallow before telling her. “Alberi is dead.”
Squinting, he could barely trace her outline in the shadows. He slapped the wall hard enough to sting his hand. Even in the sharp movement, she recognized the familiar pattern of his palm. The ceiling shimmered and she flooded the lab with a golden glow. He recoiled from the warm radiance. Alberi had programmed the lighting to be reminiscent of a summer day in his beloved garden.
“Full white light.” Caïn fired the words at her.
“Oui, Caïn.” The room exploded with the harsh glare of scientific scrutiny. Lines crisped, and threw opaque shadows on the concrete floor, creating deep relief with sharpened edges. Even under this unforgiving light, her skin looked flawless, the only thing in the room smooth to the touch — but cold and hard as stone.
The obsession that had consumed so many of his years waited with infinite patience for a command she understood. She sat in silence, incapable of sensing the urgency that mortality imposed upon time. But what command could Caïn give? She was equally incapable of knowing his pain — any pain.
No arms nor legs. No eyes, no ears, no lips. Only a brain hidden behind a desktop control panel. But what a beautiful brain. What she lacked in facial features, she more than compensated for with her body. He had given her struts the curve of a woman’s calf. Her control console, set at the perfect height for his light caress, bore the rounded angle of a female hip. More stunning, more intelligent than any woman of flesh and bone — and more treacherous.
“Sixty seconds of temporal displacement, that was all we asked, no? You were just supposed to send him one minutes into the past, then pull him back to …” Caïn’s brittle voice broke, but his jaw continued to work.
Immobile, immortal, amoral. She said nothing, bating him with her silence.
He found his voice and held it caged behind clenched teeth, “How can I ever go home again, eh? Live under my father’s roof again? Look my mother in the face?”
Her perfect skin gleamed, and deep inside his soul ignited.
Amoral, certainly. But immortal?
He scanned the room. Scattered to his left, every conceivable device he might need to manipulate the substrate of the world. To his right lay base materials: plates, metals, plastics, any component necessary to shape his ideas into reality.
A carbotanium pipe, half his height in length, rested against the wall, left over from the construction of a heavy duty crane. Keeping his face to her, he slid along the room’s periphery until he could tip the pipe away from the wall and the tube drop into his hand with a satisfying heft.
Armed, he dragged the cold carbon alloy toward the center of the room. The end scraped bare concrete, ringing a metallic monotone.
“Everything I had, I poured into you.” He exhaled hot gusts, too little to vent the heat building within.
His reflection inched up her counter top. Lined forehead proclaimed him the older of the pair of reasearchers. Ruler straight lips made an equilateral triangle with the deep ruts at the sides of his nose. Hair, eyes, and engineer’s uniform matched the black of her console, disappearing those features from his reflection to leave a spectral floating face.
He had poured the resin for her counter himself, concealing her processing units deep within. Such care, such satisfaction, leveling the liquid, forming her shapely curve, polishing her surfaces mirror smooth.
“I was so proud of you.” The fire growing inside stole his oxygen, leaving a weak whisper. “I would have shown you off to the world.”
He whipped the pipe overhead.
“Alberi loved you.”
A blowing rumble drown out all other sound and his heart pumped his brain full of blood-lust.
“And you destroyed him, no?”
He dipped his shoulder, putting his whole weight behind the pipe.
“I loved you,” he screamed and slammed his weapon down on his own reflection. A spiderweb of cracks erupted over her smooth surface. The blow reverberated up the pipe and jarred his wrists. Pain forced his breath out in a grunt and fed the flames licking the inside of his soul.
“Dysfonctionnement critique détectée,” she blared at him in panic.
He heaved the pipe up again. “He was …” He pounded her.
“ … my brother and you …”
Shards of resin broke free and flew by his face like shrapnel.
“ … murdered …”
The counter bowed in the middle.
“ … him.”
One blow at a time, he meted out her death.
Components fell to the floor like rain on a metal roof. The pipe turned slick with his blood.
“Dysfonctionnement critique détec…“ She groaned a mortal sigh before her struts collapsed and dumped her control panel onto the floor.
Mouth open, wordless screams with each slam of the pipe, he beat her again and again until the console shattered. Fragments of resin skittered across the floor in all directions.
Still, the internal furnace of his rage demanded more fuel. He struck the chair, the supports, small chunks of the counter on the floor. Screaming and striking out until the pipe snapped in two, somersaulted over his head and clattered to the floor behind him.
He threw the useless piece of carbotanium aside. He kicked a large chunk of the console. The remnant slid across the floor scattering flakes of resin like bread crumbs. He stomped and hit and cried and spit until hands pulled him backwards. He did battle with these too, until the arms pinned him to the floor. Blurred faces surrounded him.
“What’s all this … ?”
“Why are you … ?”
He answered their half-formed questions with screams wrenched up from deep inside.
Caïn stilled at the recognition of his mentor’s voice.
“Caïn,” Goddard’s voice softened.
He stared into Professor Goddard’s face. His mentor reached out to brush his brow, like a father calming a distraught child.
Caïn flinched away from the sting of the Professor’s touch.
Goddard withdrew and stared down at his own fingers, shining bright with blood. “Oh Caïn, what have you done?”