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CRUNCHED - Machine of Death story

Posted on May 19, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Okay, here's my Machine of Death story that didn't quite make the cut.  Hope you like it.


CRUNCHED

 

They met at a graduation party.  It was one of those parties everyone is invited to, and actually, nearly everyone shows up.  The reek of beer and cigarettes hung in the air.  Smoke swirled around people as they danced, or moved through the room.  Music boomed from a central stereo, the beat making the walls vibrate.


Katherine, Crystal, and Kelly hung around in one corner of the living room, huddled around the machine giggling.  Alley (don’t you dare ask her if it’s short for Alexis or Aaliyah) sat near them at the bottom of the stairs.  Alley wore a midnight blue velvet corset over a white camisole with black jeans and platform knee-high boots.  She turned her blue shadowed eyes and black lips to the giggling girls, planning to hit them with some scathing remark when her eyes found Katherine.


Katherine wore a gingham-checked top, like a tablecloth, but she had it tied under breasts, leaving the white camisole to hang free over her flat belly. Her black jeans hung loosely, low on her hips and covered her red Chuck Taylors.  She covered her mouth as shelaughed.


“Can you believe it?” Crystal asked in between giggles.


“All of our slips start with ‘C’,” Kelly laughed.


“I know,” Katherine said, her voice like a song.  “But really, would we have expected anything else?”


“I know!” the other two chimed in together.


Katherine glanced toward Alley and smiled at her.  “What about you?”


Alley stood and finished her beer.  “No.”


The girls watched her and laughed.  Alley felt their eyes on her back as she walked away.  It was the hardest thing she’d done all day.

 

***


Katherine stepped out the back door alone.  The smell of chlorine and night air shifted around her as she walked and she shoved her hands in her pockets.  The Goth-girl had really stuck in her mind.  Why hadn’t she gotten her slip?  She saw her over by the pool at a low table, another cup in her hand, looking like she wanted to bite someone.  Something in Katherine stirred and she had the sudden desire to be bitten.


Walking nonchalantly through the yard, she made her way toward the graduate.  She passed the outside bar and picked up a cup.  “Hey,” she said as she approached the table.  “Congratulations on surviving four years of hell.”


The girl actually smiled and bowed her head.  “Thanks, you too.”


“I’m Katherine.”


“I know.”  Then she took a long drink, got up and walked away.


What is she trying to pull? Katherine smiled at her back and followed.  If she was being coy, it was working.  “Hey,” she said when they were side by side, “you’re supposed to respond with your name.”


The girl swung her ponytails to the side and stopped.  “You had four years to learn my name.  Why do you want it now?”


Katherine shrugged.  Was it because she hadn’t wanted a slip?  Was it because this was the first time Katherine really saw her?  “Well, I’ve seen you around, but we never really had a chance.”  She took a risk and touched the girl’s hand.  The girl blushed beneath the white powder on her face.


“We have the chance now, though?”  She phrased it as aquestion, then without warning, she leaned in and kissed Katherine full on the mouth.  She tasted like beer and strawberries and smelled faintly of cinnamon. Katherine closed her eyes and let the experience wash over her.


“Katy?”


The moment ended and Katherine turned abruptly.  “Kevin.”


“What are you doing?”


She glanced at the woman she’d just kissed and shrugged.  “I was congratulating a fellow graduate. This is…” she trailed off and turned to the girl again.


The Goth stood there glaring at Kevin.  “When you’re done with mister Wonderful, then you come to me.” And she walked away.  Katherine felt a pull as she watched her back disappear into the crowd.

 

***


Alley wandered into the crowd, something stirring within her. She heard them talking before she got out of earshot.


“What you get?” Katy asked.


“Crash.”


“Another ‘c’.”  This time Katherine sounded less than enthused.


Alley smiled and left the party.

 

A week later, Alley sat in a small corner coffee shop, taking a break. She had worked there all through high school, and now she wondered if she should keep the job, or go to college. Her boss came bustling through the door excitedly.  The other patrons in the shop watched, but kept their curiosity to themselves for now.


“Al,” she called.  Alley hated it when anyone shortened her name, but she put up with from her boss. “Come help me with this.”


She huffed as she tried to manhandle a medium sized box.  Alley rushed to meet her and took an end. “What is it?  A new cappuccino machine?”


Her boss shook her head and they set the box on a far table. “Better,” she said with a laugh. “These things are all the rage right now.”


Alley felt her stomach twist as they opened the box.  They lifted the toaster sized box out.  It was heavier than it looked and they set it on the table.  The black box hunkered there with threebuttons, a slit, and a small hole.  Each light had a small LED on top of it. 


“Oh, a Death Machine!”  One of the patrons stood and came over to them.


“Have you tried one yet?” her boss asked Alley.


“Not at all.”


“Yes, twice,” the patron responded, watching them excitedly. “When will it be up and running?”


Alley sighed and shook her head.  Tossing her hands, she left her boss to chat up the machine and went back to her coffee.


“Hey!”


Alley looked up toward the door.  Katherine had been walking by and now entered the shop.  “I’ve been looking for you.”  She came to Alley’s table and slid into a chair.  “Do you know how hard it is to find someone without a name?”


“How’s Kevin?”  She wanted to know where this visit was going before she let herself get into it.  The feelings she felt at the party had only slept. Seeing Katherine again brought them all back.


Katherine shrugged.  “I don’t know.”


“Wow.”


“Yeah, I got tired ofall the alliteration.”


They laughed together and the sounds mingled in a musical way, pulling Alley toward her.  “He wasn’t good for you, anyway.”


“Yeah, well, after the party, we all sort of went our own ways.” She stood and went to the counter, looking for a server.


Alley hopped up and went to her post.  “Can I help you?”


Katherine laughed.  “Seriously?”


“Yeah, can I help you?”


“Oh,” Katherine looked up at the menu.  “I’ll have a cucumber sandwich and small mocha double shot with a shot of vanilla.”


Alley nodded and rang it in.  “Eight bucks.”


She took the money, then pulled on the gloves.  The sandwiches were in the cooler, already made, and she handed one to Katherine.  Then she made her coffee.  “You going to college?” she asked while she pressed the cappuccino.


“I start at State this fall.  I’m studying art.”


Alley stirred the confection and handed it to her.  “I’m still debating.”  They went and sat downat Alley’s table.  “I’m thinking about either going and studying biology, or taking a backpack trip across thecountry.”


“Seriously?”


She nodded.  But Alley hadn’t wanted to backpack alone.  Katherine made college sound likethe better option.  “State, huh?”


“Yeah.  I want to sculpt, but I suppose I’ll have to teach to make a career out of art.”


Alley knew Katherine had done art in high school, but she hadn’t realized how into art she’d been.


“Biology, huh?  I would never peg you as a scientist.”


Alley smiled.  “Thank you. But really, it’s just a precursor to Mortuary Science.  All that dissection is right up my…” she stopped and smiled.  “I’m Alley, by the way.”  And she spelled it for her then gave her a phone number.


“So, you got a machine here?”


Alley turned to look at it and shuddered.  “Yeah, today.”


“Have you done it yet?”


“Absolutely not.”


“Why not?  You’d think that would be your thing, death and all that.”


Alley laughed and finished her coffee.  “That machine did to death what Hot Topic did to Goth.  I like the philosophy of death, not the certainty of it.  I know I’m gonna die, I just don’t want to know how.  Where’s the fun in speculating your death when you have it printed on a little card.”


Katherine was silent for a moment and sipped her coffee.  “I get crunched, but I don’t know how or by what. I can speculate on that,” she finally said.

 

***


Alley sat in the library, studying for her final.  Kat walked by and gently ran her fingers over Alley’s braids.  Then she turned and sat beside her.  “Hey, guess what?” she whispered.


“What?”  Alley looked up from her book to see what Kat wanted.  She had her hair pulled back into ponytails and smelled of patchouli. She wore the White Zombie t-shirt Alley had given her for her birthday.  All she wanted to do then was snuggle up to her and kiss her, but she waited for her to speak.


“You remember the death machines from a few years ago?”


Alley nodded, waiting.


“They’re making acomeback.”  She pulled a paper out of her messenger bag and smoothed it out on the table over Alley’s book.  “Look. They’re modifying them to be anthropomorphic because people couldn’t relate to the boxes.  They speculate that it was the box that eventually turned people off.  Can you imagine?  An android-like machine telling you how you’re going to die?”


“No.”  Alley had never given in to Kat’s cajoling and had never gotten a reading.  She really did like the mystery about death and the stories that death told.  She didn’t want that taken away by a slip of paper that said something stupid and mundane like CANCER or LIVER FAILURE or OLD AGE.  “If it can’t tell me VAMPIRE or WEREWOLF, I don’t want to know.”


She had done her face in pale white with purple eye shadow and deep red lips.  She could see Kat looking at her mouth, but they were in the library and Kat never was that adventurous.  “It only tells you the real way you’ll die, not your fantasy.”


“Then I want to die in your arms, and if it won’t tell me that, then I don’t want to know.”


Kat laughed quietly.  “Silly.  I get crunched.  How would you die in my arms?”


“Maybe I crunch you.”  Alley pushed the paper away and turned a page in her book.  “But that comes later.  Right now, I have tostudy.”  She leaned over and kissed Kat on the cheek.


“All right.”  Kat blushed and gathered her paper, stuffing it back in her bag, then hurried out.

 

***


Kat’s finals were stressful but much more subjective than Alley’s.  She had to put on an art show with her bestwork from the year.  She was to be graded on presentation as well as promotion. The business of art was just as important as the creation of it if they were to be professional.  Kat had taken advantage of the art fair downtown to put her final together.


She gathered her last pieces and placed them in a cart.  Mostof her work was already in her booth and she pushed the cart off campus andtoward the bus to get her final offering to the fair.  The car stopped before she got to the corner and Alley rolled down the window.  “Hey, gorgeous, need a ride?”


With a laugh, she stopped and put a hand on her hip.  “My momma told me to never talk to strangers.”


“Well, I guess there’s no one stranger than me.  Come on.”  She popped the trunk.


Kat pushed the cart to the back of the car and carefully transferred her sculptures to the trunk.  “How did your final go?” she asked when she got in the car.


Alley shrugged.  “I think I did all right.  At least we got to do it on an actual cadaver this time.”


Kat knew Alley had done her mid-terms in a test book, labeling pictures.  She also knew that Alley had hated it.  “Well, I’m sure you aced it.  You studied hard.”


They drove downtown to the fair and Alley stopped by Kat’s booth. “How about you, are you ready for this?”


Kat nodded, nervous.  “I think so.  I’ve distributed flyers and handed one in.  Here I have every project that ever earned an A and all of it is for sale.  I have a ledger and a cash box, ready for any sales that happen during this exercise.”


“I’d give you an A,” Alley said, smiling at her.


“Well, you’re not my teacher, but thank you.”  She leaned over and kissed her before getting out.


They both removed her art from the trunk, setting it on the tables Kat had set up in her booth.  “Oh look!” Kat exclaimed.  “The booth over there has one of the new machines!”


“Yay,” Alley said, no enthusiasm at all in her voice.


“Remember the old Fortuneteller machines?  It looks likethat.”  She set the piece she still held down and jogged out of the tent.


The booth wasn’t that far down and Kat stopped in front of it. “Hey,” she said to the boy standing near it.  “Is that thing up and running?”


The boy didn’t smile, didn’t say a word.  He just nodded.


“Can I try it?”


Another nod.


“Sweet.  How does it work?  I haven’t tried this type yet.”


Now the boy spoke, moving to stand beside her.  “You sit on the stool there and hold the machine’s hand. Put your card in there to pay for it. A small needle pricks your palm for the sample.  Then, when the machine has your results, it gives you a slip of paper and then comforts you.”


Kat sat down on the stool.  “What if I don’t need comfort?”


“You can cancel any speech from the machine with this button.” He pointed to a small red button on the side of the panel.


“All right.”  She took her wallet from her pocket and slid her card into the machine.  Then, holding the machine’s hand, she waited for the pinprick of pain.  It came fast, but she still jumped, then laughed.  As the machine relaxed its grip, she withdrew her hand, cradling it in her other arm.  A small slip of paper slid from a paper feed on the front of the panel.


Tentatively, she took it.  It should say CRUNCHED if the machine was consistent, but what if it said otherwise?  Turning the paper over in her hands, Kat sighed in relief.  “It says the same thing as before.”


“I’m sorry, dear,” the machine began.  “You are important enough to go on living no matter what the paper says.” Kat pushed the red button, silencing the machine.


“Thanks,” she said, standing.  “At least it’sconsistent.”  She smiled and waved, turning back to her booth and jogging back to Alley.


Alley did not look happy.  She tapped her foot on the hot ground and glared at Kat.  “Was that really necessary?”


“It says the same thing it did last time I tried it, the same thing it did eight years ago.”  She slapped the slip of paper down as though that would make it all better.


“Of course it does,” Alley replied.  “How else can they call it the Death Machine?  It has to be consistent and accurate.”


“Ah, but is it accurate?”  Kat slipped the paper into her pocket and returned to arranging her art.

 

***


The first death predicted by the new machine happened on the advent of a new technology.  Most of the news devoted its stories to the droids that were set to hit the market in the next few months.  They were sleek, human-like machines that, when programmed properly, could mimic human movement, speech, and even some mannerisms.  Kat sat heavily at the kitchen table, the paper spread before her, and sighed.


Alley gazed up from the counter where she deftly dissected a peach. “Is everything all right?”


Kat took a moment to answer, but she waved her hand over the paper. “Of all the hype,” she started, then paused.  “Of all the hype,” she said again, calmer, “you’d think the machine people would want to taut this a bit more.  I mean, look at this.”


The peach devoid of its pit, Alley took it to the table.  “What?”


“Right there, that little story in the corner.”


“FIRST DEATH PREDICTED BY NEW MACHINES IS A DOG,” read the headline. “’We didn’t want a dog that would die of liver failure or heart disease,’ said Tommy, 8, of his now deceased puppy Mort.  The parents knew all too well the pain caused by getting attached to a pet only to watch it suffer in disease.  So when the new Gypsy Death Machine printedout a slip that read CRASH, the family was quick to adopt the spunky pup.”  Alley skimmed down to the end of the short article.  “Mort was killed over the weekend when the gate was left open and he ran into the street.  Indeed, he was hit by a motorcycle, fulfilling the prognosis still printed on the little tag the family had framed for his memorial.”  Alley took a bite of the peach.  “So?”


Kat waved her hands over the article.  “This is big news!  The new machines are every bit asaccurate as the old toasters were.  The Gypsy Death Machine is in every mall, almost every restaurant and every single hospital.  This story should revitalize them.  It should draw people to them like never before.  Now we know we can trust them.”


Alley made a noise as she choked on the peach.  “Trust them?  Kat, they’re machines.”  She forced herself to swallow the bite she’d nearly spit out.


“Please go,” Kat pleaded.  It wasn’t a command to leave, but a request to go to the machine.  “I have to know.  For me, please, do it for me.  You’re killing me with this lack of information.”


She just shook her head and pushed the peach away.  “First, I’m not killing you.  You get crunched, remember?  And my reasons for not going are still the same.  Look at me, do I look like I want to know how I die?”


The silence stretched between them.  Alley knew she looked every bit the part, but it was fun to see her lover squirm.  Today she had her black hair tied up on top of her head and spiked out.  She woreblack dangle crosses from her ears and a thick ring in her nose.  The deep read of her lips and the dark blue of her eye shadow stood out on her pale face. She wore a simple black t-shirt, but the baby-doll cut hugged her breasts and her waist.  The deep blue jeans kissed her skin as they held her legs. In a word, she looked deadly as opposed to ready for work.  “Look, I have to get the mortuary.  Don’t let it bother you so much.  When it’s my time, I’ll welcome it, but not amoment before.”  She leaned over and took Kat’s face in her hands.  “I love you.”  And she kissed her so deeply, Kat’s eyes were still closed when she pulled away.

 


That night at the mortuary, Alley couldn’t get the dead dog out of her mind.  Even as she leaned over the stiff of the evening, she kept wondering how sick it seemed to get a dog based on his death prediction.  How would Kat have felt if she had decided not go to college with, not to move in with, and certainly not to support Kat simply because her slip said CRUNCHED?  Better yet, what if she had forbidden Kat to go into sculpting?  Maybe one of her precious statues will fall on her.  Maybe that’s what her slip means.  Should Alley go home that instant and demand that Kat give up the one profession that drawson her passion?


She stood up and looked down at the corpse.  Other than the Y incision, it hadn’t changed.  “Stop it,Alley,” she said aloud.  The scalpel down on the table, she pulled off her gloves and rubbed her eyes.  “Hey, Green,” she yelled to the office.  “I need a break.  Can you open this guy up for me?  I’ll be back in a few.”


A short balding man scurried out of the office.  His eyes never left Alley’s body as he hurried to the table.  “Something wrong?” he said in a voice far too sexy to come from his body.


“It’s Kat,” was all she offered.  It was bad enough her colleague had the hots for her, she didn’t need to have images of what he might be imagining when he thought of her and her girlfriend.  “I’ll be back in a few.”


Outside, she lit up a cigarette and pulled out her phone. “Kat?” she said when the connection opened.


“Alley?”  She sounded worried, damn it.  Alley wanted to comfort her, not bother her.  But it seemed the only way she could comfort her was by getting a stupid slip of paper that read CANCER or BURIED ALIVE.  Actually, BURIED ALIVE sounded like it might be interesting.


She shook her head to clear it.  “Hey, Kat, yeah, it’s me.  How are you?”


“I’m fine.  I’m sculpting the dog and it’s making me feel better.”


She was sculpting thedog.  “That sounds about right.”  Alley couldn’t believe she was sculpting the dog.  “Hey, instead of that, why don’t we go out?  I don’t work tomorrow and I know this guy who got one of those droids.  He said he wanted to see if it could dance like a human, so he has it in his club.”


“Is that Rodney?”


“Yeah,” she laughed and pulled on her cigarette.  “Remember when he dropped out to become a bartender and we thought that was the coolest thing?”


Kat sighed a laugh and Alley could picture her shaking her head. “That guy was a riot.”


“Yeah.  He saw me at the hospital a week or so ago and we struck up a conversation.”  She dropped the cigarette and stomped it out. “I hadn’t mentioned it before because you seemed like you needed the solitude for your current project.”


“Oh, the Crusher, yeah.”  She paused.  “I finished that yesterday.  Now I’m working on the dog.”


“Um, yeah,” Alley wasn’t sure if Kat had heard her.  “But how about a night out tomorrow?”


“Sure,” she did sound better.


“All right.  Wear something killer and I’ll see you later.”  She kissed the phone.  “Love you.”


“Love ya,” she said, almost chipper.  Alley frowned as she closed the connection and tucked her phone away.


“Hey Green,” she said jogging back to her station.  “Thanks.”


“No problem.  Hope everything’s all right.”  He waited, hopeful of more detail, but Alley just smiled and settled beside the body.


***


Kat stood in front of the mirror.  She had never done the Goth look well, but she knew what Alley liked. Heels would do her no good for a night of dancing, so she wore leather boots that buckled up her calves over skin tight, black jeans.  The white camisole hugged her and she took the gingham-checked top she wore so long ago and tied it beneath her breasts.  She tied her black hair back in two ponytailsand tousled her bangs.  She was putting on her make-up when the door opened down stairs.


“Kat?”


“Up here,” she answered and turned back to the mirror.  The knockout that stared back at her smiled in anticipation of the night.  “Alley, ready or not, here I come.”  She smiled and jogged out of the bathroom and down the stairs.


The look on Alley’s face must have been as astonished as her own when Alley surprised her with an outstanding look, and Kat smiled, satisfied at the reaction.  “Hey, you look great,” Alley said.  “Let me get ready and we’ll head out.”


After waiting a half hour, and not eating anything, Kat wandered into the kitchen.  She figured they’d eat out on the way to the club, but her stomach rumbled in protest to waiting longer.  The crackers sat on the counter and Kat took a few out.  As she bit the first one, Alley came down the stairs.


She looked amazing in her mini skit and striped thigh-highs. Her boots laced up the back and crept up over her knees.  She wore her midnight blue, velvet corset over a white camisole and had pulled her hair up on top of her head, much like she had done the night before.  Her blue shadowed eyes crimped up as her ruby red lips smiled.  “Shall we head out?”  She sauntered up to Kat and held out her elbow.  “Come with me, darling, and I will show you the world.”


Kat giggled and took her arm.  “So does he really have one?” she whispered in excitement.  She knew Alley would know what she meant.


“Last I heard, and he knows we’re coming tonight.”  She led her to her motorcycle and both of them climbed on.


The ride through town exhilarated Kat and she closed her eyes in the wind.  The scents of rain and patchouli mixed to fill her head with images of dancing and drinking and people.  She smiled in anticipation.  At a stop light, she adjusted the helmet Alley made her wear and scratched her chin.


“If you get crunched, it won’t be because I let you ride without proper equipment.”  Kat could still hear her lover’s voice in her head every time she put the wretched thing on.


They parked a block from the club and Kat tucked the helmet into the side pack.  “Look at the line,” she whispered as they walked toward the door.


“Don’t worry about theline.”  Alley took her hand and pulled her along.


“Girls!” the voice greeted and a handsome man peeked around the line, smiling at them.


“Rod!”  Alley picked up her pace and Kat jogged to keep up.


“Alley Kat!”  He held out his arms as if to embrace them.  “Meow!”


“Hiss,” Kat clawed her fingers and made to scratch, but they all laughed.


“Hey, come inside, dance, drink and be merry.  I have something to show you,” he winked at Alley even as he put his hand on the small of Kat’s back and pushed her gently inside. The disgruntled moans and protests quieted as the door closed behind them.


“Hey, Rod,” Alley shouted over the music, “I need to use the little girl’s room.”  She squeezed Kat’s hand before letting go.  “Be right back, love.”


Kat smiled as she wandered away through the crowd.  “Come with me!” Rod called over the music and took Kat’s hand.  He led her through the club to a booth at the back.  DJ’s lined up music as the current selection boomed through the club.  “Good job, boys, keep the people hopping!”  They walked through the booth to a staircase at the back.


“Will Alley know to find us up here?”


“Doesn’t matter, I just want to show you something, then we’ll meet her at the bar.”


They ascended the stairs, the bass beat shaking her body and mixing with the heady feelings caused by the lingering scent of patchouli and Kat shook her head to clear it.  A single door greeted them at the top of the stairs and he pushed it open.  “Come in,come see.”  He pulled her in through the door and led her to a window overlooking the club.  “Look.”


Kat let go of his hand and stood at the window.  The mass of people writhed and bounced on the dance floor below.  Lights played over the walls and equipment as well as heads and upturned faces.  She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be looking at.  “What is it?”


“You can’t see it, can you?”  But instead of disappointed, he sounded amused.  “My droid is already working the floor.  He completely blends in.  And get this, I thought you’d appreciate this, I had him built to work like a Death Machine.  No longer a toaster, and now no more Gypsies, we will have the Death Machine that you can truly relate to.  Not only will these droids revolutionize our world as a whole, they will revitalize the Death Machines too.”


Kat felt her heart beat faster.  A new machine?  She wanted to see it, to try it.  “Where?”


Rodney looked over her shoulder.  “He’s down there on the floor.  The black shirt with the hot pink tie.  He takes your hand, like the Gypsies, but the slip comes out his belly button.  That was my idea.  You know, feel it in your gut news.”


It was a bad joke, but that didn’t detract from Kat’s excitement. “Oh,” she thought of Alley and almost felt disappointed.  “Alley won’t like it.”


“No?”


“Not at all.”  She scanned the crowd for her lover.  “She does not want to know.”


“Oh.”  Now he sounded disappointed.  “Well, she doesn’t have to do the prediction.”

 

***


Alley poked at her eye in the mirror and reapplied her lipstick. The music of the club beat through the walls and spoke to the rhythm in her body.  She moved with it as she made her way out of the restroom.  People hung in corners talking close, trying to be heard over the music, but not heard by anyone else.  Others danced around in winding paths as they moved from one place to another.  Alley flowed with them, working her way to the bar.


Kat was nowhere to be seen, but neither was Rodney.  They were probably talking somewhere and would find her when they were ready.  She wasn’t in the mood for a drink yet, so she wound her way through the crowd to the dance floor.  The music pulled at her and she closed her eyes, dancing, swaying, bouncing.  She felt bodies move around her, with her, touching and shoving.  It felt good to be surrounded.  She hadn’t been dancing in so long.


Then the music changed and she slowed her dance, but her eyes remained closed.  A body moved in behind her and pressed close, matching her movement, swaying with her rhythm. Hands moved along her arms, and led her in a dance that she had never tried before.  The hands gripped her, strong, but gentle, and then they found her hands.  They held hands for a moment and she opened her eyes.


A tall man wearing black with a bright pink tie stood before her. He smiled down at her and then she felt a prick in the center of her palm.

“OW!” she yelled and reached up to slap him, but as she drew her hand back, she saw the needle in his palm.  It wasn’t a needle he held.  It came up out of his skin and retracted as he drew his hand away.  “You fucker!” she yelled again.  “You’re a Gypsy!  Get the hell away from me!”


“Do you not want yourslip?”


“What?  You took my prediction?  You fate raped me!!”  The anger flooded out all feelings of fun and frivolity.  She felt it rise from the soles of her feet, heating its way through her legs and torso.  It hit her heart and the resounding beat drowned out all opposing rhythms.  Her hands clenched and unclenched, waiting for her brain to make a decision.  By the time the heat reached her head, she could have exploded.  Her hands clenched and came up by her sides as she glared at the machine.  “I never wanted to know, and now you’ve taken that away from me!”


She didn’t realize she was on the floor, pounding on the machine, until hands tried to pull her away.  “Get away from me!  This thing took my future away and now I plan to return the favor!”  She shouted, but the music had stopped.  It didn’t matter, she couldn’t stop pounding and tearing. The machine’s skin was softer than rubber and her fingers tore it easily.  She ripped into the neck and head, looking for anything that might kill the machine.


Muttering, incoherent, she tore and pulled and gripped and shook, and then she felt the jolt.  One strong strike hit through her entire body and she shuddered before collapsing.  The people in the club surrounded her, their faces blurring and melting into one another, and then everything went black.

 

***


Kat saw her lover go down and immediately ran from the room.  Rod stayed behind a moment longer, but she only heard him exclaim in worry.  Hurried steps behind her let her know he followed.  The DJs in the booth stood motionless, watching the commotion on the floor, and Kat pushed by them.


“Alley!” she called out over the noise of the crowd.  “Alley!”


The people parted as she pushed through and she saw her lover on the floor, lying motionless on the droid.  The droid lay in pieces.  She dropped to her knees and took Alley’s hand in hers.  “Alley!”  She squeezed the hand looking for a response.  “Call an ambulance!” she shouted at the crowd when she got none.  “Alley, it’s me, Kat, please.”  Though what she pleaded for she wasn’t certain.


Rod knelt opposite her, running his hands over what was left of his droid.  “What did she do to it?”

A moment of stunned silence passed between them as Kat looked angrily at him.  “What does it look like she did to it, you moron, she killed it!  Destroyed it!  It must have done it’s little prediction on her.”  The last she said quietly and ran her hand over Alley’s hair.  She took her wrist, trying to find a pulse the way Alley had taught her, but she couldn’t find one.  Sirens sounded outside, but she could only sit and rock and hold Alley’s hand and cry.  “Come back to me,” she whispered.  “This isn’t how you’re supposed to go.  You’re supposed to go with me.  Come back to me.”


The paramedics came in and knelt beside the mess.  Strong hands took Kat by the shoulders and gently but firmly moved her out of the way.  “Let us do our job, ma’am.”


But even as they lifted Alley onto the stretcher, she knew she was gone.  Rob stood and made his way around the people to sit beside her.  He held a slip of paper in his hand and it shook as he lifted up to her.  “I’m sorry,” was all he could say.


The slip dropped from his fingers and drifted down into her hand. It was blank, but Kat turned it over. One word stared emotionlessly up at her for a moment before she dropped it.  It said MOD.

 


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