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FREE EXCERPT FROM THE FIRST FEW CHAPTERS OF THE NOVEL
NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER
Love is transformation. I found a man who turned lead into gold, but he disappeared. I looked for him violating all rules, until I discovered that I myself was the key. Everything depended on whether and how I carried out a terrible assignment. Love, world peace, and my own conscience were at stake.
My little Erato, I beg you, help me!
THE SEXIEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS
Naked in the mirror. Your body is fine, small size, moderate breasts, dark hair on the head and on the pubis. You like to caress yourself from the bosoms down to the clit. But you did not undress to your rawest reality just to enjoy this insignificant pleasure, rather because from there you will better notice the leap.
How are you going to do it this time? You know you can take off even with your eyes open: your imagination is powerful enough to deliver you instantly to a tribe of cooks with their gadgets, eager to experience new recipes with you. If you close your eyes, you can turn into a goddess with big bosoms full of sweet milk, even without giving birth, nursing a thirsty Priapus and drinking from his extraordinary phallus, before sucking it with your vagina and swallowing into your womb his entire body. Or you can piss soda or Girl Cola and offer it to the naughty son of the neighbors, as when you were a kid, or be yourself a shaggy man and raise your penis to penetrate the lips and labia of a curvy, groaning nymph.
But today, instead of closing your eyes, you look into them and let them gaze at themselves. You dive into your brown iris and go down through a blue and green and black ocean. You have just fallen on the retina, you kiss it and climb up the optic nerve to discover a velvety tunnel leading to the ear, which you lick and nibble from inside. The tip of your tongue exits through the eardrum to reach the earlobe, but it can’t stay there since its root gets twisted with your other tongue and is drawn into its mouth, to let you savor its honey while its taste buds sample your entire salivated body. You cling to the uvula with your arms and swing, letting your legs hang down, but you slip and fall. If you keep going down, you will reach the lungs or the stomach. It might be good to eat, digest, assimilate yourself, but the bubbling of the acids down there suggests you should move to the larynx instead. You land on the vocal cords, where a musical note wraps you up. With the next inhalation you are aspirated into the lung. A chilling breeze on your neck makes you lose control of your movements. You end up crossing a stroking membrane and fall into a white lake: you are in your own breast, caressing it from inside and bathing in your milk. Both your host and guest bodies start to tremble, but you have to obey the call of the unexplored world down there. You resume your journey and reach the belly, where you relax your back against the large rectus muscle, feeling on your front the caress of the elastic epidermis that emanates a soft pink light. The mattress is firm, even if you never worked hard to train it, as evidenced by the soft pillow of grease that gently tickles your neck so you do not lose the excitement. Once you retrieve your breath, you wrap your arms and legs around the navel and go down as a firefighter sliding down the pole till you land on an ovary, causing hormones to boil and an egg to mature. You enter it and descend through a Fallopian tube to the womb, where you install yourself as your own beloved daughter. Now you are truly pregnant, and as a mother you feel the explosive inflation of your breasts, while as a daughter you thrash about in the amniotic fluid, suck your thumb, blink your eye, and take advantage of the contractions of the womb to go down through the vagina, stimulating the G-spot and discovering new points from H to Z. Next time you will pay a visit to your buttocks, legs, and feet, but now the placenta is broken and there is no way back. As a mother you are already shaking and shouting, moaning and groaning, panting and gasping; as a daughter you head out, pull your shoulders and arms, climb up the front of yourself, not without giving a lick to your maternal clitoris. With a final scream of painful pleasure your hips emerge, followed by the legs that come together like a mermaid’s and only separate when the feet lastly escape. And there you are, mother and daughter, both wet from hair to nails, pressing lips to lips, breast to breast, navel birth-cord navel.
Then you separate from the mirror and cry like a newborn.
The building was a black pyramid straight out of a manual of Ecofunctionalism. On a cloudy day and without GPS, nobody could distinguish the two photothermovoltaic southeast and southwest sides from the third, but for a hole that occasionally opened and closed at the north base to swallow a black egg advancing on two wheels. From the high class of the motor vehicles and the fact that we started at ten o’clock, two hours after ordinary mortals, a possible observer of the parade could have inferred that we were privileged people. And it was true, even though we tried to hide it. I, just twenty-eight, was enjoying the employment I had always desired. As for the kind of job it was, no hint appeared on the building’s facade.
I, too, advanced in my motoregg to the entrance, lowered the window, and looked into the iris scanner.
“Welcome to work, divine Ishtar. Your pretty eyes shine more than ever. Have a nice day.”
I opened my mouth wider than the hole that was waiting for my entry: the programmers had changed the greeting! I was used to the formula that had received me until then, “Welcome to work, pretty eyes of Ishtar.” The first time, the compliment made me smile, but a year later I knew that my colleagues were all greeted with the same words of admiration. I was glad that arrival was the only repetitive part of my workday, though sometimes I wondered why the message did not vary. Any of us could have invented an endless sequence of charming welcomes; we could share the duty of choosing the next day’s phrase for each other and always have a surprise. Now I got one, but the new formula also lacked imagination. For a moment, I thought someone was making fun of the new emotions that were shining in my eyes. Or maybe the scanner had been dazzled by the image of Utu’s eyes, still reflected in my iris since our previous day’s erotic coffee.
Once in the parking lot, I left my motoregg on the automatic platform that would deliver it to its space and entered the one-person elevator. The half-minute trip was dedicated to developing a strategy: if I didn’t see Utu during the coffee break, I would knock on his office door, just to say hello. Like a teenager experiencing her first love, I had counted the hours since we’d met in Liberty Park. Fifteen. Some seventy thousand beats of my racing heart. And I couldn’t even console myself by reading his latest news report that morning. If he had prepared one, for some reason Nergal had not published it.
While I was wondering how anyone could reject one of Utu’s articles, the elevator opened at the floor corresponding to my iris. To my surprise, I found myself in a new world.
The hallway was similar to the one I was used to seeing. On the left, the break room was followed by a row of offices; today, however, they were less numerous and at greater distances from each other than yesterday. On the right wall I could see four large glass doors, and in front of me stood two strangers.
The column on the left, a graceful, tall man in his fifties, black hair and silver temples, looked at me with two gray storms. Despite his gentle smile, I couldn’t help imagining him transformed into a waterspout: whipping me with hurricane winds, soaking my clothes until dissolving them, twisting all my skin from the navel outward.
The right column was an attractive woman in her forties, long, straight black hair, dressed like her colleague and me in a blue shirt under gray jacket and pants, but with a wide arc glowing in her mouth from east to west and north to south, reflected in the huge silver necktie that sliced through the center of her breast. I imagined that while making love she would become a beautiful elephant and introduce her proboscis into my vagina, giving me pleasure with her rough skin. Then she would blow strongly to inflate me from the womb, until I exploded or started to fly.
“Welcome!” they said in unison, opening their arms wide.
I shielded myself with “Must be a mistake.”
“No mistake, Ishtar Benten. Congratulations on your promotion.”
What did they mean? I hadn’t asked for a change, nor did I think there was any opportunity for promotion, other than becoming one day the director of the Department of Written Chronicles, replacing Nergal or one of his successors, possibly Utu himself, who was senior to me, as most colleagues were. But now I was on another floor, with these strangers waiting for a hug. I remembered that Nergal had welcomed me in a similar way one year before, on my first day at the Agency. As I had done then, I finally opened my arms and delivered myself to my future.
“My name is Shiva Anu,” said the woman. She pressed her chest against mine, leaning forward to compensate for her higher stature. For a moment I felt her nipples squeezing mine. It was no time to ask if the promotion meant I would not have to deal with Sexual Undertones anymore; I waited in confusion to be released, which she did at last after giving me two kisses on the cheek and one in the air, brushing my lips with hers.
“I’m Zurvan Enlil,” said the man. He pulled me to his chest to repeat the same ceremony, which ended with a kiss on the top of my forehead.
“Zurvan represents the creative force, constructive and pro-positive,” explained the woman.
The man nodded with a slight smile. “And Shiva is the great destructor, the critical, pro-negative force,” he said, emphasizing each word as if it were the compliment of a lover. “Thanks to her, we can attain perfection.”
Such strange presentations only succeeded in increasing my confusion. I didn’t know where I was, or why I had been chosen for this promotion. I was flattered to think that someone had appreciated my chronicles of Sexual Undertones so much, but I thought I couldn’t do anything else.
Zurvan burst into a bass laughter. “Want to know where you are? This is the Department of Scriptwriting.”
I didn’t know there was such a sector in the News Agency. Did that mean I was going to deal with explicit fiction? The two columns each caught one side of me, and arm in arm we entered the temple. First stage: the break room. I was relieved to see that the atmosphere was similar to that of the analogous room in the floor of Written Chronicles, with the same daylight diffused by a fake white window. Only the space was larger, with many chairs and a round table in the middle. I sat on the couch and accepted the steaming cup that was waiting for me. As soon as the coffee touched my lips, I knew it had been sweetened with a spoonful of honey, just as I liked it.
“We are the gods,” Shiva said.
I could not help smiling to myself, remembering that Nergal had said the same a year earlier.
“We are the true gods. We create the real world,” insisted Zurvan. “We’ve chosen you because of what you’ve shown this year, and above all because yesterday you demonstrated a special talent for teamwork.”
“This might be a case of mistaken identity: I’ve created all the news alone so far, from the idea to the final version. That’s the norm in Written Chronicles.”
“Yesterday, in the break room,” Zurvan said simply.
No! That was too much. Either Utu had betrayed me by revealing our conversation, or we had been spied upon. Just as there were cameras watching the streets, there could be some inside the Agency, although we had not been informed of this. The two hypotheses horrified me, but of course I preferred the second and decided Utu had kept our secret. Then I remembered that the data protection law prohibited any nonconsensual recording. Only the police were allowed to break it, and could monitor every citizen in public places, such as the Internet or the streets, for the sake of general safety. It was true that the directors of a company like ours had the right to control the employees, to the extent needed to maximize labor efficiency. Was that enough to justify the recording of a private conversation?
“You’ll have a very significant raise in pay, and your work day will start an hour later and finish an hour earlier,” said Zurvan. “In fact, today we’ve got about fifty minutes before the arrival of your new colleagues and the beginning of your workday.”
This development surprised me as well. I could not even imagine a salary much higher than the extraordinary pay I had earned till then. This promise had the immediate effect of placating my spirit and dispelling any doubts.
“Can I go and say goodbye to my former teammates?” I asked.
Zurvan and Shiva exchanged a quick glance.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t know which floor they are on,” she said.
“No way to reach them by the elevator: now your eyes will take you here,” he explained.
“And the stuff from my old office?”
“It’s already in the new one,” Shiva replied.
“It was brought before we arrived,” pointed out Zurvan.
Should I be angry? Someone had moved my stuff without asking, assuming that the change would be accepted without protest. But my cowardice was purchased with gold and incense, so I forgot about the myrrh. I tried to remember if I had left something to be ashamed of in the old office—my little Erato! I had the urge to get up and run for her, but I could not show such mistrust. So I postponed the search, while my right brain prayed for two incompatible desires: that my muse was alive and safe in the new office, and that she had not been touched at all. At the same time, the left hemisphere was looking for a way to visit my former colleagues—Why fool myself? The one I wanted to see was Utu. For a moment, I thought about how to announce my promotion to him.
“Of course, you can’t tell anyone outside this department about your new job,” Shiva said. “As in Written Chronicles, we are under a secrecy contract. And your new salary will also remain confidential.”
I thought there was a contradiction in her statement. It was true that Chroniclers were not allowed to talk about their work outside of their department. But Scriptwriters knew many things about them: Shiva and Zurvan, at least, demonstrated detailed knowledge about my previous activity. In fact, it was evident they had accessed the recording of my erotic coffee with Utu. I blushed, thinking of people who could have viewed the scene. We had been treated like guinea pigs, and I had passed the test. What would Utu say if he knew that? He could not console himself with a promotion. Would he share my sense of having been abused? Would he be happy about my promotion?
I looked into the iris scanner of my new office, which had already been programmed to recognize me, and the door opened. In principle, henceforth it would obey only my eyes. However, just yesterday my previous office had betrayed me. Who could assure me this wouldn’t happen again? I remembered when Nergal guaranteed that nobody could violate my space, the room featuring a nightly self-flushing system so that I only had to keep order as much as I liked. Now I wanted to think that inviolability was interrupted only during the few hours that I had ceased to belong to the Department of Written Chronicles. And I silenced the doubts, because my new world tenderly caressed me and this office was wider than the old one, with a large bouquet of flowers of all colors welcoming me in the daylight coming from the false window. The ergonomic chair was more comfortable and allowed me to choose from a hundred different types of massage. But above all, there she was, upright on the table. My little Erato. How did they dare to touch you, my dear? They tried to put you in the same position as in my old office, but they couldn’t resist and have dropped your tunic to reveal your little nipples, here behind the harp. How could they expect that I would not notice it?
At eleven o’clock Shiva and Zurvan called me to the room facing my office. They opened the large glass door with “Welcome to the conflict place!”
I looked around. The daylight of the usual false window, a table with four chairs, screens on the walls, plenty of space to move. And an enormous redheaded man in his mid-thirties, politely smiling at me from near the ceiling, above a sharp chin that resembled a bird’s beak. I had never seen anyone as tall and wide, and thought he could not even exist: a basketball player would look like a dwarf next to him. I imagined him with a raven’s head and wearing metal armor, stretching a bow loaded with a long, hard penis pointing like an arrow to my pubis.
“Ishtar, this is Ashur Morrigan, your partner of war,” Zurvan said.
“Ishtar Benten,” I introduced myself, extending my hand up to him.
Ashur overlooked it and embraced me the Agency way, stooping down to my height. I smiled in apology while our cheeks crossed, although in that moment he couldn’t see me, and when we came face to face I kissed his lips instead of the air, trying to remedy my novice clumsiness with excess. His lips tasted like lemon.
“Today is a notable day,” Shiva said. “We are going to launch a new program.”
“And a new team,” Ashur added in a sweet voice, looking at me with the same warm smile as before.
“You will sing, divine Ishtar and Ashur, the wrath, war, and loves of the selected heroes and heroines who will cross the sea to seek glory,” explained Zurvan. “We have the island. It’s a small rocky place in the Caribbean Sea with two abandoned villages on opposite sides of the central mountain. Their names will be your choice. And it will be your responsibility to create encounters and clashes between the two communities, which will soon result in a bloody conflict.”
“You have to invent imaginative situations in a simplified context,” added Shiva. “There has to be a villain, a dictator, causing the provocation that triggers the war.”
“Although there may be righteous heroes fighting for the wrong side, due to their high sense of honor or patriotic loyalty,” Zurvan continued.
“Above all, the conflict has to seem inevitable, to make the story plausible,” Shiva returned.
I kept following the explanations of the two directors, moving my head like in a tennis match. Now it was Zurvan speaking again, “Of course, all areas of the island will be covered by cameras, and viewers will be able to choose which scenes to watch.”
“You’ll know their votes, who are they willing to sacrifice in the battle of the day, who they want to fall in love with whom. But the destiny won’t change however much they pray and vote, nor will they be able to foresee the future.”
“You’ll decide everything,” Zurvan emphasized, becoming more and more excited. “So you’ll dominate the public in pleasure and in pain, hooking them to the expectation of what might happen.”
“But…will there be characters of flesh and blood?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Zurvan. “Everything is real. Our ideas would remain in the cave if the filmmakers, actors, hosts, and media did not bring them to life in the world.”
“The chosen ones will obtain the fame,” Shiva continued. “But they will be allowed to improvise only in minor matters, taking care not to contradict your script or draw too much attention to their own initiatives. In fact, only we, the gods, can achieve perfection, since we see the world from above and know everything.”
I began to understand what they expected of me. And to think that I had always despised reality shows! In the belief that they would have offended my imagination, I hadn’t seen one in my life. Now I discovered I was wrong: behind a semblance of truth, every reality show followed a detailed script, and I myself would be in charge of creating new ones.
All of a sudden, a distressing thought assaulted me. “And…the deaths?”
Zurvan laughed. “The deaths will be represented by mortal wounds, but they’ll be fictitious, though the audience will come to believe in their reality. The result will be the elimination of the character from the island, after a funeral at which friends and family truly cry—because what one misses is the presence, more than life, and especially because you’ll ask them for rivers of tears to thrill viewers.”
“I love the idea!” Ashur said, winking at me from on high.
I did not share his enthusiasm, not yet. But the work didn’t seem to be unpleasant. Basically, it remained healthy fiction, and it was a new challenge for my imagination.
“I’d like the heroines to be just as strong and brave as the men,” I said, “and love to be given as much importance as war.”
When speaking, I gazed directly at the two directors, to make it clear to Ashur that our future collaboration would be professional and egalitarian.
Zurvan smiled, “This is precisely the reason you’re here, divine Ishtar! We’re happy to see the ease with which you assumed your role. In your team, Ashur invokes hatred, Thanatos, the death wish. You, Ishtar, will promote love, Eros, the life instinct.”
“Although both of you also carry inside the seed of your contrary,” Shiva said.
“This conflict inside you will be the life force of your scripts,” Zurvan hit the ball.
“You’ll not neglect other sources of dramatic tension, however, so that your world can have more dimensions, while remaining simple in each of its components.”
“For example, a key element will be the struggle between Good and Evil.”
“But what is the Good?”
Shiva’s question caught me by surprise. I tried to guess the answer she expected, but I felt confused, as if being examined on the only subject I had not studied. Luckily, Zurvan came to my rescue before I was forced to improvise.
“According to Zoroaster, the Good was the Truth,” he said. “The Ancient Greeks thought that it lay in Beauty or Knowledge. Monotheistic religions, however, found it in the submission to God or in Chastity…”
“Or in Love,” I took the easy opportunity to break my passivity.
“Or in Love,” smiled Zurvan. He seemed to take advantage of all occasions to make me feel at ease.
Shiva interrupted our idyll to return to the subject at hand. “Finally, in the past century, they discovered that there is no truth.”
“So it’s better to opt for fiction,” the pro-positive director continued. “As did Socrates and the prophets, we, the gods, seek a truth inside ourselves. And as the founders of the great religions, we offer our invention to humans to provide security, to fulfill their lives.”
“So what is the Good?” Shiva struck again.
“It will be what Ishtar and I decide,” Ashur said. He might have seemed a bookworm trying to impress the teachers, were it not that, rather than looking at them, he kept gazing into my eyes from the top of the mountain of his body.
“Exactly!” Zurvan congratulated him.
“However, the public must believe that what they see is real,” said the pro-negative director. “So the gods have to hide from humans. We don’t ask to be revered but through our work.”
“And also through human life itself,” pointed out Zurvan in turn. “In fact, at the end of the day each viewer will inadvertently force himself—or herself—to follow a script, imitating one of our characters.”
One morning was enough to complete my education as a Scriptwriter. When we stopped, I felt a mixture of relief and giddiness, as after a lengthy examination. If the test was to demonstrate my learning speed, I passed with flying colors. By lunchtime I had digested the rules and earned the right to go to the lounge for a banquet with my new colleagues. There, amid ritual hugs and kisses, I met the other Scriptwriters.
This is Tapio Tammuz, a youthful man in his forties. His constitution is strong, but on a small scale, probably about five feet, that is four or five inches shorter than I. Golden hair, tanned skin, bright slanted eyes. I imagine him as a hunter chasing me in an autumn forest with a penis rifle that shoots sperm balls. He hits my face and I fall on a bed of dry leaves. He reaches me, ties my hands and feet, impales me and lights the fire to roast me. And I am pleasured by every bite as he checks the doneness of my ear, my nipples, my lips and labia…
“Tapio, the great optimist, believes in solidarity and loves change,” said Zurvan. “He aims toward a future of progress and prosperity.”
“However, I do have ancient roots called Locke, Spinoza, and Keynes,” the new acquaintance told me with a slight stammer, turning on his almond eyes.
This is Artemis Lahar, a maternal chestnut, though somewhat masculine, slightly hunchbacked, and in her fifties, I guess. I see her turned into a scarecrow with the angelic face of a straw doll. She rages and whips me with a bundle of spikes, then ties me to a woolen web and penetrates me with an ear of corn.
“Artemis, the great pessimist, believes in selfishness,” Shiva explained. “Her objectives are safety, the conservation of old values, the return to a past paradise.”
“My tradition is as old as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Malthus and Smith,” said Artemis.
This busty blonde with cheerful eyes and wavy medium-length hair, who welcomes me bouncing, as if she were recovering her best friend after a long separation, is Enki Neith. She must be entering her thirties, although her skin and spirit seem ten years younger. I imagine her as a goat with a fish tail, breastfeeding me with sour milk full of oxygen bubbles so that I can breathe while she drags me inside the sea. There she drives her head into my naked pubis, transforms her lips into a sucker, and engages my vulva like a tapeworm.
“Enki the feminine represents control, group coordination, and planned order,” Zurvan said.
And finally, this slim thirty-something with a goatee, premature gray hair, and twisted eyes is Haddad Hoder. I note with surprise and concern that I could imagine sex with him without the need of any transformation. But the gap doesn’t last long, and finally the vision arrives: he becomes thunder and lightning and falls upon me, giving me electric shocks that make my hair stand on end.
“The male Haddad represents chaos, competitive individualism, and messy genius,” said Shiva.
Haddad dedicated a grin to me, “I’m the lord of thunder and lightning.” His hoarse voice hit me like a thousand-volt shock: was it possible that he had read my fantasy?
Sitting at the round table, which was ready for lunch—although it was clear that none of us had lifted a finger to prepare it—I enjoyed a variety of gods-worthy delicacies, enchanted with such witty and fun company. What a difference, compared to the loneliness of Written Chronicles! There you worked alone; you ate in your office and could only interact with another colleague in the twenty minutes of the coffee break. Here, most of the working hours were shared. It was clear that we formed teams of two that represented the poles of a conflict. But what were the tasks of the other couples? I posed the question to Haddad, the lord of thunder and lightning, who was sitting beside me.
“I cast euphoria and excitement,” he replied.
I knew that we were forbidden to talk about our work outside of our department, but I had not been told that the secrecy law also applied internally. I thought maybe it just wasn’t the right time, so I didn’t insist and went along with changing the subject. Now the conversation was about going to a party.
“It’s tomorrow night,” explained Zurvan from the other side of the table. “Marduk invites all the Scriptwriters, along with the best in society.”
Haddad turned to me, looking at my earlobe with one eye and my lips with the other. “I promise there will be thunder and lightning.”
I remembered that in Written Chronicles we had only had a couple of parties, all at Nergal’s home, without any guests outside our department—and, of course, without the presence of Marduk, the great producer, owner of the Agency, whom, to date, I had failed to meet personally. However, even if the parties with my former colleagues had no thunder or lightning, I still found myself desiring that they would find a way to invite me to the next.
“Where’s the party?” I asked.
“In the castle,” answered Ashur, whose tone meant “Of course.”
To my dismay, all my colleagues laughed.
“You don’t live in Olympus Hill, do you?” said Enki, her voice excited as if she had just seen an alien. “We all live there. Why don’t you move there, too?”
“To the castle?” I asked, surprised that they lived together.
“No,” Enki said. “The castle is Marduk’s. It’s on top of the hill.”
“We live close by,” explained Ashur, “each one in their little castle.”
“Come on, honey!” insisted Enki. “Move to Olympus Hill. Please!”
My motoregg runs home while the front transaxle of my mind is moving to the castle of my new golden life and the rear wheel of my heart is stopping to wait for Utu. She climbs the hill with the autopilot on, wondering if on the peak of success I will find the station of happiness. She crosses the lush streets of Valhalla, the village that has lodged a year of my silver solitude, and I go back to the present and ask myself if it is true, if it is true that everything has changed.
I enter via the little path in front, contemplating my home as if I already had to say goodbye to her. She is a building like those in the classic movies. Even the roof has the familiar look of the old series, although I know that the tiles are photothermovoltaic. She is my first house, after the tiny student apartments, since I left my family to go to college when I was seventeen. The first home I have owned…Well, the first that will be all mine, after extinguishing the mortgage in a few years thanks to my good salary. I feel I love her, despite having shared her rooms with only loneliness. I look into the iris scanner with moist eyes, and the garage takes me into her womb, lenient as a mother from the old movies receiving her daughter who returns after running away.
Once inside, I extracted the two purchase boxes from the front entrance and took them to the kitchen. The contents of the cold storage box went straight into the fridge, without me checking whether the distributor had fully satisfied my order, but when I started to unpack the other container in the pantry, I had the impression I heard a noise from upstairs.
Was there anyone inside? How could anybody be there without having triggered the alarm? Just in case, I grabbed my cell phone, ready to call the police, and kept waiting, concentrating all my blood into my ears. After a couple of minutes with no new sign, I crept to the hall, glanced up from the base of the stairs, and checked that the alarm was on in the control box next to the front entrance. If there was a thief, he could only get out through a window, or down the steps that I kept in view while my thumb was poised to press the emergency call button on my phone. I remembered with relief that the police would take just a few minutes to arrive, but then it occurred to me the criminal might try to escape by taking me hostage. Now, however, technology came to my aid. I inserted the code into the alarm system, put on the multiscreen view, and rewound to see if anyone had approached the building in the last few hours. Then the girl appeared at the top of the stairs with her arms raised in surrender.
“Please don’t call the police,” she whined.
I was going to pull the trigger of my phone when the intruder appeared to have a spasm, bent over double, and tumbled down the stairs until she lay on the ground a few feet away from me. The surprise was greater than the fear, and I remained paralyzed watching the girl, who was writhing in violent convulsions, beating on the floor with hard strokes that I felt hurt me more than her.
Suddenly she stopped and lay on her back with terrified eyes and foaming lips.
“Please don’t call the police,” she repeated.
“I’m calling a doctor,” I said.
Only then did she seem to realize that she was on the floor, injured. “No! I have no insurance. It was just an epileptic fit.”
Even today, knowing the enormous consequences of my encounter with the girl, I wonder why in that moment I felt moved, as perhaps I had never been before. My eyes still get wet with tenderness, as when I watched her, with that scattering of teenage pimples, lying on the floor and crying like a kid. I left my phone on the table, crouched beside her, and began to caress her to calm her down. Why did I do it? Why didn’t I think she could be feigning her pain, that she could have an associate upstairs waiting for the right moment to attack me? Did something inside me know she was going to change my life? I felt she surrendered to my touch like a kitten rescued from long neglect, and I gave myself as a kid would recover her pet after believing it to be lost forever. And in that moment my imaginative power was gone: I could not visualize any erotic transformation of my new acquaintance.
“Forgive me, Ishtar,” she said when she managed to control her sobs.
How did she know my name? It was not written on the front door. Perhaps she could have read it upstairs, in a document on my desk…
I looked into her eyes...and I was shocked!
We were sitting face to face on the floor of the hall. I had stopped caressing her and felt stunned, looking at those irises that I found extraordinary, even though they were common brown.
“Oh, of course. The eyes. It’s true…they’re yours.” She put her forefinger on her right eyebrow and her thumb under the eye. Then her other hand pinched the crystalline lens and withdrew a small colored membrane. “This is how I got in.”
I took the contact lens in the palm of my hand. “It’s my eyeprint? How did you get it?” I almost shouted. I remembered the reckless video chats with strangers in my adolescence. Someone could have captured my image, and found a way to print the lines of my iris in a lens. However, even if this girl had obtained my eyeprint that way, how could she have discovered my identity? How had she found my address? Bank and public administration sites, in addition to eye identification, always required a security code. She couldn’t know mine. And I was sure that, in the risky days of my virtual youth, I had never used my true name or any other real data, but…What if she was a cop? In that case she could have gotten my eyeprint, but why all this staging? And why search my house?
“I’ve stolen it from the News Agency site,” she said, “along with your name and address. I’m a pirate.”
That was a really good news story. How could a mere mortal violate the secrets of the gods? This helpless girl, who didn’t seem older than twenty, defeating the Agency’s state-of-the-art computer system...I looked at her again, now staring at her actual eye, which was still common brown, similar but not equal to mine. And I was convinced that her explanation, incredible as it seemed, had to be the most reasonable. Perhaps the girl was not so helpless. She could even be dangerous.
I got up and armed myself with the phone again. “What did you want from me?”
“I just wanted to steal.”
I couldn’t help bursting into laughter. Just wanted to steal.
“I also found your work timetable on the Agency site. You were expected to be out later,” she added, as if to justify herself. It was true: that day I had returned home an hour earlier than usual, after joining the ranks of the Scriptwriters. She must have pirated my data before my promotion had been made official.
“What did you find in my house?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
Of course, I didn’t believe her.
“Undress yourself,” I ordered.
Her expression traveled from surprise to malice. She was very mistaken. My plan was simply to search her clothes without frisking her body. Even so, she seemed to have fun with the striptease and took off her bra and panties with a little dance. Her body was rather small, firm and slim, with narrow hips and an almost flat chest. She had less than me of everything, but she didn’t lack charm. Once naked, she took a slow turn so that I could see her from all sides. But I had already picked up her clothes and was examining them. No phone, just a piece of plastic as small as a nail.
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s mine!” she screamed, reaching out to take it from me. I dodged and aimed my phone at her, motioning for her to take a step back as I opened the piece and revealed a microchip.
“It’s a memory card,” she confessed.
“I see that.”
“Please give it to me.”
“I want to explore it first.”
“OK, I confess. I copied data of yours from upstairs. But I left the original where it was.”
How could I not get angry? Copying my memory was much worse than raping me; it was kidnapping my past, my ideas, my whole life…and my data, of course. What was she going to do with it all?
“And I should have let you take it?” I threatened her with my telephonic weapon. “Tell me the truth at once. Who are you? What did you want from me? To destroy me?”
“No, no. I didn’t want to damage you. You were not supposed to discover the theft, and I’d never have used your memory against you, nor would I have communicated its contents to anybody.”
“Then why did you want it?”
“I just wanted to know you.”
“Enough! No more lies!” I shouted, determined to fire a call to the police.
She knelt down, joining her hands in theatrical prayer. “Wait! I’ll tell you everything, I’ll do whatever you want, but please, wait a moment before calling the police. If you want to be sure I won’t escape, tie me up. You can interrogate me better that way. Torture me if you want. I only ask that you listen, before you report me. Tie me up with the belt of my pants, or with the cord of that curtain, or with whatever you want, but please, tie me up.”
Then she lay face down on the floor, joining her wrists behind her back. I did what she asked.
“Tighter, so I can’t free myself,” she said.
I pulled her belt a bit more tightly, ending with a triple knot.
“The feet—tie my feet, too, so I can’t move.”
I obeyed. Again she asked me to tighten the knot, though I could already see welts forming on her ankles.
“Thanks,” she said. She managed to turn around and sit with her back against the wall, the soles of her feet together on the floor. Then she separated her knees, giving me a full frontal view of her nudity. Her shaved vulva looked at me shamelessly, her purple labia majora standing out in contrast with her pale belly.
“Who are you?” I asked again.
“My name’s Arianne. I’m a memory thief.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I look for the truth and don’t find it anywhere.”
I laughed in annoyance. “That’s why you’ve been lying so much, isn’t it?”
“Sometimes you have to lie for the sake of truth.”
Her answer surprised me. The girl was not at all helpless, and no doubt she was still hiding her true motive.
“Don’t you ever lie?” Arianne asked.
“I’m not pirating data, raiding homes, or stealing eyeprints.”
“Have you ever stolen the truth?”
“In your news, you always tell the truth?”
Another surprise. Was it possible that she knew the secret of the Agency? I was sure she couldn’t find any evidence on the Internet that Written Chronicles stories were invented. And I was not going to betray my former colleagues now, certainly not with this little hotshot smelling like a spy. At any rate, there could be nothing wrong with giving the readers a nice story. Lying would be telling a fact by changing it deliberately, if only to make it more attractive. That was the old journalism. It was precisely to avoid lying or harming anyone that Written Chronicles had already left the boring field of reality to create a fictional world that was also the sexiest of all possible worlds. The criteria of plausibility we obeyed ensured that our stories were even more real than reality. Besides, she didn’t know I was no longer working in Written Chronicles. The scripts that I would create with Ashur would materialize in the physical world, played by flesh-and-blood actors.
“Of course we tell the truth,” I said, with all my good faith. I looked into her eyes and noticed that the left was still mine. “Explain what you do with the memory you steal.”
“I search for a personal diary, or any sincere note that people can’t confess to anybody other than themselves.”
“How did you expect to get away with it? What were you going to do about the security cameras?”
“If you’d come home at the scheduled time, you wouldn’t have noticed anything out of place and wouldn’t have any reason to watch the recording of an entire day in an empty house. And without a complaint, the police wouldn’t have wasted their time chasing me on street cameras.”
“Tell me a reason not to report you.”
“You still have my data, pictures of me breaking into your home on the cameras. I’m in your power. If you forgive me, I’ll be your slave, knowing that you can report me if I don’t obey you. If you want, I’ll give you a thousand caresses and I’ll purr under yours. I’ll steal for you, if you ask me.”
There was one thing she could do for me.
END OF THE FREE EXCERPT
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Kirkus Reviews published a rave review of the book and gave it the "Kirkus Star," which is "Awarded to Books of Exceptional Merit." It also listed the book among "The Best Indie Books of 2013."
Copyright © 2012 Eli Yaakunah. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 9781623472061 (print edition); 9781623472061 (Kindle edition - Mobi format).
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 25, 2013)
The cover is based on the painting Scandal by the artist Karina Vagradova.