You lied to me. The thought was fierce and burning.
The reply was cool. Of course I did.
You planned this.
Bryan had to fight an urge to tear up the card. That would have the opposite effect of what he would be going for. You wanted this? His accusation had been tossed out in anger – a wild anger he hadn’t felt for days – but the response made no sense to him.
Certainly. Any demon would.
Bryan shook his head at the card. No, demons seek to be free, to take over and feed.
What is the ultimate freedom for a demon, the best way to feed? You’ve only seen failed attempts, your agents in the sanitariums. But done correctly, with a body and mind that can withstand the rigors of the process, a new consciousness arises, free and unrestrained. My initial capture was unexpected and unwanted, but a second possession of you made me realize I could achieve eternal possession.
Bryan forced himself to breathe. So it’s true. You were trying to become Eternal.
Both of us. We will be Eternal as one.
Bullshit. I’m not who I was.
No, you’ve changed. And I’ve changed. We are becoming each other.
Stop talking like it’s happening! I’d never agree to this!
We’ve already come close. To where hate is love and anger is peace. Where joy is pain and pain is comfort. It just needs one more push.
And why would I let you?
Because you hate me, and you love me, just as I hate and love you.
Bryan could swear he felt the thing inside the card grin at him, from within the red hearts and the threes.
And because, it went on, we can close the gates.
Bryan dropped the card. It fluttered to the floor and landed facedown.
“Liar,” he said aloud. “You’re still lying.”
There was no answer, but he didn’t know anymore whether it was because he wasn’t holding the card.
He turned to leave.
“What did it say?” Harper asked.
“It says it’s none of your goddamned business,” he snarled, pushing her out of the way.
By the time he got to Hussein’s office the anger had subsided and he was numb again. He shut the door and fell against it, sliding to the floor. He was exhausted, from all the exertion and death and lack of deep sleep, and the worst was yet to come. Eleven days to figure out how to close the gates. It was impossible. They needed more time.
Unless he believed the gamma. But he didn’t.
He woke up still on the floor. Sunlight was leaking through the blinds, and he realized he hadn’t actually seen to the Eternal after the interrogation. He left the room cursing and saw Harper asleep at one of the desks right outside. She stirred when she heard him but didn’t wake. He didn’t want to wake her, and she might not even know what was the situation with the Eternal. She might have followed him and sat there the whole night and morning.
He had been an ass to her.
He left her alone and went to the break room. The place was clean. The tables and chairs were back in their places. The lower floor agents were having lunch. It was disorienting.
“Like it never happened, eh?”
He turned around to see Connors. “Where is she?”
“We cut her up and put halves of her brain and heart in those air-tight moisture resistant containers we put old tokens in. Piled them and the rest of the body in quarantine.”
Bryan breathed again. “I’m sorry. I should have been here to see to that.”
“You had other things on your mind.” He looked hard at Bryan, but Bryan didn’t notice. He was looking at the center of the room, where the Eternal had laid, imagining her being chopped into sections and half the Possesseds and all the Spotters getting ill.
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
Bryan spun back to Connors. “What?”
“About you, the gamma was trying to…make you into one of those?”
“The gamma confirmed it.” Bryan stared blankly at the center of the room again. People were starting to notice him there and were whispering. He saw their aeons flicker as they concentrated on him, and he wheeled around and walked out to escape their gazes.
Connors followed him, clearing his throat. “I’m so sorry, Ivers. If we had only seen this coming…”
“We couldn’t. All we’ve seen is agents turned to vegetables. Who could have guessed.” He lowered his voice, though no one was around to hear. “But I can’t possess anymore. It was risky this time, to catch the Eternal, but that was an accident and I didn’t mean for it to happen. But if the gamma’s primed me to be some sort of vessel, it’s possible any demon could knock me over the edge.”
Connors opened his mouth to reply, but Bryan interrupted him before he could say anything.
“We still have the physicists visiting the gate tonight?” Bryan asked.
Connors started at the question. “Yes. Yes, of course.”
“Maybe they’ll have something to say.”
“But…Ivers, don’t you think other physicists on other worlds have already tried?”
“I opened a gate. There must be some way of closing a gate we just haven’t encountered yet.” He thought of what the gamma had said before he had tossed it away. Was it really possible, or had it just been leading him on? “We can open a gate tonight and dispose of the Eternal. I don’t want it around, even if it is all chopped up.”
Connors nodded in quick jerks. Probably no one wanted it around.