And here’s a bit of Diana, for the road, as ’twere:
“I knew I was there,” Stuart said. “I mean, it was—it was like being a virtual presence, I guess. I couldn’t feel things that were happening, but I saw and heard everything. I wasn’t—I couldn’t really interact with the world around me. And then they kept control of what I said and did. There are wires in the tube, all right? And if I said something, like I’d tell you to leave me alone, right at the beginning?” Stuart asked, looking at Diana, “And those words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I’d be almost stuck, as if the world I was in, the space with you, stopped until I said something they liked, and then I would be saying that out loud. I never knew what they’d like, though. I mean, I would just all of a sudden be talking in real time like that, when I figured out what they wanted to hear. So I failed a lot,” Stuart said with a sigh.
Diana watched his face, which looked worn and defeated.
“At the beginning, you were just paused more than anything for me, because you’d look at me, Di, or say something, and then I tried to react and nothing would get through. It was really frustrating. Once I realized what was happening I shouted a lot, or tried to. None of that would translate to you hearing me at all, but I did, I screamed at you for a long time. Um,” Stuart said.
He had taken off his shoes and crawled under the blanket, and he looked at Diana for a long moment.
“Would you mind holding my hand?” Stuart asked, sounding beaten down and miserable.
Diana felt she could risk this without calling down the aliens, so she moved over to sit next to Stuart. She grabbed his hand and he gasped and squeezed closer, breathing hard and closing his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Diana asked, watching Stuart’s face go through a powerful revolution of misery, loneliness, and embarrassment.
“I can feel you. You’re here. I’m touching you. I was in the tube for four years, then the aliens put me in with some boys that beat me up, and I felt that, and now I’m here. I haven’t felt anything but the tube and that one thrashing for four years, Di, and I can feel your hand now. It’s just nice, is all,” Stuart said, vibrating with deep emotion.
“Poor baby,” Diana said, her voice light. Stuart laughed and moved back to lay his head on the pillow, though he kept hold of Diana’s hand. “No, they don’t like anything to calm down,” Diana said, moving closer to maintain their previous proximity.
“They’ll come down if we stop touching?” Stuart whispered, looking terrified.
“Mm. Very probably. They don’t like emotional distance after a coherent bonding moment,” Diana said.
“How’d you figure that out?” Stuart whispered. Diana shook her head, meaning that she wouldn’t explain, and Stuart sighed and wrapped both hands around her hand. “So you’ll stay here with me, please? I’m really tired, Di,” Stuart whispered.
“It’s okay, Stu. You can talk normally,” Diana said, reaching out with her free hand to pet over Stuart’s hair. Now that he was so frightened, she wasn’t afraid of him at all, or particularly nervous. He seemed like a quivering lump of sadness to Diana, and she didn’t pity him, but she felt he was being very likeable now. “Why were you so mad at me when you came back, if you remember everything that happened between you and me?” Diana asked, stroking over Stuart’s hair.
“It was real. I didn’t have a pause button anymore, Di. I thought they were going to hurt me again,” Stuart whispered.
“Honey, it’s okay. We’ve got a whole week,” Diana said.
“No. It’ll last five minutes and they’ll get rid of me again. I don’t want to go,” Stuart said, his voice shaking with nerves.
“Well, honey,” Diana said, and she wasn’t sure what to say after this.
“I don’t want to go back without you, Di. I missed you,” Stuart said, pulling Diana’s hand against his chest to cuddle with her fingers.
Diana looked at Stuart and began, in her secret heart, to revise her priorities.
You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, the hunter is giving a demonstration.