The Salamander Conspiracy

By Donald All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Thriller

Chapter 20

As Lucy Loomis waited for her chamber to fully pressurize, she returned the wave that Preston and Dolly gave her. The way they leaned against each other told Lucy that they were almost as exhausted as she was. At these moments, when Lucy could clearly see the fragility of her parents, she felt sad. Sometimes, her sympathy went so deep that she felt human herself. Despite all that she had done for her parents, they were still human. For the three hundred and ninety years that she had known them, they continued to insist that she let them remain human. Their longevity was something of a compromise, although Preston kept insisting that wanting to live a long, healthy life was undeniable evidence of his and Dolly’s humanity despite the abnormal length of their lives.

Once the pressure was about two times greater than that outside her chamber, Lucy lost the light-headedness that made her feel so unsteady moving around among her human family. Even after three hundred years, she found their day-to-day world extremely difficult to negotiate as herself. Beyond her deep fatigue, she worried most about how satisfied she felt when burning Cheryl and Troy’s house. That was a sensation she could never share with anyone—not even Preston and Dolly. She knew that some humans enjoyed setting fire to other people’s property. But she couldn’t be sure if what she had felt was actually joy or even pleasure. By most human standards, what she’d done was wrong. Nevertheless, Lucy didn’t doubt that she had a moral sense. At least, she had a working definition of a moral sense, and that had to be pretty close to having a moral sense.

At three times the pressure of the outside world, the chamber revived Lucy enough for her to probe the concealed control panel beneath the sheer ruffles of her nearly transparent body. As she glided through a trembling portal that opened beneath her, an animatronic model of a seriously deformed woman slid into position, concealing Lucy’s absence. She could have more easily left behind one of her own extensions, but those substitutes took up energy, and after the theatrics of the last couple of weeks, Lucy couldn’t see the sense in leaving a more life-like substitute back in the pressure chamber. More than once over the last few weeks, she had wondered if it were time to let that human part of Lucy Loomis die what the humans would call a natural death.

With a shudder, she allowed herself to touch the two threads that had connected her to Iakopo and Alofa. She had created them after absorbing the energy from several Gauguin Tahitian paintings. Although dissolving, the filaments continued to pulse weakly with the stronger sensations that animated her two temporary children. Lucy suspected that remaining connected to her two people up until the moment they died had drained her more deeply than she had calculated. Despite her policy of being as open as necessary with her temporary children, Lucy had withheld the knowledge of their impending death from Iakopo and Alofa. Then, two days before the ATF and police raided Preston and Dolly’s house, Iakopo had asked Lucy if he and Alofa needed to die. Lucy had paid him the respect of telling him the truth, but at the same time, she infused him and Alofa with a stronger sense of purpose. Her attachment to Iakopo allowed her to know that he and Alofa would willingly sacrifice themselves for her, but she didn’t want them to worry unnecessarily.

It was getting dangerous to be part of the human world. And that was exactly why Lucy couldn’t see herself withdrawing from their society. From their human perspective, Preston and Dolly had tried to talk Lucy out of burning down Cheryl and Troy’s house. They warned Lucy that arson would arouse too much suspicion. Not surprisingly, they had been right. Fortunately, Lucy had tagged the three ATF agents before they could bring any dangerous surprises into their investigation. Tagging was what Lucy called attaching a thread of herself to a person or a place. Preston and Dolly didn’t know she could tag people. They had learned very early that she could tag objects—especially paintings. Although invisible to humans, Lucy’s threads allowed her to visit whatever they were attached to. She was connected to paintings in a few hundred museums.

After all these years, she still hadn’t figured out how she was able to flow through the threads she’d spun from herself. But when she found herself lonely, hungry for a visit to a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt, she’d come down to her pressurized parlor that stretched out underneath what the local humans referred to as Lucy’s Field and meditate on the painting she wished to visit. Once her vision had fully reconstructed the picture, she strummed the web of all her threads until the correct one resonated with her hunger and then Lucy launched herself through the proper filament. But before she could do her thread travel, she had to stretch herself, compressing all that she was into a singing filament, more of a sound than a body. A vibration so slippery that humans could detect it only in the roots of their hair and teeth. For her first fifty years, her only method of visiting paintings was through her tags, but then she and Kaspar had learned the business of art.

At first, art was just her primary form of sustenance. She attached herself to the surface of a painting and absorbed the human energy that had been poured into it. Some paintings provided more energy than others. During those early years, Lucy had learned that artists who infused their work with the highest level of energy almost always became the most popular painters over time. She and Kaspar and Dagmar began visiting the young struggling painters, first around Dresden then in places like Paris and Rome. With patience, they became very successful art collectors and dealers, even patrons when Lucy detected an especially unusual power in an artist’s work.

Her private collection was on display in her subterranean chamber. Whenever Lucy displayed herself as Flaming June as she had done earlier this evening to meet Levinthia, Knox, Troy, and Cheryl, she felt hungry for one of her Rubens paintings. Tonight, she attached herself to “Neptune and Amphitrite.” Perhaps because she was feeling guilty, Lucy tuned herself more deeply to the energy coming from the wild creatures in the painting, especially the hippopotamus in the shadowy background. Then there was the mermaid with her arm draped casually over the crocodile. Tonight, the energy from the crocodile was particularly strong. Lucy let it pulse through her quavering nervous system. Through her tag on Knox, Lucy heard him singing “but while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.” She was glad he wanted to cooperate and join her family. Now half of her appetite vibrated into the Rubens while the other half threaded through the modulations of Knox’s voice.

He was going to help her feed off of music the way Kaspar and Dagmar had helped her absorb the energy from painting. Of course, he didn’t know that yet. She didn’t know why, but the time had arrived for her to come to terms with a wider spectrum of human music. Perhaps the time would never come when she could withstand the full blast of organ music, but Lucy knew that’s what she had to work toward. It was the organ that had brought her to consciousness. But immediately, the bass pipes had knocked her nearly senseless. For three hundred years, she’d avoided human music on any scale. Then, one night, she’d heard voices outside the house. It had been the carolers and one of them had come over and spoken to her. Thrilled her by telling her he knew she wasn’t the deformed child who lived in an iron lung.

A few years later, on a balmy spring evening, trumpet music had drifted up from the far corner of her field. Lucy wasn’t sure if it was the humidity in the air, the distance, or the simplicity of the tune, but even in her pressurized chamber, she had felt a surge of energy that up until then had come only from attaching herself to paintings. Or maybe it was because Knox was so young. He’d come to the back corner of his yard to practice for his first spring concert at the county fair.

After three hundred years of attaching herself to art and pulling energy from the human being whose life force thrummed along the minute grooves and ridges of each brush stroke, Lucy had come to recognize the human emotions that sustained her through their art. Joy was her favorite. When she absorbed that particular emotion, it entered her diaphanous substance to spread like moonlight through cirrostratus clouds. Of course, joy wasn’t the only emotion that passed from the canvass to her iridescent nervous system. At the opposite end of her nutritional scale was despair. Like the joy, the despair came layered with the artists’ biography, all the daily frustrations, injuries, and insults, all the anxieties, regrets, and jealousies.

It was joy that rode on the simple tune drifting across the field and into her pressure chamber all those springs ago. Good artists put themselves into their performance. Just sent this pure delicious energy out into the universe. Lucy wondered, as she often did, if she wasn’t attracted to this planet even before she achieved her early stages of consciousness. Distinctly, she recalled coldness—but not discomfort. Emptiness—but not loneliness. But emptiness was bad enough even if it came without loneliness.

Then on a day outside of time, maybe the day when she entered time, she had slipped into human energy, and her first act of consciousness was choosing to stay in that faint column of warmth, swimming blindly toward its source. Numbers bubbled through her transparent fibers, then words, sentences, individual lines from what she’d later learn were plays and poems. Each strand of memory that passed through the beam she rode to earth revealed to her other strands that carried other memories, other energy. And during her journey through this crowding but comforting stream of impressions, Lucy had not yet detached herself from the flow enough to even recognize the memories as not hers.

She might never have learned of her separate state of being if a tremendous wave of pure, undifferentiated sensation hadn’t slammed into her nascent energy receptors, temporarily obliterating the neural coherence that had just begun shimmering in the center of her filmy, ruffled lamella. The part of her that had just become faintly physical was about the size of a golf ball made from a spider web. For at least five days, she later found out from Kaspar, she lay in a corner behind the great organ of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, more unconscious that she’d ever been in all the centuries that she had probably drifted through space.

Lucy did not enjoy speculating about what might have happened to her if Gottfried Silbermann had decided to practice more on the organ while she was still within its immediate power. She suspected that she would have been reduced to cosmic dust if Kaspar Brandt hadn’t come to make adjustments on the bass pipes while Silberman visited Bach. Barely able to perceive the human face gazing down at her, as soon as his hand carefully touched her lacy consciousness, Lucy had instinctively tagged him, the air in his lungs reviving her, the light of his vision immediately becoming hers. Then all the sounds, smells, and scents pouring through her almost extinguished her consciousness. Fighting her loss of contact with this world, Lucy had infused Kaspar with a deep urgency—to take care of her. After making space for her in his tool box, he had squeezed Lucy into the drawer where he carried the smallest replacement reeds for the pipe organ.

Never before in her remembered existence, vague as it was, had Lucy been confined. Surrounded by a fragrant wooden darkness, her neural fibers touched themselves, instantly generating new fibers. And these new strands of sensation drew their elements not from the cosmic dust of space but from the equally old minerals of this planet. Flavoring these new fibers were the sensations that Lucy continued to absorb from her protector, Kaspar Brandt. In the twenty minutes it had taken Kaspar to walk from the Frauenkirch to Dagmar’s house, Lucy had found herself developing a sense of self, although she was primarily sampling the self that was Kaspar.

Confined in that toolbox, Lucy found herself able to cohere. She pulled a sensation from Kaspar, concentration, purpose. Through all of the sights and sounds and smells of his world, he had one intention: to show Dagmar what he had found. He knew his discovery was tremendously important. That particular thought resonated deeply within Lucy’s awakening consciousness because she was now able to recognize it as part of her plea to Kaspar to help her. Without knowing exactly what she was doing, she had put the idea in Kaspar’s mind that she was important. She could see herself now through Kaspar’s eyes, but also through his mind. Yes, she had given him the idea that she was important, but on his own, Kaspar was now thinking that Lucy was beautiful. That response to her, flowing from Kaspar, brought her fully awake, fully aware. That admiration drew Lucy into a comforting pool of associations in Kaspar’s mind. She found herself being compared to music. That stimulated her, but then Kaspar had started thinking about paintings. He was trying to classify her colors and her textures. For the first time in her existence, Lucy knew what it was to be caressed. Not with hands but with comparisons. Each time Kaspar held up a painting in his memory and considered how parts of it corresponded to the small ball of sheer fabric he had found behind the pipe organ, Lucy felt her emptiness fade. Her first complete thought came to her just before Kaspar turned off the street to knock on Dagmar’s door. Kaspar’s mind was feeding her. Art.

Other sensations blended with the Art. Excitement to see Dagmar, but Lucy detected stronger attachments between Kaspar and Dagmar. It was her first taste of joy—taking part in a connection that was nearly art—more like the seed of art. Later, Lucy would discover that Art had other seeds. This first one she encountered, though, would always be her favorite because it also connected Kaspar to his own body—even more strongly than his memories of Art. As Kaspar waited at the door, Lucy sent her thread more deeply into his body. Because it was not of his world, and because it was not as solid as even the shyest virus, the thread didn’t sound any alarms. However, just the complexity of the chemicals her thread encountered almost knocked her out once more. It would take Lucy close to twenty years to completely explore and classify all the parts of Kaspar and Dagmar. Naturally, this exploration was another of her small secrets she thought better to keep from her human parents.

Nearly ten years would pass before Lucy would discover that part of that intoxicating excitement Kaspar felt that day he brought Lucy to Dagmar’s house was generated in his testes. Despite being infinitely more compartmentalized than Lucy’s, human bodies did share an important similarity. From simple materials and processes, from chemicals and low amounts of organic energy, consciousness erupted like a butterfly from a cocoon attached to a corpse. Lucy was amazed by this inexplicable interface between matter and thought. In her case, the flip from material to consciousness was practically instantaneous, and if all she did was think, she speculated she could go for centuries without feeding on Art. She had spent many years trying to decide how much she differed from a plant. Certainly, they showed no interest in sustaining consciousness, but to be so satisfied with feeding, growing, and reproducing—Lucy couldn’t really determine if that made them less or more admirable than herself and human beings.

On a regular basis for three hundred years, she had been tagging plants that caught her attention and spending a week or two at a time sharing their sensations. It was like being drugged. It was the way some humans felt after eating too much at Thanksgiving. Over the years, Lucy had tagged humans overindulging. And there was that point at which satiation overshadowed consciousness, putting it to sleep. Plants, even the most aggressive vine and weed, sustained that sensation days and weeks at a time. When an insect started boring or chewing, a plant’s best defense was a pragmatic oblivion. Most humans weren’t as skilled as plants at achieving oblivion.

Missing Iakopo and Alofa, Lucy considered following one of her threads to the museum famous for its Gauguin collection. She summoned up an image of “Madonna and Child” to help focus her transformation to the proper frequency. Depending on which painting she planned to visit, Lucy had to settle in on the proper vibration, first blending all of her neural fibers, harmonizing them with the few elements in her body that were physical. Each painting required a specific vibration. She had thousands of frequencies. Many of them, she knew, were quite audible before she injected herself into the thread attached to the painting. A few of the frequencies were actually dangerous to humans. That was why, over the years, she allowed Lucy’s Field to acquire a local reputation for supernatural events.

Lucy wondered if she would ever get around to telling Knox and Cheryl that they had grown up slightly afraid of the field because she didn’t want them using it for a playground or even a shortcut to the kids’ houses on the hill. The sagging barbed wire fence was Lucy’s most public set of sensory fibers. She made sure that any person who crossed the fence received some sort of supernatural communication. For the sake of efficiency, as soon as she detected a human entering her field, she tagged him or her. Scaring someone in a meaningful way involved making the threat as personal as possible. To begin, Lucy always liked to make the trespassers question their senses. Make them see or hear something they couldn’t possibly be seeing or hearing. Of course, she didn’t want to go overboard.

She liked to think of her treatment of trespassers as a prank, playful and even affectionate. Over the last century and a half, she was sure she had developed a sense of humor. Her motto was “Reach out and disorient someone.” Although television provided very low levels of useable energy to Lucy’s consciousness, she did find it a reliable source of entertaining information. She’d learned a great deal about deluding human senses by absorbing how television programs employed shifting camera angles. It was so easy to bend someone’s vision so as they walked forward, they were actually looking at the scenery behind them. Or to make them doubt the dependability of their technology, whether it was a flashlight or an iPhone, a compass or a GPS, a pellet rifle or an iPad. She had scared off boys by untying their shoes or pulling their pockets inside out. If a trespasser was thinking about something he had read or seen on television, Lucy liked to project those remembered images onto the landscape around them so they had trouble separating what they were seeing from what they were thinking. Most people panicked almost immediately as soon as they realized they were trapped between their brains and their surroundings. At that moment, humans were about as far from a plant as they could be.

Only one human had not fallen for Lucy’s scare tactics. In fact, for a few moments, while she had to process the mind that she had entered, Lucy felt worse than she had in her entire existence. This human had produced a dismay that reminded Lucy of how vulnerable human beings could be. As soon as this adult human had touched her middle strand of barbed wire about a year ago, she had sensed a cruel hunger that made her withdraw her contact for a second. The images he carried in his head and his heart all centered on atrocities against children that he had committed in a long past and that he planned to commit into a longer future.

At first, Lucy had tried to neutralize the man’s appetite, tried to infuse him with a sympathy for human life that would make him regret his past crimes against children. No matter how strongly she tried to erase or nullify his craving, it would ooze back into the man’s mind like an oily blossom as soon as Lucy started releasing pressure from his frontal lobes. For only the second time in her existence, Lucy felt frightened in the presence of a human obsession.

The first time she had felt fear—not so much for herself as for what such dark energy might do to other human beings—had occurred in 1928. Kaspar had brought home several paintings that a visiting businessman wanted appraised. At first, none of the paintings had infused Lucy with the luminescent energy that she had come to associate with a masterpiece. Then, Kaspar placed in front of her a fairly bland looking watercolor of a young man sitting on a stone bridge. Expecting nothing but the unsatisfying drone of an amateur talent, Lucy had settled over the painting and lost consciousness more deeply than when she’d been assaulted by the pipe organ.

Except in the case of this painting, Lucy was not overcome by the pure brilliance of the music and power of the pipes. If anything, the watercolor canceled her consciousness by how much energy it drained from the life around it. For a moment, Lucy thought the solitary human figure sitting on the far left side of the bridge was suffering immense loneliness. The figure had no facial features—just the slight indication of eyebrows, no eyes, nose, or mouth. However, the artist had penciled an X just about the young man’s head then written the initials AH. For another moment, Lucy tried to identify the young man’s oppressive isolation, thinking it might be an emotion that she had possibly felt before she found herself coming conscious in Dresden.

But as soon as she tried to process that painted state of mind, she had been stunned by the fury underlying the young man’s isolation. This wasn’t anything like the romantic melancholy she had experienced in other paintings. Nor was it an anguished form of self-pity that flavored other paintings she’d fed on that featured lonely figures. No—this rather bland watercolor jarred Lucy with the artist’s desire for an isolation that came from a twisted egotism that craved purity—not the purity of an innocent child (which was what she’d discovered in the man’s brain who was attempting to slide through the rusty fence around Lucy’s Field) but a horrifying craving for a world made pure for one person—that young man sitting on the bridge.

He hungered for a purity that was impossible, unimaginable. But something he desired over the lives of everyone around him. As Lucy tried to pull herself away from that perversion of purity, she noticed that the bridge itself didn’t seem to be attached to any detectable road. Four stone pillars made up of gray slabs supported the walkway which also seemed to be made of gray stone or gray petrified wood. Vaguely, what Lucy saw instead of a bridge that didn’t really connect one bank to another was an altar.

The stream running under the bridge was the color of wine. However, Lucy’s awareness began drowning in that stream when she realized that from the artist’s design the real color came from the young man’s dream of blood. The blood of people who would die for that horrible purity on which the young man brooded as well as the blood of people who had to die in order to achieve that purity. The blood appeared even more horrible to Lucy because the young man sat staring at it with such complacency, as if his momentary contentment arose from that bloody stream.

At that point, Lucy might have recovered her composure if she hadn’t touched more deeply what she had first taken to be the inconsequential background of the picture. Little more than a wash of blue and gray to suggest woods in the distance. As she settled herself more deeply into the painting, though, she discovered that in the center of the bridge, what first seemed to be an especially tight cluster of vague trees turned into a mass of huddled human beings. Shadow people for whom the altar had been built. It flashed through Lucy’s nervous system that the stone pillars were actually pagan tombstones. The young man, the artist, casually contemplated the sacrifice of those unsavory shadow people as the foundation for the purity that he desperately wanted to define him—give him them identity that he lacked. For the first time in her existence, Lucy encountered a life so barren that all it could conceive was death and blood and suffering. That day, Lucy came as close to dying as she was able. She learned that when she lost consciousness, she lost contact with whatever piece of art that induced her coma.

Five years after she made contact with the watercolor of the young man on the bridge, Lucy was shocked to hear that Adolph Hitler was that young man as well as the artist. Initially, Kaspar and Dagmar resisted her suggestions that they needed to get out of Germany while they could. Dagmar was enjoying success as an art agent after Kaspar had turned the business over to her completely so he could spend more time with his interest in wood working machinery. For nearly a year, Lucy had tried arguing fairly with her parents. Then one night, she realized that because her parents had lived for so long in Dresden, their roots had run too deeply to be pulled up by conventional approaches to changing their minds.

So that night, she had sent particularly powerful threads into her parents’ dreams. Then she allowed to flow into them all of the horrors she had absorbed from Hitler’s early self-portrait. She made them feel the chilling stream of blood, the terror of all those about to be sacrificed, the despair of anyone connected to Hitler’s Germany and his pursuit of racial purity. Although Lucy wasn’t capable of producing tears of her own, she watched with guilty fascination as both her parents wept in their sleep.

That early in the rise of the Third Reich, a businessman could still leave the country with his family fairly easily—as long as he could make a substantial donation to the Nazi Party. Kaspar was relieved to find out that if the contribution was generous enough, the Nazis didn’t mind if the donor didn’t belong to the party. Acting out of fear, perhaps selfishness, Lucy didn’t like to dwell on her character weaknesses, she had secretly guided her parents to move to America. From the depth of the insanity in that inane watercolor, Lucy knew that she and her family wouldn’t find safety anywhere in Europe. Never losing his interest in technology and design, Kaspar had built several machines vital to the American furniture industry. With small town pomp, the Broyhill family had welcomed Kaspar and his family to Hibriten, North Carolina, relieved that they finally had their own German designer to keep the expensive machines running that turned out the furniture making them rich. When the war caught up to Hibriten, Kaspar was able to keep the furniture factories productive by retooling them to make office furniture for the entire military and a wide variety of wooden fittings for the U.S. Navy in particular.

In the process of becoming naturalized citizens, Kaspar and Dagmar let Lucy convince them to change their names. Once again, guiltily, Lucy intruded into her parents’ sleeping minds and replayed for them what was happening to other humans in Germany. Relying on her tags connecting her to people she knew back in Europe, she exposed Kaspar and Dagmar to what the Third Reich was doing to a nation’s spirit. The escalating violence and suspicion, the rumors of people being packed away on freight cars. Lucy persuaded her parents that a time might come when life would be easier without German names. So they became Preston and Dolly Loomis, names they selected out of a phone directory. To provide extra protection for them, in a little less than a year, Lucy drained away all of their German accents.

After the first fifty years of living inside one of Kaspar’s tool boxes, and finding herself much more comfortable when she was compressed into a compartment about one third her size, Kaspar had constructed a simple compression chamber for Lucy. Once she was able to spend long stretches of time in her pressure chamber, she had begun to grow. As her size increased, so did her consciousness. So did her awareness of how different she was from Kaspar and Dagmar. For decades, she had lived in a large fish tank Kaspar had built for her. During that time, she had pretended to be an exotic type of jellyfish. Oddly, as a jellyfish, Lucy stirred up too much curiosity. Periodically, squinting gentlemen would appear at Kaspar and Dagmar’s home, pleading for the opportunity to study Lucy.

While they were preparing to flee Dresden, Lucy had come across an article about an invention called the iron lung. It allowed polio victims to breathe normally. Even though her first appearance as a human being required her to be deformed, Lucy much preferred her new identity to her old one as a fabulous sea creature. She knew she still had to avoid actually making contact with other humans, but she thought she deserved to enter American society as part of a family, even if a defective part, rather than as a pet. As a member of the family, Lucy looked forward to having more contact with other humans. She had been around long enough to know that the contact would have to be extremely limited, and perhaps more than anyone on the planet, she was patient.

After enlarging the basement of the house they bought soon after they immigrated to America, Kaspar had hired a crew of men to dig another basement that stretched from the house out into the middle of the small field beside it. When curious people asked what he was building, Kaspar explained that he needed a large workshop where he could design and fabricate the woodworking machines that he hoped would bring even more wealth to Hibriten. A small part of the subterranean chamber did become a workshop for Kaspar, but most of it became Lucy’s private museum where she could come to feed on the energy of her favorite paintings. Kaspar had installed the pumps that provided the pressure in her art chamber. It was back in 1930, when Kaspar needed a couple of strong backs to help him secretly convert the gallery into a pressure chamber that Lucy had learned of her ability to make reasonable facsimiles of human beings that she liked to call her children.

She’d first learned of her capacity to reproduce human flesh early in 1917 when Kaspar had returned from that first world war with his left hand cut off just above the wrist by machine gun fire. Ashamed and worried about how his amputation would damage his prospects as a machine builder, Kaspar had gone to great lengths to keep the extent of his injury hidden from everyone who knew him in Dresden. Lucy had helped him fabricate a bandage that fooled people into thinking the hand was still there. By 1917, Lucy had extensively explored human anatomy. From her casual tags on local doctors, she’d absorbed all the pertinent medical knowledge she needed in order to inspect, one night, Kaspar’s damaged arm. She concentrated on all of his various tissues and bones on the molecular level, from nerves to epidermis. From her own diaphanous tissue, she had started spinning extensions, replacement parts and attachments.

The process took her three days. To keep from being distracted, she had kept both Kaspar and Dagmar sleeping—more like hibernating. She’d monitored their vital signs, fabricated fluids for them. At the end of those three days, she’d shrunk from a creature about the size of a ball gown down to the dimensions of a lacy cantaloupe. Rather than try to explain her ability to regenerate his hand, Lucy decided to alter Kaspar and Dagmar’s memory of his injury. Instead of losing his hand, Lucy had them remember his merely getting shot in the hand. In the following years, Kaspar ran into three fellow soldiers who had been with him when his hand was lost, but since he had the proof attached to his left arm that their memories were incorrect, their assertions merely affirmed for Kaspar his belief that no one saw the world clearly during combat.

But in the lengthening shadows of World War II, Lucy chose to reveal part of her power to her parents to reassure them that the world was not given over to complete destruction. Almost immediately, Lucy realized she had made a mistake. As soon as her two children had joined Preston in the art gallery, Lucy could tell that they made him slightly uncomfortable. Being in a hurry to provide her father with the help he needed, Lucy hadn’t bothered to give her two creations any definite facial features. She had given them eyes, noses, and ears. And mouths, mouths with full, perfect sets of teeth—because Lucy was fascinated by the human digestive process—and tongues, because Lucy anticipated her father’s need to communicate with her children. But their faces had no character, no distinguishing features. As her father and her first two children worked on Lucy’s underground museum and parlor, she became more alarmed by how empty her creations sounded when they responded to her father’s instructions. She was absolutely certain she had the anatomy correct down to the smallest nerve ending. Although her parents had been the primary focus of her secret anatomical explorations, Lucy had tagged people whom she glimpsed while visiting museums with Dagmar and Kaspar. She had spent many nights stretching herself through the marrow of musicians, singers, painters, and dancers, probing all the pale calligraphy of the spongy bone, threading herself through every branch and intersection of the Haversian canals.

When she desired a change of scenery, all she had to do was merge into one of the nearest blood vessels running throughout the part of the skeleton that she had been exploring, and she could just as easily flow into organs, muscles, glands, or electrical impulses. So much was always going on inside a human body. She sympathized with all the parasites that wanted to take up residence in those warm channels and cavities. Given the correct sensory apparatus, the right parasite would find a human body as full of delights as a gambler would find Las Vegas. With over two hundred years of exploring human bodies, Lucy had come to consider herself the world’s leading expert on its operation. She’d learned what a healthy anatomy should look like. Because she did absorb some energy from any body that she explored, she was diligent to make several minor improvements during her visits. Certainly, she didn’t want to call attention to herself by providing radical cures, but she was happy to clear out obstructions, strengthen weak vessels, and remove more sinister parasites. It was the least she could do, and her anatomical housekeeping also helped her justify what she knew was a terribly invasive curiosity.

Despite how complicated their fleshly components, humans were still capable of transcendence that sometimes exceeded Lucy’s. From the solid and liquid matter they had to process in order to function, they could, to Lucy’s unceasing amazement, transform their dependency upon their appetites and urges into art. And it was art that had brought Lucy into consciousness. Even with Lucy’s extensive knowledge of human anatomy, she sometimes imagined herself as simply a coagulation of human thought. In her denser moments, she could see her shimmering convolutions’ slight resemblance to a brain coated with glitter. But she was more of a process than a lacy tissue. Unlike humans and all their compartmentalized urges, Lucy was just one, simultaneous function. For her, to feed was to perceive. Digestion was thinking. Exploring was learning.

Those first two children could think, but in a more reactive way than a creative way. They were perfectly fine at responding, but Lucy had to admit that they couldn’t initiate well at all. They were dull. No personality—that was what she had failed to provide. Their intelligence was artificial, synthetic. It was inert. That’s what it was, Lucy concluded. They would certainly never be artists, not even good conversationalists. Despite his discomfort, Preston continued to work with Lucy’s creations. Then, on the day the work on the secret gallery was done and her parents had gone to sleep, Lucy enfolded her two artificial children in her deepest ruffles and brought them back into her own tissue. As she’d done when she regenerated her father’s hand, Lucy had traveled into Preston and Dolly’s sleep and smudged the memory they had of Preston’s two helpers. She didn’t fully erase the memory since that would have caused her parents some degree of anxiety. All she did was make the memory seem extremely unimportant, overshadowed by the satisfaction they felt over having finished the gallery without arousing anyone’s suspicion.

After her experiment with those first two children, Lucy decided to limit her excursions into human anatomy strictly to repairing and tuning up her parents’ bodies. Then about forty years later, Levinthia had dropped into her life. As best Lucy could reconstruct what had happened, Lucy had been abducted. She was fourteen at the time. Her head had been split open, obviously in an effort to prevent her from telling anyone about how savagely she had been raped. Apparently, her attacker or attackers had heaved her over Lucy’s barbed wire and into a tangle of morning glory vines. Despite being sublimely annealed to one of her favorite paintings, Lucy knew immediately that someone was trespassing.

Sending out a tag in the direction of the disturbance, Lucy discovered the ravaged body. Intrigued by the damaged human in her field, Lucy had inspected her right out in the darkness after she had wrapped the girl in a cocoon of her threaded self. In her younger days, Lucy had explored a few corpses. But she had never entered a body that was in the process of dying. Deep as her physical injuries were, this girl wasn’t simply an organic machine beginning to shut down. What Lucy discovered was serenity. A consciousness of an end but also a beginning. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a consciousness. Strangely, the sensations felt familiar to Lucy. She had felt something like it when she crossed into that stream of human energy way out in space. However, in Levinthia’s case, she was leaving the darkness of her dying body and catching onto another sort of light. A more transcendent form of light.

Sending out thousands of curious threads in all directions, Lucy detected a sort of transcendent intelligence in Levinthia. Just as human consciousness transcended the physical body, this intelligence transcended human consciousness. Straining with a desperation she had never experienced, Lucy zipped one of her threads after that ascending intelligence and managed to touch it, just barely, like a blade of grass brushing a child’s heel. The word that jolted through Lucy was “Soul.” She knew that some humans believed the soul connected them to God. This was their concept of a superior being. In all humbleness, Lucy knew that in many ways, she was superior to human beings. Of course, being superior to human beings did not make her a god. She knew with certainty that if she could be superior to human beings, then other creatures could be superior to her. After all, she still wasn’t sure what she was. So she didn’t find it a sign of mental weakness, as some humans did, when she encountered other humans who postulated the existence of an infinitely superior being.

In fact, it didn’t have to be necessarily a being. After all, consciousness transcended the body, so Lucy had no trouble accepting the distinct possibility of that section of the universe where all consciousness collected and distilled itself. Soul was intelligence moving toward God. Seeing that Levinthia’s intelligence was about to move outward from her battered body, Lucy hurried to repair the damage, just to see what effect her efforts would have on that exiting intelligence.

Although more complicated than the tissue of a hand, the brain tissue was actually easier for Lucy to replicate because it more closely resembled her own delicate flesh, what little she had. Still, she was surprised by how much of herself was needed to repair the deep sections all the way down into the cingulate gyrus and as she generated and matched the tissue, Lucy had to dissolve skull fragments lodged in the tissue. While she worked on Levinthia’s brain injuries, she also sent more threads to the other injuries, looking for infections. She found sperm from two different men and stored samples to be examined more closely once she had finished repairing Levinthia. With relief, Lucy discovered that Levinthia’s movement toward that higher transcendence had not carried her completely out of reach. Firing up the nerve endings in Levinthia’s brain and heart, Lucy sent an invitation to her, suggesting that she could return. At that moment of contact, Lucy recognized that Levinthia was now the superior being. In this transcendence of her human consciousness, Levinthia was also transcending Lucy. This might be where their art comes from, Lucy thought.

With some hesitation, Levithia’s soul returned to her body. Once Lucy made sure that she had Levinthia wrapped up completely like a mummy in her tags, she pulled her under the ground, through the walls of her gallery, and into a small alcove where she kept her favorite Van Goghs. All of the repairs, not to mention the strain of keeping contact with Levinthia’s transcending consciousness had nearly exhausted Lucy, and if she could just attach part of herself to “Sunflowers,” she could finish all that needed to be done before she sent Lucy home.

Realizing that if she examined Levinthia’s recent memories, she might find out who assaulted her without having to spend time analyzing the sperm she’d collected. Settling into Levinthia’s pre-frontal lobe, Lucy stimulated her short term memory and was sickened by the fear that jumped into her filament of inquiry. One of the attackers was a boy who had grown up two houses down from Levinthia. He was three years older than her. This particular summer, he had tried to get her to go to the lake with him and his uncle, but she wouldn’t go. They’d waited until they knew that Levinthia was alone then dropped by to ask her if she wanted to go fishing with them. When she refused, they’d forced her into the uncle’s van and taken her to the woods. Levinthia’s memory was so remarkably vivid that Lucy took a few moments to explore her entire nervous system. She discovered that this girl was an artist. Her images of her two attackers made Lucy absolutely sure she would recognize them even if she met them in a cave—which she wished she could do.

While Lucy hovered over Levinthia, keeping her unconscious until she could decide how best to help her deal with what had been done to her, she felt a heavy hand disturbing the top strand of barbed wire at the upper corner of Lucy’s Field, up there where the two men had tossed Levinthia’s body. She sent her threads into their minds. They had come back to find Levinthia, to make sure she was dead and to dispose of her more thoroughly. As Lucy expected, both men were afraid—not for their crime but because they knew they’d made a mistake leaving Levinthia so close to a public road. Briefly, Lucy thought it best to kill both of them there. The older man had a bad liver. Lucy knew she could make it a lethal condition with a few simple cellular adjustments.

Unfortunately, the younger man seemed healthy. Just as she was getting ready to see if she could find a weak arterial wall somewhere in his brain or lungs, Lucy realized that no matter how natural she could make their deaths appear, people would get suspicious if two men died in Lucy’s Field. Besides, their van was parked right there beside the fence. Both men were drinking. Lucy had gathered that impression from their blood chemistry. She tagged their van and found inside two quart jars of moonshine. In less than a second, Lucy had reconstituted the ethanol into methanol. Into both men’s hypothalamus, Lucy injected a savage thirst. To make sure they received the justice she had set in motion, Lucy followed them back to their van where they shared several deep drinks from one of the jars. They reasoned if they couldn’t find their victim’s body when they were they ones who threw it over the fence, then what chance did some stranger have of finding it?

Satisfied for a few more minutes by their logic, they took a few more drinks. Then the uncle observed that about the only way they could get caught was if someone drove by while they sat their parked next to where they’d disposed of the body. Unsteadily, he hurried to the side of the road and pointed at the house fifty yards below where they stood. “Damned if a deputy sheriff don’t live right down there,” he announced, already scrambling into the driver’s seat.

Lucy kept her tags on them until they lost consciousness about three hours later, parked in the same part of the woods where they’d raped Levinthia. Their transcendence at the end was different from Levinthia’s. In fact, Lucy wasn’t even sure if she could call it transcendence—if was more of a transition than a transcendence, and she was absolutely certain that she didn’t want to send her filaments after the two men. She knew that humans had their own system for dealing with men who raped young girls, but Lucy felt strongly protective of Levinthia. She was capable of making life sustaining art. But artistic talent could make a person vulnerable. Lucy had seen too much damaged talent in her long life. For three hundred and ninety years, she had refrained from intruding in any artist’s development. It was their transcendence, and Lucy wanted to respect that human accomplishment.

But here was a young woman, a young artist with tremendous talent who might be ruined by what had happened to her that night. And she had been dropped right in Lucy’s lap, a lap that could protect her from all the trauma that might be festering in her sleeping memory. Feeling quite justified, Lucy probed every brain cell that might harbor recollection of the rape and absorbed every shadow of the experience. To account for the time that disappeared with the memories, Lucy fabricated for Levinthia a memory of hiking through several neighborhoods, looking for possible scenes to paint.

Making sure that Preston and Dolly were sleeping soundly, Lucy had shaped herself to look exactly like Dolly then led the half conscious Levinthia upstairs where she had her call her mother. Under Lucy’s direction, Levinthia had explained to her frantic mother that she’d been visiting Dolly Loomis and had been given a tour of her and Preston’s extensive art collection. The time had just gotten away from her. Still, to be on the safe side, when Levinthia’s mother arrived, Lucy had immediately tagged her, settled her nerves, and adjusted her memory so that she would still be upset with Levinthia’s staying out late but she certainly wouldn’t be alarmed. Medical repairs and mending memories, Lucy learned, could be dangerously exhausting. That night, she vowed to stay out of human beings’ minds and bodies—except when she needed to correct the physical and mental conditions of those people closest to her.

Aside from accidentally burning down Knox’s house when he was eighteen, Lucy did avoid making contact with everyone except Preston and Dolly. She’d even withdrawn her tag on Levinthia, a decision she deeply regretted after she found out that her marriage to Knox hadn’t lasted. Purely out of curiosity, when Levinthia moved back to Hibriten, Lucy had tagged her when Preston had invited Levinthia to come and inspect a couple of paintings he thought she might sell at her shop. Of course, Lucy had put the idea into Preston’s mind.

Then she’d caught that horrible man trying to slip through her barbed wire. He’d heard that two young boys lived in Knox’s old house. From that thought, Lucy had followed him into his perversion, shocking her all the way back to 1928. Once she realized just how thoroughly the man’s obsession pervaded his body and mind, Lucy declared herself free of all her voluntary restraints regarding human free will and settled on a radical treatment for the child molester.

Because his perversion resisted all of Lucy’s efforts to erase it, she resorted to a more fundamental avenue of restraining him: she pinched off the blood supply to his brain for a few seconds, just long enough for him to pass out. Just as she’d done twelve years ago with Levinthia, Lucy wrapped this man in one of her threads and pulled him underground into her gallery then to the end of the basement where Preston had a large work table. Not wanting to risk this man—Lucy was reluctant to go back into his memory long enough to acquire his name—somehow holding on to the memory of what she intended to do to him, Lucy dilated his pupils so the overhead lights would strike him as unbearably bright. To further mislead him, she also assumed the vague shape of the gray aliens she’d observed on The X Files.

His mind was terribly slippery. She recalled “Riders on the Storm”: his brain is squirming like a toad. But reluctant as she was to kill another human being, Lucy wondered if that would be her only way of keeping him from harming more children. He had a monstrous intelligence and while his obsession was so much more concentrated that Hitler’s, that very focus made him less dangerous to the world in general. Still, he was the most dangerous human that Lucy had every tagged. As consciousness began returning to the man, Lucy sent a thread into his brain while she wrapped another thread around the spinal cord, just below his brain stem and cut off all nerve activity to his body, for a moment, letting his feel that he was about to suffocate. At the moment he realized he couldn’t breathe, Lucy detected his profound fear of being paralyzed, dropping from his dream of being a predator to being completely helpless in the lap of the world.

Sheathed in his fear, Lucy felt safe enough to examine his less disturbing memories—his name was Coulter Spann. He belonged to a wealthy family down in Charlotte. His grandfather and his father had built up a fortune selling insurance. While he was still a teenager, he’d gotten in trouble because of his violent obsession. For three years, he’d been treated for his mental problems, and released. But his family knew him well enough to keep him out of the insurance business. They’d bought him an isolated lodge outside of Hibriten with the understanding that needed to control himself. He was smart enough to avoid getting caught.

Understanding his situation, Lucy tried once more to remove his obsession. His entire brain was suffused with a shadow—not anything like a cancer or any sort of exotic infection. It was a disorder completely unrelated to disease, as far as Lucy could tell. He didn’t need vessels cleaned out or tissue regenerated. She doubted if this disorder would show up on an x-ray or an MRI. Surprisingly, what Lucy did observe was that each time Coulter Spann succumbed to his fear of being paralyzed, the shadow faded, struggled against the fear, and reasserted itself. Lucy wondered if what she had discovered was madness or evil. Shaping the thread she’d wrapped around Coulter Spann’s spinal cord into the barbed wire of her fence, she severed the nerves to all his voluntary muscles. Then she moved the wire outside of Coulter Spann’s body and sliced through his skin so the damage would be consistent with his taking an unlucky fall onto a barbed wire fence.

While she was at it, Lucy decided to go ahead and castrate him. She understood that some human beings would question the need to neuter a man whom she’d already paralyzed. Close to two hundred years ago, she’d been exposed to de Sade’s art although she’d never tagged the man. She detected the influence of de Sade in Coulter Spann. But she didn’t think of herself as cruel. She really didn’t get any sort of pleasure out of what she was doing. In fact, as she sent a thread deeper into Coulter Spann’s psyche, she determined it would be crueler to leave him with active gonads. Again, keeping her incision consistent with what barbed wire would do to the tissue, Lucy peeled open Coulter Spann’s scrotal sack. Making a believably ragged cut, she sliced through both spermatic cords slightly below where the cremaster muscles attached to the abdominal wall. Careful not to damage deferential arteries, severed the vas deferens, and nerve filaments of the spermatic plexus.

What now concerned Lucy as she finished up with her operation was how to close off the arteries in a way that wouldn’t around too much medical attention. She’d explored enough doctors’ minds to want to present them with a medical mystery. From what she’d witnessed of human consciousness, nobody was more vain than medical doctors. Remarkable as human beings could be, Lucy found their vanity the funniest state of mind. So she could simply clot the blood in Coulter Spann’s severed arteries. Or she could plug them with plaque. Whichever doctor examined his injuries would find the condition curious but completely credible. Or she could give the physicians a couple of arterial ligations to puzzle over. But if she wanted to give weight to Coulter Spann’s memory of being abducted by aliens, it would be highly amusing to suture the ends of the arteries with a little laser heat.

After she’d transported Coulter Spann back to the field and positioned his body in a mathematically believable position next to her fence, making sure she’d left a tag on him, outside her field, she informed Preston that someone had injured himself next to their property. About three weeks after Lucy had operated on Coulter Spann, a lawyer representing the Spann family visited Preston and Dolly. Although Lucy had never been deeply interested in legal systems, after only a few seconds of tagging the Spanns’ lawyer, she understood the threat he brought to her parents. As she expected, Lucy found out that this man was seriously motivated by greed, but he also took pride in how well he did his job. He planned to build his case of criminal negligence against Preston and Dolly by going into detail about the extent of Coulter Spann’s injuries.

For a moment, Lucy looked at Preston and Dolly through the lawyer’s eyes. She was proud of them for how well they kept their composure as they listened to the veiled threats coming out of the lawyer’s mouth. Activating her tag on Coulter Spann, Lucy searched his darkest memories. She was relieved to see that they had receded under the despair of his paralysis, his helplessness. Boring deeper, Lucy felt herself jolted by another set of details belonging to her victim—details of the woods behind his lodge where small bodies were buried. These details she pumped directly into the lawyer’s mind. Despite being a gifted moral contortionist, the lawyer’s immediate response to the information that flooded into his brain was to throw up all over Preston’s and Dolly’s feet.

Against her normal rule of not following a person into the bathroom, Lucy maintained her contact with the lawyer while he finished throwing up. She forced him to replay the images that had driven Coulter Spann. The lawyer’s nausea became disorientation. Sensing an important opportunity, Lucy infused him with the certainty that these details that so sickened him would come out. She persuaded him to go warn the Spann family that they really needed to be gathering their resources to endure the lawsuits about to come from the parents of Coulter Spann’s victims. Exploiting his despair, Lucy planted in Coulter Spann’s mind the idea that if he didn’t confess to what he’d done, he would soon find himself once again on the alien operating table.

Despite avoiding the lawsuit, Lucy saw that their brush with the legal system had disturbed Preston and Dolly. She was convinced that damaging human beings carried too many complications. On the other hand, she felt confident in her abilities to indulge in property damage when necessary—especially when the property, as in the case of Cheryl and Troy’s mansion of vanity, threatened human welfare—without compromising her own family secrets. For the first time in her long existence, Lucy felt a compulsion that she couldn’t explain. It wasn’t coming from curiosity, affection, or art. All she knew was that for as long as she could remember, she had delighted in her rather free-form existence. But over the last ten years, she had begun feeling dissatisfied with being a free-range consciousness. Beyond simply renewing her energy from absorbing art, Lucy now felt a sense of vague purpose, a movement toward form. And the first steps in that movement required her to secure her territory.

That’s where Cheryl and Troy came in. Physically, she needed them in possession of the property along one side of her field. They would also buy up all other adjoining properties. Lucy vaguely knew that she would need Troy’s connections to bring in commercial buildings, particularly on those properties just across the road from her field. One house was already for sale. What she needed on those five acres that ran parallel to her house and field was a distribution center. At this point, she still didn’t know why she needed a trucking company next door, but she was confident she’d figure it out.

In addition to more secure surroundings, Lucy realized that she was going to need more energy, now not only to sustain her but to change her. That’s why she had to have Knox close by. That’s why she had to bring him back to being a musician. Music, what little she’d exposed herself to, fed her a different kind of energy. Knox was going to help her build a tolerance. For the time being, she wasn’t even sure how she could harvest the level of energy she hoped music would provide. With a single performer, all she had to do was cling to the instrument. But she anticipated that she was going to need an orchestra—or even a pipe organ before she could satisfy this new compulsion.

She knew she was asking, tricking, four human beings into making their lives serve these plans for her fulfillment. In fairness to herself, she was enriching their own lives. With her help, they could achieve their fullest potential. They deserved her gifts. And she had presented them with a choice. All she needed to do was be honest with them. However, honesty didn’t require full disclosure, especially when she didn’t herself know what she needed to disclose. So far, Lucy didn’t believe she was engaged in any activity that would cause harm. Her only cause for concern was the unaccountable activity she’d detected in a few of her free-floating threads. Since she’d reached her first maturity, she’d sent out these random threads the way some humans would stick their arms out of a car window to feel their flesh lift and drop on the air currents. Recently, those threads had connected to something far beyond Lucy’s ability to touch with her consciousness. Besides, the nebulous sensation pulsing into her receptors revived her, promised a clarity in her apprehension of herself that excited her.

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