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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

27th July 2008

Fiction: Gorgon’s Cry

Posted by: Craig Young

Warning: This is quite graphic, and about spousal violence. If you find such content traumatic, you may not want to read this story.


I don’t know how long I’ve got. We’re trapped in this enormous baroque palace or chateau from the eighteenth century, in the Czech Republic. It’s a self-contained universe of severe columns, immobile statues, marble and moulded stucco, and robotic servants. Tess is still after me.

We’re on this ornate staircase, and I feel reassured that Tom and Simone are flanking me as Tess stops, aware of their commitment to protect me: “I thought it’d be like this. It’s over, Alene. I’m tired of your emotionally crippled stoicism, your detached rationality. I’m not going to let you drain me any longer, you pathetic emotional vampire.”

“Hey, fine. Because, Tess? I’m through with these everlasting petty dramas and tableaux of humiliation. Go find another punching bag. I don’t care any more.” She gasped. Simone glared at her, and whispered:
“Well done, sweetie. Now let’s go get a stiff whiskey. Tom’s calling security. I don’t know how she got in here with the protection order.

I ran through the mirrored corridors, as pistol fire shattered one ancient panel just behind me. I didn’t dare turn around, because I knew what I’d see- Tess, her eyes glazed with crack cocaine, grinning maniacally, trying to get a bead on me.

It was as if there were two different women. One was the seasoned performer, and another was the luscious, yielding high femme who sighed and moaned beneath me as we made love, and she ran her fingers down my back.

“Get out!” I felt the sting of her slap: “You said you’d stopped smoking that shit, Tess.”

“I don’t expect you to understand. I need this to get me through my performances.”

“It’s me or that crack pipe, Tess. Choose.”

Several years ago, we sat alongside each other at Ella’s party, as I shook her hand:

“Alene Travers. Rutherford Research Institute. Quantum physicist.”

“I’ve heard about your work. Didn’t you interview Jeanette Winterson about her latest book on QNN last month?”

“Yeah, for their science programme. Funny thing really, I started out as a social work degree, then the nineties happened, and I switched to something more techy and practical.”

“Oh. Tessa Freke. Ex-women’s muso, gone glam.”

It still hurt when I touched my face and felt the discoloration of the bruise underneath, even if the ibuprofen took away most of the sting. I needed some time alone, although Tom, the project head, took one look at me, sat me down with a nice latte on that winter morning, and contacted Women’s Refuge for me:

“You aren’t going back there, Ally. End of discussion.”

“Dykes don’t do this to each other, Tom. I’m not a…not a…”

Simone’s hand touched my shoulder gently: “Battered woman, love? Sure. Like it never happens up in Howick either. Except I have the scars and bruises to prove it did.”

I threw her crack pipe to the floor and stomped it out of existence:” Don’t ever do this to me again, Tess. Or we’re through. ”

“Chill out, babe. It was just this one time…” Tess slurred.

“You’re still high now, aren’t you. Okay, that’s it!” I slammed shut the front door and strode toward our Audi, until I heard the scream, and then saw the spray of blood on the nearest window:
“TESS!” I screamed, running back, yanked like a puppet on my string.

I’d flown out to the Czech Republic to present a paper at the European Community Quantum Research Convention at Callenbach, about five klicks northwest of Prague, when the war broke out. By the time I’d reached the television, it’d escalated pretty much beyond the point of no return, as Chinese artillery rolled over the Xinjiang rebels, opening fire on the Iranian Air Force as their forward thrust was blunted. And then, I heard the first chilling reports:

“Oh Christ, no! They’ve gone nuclear!” cried one Brit. As it turned out, though, what was about to unfold was much, much worse.

I looked up from my Theoretical Physics paper in Quantum Today as a silken negligee landed atop it. She smelt of jasmine and honey as she crawled across our bed, plucking the journal from my hands, loosening my tie and unbuttoning my shirt as she leant forward.

I took out a lighter, peeled our old wedding photo from the album, and threw it into the fire grate. The flame was turquoise, casting an eerie illumination over the darkened kitchen. Simone took my suitcase as I closed the door behind me.

“Dr Travers? It’s your spouse. I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”
“What? Tess! Is she…” I trailed off as the policewoman produced a Drug and Alcohol Crimes Unit ID: 

“Doctor, how long has your partner been using coke?”

From the old Ducal Palace, we watched the sky ripple and coruscate like an aurora borealis on ecstacy, as we braced ourselves although we were puzzled at the sound of the distant boom and nothing else- or so we thought. Hang on- we were close enough to be incinerated if that had been a nuclear warhead. As I watched the sky churn, turning kaliedoscopic, crystalline and anarchic, I realised it was much worse:

“Those stupid bastards. They’ve developed tachyon quantum weapons…”

At a Rutherford seminar on Applications of Quantum Research, Miriam, from Defence Studies, asked: “Could there be any military applications of this?”

“I hope not. Then we’d be looking at an untold catastrophe. Tachyon surges would run out of control, sundering cause and effect, and temporal sequence as we know it.”

I stopped at the verge of a parapet, looking out over the main ballroom.

She aimed her gun at me. It wouldn’t fire. She grabbed a knife from the buffet table, and ran at me with it.

I took her in my arms and kissed her.

Simone left a pamphlet on my desk that first time, entitled: When Femmes Batter Butches.

She hadn’t counted on the security staff as she spun away from me, crashing into the railing as it splintered. As she fell, spiralling, to the floor feet below, there was something inhuman in her scream of panic and madness, when she recognised her fate despite the narcotic haze and manic fluctuations of cause and effect, origin and outcome, and the birth, course, discord and final shipwreck of our relationship.

It was a gorgon’s cry.

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