“You’re dying really well,” said Annie. It was three days later, and she was sitting across the table from him at Mandrine. Annie had avoided all cosmetic restructuring, knowing that her appeal came from nature, from how she’d managed, incredibly, to keep looking innocent and pleasantly surprised.
“Thanks,” he said, kind of meaning it. “It’s important to me. That’s why I ordered the oatmeal. I wouldn’t want to vomit up anything more complicated and spoil the effect.”
“And you’re continuing your memoirs while you do it. You really are dedicated to your art.”
“My art has become my life, and vice versa.”
“Are you sure they’re not just imitating each other?”
“My death is a subject of great viewer interest. And, as always with my memoirs, the viewer wants a specific index of biological detail, but not the whole picture.”
“As with all your art.”
“Exactly. They want to see my emotional reactions, the details of my expression. They want a precise quantity of physical reality. I will decide where the line is, and it will be apt.”
“And you’re asserting that you’re still a creative force, raging against the dying of the light and all that business. You’re saying you’re still potent.”
“In some ways. I am not actually still potent.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
They had been in one scene together, early in their careers, when he could afford only one performer and one volunteer for sacrifice. The third party had been a young man in much the same situation as he was now. A fan of the movement he’d then been an arriviste within. He still thought about Annie so fondly as a result, though he’d since recorded her, and himself, with many other victims. “Thank you for that.”
“I’m glad you sought me out, because I was going to get in touch.”
“I don’t just want to say hello. I need your help.”
She laughed, though the muscles of her face remained sad. “Well, you know you can ask me to do anything.”
Yes, he could ask her. It took several days for her to reply to his request, to agree. The reply came as an image in the air of her biting her lip uncertainly, an expression right out of one of their works. She would have chosen it carefully. Her voice sang from it, formally consenting, in the same language she’d used for their professional relationship. He’d always found that consent extremely arousing, as had, often, her victims. He could only feel that intellectually now.
He pocketed the consent. He had a day before she arrived, a day to prepare. He went back to the room where he was keeping the furies. They still whirled and slammed and roared. An emergent product of his art. He should feel proud. There was Annie, among them, wearing her most affronted expression, as she had when she had walked into the scene with her second victim, an old man who wanted a lot of shouting.
What did the furies want? Did they want anything? What were they about, or for? Had he just accidentally made something great, and perhaps should just stand back and gesture at it. Everyone! I present all the subjects of my work! Yes, they’re angry now. That says something, doesn’t it? Yes, it says what I meant it to say.
Except it didn’t. It couldn’t be art if it was an accident. He wasn’t in control.
It was a bit late for him to have developed a fatal flaw. Was he meant to be learning something? A bit late for that, too. And that indicated there was some higher power to teach him. Other than the established gods, created by the graphics boards, and strictly limited in their powers and dominions. This was not allowed within their laws. He had not allowed this into his life. He had not signed up for any of the religions.
He moved closer, and didn’t flinch when they leapt at him again. They were all angry with him. But that wasn’t nudging his conscience. Was it meant to? His art had been entirely consensual, though it sometimes rehearsed the opposite. That was the whole point. That was what he liked. If someone had sent him this as a message, they didn’t understand him at all.
This was meant to be his moment, damn it. This was his death, and he wasn’t going to be upstaged by the Valkyries sent to get him. If that was what they were. Every time he got near them, such thoughts got transmitted into his head. There must be a small electromagnetic transmitter as part of the decals on these things, the shape waving at his brain and making words appear in his speech centers. Mere god stuff again. But still, it held the power of the supernatural. What those words said, what they might say, now that did make him flinch.
He made himself listen to the...