A voice woke Demo. Unintelligible words, reaching through the murk of his sleep, shattering the dream warmth, grabbing him by his throat and yanking him back into cold and pain and harsh whiteness.
He’d been going through his memories. His favorite ones, all about the woman Veronica, whom he loved. Anger flashed through him at the interruption, and his eyes flew open.
Weedly stood above him, grinning into his face. Demo’s anger dissipated. Hello, Weedly.
“Did you hear what I said? The time has come, Grasshopper. All melodramatic like that.” Weedly chuckled. “I mean, you can’t really replicate the moment.”
To what do I owe the pleasure?
“That’s what I like about you, man, you’re courteous. That’s so hard to find these days, just a little old-fashioned courtesy.” Weedly straightened and spread his arms. “But you’re kind of missing the point, which is the fact that I just said the time has come. Ask me what time.”
“The time when you get to pull Lab Coat Man’s head off his shoulders.” Weedly rubbed his hands together. “Also a lot of other cool stuff. But mostly that.”
Demo sat up, pulled himself to a crouch. Excitement tickled his stomach. You have my attention.
“That will happen in about…” Weedly raised his bare wrist and squinted at it. Lowered his wrist. “Seven minutes, when Lab Coat comes in for more of the usual. But first. I have one more memory for you.”
That was new. Usually he only got those after he did well during the tests. Oh, good.
Weedly reached out, and put his hands on Demo’s temples, and then hesitated. “Just a warning, upfront, buddy. This one’s different. You’re not going to like it.”
He’d never had one that he hadn’t liked yet. But he trusted Weedly. Go on, he said.
The memory happened. He saw a boy’s face. A thin face, squinting and thoughtful. Dark hair. And then he knew his name. Lyan. He found himself saying it, almost in surprise. Such a familiar name, somehow.
Another realization followed, sudden and merciless as the pain of Lab Coat Man’s tests. This boy—this boy was responsible for Veronica’s death.
Demo recoiled. Veronica’s death? He grabbed his forehead, as if he could shake out the thought, forget it just as soon as it had happened. But it was there. He knew, just as vividly as he knew anything, that she was dead. And this boy, somehow, was to blame for that.
He’d known that Veronica was only a memory. She only came as a shadow or a dream, and when she talked and laughed, it was only to the shadow of who he used to be.
But sometimes, he’d dared to harbor the thought that maybe she was still out there, somewhere, beyond the walls of his cell. That maybe once he got out, he’d see her again. Even if it was only peering from a distance.
She was dead, though. And it hurt right down to his core.
He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head back and forth. Then he felt Weedly’s hand on his shoulder.
“It’s all part of the memory,” Weedly said. “The emotions, anyway. This is what you felt the night she died.” He patted Demo’s shoulder. “Let it all out, man. Healthy grief.”
Demo opened his eyes and looked at Weedly. Why are you giving me this?
“Because you’re going to need it to get out of here.” Weedly snapped his fingers and pointed at the glass barrier. “Here’s the next part of the plan. In about two minutes, Lab Coat is going to walk in. When he does, you bust that glass.” He paused, and grinned a little sheepishly. “And by the way, the part about pulling his head off wasn’t just a figure of speech—can you do that, specifically?”
Demo looked at the glass, and back at Weedly. It’s too thick.
“Was too thick.” Weedly stepped up to Demo’s side and attempted to put his arm around his shoulders. He couldn’t quite reach. “Here’s the thing, though. Those cute little robots swimming around in you, those scientists think they’re just there to fix you up when you get a little dent or ding. Which is true. But every time they fix you up, they fix you just a little bit better than you were before.” Weedly traced a circle in the air with his free hand. “It’s like a metaphor for life, right? What don’t kill you’ll make you more strong. And man, right now you are plenty strong enough to break that puny little barrier.”
Weedly’s words didn’t make a lot of sense. Everything still hurt too much. His chest was a knot that bunched and heaved, and couldn’t work itself free because he had no mouth.
“ Almost show-time. Use those emotions, man.” Weedly backed off, and pointed his fingers like a gun at the glass. “Easy plan, right? Lab Coat shows up, Demo Smash. Demo pull head off.”
He grinned and disappeared.
Demo looked at the glass. His breath came hard through his nose.
On the other side of the barrier, the door opened and Lab Coat man entered the room. He didn’t even look at Demo, turned his back and busied himself with some buttons on a panel.
The knot in Demo’s chest smouldered into rage. Veronica, the woman who called him Faber and carried his baby in her body, and wanted pizza in the middle of the night, was dead. And Lab Coat Man had the audacity to come in and torture him just like it was another day.
The knot exploded, shooting heat into every fiber of his body, and he threw himself at the barrier.
His feet pounded the floor four times, and then he was airborne for a millisecond. He hit the glass with his body and fists. The impact exploded through the room, shaking the air, and he felt the meat parts of his body breaking. A tiny latticework of cracks rippled across the surface of the glass.
Lab Coat man whirled, and Demo could almost hear his slow meat brain clacking away. His face came into view, stretched-wide eyes.
Demo braced his feet, hurled his metal fists like hammers into the heart of the cracks he’d made. Crash crash crash. The glass cracked deeper and deeper.
Panic stretched across Lab Coat’s face, and he scrambled away. Slow. Like someone trying to swim in mud.
Demo jumped back, gathered himself, launched again at the glass with a silent roar bleeding out through his nostrils.
He hit harder than he’d ever thought he could. Muscle fibers snapped, tendons shredded, but so did the glass. It screamed and exploded inward with him, and he landed stumbling on all fours on the inside of the barrier.
Pain burned through his meat parts, but faded as the nanobots blazed to life, knitting them back together. Demo straightened and looked up at Lab Coat.
The man had fallen backward. He scrambled to his feet. Blood oozed out of his face in several places where glass had hit him. He pushed out shaking hands, fingers white and stretched in supplication. “No, Demo, no! Demo, stop, NO!”
The smell of his blood and his fear seeped through the air, racing liquid and scorching through Demo’s nostrils. He lunged forward, seized Lab Coat by his shoulders and threw him into the wall.
The man hit the wall, and his bones snapped. He fell to the floor, still holding out one bloody hand.
Demo pounced on him, and his fists came back, to smash Lab Coat just like the glass. But then he halted himself. He’d forgotten Weedly’s request. Pull his head off.
So Demo did that.
Then he stood above the two parts of the man, panting. The knot in his chest hadn’t quite gone, but it had loosened a little.
Weedly spun into view, cackling laughter. “Oh, man. That was so great. You were like RAAAARGH, and his head was like BLOOSH.” He kicked into the air, dancing. “Demo, my man, you do not disappoint.”
Demo looked at him. What is next in the plan?
“Right to business. Okay.” Weedly nodded. “Next in the plan is you smash that door, and get out into this stinking city, and smash some more things.” He mimed a punch. “And when you’re done smashing, this city will be a lot more awesome, because I will finally be in it for real, not just in your head. Not that anything’s wrong with your head, you have a great head and it will always be my favorite.” He patted Demo’s hand. “But there are so many other heads in this city that I want to get into, too. You get that, right? All cool?”
Demo breathed in deep. I’d like to ask a question.
“Go for it.”
About this boy Lyan. From my memory. Where is he?
“Yes.” Weedly held up a finger. “I was just getting to that. How does this boy make you feel?”
I’d like to kill him.
“We’re on the same wavelength, man. I feel the same way,” Weedly said. “Tell you what, when you get out there, you can smash him too. Cool?”
Cha cha cha.
Weedly’s face scrunched in a grin. “You’re awesome. Let’s get out of here, buddy.”
Demo turned toward the door Lab Coat always came through. His chest still ached, the knot was still there, but now he could do something about it.
It was nice to be out of his cell.
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