Chapter 46

Getting out of the carnival proved to be simpler than Mary had expected. During her flights, Jill noticed that the edges all faded away into darkness once one got beyond the fairground, but the road leading out of the entrance appeared to go somewhere. Though Mary was curious about what would be waiting if she wandered out beyond the fairgrounds into the dark abyss, prudence, and respect for her guide, kept her in tow as Jill walked out the front gate. For a while, it seemed like nothing would happen; they merely kept trudging along the dirt path, lit by some unseen source, walking forward with no real goal. Then, suddenly, there was no more path and they’d arrived.

If not for her experience in Rich’s induced hallucinations, Mary might not have recognized where they were. Seeing her own mental home base made real, as well as Nick’s, gave her enough knowledge to immediately figure out they’d arrived in the core of Jill’s subconscious.

It was a gigantic area, all steel and chrome, computer screens adorning every wall and a myriad of robots darting about to complete various tasks. Some were cleaning, some were taking other robots apart, and some were building new robots. The area was so large Mary couldn’t see the end of it, but she did notice many different doors at irregular intervals scattered along the walls.

“Carnival dream simulation: Ended.” The voice was Jill’s, but it sounded as though someone had recorded her voice and run it through a synthesizer. Both girls turned around, coming face to face with a gigantic monitor that had a green, pixelated version of Jill’s head staring back at them.

“Sweet fucking shit,” Jill muttered, eyes unwavering from Mecha-Jill.

“I, uh, wow,” Mary added. “That’s a new one.”

“New simulation?” Mecha-Jill queried.

“No, not for right now,” Jill replied, finally turning her attention back to Mary. “What the hell is this? Another dream?”

“I’d guess it’s the hub of your subconscious,” Mary said. “The ones I’ve seen are constructed to be places where a person feels safe and at home.”

“One flaw with that, I’ve never seen this place in my life,” Jill pointed out.

“I’ve only seen two besides this one,” Mary admitted. “But this does still sort of fit. Your power is controlling technology. Why wouldn’t your safe place be a world with nothing else?”

“Logical theory,” Jill admitted. “And to be honest, as weird as this place is, I do feel strangely at home here.” She turned her face back to the computer screen and raised her voice. “Computer, where am I currently?”

“Location: In the living room of your new residence. Status: Asleep,” Mecha-Jill responded immediately. As she spoke, her face flickered away and an image appeared on the screen, one of the living room ceiling. Voices could be heard just speaking softly, ones that were familiar to both women in the room. “Last recorded file during consciousness.”

“Neat,” Jill said, clearly intrigued by the computer’s functionality. “Not helpful, but neat.”

“Maybe try asking what this place is?” Mary suggested.

Before Jill could repeat the question, Mecha-Jill began to answer.

“The mind does not have physical locations. It is an ever-shifting miasma of thought. What you currently perceive is a construct put together so that you may experience this existence in terms compatible with the conscious mind.”

“Oh god damnit, my subconscious talks like my brother,” Jill complained.

“No clue why that is?” Mary probed. “Maybe deep down you think like him, or wish you did?”

“Ha, yeah right. Why in the world would I want to be more like Will?” Jill turned to Mary to ask this question, so she didn’t notice the screen flicker into another video. This one was of a woman who looked strikingly similar to Jill, skulking around a medium-sized living room as she clutched something in her hand. The video would wobble occasionally, which sometime later Mary would realize was because Jill had been shaking when this was happening. As soon as sound began coming through the unseen speakers, Jill’s eyes grew wide and she whipped her head around to the screen.

“Where are you, you little shit? Get out here now.” The woman’s voice was low, but harsh, a fierce whisper that sent a chill down Mary’s back. “You’re only making it worse for yourself.”

“What are you doing?” Jill yelled at the computer.

“Answering your last question,” Mecha-Jill’s voice responded.

The video on the screen moved around slightly. Mary could make out the wooden sides and the outline of door, as well as small, tucked-in legs. Evidently, Memory-Jill was hiding somewhere, watching the woman’s movements while trying to stay out of sight.

“Stop it!” Jill yelled.

“Request is queued. Will be processed after current request is completed,” Mecha-Jill responded.

“If you don’t get out here soon, I’m going to get the big board,” the woman called from on screen. Memory-Jill let out a soft whimper. It was, unfortunately, not soft enough, as it drew the woman’s attention. Seeing her turn, Mary realized the object in her hand was a wooden board with some sort of cloth wrapped most of the way around it. She lurched forward, whipping the door away and revealing Memory-Jill’s hiding spot. The smile that spread across her face made Mary’s stomach churn. No good was coming from that kind of smile.

“No queue, I want you to do the stopping thing now!” Jill’s voice was moving toward a fierce shriek, more panicked than Mary had ever heard her.

“Do you wish to move secondary request to the top of the priority system?” Mecha-Jill asked.

“You’re going to pay for that,” the woman snarled. Before she could utter another word, a silver line of wide material wrapped around her neck, choking her violently and jerking her back.

“One of you is,” came a young male voice, somewhere out of the video’s sights.

“Yes, reprioritize. Now!”

“Request reprioritized. Memory stopped.” At Mecha-Jill’s words, the video vanished and her pixelated head reappeared.

Jill collapsed against a console of blinking lights. Only now did Mary notice the tears streaming down her friend’s face. She contemplated saying something; however it seemed silence was the most prudent move until she knew how Jill was feeling. Neither said anything for several minutes, and when Jill spoke again it was with a husky tone, as though she had screamed herself hoarse.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I understand,” Mary said.

“No, you don’t. See, I don’t want to talk about it, but now I have to. At least, a little bit. I need you to tell me that you’ll never let anyone else know what you just saw.”

“Honestly, I don’t even know what I did see.” Mary said.

“Yes, you do. You saw my, our, mother. She wasn’t well, she’d go on these fits… it doesn’t matter. You also saw Will save me. What he did that night, it would have disqualified him from the HCP if it had come out. Hell, it probably would have landed him in juvie. Using your powers against humans is a big no-no.”

“There is leeway for self-defense,” Mary reminded her.

“If that was all it was, then yes, it wouldn’t have been a big deal,” Jill agreed. “But… let me just say this. I never saw my mother again after that night. She relinquished custody to my father. That wasn’t like her. She didn’t scare easy; it was part of her unbalanced mind. Will made her afraid, though. He made her so afraid that she ran from us without ever looking back.”

“I won’t say anything,” Mary agreed, her tone earnest. “Will is a good guy. He deserves to be here.”

“Yeah, he does,” Jill agreed. “Sorry about all, you know, that.”

“There are risks anytime you go into someone’s mind,” Mary said. “It’s why I was so surprised everyone volunteered to help.”

“I don’t think we quite knew what we were getting into, at least I didn’t,” Jill admitted. “On that note, can we go hang out in a dream or something until I wake up? I don’t think I want to explore anymore tonight.”

“Fine by me,” Mary quickly agreed.

“Computer, what dreams do I have available?” Jill asked.

“Most popular dream scenarios are: Flying in clouds, tropical paradise, hunted to death by demon clown, sex with A-”

“Tropical paradise!” Jill hollered quickly. “We’ll hang out in the tropical paradise.”

“Simulation: Started.”