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Fiction – “DEMM Wizard” by Deirdre M. Murphy

I remember watching your hands
Broad brown palm under the shiny clockwork,
And the paired crystals, light and dark,
Long strong fingers sure—

I’d woken moments before the bell with the poem fully realized in my mind. Then the bell rings and it is gone. I can’t reconstruct it. Slowly, carefully, I move to get up, to stand on these dreadful government-issue legs. They took the ones you crafted away from me, as I knew they must, but it still hurts, every time I shuffle along on these things, reminded that I’m bereft of your touch, your support, your love.

“Come on, Joe, get out here and get in line. Time’s wasting.” The guard unlocks the door, manually, and then I hear the more potent locks disengage. They didn’t find the ear implants, or maybe they were afraid they’d damage my brain, get a lawsuit. The other chips are still there too, and so I keep writing to memory – hoping, I suppose, that if I don’t get out alive you’ll be able to claim my body, and perhaps, just perhaps, hear my words. I imagine you in our bed, reading my poems, absently combing your fingers through your curly chest hair. That image is better sustenance than the meager portion of—

“Hurry up, Joe.” The guard rattles the door open.

“These legs don’t fit right. I’m moving.”

“Well you didn’t expect them to leave you with those fancy stolen legs, did you, Joe?”

My name isn’t Joe, but whoever framed me, they framed me well, and slipped a very good fake ID into my pocket. And the truth…well, that would have led them to you. I’ll write more later – I don’t want anyone to suspect I have the memory chip, much less the DEMM chip, and everyone talks over breakfast, such as it is.

A barred sliver of gray sky
Outside gray steel and gray stone
Day after day alike plods by
Hard like your muscles, your—

Why can’t I say it, write it, even here in the privacy of my own brain? I dream of it enough. All my dreams are in color now, maybe because my waking world is so dull. And you, with your broad shoulders, warm brown skin and laughing eyes and golden clockwork snakes twining through your black hair and beard, you are in every dream, wearing rainbow clothes and showing off your newest creations.

I know you. You’ve sent your clockwork rats to find me. And when they fail, you will send clockwork snakes. But we’re always hungry here. Rats and even snakes are food. And clockwork, all shiny and clever, is very contraband and very, very valuable, even if they smash the crystal that holds its counterpart dark matter crystal in dynamic equilibrium, killing the creature. I’m sure you’ll make many of my fellow inmates rich, trying to find me. But they have me in a high tower, with owls nesting nearby. Even if you finally get your birds flying, they won’t get through.

It’s night now, but I can’t sleep. The moon is nearly full; I can see slivers of it outside my window, through the bars. The dark energy tide is quite pleasant, tingling through my flesh and into the special chip. But you aren’t here to siphon it off, to use it. I suppose I must try to use some of it, before it gets uncomfortable. I could try to fit the legs better to my stumps, but I’m afraid they’d notice., And you know me, I could make them worse as easily as better.

I want you. I want your touch, skin and energy flow both. And I wonder – where’ve you been getting the extra dark energy for your work, while I’m in here? And… who shares your bed?

No, I can’t bear to think of that. Let’s see what I can do with these legs. Wish me luck.

Ahhh, that’s better. Without getting up, I can feel the legs work better, fit my stumps better. And the tingle and shimmer of the dark energy is used up, for the moment anyway, just as it used to be after I released it into you, for one of your grand workings. Now, finally, I can sleep.

I dare not weep, except in my head
In this world of men who hate men,
Who take sex from the weak like taxes
And give back only violence.

It doesn’t rhyme. I used to be proud of my poetry, would polish it and tweak it to beautiful perfection, like you with your clockwork. But life here is rough, ugly, with no harmony or rhyme. The pretty poetry, the poetry for you, is all broken, unfinished; but bitter words like these flow easily. Like the dark energy, which moves faster and easier for me every night.

The legs are a part of me now, lighter and stronger and faster even than the ones you made me, though they aren’t bright and shiny. I made mistakes along the way, of course – but I learned from every one. Is this what it’s like to be you, to create with your hands and clockwork and darkstuff? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you teach me?

Molecules dance
The metal in a spoon doesn’t care
If there’s color or light
Or even if it’s full or empty

The silverware here is thin and old, bent in a thousand different awkward ways. You would throw it out on sight. But here it is metal, metal I can touch, metal I can use. Oh, not much, from any one piece. It has to survive at least the trip back to the kitchen. But three times a day, molecule by molecule, I gain more in metal than I do in vitamins.

I am afraid to steal metal from the bars. The other inmates, well, they’re all very dangerous. And stealing metal from my own could give me away, and they wouldn’t worry about brain damage if they suspect I’m a dark wizard – Oh, how you used to laugh when they called you that. You preferred DEMM, though your ads always spelled it out: Dark Energy/ Matter Manipulator, under pictures of your brightest and most delicate clockwork creations.

I was always just your companion, and your bodyguard, practically invisible, except to you. It’s so odd to think that if people knew what I’ve done with these legs, they’d give me that title. Never mind that I have no tools or training, or that what takes me a week to accomplish, you can do in a moment, better.

Shimmer of light on the floor
like the smallest of snakes
Moving, sinuous—

One of the other inmates moans, and my concentration breaks. I pick up the fragile bit of metal. If only I had silver and gold, brass and bronze and titanium. But I might as well wish for tools, for pre-made gears and paired crystals, normal and dark. I am tired, though I have more than enough energy to pull the metal inside again, to twine it into the secret hollows a moment askew from my bones.

Now I shall sleep, hoping to dream of you.

But I don’t sleep. I lay here remembering. You kissing me, telling me I tested to just the bare minimum of compatibility for the DEMM chip, so I can’t enter the training program. You offering to get me the chip, if I’ll share whatever energy I collect and don’t use. You hovering nearby whenever I tried to use the chip, and things failed, and I could never figure out why.

I have much stronger motivation, now, and no distractions, but – even with the shoddy factory craftsmanship and base materials in this leg, even with the spoon metal, even without a single dark-normal crystal pairing to anchor my work to – even with all the disadvantages I can imagine for dark wizard work, I can see what I’m doing, learn from the things that go wrong. Why couldn’t I, then?

I lay here with my mind in turmoil, watching the tiny sliver of window. I glimpse a long-tailed moth, gleaming in the moonlight, and then it is gone. When I finally sleep, I dream of flying.

Pour salt in water
Dangle down a tiny thread
Watch the crystals grow

The haiku is from my grade-school days, one of my first, childish efforts. I wake remembering it. I’ve seen bits of dark matter – tiny, so tiny, but real, and here – and been so frustrated that I had no way to capture it, no matter how much of the dark energy I save up. But now I realize I was wrong.

At mealtimes, I contrive to spill salt, to catch it in my pockets. I can’t grow it in water, but it’s already crystalline, and the dark matter I can reach here is just as small.

I lay down, as if asleep, as soon as we are locked in our cells, and reach out for the dark matter. Even with the DEMM chip, and all the dark energy I have stored, and all the practice I’ve been doing, it is slippery. I work late into the night, eyes closed and breathing slow, and finally, finally I manage it, grasping the dark matter ever so lightly, wrapping it and a crystal of salt in a dark energy cocoon, and then tightening it, slowly, precisely, until the dark matter crystallizes, and starts to dance around the normal matter crystal. Quickly, I shape some of the spoon metal into a sphere around it and tuck it inside one of the legs. I can’t skew it sideways, it’s real in too many dimensions. I have to open the plastic, and reseal it.

Finally I relax, exhausted, into sleep. For the first time in weeks, I dream of you. I smile and reach for you, feel the brush of your fingers against my hair, caressing one ear, and then the rush as you pull at the dark energy stored in me.

The flow disturbs the new crystals, and I wake, reaching to cup your hand in mine, and find my hand full of slick clockwork. I hold it tightly, carefully, and draw it away from my head until I can no longer feel the feather-light touch inside my ear, and the sensation of my energy being drained away stops. I caress my tiny crystals, re-settle them, and then look at what’s in my hand.

Oh, my love, it’s gorgeous! It’s a lunar moth, all perfect clockwork, gleaming green and black enamel for the body and legs, and bright, beautiful LCD screens for wings. You solved the problem of flight, I see, most beautifully. I probe it with all of my DEMM chip senses, and take back my store of black energy and then some, leaving it too low to fly away from me, and probe its memory for your message to me.

All I find is a dream of sex. No plan for escape, no message of love, no news of how you are doing. That can’t be right. I probe deeper. There’s so little memory space in the chip, except for its programming. Flight dynamics, how to find me, feed me the dream, siphon off my energy. The rest is devoted to energy storage. I think back – the nights I dreamed of you, how satisfied and spent I felt the next day. How, at first I dreamed of you every night.

Finally, I have to face it. It wasn’t our enemy who framed me, just my own. At first, I wondered who could be so clever, so thorough? Who knew enough about me to frame me so well? No one knew me better than you.

I reach for the energy to crush your creation, to dash apart the crystals at its center, to destroy its delicate clockworks, its beautiful wings, the lie at its center, at the center of my life.

The delicate wings flutter in my grasp, and I can’t help looking again. How did you do it? I run mental fingers over the clockworks this time, feeling the tiny gears, the shape and purpose of each piece. And I remember flying, in my dreams.

And I take all that power and pull apart my new legs, pull out the spoon metal, the elements in my cot, the metal from the drain in the floor and the bars on the window. Dark wizard you made me, and dark wizard I shall be.

I feed molecules to the moth in my hand, making it grow, each part growing together. It becomes dull, almost ugly, but I fasten it to my back, growing the legs to grip me safely. I take a moment to seal my first crystal-pair into a pocket of the prison uniform like a talisman.

Then I flutter my wings, and nearly curse out loud – it’s not enough. I need more. Recklessly, I block off the plumbing and steal the ancient toilet and sink and mirror. My wings brush the cell walls, but I have enough lift to reach the window, to pull myself through. I hang there precariously for a few minutes, spreading the wings wider, stealing the bars from a dozen other windows for raw material.

Then I launch into the air, to fly free. One of the owls eyes me and veers off with a startled cry.

After a moment’s consideration, I erase the recall instructions from my new memory chip. I’ll find you when I’m ready. After all, I now know you as well as you used to know me.


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About the Author

Deirdre M. Murphy is a writer, musician and artist who has spent most of her life squeezing in her creative pursuits into whatever nooks and crannies of “spare time” she could create.

This year, when not braving the wilds of the worst job market in decades, she’s been focusing on writing speculative fiction. You can find more of her fiction on her blog, Dandelyon’s Worlds, as well as her photography, art, and investigation into crowdfunding. Dandelyon’s Worlds recently received a Superior Scribbler Award. Deirdre also won the artist category of the first Torn World Wiki Contest.

Deirdre lives in a Victorian house with purple trim, which presides over a garden hosting roses of many colors and a variety of herbs. She has three cats and an ever-changing number of tropical fish, and dabbles in taming feral kittens.

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