A MASTERS THIEF
Part III: "This is the Real World"
“Nice job Masters,” Fife said when Alex woke up to see the captain looming over him.
“Whatever,” came Alex’s surly reply.
Captain Fife shot a cruel smile back in answer to Alex’s insolence. He backed away from the teen empath, allowing the bright lights his body was blocking to hit Alex square in the face.
Masters quickly raised a hand to block the light. At least, what Alex had for a hand. But to the outside world, Alex’s hand was actually a stump of fused fingers shaped more like a dolphin’s flipper. He tried his best to sit up instead. He managed to do it too, as hard and slow as it was.
Alex threw his stubby legs over the side of the operating table. He tried pulling out the cord in his ear with his other hand. It, at least, had little pincer-like appendages sticking out of the end of it: remnants of fingers he never had. But the cord was too thick, and his little pincers couldn’t extend far enough to allow it between them. In frustration, Alex finally yanked his head to the left and the cord was pulled out like a stereo wire.
“Everything you got is being sorted and filed. But the access code was the first thing we pulled. As of this moment, the Fabian fortune is ours,” Fife scoffed.
“You proud of yourself? Ruining a family? Taking money from a scared kid?” Alex asked with attitude.
“Sure I’m proud. I mean, talk about taking candy from a baby eh?” Fife chuckled.
Alex just stared at him: blankly.
“Here’s the thing Masters. You don’t get to judge me. You’re one of us. Worse than us. Because in this world, the real world, you’re a deformed monster. So ugly that I’m the only one who can stomach the sight of you. But in here,” Fife raised a hand to his temple. “And here,” Fife lowered his hand to his chest where, underneath flesh and muscle and bone, it was presumed he had a heart. “You’re a giant. And you like that, don’t you? Because it’s the one thing you’re good at. Doing our dirty work is the only thing you’re good at.”
“You’re right,” Alex said simply as he raised a stumpy hand to his head. As soon as he felt the leathery texture of his bald, calcified scalp he suddenly remembered that he didn’t have any hair to rake through; and no fingers to do the raking.
Fife’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He laughed as he produced a cigar from his breast pocket, put it between his yellowed teeth and turned away. The captain walked out of the Mind Room leaving a trail of acrid smoke trailing behind him.
Alex looked over at the operating table a few feet away. On it lay the still-unconscious body of Michael Fabian. Fabian’s real-world body couldn’t have been more different from the neural projection that Alex dealt with. Instead of a gaunt frame, the real Fabian was healthy with swelled muscles. Instead of being frail, Alex radiated physical strength even in his sleep. Instead of ugliness, Alex saw the most handsome guy he had ever seen. He was ok admitting that to himself; he wasn’t gay.
Alex edged forward on his operating table. It was the only way, without actual hands, to get off the thing. After falling hard on the floor from a four foot drop, Alex pushed himself up and hobbled over to Michael’s table. He stood only slightly taller than the comatose Fabian prince.
“I’m sorry bro,” Alex said as he bent low to Michael’s ear. “I conned you. No gettin around it. But believe it or not, I’m on your side.”
An echo of something came through the open door. Alex turned around fast. Too fast. His body wasn’t nearly as flexible as a…as a normal person’s body. He let out a howl of pain. But that scream and sensation were very familiar to him. He knew pain well, and had known it all his life. He thought of it as the annoying kid at summer camp that no one ever liked, but everyone had to put up with. Except, Alex had never been to summer camp. He had gleaned that detail from one of the first targets he ever conned, and he liked it so much that it stuck with him.
Alex opened his eyes after that initial surge of pain had subsided. He scanned the room looking for the source of the noise he had just heard, but he didn’t see anything. Not that he could see very well to begin with. But if Fife had come back, Alex would know. The captain couldn’t help but make an entrance.
“When you wake up you’ll be poor,” Alex whispered as he turned back to Fabian. “You’re free now, but it’s gonna be hard. If you can’t make it through on your own,” Alex turned around again. Still nothing. “If you can’t get through it on your own, then come find me. I meant what I said before. I’m your friend, and I’m here if you need me.”
Alex raised himself from Michael Fabian’s ear. The formerly rich heir was still unconscious, but even unconscious faces: especially unconscious faces; could still look sad. And Michael Fabian’s face in the real world was just as sad as his neural projection.
Alex turned and stumbled to the open door. His job was done, and now his body was screaming for rest.
Alex’s footsteps, or…the closest thing he had to footsteps, echoed as the mind thief plodded on down the hall. As they faded into the white noise of whirring machines, Michael Fabian stirred. His body twitched, as though it were in the beginning stages of waking up. He didn’t though. Fabian wouldn’t wake up until Fife wanted him to.
But on Michael’s face, his sleeping face, a small smile had formed.