Chapter 2 - La Telenovela

rating: +13+x

”No. No, no, no, no, no. You cannot do this to me, amante, not at the height of my career. Have you no heart, no love? Oh, you beast. You want to see me beg, don’t you? You pig. That's the only thing you want from your women: to see them submit themselves to you fully."

Maria Teresa García Ramírez de Arroyo paced back and forth, tears blending into the makeup on her face, her knee-high boots stabbing into the ground with every step and her blood-red wedding dress waving up and down in the wind. She was an utter mess. After spending the last ten minutes tearing into every aspect of the man sitting before her, she hadn't found a single chink in his armor. His slight grin remained — that damn grin. It was all she could think about. She must have looked so terrible at that moment, so embarrassed and frustrated.

The target of her verbal assault was the director of her latest film, a sappy love-drama in which her fiancé dies on her wedding day, sending her life spiraling downwards, culminating in her taking her own life exactly one year later. Maria had only caught glimpses of her script, but she knew it was terrible. That didn't matter, though. What mattered was her performance and, more importantly, the award that would follow.

And it all was being ruined by this one man.

”Damn you! Speak to me,” she said. Her accent caused her to cut the T’s and K’s sharp like a knife. "Tell me why I should not leave right now and tell your wife everything."

The man tilted his face to the floor, allowing his off-brown hair to hang low for a moment before whipping it back up. It looked as though he might have been defeated. He uncrossed his legs and sat up straight. When he lifted his head, Maria realized that his grin had only grown larger.

”Because, sweetheart, nobody would believe you.” The director took on a deep and muggy voice, like he was drunk on keeping Maria in this state of anxiety. Blood rushed to her cheeks and ears. It was utter fear that filled her mind. She didn't know whether to run, to fight, or to simply stop existing.

She chose the first option. ”You… you bastard!” she roared as she rushed him, her hands outstretched like claws. He shot out of his seat and caught her by the wrist. She tried to tear herself free, but his grip was like cold steel.

"I always thought you were naïve, but never this… upset about losing a lover." His face betrayed nothing. There wasn't a wrinkle on his forehead nor a curve in his lip nor a rumble in his chest.

”Oh, don’t you use that dirty word.” Maria sank into his black checkerboard suit. “It’s so, so much more than that you stupid man. It was.” Her rage collapsed into tears that ran down her face and dripped onto the floor.

”What is it, then?” He pulled her closer. She wasn't sure if she should push him away or embrace him with all of the forgiveness that was left. He said, "one of the countless names for something not meant to be?"

”Something like this doesn’t die with time,” Maria said. “It is only murdered. The only thing you are doing now is dancing on its grave. And you won't do that to mine. I refuse to let my lover kill my love. Not now, not while I'm like this. You can ruin my career, but you can never take back the thing that you have created within me."

”Why, isn’t that a poetic little line you’ve—”

“Why are you here?”


Huxley was jolted out of his daydream by the old man that was seated next to him. The man's head was turned, but the rest of his body was still. There was dust on the shoulders of his suit. Huxley examined his face. It was strange. There were no signs of disgust or annoyance or anything that would suggest that there was something behind his eyes. Maybe he was feeling something, but his body was refusing to let him express it.

Huxley only maintained eye-contacted for a few seconds. His tiny legs squirmed as he repositioned himself in his wheelchair. The man repeated his question, with the exact same tone. Huxley tilted his head slightly, only keeping the man’s shoes in sight.

“I am here to interview you,” Huxley said.

“Are you? Most of the physicians I have seen were much more lively in conversation, and you haven't spoken a word in minutes," the man replied.

“I apologize for not starting the conversation, then.”

“Oh, don’t pity yourself. This isn’t the time to reflect, it’s time to talk. Come on, man. What do you want to know? It's not like I'm going anywhere."

Huxley waited for a few more seconds. In the corner of the room, a record player was softly blaring out early 1900s ballroom music from a vinyl that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. The soft crackles grew into snaps and bangs. It was so loud that it cut into the silence, causing Huxley to lose his train of thought and start over again. He listened for a long time, gathering something.

“Oh good lord, introduce yourself. What do they teach you in those boarding schools? That's where people like you come from, don't you?"

“I’m not from a boarding school. And my name is Williams, Hux—”

“Ah, such an annoying habit you government workers have. Use your first name, man. You were instructed to become friends with me, weren’t you?”

“We mostly just use our titles — too many names and faces to keep track of them all. Um, my first name is Huxley, with an ‘X’.”

“Hmm. That's interesting. Robert Chetford.”

Neither man knew how to continue talking. Richard swiveled his head back to the window, his eyes scanning the desert valley and the large mechanical pillars that swayed slowly in the distance. Huxley lowered his head to the small piece of paper in his hand. Without realizing it, he began to fold it into tiny squares. Once he did, he unfolded it, inadvertently tearing some of the edges off.

“What do you have there?” Richard piped up. Huxley unveiled the paper to him. It contained a jumbled mess of sentences, dialogue, thoughts, and a few images that were dotted randomly across the page, some forcing Huxley to turn the paper the paper in order to read them.

“It’s a mnemonic poem,” he said.

"A… that's quite an interesting word, isn't it? What is it? It looks like a whole lot of nothing on paper."

"Well, it's like a game. The poet arranges the words and sentences and photos on a page and the reader is meant to look at them in whatever order they'd like. This one is meant to tell a story. Look…" Huxley searched the page with his finger, eventually landing on a small strip of dialogue. "Look at this line, 'you can't take back what you've created.' That could be something a character says or a theme. So you take that and then you add in a sentence or a photo and keep going. It's like a backwards puzzle; you have to create the meaning yourself."

"That sounds like a load of nonsense, doesn't it? You're searching for meaning in something that has none. Is that what you people consider fun these days?" Richard said.

"It's not fun most of the time." Huxley scratched his neck. "But once in a while you come across a poem that just… fits together so perfectly, like all of the pieces were placed there just for you. Then it's nice."

Richard grumbled out something, but Huxley couldn't decipher it. He folded up the poem again and put it in his pocket. The next few minutes crawled by. Huxley began to tap his foot. Well, he raised it before letting it slam down into the footrest. He had lost the ability to point his foot enough to 'tap' it a long time ago. Once he felt like the silence was too unbearable, he searched his mind for the next question. Like a well-oiled machine, it gave it to him on his first request.

"Have you been feeling sad lately?" Huxley asked.

Richard turned towards him, choosing to raise an eyebrow now. "Where did you get that idea from?"

"You didn't say much to the other interviewers, but you've been pretty talkative to me. Depression can cause symptoms like that, having days when you feel like talking and others when you don't."

"Don't try and diagnose me. A man's mind is his own business."

"Okay, so why do you suddenly want to talk?"

Richard leaned back against his chair. Then he closed his eyes. It was like he was growing more human by the second. Huxley's lip curled, his heart beating faster. He had barely said anything, and he had gotten this subtherium to open up more than any other interviewer before. If he could get Richard to do this, what else could he pull off?

"I'm starting to regret that I did, Huxley." Richard's tone was flat, but his words dug deep. "But that's not a fair answer, is it? I apologize. I enjoyed… how different you are from everyone else. Most of the researchers, as you say, they walk up to me and start listing off questions. A few have tried to make themselves known to me, but you're the only one that didn't start the conversation. They get too anxious. They think that they have to take the first step."

"You don't want people to step on your land? That's understandable, given your situation. You know, we can always change the way we—"

"Oh, don't bother. By the time you get around to telling those men how to speak to me, I'll have grown to hate it. Maybe I'll start speaking in rhymes, make them think that I've really gone off the deep end. That'll make things interesting, heh. What is it with you and your procedures? Can't you talk like a normal man?"

"That would be dangerous. If we made a subtherium mad, they could lash out and breach containment."

"Oh, to hell with it."

Richard stared out the window with a newfound determination. There was visible frustration in his gaze. He began to trace the outlines of the rocks, the trees, and the roadways to try and calm himself down. Huxley scratched his leg, mostly just to keep himself from falling back into another daydream. He considered trying to ask another question, but decided to give it a few more minutes. If he were lucky, Richard would still want to see him after this.

When Huxley eventually looked up at Richard again, he noticed that the man was looking at him intently. He didn't want this conversation to end. Huxley's face lit up as his mind fed him another question immediately.

"Um," Huxley stumbled, "do you know why you're still immortal? It's been decades since the Sandaran Incident, but you still haven't aged a day."

Richard kept his eyes on him, but he wasn't exactly looking at Huxley. He was staring through him, at something far away. He answered bleakly, "No, I don't know why. Now leave me to my music, please."

Huxley was taken aback as Richard reverted back to a statue. He could almost see the subtherium's soul fading down into his body for its next bout of hibernation. Huxley knew that all of his chances were used up, and swiveled his wheelchair around to leave. Squeaks echoed across the crumbling white room with reinforced walls.

Huxley expected to enter an empty room when he pushed open the heavy door. Nobody watched these parts of the facility. He wouldn't be surprised if the security camera outside wasn't even turned on. So he felt a jolt of surprised upon seeing a woman lounging in a chair that had remained unused for years. As his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, he only felt more surprised as he realized that it was the same woman that he had spoken to earlier. She didn't look like she was there to document the lonely interview — assuming that this Site still cared enough to document their interviews. Huxley pushed onward, slightly hoping that she wouldn't notice him.

"Well that was something special, wasn't it?" The woman turned to Huxley, and her gaze alone froze him in place. In the split-second between him turning towards her and realizing he shouldn't, the details of her face cemented themselves in his mind.

She was young, maybe late 40s, with empty eyes and a neck that sagged a little. Her hair had been tied into a messy ponytail and there were small dark stains beneath her eyes. It was like looking at a rusty set of knight's armor, and the longer that the image was in his mind, the more rotten and sickly it became.

"Yes, it was." Huxley was numb and blunt.

"Do you have a special technique to get it to do that?" Emma's tone, meanwhile, was extremely affectionate. It tripped something in Huxley's head that made the hair on the back of his neck rise.

"No. I mostly made it up as I went. From my experience, subtheriums tend to get annoyed when they have to go through the steps of a formal interview. They think it's manipulative, that it's… fake." Huxley smoothly maneuvered himself around the woman, trying to end the conversation prematurely.

She stood, blocking his way. "Hey, I don't think we've been properly introduced."

Huxley kept his head low. "We haven't."

"Well, I'm Emma Sandaran. I'm an interviewer, like you. But that's more of a title nowadays; they don't give me anything to talk to. And before you ask, no, I'm not that Sandaran—"

"She's dead."


"I know you're not. Rachael Sandaran died a long time ago. A very long time ago."

Emma's face tightened, red flashes appearing on her face. Huxley sensed something and instinctively craned his neck up to look at her. She towered over him, but he didn't feel threatened. Emma looked defenseless. If she put her fists together, they would be larger than his head, but there was something inside Huxley that knew that she wouldn't, and it was prodding at him to grin. He kept his face straight, though. That was a good face to make. It was neutral, it was indifferent.

"Are you related or do you just have the same name?" Huxley said.

"I'm her daughter."

There was something wrong with Emma's voice, but Huxley couldn't detect what was hiding behind her cheery tone. "Oh…" Huxley scratched the side of his neck. "I'm Williams. I don't have a title like that. My first name is Huxley, in case you want to go by that instead." The words sounded rehearsed, as if every syllable had been placed there beforehand.

"Okay, Williams. Well, you're probably wondering why I'm talking to you, aren't you? I'm sure you've received the proposal from your Director and you know that you're supposed to get a partner. And that partner just so happens to be me, heh. I don't know all of the details yet, but—"

"I'm going."

Emma stuttered once or twice. "Okay. Do you, um, want to get to know each other first before we go off into an anomalous settlement?"

"You can look up my file if you want. Everything you need to know is there. If you're still interested, talk to Director Flynn when you can. He does this a lot, sends me out to a new Site before putting me on an assignment." Huxley was quiet for a beat. His hands were shaking a little. "I guess he wants to see if I can… survive."

"Oh." Emma pulled back, her face returning to a stoic look. She tapped her finger on her leg to count the passing seconds. "Would you be more enthusiastic about it if you got the chance to go somewhere else?"

Huxley's eyes were filled with something that Emma couldn't quite place. "It doesn't matter. I'll complete the assignment."

Water flew past Huxley's ears like bullets. The high-pitched hum of the shower suppressed his brain just enough for him to think peacefully. Huxley was sitting on the metal shower bench, his face buried in his hands. They shielded him, they kept him safe for a little while. Sometimes he moved one of them to spread soapy bubbles onto his sickly body and legs, but only for a few seconds at a time. In a few minutes, he would have to exercise in front of that woman, Emma Sandaran. He needed to show that he had enough strength to complete the mission. She would be analyzing him, she would be judging him.

He turned one of the shower knobs and the water ceased. He grabbed a tower and began to dry himself off. His legs were completely numb. It wasn't anything new; he couldn't feel anything in his left leg, and his right was just barely hanging on. But he still had to walk, so he slipped on a pair of mechanical leg braces and tightened them almost to the point of breaking.

Huxley clawed at the slick bathroom walls for balance as he stood. It took him a second to get adjusted to the new sensation. He felt like an amputee, walking on these things that he couldn't feel. That wasn't important, though. The pain was gone. For a moment or two, Huxley felt like he was walking normally. Once he realized that he was feeling it, he ignored it, awkwardly jutting his legs forward and exiting the shower.

After Huxley finished dressing, he grabbed his wheelchair almost by instinct. He gave it a cold stare, then let it go. He wouldn't be needing it for this. He wouldn't want it for this. If his legs started aching in the middle of the examination, then he would have to suck it up and keep going. Huxley always did.

He exited the showers and saw Emma stretching on the other side of the gymnasium, looking at her reflection in the wall-sized mirror. She was dressed in a standard-issue exercise outfit for women, tight with all blacks and grays. Half of the floor was covered in foam mats and the other was packed with bench presses and treadmills and machines so large they almost reached the ceiling. Emma turned once she saw Huxley's reflection.

"I thought you couldn't walk." She began towards him like she was expecting him to collapse on the spot.

"I walk when I exercise." Huxley felt something in his foot. He couldn't tell what the sensation was, but he knew he was feeling something.

"So why do you use a wheelchair, then?" she asked.

Blood rushed into Huxley's skull, causing it to heat up a little. He knew he shouldn't have felt insulted by the question, but it still caused the hair on his arms to stand. It was a normal question to ask, and that made Emma a normal person. That was what infuriated Huxley. Emma Sandaran, daughter of Rachael Sandaran, was just a normal person who didn't understand what she was saying.

"I use a wheelchair because my bones are weak. If I walk too long, they'll snap and I'll bleed out and die. So I use a wheelchair." He restrained his voice, only barely managing to keep it at a dull tone.

Two streaks of red appeared on Emma's face. "Oh. That wouldn't be good, would it?"

"No, it's not." Huxley drag himself towards her, dusting off his arms and shoulders. "What are we doing first? Don't worry about wearing out the braces. They'll be fine."

The two worked themselves to near-exhaustion. Occasionally, Huxley would notice Emma shooting a glance at him, thinking that he couldn't see her. He almost always did. It was impossible not to imagine what things were going on in her head. She was most likely detailing every error she could see in Huxley's design. It was something everybody did at one point or another, even subconsciously. It was like there was a mechanism deep within their psyche that forced them to try and recreate him in a better way, to try and push him a little more towards perfection.

It wasn't long before she did it again. While Huxley was lifting ten-pound weights, he watched her turn and take a peek at his head, at his lack of hair. Huxley felt the heat of her eyes. The sides of his mouth curled up and he bared his teeth, but he soon closed it. The last thing he should have done was escalate things further.

"You're messing up your form," he blurted out. Emma set down the steel bar and put her hands on her hips.

"Am I?" she asked. "Sorry, I got… distracted by my thoughts. Sometimes I forget and let myself slip."

Huxley turned away. "Don't do that. You need to keep your, um, knees more spread or else you'll blow one of them out."

Emma laughed to herself. "Yeah, I might. You know a lot about exercising, huh?"

"Mhm," Huxley grunted. It wasn't an insult, he told himself.

Emma slowly rolled out the plan over the course of ten minutes. Huxley tossed it back and forth in his mind when he reentered the showers. It would be a month away from this Site, at least. It was one month where death would be something real, something that could happen to him. He would be able to visit home and sleep in his bed one more time, then it would be uncomfortable sleeping bags in terrible conditions — all of it supervised by Emma.

She still hadn't told Huxley why they were partners. There were others at Huxley's Site that could have accompanied him; there were others at Emma's Site that could have accompanied her. Ideas came to mind, and he shot them all down. None were particularly nice.

Once Huxley exited in his wheelchair, Emma told him that they had both passed the test with flying colors. She hadn't actually tested him on anything practical, but he accepted her decision nonetheless. Both of them knew that they were fit to carry out this mission. Anyone that hadn't been laid off already was fit. Huxley was exhausted, but a dangerous energy was filling his bones and lifting his spirits. Change was coming, and change was good because it forced Huxley to adapt. Adaptation was always good.

She asked, “So what do you think? Do you want to go?”

“Yes. I want to.”

A fur coat weighed heavy on Huxley's shoulders. Emma stood beside him as a pristine, all-white private jet landed onto the airstrip. The air shined a metallic blue, tinged by the light from the sun that was setting in the distance. Huxley should have been eating dinner and winding down for the evening, but instead he was here, staring at the fog that hung over the fields.

"Wouldn't it be cheaper to fly on a public airplane?" Huxley turned to Emma. There were still hints of blush on her face, aftershocks of her earlier mistakes. They would probably haunt her for a few weeks, Huxley thought. A dark cloud of guilt appeared above him.

Emma swept a lock of hair away from her eyes. "This is a private assignment, so we don't want to get some teenager or journalist following us across the country." She rested her hand on her cheap metal suitcase.

The plane touched the ground, causing it to rumble. Huxley could feel his wheelchair shaking like it was afraid. He covered his ears, but the sound was still unbearably loud. As the plane rounded the end of the airstrip and began driving towards the two, a morbid side of Huxley's mind thought that he might die right there and then. It would be a stupid death, one that didn't warrant a funeral. He stopped himself from smiling.

Eventually, the plane came to a stop. An outline of a door appeared near the cockpit as it swung down, revealing a small staircase on the interior side. A man with a gray beard appeared in the doorway and waved at the two. Huxley felt himself lurch back into his chair as Emma began to push him. He looked back at her, trying to signal her to let him do it himself, but she didn't return his gaze. Eventually, he just let it happen.

"Is he gonna be alright?" The captain's tongue tapped the top of his mouth as he spoke, creating a quick click with each syllable. Huxley nodded and pulled back the section of his coat that was covering his legs, revealing his leg braces. They felt slightly looser now, though.

He felt Emma's hand on his back, and waved the help away. He trusted that the braces wouldn't fail him. Pressing his hands into the armrests of his wheelchair, Huxley lifted himself into a standing position. He snatched the staircase railings, lifted one leg, and slammed it into the first step. Pain followed, but he kept a straight face and continued. As he took a second step, he suddenly felt his foot give away, causing him to collapse into Emma's waiting arms.

"I'm fine, I'm fine. It's just a small…" Huxley didn't wait to finish his sentence. He tightened his grip on the railings tenfold and forced himself up the steps, his legs screaming at him to stop all the while. "Can you bring up my wheelchair, Emma?" She nodded at him. Huxley entered the plane, and when he stepped into the cabin, he realized firsthand the amount of wealth that the SCP Foundation still possessed.

It was decorated like a first-class hotel. Golden lines had been drawn in intricate patterns on the floor and the ceiling, weaving in and out, twisting, and spinning around each other. Leather chairs, velvet pillows, and designer couches covered the interior. The windows had some kind of television screen built into them, and they were each displaying a different channel: news networks, travel shows, and monotonous dramas. The sight captivated Huxley, almost enough to keep him from noticing the burning stares from the captain. It left a mark on the back of Huxley's scarred neck.

Huxley sat in a chair next to one of the only windows that wasn't displaying anything as Emma lumbered aboard. She balanced her suitcase and Huxley's wheelchair in her arms, dropping them on top of one of the couches. Breathing out a heavy cloud of air, she collapsed into a chair directly across from Huxley. She looked at him with dull eyes, like she could see through his skin at his skeleton.

The captain pulled up the staircase and made his way to the cockpit. Silence chocked up the air as Huxley and Emma tried not to look at each other. Huxley tapped his foot on the ground. Emma pulled out a small bottle of gray-colored tablets from her pocket and deposited two into her hand.

"You want some sleeping pills? We're going to be up here overnight," she said.

Huxley looked out the window at the dreary gray world that was slowly passing by outside. He mumbled, "I'll be fine." There was something bugging him, but he didn't know what.

"You don't want any?"


"It'll be a long flight. I know from experience, it's really difficult sleeping when you're at this altitude."

"I'm fine sleeping normally."

"Alright." Emma reached under her chair and rustled around before producing a neck pillow and sound-cancelling earmuffs. "There should be some under your chair if you need it as well."

Huxley nodded as Emma relaxed into a relatively comfortable sitting position and clipped on her seatbelt. If the plane had caught fire mid-flight and started crashing, she wouldn't notice. Huxley tried to bury himself into the leather cushions, and wrestled to get his own seatbelt clipped on. Nothing was comfortable. After a few minutes of squirming like an animal, he found a position he thought he could sleep in by jutting his spine into the wall. It ached, but it would survive.

The engines roared and the plane jerked into movement. Huxley's hands gripped his knees until they were white. He couldn't force them off. He repeated to himself that he shouldn't be scared, that he wouldn't be scared. He had better things to worry about than fear. After repeating it dozens and dozens of times, Huxley might have been able to make himself think that he wasn't scared.

It was night, and Huxley should have been asleep hours ago.

He had switched sleeping positions dozens of times. His entire body was sore and relaxed at the same time. It was already tomorrow, but not even a hint of sleep had come upon him. His eyes drifted to Emma's coat, and he imagined the sweet little pills that were inside the pockets, but he smothered that image before it was born. It was a stupid and reckless idea. Only an idiot would think of doing something like that.

He looked out the window, but the only thing he could see was the pale moon and the dark blue clouds. Dry and sterilized oxygen passed through his nostrils. His lungs felt like they were on the verge of collapsing. Lightheadedness and the fear of suffocating loomed over him, causing him to constantly shiver. His back was caked with sweat. Empty minutes passed by, but each one felt like a fight to stay alive.

Emma's breaths were full but calm, deep but silent. Huxley glared at her like a murderer. It was something that people with fully-developed lungs took for granted. The way that they rested, never paying attention to it, infuriated him. It was like they didn't even know they had them. It was pathetic. It was more pathetic that Huxley was whining about it to himself. He often fell into that trap.

Nobody was watching him. Huxley spread his legs out along the couch, allowing himself to relax a little more. He closed his eyes and breathed in as deeply as he could, warm leather on his face, thin air tearing up his esophagus. He could only hold that breath for a few seconds before the pain became too much to handle. Then he recovered as long as he could before sucking in another. It was an endless battle that nobody ever noticed or appreciated. None of that mattered though. He blew out a breath and drew in another one.

Sleep overtook him soon after.

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