Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Teaser Three

     [All right, all right! But just the one more. -- FWP]

Monday, 09/11/2028, 19:10: Onteora County

     Sokoloff pulled up to the curb in front of his Oakleigh ranch, maneuvered to position the trailer for detachment the following morning, set the handbrake, killed the engine, and sat back in indecision.
     What next?
     He’d striven not to think about the passenger in his trailer. That was possible no longer.
     She’s safe. That much I can guarantee. But this “my lord and master” bit has a heavy feel. She’s been treating me as if I own her. A possession.
     Her behavior just before lunch was most troubling of all.
     She expects me to use her for sex.
     Did other men use her that way? Is that why she fled? What kind of upbringing would aim at conditioning her to accept that? Who would do such a monstrous thing to an innocent young girl?
     It took more than a few days to plant that notion in her head, that’s for certain. She’s been under someone’s thumb for months. Maybe years.

     If Fountain’s conditioning was as thorough as it appeared, Conway’s suggestion about securing professional help for Fountain, though well meant, might only scratch the surface of the problem. She was going to need therapy of several kinds. Probably as much therapy as she’d had abuse.
     He felt the swelling of a new motivation.
     I think I’ll be headed back to Virginia very, very soon. When I find the bastards who did this...
     He smiled.


     The trailer door opened. Fountain immediately laid the book aside and assumed the pose of waiting. Her lord entered and stood before her, looking as troubled as he had earlier.
     Perhaps we have reached his manor. I must be absolutely attentive. I must overlook nothing and forget nothing. I must please him in all things.
     I want to please him.

     Never before had she entertained such a thought about a master, even in her most remote fantasies.
     “Fountain,” he said, “we’re here. It’s time to get you, uh, settled.” He gestured at the paperback. “Bring your book if you haven’t finished it.”
     She bowed her head. “As my lord commands.”
     A spasm crossed his face, and she tensed.
     Have I displeased him already?
     She forced the thought away.
     I will learn in due course.
     She followed him in silence, past a strip of concrete and a metal post on which stood a plastic box that bore the legend 5217, and along a narrow stone walk to a concrete stoop that stood before the door of a long, low house. She looked about quickly. The houses around it were greatly similar in size and form. They stretched off into the distance on both sides.
     I must remember everything.
     He pulled a key ring from his pocket, fumbled with it briefly, inserted a key into the lock on the door and opened it. He gestured that she should enter before him. She hesitated.
     That is not how I was taught.
     I must do as he commands.

     She stepped into the darkness. A light went on overhead. She surveyed the surroundings, found them unaccountably plain and meager for a master, and turned to face him.
     “My lord? Forgive me this presumption, this your manor?”
     “It’s my home,” he said. “Yours too, for now.”
     For now. Perhaps it is a way station, and not his place of power. Of course it is not. He is too great a lord to endure such paltry accommodations. That he would dwell in such a hovel, and suffer to be surrounded by others just as tawdry, is unthinkable. Perhaps he intends that we shelter here only until he has alerted his other servants and has been notified that his palace has been made ready for his return.
     He shepherded her into the structure, brought her to a room that contained a sink, a stove, an oven, a few other items she could not identify, and a small table and four chairs. He bade her sit, went to a tall steel box, and pulled open a drawer near its base. He glanced over at her and grinned.
     “Are you a little hungry, hungry, or very hungry?” he said
     “I am hungry, my lord.”
     “Two slices then.” He drew four triangular shapes from the drawer, went to the oven, and pushed a couple of buttons on its face. When it beeped he pulled a metal tray from a cabinet, set it on the countertop, removed a plastic film from the triangles and arranged them on the tray.
     Why is there no one to prepare his meal? Why is there no one to wait upon him? Why has he not commanded that I make ready to see to his pleasure?
     The strangenesses were multiplying faster than she could register and absorb them.
     It appears that this way station was not fully prepared for him. Perhaps someone will soon be chastised for the neglect of it. I may learn much, if I am permitted to witness it.
     He slid the tray and its burden into the oven, pushed a few more buttons, closed the door and seated himself facing her at the little table.
     “It’ll be ready in a few minutes. Hope you like your pizza with peppers and mushrooms. It’s store bought, but not bad all the same.”
     She had no idea what he was talking about, so she merely bowed her head.
     I must learn. I must overlook nothing and forget nothing.
     He peered at her in a curious fashion, as if she presented him with some sort of problem. As frightening as the notion was, she had no recourse except to do exactly what he commanded, as he commanded it and when he commanded it.
     I am his. I must wait upon his will.
     The oven beeped. He rose, pulled a heavy glove from a drawer, opened the oven, and slid the tray out. Before she could rise or speak he’d put the triangles on two waiting plates, brought them to the table, and placed one before her.
     “Let’s eat.”
     The triangles steamed up at her. The aroma was wholly new, and wholly luscious. She put a fingertip to the surface of one and jerked it away with a cry, scorched. He immediately rose, face tight with alarm.
     “Damn it, I should have known better.” He took her hand gently in his, examined the scorched fingertip, and pulled her out of her seat toward the sink. In a moment blessedly cold water was running over her finger in a torrent, easing the pain from the burn.
     “Let’s hope this doesn’t blister,” he said. “You’ve never had pizza before, have you?”
     “I have not, my lord.”
     “I should have realized, damn it.” He banged a closed fist on the countertop. “You didn’t know coffee, so why did I expect you to know pizza? Stupid, stupid fuckhead.
     His dissatisfaction was evident and directed entirely toward himself.
     “My lord?” she murmured.
     He looked back at her. “Yes, Fountain?”
     “What is a fuckhead?”


     Upon recovering from his fit of laughter, Sokoloff salved Fountain’s scorched finger with an aloe-rich analgesic lotion, bandaged it, and cautioned her not to ask too much of it for a day or two. He returned them to the kitchen table, fetched a knife and fork from his utensil drawer, and held them out to her. She peered at them curiously, but made no move to accept them.
     Damn. Just how deep does her lack of acquaintance with ordinary stuff go?
     “Fountain, from your expression I’m guessing that you’ve never used these tools before.”
     She cringed subtly. “I have not, my lord.”
     “Well, back before...before you came to me, how did you eat solid food?”
     She lowered her gaze to the table.
     “My lord,” she said, “since we first met I have not seen a food I’d seen before, except for milk.”
     He opened his mouth, closed it, and thought furiously.
     She never saw eggs before. Corned beef hash? Pizza? Okay, if I really try I can believe that, but eggs?
     “Then what are you used to eating?” he murmured. The need to make her feel safe and secure welled up in him. “Just tell me what you want, dear. If I don’t have it here, I’ll go out and get it for you.”
     She looked up, color rising into her face. “No, my lord! I will eat what you provide, whatever it may be. I have no other desires. I know it is not my place!”
     Her obvious fear silenced him.
     What was done to this girl?
     “Fountain...” He halted himself and drew a deep breath. “Please don’t be upset. Just tell me what you used to eat. What you ate before you came to me.” He reached across the table and drew a fingertip down her cheek. “Please.”
     “It was always the same, my lord,” she said after a moment. “I was not told it had a name.”
     “Can you describe it?”
     Her mouth worked. “It was...soft.”
     “Well, what sort of flavor did it have? Was it sweet, salty, sour, bitter?”
     She screwed up her face as if taxed by a monumental act of concentration.
     “I...” Her eyes opened, pleading. “My lord, these are not words I know.”
     Great God in heaven.
     “Then tell me this.” He struggled to keep his tone low and even. “Did you like the food I’ve given you?”
     Her face lit. “Yes, my lord! It is wonderful! The pleasure of it surpasses”
     “What you used to eat? Your diet?”
     She nodded. “Yes! Your foods surpass my diet of before as your beauty outshines the stars!”
     His mouth dropped open. He forced himself to remain calm and counted silently to ten.
     Stay focused, Larry.
     “Well, thank you for that comparison, dear.” He rose, rounded the table, and pulled her plate toward him. “But if you liked those foods, I think you’ll love this one. Watch what I do.”
     He slowly and carefully cut her pizza into bites about the size she’d portioned for herself at breakfast. She watched with the concentration of one determined to learn a wholly new skill. He stabbed one fragment with the fork and passed the utensil to her. She took it awkwardly, in an infant’s grip, but with an evident determination to please him.
     “Now open your mouth, dear.”
     She did.
     “We’re halfway there,” he said. “Now carefully put the bite in your mouth, close your lips, and pull the fork out.”
     She did. Her mouth began to work delicately. He kept his hands pressed firmly against the table.
     Her eyes went wide. She began to tremble. All at once she started to stab the bits of pizza and cram them into her mouth at a speed beyond all caution. Her chewing and swallowing became so exaggerated that it was all he could do to restrain his mirth.
     When she had finished, she offered the fork back to him. Her glowing smile was fully adequate testimony to the success of the experiment. He gently took the fork from her hand.
     “That,” he said, “is pizza.”


     Sokoloff rose and took their dishes to sink, rinsed them and put them in the dishwasher, and swept the table for crumbs with a damp sponge. Fountain remained seated. She watched him with unmixed attention and absolute concentration. He could read nothing else from her expression.
     She acts as if everything is new to her. Maybe it is.
     I have to know who did what to her and why.

     The tiny part of his mind, present in every man that’s ever lived, that ceaselessly examined and reflected on its own operations was silent.
     Presently there was nothing more to clean up, and no other chores to occupy him. He returned to the table. She was still there, still unswervingly attentive. He took her hands in his.
     “Fountain,” he said, “if you’d rather not read, would you like to watch television? There isn’t much on, but I have some DVDs.” She made no reply. He mentally reviewed the movies he owned for something unthreatening. “Have you ever seen Fantasia 2000?
     Her gaze narrowed slightly. “What is...fantasia?”
     “Well, it’s sort of a musical cartoon. It’s very pretty.” He waited for a reply, but received none.
     I can see how this has to go.
     “Okay,” he said. He tugged gently on her hands. “Come with me.”
     She rose at once and followed him in silence to his little living room. When her eyes lit on his wall-mounted television, animation flooded into her face. “A teaching box!”
     Is that fear?
     “It’s a television, dear. We usually call it just TV.” He hesitated. “You received your lessons from a TV?”
     She turned to face him.
     “Many lessons, my lord.” A shudder passed over her. “How to behave in the presence of a master, how to speak to him, how to bring him pleasure.” A second shudder. “How you would chastise us if you were...displeased.”
     What I would do.
     They taught her to fear fear men.

     Careful not to lose his clasp on her hands, he sank slowly to his knees. Her eyes flared to their widest stops.
     “My lord...”
     He squeezed her hands. “Fountain,” he murmured, “please believe me: I will never, ever do the smallest thing to hurt you. There’s nothing you could do that would make me ever raise a hand to you. You could burn this house down and all I would care about is making sure you were all right.”
     She stared down at him, lips parted.
     “But my lord,” she whispered, “I am yours.
     “No, dear.” He rose. “You are yours. You’re just here so I can take care of you. Keep you safe. That’s all. I’m not going to do anything to you.”
     But when I find whoever did this to you...
     He tugged her gently toward the sofa and indicated that she should sit. When she’d settled herself, still obviously mired in incredulity, he turned on his television and DVD player, pulled his Fantasia 2000 DVD from the adjoining shelf, inserted it into the player, took the remote in his hand, and sat next to her. She immediately moved to settle herself against his side. He looped his arm around her and hugged her gently. She leaned into the embrace.
     “Just watch and listen, dear. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
     He pressed the PLAY button.


     As the movie ran, Sokoloff glanced now and again at Fountain, straining to be certain that the unfamiliar sights and sounds were pleasing her, or at least not terrifying her. She remained tight against his side, eyes fixed on the screen, silent and motionless throughout. When the last images had faded and the concluding notes of the Firebird Suite had died away, he clicked the STOP button and set the remote down on the side table.
     After a long silence, he said, as softly as he could, “Did you like it?”
     “So much beauty,” she whispered.
     She sobbed and buried her face against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her. Tears swiftly soaked through his shirt.
     I think Stravinski would call that a satisfactory audience reaction.
     When she was quiet against him, he caressed her shoulders and murmured, “What did you like best, the pictures or the music?”
     She pulled back a little in his embrace. “They were”
     He smiled. “No, the pictures and music came from two completely different bunches of people. Then a third bunch of people put them together. Very few people are good at all three of those things. At least, not that good.”
     “Do you make pictures or music, my lord?” she said.
     “Uh, well, I can’t really draw—I mean make pictures,” he said. “But I can make music, a little. I mean, I can play and sing music other people have written.”
     She looked up at him, obviously waiting.
     Oh boy.
     You stepped in it, genius. Time to step up.

     “Would you like me to make some music for you, Fountain?”
     She nodded eagerly.
     He released her and went to the northwest corner of the room where stood the small electric piano he’d allowed to languish unused for most of a year. He sat at the bench, turned on the power, waited for the fans to stabilize, and set his fingers to the keys.
     What do I still remember how to play? Not jazz or rock and roll. Not honky-tonk or ragtime. Something calm, something that soothes and exalts.
     As if seized by a power not his own, his left hand moved to finger an inverted G chord. His right produced a matching arpeggio. Though he did not will it, his voice rose, unaccountably strong and smooth, in the simple melody an ailing Viennese, destined to be taken from the world before his time, had written and others had mated to an ancient prayer to produce a hymn beloved of all Christendom.

Ave Maria
Gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena

Ave, ave dominus
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus

Et benedictus fructus ventris
Ventris tuae, Jesus
Ave Maria

Ave Maria
Mater Dei
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus
Ora pro nobis, Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Nunc et in hora mortis
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Et in hora mortis nostrae
Ave Maria

     He completed the closing stanza, let the piano fall silent, and sat with head bowed. The hymn had overcome him, as it always did. He didn’t want Fountain to see.
     Beauty. The world is rich in it, Fountain. Enough to raise your soul to heaven. It’s rich in horror, too. Enough to wring you dry of tears.
     Whatever you fear, whatever others have done to you, you will know no horror while you’re here. Only beauty and peace. Upon my life I swear it.

     A gentle hand fell upon his shoulder. He looked up at Fountain. Her eyes were soft.
     “Thank you, my lord.”
     She knelt, took his hands, and kissed them.



furball said...

Very impressive! But you should have waited til it was published to post this teaser, as it makes one want to buy it to read the rest. :)

Search for "buteggs?" It's missing a space.


Amy Bowersox said...

You know what these three excerpts remind me most of? "The Tale of the Twins Who Weren't" from Heinlein's Time Enough for Love. That's the story in which Lazarus Long finds he's bought the only slaves he's ever owned (on a planet where slavery is an accepted practice), and one of the things he wonders as he prepares to take them on his ship is, "Can these two be taught how to be human?"

That's the question that rises to the forefront in my mind with these excerpts: Can Sokoloff teach Fountain how to be human? Can anyone?

Lazarus' charges ultimately wind up not only learning how to be human, they make him a bunch of money when he invests in the gourmet restaurant they open on a different planet. One can only hope that Fountain's story turns out as well.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Fur: I've been deluged with email demanding more, and earlier this morning my will to resist failed me. But at this point I've posted about 15% of the novel, so I'm going to shut the tap. Oh, thanks for the catch, too. My eyes aren't as sharp at 5 AM as later in the day.

Amy: Stay tuned, dear. There are several sharp turns coming, including one I forewarned you about!

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey F.W.P

Enjoy the teasers very much

Thank you