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The Morning After

a short story

by Roger Levy

Reiver keyed Elene's number from memory -- she'd made him promise he'd never enter it anywhere or write it down, and even if it was just her paranoia, he respected it. He figured she had a right to her paranoia. He opened his systems and waited while hers did their trawl, checking he was who he'd said he was, and that he wasn't subwired or countertrawling. Reiver was happy to wait for that, it was a service anyway. Even working out of the Privacy Suite in Pacifism, his systems and comms bugpoisons were a long way less deep and lethal than Elene's.

Eventually a face came up on the screen. It was not hers, of course, she'd never do that. This was something she'd customised from a holobank. The image almost made him chuckle. It was the nearest thing to a joke she'd made since he'd met her.

'You've had your hair done,' he said. 'The colours suit you.' The holo's swirling hair was green and mauve, highlit with streaked crimson. His screen couldn't quite cope with it, the hues separating and merging. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been shaven-headed.

The holo twisted its lips, smiled fractionally. He tried to imagine Elene doing that, but couldn't. It had been a long time, though, and maybe she'd changed. Of course, it wasn't likely. They seldom did, after such a thing. If they ever formed relationships again, they didn't last.

'Can I see you, Elene?' Keeping it short, knowing she'd want to be offline as soon as she could, and needing to be back at her sleep screen, minutely checking her night.

A blink of thought, then, 'Two hours,' she said, 'Five minutes either side,' and abruptly the screen cleared and shifted.

Two hours, Reiver thought. Which meant she'd be done with the previous night by two pm. So she was easing up on herself. Or else she wasn't sleeping.

Getting himself ready to leave the suite with its yellowing Has That Drink Been Out Of Your Sight? posters on the walls and its cupboards of date-notification forms, he wondered whether he saw these follow-ups as duty or penitence.

Standing in the corridor, waiting for her to unlock for him, Reiver wondered how long it had been since Elene had been out of her room. She said nothing as she opened the door just wide enough for him to slip through, and she began to reset the locks again immediately behind him.

Brown, spike-cut hair, he noticed, and wondered if there was anything to read in that. Any change. Waiting for her to be done with the door, he glanced around. Nothing in the room had changed since his last visit a year ago. The cams were still there, mounted high in the ceiling, masquerading as light fittings. He guessed she'd be watching his visit as soon as he left her, reviewing, rechecking.

Her door-procedure complete, Elene went quickly back to the monitor on her desk and sat down. She backtracked the image, peering intently at the screen, and Reiver realised that she wasn't yet done with last night. As he walked over to stand beside her, he knew exactly what he was going to see on the monitor.

It had been like this for five years, now. On the screen was a view of her bed from directly above, framed by the floor around it and then the four walls, their lines barrelled by the wide lens. The only illumination came from the LoGlo of the window to the screen's left, washing the room with thick, honeyed light. On the bed, Elene, a sheet over her, the sheet transparent, and Elene naked beneath it and gilded by the glow, asleep. Nothing in the room, nothing of her was hidden from the cam. At the bottom right of the screen, a time record glimmered; hours, minutes, seconds, divisions of seconds. A clock was the only thing on the small table beside her bed, too, the face angled to be visible from the cam as well as the bed. Their times were synchronised perfectly. There was nothing else in the room. Bed, table, clock, Elene. And the cam, of course. The room was arranged purely to provide filmed, recorded sleep. Nothing else.

Reiver settled himself to watch with her. Elene on the monitor was shifting in her sleep, agitated, throwing her arms out and then hunching them into her body, pushing out her legs and curling them up again, not settling, never at rest. The recorded time was spinning on at twice actual, according to the display, magnifying Elene's disturbance.

'How are you,' he said eventually. On the screen he read two forty three am and a flurry of seconds.

'Fine, Reiver. I'm fine.' Her attention never left the screen. 'What's it like out there?'

'He hasn't been caught,' he told her, which was what she'd been asking him. She asked him every time he visited her. They all did. He never would be caught, Reiver knew, and she probably did too. And even if he was, it wouldn't help her now.

A movement more sudden under the sheet passed on the screen, and Elene tensed, stopped the vid and reversed it, unfolding herself on the mattress until just before the abrupt shift in position. She paused it there. She was lying on her side, legs stretched out, knees together, fists clenched and arms splayed, rigid in sleep. The edge of the sheet had caught in her toes and stretched taut, making the sheet a film glazing her body as if she was a player in a porn vid. Elene ran the picture again, slowing it to realtime, and as she did, the sound abruptly came on too, startling Reiver. A long dreaming moan from Elene on the monitor, a quick rustle of the sheet as she pulled sharply into herself, an oddly eroticised foetus, and turned her face to the mattress, drawing her knees into her chest. The sheet slackened over her, its translucent folds scoring her body with luminous fuzz in the light-augmented picture. Elene let it run on for ten seconds, her body slowly stilling and relaxing, and froze it again. Not looking at Reiver, she said, 'Do you think that jumped? Did I lose something there? Did something happen?' She leaned into the monitor, squinting at the faintly trembling image. 'Was there something else under the sheet?'

'No. Just you, Elene. It's just a sleep movement. Check the clocks. Nothing happened. You were probably having a nightmare.'

She nodded. 'I thought so.' And sent the vid forward, double speed again.

And this was how she spent every day, he knew, checking her night's sleep, checking every second of unconsciousness. As she had checked herself every night since the drug-rape three years back. The guy who had picked her up somewhere had spiked her drink and taken her back to some place she didn't remember, a place with a mirrored room set with cams, and there he had raped her four times over a period of five hours and twenty seven minutes, timed, and she remembered none of it. She had been conscious for every moment of it, though, turning as he asked her, raising herself and lowering herself, answering his questions, 'Do you like this?' truthfully. 'No, it hurts, please will you stop now?' she had told him in a slack monotone, but she had never resisted him, never once disobeyed. He had worn a mask all the way through, as well as gloves and condom, though she didn't actually remember any of it, anything about him, or it, even when the copy of the vid had arrived, neatly and correctly addressed to her, a week after it had happened.

Reiver had authorised surveillance over her for a month, and when that had drawn nothing and he'd been forced to pull it he had spent all his spare time doing it himself. And then Elene had had the cams installed in her room and started to spend her nights sleeping and her days checking her nights.

He looked at her in profile now, the sag of her eyelids, the deep lines of her forehead. At least she was watching the tapes accelerated. Last time he'd visited her she'd been watching them all the way through at real time, sometimes even half speed, and if something drew her away from the monitor she'd have to reverse and restart the whole night again.

The doorchime went off in the silence of the screen, and Reiver jerked even more than Elene.

'My food delivery,' she said. 'Will you go on watching the screen if I get the door?'

'Fine,' Reiver said, feeling momentarily warm with the fact that she was prepared to trust him with this. She went to the door and activated the monitor and its cams. A timer started on the doorscreen, sudden seconds leaping onward in purple italic. Out of the corner of his eye, Reiver saw the delivery guy leave a sack of cartons and cans at her door and retreat. Fourteen seconds, a few tenths, a riff of hundredths, a blur of thousandths. The cams trailed him along the corridor, watching him away, ticking him off. At the end of the corridor he lingered a moment or two, but Elene out-waited him, waited for him to be gone and the corridor clear before opening the door and bringing the sack inside.

'He's just curious,' Reiver said. 'That's all. He's a kid.'

She snorted.

'We've had him checked, Elene. I've had everyone checked.'

She bolted the door and stood by the monitor, rewinding it and then running through it until it was done, the delivery boy was gone once more and she was back with herself again.

She'd come to the department the following morning, after waking up in her own bed, beaten and sore and with no idea why. No hysteria when he'd interviewed her, but her speech and reactions damped, dull and slow. With a female officer, Reiver had accompanied her back here, to her place. There was nothing to suggest anyone else had been here, her clothes were laid out by her as she always set them out before going to bed. Maybe she'd done it to herself, she thought, had a fall in the street, an accident, come home dazed and put herself to bed, though that didn't explain the soreness of her vagina, her anus, her cut lips, the weals and bruises elsewhere.

Still, she had managed to persuade herself of an accident, amnesia, until the next day when the vid arrived at her door, carefully wrapped in blond aquasilk and tied with a bow of fine red ribbon like a lover's gift. That was when the hysteria had started. She had sat here and watched it all the way through, five hours and twenty seven minutes of it, before bringing it to Reiver. He had escorted her back to her room, and she had never left it since. She had rejected his advice to move away, refused his help to do so. Why should she? What good would it do? Her rapist would know. After all, he had made no mistakes, washing and air-drying her thoroughly at the end of it (it was on the vid), and leaving her a forensic dead end.

So only the cams made Elene feel safe, and only Reiver could visit her.

He had wondered why she trusted him, what there was about him, but it was only his height, his mouth, the shape of his hands. That it couldn't have been Reiver in the mask. There was more between them now, of course. Not quite trust, perhaps, but the closest Elene would ever come to it any more.

The clock on the screen was reading six fifty two am. Five minutes later it hit seven and her alarm chimed and jerked her awake. She swung herself out of bed and immediately looked straight up at the cam, into her own eyes and Reiver's. He felt for a moment like the rapist, not knowing why, and not liking it. Her breasts were there for him to see, her nipples with a morning's slight hardness.

'Conscious,' she said into the cam, and as she said it, Elene beside him froze the image. The recorded night was over and proved safe.

He looked at her, knowing she could have nilled the screen at that point instead of leaving herself there for him to see. It was different watching her awake and naked on the screen, somehow. While she was asleep, she was in some way not Elene.

That was it. This made him a voyeur. He knew what was in her mind. It made him uncomfortable.

It was an effort not to look at the screen again, if only because she was waiting for him to do so. But he knew Elene was testing him now. Her fragile trust needed constant renewing. He remembered what she had said to him a year after it, when he had momentarily misjudged her state of mind and asked her if she wanted to go out for a walk or something, sit in a cafe somewhere, that he'd be with her and it would be okay, he'd make sure of it.

'Men,' she had said, not looking at him but making it plain anyway. 'You know what men are, Reiver? What a man really is?'

He'd shaken his head, silenced by the sudden venom in her voice.

'Two slugs joined at the balls. The smaller one controlling the larger. That's all a man is.'

He had never forgotten that, and he'd never suggested anything like it again to her. She felt secure in here. And even here, he knew that most of the time she felt only guardedly safe with him.

Now she sighed. She seemed to transform as she took a long inward breath after the sigh, and she looked at Reiver as if he'd only just now come through the door.

Maybe that's what it was, he thought. Maybe he had just arrived for her. She'd just woken up, her day was starting. Everything before this had been a part of sleep. She nilled the screen at her side without glancing at it.

'So,' he said, 'How are you, Elene?'

© Roger Levy 2003.
This story is closely related to Roger's novel Dark Heavens (Gollancz, February 2003).

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