Floodlights fell crosswise through rain, dulled to gray. The buildings and sidewalks, equally gray, formed a narrow corridor of misery. She traversed it alone, following an empty road slick with tears. Allie supposed as much, anyhow.
It was fitting, after all.
She’d hardly known her father, knew him less now death had exposed… him.
It was hard to explain why things were so dark. So cold. She knew all too well they were; the slump of disappointment, the drag-along feet of grief and wounds.
Rain soaked her raised hoodie to the bone. The only thing saving her her from ragged trembling was the overlong coat hanging open along her. Between that, her denim, and luck, the rain was held at-bay– if only outside.
Inside, Allie was a wreck.
Her father’s lovewas a cold, neglected wound festered bysilence. At that, he was mute. He’d have been as dead as stone, too,were he not begrudgingly filled with blood. He was heartless; aspetrified as an archaeologist’s first trilobyte.
That was what she’d known. Always. There was good reason for it, too.
She ambled through the gray wet, remembering her art project. Handmade. She’d waited weeks for it to return from the kiln. The whole time begging and pleading with any powers that be it hadn’t had an air bubble in it. Those time-bombs utterly destroyed every other ceramics piece she’d ever made.
This time, she’d guarded against it, meticulously kneading the clay. She repeated the process past hand-cramps. She wrung them out after one, expertly-crafted coffee mug. When it returned unharmed, and she gained access to the ceramic paints, she took greater care in coating and glazing it than anyone before her.
She sprinted home with it in both hands, bursting through the door to show her mother and father. She reached the latter first, beaming at the mug in her hands. Her father’s reply was an unceremonious grunt.
He focused back on his tablet of paper, kept writing. Not even a breath of pride or congratulations. Not a thought toward her beyond contempt for interruption,begrudging tolerance of presence. That was her father, exemplified.
She meandered between two, gray warehouses toward a lot a half-kim ahead.
It was like riding a tunnel o’ love raft alone, along drained out pool. The feeling was utter desolation; something once-sacred, now desecrated. She couldn’t help it enveloping her. Not with the the myriad of gray tainting her surroundings.
Until recently, she’d have felt her wounds entirely unfair.
In many ways, they were. Her father had never shown feelings toward her, but only by virtue of never showing any. She knew by her mother’s word he loved her, was simply atrocious at showing it. For along time, Allie hadn’t believed that. She knew it differently now, but knew she couldn’t have.
She’d come home in tears, for one reason or another, met with the same reaction; indifference, stony silence, muteness. The memory she returned to time and again still stung with her even now, years later. Her father’s reaction, however framed differently after his death, made her utterly certain of his inability to feel.
Yet she was wrong.
This time, soaked in tears and rain as she was now in the alley. Like now, her heart broken. Justanother, crappy weekend. For all but Allie, whom had learned to emulate her father’s lack of emotion in all but the worsttimes. The epitome of human indecency, of teen angst. In essence, it was exemplary of all the worst aspects of human behavior. All in one moment of hormonal, teenage confusion.
She’d sat down to lunch with a friend. Another appeared, vid in-hand of Allie’s long time boyfriend making it with another girl. And going all the way at that. After so long, so much, it was crushing. Mostly, it was utterly humiliating.
The entire school had seen him with another girl. Before her. At least if it’d been them, she’d have been secure in the knowledge they were devoted.
Butanother girlwith less morals than a sea-slug, and a test-tube baby-face left in its first tube too long. Worse; one, lopsided breast beside another in a bra two-sizes too small and wrapped in less fashion sense thana half-decayed corpse.Even in the gray, Allie still felt the sting. How beyond-humiliatingit really was.
In retrospect, that was probably why she’d run out of school, ditching half the day.
She came bursting her front door, finding her father once more occupied. She was in shambles, emotionally, physically– she’d been soaked through from the pouring rain. She had nothing with her, not her pack, not her purse. If she hadn’t been wearing her shoes, she’d have left them too.
And all her father could say when she arrived home was, “You’re home early.”
At least, if he’d been angry, scolding, it would’ve been an emotion– something to contend with. Instead, it was the same, thoughtless lack of emotion that led to the video; to her being cast off for some pinched-face slag-sucker.
She fled for the bathroom, hiding until well after her mother returned and deduced her state.
Perhaps if she’d known then what she knew now, she might’ve handled things differently. Then again, could she have known then what she knew now, he would have. Unfortunately, her age and innocence meant she couldn’t know, wouldn’t be allowed to for years to come.
When that time finally came, he ensured she understood thoroughly.
His words rang in her head as if still being uttered. In that roundabout way sound goes on vibrating forever, she decided, they were.
Her mother had passed her a note from her father after his funeral, told her to read it alone and tell no-one of its contents or existence. She further instructed that afterward it be destroyed. She opened the letter, found a lone address with instructions including, “Go alone.”
She followed the letter’s request, if only for the sake of playing her final role as dutiful daughter. She found the warehouses, made her way into the one she’d only now left behind. Recalling her entrance as she slid into her mother’s car, the words echoed in her head with the fresh memory they were forming.
The warehouse’s door locked behind her. Innocently. The place was deceptive, looking much like any other warehouse outside but inside, clean and sterile. It was a hospital, condensed into a large, multi-room space.
There, in an office, her father spoke a final time.
He uttered a truth so radical it altered her world, her memories. One that tainted them with the hints of gray one at seeing things as they were; the loss behind the scenes; the tragedies, losses, sacrifices missed and made.
She found her way in as per instruction. There, she sat before a single computer monitor lit. Her father’s face appeared, more haggard and tired than ever. The distinct hint of pain in his eyes, something she’d never before seen but knew regardless.
“Allison,” he said with an eerily new warmth. “If you’re here, I am gone. You have to know what is at stake. The danger you’re in.”
Allie would’ve laughed, but her father’s usual frozen stone had become liquid warmth.
“You must understand why, after all of these years, it has been so important you never become attached to me. Why I have been so cold.”
He was visibly pained by thought.
“Allison, you were born much earlier than you believe. The first two years of your life caused you endless pain that only worsened over time.”
Allie could only wonder what he was on about.
“You do not remember, because we– I— removed it from your memories.” He raised a hand as if to stop her from speaking, thinking too far ahead. “What matters is your body was slowly but surely failing. Three years old, and with only weeks to live, your body was killing itself with seizures. Bouts of inexplicable pain so horrible you became catatonic for days afterward.”
Allie fought to understand, to remember, but couldn’t. Torn between her father’s words and her own supposedly lost memories, she could only watch, hope to understand.
“One particularly bad episode left you catatonic for a week. You didn’t speak, eat, or move. You couldn’t. You were withering because of it. So, we… put you on ice.”
She understood now, but didn’t entirely believe him; a creature so unlike her father, yet wearing his skin. She’d been caught off-guard by the whole thing, but even if the purposes felt clearer she had her skepticism. Her father all but erased any room for her doubt.
Simply by remaining incapable of argument.
“The pain, we later learned, was caused by a degenerative neural disease. It’s not dissimilar to Multiple Sclerosis but has the distinct difference of causing attacks of nerve degeneration. These attacks were responsible for your catatonic episodes. They were killing you.
“Unfortunately, knowing so little of the disease meant knowing of no way to fix you.”
She glanced around at the empty office, as if hearing foreign voices’ echoing their forever-resonance on eternally elderly sound-waves. They filled the gaps of credence in his story, preempting his major revelation as if to make it less impossible, more believable.
“I could not afford to lose you, Allison. I loved you– love you– even if I dare not show it.” He heaved a terrible sigh. Reality weighted his chest, expelling his air supply. “So I did the only thing a I could to ensure I would not lose you.
“Your mother will confirm this. She was there every step. Before, through every episode and treatment. After, through your rebirth. Even so, we both felt it would be best you heard this from me:
“You were not born once, but twice. First, from your mother’s womb, and second from this laboratory that now sits empty, unused.”
Allie’s eyes narrowed. Her ears sharpened.
“Your body was too damaged. Your mind was not. We took a neural map, your brain’s physical and mental schematic, and duplicated it in the gray matter of a vat-grown brain. One, with no mental imprint. It, became you. That brain, like its accompanying organs, vascular system, nerves– its body, is yours.”
“You were born twice, Allison, and both times I loved you more than I could love anyone else.”
Nonsense. Asinine. You could no more transfer a mind than raise the dead. Yet still, she believed him. She didn’t know why, but she did. Now, Her eyes were wet. It wouldn’t be the last time.
“The problem, Allie, is you’re valuable. For the last twenty years, people have sought to capture and examine you. Countless would-be assassins. Kidnappers. Molesters. All of them sent to rip you from your rightful life.
“I couldn’t let you get attached to me, because I couldn’t allow myself to be used against you. But I feared most that if you grew to love me as I loved you, my death might scar you too terribly, make you too easy a target. I couldn’t bear to live with the consequences of that.”
His face soured first with fury, then grief, before he recomposed himself.
“It is fortunate you’ve reached the age you have before my death. Now your mother may train you to protect yourself. I’m truly sorry, Allison. Forgive the love that has put endangered you so. Forgive that it made him stubborn enough to remain cold to protect you. And forgive it that its greatest gift was soured by its enemies.”
His eyes glazed over with tears, “Most of all, forgive me.”
He cleared his throat, mentioning something passing about having written every day to her. That her mother had the journals. Despite everything said, his last words affected her most; even after she found herself beside her mother in the perma-gray.
“Forgive me, Allison. And know, no matter what, I have always loved you, my daughter.”
She choked a back a breath, “I do.”