Transitions from Persona to Object”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

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Cyrano had called in sick to work twice. On the third day, his father had come into his room, hauled him up out of bed by the collar of his ratty t-shirt, and told him to get his lazy ass to work before he got booted off the Grand Philosopher’s project, and how he’d never make anything of himself if he couldn’t even show up to work with a measly head cold.

Which was what Cyrano had been telling everybody was wrong with him.

So he’d showered—pointless as that felt—and ironed some clothes he’d pulled out of the dirty pile. Avoided looking at himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth. Shuffled out the door, skipping breakfast, just in time to catch the bus. Flirted with the thought of putting himself in front of the vehicle instead of inside it.

Got off at the Downtown Delphi stop, overriding an impulse to stay on and see just how far the bus would take him. He’d stared out the window the whole ride, barely registering the flat landscape; the road signs; the faint, pink-to-teal spectrum of Delphi’s glamors by day. He hadn’t felt present in or connected to his surroundings these past few days; just wandered through them like a ghost, at most taking in factual details like some piece of observational equipment, a NASA rover on Mars. When he ate, which he could hardly muster motivation to do, he didn’t notice the taste of his food. Pokémon Platinum didn’t hold his attention. Even Dad’s browbeating got no response from Cyrano lately. Just an empty stare.

He deliberately arrived in the prep room late, because he didn’t want to risk running into pretty much anyone in the mole tunnels. Which meant he was also late to lab.  Didn’t apologize when Nimri gently took him to task; only nodded his head. Felt the Grand Philosopher studying him after, but didn’t meet his eye.

Waited till his bladder was ready to pop before going to the men’s room at lunch and, when he did go, waited outside till he was sure no one else was in there, then got in and out as quickly as he could.

He jumped almost out of his skin when a flyer all but smacked him in the chest on his way back out into the hall, and a kid whose name he couldn’t remember from his Academy days turned toward him in passing, a sheaf of matching pages tucked under his arm. He was another Rising-Houser, Cyrano recalled. Had graduated two years ahead of him. “Hey, man. Lockwood rally tonight after work. Scaeva Hall. Arcanus first!” The kid held up a solidarity fist before disappearing into the bathroom.

Cyrano gazed after him, his heart thumping dully in his ears, then looked down at the flyer. 

Hunter glowered up at him from the black-and-white portrait at its center, his stern stare reminding Cyrano uncomfortably of his father.

He thought about the men’s room at Lunaria for, in a new personal record, the first time since that morning. His blood suddenly boiled.

Bitch.

Why didn’t you fight?

At the end of the workday, Cyrano hung back in Lab #1 till most people, by his calculation, must have filtered out of the department.

While he waited, pulled the folded-up flyer out of his pocket.

Stared at it.

Seconds later, his legs were in motion, propelling him across the Atrium, into the St. Germain Wing, toward Scaeva Hall. He choked on wave after wave of nausea, his pulse beating a dirgelike tempo in his ears. He hadn’t thought he would do this today, or ever—seek out Hunter Lockwood to look him in the face. But the running and hiding were killing him little by little, like a thousand small cuts. He had no idea what he wanted, what he needed, what would happen once he got it—or failed to. All he knew was whatever it was was something only Hunter could give.

The rally was underway when he got there. He couldn’t see Hunter at first over the standing-room-only crowd; only heard his voice, virile and hypnotic. Its rich tones seemed to penetrate deep into Cyrano, plucking his innards like strings.

“It’s definitely personal for hi—her.” Cyrano’s ears were still ringing, the bass from Lunaria Club’s sound system like a power drill boring through his skull. He stood with his back pressed to the bathroom wall, staring into Hunter’s eyes, too scared to look away. He felt like he existed entirely in those smoldering eyes—some vulgar, worthless thing, suffered to live only by Hunter’s good graces.

“How?” Hunter’s fingers grazed his ear, his jaw.

Cyrano shuddered. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just know I get the feeling h—she—is in some kind of race against time.” He sucked in a shaky breath as his thoughts started clicking. “Our first day on the project, she told us all that the nulla materia sample had come from a mundane subject.” His heart skipped a beat as puzzle pieces popped into place. “And today at the bar after work, he—she—told me she has a girlfriend who’s sick. Holy shit…holy shit…what if it’s her? Nimri’s girlfriend…maybe she’s the mundane.”

Hunter’s lips curled in a smile. “I knew I could count on you, Cyrano. Cunning is what you are. Smart as a whip.”

Cyrano felt a pathetic pang of pride.

“I need proof,” said Hunter. “Can you get it for me? Will you do that, Cyrano? For me?”

Cyrano gave an urgent nod.

Hunter braced Cyrano’s head firmly in both hands. “Let me hear you say it.”

“Yes…for you.”

“Thorsten Julianus Nimri,” intoned Hunter, to a rapt and silent audience, “showed his true colors—didn’t he—when he called the fine, hardworking Rising-House members of this order an ‘uncivilized rabble.’” The crowd exploded in boos and jeers. Hunter raised a hand, quieting them. “Hear me now: If standing up to injustice and corruption, if raising your voices against those who seek to harm this order makes you an ‘uncivilized rabble,’ then I tell you you should wear that label as a badge of pride!” The audience roared. “Never stop being uncivilized!” Hunter bellowed over the din. “Never stop rabble-rousing till you get what’s yours by right!

“I’ll tell you what’s ‘uncivilized.’” Hunter dropped his voice. The assembly hushed at once to hear his words. “Selling out the people you’ve sworn to protect, to preserve a status quo that benefits no one but you.” The Master-Savant set his jaw grimly. “They. Have. A. Suspect. Enforcement has had a suspect in custody for five whole weeks.” The statement elicited a smattering of angry cries. “Do they really expect us to believe they’ve been unable to get a confession after all this time? And if they had enough evidence to lock up Duncan Harper in the first place, why the hell hasn’t that information been made public?”

Several members of the audience bellowed agreement.

Hunter paced a few steps along the lip of the platform, fumed, once more shook his head. “You’re all aware I go way back with the people who run this order. I’m half-Weyland myself. The Nimris are distant relations—formerly friends.” He shifted into a contemplative tone of voice. “And…well, I’ll be honest. I don’t want to think the worst of these people. I’ve heard the rumors going around, and they’re not altogether without basis. But I don’t believe them. I simply can’t.” He raised his eyes, swept the audience. “I will tell you this, though: I am troubled—deeply troubled—that the people who hold your lives and mine in their hands have left us without answers in this time of uncertainty and grief. It’s a breach of trust. And the worst part is, I can’t think of a single justification for it. Not an honorable one, at least.” Hunter paused, stood stock-still before a silent room. “All I keep thinking to myself is: What are they hiding? Is it possible—inconceivable as it seems—that our leadership are so concerned with holding onto their power over you—upstanding fellow members of our own order—that they would shelter our enemies to cover up a certain inconvenient truth until after the election?”

The audience started murmuring.

He’s brilliant. A shiver raced down Cyrano’s spine.

“Do they fear that revealing the evidence they’ve found will vindicate me, and you, thereby handing our team an electoral victory? Or are they just afraid of angering Karamat—desperate to preserve an alliance that’s outlived its use, at the cost of Ordo Arcanus’s own security and pride?” Hunter paused. “Or, I hardly dare suggest, is it possible—however unlikely—that they’re covering up something even worse?” He pressed a knuckle briefly to his lips. “I’ve…heard a lot of talk lately, about traitors in our midst. I’ll say again: I don’t want to believe that. And I don’t believe it. Not yet. But I’m deeply troubled, I don’t mind telling you, friends. Deeply. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, that much I know.”

He arrived at the edge of the stage; stood there, hands in pockets, wearing a sober expression. “I wish I could offer you answers,” he said, at length. “God knows you deserve them. Every single day, I rail at the fact that it’s not me in that seat at the assembly, because, if it were, I’d have made damn sure you good people had answers by now. As your magistrate, as your tribune, I would never allow a grievance like this to stand.” He paused, then raised his voice. “And I swear before you today that if you elect me this August, I will get to the bottom of this!”

The cheers were deafening.

Cyrano stood rooted in place for the rest of the speech, let the rhythm of Hunter’s mounting tirade, the ovations of the crowd, the savage energy that flowed through the room wash over him in waves. Listened as Hunter fulminated against the Hermetic Order of Khmun, the Auctoritas Magicae—even Arcanus’s own Council of Elders, making grave insinuations but always stopping just short of outright treason.

When the rally was over, Hunter stepped down off the platform, surrounded by Ordinators. Cyrano thought he caught the Master-Savant’s eye for a half-second before he and his retinue were swallowed up by the throng.

Cyrano fought his way forward, elbowing, shouldering his way through the crowd. The heat, the press of strange bodies made his chest tighten, his heart rate surge. He didn’t know, couldn’t imagine what he might do if he was forced to leave here without getting what he’d come for—a chance to look Hunter in the face. To demand acknowledgment.

What felt like eons passed. The mass around him condensed into an impenetrable knot. Cyrano felt his steps start to slide backward as he made a half-panicked, futile effort to continue onward.

Then, suddenly, it happened. The mob parted in front of him, and there stood Hunter, looking him straight in the eyes.

Cyrano’s breath caught as Hunter grasped his shoulder, leaned close to his ear. “Wait a few minutes,” he whispered. “Then come to my mother’s office.”

The next instant, Hunter and his retinue had melted once more into the crowd.

Cyrano could feel people around him staring. His skin was hot. He couldn’t breathe.

They all know. Don’t they? It’s obvious.

I might as well have the word FAGGOT stamped on my forehead.

He waited just like he’d been told. Focused on getting air into his lungs, breath by halting breath. The crowd started to melt away. He shambled along with them as they moved toward the doors.

Once outside, undertook the journey through the halls of the Enclave, alone, toward the Almyra Hornebolt Lockwood Wing, where the elders’ offices were located.

Hunter’s Ordinators stood guard outside Nigella Lockwood’s office. They made no move to stop or question Cyrano as he passed.

Hunter was seated in the reception area. Stood as Cyrano entered. “We’re not to be disturbed,” he advised the Ordinators, then started off down a small corridor, flinging the word “Come” at Cyrano over his shoulder.

Cyrano followed on rubber legs, his mind a blank.

Hunter veered into a small conference room, waved Cyrano in ahead of him, shut the door behind them both.

Cyrano drifted to the center of the room, stood surveying his surroundings. Vaguely registered the huge oil painting of Nigella Lockwood in her full ceremonial regalia that took up one wall, the books on Ordo Arcanus history and law that adorned the many shelves.

Hunter sealed off the room with his scarlet shield. Loomed. “You’ve been avoiding me.”

Cyrano didn’t know what to say. So he said nothing.

“Not even going to deny it?”

Cyrano remained silent a few seconds longer, then finally, inevitably met Hunter’s gaze. “I don’t know what this is,” he admitted softly. Felt like punching himself the moment the words left his lips.

“Me calling into question your loyalty. That’s what this is.”

“I meant,” Cyrano persisted, somehow still unable to stop himself, “what it is that’s…that’s going on. Between you and—”

“Don’t change the subject.” Hunter was so close the heat was radiating off him, and the scent of exertion from his fiery stump speech, mixed with his nauseatingly familiar cologne.

“I didn’t mean to.” Cyrano did his best to sound calm. “I’m just…confused.”

“What’s to be confused about? Are you Juliana’s, or are you mine? It’s a simple binary choice.”

“Yours.” A shiver coursed through Cyrano as he spoke the word.

Hunter fell silent. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said at last. “What do you have for me?”

“I…haven’t been in the lab these past couple days.”

“Weren’t you there today?”

“Yes. But I didn’t talk to Jules very m—” Cyrano felt a flutter of panic. “—Juliana—very much.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder.”

“That would be wise. I’ve made it clear there will be consequences if you betray me.”

Cyrano was silent a moment. Then raised his eyes to Hunter’s. “I’m your man, Master-Savant. Give me time. I’ll prove it.”

Hunter’s expression softened, almost imperceptibly. A shift in his weight closed the distance between them.

His fingers grazed the front of Cyrano’s thigh. Cyrano tensed, closed his eyes. 

After a beat, opened them once more. Stared deeply into Hunter’s.

Yours. Yours. Yours.

Hunter gave a low chuckle. His touch trailed over Cyrano’s erection. “You’re a fascinating specimen, Almonte. Practically a woman.”

Cyrano’s cheeks burned.

“Very well,” said Hunter. “Prove yourself to me, and you’ll have a rich reward. I take care of my own.”

“Thank you.” Cyrano’s eyes again stuttered closed as Hunter briefly palmed his crotch.

The Master-Savant chuckled once more, gave Cyrano a hard smack on the rear. “Dismissed.”

Cyrano drifted back out into the hall, his pulse pounding in his ears. A handful of aides breezed past him, carrying brown bag lunches, chatting among themselves. Cyrano clasped his hands together in front of his crotch.

When the coast was clear, sped his steps till he got to the nearest men’s room—went straight for a stall.

Bit down hard on his knuckles to keep himself from making an animal noise as the orgasm wracked him.

He washed his hands obsessively after. Intently avoided his reflection in the mirror.

Hurried back across the Enclave toward the exit.

“Cyrano!”

He turned, saw Jules Nimri coming up behind him, satchel slung across his long torso, hands in pockets. Nimri wore that muted smile that had become familiar in the short time they’d been working together.

Cyrano contemplated turning and running as fast as he could, never to return. Maybe after blurting a warning.

“How are you?” Nimri came to a halt in front of him. It wasn’t the kind of how-are-you that just meant hello. It was an actual question.

Cyrano deflected it, nevertheless, with a, “Fine.”

“Are you sure? You seemed off today. I know you’ve been sick.”

“Just still under the weather, I guess.” Cyrano’s eyes darted to everything but Nimri’s face.

“I have a few minutes if you wanna hit the bar.” The Philosopher glanced at his pocket watch.

Cyrano shook his head mutely, no longer trusting himself to speak.

In the periphery of his vision, he saw Nimri frown. “Okay. Yeah. No. Sorry. Um…see you in the lab.” He started away.

“Wait,” Cyrano managed, turning after him.

Nimri looked back with a guarded expression.

“Maybe tomorrow after work?”

Nimri’s smile returned, more tentative now. “Sure.” He turned, shuffled off.

Cyrano hung back. His stomach churned.

I have to kill myself now. Don’t I.

After Nimri was gone, he made a beeline for the exit.

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR
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