The ultimate crime

I would not look at his face again. He could not die while that technology remained inside him. I dragged him over to the Aga.

‘Lift it up,’ I ordered Gulliver. ‘Lift up the cover.’

‘Cover?’

‘The hot plate.’

He did it. He lifted the circular steel ring up and let it fall back, and he did so without a single question in his eyes.

‘Help me,’ I said. ‘He’s fighting. Help me with his arm.’

Together we had enough force to press his palm down to the burning metal. The scream, as we kept him there, was horrendous. Knowing what it was I was doing, it truly sounded like the end of the universe.

I was committing the ultimate crime. I was destroying gifts, and killing one of my kind.

‘We’ve got to keep it there,’ I shouted to Gulliver. ‘We’ve got to keep it there! Hold! Hold! Hold!’

And then I switched my attention to Jonathan.

‘Tell them it is over,’ I whispered. ‘Tell them you have completed your mission. Tell them there has been a problem with the gifts and that you will not be able to return. Tell them, and I will stop the pain.’

A lie. And a gamble that they were tuned to him and not to me. But a necessary one. He told them, yet his pain continued.

How long were we like this? Seconds? Minutes? It was like Einstein’s conundrum. The hot stove versus the pretty girl. Towards the end of it, Jonathan was on his knees, losing consciousness.

Tears streamed down my face as I finally pulled that sticky mess of a hand away. I checked his pulse. He was gone. The knife pierced through his chest as he fell back. I looked at the hand, and this face, and it was clear. He was disconnected, not just from the hosts, but from life.

The reason it was clear was that he was becoming himself – the cellular reconfiguration that automatically followed death. The whole shape of him was changing, curling in, his face flattening, his skull lengthening, his skin mottled shades of purple and violet. Only the knife in his back stayed. It was strange. Within the context of that Earth kitchen this creature, structured precisely as I had been, seemed entirely alien to me.

A monster. A beast. Something other.

Gulliver stared, but said nothing. The shock was so profound it was a challenge to breathe, let alone speak.

I did not want to speak either, but for more practical reasons. Indeed, I worried that I may already have said too much. Maybe the hosts had heard everything I had said in that kitchen. I didn’t know. What I did know was that I had one more thing to do.

They took your powers away, but they didn’t take theirs.

But before I could do anything a car pulled up outside. Isobel was home.

‘Gulliver, it’s your mother. Keep her away. Warn her.’

He left the room. I turned back to the heat of that hot plate and positioned my hand next to where his had been, where pieces of his flesh still fizzed. And I pressed down, and felt a pure and total pain which took away space and time and guilt.

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