Verity had stopped shivering.
Pale white streamers surrounded her. They shimmered and twisted like the Northern Lights. They went with her hair, which gleamed in the spotlights. He didn’t know how she remained standing, but she did. She was dressed once more in that deep green gown that reminded him of his better days, in the past. Her pulse was faint. Her hands were cold. Her feet were bare. They had turned ice-blue as she was standing on the flagstones, so he had had to go and find a piece of cloth to put underneath them: otherwise she wouldn’t last the night. There were no shackles small enough for her slim hands in the entire museum, except the ones on the rack, and they were chained to it. The echo silencer was set on the chair next to it.
He had brought her to have a look at the iron maiden. He had let her have a go at feeling the points, and showed her how it worked. It was only fair: she was always curious about how things worked. She was probably thinking that she would end up inside it, but that wasn’t the idea: he didn’t want to concede any more questions, any more penalties. He just wanted a night as enjoyable for him as that party fundraiser had obviously been for her. To gaze at those Northern lights, white just like his own. Fear without object, pure, white as the ice on Blencathra: it went with her hair...hair like the snow on a white rose. Verity: silent, spellbound as the standing stones in the evening mist. In ten thousand years he had never experienced any resonance like it. He didn’t want to have to hand her back, didn’t want her to be a mortal. He noticed the edges of her glow occasionally blushed ever so slightly indigo. She was evidently in fear of oblivion: that his plan to grind down the entire world would run to completion. So, she had faith in him. She was beginning to get ready to concede defeat. Good lass...
He put a hand on her right shoulder. He could feel it was still slightly painful to her, wished he hadn’t been so careless with it. What a blow that shoulder had struck at him: those bloody questions. She now not only knew him but had also, by asking about a sentence left on her bedside notebook, regained the secret of the Apple. Learning from her previous mistake, she had then emailed it to herself and to all her party contacts, disguising it as a humourous article about “temptation” for their newsletter. She had also written it in her notebook. Her final question, about the physics of Fear and how it propagated, had caused him to boast of how it could, by resonance, hold entire countries in its thrall: Germany, 1933. The USSR, 1934. China, 1966. It could move through any medium and, by quantum tunnelling, it could travel faster than light. It could overcome any obstacle: it could persist in rooms, even invade dreams. He had let slip far, far too much. He had seen her thinking, from her knowledge of Eastern philosophy: “He who boasts will not endure...”.
Worst of all, he had inadvertently given away the cure for Indifference: it was the income distribution recommended by Rawls in his Theory of Justice.
He had to say something to make her scream, to check that she hadn’t lost her mind and cost him anything inconvenient: questions, penalties. He had promised himself that he would do this every two hours through the night, and had so far remembered to do it both times. You had to know your limits.
He whispered: “You are alone...” he could see her mouth the words “I’m left alone...” but that didn’t count as a scream. He remembered she didn’t fear solitude. Her mind was the most important thing to her. He tried again.
“Your mind is blank...” She responded in a whisper: “my mind was blank”
“I need time to think...” Mills thought out loud. Verity’s face, too, somehow looked deep in thought. “...time to think...” She blinked, as if waking up, and looked afresh at the iron maiden. She took a deep breath: good, thought Mills, she’s going to scream.
But there was no scream. Her beautiful Northern lights vanished. Verity was singing.
I left alone (the notes were clear: do-me-fa-so. She was hesitant, like a child learning the scale at school. He disapproved of music in schools in the same way that Verity and her party disapproved of army recruiters there, but there it was).
“My mind was blank” (the same notes. Then on a slightly lower scale, and picking up pace and confidence...)
“I needed time to think, to get the memories from my mind...”
she sang a similar melody, but with more spirit:
“What did I see? (she clenched her fists to gather breath. He noticed her hands were no longer cold)
can I believe (Verity closed her eyes as she hit the sixth perfectly: she was warming to the task)
that what I saw that night, was real and not just fantasy?”
“Just what I saw
“Just what I saw
in my last dream (now gazing up into the spotlights, as if she were on a stage...),
were they reflections of my warped mind staring back at me?
‘Cause in my dreams
‘Cause in my dreams
He's always there (with bitter passion: she was singing for her life now)
that evil face that twists my mind and brings me to despair!”
She pointed at the iron maiden and laughed. “Number of the Beast! It’s practically your anthem, Mills!” She disappeared into impossible black threads as she started to dance...
She sat up in bed and raised her arms in delight
She had woken Sacha up.
“No more nightmares.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. “tantzuyu...”