4



The coffee pot bubbled upstairs, its thick morning smell slithering down the cellar steps to bring my thoughts back to earth. I had been elsewhere, it seemed.



I set eight-six-one back in his cage and changed the water, the food. Then I checked the other cages to make sure the other creatures were still visible, or alive. They were both. I stumbled over to the rack of coats and robes that hung under the basement window and behind the stairs. Then I tied the rope around my naked body and heavily mounted the steps.



It was no use to a logical mind to think, what had I done? I knew perfectly well what I’d done and I’d enjoyed it. A little too much in fact. My fingers kept making contact with the smooth pine of the bannister and feeling the soft down of Amber’s stomach flexing under my grasp. Halfway up the stairs I stopped and drew my fingers to my face.



Her smell was almost gone, replaced by eight-six-one and the familiar aroma of wood and must. What if I had fathered another child tonight? What if I was unfaithful to Margaret?



What if that was just a malevolent spirit who haunted the neighborhood?



I smiled. My heart pounded under my chest from confusion and excitement and fear. And yet I was giddy; innocent; powerful and yet humbled by either the girl’s bold concupiscence or my own singular triumph. Hell, why not make it a double. Amber certainly left a good deal of restraint at the window; I couldn’t speak for the girl but there was certainly an aura of triumph about her all throughout her several climaxes… And I, what had I achieved? Everything.



I traipsed into the kitchen in my bare feet, my wife catching my eye over her pointed shoulder and simultaneously smiling into her phone and glowering at me. She was speaking enthusiastically – far too energetically for so early on a Saturday (was it Saturday?) but it was none of my business, or I chose to leave it as none of my business.



As I poured the coffee I suddenly realized that I felt shell less. Naked, obviously, beneath the robe, but that in itself was not uncommon. Rather, before no matter the woes and hormonal highs of Rebecca or the cold reluctance or alien sociability of my wife the words seldom penetrated because the latest failure, theorem, confounded hypothesis, existential convolution of algorithmic righteousness, boredom, numbers and dead mice were cloistered about my brain like cotton pulled over my ears and eyes.



“Ha!”



My wife spun on me.



I had laughed aloud. She gave me a dirty look and stomped out of the kitchen, all the while carrying her high, boisterous enthusiasm over the conversation. I smiled bashfully to myself. I had not meant to let that escape but the wave had washed over me all at once.



I was suddenly free from that. Because it worked. After so long.



Not that I held the illusion that I was free from scientific (or perhaps moral, at this point) inquiry. There were still years of tests ahead of me, ahead of the Institute, of all of us. But… Hell…



“Ha-ha!”



5




I didn’t see Margaret for most of the day. We went to bed in silence that night (I having slept most of the day, waking briefly to drive Rebecca somewhere that was going out of business or going on sale, then coming home and devouring most of what remained in the refrigerator). In the morning of course she was already awake and straightening her hair.



Margaret, my wife, hated her curls. I had always loved them, the original trait that spurred my attraction to her, but she straightened them whenever she could; I disapproved but said nothing; she straightened them more. I sensed that in this, like in so many minute conflicts between us, there was always the brief opportunity for resolution. But we had been married a long time now, almost nineteen years (as long as I had lived without her) and we gradually let the unsaid stay unsaid, the gulfs of unpleasantness that could erupt at the mildest comment soon growing so wide that there was little to bridge the gap between what we had in common – which was little. Ultimately we, like her parents before us, stopped trying. It was easier and happened as naturally as one year following another. I knew this before now and simply not cared.



I continued to stare at her through the high french doors of the bathroom. I rolled over to my side and watched her in the bright light of the morning window; that heavenly light dwarfing the harsh artificiality of her vanity mirror. Her hair was shorter than when we first met, darker too because she dyed it. Her mother went gray at a young age and she was adamant to never find out what that meant for herself.



Margaret was older than I. She had been a Junior in college at the same time I was completing my accelerated sophomore year. Because I had graduated high school early she had been fascinated with me. Maybe, I thought, in bitter moments when I wondered how it had come to this, she gravitated to me because she was less intimidated by a younger man, thinking too that my intelligence and drive would render me low maintenance. She was right. But I wondered, as I was told by men who were not quite friends but nevertheless valuable companions in my final bachelor days, if she had planned it all. The sudden sexual bouts, the demure outer Catholic mask shed the moment we were far (far) away from students and teachers who knew her and safely ensconced in my dormitory where she unleashed herself on me. She needed very little in return and rewarded my occasional attentions with all that my studies could not relieve. It was perfect.



But I’d never asked about the precautions she was taking. I certainly wasn’t.



I was a young and selfish man. But smart enough to know when I was in trouble. Was I stupid enough to be duped? I always wondered.



But I had to smile now. Because it didn’t matter now. I stared at Margaret in the mirror, at her long lashes that her girlfriends endlessly coveted, telling me how lucky I was to have a wife with such bedroom brown eyes, telling me how impressively she had kept her figure. Margaret was a vegetarian, thin though never much for fitness, with teardrop breasts that sagged but in a full, heavy fashion. She had softened some, from her eyebrows to her ears and her nose, her pale lips. It did her complexion good, the way her chin no longer seemed so cruel or her long neck so strained.



I had been with another woman last night but I… I couldn’t tell where my new happiness sprouted from. Was it finally realizing I had won? Was it conquering that young, brazen runner? Was it just staring at my wife in her mirror? Perhaps it was all these things and more, or less.



“Where were you last night?” she asked.



I cleared my throat. “I worked late in the lab. You probably heard me…”



She pulled the iron away from her hair and squinted at me. “You weren’t in there.”



“I ran. Intermittently.”



“Oh,” she said, and turned back to her mirror. I rolled awkwardly in the bed and her voice floated back to me. “Has the Institute called you?”



She wanted me out of the house. “Not yet,” I said. “But I’m going to speak with some of the lab tomorrow.”



“After the carpool.”



“After the carpool,” I agreed.



“I’m going grocery shopping later. Do you want anything?”



“No,” I said. And that was our last conversation of the day.



6




I sat behind the wheel in our slanted driveway wondering how it would be to see Amber again. Rebecca had dashed next door to go get her, as she did every morning, and the two would walk back to the car – slower or faster depending on all the important events I was too square to hear.



They came back breathless, both of them wearing enormous grins and Amber especially looking healthy, happy and mischievous. “Well?” she asked my daughter after giving me a hurried hello. I put the car into reverse and rolled into the street while Rebecca pondered aloud.



“Ohhh, I don’t know!”



“Come on!” Amber chided.



Rebecca only laughed in reply.



“Do you believe in ghosts?”



I swerved the car and nearly flattened Mr. Potacki’s little Pomeranian. The girls shrieked and I quickly righted the car.



“What the hell, dad?!” Rebecca screeched.



“Dog in the road,” I said.



“I don’t see-” Amber started but I was already turning the corner.



It didn’t take long for the girls to calm down enough to resume their previous conversation.



“No,” said Rebecca, “that’s so stupid.”



“I think my house is haunted,” Amber whispered. She was downright giddy.



I watched Rebecca smirk in the mirror. “Haunted, huh? You don’t seem scared.”



“No…” Amber taunted. “I think it’s a lonely ghost.”



“Oh yeah?” Rebecca said. The fire was suddenly in her eyes. I realized the two girls were communing in secret right behind me in some significant but abstruse way. “What’s his name?”



Amber shook her head forcefully and Rebecca suddenly attacked her with a furious reaching of fingers and pokes. “Tell me! Tell me!”



“Ow!” Amber groaned. “Stop, stop…” The two were already huffing against each other in a giggling pile.



I regarded them coldly in the mirror. “You’re both far too old to be behaving like that.”



Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Lighten up, dad, this is a big deal.”



“I don’t understand.”



Both girls resumed their conspiratorial smiles. “We know.”



I left them to their huddled whispers, sure of nothing else but the fact that I was most definitely not the subject of their conspiracy. Rebecca knew enough that Amber had had some sort of experience in the last 48 hours. How deeply Amber herself believed in its supernatural validity was debatable, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. My heart was going to beat heavily all throughout that day, seeing Amber or being found out, what I was about to do after I dropped them off, everything in my mind ensured that my body would be rapt and waiting for the slightest physical incitement.



Rebecca planted a swift kiss on my cheek and hurried out of the car to join the gaggle of girls gathering in the school’s parking lot. Amber pulled her long legs from under her and left her seat, closing the door promptly and pulling her dainty skirt around her calves. I was pulling the car out of neutral when she stepped back to the window.



“Mr. Beal…?”



I froze. I locked the car into park and lowered the passenger side window. She smiled shyly and leaned in.



“What is it, Amber?”



“I want to thank you.”



I raised my eyebrows in an attempt to mask the building tension in my jaw. “What?”



She pulled a lock of hair away from her lip and studied me for half a second before swallowing. “Just…the other night, talking to me.”



“Oh!”



“What?”



“Oh. No. No, not a problem, Amber. Cleared my head too, really.”



“Really?”



It was my turn to smile. “Yes,” I said.



“Okay,” she said happily. “Thanks again, Mr. Beal. Have a nice day!”



I waved back at her as she strode away from the car and joined Rebecca in the lot. It took five minutes to clear out of the parking lot behind the endless red lights of other vans and SUVs and then another five to get on the highway toward downtown.



Thankfully I wouldn’t need to go all the way into the city and could avoid rush hour traffic. Instead I turned off halfway down the pike and sped through the outskirts of Boulder towards the outer city park and the imposing acreage of one of the Institute’s many commercial research facilities.



I stuck my permit on the dashboard and waved at the security as I coasted in, parked, and walked determinedly up the peaceful brick walk between the glass and steel cyclinders of the complex, my hand in my pocket all the while fingering the glass vial in my pocket.



I encountered more and larger crowds of people the closer I got to Building G, most of them enthusiastic looking gentlemen in suits, some old, some surprisingly young. All of them looked hungry for something. I stopped at the employee entrance to the research zone and allowed the security officers to take my badge and frisk me (shifting my leg so that the small vial inconspicuously rolled behind my wallet). I glanced over my shoulder at the men in suits; they watched me curiously in turn. I had seen this before and I knew what it meant: the Institute was ready for business again.



After another kindly wave I was inside the building, my identity card swinging around my neck and my soles making authoritative smacks on the abandoned linoleum. Since disbanding the greater body of its advanced researchers the building was only occasionally used. The Institute had no qualms with allowing its senior staff to use the place but it discouraged too many of us gathering at once. After placing a call late Saturday evening I knew Pris would be working in G all day. After the mass outside I suspected that Pris would be doing more than working.



Priscilla Coker M.D. (with another Ph.D. on the way in advanced theoretical cellular electronics) was not a cold woman by any stretch of the imagination. At 31 she was already a leader in the field of both biological mutation and the budding nanotechnology industry, vivacious and endearing and outwardly one of the key faces of the Institute. She was 5’8″, platinum blonde (not naturally) and – as one of the key faces of the Institute – had to smile a lot and wear the sort of outfits that made lab work potentially hazardous. But the Institute needed that because most of us were not so striking to look at. Behind the veneer of Priscilla’s bright white smile, however, was an exacting, even cruel ambition. She was not, despite her high praise in the industry, its leading figure in theoretical transhumanist research. She had a good team of energetic graduates behind her that did what they were told and were rewarded accordingly. And many times over, if tales told out of school are to be believed. But there was a high burnout rate and young men in her brilliant cabal tended to last only so long. Which is not to say that Priscilla didn’t have talent. The girl could thread DNA like a fabled tailor if she ever got her hands on the right tools, and few understood the chemical reactions on the molecular level the way she did. It was never overtly clinical, her methods, but something emphatically instinctual. Public relations were as natural to her as being undressed. She was dangerous but valuable. And, after all, weren’t we after the same thing?



I found her door open, her legs shining under the heat of a solitary lamp at her desk and her knees crossed over each other in a short, red skirt. She looked up when I knocked on the door, her pale green eyes going from curious to tight in the time it took her to recognize me.



“Good morning, Pris.”



She smiled coldly. “Beal. I didn’t think you’d actually show up.”



I crossed her sterile and ordered office and sat down across from her on the other side of the desk. I appraised her shelves. “Your office is neater than anyone else I know. I suppose that’s one way to keep clean – don’t read the books.”



She sneered. “I heard one of the janitors nearly killed himself trying to get into yours. Bit of a health hazard, isn’t it? And besides,” she uncrossed her legs and leaned back, “at least I have friends.”



I leaned forward, my elbows on her desk. “You’ve got me there, Professor Coker. That’s exactly why I’m here.”



She gave a high, hollow laugh. “Moses comes down from the mountain, huh? You’re lucky you’re smart, Abner. Otherwise people might think you’re irrelevant.”



“Better that than illiterate, I always say.”



She frowned. “Why ARE you here? I really didn’t expect to see you. You’re always working.”



“I work until I get results.”



“Very funny,” she said. And stopped.



Her chair cracked as she slowly came upright. “What do you mean?”



“How are the nanites coming?” I asked casually.



“They’re still… they don’t seem to respond to photons the way we expected. The way I expected.” Ask Priscilla the right question about her work and she became just enough of a tolerable person. I never managed that trick myself. “I keep telling Corman that nanites are the wrong way to go about combatting the spectrum. I should be shifted over to neural engagement and let you and the rest of the sci-fi scum work on this whole optical nonsense.”



“Nonsense, is it?”



“It is…” She studied me coolly. “What’s up, Abner? You’re awfully pleasant for so early in the decade.”



I shrugged.



She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t have time for this now anyway. I have a presentation before the investors. Remember that atmospheric shield you opposed?”



“I don’t oppose the idea but the method is entirely wrong. If you want to create a barrier that large you need ten times the output and a completely different agent for the plutonium. It will dissolve at that speed.”



“That’s not what Bostwick says.”



“Bostwick is a quack who still thinks he can send amphibians back in time.”



Priscilla waved her hands in the air, dispelling the possibility of my rambling on about meteorological endogenics. “Whatever,” she said. “The Institute wanted me to sell it to the money.”



I stood up. “What do you mean?”



She tightened her blouse around her shoulders and gathered her papers. She grinned like a jack knife. “It means they’re apt to take me at my word, Professor, which is more than I can say for you.”



“If the Institute gets that project up and running the whole Advanced Espionage unit will be shuffled back another decade. Even if they spent half the budget recruiting new blood there’s no way they’d have the manpower and money to sustain the rest of our research.”



“So wait till next decade.” She strode out of her office. I pursued hot on her stiletto heels. “I don’t know what you’re so pissed about, Abner,” she continued, “you’ll probably be picked to lead it.”



“Over sixty five individual devices and more than two dozen research units will be compromised by investment in some ridiculous vanity project that wouldn’t pass muster at a grade school science fair!”



Pris tossed her hair over her shoulder and laughed in my face. “That’s so cute! Since when did you give a shit about other units’ research?” She continued to march determinedly down the hall to the massive auditorium across campus.



“There’s a difference between science and fiction, Priscilla. And there’s such a thing as principles.”



She spun on her crimson heel. Thrusting a hand into my chest she stared up into my eyes. “Stop it right there, Abby. The Institute cares about two things: money and money. I’m sure you’re aware that you are dispensable, no matter how big your brain is. In the meantime though, why not enjoy that sloppy paycheck that comes your way every two weeks and get with the fucking program.” She narrowed her eyes.



I casually pried her fingers back from my shirt. “Language, Pris.”



She laughed another high, hollow laugh, each one of her pearly teeth glinting in the hallway lights. I watched her swallow that sound, her ruby lips puckering for a moment while she thought about what to do with me. Finally she said, “I’m going to enjoy watching you lead this vanity project. I hope your principles don’t send you and your musty office packing in a cardboard box because it,” she leaned in close, the words cutting through her teeth, “is going to feel so good to watch you try to figure out how to make Bostwick’s project fly. Because if I know anything about men with principles it’s that they’ll try to make shit smell like flowers before they admit defeat. Even you, Abner,” she pointed, again making sure she touched my chest, “will admit that. Are you really going to throw a tantrum to the Institute…just because you know the project’s a waste of your time?”



“So we’re agreed it’s a waste of time.”



She smirked and retreated back down the hall. “Of course it is. But I, unlike you, Professor Beal, have more on my mind than how super smart I am. I like to think about the number of bathrooms I’m going to have when this is all said and done.” I watched her shoulders tense as she drew her hands together. “I’m thinking six – just one more than I really need.”

“That is entirely superficial,” I said.



“Isn’t it great?” She was practically beaming with anticipation. We crossed the empty courtyard in silence and swiftly made our way to the bustling theater. She glanced into the guest entrance and quickly made for the back portico.



“Prepare to be rich,” she said and patted me on the arm. I watched her step behind the curtain and suddenly meet what sounded like hundreds of excited cheers.



I paced behind the curtain itself, listening to the opening joke about how stodgy the rest of us scientists were and how they must have all felt overdressed. Or something like that. By that point I was livid. Bostwick! An ignoramus spawned by a community of ignoramuses! What passed for science in his febrile mind would have choked a primate with its absurdity! And Priscilla knew! She welcomed it just as the Institute had because she knew it was exactly the kind of thing the investors were willing to pay for: flash and fury… There was nothing subtle about the atmospheric shield. It was just another buzz word for missile defense only now it was the twenty-first century and the magic was just within our grasp – for upwards of several billion inflated dollars!



I threw my arms about petulantly and felt ridiculous. Hadn’t I just come to reinvigorate this greedy place? One swig of this elixir and disappear! No need to invest in overpriced tomfoolery when you could send some invisible operative to just deactivate the enemy’s defenses. No missiles required! All it needed now was testing – testing to make sure the effects lasted, that there were no side-effects, that it worked. Hell, I knew it worked…



No missiles required.



I glanced over my shoulder at Priscilla’s erect posture while she dazzled the murmuring crowd with facts and figures and a questionably tasteful decolletage. She was right; she could sell them on it. She was poised, confident, and well organized.



The security was guarding the outside doors, not the inside. There were men at the foot of the stage but no one behind the curtain. I reached into my pocket and pulled the vial out. It caught the reflections of the stage lights in its thin glass, the liquid within shimmering where the light didn’t quite refract the way it should have. Why did I bring it anyway? For science.



I popped the rubber cork and drank it, not stopping to think, as I swiftly began to unbutton my shirt, what would happen if this invisibility gag was all in my mind when I stepped out in front of three or four hundred monied ladies and gentlemen. If it worked as quickly as last time I’d only need a few minutes for it to take effect. If it didn’t last as long as last time I could be in for trouble. But what was I going to do exactly?



I was already down to my boxer shorts and black socks when my fingers drained of all their color. It was like staring through a glass statue, my forearm. I trailed my fingers down my chest and watched chest hair hang in space and then shorten and vanish. I reached down and pulled the sock off of nothing at all, then the other, finally drawing my boxers from mid-air to the ground. I was gone.



“Priscilla,” I whispered into her ear, “do you believe in ghosts?”



The girl snapped her head to the side as if a bullet had swiped across her face. She hadn’t heard me come up behind her from around the curtain and, despite my lifelong stage fright, picturing myself naked in front of the fully clothed assembly was doing much more to inspire my confidence than the other way around. As soon as she turned her head I tapped her on the opposite shoulder – just like some kind of looney tune! She started and whipped to the side, suddenly reaching out into nothing.



I backtracked quickly behind her and let the projector at the far end of the auditorium glide through me to the opposing screen. The happy murmurings of the crowd had suddenly frozen; the whole gathering waiting to understand what had happened. Priscilla, ever the diplomat, smiled broadly and apologized for the sudden interruption. There was a mad fly looking to sabotage the operation. That got an appreciative chuckle from the crowd.



She went on with the speech, the projection behind us outlining the basic planning stages of Bostwick’s idiot schematics. I couldn’t have that. I moved back beside Priscilla and breathed softly in her ear. I had to hand it to the girl, she had talent. All she did was deftly cup her ear, as if pulling a stary hair back around her earlobe (which, for anyone close enough, was ridiculous – each of her hairs was perfectly in place). Then I glided behind her and blew into the next. When she waved that off I suddenly realized just how many were in the crowd before us.



Tentatively I strode towards the edge of the stage. I stared out at the legion of faces, even waved my privates at them, stuck out my tongue, made crazy grimaces. Nothing, no one could see me. I cast no shadow. I danced before the projector and made not a single impression. This was brilliant!



Of course I still hadn’t achieved my objective. So I sallied back to Priscilla and decided to do something drastic. I placed two fingers, very gently, on the back of her neck.



Her whole body went bolt upright but she continued her drone. Perhaps it wasn’t noticeable to the eyes in the back but those at the front were visibly bemused. Priscilla by now realized there was something on stage with her but I was just over her shoulder and I could see her scan her periphery and then the eyes of the audience. No one, not even her, could see anyone but her.



I let my fingers glide down her back, over the fabric of her suit jacket. One elbow tried to nonchalantly brush me away but the gesture was too awkward to carry off, so she swung her arm back, right into my face. Her fingers gave a trembling spasm as they connected with my nose and she couldn’t help but turn. But no, I still wasn’t there, but yes, she did let out a yelp.



Priscilla was by the second looking more frantic – not afraid, but suddenly on unfamiliar ground. She returned to the podium and gripped the sides of the lectern with overeager excitement. Now she had happened on a stilted tangent about the return on investment the bigwigs were guaranteed. Most of them were still on board. Some of them looked unconvinced.



When she went for the lectern she removed herself from my radius, but that was easily remedied. I came up behind her again and drew my fingers down her back. Her legs were shaking behind the podium, each muscle punished by the high stilettos and sweat actually visible in the spaces behind her knees. I wasn’t sure how far I intended to go but my hand was now resting on her impressively toned buttocks. The red skirt glided under my fingertips but still, even still, Priscilla continued to sell it.



So I gently brushed the skirt back and reached underneath. It ocurred to me, even at this stage, that this was twice now I’d used invisibility to my voyeuristic advantage. I wondered if the corruption was inevitable. Yet how corrupt was seeing a round, flexed bottom (my fingers crept stealthily past the band of her panties and into the wet crevice of her ass crack) and not experimenting?



Below Priscilla’s waist everything was shaking. It was as if her legs were caught in a miniature earthquake and her upper body was capable of floating above it. But I could see the tremors in the white knuckles on the podium. And we both knew that she couldn’t risk giving anything away to the attentive eyes in the darkness. I slipped deeper into her ass crack, coming behind her and laying a hand over her left fist. Priscilla glanced at it, glanced at where she figured my shoulders were, and after a sudden eruption of laughter or applause from the audience I heard her whisper away from the microphone, “Are you enjoying yourself?”



“You stop I’ll stop,” I whispered into her ear.



“You don’t have the balls.”



My hand slipped underneath her. I twisted my palm and pressed my fingers between her legs. I cupped her vagina and sunk my middle finger up inside her.



Priscilla’s sudden gasp was swallowed by a cascading round of applause.



“Okay,” she whispered as the applause died down. “Okay…” But even as she said it I watched her tighten her resolve and simultaneously felt her vaginal muscles tighten around my finger. She was going to try to ride it out. Ride was the operative word.



I began rocking my middle finger back and forth inside of her. Priscilla caught herself just before her knees buckled, then caught herself again as she tried to rock with it. The intense sweat collecting underneath her made her extremely slippery and my wrist and forearm were already damp wedged up against her body. I decided to send an exploratory thumb up into her anus.



“Polychromatic cells go beyond mere shading in this instance and na-ahhhhhhh!” Her sudden (almost erotic) outburst sent more than a few men to attention. It was as if I held her erect with my right hand, my left hand locked over hers, my fingers plugged into her body and her lower body noncomittally trying to force me out. “Nnmm,” she went on. “The fibers…” I wiggled my ring finger up inside what felt like a thick labial lip. “The fibers…” she gasped. “Ah.” She wet her lips and let out a tremendous breath. “To create this process, we…” My slick middle finger withdrew from her vagina and I slipped it gently up…



“We…” she tried again (the audience could not see her ass gently arching back onto my thumb, her back twisting).



My finger fondled.



“Oh,” she sniffed. “We, uh, ahm. Excuse me.”



My middle finger wicked across her clitoris.



“OH my God!” she suddenly blurted into the microphone. She slapped her hands over her mouth and darted to the right of the stage. My hand still stuck inside her panties I was dragged offstage with her, a weird fin-like protrusion seeming to hump out behind the girl’s skirt.



I finally pulled my hand away from her as she stalked through the theater doors and started lambasting the air.



“You dirty fucking bastard!” she shouted. The security guard started moving towards her and she shrieked at him. “Get away from me, asshole!” The man spoke some stuttered words into his walkie and backed away terrified. Priscilla clomped about ten more steps before cracking one of her heels. She swore loudly and kicked the shoe off, then ripped the other one off with her hand and continued to march across campus back the way we’d come. I followed behind her.



“Are you there?” she snapped as we strode back into G. We were in the hallway again.



“Indeed I am.”



She clawed wildly at the air behind her, realized she looked insane, and let out another stream of enraged curses.



“You might have gotten me fired!”



“Principles,” came the floating voice over her shoulder.



She groaned and shook her platinum head. “You touched me…” she muttered. We were stomping back to her office.



“You’re taking this rather well,” I replied.



“Well you’re obviously fucking invisible.”



“Language, Pris.”



We banged back into her office and she whirled on the space behind her. “Where are you?”



“I’m reluctant to say.”



She stepped backwards in her bare feet and sat on her desk. “Is this easier?”



I stepped forward cautiously. “Maybe.”



She flipped up her skirt. “Is this easier?”



“…I’m confused.”



“Come here…” she said huskily and reached out for me. “Are you naked?”



Before I knew what I’d done I was standing over her desk and she was reaching out to me. Her fingers first brushed my cock and I watched her eyes go wide as my stiff member passed invisibly through her hand. “Oh my God…” she whispered. Her manicured nails sifted into my pubic hair and roved up my stomach and chest. “You’re…you fucking did it…” Her fingers continued across my shoulders. She kept pinching and poking, dragging her nails down my sides. All the while I noticed that she was spreading her legs over her perfect desk. “Do something to me,” she whispered.



“What?”



“I- I don’t know. My hair!”



I reached out and swept my fingers through her thin blonde, nearly white, hair. I let the hair slip through my hand as I pulled it towards me. Priscilla watched wide eyed as her hair floated before her eyes. She let out a low, earthy laugh. “Do something else,” she whispered.



“What?”



“Do what you did on stage, you bastard.”



“This?” I laid my hand over her left hand.



“No…” she said. Her legs opened wider on the desk.



“This?” I breathed softly into her ear.



She shivered but shook her head. “No,” she said. “But you don’t have to stop doing that…” While I moved in closer her hands reached up to run down my chest and stomach again.



I pulled my hand away from hers and dragged my trembling fingers up her soft thighs. “This?” I breathed into her ear.



“Oh…” Her breath was coming so rapidly that it was catching in her throat.



I drew a finger over her (what I now saw were lacy, crimson) panties. She sucked a tremendous amount of air down her upturned mouth and fluttered her eyelids. “This?” I said into her ear as I slipped my fingers inside of her.



Her legs clamped shut over my invisible hand and she ground her pussy against me. “Yes,” she groaned. She pressed her head against my temple and reached behind me to claw at my back. “Oh, you fuck…” she groaned.



I don’t know what possessed me other than sheer, powerful lust. I reached down and tore her panties apart. She gasped as she saw the flimsy material fly from her bald pussy. “You wouldn’t,” she taunted.



“This?” I said, and pushed my cock up against her skirt.



“Bastard,” she whispered, reaching for it and dragging it down. “Bastard,” she moaned as she led it to the entrance of her slit. “Fuck me,” she demanded as her thighs raised to allow me entrance into her-



“PRISCILLA!”



The two of us slammed back to reality as the voice came bawling from the hall. “Holy Hell…” Priscilla rasped as the sound of footsteps came trundling towards us. Gathering her bag and a few choice items she grabbed where she figured my wrist was (missed, but I grabbed her fingers) and pulled me out her office door and down the hall in the opposite direction. Both of us were barefoot and our soles slapped down the hall and made several extreme turns around and around the complex, all the time the voices behind us, all the while more footfalls in pursuit. At last we burst from the building and sprinted towards the parking lot.



“You have to make sure I don’t get fired!” she yelled over the racing wind.



“Why’s that?”



“Sexual harassment!” she screamed. We scurried over the grass and flew into the parking lot. “Where’s your-” She must have realized I was either invisible or without pockets because she suddenly pulled to the left and started pumping her elegant legs towards her own car. “Are you there?” she called back.



“I am,” I said at her side.



She panted. “How are you right there?”



“I run a lot.”



She unlocked her doors from a distance and we piled in on either side.



“I did not intend to get you fired,” I said.



“Right,” she replied. “Fuck you just the same, Abner.” She started the car and we pulled out fast. “And if you don’t mind, nobody needs to know about what may or may not have almost happened back there. This has been an incredibly stupid morning.”



I buckled the seatbelt over myself and Priscilla did a double take.



“That’s so weird.”



We pulled away from the complex and got back on the highway towards suburbia.



“Okay, look,” she said, dragging her fingers through her hair. “I’m going to try to salvage this. I’ll tell Corman and the heads that you’re on top of this.” (She seemed awkward with the phrase.) “I’ll tell them… I had a bluetooth or something and you had a eureka moment or… Dammit, Abner, you better not have got me fired!”



“You’re still taking this well.”



“Because fuck Bostwick!” she bellowed. “You’re invisible!” She reached over and spread her hands over my chest. “And you’re…in much better shape than I imagined.”



“You imagined?”



“You’re still a pain in the ass, Beal. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.”



“But I am a genius.”



“Unfortunately,” Prisiclla sighed, merging into the carpool lane, “you are.”



“You’re in the HOV.”



“So what?” She thought for a moment. “Right.” She merged back into the fast lane. “I will help you,” she said. “But you have to help me, too.”



“That’s why I came to you.”



“You can’t tell anyone else for now. Who else knows? Your wife? You have a wife, right?”



“She doesn’t know.”



“Who knows?”



Briefly I thought of Amber. “No one,” I said. “And,” I continued, “the formula is not in my laboratory.”



She glanced at me, or the window really, from behind her blonde tresses. “So what?”



“In case you were thinking of having the Institute take what they rightfully own…instead of firing you.”



She turned back to the road. “I wouldn’t do that.”



“Wouldn’t you?”



We drove on in uneasy silence.



7




I gave her directions to my address and she drove me home. It was almost one in the afternoon but it already felt like a whole day had passed. I had taken the serum only two hours before so I had at least four (and likely five) more hours until I was visible. It would be strange, I realized, when I saw Priscilla again. Being invisible, without meeting one’s eyes in reflection, gave a curious but compelling objectivity to one’s consciousness – and at the same time an inescapably powerful lack of accountability. I could never have done the things I’d done in the past few days if they could see my face.



But it wasn’t just that they couldn’t see my face, Amber, Priscilla, my wife, the audience… It was that I had no face at all. I was not simply myself invisible; I was a void: a complete non-entity who nevertheless had hands and blood. And could do things. And could both create and destroy while being nothing, nowhere at all. I resolved not to think on this too deeply. It was not my way, and I wondered if it was not to my advantage to ponder too deeply on how unfettered and unopposed I had become.



“Can you get inside without a key?” Priscilla asked.



“I’ll find a way,” I said. I unbuckled the belt and opened the door. “Thank you.”



She reached out. I stopped. She held my forearm in her fingers, not out of longing but curiosity. I let her study it, pinch me again, feel my veins beneath my skin and the hair under her thumb. “You really did it, Abednego,” she said. “You sick bastard.” She gave me an alluring, half-mocking smirk and watched the door swing wide and shut. Then she peeled away from the driveway and zoomed out of the suburbs honking all the while. We had agreed to meet at the week’s end when she had had time to smooth over the mess I’d caused.



At the very least I had saved over sixty-five projects from total obscurity, and the jobs of at least half that number. Not something I would have considered before and, in truth, my actions this morning were selfish ones. Yet selfish actions can have charitable results, now and again.



My front door was unlocked.



I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d just wandered to the front door, forgetting my nudity and the fact that I was keyless, and pantsless besides. But the knob turned and swung open in my hand. I denied the urge to call out, to ask if anyone was home.



Because there was very definitely someone home.



I could hear them upstairs. At first, as I searched the bottom floor, all I heard was a muddled bumping, an inconstant creak that was gone as soon as I focused. But there was a greater urgency to the sound, a harder force behind it. The commotion was building somewhere and it was becoming clearer that whoever was causing it was certain they were alone.



The sound of a woman’s voice filled the house. It echoed down the stairwell with an unquiet command, wild, gaining ferocity and passion as it bounced throughout the kitchen. Was it Rebecca, I wondered? Had she cut class and come wandering home with some teenage specimen of fumbling ardor? It sounded too harsh for Rebecca.

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