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In his sleep he could hear her gentle breath, always verging on becoming the quietest snore. As cute as ever, he almost thought, in his sleepy stupor. He being Daryush, he thought. And she being…

His partner, his companion, his mate. She stirred, seeming to sense his hesitation. Daryush reached over to her and sloped a comforting arm across her chest. He moved his head closer to her pillow and drank in the smell of her hair and neck.

I love you.

He tried to fight back against the crashing waves. What was her name? Wave after unrelenting wave. Love had no name, the reply eventually came, and with that he, Daryush, rolled back into his slumber, pulled under the current by her sweetest scents. Through the cool night, enveloped in the mutual warmth, their tangled limbs no longer moved, but for the bobbing up and down of each breath.

First light broke through the curtain weakly, loosening the spell’s effect upon Daryush for a moment. He could see her shape better now, his love’s. He retracted a naked leg and she turned to embrace him. Again he fell. Deeper into her heat. Daryush tried to remember the colour of her eyes as he drifted away once more, forgetting as he did so all the wonderful details of her face that he so professed to love.

And so it went all through the early morning. One would wake in a daze and the other would reel them back in with words of honey, before up could become up and down resolutely stayed down again. Their sweaty entanglement of bones was arranged in a different configuration each time Daryush opened an eye. Where one human began and another ended seemed… open to interpretation.

Seven o’clock. Stay. You don’t need to go. Eight o’clock. There’s no work today. Nine o’clock, ten. Let’s stay like this; together forever. Eleven. Forever. Could we? Could an embrace so warm and loving sustain us for two lifetimes? Would it nourish our bones and fill our bellies or were they, we, delirious?

The high sun burnt through the net curtain and cooked the small bedroom. Daryush was parched. I have to get up now, it’s time. The woman in his arms, the love of his life looked away, despondent. I’ll be back, he promised her.

This might be the last time. Her words hurt his chest because he knew them to be true. Every night his perfect vision of her grew fuzzier, blurrier around the edges. Daryush sat up to an elbow and shook the last of his sleep from his head. Why did you never come for me? Her voice faded away, into a corner of his mind.

And Daryush woke up alone, remembering all at once all the mistakes he had never made and the perfectly empty score-sheet he had to show for it.



Previous part(s):

Daryush I – ghosts that were

Daryush – half undressed – held the bowl over the lampshade and peered into it to make sure the goldfish was dead. It was. He’d known as much the moment he’d walked into the room but still his heart sank a little at this confirmation of expiry. His hands loitered over the warm lightbulb with the bowl a few minutes more in vain. The radiating heat of the lamp would not penetrate the cold water and the little dead goldfish stayed dead.

Daryush sighed and put the bowl back on his overcrowded dressing table, almost knocking the saucer of wheatgrass over in the process. He had bought the poor thing only yesterday, in order to set up his haft-seen table and properly usher in the Persian new year. He picked out individual blades of wheatgrass from the saucer and slumped back onto the foot of his single bed. What a way to spend Nowrouz again – alone.

He rolled the grass between his thumb and finger, remembering how his little sister used to knot the blade, hoping it would bring her companionship in the year to come. Perhaps it had. They had all woken up one day to find her gone after a particularly fiery row. It had never occurred to him at the time to ask his parents what they had been arguing over. That was the last time any of them saw Arin, and it wasn’t long after that that Daryush broke out too.

Nowrouz always made him miserably homesick for the past.

In his mind Arin was still that same fifteen-year-old girl, frozen in time. Daryush wondered if he would even recognize her now, or she him. He made a knot with the blades of wheatgrass still in his fingers and put it by his bedside lamp.

He turned off the lamp, desperate to fall asleep tonight as quick as usual. Daryush did so and the little dead goldfish stayed dead.

Chip’s facial monitor flashed red emoji over and over. Anger. Anger. Anger. He stabbed the point of his longsword into the ground, using it momentarily to steady himself. Chip lifted it overhead with both hands like an executioner, the sword pulsing visible heartbeats of light.

‘And now I am become an instrument of vengeance; nothing more. The swift sword of retribution. The arm of god’s divine will.’

The battered old man raised his hands at the metal-headed youth’s feet and screamed. “Wait I beg you. Please. Spare the life of this old cowardly fool.’ The professor’s bladder had not relented to the same fears that had crippled his colleagues. Fears of disembowelment or decapitation. The old man was pretending.

‘Do you take me for a fool still, old man?’ Chip’s monitor flashed red.

The old professor dropped his pretences and chuckled to himself before slowly standing up tall. ’I’d be the fool if I didn’t try.’ He spat on Chip’s face, the saliva creating a visible streak of magnified pixels as it slid down. ‘You are an abomination. Strike cleanly.’ The man closed his eyes and looked up at the ruined skies above, through eyelids and ceilings alike. ’Don’t bring further shame upon your creator. No more than you already have.’

Chip swung downward, hard, at the old man, slicing him cleanly as requested. The chosen target was not a bare throat, but instead a knee. The professor exploded into blood and anguish as he collapsed to the floor once more.

‘My leg. My leg.’ He repeated to himself uncontrollably, clutching at his stump.

‘Your bombs obliterated my home and murdered my family. You butchered the man that took me in and made me whole again. You took everything away from me. Because of you…’ Chip rapped his blank facial monitor twice. It made the clinking sound of glass.

‘I didn’t make you a freak. I didn’t. I had no such part in your project.’

’The project saved my life. That same work will not save yours. Instead you will die a dog’s death here and now.’

Chip raised the longsword again and again and hacked the defenceless old man into a thousand pieces. His monitor displayed a green smiling emoji.