He entered the room at the top of the tower. In the centre of the room was a large bed, and upon the bed was a young lady; a princess clearly, the girl he had been told about. She looked like an angel, sleeping peacefully, her arms folded across her bosom. The prince advanced across the room, his heart beating with anticipation and the prospect of seeing his beloved open her eyes for the first time. He drew close, leaning over and gently drawing a lock of golden hair away from that celestial face. He leant over, peering at her lips, plump and pink as a rose. One kiss would wake her. One kiss. He leaned low and pressed- The book was ripped from Eunomia’s hands.
“What is this you’re letting her read? This nonsense…” Stern was chuckling. Eunomia didn’t like it when he laughed like that. It made her skin feel all creepy. She wanted him to stop, but she wanted her book back more. The book was special, it was her key away from the lab. The book was special, she wanted it back. Stern was standing, waving it about. Eunomia didn’t care what he was saying, she was looking at the book. “B-book…” She stammered. “Book. Please.” She held out her hand, flexing her fingers.
Child was looking at her. She smiled, sympathetically but Eunomia didn’t notice.
“Stern,” Child said quietly, “Eunomia wants her book back.”
The book didn’t come back.
Stern was flicking through it, smirking, laughing in that contemptible little way. Eunomia didn’t like it. It hurt; a nasty twisting, slithering pain.
“Return. Return book please.” Eunomia pleaded. She’d almost said a complete sentence. Stern should be pleased. He should give the book back. She was owed a reward.
Stern ignored her, laughing privately at the book; the stories Eunomia loved. He was not giving the book back.
Eunomia got to her feet shakily, her knees knocking. He was holding the book in his left hand, close to his chest. Eunomia staggered forward and grabbed hold of Stern’s arm. She pulled it down sharply and wrenched the book free. With it thus reclaimed she went back into her corner to finish the story. There seemed to be a lot of commotion. Reluctantly she looked up from the story and saw Child fussing anxiously around Stern. He was cradling his left arm and looking over his shoulder in shock at Eunomia.
“It seems bruised. Nothing broken, can you move it?” Child was saying. She’d pulled Stern from the room, before he snapped at Eunomia, but to her surprise the man wasn’t angry.
“Did you see?” He said excitedly. “The strength…It was like I’d planned. Like I wanted. Amazing…” He looked at his wrist, admiring the bruises left by the pale fingers. Child could see something in his eyes, a fascination she had known before; in the early days of the Eunomia Project.
“You stepped back. You left her to me and Bailer. Child reminded him. Stern looked at her as if he had forgotten.
“Yes…of course. But will you allow me to make observations? To run tests? And I ask you to take her education more seriously, wean her from these silly fairy tales. We do not want her imagination running away with her. You know what harm that can do.” He said, nodding feverishly. Child looked at him distastefully, annoyed how he could just change his mind. She hoped, for Eunomia’s sake, that nothing further happened to bring her back into Stern’s sights. He used to work for the military, designing weapons, bio-tech for soldier and the like. She knew how passionate he had been about his work; it made sense that his work would carry over in this project. It seemed unpleasant to Child to think of that frail girl as a weapon.
Meanwhile, Eunomia was becoming acquainted with regret. She felt the slithering-inside feeling again. She had hurt Stern. She understood hurt. She knew she didn’t like it, knew other people didn’t too. It was wrong. Stern had taken her book, and that had been bad of him, but her punishment had been too severe. There needed to be balance. Eunomia shut her book and put it on Child’s desk. As penance, she would not read it for three days. Of course, when Eunomia made this decision words like ‘punishment’ and ‘penance’ were not in her vocabulary. She managed though. The book stayed on the desk. There was no one in the lab. Eunomia was alone for the first time. She walked about, examining things. Normally she could not look at a thing for fifteen seconds without one of the professors coming up beside her and trying to talk to her, trying to explain. She tired of explanations; she wanted to discover. She wanted to see the forests and castles, and the princesses and the princes, of the world beyond. She sat in Stern’s chair, wheeling about slowly. She looked at the computer. Stern always told her not to touch it. She wanted to place a finger on the screen, to see her fingerprint conspicuous as daylight, to have proof of her existence. She decided against it though. She already owed Stern for hurting him. She looked at the mouse, wanting to move it, just a little bit, but restraining herself. She got out of the chair and moved across the office. She looked at paper, decoding the words on the page. She could read them, but not understand them. She heard footsteps in the corridor outside and knew they were coming back. She hurried back into her corner. She picked up one of Stern’s books, one she had not read because it was boring and she did not care how things were, and opened it and began to read. Child and Stern came in, his wrist was bandaged. He glanced at Eunomia, and he seemed pleased. He saw what she was reading, and he was even more pleased. He sat down at his desk, not noticing how his chair was turned slightly further to one side.
Eunomia was no longer reading. The book of fairy tales may have been gone, but in its absence she was noticing something strange. Her mind was still behaving as if she were reading one, but there was something else, something unexpected. The world in her head was moving, but it was on a course unchartered by words in a book. It was unfixed, drifting, and it involved her. She was a princess, or sometimes a witch, living in a tower or a castle away from everyone. But once a month (anything more frequent would be tiring) there was a great ball, and the garden would be filled with people and brightly coloured lights, and nice smells like Professor Child’s hair on Tuesdays. There was a library too, filled with little gilded books with gold pages and inky black words like webs. She could have cake, and sweets and other nice things to eat, whenever she wanted. Instead of her crinkled blue gown, she had a cream and black frock on. There were wardrobes full of other clothes, pretty clothes and clothes for exploring. All around the castle, or tower, there were deep woods full of wonders to explore. Eunomia was there. She was not betraying her obligations to Stern, she had not touched the book.
Continued in Part 5 --->
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