Part III: Control
Written By James R. Simonds, Jr.
Gadget tried to remind herself she saw this practically daily- well, except when she spent several days in a row in the same coveralls when she was working on something very important, which she'd been trying to do less of because apparently it was unappealing in some way to others. It didn't work, though, because it was a lie.
Gadget didn't pay a great deal of attention to inconsequential details about her body, but she knew enough to know she'd NEVER looked quite like Hack. Hack was like- like a painting, or a sculpture, made in the classical style; imperfection was clearly not allowed. Everything was just slightly /too/ good, making her look distinctly unreal. Gadget also knew she most definitely had never applied, or even thought about applying, makeup to certain very eye-catching places Hack had- wait, no. Closer examination, which Hack was giving her plenty of time to get, showed that the precise blushing shades of pink picking at those parts of her very anatomical anatomy was natural to the skin. Whatever natural meant with Hack involved.
"I think this is where I ask 'do you like what you see?'" Hack squeaked, her voice almost cheerful, and now an absolutely perfect rendition of Gadget's own. The Ranger told herself the voice had been shifted just a bit, made more bubbly and squeaky, but she was pretty sure that was a lie, too, and Gadget sounded EXACTLY like that.
The impossibly perfect mouse came closer, walking completely into the light. The simple act of being seen, clearly seen, gave her immediate, obvious pleasure. A smile teasing across her full, soft lips (... what in the WORLD would possess her to think about lips like that?! Gadget thought, startled), Hack waved vaguely at Gadget's crossbow as she attempted to raise it.
"Dumb," she said lazily. "Really dumb. Gosh, I figured Miss Prissy had a better plan than THIS, she's been working on it long enough!"
Hack stopped in the precise center of the light, entirely too close for Gadget's liking. She wasn't more than a few arms' lengths away. She tilted her hips, clearly posing, and beckoned in Gadget's direction. "...come on. Shoot me, if that's what that's for," she grinned unplea- no, she had to correct herself for the umpteenth time, it was a very, VERY pleasant smile.
Gadget discovered she could barely get the weapon into position. Consternation crossed her face as she fumbled, her fingers having no idea where to go- where on earth had she put the /controls/ on this thing-
Hack didn't even try to suppress a happy giggle as the light dawned over Gadget's face. "Ooo, that's so /precious/!" she squealed in delight, clapping her hands, giving a little bounce that kept going on parts of her body for some time. "And only half an hour after she gets to the lion's den, too! Oops!" she squeaked cheerfully.
Hack strolled across the remaining distance to Gadget as the inventor furiously struggled with the crossbow, already knowing it was futile. Shaking her head, Hack ran her hand briefly down the main shaft of the weapon before gently removing it from Gadget's paws.
"You can only do something violent," she said softly, "if you let ME do it. That's kind of basic to forget, isn't it, dear?"
Hack examined it with a frown. "Plungers," she muttered darkly. "%^&* plungers."
She tossed it over her shoulder. The poor crossbow kept arcing up, looking as if it were going to attain orbit, until it vanished into the darkness, still rising.
For a brief flash, Gadget had been ENTIRELY sure Hack was going to strike her with it- she could actually see it in her mind's eye, a fierce, sharp blow that refused to fade, like an image burned onto her retinas. Instead, she simply pressed a finger gently into the center of Gadget's chest. Numbly, the mouse sat back in the chair.
Hack leaned over the chair, blatantly displaying all her most winning attributes. "The GOOD news," she whispered into Gadget's ear, "is I DO want a fair fight." Hack's hand lay on her shoulder, where she started to slowly knead. "It's more than you ever gave ME, you little ^&*%$." A gentle reminder of the claws on Hack's hands pierced the jumpsuit, five tiny pinpricks of sensation.
Licking her lips for a moment, she continued, leaning back just slightly so her words were no longer an intimate whisper, her eyes looking deep into Gadget's own. "Ms. Hackwrench is such a vain, arrogant $%^& I knew she wouldn't give me any credit for brains," Hack said softly. "A nice, brutal, quick little fight- some brilliant twist worthy of her wonderful mind to show off her vast superiority over me- and /bip/! You all live happily ever after, right?" she grinned. "Oh, golly, I bet she's been working you over good. 'Kill the scary monster, Gadget! She's been eating at your soul since you were a kid! Make the most important rescue of all, Gadget, rescue /yourself/!"
Hack held her abdomen for a moment, eyes tearing up. "Heeheehee! Oh, oh... poor Gadget, she's always had your number... of course so does everyone else in the city," she mrrred. She leant in close again, whispering, "You're so EASY.
"Ms. Hackwrench doesn't care about you, Gadget. Come on. You know that. She just wants the chaotic factor removed so she can get some real work done... she's only interested in herself."
Gadget continued to listen, eyes wide, trying to figure out why Hack made so much sense, why she hadn't taken five minutes before rushing into this bizarre plan Hackwrench had handed to her on a platter to THINK about what she was being told.
"I don't give a $%^& about you either, of course," Hack said quietly. Her tail began to shiver, the tip vibrating tensely. "I hate you SO... MUCH... you don't even have the words for it inside your own head. You hold me back THAT MUCH. But that means you know I don't have some deep hidden plan, Gadget. Everything I've got is... right out there," she said, the grin playing over her lips again.
"...I'd LOVE to see you kill me, Gadget, so I'm going to help you do it."
Hack let her tail snake up between her and Gadget. Gadget was fairly certain it touched her a good deal more than it strictly needed to in the process. It poised, like a snake, in front of her face.
"I'll make it really simple for you. You're stuck on two choices."
The tailtip flicked to the left. "...kill Hack."
It twitched precisely in the other direction, perfectly stiff and rigid. "Die."
Hack watched with obvious enjoyment as Gadget watched it flick back and forth like a slow metronome.
"I can't kill Hack. Killing's bad."
Flick. "I can't let myself die. If Hack kills me, I've committed suicide. That's VERY bad."
Back to the left. "Hack is evil. Hack NEEDS to die. It's the right thing to do."
Flick. "Everything in the base in my skull wants me to not die. Survival is my most basic instinct."
The tail's pace increased, faster, back and forth, relentless. Gadget watched, absolutely spellbound, unable to argue with a single point, bring a single objection, like watching the proceedings in a trial where she and everyone else knew without a doubt she was guilty.
Flick. "Bad people need to punished." Flick. "Even if they're me." Flick. "ESPECIALLY if they're me." Flick. "Hack is the most horrible-" flick- "evil-" flick- "monster even born, and it's part of me, and /I need to get it out/," flickflickflick, "and there's no WAY because I only have two choices and I only have one or the other and I can't let myself do either and Gadgie can't kill Hack and Hackwrench can't kill Hack and there's NO THIRD CHOICE-"
The tail froze, precisely positioned in the middle, absolutely straight.
Half a second later, her face contorted with anger and fear and rage so intense not a single person in her life would have recognized her, she kicked Hack in the chest with all her strength.
With a terrifyingly loud CLANG and clatter, Hack landed on a workbench a fair distance away. It broke immediately under the impact, tools scattering everywhere as the mouse wailed- in pain, but not just in pain, mixed with obvious, loud, sheer delight, as within seconds the room brightened substantially, the shadows being replaced by a more monotone grey. At least most of the room was now visible, a replica of her father's home perfect down to the slightest detail.
Hack rolled onto her side on the floor, panting, holding her chest. Her entire body trembled, her face contorted with agony and pleasure. "Oh, YES!" she gasped, shuddering. Gadget watched, remembering the sound, the feel of her foot impacting Hack's body, knowing in a detached way that she'd definitely broken several of her antagonist's ribs, if not worse.
Hack rose slowly, shaking, holding her injury. Her perfect hair in disarray, she grinned wildly at Gadget. "THERE! NOW we can have a REAL fight!!" she crowed in delight, her joy bizarrely childlike. "I knew you could do it, Gadget! I knew you could let me in, and we can be together now, all of us, and I won't be in the dark all the time anymore and we can be HAP-"
She froze suddenly, lifting her hand. A strong-smelling liquid dripped from her fingertips. Hack realized she had it all over her body; she'd gotten soaked in it when she landed on the bench and landed on the floor, it was on the ground in large puddles and dripping off what was left of the table-
Hack shrieked, "You soaked the whole room in GASOLINE, you @#$% IDIOT!"
Ms Hackwrench coolly noted to Gadgie, who was huddled under the table in the upper level of the room where they'd been watching the proceedings, "That's my cue."
Hackwrench slid her glasses off, and looked into the distance. She let the image of the room around her, the false room, fade away.
In the real world, sitting in her chair in the middle of the night-shrouded space, Gadget sluggishly opened her eyes.
"Come on," Hackwrench said softly. "I know I can do this without her."
The real Gadget's finger twitched, lying on the button under it.
Hackwrench closed her eyes, brow furrowing, devoting all of her- all of Gadget's- considerable mental resources. On the floor of the dream room below, Gadget started to run from the half of the room Hack was in, as fast as she could.
Hack laughed hysterically, not bothering to chase her prey yet. "GADgeT!" she croaked, her now long ratlike tail lashing at the broken table, further pulverizing it. "this //WONT// work- if you MAKE this rOOM BURN, Icanjustmakeitstop-" terrible, indescribable changes crawled across Hack's body, accompanied by loud popping noises that told Gadget she was very very glad she was facing in the other direction and couldn't see a blessed thing.
"I know," Gadget muttered to herself as she leapt over the other workbench on the untreated side of the room, and knocked it over onto its side before falling prone behind it.
In the other world, Gadget's finger pushed the button. Hackwrench smiled.
Every electric circuit in every trap, every device in the room shorted simultaneously. Sparks showered and skittered across metal, into the gasoline mixture Hackwrench had given Gadget the formula to make, a hideously efficient accelerant only a genius with ten years and a dream could have created.
Hack screamed as every drop of the chemicals in the room caught fire, and the mouse turned into a bipedal blaze.
Terror gripped Hack as she fell forward, gurgling. Her control over the dream world, so much stronger than the untrained Gadget's could ever have been, did nothing to the fires raging in both worlds simultaneously.
"GADGET!!" she wailed, "NO! You don't understand- don't do this!"
Gadget peered cautiously over the top of the table. Hack was obviously helpless, and despite her and Ms. Hackwrench's concerns, the entire room hadn't gone up immediately in a horrific explosion. Good!
Ms. Hackwrench arrived in a few moments from the upper level, walking down the stairs. She watched the writhing incarnation of sin without emotion, and absently petted Gadgie, walking next to her, on the head.
"Take a good look, Gadgie," she murmured. "Miss Gadget's been a good girl tonight."
Gadgie, wide-eyed, seemed skeptical of this as Gadget approached, looking ferociously tired, much more so than the brief physical altercation should have made her.
"Just like you promised!" she smiled weakly, holding back a yawn that seemed inappropriate in the situation. "Since /you/ are entirely from in here, and you did everything to set the fire out /there/- and I'm entirely from out THERE, and did all the fighting in HERE-" she couldn't hold back the yawn this time, her mind feeling fuzzy; it was hard to concentrate on what the details of the plan had been, but she remembered it'd been really convincing when Hackwrench had made them. "I... wasn't expecting the whole mind games thing, though... it would have been nice to do without that." She glanced over briefly at Hack, shuddered, and quickly averted her eyes. "But it's over, now, for good."
Ms. Hackwrench was sighting along the length of her hand crossbow again, apparently some sort of compulsive habit. She nodded. "It is, Gadget. You've done very well."
Ms. Hackwrench turned slightly, towards the young girl standing next to her, and fired three bolts into her chest at point blank range.
Calmly she reloaded as Gadget sunk to her knees. She stared up at Hackwrench without comprehension. Each shot had felt like it was fired directly into /her/ heart.
"Shooting you seems fairly inefficient," she noted. "Gadgie IS your core ego personality. You're already deceased, your body and mind just need a few minutes to process it."
Hackwrench suddenly closed her eyes, shivering. Even Gadget's tendency to ignore anatomical details couldn't miss the sudden heave of the scientist's chest, the shift in color and length of hair. In seconds Hackwrench was a perfect duplicate of Gadget.
Regaining control after the brief transformation, Hackwrench tilted her head as if nothing had happened. "I'm having the most inexplicable compulsion to explain everything to you, like one of your villains. This despite my sure knowledge that gloating is always a bad idea, and further, that you can't possibly live long enough to listen to it. It's all very brilliant, I assure you."
Gadget fell onto her side, as everything started to look patchy and foggy. Somewhere nearby it sounded like Hack was cackling hysterically.
"Still," she mused, "it IS nice to have- literally- the only person who can appreciate my plan know SOMETHING, so I'll give the condensed version- try to stay with me just a moment longer-"
She knelt by Gadget, studying her. "If things had stayed as they were," she said softly, "I couldn't have controlled the main personality. I'm just an aspect, Gadget. Clearly, what was needed was a better design, so I decided to build one.
"First, though, your psyche had to be shattered. I had to utterly torture you, force you in and out of mental stress of every kind, make you see and do things you would never have done normally. Hack making you submit to her so completely, even for a moment, was unexpected, but very useful- I believe it almost pushed you over the edge right there."
Hackwrench stood back up. Behind her the room was dissolving erratically into patches of nothingness.
"You know what I build with best, Gadget." She lifted the crossbow again, pointing it squarely at Gadget's head. "Broken junk."
Then there just wasn't anything.
Written by James Simonds, Jr.
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