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Shadows of the Mind Collection
by Mandi Jourdan
Lila wove through the crowded streets at a pace barely under a run. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself by moving as fast as she needed to, but it grew increasingly more difficult to hold herself back.
It would only be so long before Derek began to tear the city apart searching for her. She was already almost certain she’d murdered his brother, Damian.
There are too many people looking for me, Lila thought. I’ll never be safe.
She felt the plasma bolt before she saw it.
There was a disruption in the air to her left, and then she felt something hurtling toward her. She acted on pure reflex, leaping out of the way and whipping around to face her attacker. Her gaze flitted to the fourth floor of a structure on the opposite side of the street: a large, extravagant hotel. The shooter didn’t linger, but Lila was absolutely certain she saw a flash of dark hair disappear from the window.
She had to go. Immediately.
Lila instantly resumed her path, this time moving at what seemed to be her natural speed. There was no time to waste playing human, not when one of her many pursuers had at last made an attempt on her life.
Life? Is that what this is?
Her feet carried her to the skyscraper ahead of their own accord.
As she stood in its shadow, she took in a deep breath, struggling to understand why she had come here. She studied the building, allowing its beauty to envelop her even as she understood that it was the last place on Earth she needed to be. The walls were made of glass, and there were eighteen stories stretching toward the sky.
Lila cast a long glance over her shoulder and then returned her focus to the head office of Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises. Somehow, her subconscious had guided her here when it had realized the danger of her situation.
“They made me,” she muttered. “Maybe something here can fix me.”
She peered in through the glass front doors. The lobby was deserted.
Good. She breathed a sigh of relief. If someone was here, they would’ve called the police on me by now.
She examined the building’s exterior from her vantage point at its foot, her desperation escalating by the second as she realized that this wasn’t going to be easy. Another glance inside at the lobby and she saw a camera watching her. She gave a halfhearted tug at the handle of the door on her right and wasn’t surprised when it remained stationary. The front doors wouldn’t be an option unless she wanted to risk setting off whatever security system the building had.
Without consciously deciding to run, she found her feet moving again. Perhaps a part of her knew what she was doing after all. As she dashed around the building, she was astonished by her own superhuman speed and surveyed the walls for another entrance.
The building’s rear came into view along with a door. A quick tug on the handle when she reached it told her that this one was locked, too, but she squeezed the handle tightly and then wrenched it with all her might. To her surprise, it twisted, the door swinging open with a groan.
If they’re already looking for me, I can’t imagine breaking in is going to worsen whatever sentence awaits. And if the security system tells someone I’m here, it’s not like I can’t outrun them.
The lights turned on automatically upon her entrance, illuminating a thin hallway that widened into a circular space with doors leading in every direction. Lila sighed. She followed the hall and stepped tentatively into the circular room, looking around for some clue that might lead her to what she needed to know.
A cylindrical device sat at the room’s center. Raising an eyebrow, Lila took a step toward it. In under a second, the device came to life. Lila jumped. A microprojector in the object’s center flicked on, emitting a three-dimensional map of the building. It was tinted blue, and it displayed each of the building’s eighteen floors in great detail.
“Welcome to Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises,” said a smooth, automated female voice presumably emitted by the map. “What are you looking for today?”
Lila blinked. Can it really be that easy?
“The office of Derek Lawrence.” She winced, hoping that the device didn’t have voice-recognition programming.
“Right this way,” said the computer, and Lila breathed a sigh of relief. The projection of the building changed; a path to the top floor now glowed, illuminated in a bright white light. She studied the image for a few moments and then turned to the door that she now knew would lead her to Derek’s office. Her efforts at memorization proved pointless, however, when panels along the walls in the new hall she followed began to glow.
This is too good to be true. Where’s the catch?
Lila wove through the building, following the path the computer laid out for her. She finally decided that perhaps nothing would go wrong–that her good fortune in finding Derek’s office without any obstacles in her path was karmic repayment for the loss of the memories she was slowly regaining.
I guess even murderers have good days.
In front of Derek’s office door, she stopped.
No. No matter how many times you call yourself that, she thought, it’s not going to change anything. Even if you’re guilty, it’s… not worth it to put yourself through more than the rest of the world already is.
She thought of Derek’s friend and business partner Eddie, who had announced her guilt to the world at a press conference. She thought of Ravenna, Damian’s fiancée, who had lost the man she loved and who had been hunting Lila ever since she’d heard of her potential guilt.
Stop, Lila told herself. Breathe.
She opened the door and stepped into the room. She stood opposite a glass wall, which was all that separated this room from the outside world. To her right, two filing cabinets stood in the corner between the glass wall and one made of a more substantial material, presumably steel, on which a telesense was mounted. To her left, against another wall, was a desk, cluttered as it was with various papers and file folders and pictures of what had to be Derek’s family.
She advanced on the desk, gingerly lifting a photoscroll that lay face down. Immediately, she regretted this decision. The first photo that appeared on the screen was of three people. Derek stood on the left, with a woman to the immediate right that had to be his sister Desdemona, as they shared the same blue eyes, small noses, and high cheekbones. On the photo’s far right stood a man that Lila instantly knew, though the reason for this recognition was unclear. She trailed her fingertips over the image, racking her brain for anything that might help her remember.
Then it hit her with force.
Lila stood in a room she had looked into only ten minutes previously: the lobby of Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises. It was dark–the only light came from behind her. She felt something cold and smooth in her hand, and she glanced down to see that she was holding a gun.
In front of her, he was slumped against the door.
There was no sound in the room. Damian’s lips moved, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Lila felt the muscles of her hand tighten involuntarily, and she squeezed the trigger.
The photoscroll fell from her hands and onto the floor, where the screen shattered.
She turned her attention to another object on the desk: Derek’s computer. As she perched on the edge of the chair in front of the desk, the computer turned on automatically.
Lila frowned, examining the desktop wallpaper. It was a photo of five people. Desdemona stood on the far left, with Derek beside her. On the far right was Eddie, wearing a business suit, with Damian to his left. And in the center was… Lila.
“They all trusted me,” she breathed. “What have I–?” She cut herself off with a shake of her head. Don’t do this to yourself.
“Why would you come back here?”
Lila’s mechanical heart leapt into her throat.
Slowly, she pushed herself to her feet and turned toward the voice. In the doorway stood a woman in a grey blazer with chin-length auburn hair. She watched Lila with a raised brow, leaning against one side of the doorframe as her palm rested against the other, effectively blocking Lila’s path.
“I was just on my way out,” said Lila as she took a tentative step toward the woman and the exit.
“You’re determined to be caught, aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” Lila took another step toward the door as her fingers curled on reflex toward her palms, her nails biting into her skin. “Who are you?”
“I’m you,” she said. “But better.”
In a blur, the woman shot forward. Suddenly, she was in front of Lila, and then her hand was closing around Lila’s throat and lifting her from the floor. Lila struggled for breath. She scrambled for a decent grip on the woman’s fingers and worked to pry them away from her neck, but the woman wouldn’t budge.
“You’re going to bring this down on all of us. I knew we should’ve gotten rid of you.”
She tossed Lila away from her as easily as she might toss a ragdoll.
The moment her back impacted with the glass wall, Lila cried out in agony. Shards embed into her skin as she broke through it and began to fall. In a desperate attempt to right herself, Lila used her preternatural speed to flip herself over. She clung to the floor of the office as her body swung forward and slammed into the glass of the floor beneath the room in which she’d just been standing.
As she heard the blare of horns below her, she moved back to the broken window and chanced a glance downward to see the four vertical layers of traffic racing past LDE. Fourteen stories separated her from the highest level of traffic.
Get up. Get up and get past her.
Lila’s pulse pounded at a sickening pace in her ears. Above her head, she heard the crunch of glass beneath her attacker’s feet and processed for the first time that the majority of Derek’s office wall had been obliterated. She tore her focus from the cars below. The instant the woman appeared above, bending over the ledge with a scowl, Lila hoisted herself upward. Her muscles screamed as she propelled herself back into the office and slammed headlong into her attacker.
The two women tumbled to the floor. Lila felt her attacker’s hand at her throat again and grabbed a shard of glass from the carpet, wincing as it sliced into her hand. She stabbed the woman’s arm, and when she heard a hiss and felt the woman’s hand release her, Lila pushed herself to her feet and ran for the door.
If the alarms didn’t go off when I entered, someone’s bound to know I’m here, now. I need to get out.
Lila hurtled into the hallway but was stopped when she felt the woman’s grip on her shoulder. Without hesitation, she whipped around and drove her fist into the woman’s stomach.
The woman laughed.
Lila frowned and swiped her leg in an attempt to take out the woman’s, but the move failed. She struck another blow into her attacker’s abdomen next, but as she pulled her wrist backward, her attacker caught it.
“You’re holding back,” said the woman. “Why the hell would you do that?”
She slammed her fist into Lila’s ribs so hard Lila flew three doorways down the hall before she crashed to the floor.
Lila’s back ached where her spine had impacted the tile, and her shirt clung to her by virtue of the warm blood she could feel sticking to her skin.
“Why do you care?” she demanded as she struggled to stand. “What am I to you?”
The woman charged at her, and this time, Lila had had enough. She launched herself at her attacker and delivered a punch to her chest that knocked the breath from the woman’s lungs and sent her flying past Derek’s office. Lila watched as the woman’s head hit the floor. She let out a groan but said nothing, and then she was still.
Lila’s stomach twisting with guilt, she briefly debated going to help the woman. She hated the thought of hurting people.
But she has to be an android, too. That’s the only way she could hurt me so badly. She’ll be fine.
Reminding herself that she herself had launched from her hotel room and landed on the roof of a car with scarcely a scratch to show for it, Lila turned away from the woman and made her way to the elevator. As soon as the doors closed behind her, she leaned against the wall and mentally surveyed her injuries. She knew she was losing blood–or whatever her creators had given her to pass for it, at least–rapidly, but she had no idea where to turn.
I’m going to be fine. I’m going to be fine.
She reached back to determine how deep her cuts were, and when she realized her fingers were drenched in red, she processed exactly how dizzy she had become. The elevator dinged and halted, and Lila’s knees buckled. She fell to the floor just as the doors opened.
As the edges of her vision grew dark, she saw Derek running toward her across the lobby. She then saw only black.
As he rushed through the hallway toward his apartment, Derek kept Lila as close to his chest as he could. She was still unconscious, his sunglasses concealing her face to the extent that they could. He knew allowing her to be seen in public would be a disaster neither of them could afford.
The warmth of her blood covering his hands set his body buzzing with fear.
He fumbled with the doorknob of his apartment, the slickness of blood making it difficult to get a solid grip. Mentally cursing whoever had done this to Lila, he at last managed to push open the door and enter his apartment. He stumbled over the threshold and shouldered the door closed behind him.
“You’re going to be okay,” he mumbled.
He carried Lila through the living room and past the portraits of his family–Damian seemed to be judging him from the frame beside the telesense–on the way to his bedroom. When he arrived, he laid her down carefully on the left side of the bed and took stock of her injuries. Her throat was lined with finger-shaped red marks, and Derek circled the bed to examine the wounds on Lila’s back. His stomach lurched at the sight. There were deep gashes tracing her shoulder blades and spine, and her shirt had been all but shredded on this side.
“Who did this to you?”
The first thought to pass through his mind was the simplest answer: Ravenna. But he knew she wouldn’t have allowed Lila to walk away, if she’d found her.
Derek sighed and made his way into the bathroom. He opened the cabinet below the sink and retrieved a stack of towels, and then he returned to the bedroom to pull a small metal cylinder from his bedside table.
Sitting at the edge of the bed behind Lila, Derek gingerly raised the torn fragments of her shirt and wiped away the blood covering her skin as gently as he could. When the first of his white towels had been saturated with blood, he let it fall to the floor and used the second to dab gently along the cuts. He set the towel aside and lifted the laser he’d retrieved from the drawer.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
He pressed the black button on the cylinder’s side, and a red beam erupted from it and into the cut lining Lila’s right shoulder blade. Her body twitched, and Derek winced.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated.
He guided the beam along the cut, and he watched as the wound sealed. If Lila were awake, Derek knew she would object to this form of repair; he’d only ever used it while she was unconscious, and it had only been necessary a handful of times since her activation.
Derek couldn’t stand the idea of using his position as one of Lila’s creators against her. He’d always refused to–he’d never so much as installed an upgrade without her permission. He hated using a laser to mend her without the opportunity to ask her if it was what she wanted.
I don’t have a choice. I can’t take her to one of our labs. It’s not safe for her out there.
He muttered apologies he knew she couldn’t hear as he cauterized each of her wounds and then gently wiped off the remaining blood with a wet cloth. When he’d finished and disposed of the towels, he washed his hands and returned to the bed, where he sat down beside Lila.
He inhaled deeply and gave her hand a soft squeeze.
Why do I feel like I’ve been run over?
Lila stirred, moving her limbs one at a time to gauge what state her body was in and finding that while she was sore essentially everywhere, nothing hurt more than her back. She reached for her shoulder blade through the shredded back of her shirt and winced when the contact stung.
Does that feel… somewhat healed?
She trailed her fingertips over the area and bit her inner cheek against the pain. Just as she’d suspected, the wound no longer felt open; her skin had sealed.
Despite the pain coursing throughout her body, she processed that she was lying on something soft and comfortable. She opened her eyes to find herself in an unfamiliar bedroom. The plush comforter beneath her was blue and pulled up high enough to conceal the sheets from her view, and the nightstand and armoire were wooden and dark brown.
Lila lifted her head from the pillow slowly and sat up, holding back a hiss as her body protested. Her gaze fell on a folded tan sweater lying beside her, and she pulled it on over her shirt.
Straightening the three-quarter sleeves of her sweater, she stood and made her way for the door opposite the bed. When she opened it, she found herself facing a living room she recognized.
Derek found me?
In a rush, Lila’s mind was flooded with images of the other android and being thrown through a glass wall, nearly falling from LDE’s top floor. She remembered seeing Derek’s face before collapsing in the elevator.
He saved me.
At the sound of a loud clang, Lila shifted her focus to the kitchen, where Derek had evidently just dropped a plate. He sighed and retrieved it from the floor, setting it on the counter before hurrying across the apartment to Lila’s side.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. His sandy hair was tousled and the circles beneath his eyes were dark.
“Better. What happened?”
“You–here, come sit down.”
He guided her to the sofa, and when she sat at one end, he took the other.
“Did you seal the cuts?” Lila asked, folding her hands in her lap.
Derek nodded. “I’m sorry, I–I wanted to discuss it with you before I did anything, but I had no idea how long it would take for you to wake up, and you were losing so much blood. I didn’t know if waiting any longer would be safe.”
As he spoke, Lila watched his eyes. She was captivated by the warmth in their blue depths even when he was sitting so far from her; it seemed as though he wanted to reach for her, but he only leaned slightly forward where he sat.
“It’s okay,” said Lila. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do that, you didn’t…”
She recalled how desperate he’d been to stop her from leaving and how frightened he’d looked as he’d hurtled toward her in the elevator.
“I… really don’t think you could’ve done this,” he’d told her before she’d left. “Not to Damian.”
Lila’s eyes stung with tears. She lowered her head into her hand.
At the sound of his concern, she could hold herself back no longer. She lifted her head and wrapped her arms around him tightly.
“Thank you,” she muttered. “Thank you.”
He was still for a moment, and then he rested his hand against her back.
Derek sat hunched over his desk. He’d ignored the police tape restricting entry to his office; he didn’t care that the glass wall had been replaced by poorly assembled temporary panels held together by thick silver tape. His brother’s visitation service was slated to begin shortly, and it would be held on the company’s first floor, just as Damian had wanted.
Would he have written his will differently if he’d known he’d die here?
Derek pulled in a long breath through his nose and released it through his mouth.
He remembered the first breath Lila had taken. He remembered the pride in Damian’s eyes when the android they’d designed with their best friend had opened her eyes. He remembered when she’d walked through the front door of his apartment with a birthday cake and he’d realized for the first time how beautiful she was–the way her golden hair caught the light, how her smile was the most infectious one he’d ever seen.
I shouldn’t feel this. I shouldn’t feel anything for her.
Not only did he have footage of Lila shooting his brother through the chest, but he’d created her. He couldn’t allow himself to give in to the urge to let himself love her.
He’d seen a shadow at the back of the security video. He knew someone else had been present the night of his brother’s murder. He knew how choppy and forced Lila’s movements had been even as she’d raised the gun, like she’d been fighting herself.
Derek couldn’t force himself to believe that she was truly responsible. There had to be another explanation.
He looked up to find his business partner standing just outside his office door, beyond the line of tape Derek had slipped past to reach his desk. Eddie’s dark hair was combed back neatly, and his suit was pressed so crisply that he might’ve been preparing for a wedding and not a funeral.
“Are you–? I know you aren’t all right,” said Eddie, “but is there anything I can do?”
Derek shook his head and pushed his chair backward as he stood.
“Let’s just get this over with,” he said.
As the handle of the gun made contact with the junction of her neck and the back of her head, Lila reached out to catch herself on Derek’s coffee table. Pain splintered through her skull and white spots flashed through her vision.
She looked up into the pointed, enraged face of Damian’s fiancée.
“I knew he had to be hiding you here,” Ravenna growled.
Lila forced herself to her feet and moved as rapidly as her enhanced speed would allow to stand behind Ravenna and twist her arm until she released the gun with a sharp cry.
“I never wanted to hurt anyone,” said Lila. “I need you to understand that.”
“You killed him!”
Ravenna whipped her leg backward and knocked Lila’s out from under her. As her head swam and her balance faltered, Lila crashed to the floor.
She knew she could easily best Ravenna, if she allowed herself to try. But she had no intention of harming anyone else, least of all someone whose life she’d ruined.
She deserves to avenge him. And I deserve whatever she does to me.
As the pain pulsing through Lila’s head intensified, the room around her blurred.
Lila attempted to lift her hand, but her arm refused even to twitch at her command. Her body was leaden, pressing her down to the cold, metal surface she felt beneath her bare arms.
“And if it doesn’t work? If she remembers, afterward?”
“She won’t. You should be more confident, by now. Her programming will require her to obey, and then her mind will be wiped.”
Lila struggled to open her mouth to address the voices coming from either side of her–the first was male, the second female–but neither her jaw nor her tongue would move.
She heard the air shift from her left side, in the direction of the male voice, and then a sharp sigh and the clattering of metal against another surface.
“This isn’t the way to handle it,” said the man. “There are a thousand other ways to–”
“No, there aren’t.”
A gust whipped past Lila behind her head, and the next time the woman spoke, it was from beside where the man’s voice had just been.
“Do you want him to dispose of you?” she pressed. “He tried once already.”
Lila stumbled, clutching the back of her head as Derek’s coffee table flashed in front of her, replacing the momentary blackness.
His voice. I’ve heard it before.
She attempted to lower herself onto the sofa, but her legs gave way beneath her, and she crashed to the floor, one hand clutching the sofa cushion as the dark returned.
“Do you want to give him that chance, or do you want to be the one left standing? Damian won’t give it a second thought, when he realizes what you are. Don’t let him win.”
Lila heard shifting beside her head, and then cold fingers lifted her eyelid. For an instant, she saw only the bright lights above her. When her eye focused, however, she caught a glimpse of dark hair, a sharp jaw, and lips set in a frown.
He released her eyelid, and it snapped shut, plunging her back into blindness.
Lila’s scalp screamed as a hand lifted her head from the carpet by her hair.
“It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me, Ravenna!”
“What the hell do you mean, it wasn’t you? There’s recorded evidence! There’s a video of you shooting him!”
Ravenna wrenched Lila’s head backward, forcing her to look up. Ravenna was scowling, her teeth bared and her nostrils flaring.
“You don’t have to do this, Lila,” he said. “You don’t have to–” He glanced over her shoulder, seeming to rethink the statement he had been about to make. “Just remember who you are. Remember who I–”
Lila squeezed the trigger. With a bang, the plasma bolt deployed into Damian’s chest. His mouth hung open, prepared to frame words Lila would never hear. Pain creased his brow, and then his facial muscles relaxed, smoothing out as his eyes unfocused.
Tears streamed down Lila’s cheeks, and she ordered her hands to drop the weapon.
Her thumb twitched.
She had to help him, had to stop the bleeding.
There’s so much blood.
It seeped through his shirt, blooming like a poisonous rose across the pale green cotton.
Lila’s feet refused to budge.
“You’ve done well,” said Eddie’s voice from behind her.
Eddie. Eddie was in the lab. Eddie did this to me. To Damian.
Lila ordered her feet to move. She had to face him.
He did this.
She needed to open her mouth, to make herself speak.
He made me kill–he made me–
Her jaw yielded to her command at last.
“What have I done?” Lila demanded. She whipped around to face Eddie, aiming the gun at his heart where he stood where the lobby met the corridor. “What have you done to me? Help him!” she screamed.
“You’ve done your part,” he said. “Deactivate.”
The room dissolved before her eyes as she collapsed.
“Please,” Lila implored Ravenna. “Let me explain. I remember it all.”
Ravenna watched her in silence for several moments. She let out a sigh so heavy her body seemed to deflate, and then she released Lila, who doubled over with her hands braced against the carpet as she struggled to catch her breath.
“Tell me. Now.”
“Eddie. He reprogrammed me to attack Damian.”
Silence filled the apartment.
When Ravenna did not move closer, Lila pulled herself up onto the sofa, where she struggled to catch her breath.
“Why would he do that? You expect me to believe you?”
“I don’t know,” said Lila, rubbing the back of her head. “She said something about making sure Eddie was the last one standing, like Damian was going to come after him.”
As Lila replayed the woman’s voice in her mind, she found it forming words she hadn’t heard in her flashes of memory.
“I’m you. But better.”
“An android,” said Lila. “I don’t know her name, but she attacked me at LDE. Said she’d known they should’ve gotten rid of me. I didn’t know who ‘they’ was, but she was there with Eddie when he reprogramed me. I remember.”
To Lila’s right, the doorknob twisted, and she turned toward the sound as the door opened to allow Derek to enter. He stood on the threshold, wide-eyed, and then he appeared to revive from his stupor.
“We need to go,” said Ravenna, cutting off Derek. “Now.”
“Where? Lila, are you–?”
“We need to find Eddie,” said Lila. “He made me do it, Derek. I remember everything.”
About the Author
Mandi Joudan studies Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her prose has appeared in four anthologies by Sinister Saints Press, Coming Around Again by the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers Group, Quickfic, Beyond Science Fiction Digital Magazine, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Theme of Absence, the 2015 and 2016 editions of Grassroots Literary Magazine, and the Kaskaskia College Scroll. She has stories forthcoming in 9Tales, Digital Science Fiction, and the 2017 edition of Grassroots Literary Magazine. She can be found on Amazon and on Twitter (@MandiJourdan), or at Whatever Our Souls (whateveroursouls.com), the literary magazine she co-edits.