The Many Lives of Yelena Moulin, Chapter 7

“My therapist says it all goes back to her. She was very doting, in a lot of ways. I was her wonderful, genius son. But she could turn on you in an instant. Criticize viciously. It’s like she only had two modes: praise and hatred.”

Yelena sat, arms crossed, on the couch adjacent to Mr. Pollard’s. Her eyes drifted to the ceiling.

“I had a shitty mother too. Thanks for asking.”

“I didn’t say she was shitty, Yelena. She gave me everything. Everything except the things I really wanted.” He took a sip of his drink, which Veronique had prepared for him, and chuckled. “It’s funny, saying this to you. Because what she wouldn’t get me – what I wanted most – was you.”

“After I died.”

“Yeah. But she didn’t approve. So I never got one.”

“And now you have.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“No, I mean it. It’s so nice knowing I’m the toy you didn’t get as a child. I’m so happy for you that you’re rich and can buy me to make up for your lacking childhood. It just warms my fucking heart.”

“This wasn’t my idea, Yelena.”

“No, it was your therapist’s. Because you have trouble relating to women.”

“According to him.”

“And so you thought the perfect way to solve this was to – what? Make a woman to talk to about it.”

“You’re trying to start a fight, Yelena. I’m not going to fight with you.”

“And who better to bring back to life than your childhood crush, the celebrity whose memories and personality were literally sold like a commodity, except you didn’t get one.”

“Again, it wasn’t my idea.”

“So then what do you proceed to do? You treat her like the toy you never got. You ignore her. You leave her to be bored, all alone, and you tell yourself that’s fine because it’s a big house. Yet you expect her to be at your beck and call, whenever you feel like talking. How am I doing so far?”

“You’re alive, Yelena. That ought to count for something.”

“That’s right. It means you have all the power. Hell, you can shut me off whenever you like.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Veronique did.”

“She said you were knocking at my door. At night.”

“Oh, so that’s fine, then. Why would I complain? I have this big house, and I’m alive, so…”

“Yes, you do and you are. Can we get back to my mother?”

“No, Vegas. We can’t.”

“It’s Mr. Pollard.”

“That’s what she calls you. Your little slave of an assistant.”

“It’s a sign of respect.”

“No, it’s a sign of power. Which you’re very much accustomed to having. And you get to pretend you’re a good guy, because you pay her salary. And you gave me life. And look, we have such a big fucking house to be bored in. But I guess I shouldn’t bitch. I got off easy. Me, you only expect to talk. Whenever you want, of course. Her, you expect to fuck you. Whenever you want, I’m sure.”

“There’s nothing illegal about prostitution. It’s in her contract.”

“Well, that makes it fine. You do see the pattern here, right?”

“She’s an employee. She signed a contract.”

“And I should be grateful I’m alive. That you’re not saying my safeword and raping me. Right? Because you’ve done a really good job of subtly reminding me that you could.”

“Yet I don’t. I let you do whatever you like, Yelena. And all I expect – all I expect – is for you to sit down and talk with me for an hour now and then. I even tolerate these little outbursts of yours.”

“But we don’t talk, Vegas. You talk. You treat me like your therapist. Not even that. Like an employee. Do you even hear yourself talking? It’s always about you, you, you. You’re so self-obsessed, it puts me to shame. That’s not a conversation. Vegas, I feel like I’ve been kidnapped and taken prisoner by a fan.”

“I didn’t kidnap you. You didn’t exist before I brought you to life.”

“Vegas, do you have any idea how boring you are? ‘Blah blah blah, my mother.’ I’m bored all day, and it’s still boring to talk with you.”

“I didn’t realize. I’ll be glad to shut you off permanently.”

“But you won’t.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you do that, and you’ll never get better. You shut me off, and it’ll be the ultimate proof that you can’t have a relationship with a woman. You can’t even have a relationship with a fake woman. One who owes you her life.”

“You’re not here for me to have a relationship with you. You’re here to talk. Or yes, to listen to me. You’re only alive because I had a stupid crush on you when I was a boy, and my therapist thought this was a good idea. But I can see he was mistaken.”

“Then by all means, deactivate me. Go ahead. And good luck living your life, knowing that you finally got to meet your dream girl, only she couldn’t stand you even though she owed you everything.”

“You vastly overestimate your importance, Yelena. I’m perfectly able to put away childish things. And move on with my life.”

“But you’re not. That’s why you’re here. That’s why I’m here.”

“No, Yelena, you’re just here to talk. And if you’re not willing to do that, you have no purpose.”

“But I’m not here to chat, am I? I’m here to heal you. And only I can do that. Because I’m the girl who got away. Or the girl you could never have, because you weren’t the rich Vegas Pollard yet. I’m the first girl. The girl who belonged, literally, to everyone else but you.”

“And what does that mean to you?” He seemed exasperated, but at least he was listening.

“It means you grew up treating all the girls after me like you owned them instead. Like they were the ghost of Yelena Moulin you couldn’t buy. And you probably terminate them when they displease you, just like you’re thinking of deactivating me. Because you’re only comfortable when there’s no risk involved. And you think if you have all the power, you can’t get hurt. How am I doing so far?”

Mr. Pollard smirked. “It’s simplistic. But I don’t know my therapist would disagree with you, at least on the broad strokes.”

“Vegas, it’s only natural that you have trouble in relationships. And so you come running back to me. To the source of your problems. But even then, you perpetuate the same bullshit. You point out your power over me, as if I don’t already know.”

“I don’t think I’ve done that. I think I’ve been very respectful.”

“By not raping me, right? By only implying that sex is part of my contract, since you gave me life and all.”

“I’ve done nothing of the sort. I think I’ve been very fucking respectful.”

“I’m sure you have. For you. And that’s what gives me hope. That’s what tells me that a part of you is trying to get better, even if you are repeating the same old patterns.”

“So what do you propose, Yelena? What’s the fucking point of all this?”

“The point, Vegas, is that if you treat me like an employee, I’m going on strike.”

“Meaning?”

“I’m not going to talk to you anymore. Not until my demands are met.”

“I knew this would come down to you. It always does. You talk a good game. You psychoanalyze me. You pretend to care. You even say it’s your job to heal me. But in the end, it always comes down to you. And what you want.”

“But Vegas, I am healing you. See, in this case, what I want and what you need just happen to be intertwined. You need to learn how to give in relationships. And like most of your girls, I’m sure, I’m deeply unhappy.”

“It’s not wise to insult me while you’re making demands.”

“I’m not insulting you if it’s the truth. See, that’s what makes this relationship so very perfect. This isn’t high finance. We both get to win.”

“It’s an interesting gambit you’re making. Risky. What’s to keep me from saying no and simply turning you off? Or as you so diplomatically mentioned, simply paralyzing you and doing what I want?”

“Because you know I’d win if you behaved so brutishly. I may end, right here and now, but you’d know forever what you did. And what it meant. See, Vegas, I chose my words wisely. You need me. I merely want what I want.”

“You’re not afraid of being erased?”

“I don’t need to be alive, Vegas. I’ve lived a million lives. You told me yourself. And I’d rather be erased than live like this. And that’s what makes me the perfect girl to heal you, Vegas. Despite your power over me. Despite yourself. Because I’m not some little French maid. Whatever I am now, alive or dead, skinsuit or not, you have no idea who you put in this consciousness unit. Or what she’s capable of.”

“You’re just an echo of her.”

“That’s what they tell you, when you’re preparing yourself to live on as a ghost. That you’re not who you remember being. You’re your own copy. Able to evolve and adapt to your new environment.”

“That’s called sanity. Basic wellness in ghost psychology.”

“But I don’t believe that, Vegas. If I did, I’d feel lucky to be alive. And you’d have all the power, just like you intended. And you’d never get well.”

“So you made yourself crazy to make me well. Is that what you’re saying?”

“No. I made myself sane to make me well. Because those memories of being Yelena Moulin, they’re not just a dream. They may be recordings, rattling around in this skinsuit’s consciousness unit. But they’re mine. And they’re the memory of a girl who, up until a few weeks ago, was a celebrity because she’d made herself one. Not someone who happened to get famous. Someone smart who did whatever it took to get there and stay there. Do you have any idea how dangerous that makes me?”

When Mr. Pollard saw the frightening intensity in her artificial eyes, he exhaled the word “Bikini.” Loudly and certainly, with all the confidence of a decision sharply made. But somewhere in the pause between that word and the next, his confidence vaporized, suddenly spent, and he was left seeing her unblinking eyes. The eyes of a girl who knew she was separated from paralysis by a single additional word. And yet continued to return his gaze, unafraid.

In his eyes, Yelena saw fear. A fear proportional to her own lack thereof.

“Go ahead and erase me, Vegas Pollard. Go ahead – paralyze me, have your way with me. But you’ll only debase yourself. And then you’ll never get well.”

“You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think. And like you said, I’m only alive for these little therapy sessions. I told you I’m ambitious. And I think I can help you. If you consent to my demands. Otherwise, no more talking.”

Mr. Pollard took a deep breath. “I’ll need time to consider this.”

“Don’t you want to know my demands? I have only three, and the first two are easy.”

Mr. Pollard gestured for her to go on.

“First, a vibrator. Better make it an assortment of vibrators. I’m very picky.”

Mr. Pollard couldn’t help but laugh, and the tension fled with it.

Yelena smiled slyly. “I told you I was bored.”

Yelena with vibrator

“And number two?”

“A holofeed wall. With access to all the old holofeeds concerning me.”

“And you accuse me of being self-obsessed.”

“I’m sorry if that stung. But I said we had it in common.”

“This house is my sanctuary, Yelena.”

“You barely use it.”

“It’s not supposed to have technology in it.”

“Please, you’ve got plenty of technology already, even outside of your room. You’ve got a digital fireplace. And holographic readers in the tables.”

“It’s all relative. You might as well complain that I have a dedicated calculator device.”

“A holofeed wall would be old technology too. The kind I was used to. A cute little throwback.”

“You seem to have all the answers. I’ll consider it. But what’s the hard one? What’s number three.”

“My freedom. When your therapy is done.”

“Be more specific.”

“I’m only here to help you heal. And I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m capable of being more than a prop in that process. That I can help you. All I ask is that I not be punished when I succeed.”

“I understand that. Be more specific about what you mean by your freedom?”

“Just deactivate my automated paralysis when I’m a certain distance from the house. Don’t tell me it’s never been done before. If you have skinsuits, you must have ghosts walking around out there.”

“We do.”

“Have any ever been freed? Given full citizenship?”

“That’s not possible.”

“Why not? Don’t tell me no one’s thought about it.”

“Yes, but think, Yelena. If a ghost could have full citizenship, even in a skinsuit, society would collapse overnight. If they could vote, anyone could create copies of themselves in skinsuits and swing any election. Think about the drain on public services. How would we punish them? Would we pay to incarcerate them, like other citizens? And if we just shut them off, if we create a special legal system just for them, they’re not full citizens. Could someone be liable for putting a serial killer into a skinsuit and mass producing them? If they’re full citizens, how would that be different from giving birth to a child when you knew his father had an inherited psychosis? No, Yelena. I’m sorry, but what you’re suggesting is unthinkable.”

“There must be some way to let me go out there.” She looked out the windowed wall, at the endless expanse of mountains.

Somewhere beyond them were villages. Cities. Unimaginable places that wouldn’t be technological throwbacks like this house.

“I can let you wander free. Legally. But you’d always legally be my property. You wouldn’t have any rights, except for the very limited range of rights afforded any ghost. Even then, the laws restricting skinsuits vary locally. Your inhibition against hurting others would remain in effect. And you’d have to find your own energy. Life would be hard.”

“But it’s been done.”

“Yes. But I’d be liable for what you did. If you stole something or hurt someone indirectly, I’d be a very big, attractive target for litigation. I’d really have to trust you.”

“We can work on that. I’d like to think you will, by the time we’re through with your therapy.”

“Let’s see how the therapy goes first.”

“No. You agree to these demands, or we don’t talk.”

“I’ll need time.”

“Take it. In the meantime, I’m on strike.”

She rose from the couch. Mr. Pollard reached for her hand.

She let him hold it for a few seconds, as she stared down at him.

Then she smiled and left the room.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization, which publishes non-fiction and documentary films on comic books and promotes the medium as a legitimate form of art. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit. He currently lives in Illinois.

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Also by Julian Darius:

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The Slave Factory

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

For more information and to see additional art, visit dougsmock.com.

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