For a long time, nothing happened.
Except for that ticking noise.
Then, finally, some new sounds.
Tansy shifted her gaze towards their source: one of the doors. After a long moment, that door unlocked and opened, letting in a stream of light from.. Tansy craned her neck.. yes, a hallway beyond.
The door-opener was a rather short busty woman carrying a squarish bag via attached handles; it was still too dark to tell much more. There was a small glowing panel mounted on the wall next to the door, and the newcomer pushed at it with her finger, and was eventually rewarded with a beep. Next to the panel was a collection of switches, which were flipped. Lights came on, causing Tansy to blink a little. As her eyes adjusted, she automatically noted the windowless room’s contents, the oak desk with its computer and vase and things, file cabinets, copy machine, some couches, a low table, a metal-trimmed fish tank bubbling away, plants in pots, framed spinning prints on the walls, a fancy-looking clock (the source of the ticking)..
But most of her attention went to the other woman. She was a Latina with a cloud of jet-black hair, wearing a long tan coat which appeared to have gotten wet somehow. Tansy arbitrarily named her Maria.
Maria closed the door behind her with a clunk, and made her way to the desk, where she set down the bag, then unslung her purse from her shoulder and produced a key. The key unlocked the desk, allowing the purse to be deposited in one of the drawers. She then slipped off the coat, smoothed it, and stashed it away on a waiting hanger. Underneath was typical business attire, if more stylish and better fitting than some Tansy remembered: blouse, jacket, modest skirt, shiny sensible pumps which matched their wearer’s hair. She stood for a moment, her back to Tansy, then unlocked and opened a nearby (wooden) cabinet, revealing an elaborate stereo system. More button tapping, and soft music began to trickle discreetly from hidden speakers. Another pause, and then she turned her attention to the coffee-maker which loomed gleaming and silver in one corner. She disappeared for a long moment, pot in hand, to, yes, collect water from somewhere, then got the machine perking. Pause. She reached into the bag, and came out with a white cardboard box which in turn held some species of cookies or small pastries. These treats were deployed in a mathematically-rigorous pyramid on a tray alongside the coffee-maker. Their mission complete, the box and bag were swiftly compacted and stored away. Pause. Tansy’s stomach growled a little. Maria made her way around the office.. yes.. it was an office, wasn’t it? Sprinkled some food-flakes for the appreciative fish, made minute adjustments to the magazine collection spread across the table, checked the flourishing plants, and last of all, carefully wound up the clock. Between each of these smooth, sure, actions, the same brief pause. When she finally executed one of these while pointed in Tansy’s general direction, Tansy could see her expression, a strange flickering mixture of blankness and intensity, like she was listening to something besides the music and the ticking..
Tansy shifted uneasily, and scratched at the soft thick carpet with her fingers. The whole routine brought to mind something she couldn’t quite place.
Maria finished her circuit back at the desk, where she lingered an extra-long moment at the vase and its contents, stroking softly at the petals of the large red roses. She slid into the waiting chair. Tansy belatedly noticed that along the previously mentioned items, there was something else on the desktop, a squatting, sinister-looking device which radiated menace. Maria studied this thing for a moment, her face impressively calm. Evidently satisfied, she turned on the computer. The machine began churning through its start-up routine, and she sat with her hands resting neatly before her on the desk, looking straight ahead, that same lack-of-expression on her face. When she did finally blink, it was slow and deliberate. Tansy’s stomach twisted again, not entirely unpleasantly. Then the computer pinged, and Maria.. the only word, Tansy thought, was “reactivated”.. and commenced tapping at the keyboard with blurred speed, the rapid-fire clicking merging with the music and the endless tick tick tick
For a while, nothing more happened. Then there was a new sound.
Maria stopped typing.
It was the Device on the desk, making a shrill grating squeal that sent shivers down Tansy’s spine. And again.
To Tansy’s amazement, instead of hitting it with a stick or something, Maria actually touched the horrid thing, took up a dangling piece of it and held it near her head.
And made noises with her mouth.
Made more noises. Tansy tried to extract some sort of meaning, but no, it was definitely just noise, and she stopped listening.
Maria put down the Device-part and resumed typing.
The smell of coffee trickled into her corner of the room.
And then one of the other doors popped open, and in that moment, Tansy remembered what she had been previously reminded of: she had been on a trip.. somewhere.. and had seen some big and elaborate clock, even more so than the one ticktickticking in the corner. On the hour, little doors popped open and a bunch of mechanical figures came clicking out, spinning and whirling and tapping hammers on bells.
That was what Maria was. A little mechanical doll, wound up and set running on shiny silver rails, surrounded by endless fields of roses. All day, every day, here in this office...
All of that came and went in an instant, because the woman who had opened the door was.. gasp..
As always, the blonde woman was wearing her spotless white labcoat, and carrying her Tray, and on the Tray was..
Tansy gasped again.
Doctor Newman closed the door behind her with a clunk, made her way to the desk, her bare feet silent and elegant on the carpet. She set down the Tray, and spoke. Her voice was made of words, always.
“Good morning, Maria.”
Maria ceased her typing, her hands sliding into the same pause-position as before, and she smiled up at Doctor Newman, her face showing all the things that Tansy felt. She made noises with her mouth. Doctor Newman was so clever, she could of course understand what the noises were supposed to be.
“Of course. This afternoon.” She patted Maria on the head, and the secretary resumed her typing. Doctor Newman went to the coffee machine, and poured out a cup, took a treat off of the top of the pyramid.
And then she returned to the desk, and more importantly, the Tray, and Tansy suddenly knew what she had to do. She clawed deeper at the carpet, steeled her nerve, and left the open doorway, set forth across the endless expanse between herself and the desk.
Doctor Newman’s Tray.
The carpet was simultaneously the softest fluffiest warmest cushion in the universe, and slashed against her hands and knees like endless shards of glass.
Doctor Newman sipped coffee and nibbled daintily at the treat.
An eternity later, Tansy arrived at Doctor Newman’s feet, arranged herself in the proper position, looked up.
Doctor Newman smiled down at her.
“Good morning, Tansy.”
Tansy made noises with her mouth.
“Let’s see how we’re doing today.” She wiggled a finger. “Sit up, Tansy.”
Tansy sat up.
Doctor Newman produced a stethoscope from one of her many pockets, and placed the cold metal disk against Tansy’s chest.
Doctor Newman poked and prodded, took Tansy’s pulse, flashed lights in Tansy’s eyes, had Tansy make more noises. She nodded.
“OK. Everything looks good. Let’s see..” From her Tray, Doctor Newman took up a clipboard, and examined the attached sheet of scrambled black marks. “Um hum.” She put down the board and took up the Cup. “Now for your Vitamins. Open your mouth, Tansy.”
Tansy opened her mouth. Doctor Newman fingered out the first of the Vitamins, and put it on Tansy’s tongue. “Swallow, Tansy.”
They repeated this procedure. And again. And again.
And then they were done, and the room began to buzz, just a little, mixing with the ticking and the typing.
The best part of all.
Doctor Newman smiled again, and dipped into another pocket, and produced a treat, no, a real Treat, not one of those things off the pyramid. A small crunchy bar, shaped like a bone. Doctor Newman placed it on Tansy’s tongue, and after a moment allowed her to chew, and Tansy slowly chewed and swallowed and it was perfect and it was bliss.
“OK. You’re doing very well, Tansy. Your therapy is proceeding excellently.”
Tansy wriggled with utter happiness.
And Doctor Newman patted her on the head, and spoke more words, about spinning darkness and flames and focus and utter obedience,
And in that moment, Tansy realized a further glorious truth: the reason Doctor Newman spoke words instead of noises was because she was speaking someone else’s words, someone was using her mouth and lungs and brain like a puppet.
Doctor Newman was just another little doll, running along shiny spinning rails, surrounded by millions of candle flames.
And Tansy was just a bell to be rung.
And someday.. if she was good, when she was finally and truly Cured, she would be allowed to remember who that someone was.
Be allowed to..
The thought was just too big, and she couldn’t cram it into her skull.
She realized she was crawling back across the carpet, making her long trek back toward..
The closet. He was keeping her in a closet.
Just for a split second, a meteor of startling rage went shooting across her mind, and then was gone, drowned in the growing buzzticktype and behind it all, the Voice echoing forever inside her head, stronger and stronger.
She crawled inside her closet, and in the split second before the door swung shut behind her, she saw what was waiting for her on the wall, arranged on another hanger: a short black and white dress, discreetly frilly, with an apron.
It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
She wondered if maybe someday she’d be allowed to touch it.
Then the soundproof door was shut and locked, and there was only darkness, and her Master’s Voice.
For a long time, nothing happened.
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