Massinisa flexes the new hand cautiously. It appears to work, and he seems free of pain now. Alice looks on the verge of going hysterical, but she’s keeping it together by a fingernail grip.
Massinisa looks me in the eyes. “So. I have asked for you, and I have received for you.” He sounds angry.
I nod, and say “You have. I am in your debt.”
“Yes,” he says curtly.
My first impulse is to offer to shake on it, but I manage to stop myself. I actually don’t really want to touch the hand, and Massinisa sure as hell doesn’t need to be reminded. Instead, I clasp his shoulder, and summon up a hopefully sincere expression. “I pay my debts.”
He stares at me for a moment, then he sighs and deflates, his face softening. “I’m sure you do, friend. Come, let us leave this… tomb.”
Alice chokes back a giggle, and makes a beeline for the door. Massinisa and I follow. When we get outside, I notice that the carpet has changed slightly, with blotches of red now added to the orange and brown hexagons. I don’t bother saying anything. What would be the point?
There’s a rest area not too far from where we are. I know it’s there, and we could all do with a minute. “I know where we can catch our breaths,” I say. “Come on.” The other two look at me with odd expressions, but they follow along obediently enough. It only takes a couple of minutes — round a corner, through a fire door and down a hallway, and then there’s a big glass double door on the left.
The rec area looks like the sort of pleasant lounge you might find in a laid-back cafe. It’s stylish, in a muted sort of way, and decorated in soft earth tones. There several tables, some clustered round with well-padded chairs, others with deep-looking sofas. There’s a counter at the back, with a selection of buffet food and a range of beverages, including a professional-looking espresso machine. You’re obviously allowed the illusion of self-service here, but I’m pretty certain that you’d find the buffet included whatever it was you most felt like to eat.
Massinisa goes over to poke around the facilities, and Alice sinks down onto one of the sofas, head in hands. I sit down next to her, and put an arm round her shoulders. “How are you doing?”
She coughs, and looks up at me. “Couldn’t be more perfect!” Her voice is too high, too bright.
I look her in the eye. “Alice?”
She shudders, and when she speaks again, her voice is low and sad. “Eadida was a lovely, kind girl. She was my friend. It was just… hard. I thought I had this place down, but every step you take, you seem to make it freakier. It’s wearing me down. I’m not cold like you.”
Cold? That’s an uncomfortable assessment. “I…” What the hell do you say?
“You were going to mash her hand off with a log.” It comes out as almost a whisper.
<input ... >
Well, yes. I was. I shrug uncomfortably, and say...
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