Pauline was staring out from behind the dominatrix’s eyes at her own body across the room, currently inhabited by an emissary, like a woman salivating over a unique dress that would evaporate into thin air if she didn’t act soon. The thing was, she had no idea what she needed to do. When Roman glanced back at her in a fit of confusion, growling and whimpering all over again, she decided that at least for the next few minutes, she’d keep her distance.
She responded to the emissary’s statement about her finally returning.
“Yes, it’s been so long and I want to make things right.”
She secretly decided against letting on that the body she’d taken over was not one of her own emanations. She’d cross that bridge if they ever got to it. The emissary carefully placed the handbag down and continued to train its eyes on her. Pauline wondered what it could possibly be afraid of, but the fact that it was afraid emboldened her. Maybe it was something she could use in her favor.
“That will be easy, Doelanda. We can simply swap bodies, as it were. Please forgive me for the expanded girth. I’ve developed a fondness for your almond croissants and Indian food. Oh my – such delicious flavors – especially the butter chicken and biryani. It’s a wonder you weren’t as big as a whale fish!”
When it patted her stomach with a huge grin, she felt ashamed, like she was watching herself in a circus mirror.
“Wait a minute. What do you mean swap? Are you thinking about taking over this body? You don’t know anything about her.”
Now Pauline fell into a mild panic. What would happen if they did find out it wasn’t one of her emanations? Then she realized that they must already know, seeing as her current emanation was occupied by one of them. It was obvious that Pauline had taken over another’s body to get home. Was she already in trouble?
The emissary started slowly walking towards her, like a child approaching a strange dog. Roman growled some more and stepped between them in a show of protectiveness. The emissary stopped and glanced down disapprovingly.
“Your animal friend is quite intelligent, but do not fear Doelanda. We’re here protecting your’s and Joledo’s current bodies, remember?”
Pauline stood her ground and nodded apprehensively.
“I understand, but Roman is truly faithful and protective. Ka told me that you were only here to make sure our absence from our bodies remains undetected until we returned. So, I’m here now. Could I get back into my own body? Don’t you want to return to your own realm?”
The emissary smiled and then surprised Pauline when it shrugged.
“That would be a feasible deduction, however – I yearn for more knowledge about this peculiar and complex world of yours. You can re-claim your body on one condition – that we perform a swap. I’d like to experience another emanation’s life.”
Pauline felt a shudder roll through the dom’s system.
“Aren’t there rules concerning your return to your realm, once we return to our bodies? And by the way, where’s Jon’s body?”
She felt odd asking such bizarre questions, but with what she’d been through recently, it was fast becoming the norm. The emissary continued staring blankly, then smiled creepily.
“His emissary is going through the motions. He is being held back at work due to an impromptu meeting with the faculty. He will be home presently, but never mind. Ka would have told you that Jon’s travels in the portals is his concern. You only need to worry about your own emanation. I should report that – while I appreciate the time I’ve spent in your body – I do find your current emanation as quite mundane and repetitive.”
Pauline was caught off guard and a little hurt over his appraisal of her life. Before she could respond, he continued in his clicking voice.
“Time is running out Doelanda. Do you want to swap or shall I disappear where you’ll never find your body again?”
She was flooded with a mixture of anger and fear. Without replying, she suddenly lunged forward and instinctively grabbed her own hand. Unnerved by the lack of response from the emissary, she was now distracted by the pulse of white light that flashed throughout her mind. She heard the dominatrix screaming along with her own voice – combining like dual vocal chords in a Tibetan chant at full throttle – while Roman barked furiously.
Once she was back in her own body she was overwhelmed with inertia and confusion. She was now face to face with the dominatrix, who was curiously smiling and obviously triumphant. The hand was still grasping her own and she quickly pulled away and slipped over onto her backside. Roman lurched forward and covered her face with sloppy licks.
The dominatrix stepped back and shimmied around. Pauline wasn’t aware that the emissary had successfully taken over the body and was aligning itself with the new skin. Pauline pushed Roman away and started to get up, but the emissary raced out of the front door, with Roman following close behind, growling and snapping at the dom’s heels.
When the door slammed shut and Roman returned to Pauline’s side, the realization that she was finally back in her own body was earth-shattering. She collapsed on the floor again, crying and laughing hysterically.
While Pauline dealt with the traumatic return to her body, Jon woke up with a start and was dismayed to discover that he was still in the body of the Knight. The restrictive suit of armor and the helmet continued to make him feel like he was trapped twice over and claustrophobic to a major degree. He wrestled with the helmet and threw it away angrily. After struggling for ages to get to a standing position, he looked around and squinted his eyes to try and see in the darkness.
When he moved forward he tripped over something and had to struggle to ensure that he didn’t fall back to the ground. The atmosphere was close and musty, so his breathing was labored.
Moving back and forth, left and right – he suddenly had an outburst of rage and screamed in a strong voice, which ended up sounding more like the bellowing of a wild animal. When movement started up behind him, he gasped and spun around, nearly tripping again in the stubborn, grating, metal suit.
“Who’s there?!” He demanded to know.
A low groan came out of the darkness like a wounded soldier on his last legs. Then more stirring came from all directions. A woman sighing and weeping was drowned out by the angry muttering of an old man.
“Who’s there? Who are you? What’s happening?!” He begged while trying to keep the tears at bay.
“Be silent you stupid dog!” The old man commanded.
“Why should I? Jesus Christ!” He blurted.
“Who’s that?” The old man asked.
“I don’t know but she’s not here.” A woman advised mournfully.
“HE!” Jon yelled in frustration.
He heard someone shuffling towards him and could vaguely make out the shadow of a tall man. When he got closer, Jon detected the smell of wood shavings.
“Do stop yelling, you simpleton. We’re all in the same fix.”
“What fix? Where?” Jon was crying again, but the tight suit had finally got the better of him.
He started tugging, wrenching and squirming until he succeeded in escaping the armor. He scrambled to get back off the floor and onto his feet, then saw that he was wearing a kind of skin-tight leotard made from what felt like liquid silver. It was cold on his skin but at least he could move more freely.
He was then startled by a sudden shard of red light which flooded the area. He could immediately see the other entities huddled together in the center of a long, narrow corridor. They were all chess pieces, dressed in armor or tattered and dirty rags that merely hinted at their former glory. A Queen smiled weakly at him then turned her face and shielded her eyes. She spoke over her shoulder as she continued to ensure that he stayed out of sight.
He crept over to her and whispered gently, doing his best not to frighten her, even though he was on the verge of going permanently insane.
“Well, I’m wearing a strange leotard, but there are more pressing questions. Can you tell me what’s happening?”
She pointed upwards and then brought up one of her tattered, white veils to cover her face.
“We’re being reconditioned.”
Jon was puzzled – even more so than usual.
“Reconditioned? Into what?!”
The old man – who happened to be a broken Bishop – slapped his arm grumpily and pushed him toward the center of the room. Jon looked up and saw a massive red tube descending over them. He turned and grabbed the Bishop roughly by the upper arms and screamed into his face.
“WHAT’S HAPPENING? TELL ME!!!”
“Reconditioning, you fool!”
Then a roaring, deafening wind distracted him. One by one, the chess pieces were sucked up into the tube. Jon was mortified over the idea of being sucked up into a raging vacuum cleaner. It was too much. Once again, he fainted – as soon as his feet left the floor.
When Pauline finally got a grip, she got up and did her best to steady herself, before launching off to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She hesitated when she saw the bottle of bourbon on the counter top, but then decided she wanted to be straight and normal for once in a long time. She marveled at the fact that she’d pretty much refrained from eating the whole time she was away, even though her physical body had more than made up for it.
She lifted up her shirt and looked down at the pudgy belly and sighed. What was strange to her, was the fact that her normal level of recoiling horror over weight gain had been reduced drastically. Now that she’d grown accustomed to being a spirit in other bodies, the idea of returning to a normal life was bittersweet. It was even a little depressing. While she waited for the tea to steep and tried to revel in the fact that she was finally home, the luster of the dream of coming back was losing its appeal.
She fed Roman and sat down at the table to drink her tea. Her thoughts soon turned to Jon and where he was. Was he in danger? Could he survive the portals without her? Then she realized that she would have to deal with the automaton when it arrived. Would the emissary freak out over the other one leaving in the dom’s body?
Trying to figure out her next move, as Roman plopped down at her feet and fell into a deep sleep, a knock at the door made her jump. Roman jumped too and began to bark. She crept over like a ninja and hid behind the door, even though she had no idea why she should be so afraid. If it was the automaton, it would’ve unlocked the door and come in. Was it a neighbor? She realized that she had no prepared statements or excuses – although there was no apparent reason for needing them.
When the doorbell rang, she squealed and then peered through the peephole. It was June and her daughter Zebany. June called out in an annoyed voice through the door.
“Pauline, I know you’re home. You left your phone at work. We’re returning it on our way to dinner.”
Then she leaned closer to Zebany and sniggered.
“Prepare yourself for the fish-face.”
Zebany was a seventeen year old, Gothic metal-head. She was surprisingly wise for her age and often rolled her eyes so much that Pauline wondered if they would one day remain permanently in an upwards position if she continued to do so.
She nervously fiddled with the lock and opened the door. Her face was flushed and she was panting. June gave her an odd look and Zebany smiled with her plump, black lips. It was obvious that June detected something different about her old friend.
She laughed as soon as she said it and then looked at Zebany.
“Of course she’s Pauline, Mum. Who else could it possibly be?!”
Zebany rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner and lunged forward for a hug.
“Long time, Aunty P!” She said, then raced inside to hug Roman.
Pauline stepped aside to let June in, who kept her eyes on her the whole time.
“Is everything alright?” She asked while June backed into the kitchen – still staring.
“Of course. Is everything okay with you?” June replied, with a twisted smile.
She followed Pauline to the counter and stood close by as she put the kettle back on.
“Yes, I’m fine. Got a slight headache though, and I’m a little hungry.”
Zebany got up from the floor and continued playing with Roman’s ears.
“Why don’t you come and eat with us? We’re going to Toto’s.”
June glanced nervously at her daughter and then at Pauline, who smiled and then surprised them by turning the kettle off and nodding enthusiastically.
“You know, I could do with a night out. Jon’s going to be late anyway. Let’s go!”
She ran over and grabbed her handbag then took out her keys and spun around to face June.
Zebany scampered over to the door and stopped to twirl around in her usual way; half-child, half-metal queen. June sauntered slowly towards Pauline with a cautious look on her face. Pushing away her red curls she reached out and gave her friend a gentle stroke on the upper arm. Pauline couldn’t help herself.
“So, I’m a fish-face now?”
June covered her mouth with one hand and stifled a giggle.
“Oh, you heard that? It’s just that you’ve been so – strange lately.”
“Mum!” Zebany chided in an embarrassed tone.
“What? I told you – she has been strange lately.” She then turned to face Pauline. “Both of you. I mean – you and Jon have been considerably odd for the longest time. I wondered if you were going through a – thing.”
Pauline shrugged with a twinkle in her eye.
“Maybe one day I’ll tell you!”
With a wink she strolled out and waited for June and Zebany to follow her onto the porch before turning, patting the whimpering Roman and locking the door.
When the emissary had made it to the end of the street after racing away from Pauline, he quickly completed an internal scan to discover the dom’s details, such as who she was and where she lived. As he strode along as normally as he could muster, he appreciated the strong body and the looks drawn from others. The information uploaded effortlessly into his own memory banks.
Madam Lynx, as she was known, was a dominatrix with her own business, which earned enough to afford an upmarket lifestyle. Her real name was Liona Beechum. She was thirty two years of age and she descended from an African American heritage. Her parents had immigrated when she was only three years old and they’d settled in Melbourne to further her father’s military career.
Never married and without a permanent boyfriend, she enjoyed a free and easy life. Her business was strictly that – business – without any sexual contact at all. The emissary found that boring. Once he got to her apartment, he realized that she did not have any keys on her person, so he performed a magnetic mind-meld with the lock and let himself in.
After going through her apartment, laptop and impressive wardrobe – complete with whips, costumes and tools of the trade – he decided that he would explore her business further. As he sat down at her laptop and pored over all her records, a new approach was forming in his mind. He spoke aloud in his clicking voice as he scrolled through her business documents and website.
“Time to diversify. This will be fun!”
Jon opened his eyes in a daze and was yet again wondering if he was waking up from a series of horrible dreams. He heard a strange whirring and rhythmic thumps in the background while an electronic voice barked orders so sharp it was like the words were made from shards of metal.
“Single file. Pace yourselves. Single file. Pace yourselves.”
When he focused on his surroundings he saw a huge, dark tunnel with a long line of people ahead of him. He turned around to see another long line behind him. Everyone was dressed in the same silver leotard that he was wearing, but a metal arm shot out from the wall and delivered a nasty shock into his shoulder, making him squeal.
“Focus. Single file. Pace yourselves.” The monotone voice commanded.
He began to tremble as he stumbled along, with a growing, searing panic spreading up from his stomach. The sweat was pouring from the top of his head, prickling his underarms and chilling on his skin. Hundreds of questions crowded his mind.
“Why can’t I get out of this? Where are we? Where’s Pauline? Am I dead?”
As they approached the end of the tunnel he saw short, controlled blasts of red sparks shooting out from the exit. When he looked to the right, his blood froze. A simple production line consisting of dirty looking robots hovered near a conveyor belt. Shining blocks of silver were being processed, buffed and fed into a chute that led to what appeared to be a smelting vat.
After that was a long pipeline that poured molten silver into hundreds of molds. There were all different kinds of chess characters being released from the molds further along the line. When he looked back at the exit, he saw that there was only one chess piece in front of him.
He let out a blood-curdling scream. “NO – NO! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!”
The King in front of him threw his crown into the large hopper next to the exit and turned to berate him.
“What in blazes are you talking about? Contain yourself!” He hissed.
Then the end of the walkway collapsed and he dropped like a pin into a large pit below. Jon could see the King’s body being zapped by a red beam shooting out from a black nozzle on the wall. Jon turned and scrambled to escape while screaming and choking on the smoky fumes, but several metallic arms came out of nowhere and pushed him off the edge of the walkway.
As he plummeted towards the bottom of the pit, his last thoughts were of Pauline holding him tightly.