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Billy sat on one round stool, Mother on another. He rested his arms on the counter. Occasionally, he lifted a cup of coffee to his mouth and sipped. Back home, Billy had liked to drink coffee, but could do it only when his mother wasn’t around. She’d said caffeine wasn’t good for a growing boy.
Billy’s mother, Jessica, Big Bill’s wife. That was a mother, but so was the creature- or the projection- sitting next to him in the diner. A different sort of maternal figure, no doubt bout that.
For one, Mother was not human. Just what she was Billy did not know, but he was learning.
Mother’s projection. Her image of herself. It had the same transparent, slightly shiny skin as Kubrick. Through the flesh, Billy could see the blue tinged muscles and viscera. He could guess the general functions of some of the organs, but not many. Something large and deep green was probably the creature’s heart as it kept up a steady pumping. But that was just a guess.
The creature had a generally humanoid shape, but short, stubby arms that ended in four tapered fingers, without an opposable thumb. Its legs were long and had an extra joint. The feet reminded Billy of a big bird’s. There were three large toes facing forwards, and one thicker toe facing backward.
Where a human’s head would be the creature had a triangular protrusion growing straight from the shoulders. The head-piece reminded Billy of a starfish’s arm.
The other odd thing about the creature’s head was that it was not transparent but covered with milky, translucent, bumpy flesh. The flesh seemed to be a sort of supersensitive membrane. Billy watched it quiver in response to every new sound. As far as he could tell, the creature had no mouth, nose, or eyes.
But it did have eyes, or what Billy thought were eyes. Small pupils in red orbs were scattered all over the creature’s body, beneath the transparent flesh. Billy noted an eye in each “shoulder,” one in the palm of each four-fingered hand, one on each leg joint.
It was a Shipwright. It had to be. Billy affirmed his guess with Mother. Yes, Mother’s creators. The Makers.
Where were the Shipwrights now, Billy asked. Mother did not answer.
Mother was as much a prisoner of her past as was Billy. They were two sad and lonely beings. And they were both, to some degree, insane. Billy knew this. He wondered if Mother did, too.
Billy was engaged in battle of wills with Mother. The struggle had been fierce at first. Then Mother had ceased fighting with all her might. They were now in a benign environment Mother had pulled up from a data disk. A painting by a man named Hopper. The painting showed a brightly lit diner and three people seated at the counter. Those people had soon disappeared. They had been two-dimensional, their expressions and postures fixed.
Billy and Mother were pretty much at a stalemate. This allowed Billy a moment of relative rest, and the chance to be open to what was going on with Jobs and the others.
2Face was talking low to Kubrick. Billy figured she was considering Kubrick a potential ally against Yago.
Billy couldn’t blame 2Face for politicking. Yago was selfish and intolerant. But… Suddenly Billy saw something else about 2Face, a memory of pain and… He pulled away. He couldn’t concentrate on that. He’d lose his grip on Mother.
Yago was impatient and disgusted. Jobs, curious and distracted by his own thoughts, as usual. Mo’Steel, nonchalant, breaking into unexplained grins. Miss Blake, the pretty, sweet one, was curious, too, but not in the same way as Jobs. Little Edward was sneaking looks at Kubrick. He had been afraid of Kubrick, but he wasn’t anymore. Maybe he should be, Billy thought. Kubrick was consumed by anger.
And his father… Billy had brought his father here because he still needed Big Bill. Maybe not in the way a son usually needed his father, but that didn’t matter. Big Bill was dead, Billy had helped him to die, but he was here now. In his suit and cowboy boots, his face ravished by worms.
Billy took another sip of coffee. He didn’t know what would happen next. What Mother would do to him.
He hoped he would be strong enough to survive.
Because Mother had started talking again.