LeBlanc tries to decide
LeBlanc stood in front of the vitrine and stared through the glare-proof glass. The coating on the surface did not hinder vision but did impose a slight haze as though an alien atmosphere existed between the object inside and the viewer. This added considerably to the illusion of reality which had been so deliberately cultivated.
The sculptor, through some genius, had managed to invest the image with the very stuff of life. The man he had created seemed to be only momentarily arrested in the act of breathing, of moving. It was difficult not to believe that the chest would rise and fall and the nostrils quiver if one watched long enough.
Day after day, the woman had spent her time watching. She had been able to find no flaw in her new possession. In fact, each day seemed to increase the perception of perfection. She thought she would catch a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye and found herself spinning around only to be exasperated by her own credulity.
But it was in the nights that the fragile crystal of her sanity was most nearly shattered.
When the light of the two Spiran moons sent its phosphorescent tentacles to curl about the contents of the case, she would watch through the screen of her lashes as he turned, opened the door and moved to her bedside with the dream-like grace she remembered from their shared youth. For long moments he would stand over her, his expression changing with the passage of the light then ...
What would happen next was rarely the same but it was always satisfying in every way. Sometimes she would wake in the morning to discover on her linens the physical evidence of their pleasure; more often the morning would bring the memory of tender touches and a sleep pillowed on a broad smooth chest. She would open her eyes and exchange glances with the man who had returned to his place in the vitrine - except one dawn when he was facing away from her and she had to reposition him with trembling, uncertain hands.
The business of the Syndicate continued in its normal fashion. LeBlanc had so organized it that it nearly ran itself needing only the occasional touch from her to keep things in train. The chateau itself remained a demi-fortress with habit forming a protective moat for the inhabitants. Logos and Ormi went about their duties without fuss. She hardly noticed their hang-dog expressions and the yearning eyes with which they followed her. She hardly noticed anything at all, saving her attention for the hours she spent in her room, alone with the statue.
Each week, she would rummage through the contents of the "Noojie-bait" chest and select a sphere with which to lure him to her web. He came on demand but rarely stayed long. While he was there, he seemed wary and likely to keep his distance so that she had not had another opportunity to embrace him. Their conversations were stilted, bearing entirely upon the latest indications of impending danger to the planet. LeBlanc was bored by such and, little by little, found herself taking greater pleasure in the company of the night-visitor than the living man.
He stooped over her supine form. She reached up to tangle her fingers in his braids and pull him toward her until he seated himself lightly on the side of the bed and gathered her to him. She did not question how the mechanical limbs so precisely duplicated by the sculptor could feel warm and flesh-like when they touched her.
"You are here." She breathed against his cheek. "I was so lonely..."
He stroked her gently, soothing her, trailing his fingers along the shell of her ear and down her throat.
"I was lonely." She traced the shape of his lips with her forefinger. "When you left the island, I was alone and I missed you. I didn't know I loved you until you were gone." She buried her face against his chest and did not dare look at him.
"I know love is not rational. But I love you. And you know as well as I that none of the others could take your place. You were our leader. My idol, my hero, my ... Noojie! I know what you are. You're what I've needed. Tell me you don't hate me."
He smiled and shook his head, his lips shaping his denial.
The words echoed in her mind. "I had hoped you didn't but I needed to hear it." She burrowed ever more deeply into his arms. "I need to feel it. Hold me. Love me."
He lowered his head to her silver-gilt curls and murmured soft unintelligible sounds into the tousled mass. LeBlanc sighed and abandoned herself to the pleasure of the moment, deferring until another night the answers he would eventually insist upon her giving.
That night finally came.
He did not question her every night, just often enough to keep her ill at ease until the moment of the risk was past.
"Why are you here? I've told you over and over. I was lonely and needed you. You are my Noojie," she responded, slow tears weaving down her cheeks. making silver embroideries in the moonlight.
He traced the flow and caught the moisture on his finger, raising a quizzical brow.
"I've missed you so much and didn't even know it until you were gone off to be a Warrior."
He kissed her brow and held her head cupped in his hand.
She hid her face in shame. "I didn't know I loved you until it was too late to tell you so I needed ..." She turned away and sobbed.
He stood up and looked, not at her, but at the vitrine. When he turned back to face her, he was frowning. She had to strain to hear his quiet words before she choked out her response, "It's not like that. You're not a prisoner; you're my treasure."
The Nooj image suddenly fixed her with his glittering eyes. A storm of accusations crashed about her, his voice rising with each count he leveled at her feeble defences.
LeBlanc gasped and clutched the bed-clothes to her as though for protection. "But the other one won't respond to me. He doesn't care - doesn't want love. Noojie, don't be angry. I need you so much."
He advanced upon her threateningly. She heard his voice blasting in her ear. "It's always your wants, your needs. Have you ever spared a thought for anyone else? You torment those two freaks who wait on you. You drive your other servants to the brink of despair. But it's always about you. You're no Talya; you have become what you are and what the world sees - a shallow, vulgar, needy wreck of a woman, no longer human, nothing but an endless appetite." He took another step and she noticed he was limping. That frightened her.
"No!" She shrieked and bolted from the bed, stumbling over the sheets as she tried to escape. She was falling, the floor impossibly far away.
Then it was morning. She was huddled on the rug beside the bed, all the linens pulled into a crumpled pile around her. The vitrine was closed and the statue it sheltered was gazing empty-eyed across the room. It was morning and she had an appointment that day with the original of that statue. It was morning and she was undone.