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        She still had skin on her face, hands and feet, and just enough to sit down on the seat of the truck.  The rest of her was wrapped in plastic cling wrap.  Her heart was still beating when the ambulances got there, but there wasn't much they could do for someone whose skin was mostly gone, especially since her heart was pounding ferociously, driving her blood out of her faster than they could replace it, and she'd already lost too much blood.  She didn't make it to the hospital.  And while Rose's prayer for mercy probably had nothing to do with it, at least Fate was kind enough to her that she neither woke nor dreamt before she died.

        She arrived at the morgue before the batteries in the vibrator that was still inside her had completely worn down.


        Laura had failed.  He had taken up a position near where he would command the crash to be.  He'd bought popcorn from a street vendor and stood in a crowd of people at the bus stop, grinning cheerfully, watching as the Ford Victoria and the Mercedes panel truck approached.  He'd been supremely confident in Laura; he'd crafted her carefully, he'd made her what she was.  It had taken days to break her mind and make it into what he'd wanted it to be, and three hours of fast, careful work to flay her.  A lot of careful preparation had gone into Laura; she was a work of art. Laura was to have been his messenger, to strike fear into the hearts of the police, to end the life of the investigator and make the case into a case that no one wanted to inherit.  But she had failed him.  At the last instant the police car had swerved to one side, and she hadn't compensated in time to get a properly fatal head-on collision.

        His face twisted into an ugly snarl, and then he reached out with his mind, intent on making her suffer.  Her brain could dream for three or four minutes even after her heart and breathing stopped and in three or four minutes, he knew from past experience, he could put lifetimes of punishment into a dreaming mind.  She would be raped by demons and tortured and maimed eighty times a day for a century of dreams before he had to let her go, and he was looking forward to it.  The demons were already there, in her mind, where he had placed them ready for their parts. He was looking forward to distorting her, making her depraved, wondering what wonderful new ideas her imagination might give him in her extremis of pain and degradation.

        But when his mind touched hers again, he found it changed.  There were things in it he hadn't put there. Through all her pain, through her degradation, through the hunger for death, through the despair, through all his artwork, there was something new.  Rose?  I am Rose, that was a thought someone had left in Laura's dying mind. Someone else had the power. Someone else had been playing with his toy.  Someone had messed up his game, had been here and distanced herself, and inevitably Laura, from Laura's pain.  Someone had thought things into Laura's brain like 'The pain is someone else's' and 'I have worth' and 'I want to live.'  Preposterous.  It was as if someone had painted a cartoon mustachio on his masterpiece.  It robbed his work of depth and clarity.  Damn her too then.  But ... someone else had the power.  And if someone else had the power, then she could suffer in ways that none of these others could.  She could suffer over and over again ....  And oh yes, he would make her suffer.

        Where was the Other?  He left Laura's mind, tracing a slender thread of consciousness back, somewhere westward. He felt guts clenching in dry heaves, and focused in on the pain.  He almost had her, but then something alien threw him off the trail and he missed the mark, not quite managing to connect.  The other — Rose — had slipped away from him, and he hunted for a little while, but she was back in some kind of shelter.  But he had thought one thing at her, that she couldn't take shelter any more.  He would have her.  It was only a matter of time.  For now, he turned his attention back to Laura.

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