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    Daedalus finds his reflection's eyes in the window, agast with familiar shame, conflicted over the intensity of his naked desire for Lil, and that voice at the back of his mind that he's long stifled – his conscience, always taunting him with doubt. Turning away from that, he faces Vincent once more.

    "I'm about as jealous over her as much as this hospital can be called a paradise," he goes, tight-lipped. "In other words, hardly at all."

    The level of denial from Daedalus is about as overt as a door slamming inches away from the face, but the curt and dismissive way he says it would almost make you think he truly believes his own words. (Almost.)

    Vincent feels his teeth, grinding with palpable indignation, as he watches the doctor proceed towards the console – and towards the eventual lobotomy that awaits him. Within Vincent, his mind skips over that monstrous identity that he's internalised from that manga, Ergo Proxy, whose fearsome visage he would love to assume and bring a swift and justified end to the life of this quack.

    His heart is racing. There's not much time. These violent, almost megalomaniac urges that he's had to suppress for those good-boy points – now it's as far away as the youth of a childhood long past. But still, a remnant of that spark remains..

    "Oh, Vincent," Daedalus goes. "It pleases me when I finally look over you, as helpless as you lie now. What you're feeling right now is but a taste of what I've had to endure for so long. Desire, and liberation with it, all out of reach."

    "Daedalus, I'm sorry.."

    These words surprise the doctor. "What did you say?"

    "I'm sorry. I never asked for Lil's kindness. But who in their right mind would turn her down? You're caught in an unfamiliar, bureaucratic hell, and there's a face amongst many, who shows you something that others wouldn't – not cold, calculated rhetoric that's only meant to keep a patient under supervision, or the crazed ramblings of these lunatics, but an open heart. Someone who'll listen."

    Vincent pauses to think a little bit; some of these words he's said feel as if drawn out from another place, residing beyond his current body. He notices the doctor's lip begin to tremble. "Daedalus, even if you do to me whatever it is you're thinking of, it's not going to change her mind about you. Lil'll still feel the same regardless.. she won't love you-"

    "WRONG."

    Even Daedalus himself is taken aback by his fierce shout, as if the entire room and the world with it has contorted in light of his sudden rage. His breathing has grown manic. "You've no idea how wrong you are, Vincent. I've poured my soul into ensuring Lil's survival. The fact that she's even there, her heart alive and beating, is because I saved her from a terminal illness."

    Daedalus's paces grow further. "Not you or anyone else. Me. Once you've had a taste of her love, waiting within her hardened persona, oh, you'd do anything if it means feeling contentment once again, a magnificent woman whose warmth and depth you deeply cherish as you hold her in your arms. She was mine before you came.."

    The restraints throb over Vincent's flesh, tearing over the skin as his fear – his growing sweat drips over the leather. As he sees the look of deranged obsession in Daedalus (one which Vincent self-consciously recognises), a revulsion takes hold over him.

    "You don't deserve her," Ergo Proxy says. "You never did."

    "Deserve?" It's as if a knife has been jabbed behind Daedalus, the wound twisting. "I've not had anyone tell me who I deserve to be with, least of all you. In fact, you're probably just as jealous over her as I am – only, you're less honest about it. Oh Vincent, don't you kid yourself. In love, there's always a flip side to this coin which holds devotion, faith, adoration on its sleeve.. there is doubt, jealousy, envy, vengefulness, and even outright hatred. If you aren't even willing to admit that to yourself yet, perhaps you haven't traversed far enough down that road. Perhaps it's only a matter of time, before you suffer what my heart has suffered over her, and you're willing to admit that you are my rival."

    The scientist loosens the straps on the patient; sharp movements which carry venom. No words need to be said for Vincent to realise it's not a magnanimous gesture. In his newfound freedom, a new fear - like having been set free from prison, never knowing when the executioner will show up to cut short all your dreams.

    "If you're doing this to prove a point.." Vincent goes. "I won't be like you. The so-called love you hold for her is just your insecurities, needing to be assuaged."

    "I wouldn't be too sure of myself."

    In a blink, Vincent is alone. The silence, filling the void where Daedalus once stood is unnaturally oppressive – where Vincent hears his own heartbeats so clearly, as if he's the only one left left moving.

    "Hallo?" he goes, panic seeping into his voice. He feels a deadening chill come across his stomach, moving about and his footsteps clacking on the linoleum floor. It's like if he doesn't concentrate enough on landing his feet just right, then he'd crumble down. He wanders past the giant laser, over to the hallway where the orderlies had forced him through – now it's empty, and it's eerie as if traversing past those gothic figurines perched over the mausoleum.

    Vincent spots a light at the end. It's a beacon, shimmering and almost beckoning him to join. So he goes forth, and each step he makes, he feels the hospice's halls fade, until there is nothing more but the autistic darkness, as vast and as brimming with uncertainty as the unformed ether before genesis.

    But ahead, still awaits the beacon – now resembling a woman, skipping away. You can see her wavering motions, slow and graceful like a dance, leaving behind in her wake those evening embers. Vincent ought to know who she is, but it's a word on the tip of his tongue.

    When he follows her, he experiences various images from his life. The officer greeting him in Romdo; the way the rust seems to stick to his hand when he operates the machinery; the harsh, sand-crusted winds as he lets go of Romdo and renounces his citizenship – alongs multiple obscure memories.

    Pino, giggling and playing the harmonica.

    Lil.

    Hundreds of images, voices and sounds circulate in his mind, drowning each other out in cacophony. It should frighten him, but there's something reassuring about the woman he's following, as if she's infusing everything in his life up to now with a renewed purpose and hope.

    Then she turns around, and he isn't able to make out her face, but she is truly beautiful. She looks back at him, before she dissolves into the lattice of his memories, a dimensional figure melding into a surface..

    A black light emerges in the midst of this twisting tunnel, and swallows up all the images and sounds like a bottomless pit..

    all the while, he feels hands going over his skull

    his neck

    the pressure in his head is ever-mounting

    ..

    It's morning. Vincent awakens upon the bed of his cell, finding that there's freshly-folded clothes laying on the chair beside him. There's no more scribbles on the wall over Ergo Proxy and doubting reality. He pulls up the t-shirt and cargo jeans, and finds that they're slightly mismatched to his size, but he puts them on anyway – forgoing the white hospital gown.

    He goes out into the halls, where the diffused sunlight sprays through the window, revealing patients who are playing in the courtyard.

    "Vincent?" he hears his name called. "Vincent Law?"

    It's Lil. She greets him with a courteous smile, with a clipboard in her arms. "Well, today's your lucky day. You've been cured."

    "But I don't feel any different.." Vincent goes. Like I was sick in the first place.

    She ignores him. "Thanks to Dr. Yumeno's treatment, we've seen a marked change in your serotonin levels, and your overall brain activity. Now you're as good as any normal person out there-" As she talks, she feels a strange vacuity in her own memories – not knowing if she'd once felt fondness for him, over anyone in this nuthouse. "I miss you, Vincent.."

    He perks his head. "You miss me?"

    "I'll miss seeing you around, that's what I meant. Sorry, tongue-tied. The place won't be the same without you. All you need is to sign here – the release form. And you'd better press down hard; this pen's got its quirks."

    /

    Vincent has his items returned in a beat-up suitcase, and soon he's waiting outside with one other person – a young fellow, Santiago. Waiting for the cab to arrive.

    "You don't have any family?" Santiago asks him. "Or any friends?"

    "No, I don't know. Besides Lil, I have no memory of anyone else."

    "Man, this asylum's did a number on you! But at least you're still alive, and you made it out. Just remember to chill, and I'm sure you'll find your footing. You know the funny thing is I don't think I've seen you around much – I'd recognize anyone in a heartbeat, but you, oh, I can tell you've got something special in you. That's why she likes you very much."

    Vincent is chuffed by his upbeat energy. "You mean Lil?"

    "No, I'm talking about the tooth fairy. YES, Dr. Mayer – or Lil, since you're on first-name terms with her. She secretly gushes about you, doodling on her notepad when she thinks no one is looking. I snuck a quick peek after she released you."

    The omnicab arrives. With the rear popped open, Santiago helps prop Vincent's belongings beside his own wares, and as they sit, he pulls out a bar of chocolate.

    "You're anxious, bud," he tells Vincent, who gazes back at the asylum. "This'll help calm your nerves – it's got 10% indica, give or take two percent standard deviation."

    Vincent takes no notice, as he tries peering past the sunlit glare, hoping to see Lil one more time.

    "Yeah.." Santiago peels off a piece and thrusts it into Vincent's hand. "There's tons of women out there you're finna meet. Yep, we're going high-speed.. flying through the clouds, and the rainbows pourin' down your bliss.."

    As the cab takes off, there is Lil, who from the second-floor window gazes outward. She holds her fingers on the glass, waiting to exhale out a wistful sigh, over a person who shouldn't matter that much.

    /

    "It's crazy, right?" Daedalus shakes the fish flakes over the aquarium, watching the newly-placed koi dance over the simple joy of being fed. "People joke all the time that we keep patients in here, until their health insurance coughs up and then we release them. With my revolutionary laser technique, it'll be a matter of a week before we have this whole facility cleared out.. all the patients are outta here, while we hop over to bigger things."

    Lil is filling out medical forms, approving more patients for the transfer to laser intervention. She's only half-listening, while her thoughts dwell on the idea of realising her ambitions – that there is more to life she could find, outside of serving as a doctor here.

    "Bigger things," she goes. "What are you thinking of?"

    "Me? I'd look into serving as chief medical advisor to the county. More pay, more value to my work. Won't you come with me too, as my deputy? I'd hate it if you lose your way down career hell."

    "I'll consider it. Just give me some time, cause I feel like this is happening so fast.."

    When Daedalus peers up, he looks at Lil – saliviating over how she'd felt in intimacy last night. She doesn't remember a thing of it, let alone her connection with Vincent; the way she had looked afterward, she was blushing and dazed, as if embarassed of her beautifully animalistic self. It would have been better if she didn't recall, so he could try a more subdued, tender approach and re-experience her virginal reaction all over.

    He goes up to her, a hand over her shoulder. "Don't worry about the paperwork; here, have a drink." With his other hand, he offers her some absinthe in a cup – just freshly poured.

    "Oh, is this.." Lil tries a small sip. "This is good."

    "It's our little secret," Daedalus goes in a hushed whisper, putting the bottle back in the cabinet. "A toast to success, and life's rewards." After clinking their glasses together, the drink has the two of them glowingly ineberated. Lil slouches upon the table, and Daedalus goes up between her legs, and he hugs her. "Mmmm," he goes, "I truly have no words for how much.. I adore you so, Lil.. ohh.."

    When she looks him back in the eye, she catches a whiff of her own perfume – now doubly so when mixed with their combined body heat. She drifts off to those lavender fields, and has the faintest recollection of reading to a boy a poem that left him coy.

    "Hold still, Daedalus," she says, as he's about to lean in for a kiss. "Let me try something with you."

    "Alright."

    So she lays her fingers underneath his chin, like in her memory, and she leans forth and caresses his lips in a prolonged, gentle kiss. After slowly drawing away, she sees Daedalus is so red and sweaty, he can barely conceal it with the way his breath shudders – like recovering from a sudden chill. It's like that time in their youth when they both shared that love.

    "Your lips.. oh, they're driving me mad," he says to her, as he recovers, but she silences him with another kiss – which flushes Daedalus with so much light-headedness that he keels over. For all his doctorates, he's like a hapless boy again, laying on the floor – begging for more of her with all his panting. "Please.. come down here with me.."

    Lil suddenly laughs – it's funny when the good doctor acts like he's at her mercy, when really he's the one who incited this whole scene to begin with. But she follows suit anyway, and she slithers over him like a cat who toys with its prey, before saddling upon his body, allowing them to indulge in sensual eroticism against each others' aroused nether regions.

    /

    The cab crosses over the bridge, suspended over the chasms of fog and rock. Vincent has snacked upon a few bites of Santiago's bar, while beyond, the city – its tower buildings leer like stalagmites of a cave.

    "Alors, it's the big O!" Santiago goes, pointing at the upcoming tunnel. "You gotta say it with me now, it's tradition – oooohhhhhhhhHHHH-"

    Vincent mimes Santiago's "Ohhhhhh" as he feels the breeze intensifying, the tunnel swallowing up the cab – as water suddenly splashes out from all over, flooding the road and plunging everything into an aquatic darkness.. the water is seeping inside, and it's cold..

    ..

    He lets out a gurgle of air, and violently belches out the contents of his lungs in a pained scream, as he flails his arms. But a force is holding him under, while he struggles.

    Then, relief -

    Vincent's head is yanked upward, and he finds the neon reflections of all the venues, scattered upon the foamy water which pushes towards him, and recedes out into the dark night. He's about to make sense of where he is, before the mafiosos plunge his head down into the ocean yet again, and it seems as if his lungs are about to implode with the effort to not drown.

    "Let him up, let him up!"

    Vincent is a mess, his face bruised, his lips stinging from the residual salt of the seawater dripping out of his mouth. If he'd thrown that poker game, he'd probably be sound asleep right now and Lil would have been fine, wounded pride be damned. Now, he ended up getting her involved, and they've taken her somewhere.

    For what, he could only fear the worst..

    "You are this close to death," they go. "Your lifeless corpse fed to the waters, for all the fish to enjoy. You don't want that.. and we don't want it either."

    "Then just let me go.. please.. what are you doing with Lil anyways?!"

    "Like we know. It really depends on your willingness to cooperate with us this time, given how you've flouted that card game throw."

    Vincent seems in a daze, with his eyes wavering between the figures who hold him captive - realising that he has no choice. He can't fight his way out of this one.

    "What must I do?"

    One of the mafiosos shows a grin. "That's the spirit laddie, that wasn't so hard now – come here, let's grab our pal Vincenzo a corn dog."

    ..

    If it weren't for the fact that they threatened Vincent with drowning earlier, it could easily pass for a tranquil beach scene. By the wooden table, he shudders, the mild air amplified into a chill as Vincent recovers from the involuntary splurge. The corn dog is still steaming, and it's one of the best meals he's ever had, as he chews through the salty cornmeal layer and almost bites through the wooden stick which holds the meat steady.

    Then he becomes aware again of the henchmen who sardonically watch him eat. Vincent is now their dog. The leash has not yet tightened..

    "You know, we never really took Antonioni for his word, but you sure are a handsome fellow," they go, much to Vincent's astonishment. Behind the men, the wonder wheel shines, the lights eminating out its radii as it slowly whirls in never-ending cycles. They have been studying his face. "We're doubly sorry about what we had to do. A wiser man than yourself would have known better than to go on disrespecting the will of an old empire."

    Vincent munches on the last of his snack. He'd never realised how hungry he actually was.

    "Do you know how to waltz, Vincenzo?"

    "Huh?"

    "Are your feet as graceful as your card-playing skills? One of our rivals is hosting a midnight gala soon. They're voting for bachelors. It's a chance for us to rid ourselves of a pesky opponent.. and you'll be the one to carry out the death sentence!"

    "D-death? I'm not a killer.. I don't want to kill anyone!"

    "No? You won't kill anyone? Not even someone who has ruined the lives of many citizens with his endless cravings? His death would mean that people would live happily. You'd only be killing a parasite.."

    Suddenly, Vincent is no longer hungry – he feels a reeling in his stomach. "Anyone can call anyone else a parasite," he goes. "It's not up to someone to decide if another should be killed."

    "That decision is already out of anyone's hands. Yours or ours, or the victim to be. It is fate's necessity, and following through with destiny is what has driven all human history. Otherwise, we execute you on the spot. Here, have some ketchup while you think about it."

    /

    The suit clenches upon Vincent's physique. Under layers of undershirts, vests and overcoat, he is dressed to charm. He sees himself in the mirrors, almost admiring this handsome man they've managed to bring out of him, while the dressmaker picks out a suitable mask for him to wear. As if they'd needed another way to hide his facial bruising..

    "No, the mask is not for your bruises. It is a special gala, where the guests forget their old, mundane identities and embrace the pleasures of anonymity – where they are free to live out their fantasies. You'd know Vincenzo. Isn't it tiresome being seen as that card-shark on television?"

    The chevalier carriage carries him uptown, to the wild forests where lanterns show the way forth. And soon, he is let go, left to his own devices as he anxiously wades past some drunken dancers to the front gates of the compound. There is distant cheering.. the love bomb pill in his pocket which the mafiosos gave him, it steadily weighs Vincent down, even though it's just as light as a tic-tac. A tablet which has an embossed red heart on its faces, it'll rapidly melt upon the tongue and dissolve into the bloodstream.

    For the victim, it will feel as if you are suffocating in the most cherished moment, the air seeping out of your lungs as your last thoughts mull over your first taste. The taste of what? Of a forbidden ecstasy..

    Vincent pulls out the mask which the dressmaker has handed him. A Venetian face that is awkwardly split down the middle, with white strands that stretch out like hair. Inwardly, Vincent shudders, as he recalls a sense of deja vu. (The dressmaker did have a keen eye for fitting clothes to someone's character.)

    He enters the atmosphere of neon-lit luxury, and far from feeling at ease, he feels awkward – a total stranger in this place of fantastical people. Some who look like Roman kings, and some women who wrap themselves with silk laced with white ermine. Some who appear entirely headless, and some who are like bipedal animals. All of them radiate a magnetic energy that leaves you imagining that anything tonight is possible, as the various perfumes intoxicate your senses..

    By comparison, Vincent feels self-consciously mundane – as he only experiences himself from the inside-out. He gets looks from people, as they eyeball him from toe to head. But when he catches the women's eyes, they glimmer as if in approval. It makes him feel better about being here. Then he remembers why he's here, and the turmoil in his head continues. He could run away, with apparently no one to stop him. But even so, if he could evade Antonioni's men, they still have Lil. It's something he won't live with, letting them have their way with her. He only hopes the family is as honourable as they pretend to be.

    Every single bachelor in the town
    They pray to be invited to the ball

    So where is this Bonanno he has to dispatch? The mafiosos showed him a picture, a spindly old man who is photographed in his hoverchair. Once Vincent signs up backstage for the bachelors programme though, he could spike a drink for Bonanno to share. A celebratory toast.

    Since he's of old age, and Vincent still young, the love bomb won't be lethal for Vincent – just a small sip or two won't do anything, much.

    Every Willard, Markus and Alfonso
    Would come by coach or boat to be here
    Most would swim the moat to be here
    Just to be at this historic gala

    The girls would walk around or even crawl
    Rumour is that at this joyous scene tonight
    The don will likely pick his future heir tonight..

    It doesn't take long for Vincent to enter himself in as a bachelor. A quick interview that basically asks if you think you have what it takes to earn the don's affections, before you're lined up in the spotlight – being asked to perform duties to prove your worth. There are a horde of other men, standing by the marble pillars, who could all pass for a prince.

    "Hah! Just look at that doofus!" The red-haired fellow points at a boyish lad, who's all dressed with a shoulder pauldron. "You look too young to even be here. Are you over twenty-one?"

    The boyish lad says nothing, just lowers his head and tries to pass his silence off as poise.

    "Leave him be," Vincent says.

    The red-haired fellow leers over Vincent, doing a side-take to his nearby friend, before walking over to that masked stranger – a newcomer he doesn't recognise. "Who are you, dude? You must be.. oh yes, my upcoming business associate, dude. You'll be begging for my forgiveness soon enough, as I send you off to do all my errands."

    Sheesh. Vincent rolls his eyes, while his mask shadows his disgust over the nerve of some of the people here. He catches the eye of the boyish lad. It's a look of mild appreciation.

    "Ladies and Gentlemen.. at this moment, we are proud to reveal our lineup of fine men, who have graciously volunteered their services in honour of our 8th anniversary of public service! The Bonanno family thanks you all for coming, and our tonight's proud sponsors include P. J. Morgan, Calimocho Ltd., the Mont and Fairlie association.."

    A drumroll.

    "Let's give it up for our bachelors!"

    The backstage dims, as Vincent realises they're standing before the velvet curtains. When they pull up, the harsh stage lighting catches them all – at first, blinding an unprepared Vincent, before his eyes adjust and he is met with the cheers of a thousand audience members, wreathed in darkness.