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August 15, 2013

I Hraet You (83)

Beat 83: Well, Probability IS a Part of Math…

“Wrong?  What do you mean ‘wrong’?” Lloyd asked.

Sheila shook her head.  “I-I know you mean well, but…even if you are the director, you’ve still made some pretty big mistakes.”  She rubbed her nose, all too wary of the snot dribbling atop her finger.  “Sorry, but…I think there’s a saying out there about making assumptions.  Or something.  P-probably.”

I think the saying she’s thinking of has something to do with asses, Lloyd thought.  And if what she says is true, then I’ve been making one of myself here.  His eyes went back and forth between Sheila and Deirdre; the latter had regained some semblance of her posture, but now she looked as if she’d been locked in a sauna -- sweating, with arms pulled in close, and no shortage of frustration in her face.  The former, at least, stood her ground -- but she’d never looked confident in the first place, and wasn’t about to anytime soon.

So close, yet so far.  I’m certain I’ve made strides toward the conclusion, but to be rejected by Miss O’Leary so directly…could I have gotten off-track somewhere along the line?  If so, perhaps my claims of seeing her heart were a bit premature.

He started to gnaw on his thumb.  Conjecture, inference, and circumstantial evidence are the most I can work with at the moment -- at any given moment, really -- but if that isn’t enough, then what else can I offer her?  What sort of direct evidence do I have?  Or maybe…maybe…

Lloyd looked up at the stage.  Even with Sheila’ glasses as foggy and opaque as they were, he could still vaguely make out the outline of her eyes.  And he could tell, just enough, that she stared right back at him.  She said I’ve made ‘some pretty big mistakes’.  Some, but not all.  If that’s the case, then perhaps I’m not quite as far off the mark as I suspected.  It could be that I have the right tools and the right reasoning -- it’s just that I’m applying them in the wrong method, or perhaps the wrong order.  I need to step back and try again -- because I get the feeling that that’s precisely what Miss O’Leary wants from me.

Lloyd blinked slowly and took a deep breath.  “I misjudged,” he said airily, pressing his palms gently against the desk.  “In my fervor, I let my assumptions get the better of me.  But if you’ll have me, I’ll gladly start again -- from step one, if need be -- if it means giving you the peace of mind you deserve.”

Sheila nodded -- at Lloyd, and then at Deirdre.  “I know.  I know you’re just trying to help me.  But…do you really think you can?”

“I can, and I will.  I may have stumbled before, but this time, I cannot lose.”

“D-don’t get me wrong.  I’m…I-I-I’m not saying that it’s your fault.  It’s mine.  There’s only so much you can do here.  I’m supposed to be ready and waiting to do my best, b-but…in the end, it’s no good.  Even if you’re the best director around, with a no-good actor like me everything’s useless. A thousand times zero is always gonna be zero.”

“Then let’s change the equation.”  Lloyd gave her a gentle smile.  “I’ll add all I can -- and before I’m done, so will you.”

“You know the odds are against you, right?”

“I do.  But I consider myself lucky that arithmetic isn’t my strong suit.”

“So, sweet cheeks, you’re really going to go in all guns blazing?”

Deirdre -- managing some composure, but far from all of it -- stepped away from Sheila and closer to the stage’s edge.  “That’s cute.  You actually think you can lend a helping hand.  But I wonder if you’ve actually got what it takes to help her.  Or if you’ve still got the idea in your head, us.”  She crossed her arms.  “You know what’ll happen if you screw up, right?”

Before Lloyd could give her an answer, Deidre let loose a short laugh.  “Hell, I don’t know either.  Not exactly, at least.  If you screw up here, then maybe you’ll just be helping me out.  Maybe I’ll get to take the reins without a fight.”  Her brow tensed.  “Or maybe I’ll just end up vanishing.  Maybe Sheila’s about to go away, and take me with her.  And who knows what’ll happen to you if we end up going to the worst case scenario.”  She laughed again.  “Ah, if only you’d just been a good little boy and let me have my way with you…”

“Deirdre,” said Sheila.

“What?  I may not be able to read all your thoughts, but I know you well, doll face.”  She threw up her hands.  “You were just about to say the magic words.  And even if I disagreed, we’d start doing the little dance anyway.  So I figured that -- come hell or high water -- I’d go ahead and get a few things off my chest.”  Her eyes shifted toward Lloyd for a moment.  “He deserves to know the stakes, doesn’t he?”

“I…I guess you’re right.”

Deirdre nodded, and turned back to Lloyd with her poise restored in full.  “All right, boy!  I admit defeat -- there’s nothing I can do right now to stop you, and you’ve almost got me pegged.  But if it’s a climax you’re after, then you’re going to have to work for it.  One bad move, and it’s the end for little O’Leary.  You don’t want to screw up too badly…but since you’re so dead-set on pushing forward, I guess it was only a matter of time before we got to this point.”

“I-I hope you don’t mind handling the both of us, Mr. Director,” said Sheila.  “But…I think this is the only way you can take me.  I-if at all.”

Lloyd swallowed hard.  For the imaginary to become so cooperative…for the real to become so wary…for both of them to push me toward my goal, while acting with such caution…this is truly going to become a high-stakes battle.  And if I make one false step, then…  He shook his head.  I don’t even want to think about what might happen.  And that’s precisely why…

“I will not fail you, Miss O’Leary,” he said at last.  “But I’ll do more than help you.  I’ll show you the truth -- and the strength of heart within you.  Just you wait.  Before this is over, I’ll turn zero into infinity!”

“Let’s see if you can,” said Sheila.  She turned to Deirdre.

“This is going to get very interesting.”  Deirdre reached between her breasts and pulled out a half-shredded mass of papers -- a script that would make a perfect fit for the sheets in Sheila’s hand.  “Let’s see this through to the end…and find out which one of us is going to go back to the reality.”

“Yeah.  Let’s.”  Sheila gave Lloyd a brisk nod -- and Deirdre nodded in tandem.  “Make us stars.”

And in a rush of wind, they made their debut -- stars spun into being, and swirled around Sheila.  A mask coalesced in tandem…or half of one, at least.  Lloyd could quickly tell that she’d welcomed a rabbit-faced mask, but even then it would have only been enough to cover the right side of her face; a lacy cloth fluttered from its side, and red mist swirled within, but everything beyond the halfway point had vanished.  Of course, even if it was constructed in full Sheila would never have worn it; the look of despair on the mask very nearly made it look like it had started to melt…though even if it plastered a smile, it would still look like refuse at best.

Lloyd could quickly guess why.  He expected four stars to start orbiting around Sheila; instead, he only spotted two.  Two wobbling stars struggled to stay in line -- and only one of them had any light.  Not even full light; like the mask it spiraled around, only half of its innards shone.

A half-star?!  Lloyd could feel his stomach churning, and his body growing heavier.  This is a dire situation.  But wait -- why are there only two stars?  Shouldn’t there be --?

“Looking for these, boy?”

Lloyd looked quickly to Deirdre.  Sure enough, she’d called his attention for a reason -- to have him gaze upon the stars that circled her.  Two stars, one fully dimmed, one half-dimmed.  A mixture of lace and mist.  The left half of a rabbit mask, looking as if it had seconds to go before turning into a pile of candle wax.  “Well?” she called out, managing a smirk in spite of -- or rather, because of her status.  “This is exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?  So here it is.  I hope you can handle a little double trouble -- because if you can’t, then you might lose more than just the chance of a lifetime.”

How am I supposed to handle this?!  Lloyd gnawed on his thumb, coming closer and closer to biting its tip off.  I could barely handle one of them before they revealed their stars -- and lest my eyes deceive me, it looks as if the halves they’re bearing now are on the wane.  Meaning that as it stands, I’m on a very strict -- and very punishing -- time limit.

It’s no wonder it took so much effort to reach this point.  The consul may have had her own aims, but to some extent she still protected her liege.  But to see it so readily…to know without question that the circumstances have gotten this bad…do I really have what it takes to overcome this challenge?  Out of five prior visits to this audition room, I’ve succeeded in full twice -- and one of those very nearly led to a dire fate for me.  To take on a challenge like this, with two actors instead of one, with so many unknowns and circumstances…

He set his hands on the table and lowered his head, taking one slow breath after another.  No.  It’s not a matter of “can I” now -- I have to do this.  Miss O’Leary would never have let me get this far if she didn’t think I could do it.  She may not believe in herself, but she -- perhaps they -- believe in me.  And I can’t let myself get distraught in the face of this last challenge.

If this is to be the ultimate test, then so be it.  For the sake of this person -- for the sake of her beating heart -- I’ll press onward.  I’ll make good on my word, Miss O’Leary.  You just wait.

“All right.  Let’s begin,” said Lloyd.  “We’ll start from the beginning, and work our way towards a satisfying conclusion.  If I can put the proper pieces together in the proper order, AND use them to bring about an epiphany, will that be enough for you, Miss O’Leary?”

Sheila turned to Deirdre.  “Heh.  Who’s to say, really?” she said with a shrug.  “But if you think it’ll work, go ahead and try.  Do your very best, boy.”

“I will.”  Lloyd scanned the papers before him.  His eyes darted rapidly from one line, and one sheet, to another; at the speed he was reading, he could have finished a whole dictionary.  These papers contain a record of past dialogues with Miss O’Leary; if I’m to start over from step one -- no, step zero -- then finding evidential material is vital to the cause.  But in this case, I wonder how her imaginary self will react if presented with certain facets; perhaps if I have Miss O’Leary act them out, then…yes, that might be a path worth pursuing somewhere down the line.

But for now, I need to start my offensive.  Time is of the essence.

“Miss O’Leary.  You’re here today so that you can secure a position as an actress, yes?  And you had high hopes that your audition would go well enough to allow you top billing?”

“W-well, um…maybe not top billing…but a really good part would be nice.”

“I see.  But I wonder if you had any auxiliary goals in mind -- that is, an endgame worth pursuing after, or even alongside this theater venture.”

Sheila stared at Lloyd, and then bobbed her head left and right.  “N-no…I-I-I didn’t have anything else planned.”

I see.  So I can use these papers as more than just a record; with these by my side, I have a valuable tool for my cause.  Now then, let’s put my little theory to the test.  He brought a finger down on the paper, and pressed deep into one of the lines.  And sure enough…

“Please let me bear your children.  We can start tonight.”

Sheila repeated those words in full, just as Lloyd had heard them from days ago.  The tone, the posture, everything -- even the walls of the bathroom stall she’d taken refuge in reappeared.  And once she finished, she returned to normal.  Unfazed, and unaware of her sudden recital.

“I have reason to believe that you DO have other motivations in mind, Miss O’Leary,” said Lloyd.  “You may want to be an actress now, but bearing children is a top priority of yours.”

“Wh-who told you that?!”

“Explaining now would be less than beneficial, so I’ll keep it brief.  I’d argue that if not for trying to become an actress, you’d be devoting more than a bit of effort into trying to sire an heir.  And that, no doubt, is a critical part of both your character and your issues at hand.  Am I wrong, or am I right?”

Sheila forced a nod.  “Y-yeah, you’re right.”  And as she spoke, one of her stars began to vibrate; the light that had half-filled one of them stopped receding, and the glow held its position just past the two-fifths line.

Finally, some progress, Lloyd thought.  Now then, time for --

“That’s an interesting trick you’ve got there, boy,” said Deirdre.  “But you’ve missed something important.”

“Huh?  I have?”

Deirdre smirked at him.  “Better be careful.  If you can’t figure it out, you’d better be ready to say goodbye.”

“What do you…?” But Lloyd didn’t need her to give him an answer.  He could see it clearly.

Sheila’s star had stabilized.  But Deirdre’s just kept emptying out -- and even faster than before.


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