The Rabbit courses on in the vast, abandoned desert – its sails collecting the air's radiation, the sky the colour of coffee with faint auroras. In the boat, while Lil re-dresses her hair juuust right in her quarters, Vincent tries out Pino's harmonica. He remembers a tune, a memory from when he was young, and it used to play on the radio all the time, but only musters a bare rendition.
"Awesome! Awesome!" Pino goes, clapping over Vincent's efforts. "Soon, you can be just as good as me.."
After growing bored, Vincent sighs, and leaves the harmonica over to Pino as he revisits the logs. The only interesting thing was this rock canyon, with swirling colours, and he's saved some of the shimmering stones as souvenirs; they scratch pretty easily, but the scratches reveal streaks of glowing energies. Is it some kind of radioactive rock?
Lil didn't seem too enthused, but she got the idea of sprinkling her hair with this subtle sheen – she always seems so absorbed with her looks, even when there's no one else around.
Then Vincent stops hearing the sound of Lil blow-drying her hair.. she steps out, her face, her looks, as if she's stepped out of a fashion cover. Her glossy lipstick especially, and Vincent has to hold in the urge to wolf whistle.
"Hmph, how do I look?" she goes, as she twirls her body around to showcase.
"You look.. fine.." Vincent approaches her, and he spots her collar, not folded out quite right, so he reaches for her neck and puts it out.
"Fine?" Lil smiles, a soft blush showing on her cheeks. "You must be flabbergasted. Don't be so shy, being modest with your feelings like that - we're stuck together for God knows how long, so I figure it's better to be more honest with one another."
Should Vincent go ahead on her offer? It would seem too forthcoming if he spews out how his heart still pounds for her, whenever he has the chance of being around her. So he shrugs it off, saying, "Hehe, it's nothing much."
"You sure? Well, it's entirely up to you."
Then – the rabbit's sensors are heard going off; and Lil and Vincent head up to the deck to see, from the horizons, a glowing dome. It's so strangely apprehensive, and yet exciting all the while – you have no idea what to expect, as each dome housed a world made in the visage of their respective Proxies, one world as different from another.
But they need supplies. Food, cosmetics, maintenance parts..
The rusted, metal placard by the airlock reads "Zaporizhzhia," with a listing of its founding colonizers. Pino waddles by Vincent's waist, as Lil attaches her tricorder to the airlock's maintenance jack – basically tricking the door to open sesame for a bunch of strangers. The process is simple, as Lil concentrates on the petit windows of the tricorder's screen, and then, with several heavy thunks, the door recedes away.
The inner chambers bear little welcome, with no personnel or security, but Lil has some familiarity with the layout and she leads the party over, from the labyrithine corridors of piping and catwalks, over to the subway stations where, below the laid tracks and cars, the deep machinery still clacks below into an abyss.
"Vincento..!" Pino gasps, her raised arm directing at what at first looks like piles of silk, bundled in the corner.
"Pino, what's the fuss?" Lil goes. She has her shotgun readied; one cartridge for normal enemies, the other filled with UV radiation for Proxies. And as she draws closer, she begins to realise the silk piles conceal within them bodies. Some piles having petite tarantulas, weaving out and in as they systematically latch onto the protruding veins with the tendrils – apparently draining the bodies of their vitality.
Some bodies still shiver with the barest signs of sentience.
Lil kneels down, holding her tricorder to scan the bodies. The spiderlings are synthetic, and apparently, the bodies are held in some kind of medical stasis, keeping them alive but in a comatose state. But why?
Vincent feels an electric nervousness, gnawing, permeating his being. It's the same feeling when he's within another proxy's influence. Did a proxy do this..?
"I'm scared.." Pino goes, tugging at Vincent's arm. "Let's go back to the Rabbit.."
"Not without the supplies. We'll be careful; keep a lookout for anything useful or dangerous Pino." Vincent gives a thumbs-up, and it makes Pino skip with glee.
They're on a platform overhanging the floating tracks – one of the cabooses is alit, with a shadow of a figure projecting onto the windows, so Lil takes a step inside, and the smell of warm, lush vanilla surprises her – the air inside feels warmer and lived-in, as opposed to the oppressing unlife outside.
Behind the velvet curtains, the flickering of candlelight. Lil brushes the curtains aside, and finds a figure in a wreathed cloak – a mechanical skeleton, its dull skull bearing remnants of muscle and skin. It's huddled over the stove, boiling a kettle, the steam billowing into nothingness with the air.
"Oh, I was waiting for you, ma cherie.." The voice is regal, yet synthesized. The figure puts up the kettle and pours the steamy water into the two cups, sitting upon the silver tray. When it gathers the tray and turns around, you see its eyes, the irises green, bloodshot, distinctly human.
Vincent has trailed in after Lil, and he is disarmed by the homely atmosphere. His feeling of being on edge goes away, and the skeleton sets the tray upon a small table.
"Come, sit, you must be cold.."
Lil does so hesitantly – and when was the last time she had sat down, feeling like a little princess? Not since she was a child. She gets herself cozy on the stool.
"Who are you?" she asks. "What are you? I've never seen an autoreiv like you before."
"I am no autoreiv!" it snaps. "I am Madame Argounova – and I manage my new home here, while the world goes on decaying. You two are new faces. But I know a starving face when I see one."
"We just need supplies," Vincent goes.
"And only supplies? You're not thinking of leaving so soon?" If Argounova has a mouth, her lips would be furled up in consternation, but instead, you get a forlorn glance from the eyes, like she's been alone for so long, and wants company..
Pino wanders in, and she waddles over to the table.
"I wasn't expecting a third – your child?"
And Lil realises – she's tapped into the dome's life sensors! That's how she knew we were coming! Pino's an autoreiv, so she wouldn't register..
"She's our adopted daughter," Lil improvises on the spot, glancing at Vincent to play along with the ruse.
"Yeah. Pino, say hi to the lady, be nice!"
Pino smiles. "Hallo! How do you do?" She gives a courteous bow – having been made to serve the needs of an aristocratic family.
"She's so well-mannered!" Argounova glees. "Oh, you must be a wonderful family, and in this day and age, it's something to be proud of."
Even though it's not really true, Vincent blushes over the idea of having Lil as his wife-to-be, and with Pino to look after. He lets out a sigh, and glances at Lil dreamily with that thought in mind. Beneath her hard exterior, a warm, beating heart that is asking to be tamed.
"We're archeologists," Lil goes, "on our way to a scavange site. But we ran short of food and fuel as raiders hit us and demanded sustenance. Please – help us."
"So I understand.." Argounova's fingers are bony joints, snapping to and fro, and Lil senses she is up to no goodly. Lil hasn't even touched her cup, while Vincent has sipped the mocha, finding it so delectable and refreshing.
"We can afford to stay here a bit," Vincent says, his cheeks blushing red, with his head wavering, and Argounova seeming to nod along.
"Vincent..!" Lil sees that his eyes have dilated, and imagines that the drink is spiked. You damn fool, thinking you can make yourself at home in a strange place. She readies her shotgun up, and Argounova nabs the barrel of Lil's weapon with shocking reflex.
Lil struggles with the skeleton over her gun, losing the tug-of-war as she feels her gun slipping away from her grasp.. she lets go of it, and tries pulling out her pistol instead. She is able to squeeze out a single shot, right into Argounova's gut, which explodes in a geyser of gel.
Pino screams – she finds a cupboard to hide herself in.
Argounova reels from the blow. As Lil prepares to fire another shot, the skeletal being whacks her with the shotgun's butt, clattering Lil to the floor, where she trembles from her trauma.
Then, Argounova inspects Vincent, who seems doe-eyed, oddly complacent to the sudden event – his head in the clouds, so to speak. Instead, he munches on the brownies on the table, as if he's just realised how hungry he's always been.
He wolfs down the chocolatey goodness, left and right. Even when the windows don't show the station anymore, but a dark tunnel, full of orange lights – before emerging out into the paradisum of a soft, hazy spring, where a lake shimmers beneath the grey skies and the children come out to swim.
And then, Vincent is no longer in his orange jumpsuit, but in a casual T-shirt and jeans. The table full of goodies is gone.
He's sitting on a couch, where the TV blares out a commercial for new, discounted furniture – look at that upholstery on that chair! And it's dirt cheap! He feels at ease, having started a vacation.
He wanders around the home, everything looking new, yet feeling so familiar. The flowery pattern on the walls, the hardwood floor, and how he has to press hard on the door handle to get into the bedroom.
Just a single bed. He has no one yet to live with.
Vincent descends the apartment stairway, where there are clothes hung from the windowsill to the building across. A woman, humming a folk tune; it's the sweetest he's ever heard. And he emerges outside, where the white blossoms tumble down to the checkerboard pavement - a dancing snow which never melts –
A residential neighbourhood, peaceful and ornate, where the streets seem crafted from a time when architects had placed delicate care into the aesthetics. Vincent is walking, as a way of mulling over the uncanny feeling of his memories, but also to soak in the atmosphere of this place he ought to call home.
He finds a cafe, where people are lively chatting, some using the gambling mini-casinos and others who are zoned into the soap opera playing on the petite TV. I could sure use a wake-up drink.
So Vincent stops by, and has the urge to ask for a cafe con leche, with extra cream..
The cafe's tender is an old, spritzy man, with the eyebrows suggesting years of hardy experience, and he says: "Aahhh, Vincenzo.. I'm betting on you – you got that big poker game coming up.. you've always came out as the winner, and I'm sure you won't let me down!"
Vincent blinks. Then he recalls a sense of having picked up, shuffled and even counted cards. "What poker game?"
"Don't tell me you've suddenly got amnesia now! You're our local champion – and you're about to win the regional championship!"
The bartender winks, as he serves Vincent his cup of coffee. It's frothy, and it goes down smooth – Vincent asks for a brownie, and the bartender happily obliges.
And then on the TV.. it's a commercial break, advertising for women's hair shampoo. Vincent catches gaze of the ad, it's showing how she's brushing her gorgeously jet-black hair. Non, it couldn't be.. she has no eye-liner though, but her glaring, discriminating eyes say all.
"Revlon hair products. Because you're totally worth it!"
She's so familiar, somehow. Vincent tries putting a name to her face, but doesn't manage to. Still, he is haunted enough by her image, and he tries asking the other patrons if they know the chick on the ad. None of them do, but there's an ad agency in town he could consult with..
The agency is a sleek building, overlooking the lake. Vincent gets off the omnicab, and by the reception area, which is packed with applicants, he pays the receptionist (who's on the phone) a visit.
"Are you looking to apply for our next ad?" she goes.
Vincent looks around, and he finds everyone's eyes on him, murmuring – the champion poker player, seeking to advertise? How unfair! But he focuses his mind back on what he's here for. "I'm looking for the woman who was in the hair commercial.."
"Which 'hair commercial'? We've got several out in the air – you mean for our blow-drying product?"
Vincent is stumped. He tries recalling from memory; what was it, Revlon? Revlon hair!
"Revlon shampoo," he goes. "It has a woman, jet-black hair.."
"A lot of our shampoo ads have jet-black hair models.. but if you're talking about the one that's airing now – I can give her your number to reach you by. Won't promise you anything; you're Vincent Law, right? The card player?"
"Just press your thumbprint here.."
The receptionist offers him a flat panel, which Vincent presses his thumb upon and she gives him a thumbs-up sign.
"What's her name?" Vincent asks. "So I know what to call her.."
"Lillian Mayer. But she prefers Lil in short."
When Vincent arrives back at his apartment, he searches the drawers, the boxes, for a deck of cards, and he stumbles upon an ornate deck box that's sitting on the TV. He pulls the deck out, it slips into his hands, he feels how each card has a rough texture that lets his fingers get a fine grip, and then on the living room's table, he tries shuffling the entire cards – with surprising dexterity, and then lays out the cards in a 4-player fashion..
At the back of his mind though, he cannot shake off the feeling that he's living up someone else's dream. He didn't know about his card skills or that he has an upcoming tournament until other people told him.. but what else is there? Trying to recall anything else about himself is a haze, like imagining the day after tomorrow.
But that woman though.. he feels like he's known her from another lifetime ago.
Vincent lays the cards down, and he goes over to the bathroom where he sees his reflection in the mirror. The green eyes, a young and unsuspecting face. He peers closer, and in his eyes, he thinks he catches a glimmer of someone else, masked and lurking..
The phone rings.
Vincent picks up the phone in the bedroom, him sitting upon the comfy bedsheets.
"Hello? I heard you wanted to talk with me?"
Right away, Vincent just knows it's that girl. "Lil?" he goes, and her name slips out his mouth naturally, like he's said it a dozen times. "I want to meet. I think.. oh, it's hard to explain. But I feel like I know you."
"Um, I'm sorry.." He hears her inhale. "Is this a joke? If you're not calling for business or anything, then—"
Vincent's heart sinks. Secretly he's hoping that she'll know him too, but it's getting awkward enough as is. "No, it's fine.. I think I must have the wrong number."
"Wait. Vincent.. Vincent Law. I feel like you're familiar. But you're that poker champion, so I guess I must have seen a few of your matches. What do you really want with someone like me?"
"To meet. Just over some coffee and pie?"
"Hmm. Wait, I'm getting another call from my agent – do you mind if I get back to you later?"
That was it. Vincent puts down the phone, a little dejected over the missed opportunity, but he has a card game to look forward to. Then he stumbles upon his bedroom counter, where he finds a day planner, and in it, he finds how he has 'exercise' planned for the next hour, at the Dayton gym.
That honestly sounds boring – Vincent doesn't think of himself as someone who'd energetically work his body out for the sake of it, but he decides to go anyway.
At the gym, where you can find various people working their abs, legs and the whatnot, Vincent is prepared to go ask the counter for a locker, but then, some businessmen (who have been waiting with a briefcase) tap him on the shoulder.
"You've kept us waiting for over half an hour, Vincenzo!" They cajole Vincent out of the gym and into a chevalier (it's a self-drawn carriage).
The lead businessman, in his white suit and tie, programs in a route around the town where they won't be disturbed, and as the chevalier strides down the road -
"So, this is one-fifth of the dough promised."
The briefcase's code is put in, and it snaps open, revealing rows of paper credits. Vincent pores over the cash, personally inspecting the wrapped bills.
"And as you've so willingly offered, make sure your ass loses by the fourth round. In your eyes, Vincenzo, we see how the years of poker have taken their toll. Inevitably, even a king must fall, so why not retire into grace? You have so much in your future to look forward to, beyond the card game.."
Vincent shuts the briefcase, and looks at the man in white – meanwhile, the other mafiosos beside him seem mildly unconcerned, besides glancing out the window. How much money do I really have anyways? Imagine what I could do with this..
"Say it with me Vincenzo," the man in white goes. "On the fourth, your ass goes down."
"My ass goes down on the fourth."
"Perfecto. Briefcase code is 514, mind you, and don't let anyone catch you with this sucker out in the open. And by the way, Don Antonioni sends his warm regards!"
They drop him off by his apartment, and Vincent watches the chevalier go by, as he feels how loaded the briefcase is, carrying it, and he makes his way up, with a young kid eyeballing Vincent while playing with his train set.
When he enters his room, he finds himself
in a white chamber, awake on a cot. He finds the walls densely scrawled with notions about proxies, the grand awakening, and sketches of people he should know: Lil Mayer, Pino, Raul Creed – along with notes of what he can recall from being adrift in the wastelands.
Sunlight pours in through the door with iron bars, and he ventures outward, but not before his bare feet tustles on what is a manga of Ergo Proxy. He looks at the cover art, of the white mask on the shrouded face, feeling an uncanny recognition, before emerging into the halls where people – patients in gowns, looming. (He's wearing a gown too.)
He looks out the window, where he finds the courtyard, the trees shedding their browning leaves, a marble fountain, and other patients who walk in circles and have a game of chess. The leaves tustle under a gentle breeze.
"- patient has Type-3 megalomania, a desire to remake reality in her own image."
Vincent turns and sees a young doctor, writing notes on a sketchpad, dictating to his assistants. He sees the nametag: Daedalus Yumeno.
This Daedalus walks past ("Excuse-moi, Vincent.") and Vincent, bewildered, decides to investigate. He enters a mess hall area, where some of the other patients are frolicking, or sitting slack-jawed, as if hypnotically taken in by the TV.
Then it hits him – he's in a psych ward! But what is he doing in a place like this?
"Vincento!" he hears, as if it's coming from beyond his senses. A girl's voice. He looks around, trying to find the person calling his name, but what he sees are the billboards, laced with rules on patient care and the schedules for taking patient groups out for a walk.
"Hey, Vincent!" he hears again, this time from a definite origin – it's an orderly, his arms hairy and bulging, his presence imposing upon Vincent's thin frame. "Did you forget your name? You're on for review. Dr. Mayer wishes to speak with you."
The orderly leads Vincent down a few halls, to the office door which says "Dr. Lillian Mayer" on it.
Inside, Vincent sees the chair spun around, and – it's a face he knows. Her jet-black hair, drawn back in a bun, and her familiar black eyeliner, as she rapidly types up something on her terminal. Her desk is strewn with patient records, with a nice portrait of her for posterity, posing seductively(?) in her white lab jacket.
"I think I'm safe enough with him as is," Lil goes, dismissing the orderly from her office.
"Lil?" Vincent says. Right now, her face is about the only source of familiarity and certainty he can find. "Don't you know me? Vincent?"
"Aahh.. yes, Vincent Law." Her tone is feisty. "Why wouldn't I know you? The past three months, you've strived hard to make progress.. and look at you now, our model patient!" She taps a finger upon her arm, proud.
Vincent is dismayed. In a bout of frustration, he slams his hands on the table. "Look, Lil! You – I know you from another place. You're a- an inspector! And I'm the proxy you're watching over! Ergo Proxy!"
Lil is gazing at him – like wha?
"Something isn't right here," Vincent goes. "I'm not supposed to be a patient, and you're not a doctor.."
"Vincent! Calm yourself at once!" Lil lays her hands on his, getting him to let go of the table. "Don't make me call the orderlies on you.. what's gotten into you, Vince? I thought you had all of that stuff out of your head by now. But it seems like you've gone into a re-lapse. It's troubling."
"Lil.. you really don't.. know me-"
Then something stands out to Vincent. Upon Lil's forehead, and she's tried makeup to cover it up, there's a bruise. And in some recess of Vincent's awareness, he recalls the sweet, sweet taste of warm brownies.. he was munching on them.. and Lil was struggling with that skeleton- the loud sound of a gunshot, and then Lil getting knocked to the ground..
The sound of a girl, screaming..
"Our relationship," Lil goes, "is strictly a doctor-to-patient professional basis. If you're hoping for anything romantic, I suppose I could set you up with another-"
"Lil, what's happened with your head?" He catches her off-guard, and he points to where her hidden bruise is.
And the look in her eyes changes, as Lil starts showing the first signs of uncertainty – like she's been sent off-script. Her hand, as if unconsciously, reaches for her bruise..
She shakes her head. "I hurt my head.. last night. I bumped into an open counter.."
"No – it was something else, you were struggling with-"
"Vincent! I've had enough!" Lil is losing her temper. "It seems obvious you've been getting too deep in your Ergo Proxy manga. What were you going to say? That I've had a violent run-in with one of your skeletal ladies? I'm ordering you into an observation room, under 15ccs of benzalcine – and your manga confiscated!"
Bursting into the office, two orderlies haul Vincent up, one of them prepping a syringe from a small vial.
"LIL! Don't do this!" Vincent struggles as the first orderly has him pinned from behind. "I know you, you're the closest person I've ever had in my life as a friend! PLEASE!" But all he's answered with is her stern glare, as he's hastily injected in the thigh, before being carried like some ragdoll over -
It's humiliating. Lil ordered this, and it's humiliating to be hauled like some feral animal, as the other patients observe the circus spectacle – "There you are, don't fret" – and with some inmates even cheering like they've got nothing more exciting to look forward for.
"It's Vincent!" "What's he in trouble for?" "The model patient..! And I thought Lil loved him!"
So Vincent slackens, unable to struggle against the ape-like strength withholding him, and the orderlies toss him into a padded cell, where he's tumbled to the floor, the door slamming shut as he feels the effects of the drug- benzalcine, it's called? - weaning through his nervous system.. blurring his awareness.. a book being unwritten from both sides.
The walls start to seem like white petals, enveloping him in a cocoon, and his mouth open, drooling – he sees the door frame, where through the latticed peep window, he catches a glimpse of Lil, peering at him with a sort of regret..
Lil.. please, hear me..