Castles by Maureen S. O'Brien Disclaimer: Probe belongs to . I miss it very much. ------------------------------------------------------ You think Austin James is that smart guy who came up with the Grand Unified Theory that explained Everything, won the Nobel Prize, started his own Fortune 500 company, and sometimes solves mysteries. Nope. Austin James is just this guy, you know? The rest is important, but it isn't him. I work for him. I've tried to tell my mom what it's like. But what can you say about being administrative assistant to a guy who lives in a security-guarded, technology-locked warehouse inside a messy maze of experiments, gadgets, spiders and dust-coated stuff, who shuts himself up in a box to sleep? And that's just how he guards his body. Believe me, he's gots tons more walls around his mind and his heart. And he won't even admit he's got a soul. He doesn't solve mysteries; he is one. The original Locked Room. But I've been learning from him, you know. He's the first person who ever told me I was smart. I'm not smart like him, of course. But anyone who can manage his schedule and keep his weird life going can't be a total bimbo, right? And I've learned a little something about solving mysteries from him. So here's my guess. I bet his mom and dad weren't real winners. I bet they only treated him nice when he won those science fairs and got into MIT early and stuff. I bet his mom never held him tight, surrounded him with her arms and her lap and all. So that box isn't for sensory deprivation. It's a hug. And I bet his mom and dad didn't have a good marriage, and a lot of his relatives died when he was young and stuff, too. Because he told me once that he spent five years -- years -- building himself an imaginary castle in that eidetic memory of his, and then he had an imaginary invasion destroy it just to teach himself a lesson about how nothing lasts. Nice stuff for a kid to be thinking, huh? But here's the worst part: he didn't have any people in the castle, because he didn't want them to die. He won't even let me squoosh bugs, you know. He likes to call this warehouse his Batcave. He really should have a castle, a real one. If I were rich, I'd build him one and make it really beautiful. Not dark. Big and bright, with stained glass windows and big red banners, and a garden in the middle with all kinds of flowers and trees and birds, and rabbits on the grass. And if I got him a bed like they had in the old days, with drapes all around it, maybe he'd even sleep lying down for once! I know, I know. It sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? Especially since I'm not rich. And the part about the bed. Yeah, it's not any of my business how Austin sleeps, right? Except it is. I can't help it. I've got my nose into everything about him. And I don't feel like his mom or anything. And I know he doesn't think of me as a sister. I'm glad. I don't know much more than that. I don't know how to get him to ask me out. Maybe I'll just have to wait, because I don't want to scare him. He's let me inside his Batcave and into his brain, and that's a start. But someday...someday, I'd like to hold him very very tightly. Someday I want to see the world from inside his walls. And then I'll show him what it looks like from outside. ------------------------------------------ She didn't know what she was doing. She gave an honest, panicked answer to a question, with no idea it was the proper password. They sent her to me to be fired because I wouldn't let her in. And I didn't want to let her in, but she'd given the proper password and she stood on her rights. And so I had to let her in. But she didn't have to stay. By all rights, she should have taken one look at the controlled mess that is the Batcave -- that is my life -- and turned to go. But instead, a look of wonder came into her eyes. She didn't miss the things that needed fixing. She tried to find work to do from the first moment. But that look of wonder stayed with me. Nobody has ever reacted that way to me, before or since. Usually, people are intimidated by my intelligence, my achievements, or my wealth. Occasionally, I get the dubious pleasure of seeing someone look at me with greed -- usually for the same things, but occasionally for my looks. Mickey looks at me with tolerance, sorrow, amusement, or, more and more often, with affection. But always with wonder. I look at her the same way. One of these eons, I will manage to convince her that her skill with people is a form of intelligence as powerful as my way with numbers. That she is more than an equal to anyone on this earth, much less me. We each tend to give more respect to the gifts we do not have. But truly, I would given much to have known Mickey when I was in grade school, hoping not to be smeared into the concrete before I could persuade my parents to let me learn martial arts. An eidetic memory just helps you remember the taunts so much more clearly. That was why I started building the castle. It gave me something else to think about. The day after I told Mickey about the castle I built and destroyed, I called up the memory of its ruins. I looked at that sad, blackened pile of cracked stone for a while. Then I started to clean it up. I still don't know why. It just seemed to me that Mickey would want me to. Then, over the next few months, I went back to the stone quarries I had created, all those years ago, and began to cut new blocks of stone. I laid down a new foundation there on the hill, cleared out the well, and then began to rebuild. I chose a different design this time -- stronger walls on the outside, but with a more homey design within. I planned it all out: glass windows for the solar, a Lady chapel, a magnificent Great Hall with a fireplace instead of a hearth, and a garden of herbs and flowers. I designed the lord's chambers, with its painted walls and tapestries and a mirror for his lady and a great bed for them to sleep in. That was when I realized I was planning to have people live in the castle. That was when I realized I was hoping Mickey would approve. I stopped building. There was no point. Telepathy does not exist, as far as is known. I could never bring Mickey into my head and show her the fair thing I have made. There is no way to set her there in possession, no way to get her to live there as the most lovely flower in the garden. But I wanted her to. So I drew up my plans on the computer, and I sent them to an architect I know. He is going to make them work in the modern world. Then he will send them to a contractor. Another castle will begin to rise in the Arizona mountains, on a piece of land I chose myself. And when it is done in two years or so, with her no more the wiser, I will have Mickey drive up there and then I'll give her the deed. I'm rich. I can do that. But this is what I can't do. I can't tell her I love her. Not of my own volition, anyway. When those children had me under their control, I could speak to her about her beauty in moonlight. It sounded pretty stupid, but at least I said it. And just for a moment, I saw her lean toward me. Then she realized it wasn't really me talking. But she said later that she would have liked it, if it really were me. I have two years to tell her. Two years to ask her to be my wife as well as my assistant. Two years to persuade her, so that I never have to watch her go home at night, and miss her. I want to tell her today, but I am afraid. I could not bear to lose her. She is the best thing that ever happened to me, a gift from the God I don't believe in.... No, she is herself. My lady and my love. Mickey Castle. She only thinks she works for me. I work for her.