Blaine Astrid loved her new college life. Where else could she have found such cheap housing?  Of course there were rats and roaches, but because the housing was not up to code there was little the landlord could do to evict people like Blaine, who knew how to drop the name of the housing inspector when the landlord got pushy. Plus, there were the old strip malls with cheap Asian food, and stores selling used CDs and old computers. The Food Pro was not too far from her house, where everything for sale was cheap and way past the sell-by dates. She had once lived for two-and-a-half months on nothing but Ramen noodles and Honey Nut Cheerios.

Those first few months after she got out of the state mental hospital might have been the best time of her whole life. She had been able to live completely by herself. For the most part, nobody had bothered her. She had cobbled together the first really powerful computer she had ever had and spent days on end working on her de-encryption program. De-encryption had not been that hard to do. There was a sense in which she saw the world backwards anyway. Hate instead of love. Evil instead of good. If the mind works that skewed way, it intuitively understands how to work things backwards.

Thank goodness for the push to have all medical files stored electronically. One of her first thrills had been to download and read her psychiatric file. The state mental system had been one of the early recipients of recovery stimulus funds to do the job digitizing medical records. By the time she had been able to look at her records, not only had she been able to read them, her program was sophisticated enough that she had also been able to revise them. At least the version in the clouds.

How she hated shrinks! They were all a bunch of perverts. All she had to do was act out just a little, and the head shrink would have four of the matron orderlies take her to his office and strip her to search for drugs. He was a large heavyset man with a huge paunch and a bald head. He sweated profusely, smelled of alcohol and stale tobacco, and would glare at her body from behind his horn-rimmed glasses. He seemed unable to take his eyes off of her private parts.

She had been a cutter since adolescence. It was only in her late teens that she had begun to cut the soft sensitive skin in her pubic region. The first time she had cut there, she felt the most relief she had ever felt in her entire life. Soon she had run out of ever-more sensitive places to use the razor.

After psychiatrists, Blaine hated lawyers. She had gotten a court-appointed lawyer soon after she had been incarcerated in the state mental ward. He was a young lawyer who had recently graduated from the state’s only night law school. He didn’t seem to have a clue what he was doing. His idea of developing rapport with his client was to try to flirt with Blaine. As she did when she was required to see the psychiatrist, or be in group therapy, Blaine simply refused to talk. Until that last time the lawyer had visited and she had reached over and unzipped his pants, nodded her head and said, “If you get me out?” He did. And after the release order came, she was out of there before he ever showed up.  She had gotten on the first Trailways bus leaving town, without even knowing where it was going.  And that was how she had ended up in a small nondescript, Midwestern college town.

She liked Professor Gallagher. Well, not exactly liked, but he was okay to be around because he always seemed to be somewhere else far away. She understood that and because of it he did not freak her out like most men did. She had just been so pleased that he had hired her and now for the first time in her life she was somewhat financially secure. Over on her desk, the one non-chaotic place in her apartment, sat her pride and joy, a brand-new MacBook Pro with the most powerful insides that Apple had to offer. She had already souped it up a little more so that it had plenty of space to run her de-encryption program as well as several foreign language voice recognition programs.

She had bought the new Apple with the travel expense money, for the trips to Chicago, Boston, and Stanford that she had never actually made. Who knows where Professor Gallagher might ask her to go next.  She hoped it would be far enough away that the professor would budget more than $1000 for travel for the trip, which would be more than she needed for a new tattoo she wanted, which would join her ever-extending network of tattoos. Mostly these tattoos remained out of sight beneath her clothes. She had found that tattoo artists were a pretty unsavory lot, but even most of them did not have the stomach to work long hours looking at her scar-ridden body. Not tattoo master Dang. She had heard that he had escaped from South Vietnam on a boat at the time that the US pulled out. His face always remained totally inscrutable. But gradually she had learned that she could trust him, at least as much as she trusted anyone. In him she had found a tattoo artist who did not mind using the white lines of her scars in his artistic designs. Sometimes she let him come up with his own designs based on utilizing the scars on her body, other times she had an image in her head that she would draw out for him, which he would bring to life with his needles and ink.

She still worried that Professor Gallagher might find out about her past, or the lack of the requisite past. Blaine was working as a graduate student assistant yet she had not even been to college. In fact, she had not even graduated from high school. Still, she prided herself on always doing her work thoroughly, and her revisions to the college’s student records making her one of their top graduates had been done meticulously. The only problem that might arise would be from the complete lack of any paper documentation. And of course the college was putting money into a fictitious Social Security account that she would never see, but in her heart she believed the chances of her living to retirement age were extraordinarily slim.

She opened the two small windows in her apartment that allowed for some cross ventilation. She was only vaguely aware of the noisy chattering of birds, that spring was in the air. She popped open the silver cover of her MacBook Pro and in only a minute was deeply engrossed in finding her way through the firewall of the next university Professor Gallagher might ask her to visit.


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