CONTENT: Anxiety, prescription drug use, discussion of death
A long night comes to a close. Aubrey receives a much-anticipated call, hears some things she's been waiting for, hears others she'd rather not, and makes a pivotal decision.
(Part six of Lost In Transit. Thanks to Vinny for beta reading!)
You’re glad for the privacy of the cab during the short ride home, but you don’t feel truly at ease until you’re back in the safety of your apartment. You don’t bother to turn the lights on. You can see just fine and the darkness is welcomed after the harsh lights of the clinic. You toe your shoes off, throw your bag down in its usual spot, make for the sink where you remember you left that glass this morning after you drank from it.
You’re in the middle of knocking back your Anapax when the call notification appears in your AR feed.
It comes as such a surprise that you nearly choke, only just managing to gulp down the pill without inhaling water into your sinuses. Stifling a series of coughs, you slam the glass back down on the countertop and focus on the–
You’ve never answered a call so fast in your entire fucking life.
“I thought you were dead.” The words come spilling out, and the tears, too, hot against your cheek, and real this time, not just rivulets of data on virtual skin. “You motherfucker, I thought you died.”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry. A lot happened. I couldn’t answer you. Like, literally, physically couldn’t.”
“Why?” You’ve turned and backed up against the counter at this point, bracing yourself against it so that you don’t just slump to the floor in a pile like your body wants you to. “Where have you been?”
“You know that pod I told you about? The one in the truck?”
“What? Yeah, I thought it was full of body parts or something.”
“Yeah. Well. No. It’s… it was a Legacy thing.” You stiffen at that. “I was in there.”
“You were what.”
“Told you I physically couldn’t answer you.”
Ze launches into hir explanation; about the reefer, about the aZathoth project, about the Entity. About the gigagiant, and about the carnage taking place in LA, which you’d certainly have heard about by now if you’d not been too preoccupied to check the news or social feeds. You find yourself sliding down the side of the counter as the story goes on despite your attempts to keep yourself on your feet, and by the time ze’s done, you’re huddled on the floor, legs folded and pulled to your chest. For a while, you don’t answer. Can’t answer.
“I would’ve said something, if I knew what was happening,” Zenith says quietly. “I didn’t. I don’t think I was even really in control of myself.”
“That part–that.” You swallow thickly. “You said that Entity thing was pulling you towards the pod.”
“Yeah. It’s gone, now. Whatever happened while I was in there kinda… flushed it out? I don’t know. I don’t think I have to worry about it anymore. Whatever it was was why Legacy kicked me out in the first place.”
“So it wasn’t all the trauma.”
“I mean, probably that, too. But, no–it wasn’t working properly. For most of us it didn’t work properly. I killed at least one of our superiors over it.”
“Probably fucking deserved it.”
“So–so you’re okay now, right?” You want to see if ze’ll bring it up. Ze had the chance before, and didn’t.
“I mean, I was in there for a week. I don’t feel great. I’d say I’m sitting at a solid four out of ten. Been better, been worse. But, like, I just ate a ton, and I don’t think I need a doctor or anything. I just want that fucking vacation. LA is definitely off the books, though.” Here is where you could interject about what you know, what ze doesn’t know that you know, but ze keeps talking before you can make up your mind. “What about you? How have you been?”
“How have I been. How have I been.” The question actually makes you laugh, unexpectedly and uncontrollably. “I have had the worst day of my fucking life.”
All of Zenith’s grating joviality is gone and replaced with a much more serious tone of voice. “What happened?”
“I got someone killed at work today.” Another unsteady laugh. “And then there’s, you know, you being gone, and–and a whole bunch of other shit, and–” Where do you start? How do you address the simultaneous anger and relief and sadness and fear and longing all at once? “I just got out of the cyber clinic at work,” you finish, not before stumbling over the words several times.
“Are you okay?”
“No. I don’t know.” You don’t want to talk about this yet. You want to talk about what led you here in the first place. “Pox told me that you’re going to die.”
Zenith is silent for a long time before ze says anything.
“...She told you that.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” More silence. “Did you think I’d freak out, or something?”
“Aren’t you freaking out about it?”
“Yes,” you concede. “But you lied to me.”
“When did I lie to you?”
“I asked you, when you told me about what they said when you were in the Technopolis. You said you told me everything. You didn’t.”
“And it's not just about that, you know?” Because you're getting heated about this now, because it's more than the fact that you were lied to. “Like, how long were you gonna hide that? Until you fixed it? Or were you planning on not telling me at all? Were you gonna keep it up until you died? Were you just gonna let me die, too?” Your voice cracks at the end of the sentence, and you try to swallow back the sob that threatens to force its way out of you. Don't cry. You're trying to be the mean, scary bitch, and it doesn't work if you cry.
“That’s why you went to the clinic?”
“Pox thought it was the thing in your cyberware that was gonna kill you.” You inhale, shaky but deep. This is your sticking point. “And I thought–I thought, if I’m gonna get sick, or I’m gonna die, I’m not gonna be like you. I’m not going to leave the people I love asking why.”
“I told you, I didn’t have a choice about that!”
“You had a choice about this!” Is this helpful? No. Petty? Perhaps. Unfortunately, the bottle you’ve been cramming all your pent-up emotion into has shattered. “You didn’t think it might be important for me to know? You think you’re so fucking special that they’d only do this to you?”
“No! You know what I’d been through that weekend. You think this is easy for me? How was I supposed to tell you something like that? I hardly know what it's like, to even–fucking–have people who care if I'm alive or not. Nobody's ever given a shit before. It's never mattered.”
“Of course you fucking matter.” The words are out before you can stop them. And then it's just tears, and you can't stop those, either. You're tired, and your whole body hurts, and loving someone who's never been loved hurts, and being three thousand miles away from that person hurts. It's like someone took your heart and spun it out across the asphalt outside.
“...I know. I know that now. But then, it was like…” Ze trails off, sighs, and for a moment it’s just you and the sound of your own stifled sobbing, and what you think is waves crashing in the background. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should have said something. But I was fucking exhausted, and you already flipped out at me once. I didn’t know how to bring it up. Do you have any idea how you’re gonna tell anyone?”
“...No,” you mumble, suddenly feeling very stupid and very guilty.
Ze doesn’t need to rub the point in any harder, just gives you a minute to sit with that guilt before posing another question. “Didn’t you say you were at the cybernetic clinic?”
“But it’s our meat bodies that got fucked up by the clone memory thing.”
“It is. Um.” You wipe your face off with your sleeve. “They found something in my cyberware. Kind of like that thing you had.”
“What, like… something alive?”
“No–well, define alive–not alive like your thing, though. It’s an AI. And it’s broken. And I don’t remember anything about it, even though I should, because apparently I was in some program until I was thirteen, and I remember that. Being thirteen, I mean. I remember being younger than thirteen.”
“Do you think they changed your memories?”
“Can they do that? Selectively?”
“Look at all the other shit they do.”
“I guess. I don’t know.” Sitting on the floor is making your legs numb, but it’s not quite uncomfortable enough to prompt you to move yet. “I had to tell the doctor about Legacy. It’s all gonna go down on my medical records. I’ve got, like, a week tops to figure out what the fuck I’m gonna do.”
“Do you really think it’ll change what people think of you that much?”
“I just think you’re way too hung up on this ‘being normal’ thing. I don’t think people like us are ever going to be normal, or whatever you think normal is. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be happy.”
You don’t have a response for that. Because you know, you’ve always known, that ze’s right. You’re not normal. Not like the people around you are. No fake ID, no fake backstory, no amount of lying will ever get you there. You’ll always be carrying this secret, and all the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy that come with it.
Unless you just… don’t.
Unless you stop putting on this act, both for yourself and for other people.
It's just so fucking scary to think about.
“What did the doctor say, when you told them?” Zenith asks.
“He said…” Thinking about it is making you teary again. “He said he was sorry that I had to go through all of that.”
“See, he gets it.”
“He’s a doctor. He has to say that.” You both know that’s not true. You both know what kinds of doctors are out there.
“You said it’s going on your medical record? Sounds like someone’s gonna find out, either way. It’s just up to you whether they find out from you, or from someone gossiping.”
“I could leave. I have money set aside in case this exact thing happens.”
“Okay? So just leave, start fresh somewhere new. Where’s the problem?”
That’s not the answer ze’s supposed to give and you know ze's just trying to be provocative to make a point. You try really, really hard to come up with a witty response. Really hard. But eventually you cave and let your head slump forward against your legs in defeat. “I don’t want to leave. Everyone I love is here. I just–” Your throat closes up midway through the sentence and it takes a few seconds to force it open again. “I just–I just wanna know they’ll still love me.”
“They will.” Zenith’s voice softens. You wish ze was here, or you were there. “If I’ve learnt anything these past few weeks, it’s that people will stick by you through the most insane shit. Even when you accidentally trade their kid to a technomancer enclave.”
“Even when you lock yourself in a pod for a week without telling anyone you’re in there?”
“Especially when you do that.”
“I’m sorry I got pissed at you. I’ve had a really, really long day.” At this point, the loss of sensation in your legs is getting uncomfortable, so you pull yourself up against the counter, wincing as your joints crack and the pins-and-needles sensation immediately flows down your compressed nerves into your feet.
“It’s okay. It sounds like you’ve had it pretty rough.” Understatement of the decade, but you’re too busy gulping down more water to say as much. “I can leave you to get some sleep, if you want."
"No, no, I'm good. I've been waiting all week to hear from you." You drag yourself over to the couch, which you sprawl yourself across. You don't want to go to bed now that you’ve got Zenith on the line, but lying down has never felt so good. "I… I missed you."
"...I missed you, too."
You didn't know how badly you needed to hear that until this moment.
The two of you sit in silence for a little while. This time, it isn't tense or uncomfortable. You can still hear the faint sound of waves crashing against the shore from Zenith's end of the call. Your medication is kicking in; the general sense of nausea eases off slightly, and a pleasant, all-over fuzzy feeling begins to replace it.
"So," you say, eventually. "What are you gonna do now?"
"I don't know. Like I said, take that vacation, maybe."
You're hesitant to steer the conversation back into this territory, but the question is eating at you. "Are you gonna, like… see a doctor? About… you know."
"No." The answer comes with startling conviction.
"I've spent my whole life getting operated on and poked at by doctors. If I've only got a little while left to go, I don't want to spend half of it in a hospital. I wanna be out here, with my friends. Doing stuff. Living."
And, you know, it makes sense. You hate doctors and hospitals, too, and now that the point is raised, you don’t think you want to spend the rest of your life feeling like a test subject again, either. Dwelling on it fills your chest with the deep, deep ache of preemptive grief for someone you haven’t lost, but know you’re going to.
“Are you sure?”
Hearing it confirmed is worse. That ache in your chest cracks open, a fissure in your sternum.
“It’s not fair.” You’re not sure you intended to vocalise that, but you do, though your voice is barely above a hoarse whisper. “They take us away from our families, they destroy our childhoods, and then even if we do get out, we still die because of them.”
“We can’t go back in time and change that.”
But you could stop it from happening to anyone else.
The thought strikes like a bell in your mind, the note ringing out crystal clear. It’s not as if the idea hasn’t occurred to you before. It has, and you’ve shied away from it. It’s an insurmountable task that could cost you everything.
Now, you might lose everything anyway.
Faced with that possibility, what will you do? Keep running, knowing you’re headed straight for the cliff?
You’re tired of running. You’re tired of the constant fear, the hypervigilance, the lies. You’re tired of feeling Legacy’s shadow snapping at your heels with every step you take.
So maybe the answer, then, isn’t to keep running.
Maybe the answer is to turn and face them.
Is that thought terrifying? Yes. But you’re kind of loopy on Anapax and sheer exhaustion. You hold the idea, turn it over in your mind, this abstract notion that seemed so beyond reach just days ago but now seems like a solution so obvious you can’t believe you put it off for so long.
“Are you okay?” Zenith asks suddenly, breaking a silence that you didn’t realise you’d slipped into. You blink, make a little affirmative noise, and then say:
“I think I’m gonna go back to Saskatchewan.”
"...What, like, go back to Legacy?"
"No! Jesus fucking Christ, I'm not that desperate. I mean, like. I'm gonna go there and… I think I'm gonna kill some people." Saying those words aloud makes a chill run down your spine. Makes this feel real. "Find whoever runs it. Shut it down. Maybe I'll blow the place up or something. I don't know yet."
"Why? I mean, I get why, I’m totally all for it, but just the other day you were swearing up and down that you'd never go back there."
“Yeah, well, things have changed. I might be dying. And, like, fuck it. If I'm dying, I might as well do something useful with the time I've got left."
"So you’re gonna go blow up a military lab full of killer supersoldiers on your own.”
“I’ll work out the details when I’m not high on anxiety meds. And I’m gonna get the kids out first. That’s the point. I’m not gonna let Legacy ruin any more lives like they ruined ours.”
“That wasn’t my concern. You don’t want them to die, but you know you’ll have to fight some of them, right? They’re not all children anymore and they’re not just gonna follow you out of there like you’re the fucking Pied Piper. Not… not everybody wants to be saved, Aubrey.”
If you hadn’t had that Anapax, you’d be seething. Like you don’t know that. Like you aren’t already carrying that guilt with you, haven’t been carrying it for six years. Instead, you just grit your teeth and hope ze doesn’t hear you sigh.
“I have to try.” You do your best to keep your voice steady and even. “Even if I can’t help all of them–I can’t stand it anymore, Zenith. I can’t just sit here and wait to drop dead when I know there’s kids out there dreaming of someone coming to rescue them. I’m done hiding away and trying to pretend that they don’t exist.”
Zenith is quiet for a minute, and then says, “I think you’re at least gonna need some help.”
“Are you offering?”
Ze laughs. “I don’t know what our plans are yet. Let me get back to you.”
“When that facility in LA got smashed up. What happened to everyone that was in there?”
“I shot the guy who was running tech for the whole place. There’s nothing left of the building. If there were any other staff there, I think it’s safe to say they’re piles of gore under a mountain of rubble now.”
“And the kids…?”
“I saw a bunch of them run out of there. Ones who were still in the medical wing. Anyone who was combat-ready… I think they probably got caught up in the fight down on the beach.”
“This is why I have to do this. Like, go back to Saskatchewan. I don’t want anyone else there to have to die for them.” Something else is on your mind, too. “And I’ve got siblings out there, somewhere. I need to find them.”
“Did the AI tell you that?”
“Adoptive siblings. Ones that got away from Legacy with me. I don’t know if they know about any of the stuff that we know about.” Nein hails from a later cohort, and won’t have the implanted AI. You think. Hopefully. Aspen–whoever Aspen is now–will, if you’re understanding the situation correctly, but like you, might not have realised. Regardless, both of them underwent ‘enhancement’. The consequences of that are something they need to know about.
“And you’re not in contact with them anymore.”
“No. Pox, um–she said you guys would look out for them, actually. I guess she didn’t tell you. It’s just, like–I told them I’d see them again, eventually. And then I went and fucking forgot about them for six years.” Not exactly true. You did put your stability and normality before your desire–your promise–to seek them out again. You aren’t sure that that’s much better than plain forgetting. “So, I wanna do that, too. Assuming they’re not dead already.”
“You think they’d go to Canada with you if you asked?”
“...I don’t know.” You don’t know where they went, or what they did after you split. “It’s kind of an insane thing to ask. I don’t wanna put that kind of pressure on them. But…”
“It’d be cool if they did?”
“...I wouldn’t hate it.”
“The worst they can do is say no.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Okay, they could shoot you in the face on sight or something crazy. Does that sound like something they’d do?”
You try, and fail, to stifle a laugh. “God, I hope not. No. I mean, like I will ask. I just don’t wanna rely on that expectation.”
“Well. Y’know. Keep me updated. I wouldn’t mind seeing another one of those fucked up labs taken off the map.”
“I will.” You let your head roll to the side and gaze out of the window between the slats in the blinds. The lights on the buildings outside are half-blurry in your chemically-dilated vision, every little bright spot smeared as if you’d rubbed your finger over it. An idea has taken root in your head. Maybe a stupid one.
“You should come to Maine.”
“You should come to Maine,” you repeat, with far less confidence this time, now that you’re actually thinking about what you’re saying, and with a warm flush in your cheeks that you’re glad nobody is around to see. “Um. If you want to. It doesn’t have to be for long. You said you didn’t know where you were going next, so–I don’t know. You don’t have to. But if you’re gonna go off and do whatever you’re doing, and I’m gonna go do this thing in Canada, I don’t know if we’ll get to–”
“No, no, I get it.” Zenith cuts off your rambling. “Maine. Yeah. I could–I could do Maine.”
“You can stay here. Obviously. I’m not gonna make you put up in some crappy hotel.” With more effort than should be necessary, you drag a cushion up to your chest and hold it there, half-turned onto your side. The idea of getting up to move to your bed is becoming less and less appealing by the second. “Hey, this can be your vacation. You ever been to Portland-Augusta?”
“Great. I can show you around.” You smile and close your eyes, all worries about your impending identity reveal temporarily forgotten. “There’s a huge calcified gigagiant out in Casco Bay, you’ve gotta see it. And this old-style arcade we go to after work sometimes, if that’s your thing.”
“You sound like you’re falling asleep.”
You grumble quietly and incoherently into your cushion. “Probably. I’m tired as fuck.”
“Honestly, me too. I didn’t eat for the whole week I was in that pod.”
“There’s good places to eat here.” Admittedly, you’re relying on the judgement of others to make that call. “I’ll take you.”
“Well, you can’t right now,” Zenith says, gently, with the patience of someone speaking to a small child that you might have found condescending if you were fully conscious. “But when I get there, sure. That’d be… nice. I’ve eaten a lot of crappy food the last couple of weeks, if we’ve eaten at all.”
“Call me tomorrow.” You’re still mumbling into the cushion. “Work was a shitshow today. I’ll be at home for a couple of days.”
“You wanna talk about that?”
“No,” you answer bluntly. “I’m tired.” Which is true, but you also don’t want to have to think about Izak again.
“Okay. Maybe you should go get some sleep.”
“Promise you won’t disappear on me again if I do.”
“I feel like I’ve been pretty bad at keeping promises.”
“Yeah.” You think about it for a moment. That might not be entirely hir fault. “I should stop doing this. Asking you to make promises about stuff that you can’t control. It’s not fair on you.”
“For what it’s worth, I don’t plan on doing anything dangerous, and I don’t have any weird cyber-bio-magic shit in my head anymore to make me do crazy stuff. I’m going to one, get something else to eat, and two, go the fuck to bed.”
“Your plans don’t always pan out, though, do they?” You laugh, just a bit, in an effort to signal that you’re joking. “It’s okay. Go get some rest.”
“I will.” You don’t plan on moving from the couch.
“Thanks. For giving a shit.”
You smile into the pillow. “You don’t have to thank me for that.”
“Well, some people wouldn’t, you know? I’m lucky to have friends who do.” Ze’s smiling, too; you can hear the shape of hir mouth around the words. “Anyway. I’ll call you tomorrow. Night, Aubrey.”
“Night, Zenith. Stay safe.” And, before you lose consciousness entirely: “Love you.”
If you get a response, you’re asleep before you hear it.