This takes place the night of Ep. 30-31, after Alycia is back at the AEGIS facility.
Next Day scene between Leo and Alycia starts here.
I sit in the white cell. A table and bench have extruded from one wall, a flat keyboard and screen embedded in them. It’s some sort of sandboxed virtual machine pretending to be a computer, painfully slow, and running some highly customized version of Windows, but it can connect (after a fashion) to the district Google Docs site, so I can check out the syllabus, reading, and homework assignments.
It’s like trying to assemble an engine wearing oven mitts, but I’m hoping it will be a temporary arrangement.
It’s the first night of the semester, so the homework level is (I gather from others’ comments) lower than usual, so there’s that. But the AP and XP classes I’m taking don’t waste time, so I’m staying up later than I’d care to so as to not start off at a deficit.
It takes me a half-hour to suss out how to get the special characters I need for Calc. I have a particular curse word in mind and practice how many languages I know it in. I can’t converse, or even read, in all of them, but being in the proximity of crooks and mercs from around the globe is good for expanding certain elements of the vocabulary.
I have special dispensation to stay up as long as I need to in order to work in homework. Joy. I have no doubt one of the reason the system runs so slow, beyond a dozen firewalls and anti-malware gates, is because every keystroke is being tested and simulated to make sure I’m not secretly hacking into NORAD or some similar skulduggery.
Silliness. It’s a lot more practical, and fun, to physically break into NORAD than hack into it.
My head is nodding as I pivot from Calc to the History reading. It’s not a pleasant prospect – a lot of primary sources (good), hand-selected by American government education departments (bad), to produce a populace-pleasing narrative, just enough breast-beating to appease what passes for liberals here, while maintaining the thread of exceptionalism and nationalism that this particular oligarchy prefers. I spot three misquotations in the first piece, elisions (some marked, some not) that would paint the first North American settlers in a far less complementary light were the original text included.
Still, even concentrating on the material that way, it’s hard to stay awake. I catch my head drooping with a start multiple times. It’s both the hour and the stressful day – school, memory shenanigans (still trying to process that, but not right now, dammit), then Jason’s idiocy, bombs in the playroom, verbal fencing with Parker.
Jason really needs to do something about security – and I should know, having broken in there before. Should I tell him? Will he resent it? Will he trust me?
Will any of them?
The door slides open to my cell. I’m instantly swinging around on bench, senses alert, the cool air I’ve grown used to suddenly warm, stuffy –
It’s Jason, holding tightly to the edge of the cell door. There’s something, something wrong, but I can’t quite –
He collapses in a heap as a I run forward to him. Now, suddenly, I realize what’s wrong – the pool of blood beneath, blood all over him, his nanobots are missing, and the bullet wounds are clear, obscene pockmarks on his pale chest.
“Back you go,” says Parker, voice calm, almost mocking, holding a gun on me. “I don’t know how you got out, or why you killed poor, dear Mr. Quill, but I’m sure a jury, and the Congress of the United States will find it quite necessary to hang you by the neck until you are dead, dead --”
My foot lashes out, kicking the gun to the side, then as I pivot I grab her head and smash it into the edge of the cell door, leaving her to slump to the ground as I turn back to –
“Alycia – why? Why didn’t you --?” and then he’s gone and I’m holding him and screaming, until I realize the screams are the alarm shrieking, and I recognize my exposure, with a dead Jason Quill, a dead or dying Agent Parker, and I’m on my feet running down –
-- the corridor, lined with barred cells, most of them empty, but there, slumped over an interrogation table, McIntyre, pale blue foam about her mouth, staring at me accusingly with dead eyes, saying, “Ms. Chin. Ms. Chin --”
I start awake. Still in the cell. No blood at the door. No door visible, as usual.
“Ms. Chin, if you’re ready for sleep–”
“No,” I say, quickly. “I’m fine. Just – let me finish this chapter.”
“Very well.” The filtered voice of my keeper falls silent.
Well, that was interesting. I don’t like dreams. They’re too often a conduit for worries, concerns, anger, fear, things I can control during the day. At night –
I go back to the reading. Comparing and contrasting selections from English, French, and Spanish explorers and early settlement leaders and members. Neatly framed to couch the French as flighty and uncommitted, the Spaniards as greedy and envious and ultimately lazy, the English as doughty and forthright, religious dissenters seeking freedom (for their own theocratic impulses), poor folk seeking land (or a respite from gaol), explorers pushing into the wilderness (and befriending, then betraying, the aboriginal population). All of them foreigners, strangers, seeking their own personal goals, crossing the sea on tiny wooden ships, braving storms, bad food, mutiny – sinking –
-- there’s water in the cell, and I have to get out of there. I splash to the door. Something has gone wrong. Underground security center – has a pipe burst.
I’m at the door, hammering at it, looking through the window that’s never been there before. Parker is turning a huge valve wheel – cutting off the flood, right, but the water surges more around my feet, climbing rapidly.
She looks over. “Fair’s fair,” she mouths, and I pound at the door, screaming, as the water rises higher, wet, warm, crimson, it’s blood, and I’m about to –
I snap back awake before my forehead has slumped to the keyboard again. Shit. That’s a memory I didn’t need to have dredged up, not now, not when I’m finally –
I focus my eyes back on the reading on the screen. We’re moving on to encounters with the aborigines – leading mostly to genocides to the north, but the foundation of slave trade to the center and south – tribes put to work in mines, plantations, too vulnerable to Eurasian diseases to serve that way reliably, thus the need to bring in new slaves, generations bred and born to serve, to fight, to –
The lights go out, leaving just the glow of the monitor, the keyboard. But something’s out there. I can hear it. Movement, the slight tick and scrape of metal against metal.
A giggle. Female. No, two of them.
Faintly glowing eyes in the darkness. A pair, then another.
“Come out and play, Alycia.”
I’m silent. If I don’t answer, if I’m quiet, maybe they can’t see me.
“We know what you want, Alycia.”
“We want it, too.”
The fembots. I only can see their eyes, looking down at me from across the cell.
“You like Jason.”
“We like him, too.”
“We were made for each other.”
“Maybe we can be friends --”
“-- and play together --”
“-- too, Alycia.”
They move out of the darkness into the glow of the monitor, and I can see them now, their same perky-pretty heads, but with the robotic spider legs beneath finally revealed, standing two meters tall or better, scuttling toward me with fixed, hungry grins, and there’s nowhere to run, but I run anyway, past where the walls should be, I know there’s something else out there, waiting, but I have to get –
My head jerks up again.
“That’s enough for now, Ms. Chin. You can finish your reading on the drive to the school tomorrow.”
“Fine. Just – fine.” I wave vaguely at the cameras, then prep for bed with all the appropriate use of the facilities. Other people might feel squeamish at being observed all through that. Serving in the field, spending a few months at Zhukov, plenty of opportunity to have shed body modesty when need be.
The lights dim as the sleeping cot extends from the wall opposite where the desk had been. The air has warmed to remove the need for blankets; the head of the cot has some sort of integrated pillow that’s uncomfortable, but I’ve used worse.
“Alarm at 0600,” the filtered voice replies. “Good night, Ms. Chin.”
“Sleep tight,” I tell my keepers, lying flat on my back. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite…”
I take a deep breath, which turns into a yawn. I don’t want to do this, not now. Can I stay awake?
I always hated bed bugs, or any sort of vermin. You can get used to anything, they say, and I can do what’s needful for the mission, but thinks crawling on my skin still make – well, make my skin crawl.
And they’re there, too. I can feel them, all over. Goading me. Driving me. I can’t just lie there. I get up, running out of my cell, down darkened corridors, shadowy shapes in the cells I pass –
I know what I’m running from – what am I running toward. What I’m always running from, always running toward. Even now. Can’t I change things? Even now? Even in my dreams?
“I gave you the world,” the voice says from behind me. I run harder. It sounds a bit like Parker, but I know it’s not.
“I gave you life. Training. Every opportunity to make me proud.” The voice is closer, more familiar. I’m running through puddles again, to the ankles, to the knees, wading through something, too dark to see, but the sickly-sweet, copper stench tells me it’s blood again.
A ladder, leading up, out of the blood. I jump for it, grabbing on, bare feet slipping-sticky on the cold metal, legs and arms pumping to carry me up, away, out of –
I’m in the Keynome Chamber, back in Federal City (though it looks just like the Lima Installation control room, the way things do in dreams).
“I gave you purpose,” says the voice from the large chair facing the master control panel. The chair slowly pivots, as he turns to face me.
Father. A smile on his lips, that one he got when executing a plan.
The top of his head is missing, open like a bowl.
“I didn’t --” I begin.
“I gave you a cause worth dying for,” he cuts me off. He gets to his feet, tall as when I was nine, looking down at me, with that smirk he has. "And what did you do? What did you do?"
“I – had --”
“You took my brain, daughter,” he says. There’s a saw in his hand. “So I will take yours.”
I finally scream when the cold metal touches my forehead.
And sit up on the cot, the sound of my voice still echoing in the cell, heart pounding, drenched in sweat, gulping air, bile in the back of my throat…
“Ms. Chin?” comes the voice, mechanical, unemotional.
“Just thinking about – high school,” I say at last, hating the tremor in my voice. “Tests. You probably don’t remember.”
“Good night, Ms. Chin. Sweet dreams.”
I show them. I don’t sleep at all the rest of the night.
author: *** Dave H.
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