In the darkness, I heard a slow, dull dripping. Of course my first thought was of blood. Blood pooling on the floor of the facility, the dead body hanging prone over me. The memory made me jerk upright immediately. I wasn't tied down, but even when I opened my eyes, it was dark. I patted my chest and then my face. I was still clothed, although the clothes felt slightly sticky or damp, maybe residue from being... well... swallowed or whatever the city 'intelligence' had done to me. Other than that I seemed fine... except for the pain on the side of my head... yes, something was scabbed or crusted there. Blood, of course. That's right, the Surgeon had cut off part of my ear.

I felt both disgusted and a little relieved, that she did at least care enough about me to take some sort of scrap from me... for whatever purpose she had. Though after the thought crossed my mind it also occurred to me that it wasn’t much comfort at all, that I as a person had the same sentimental value as an earlobe.

I was a little surprised that I'd woken up at all. I patted the floor around me. It was rough, old cobblestone, with deep grooves between the stones. The grit felt nice and cool against the parched skin of my hands. In the space between the stones was something soft, almost plush... I hoped it was moss and not some sort of silky organ extruded from Conversant's core. I wiped my fingers on my pants just to be sure.

If I was in one piece, then... what did Conversant want with me? Was he done with me? How long had I been blacked out?

I felt around me, a bit further out this time. Still stone, still floor, no sign of a wall or my backpack, at least not yet. I could hear the faint dripping, but now that I was awake it sounded less like true thick and metallic sound from the facility and more distant, hollowed. This room was big.

"Hello?" I called, softly. There was no echo. I waited for a few more moments, my heart thudding in my chest, but no response came, either. I raised my voice a little higher and tried again. "Hell...oo?"


came the echo, bouncing back at me from the walls and ceiling. Maybe if I were smarter or had two full ears, I could have used the sound to figure out where I was, and navigate out of the chamber without being able to see... was something like that even possible? I had no idea what was possible or impossible anymore... though since I'd only been alive for a few days, maybe it was more accurate to say I had never had a grasp on those concepts from the start. I almost felt like I knew what an 'ordinary' life would look like, though, and it wasn't like this.

But I doubted those thoughts as well. I hadn't grown or learned, so who was to say that anything like what ran through my head had ever existed? The world could have always been like what I had seen so far, and the Surgeon could have implanted them to make me trust her for being the most 'human-like', or the Doctor could have made them up entirely... although I'd never actually talked with her, she definitely seemed the type to just make up a species out of whole cloth to amuse herself.

That didn't explain Conversant or the trade for... information? Genetic information? What could be genetically wrong with me, that the surgeon was so willing to trade me in for something else? Was it better than me? That thought might sound overly negative, or a bit self-defeating, but I thought it without criticism as it occurred to me. I had no idea. It wasn't like everything was born perfectly, right? I really could be defective or unfinished in some way.

Or, well, maybe not, since she'd bitten me and sliced off a chunk of my flesh to keep as well. Maybe she was mixing the information? Could information even be in flesh? Biology... I wracked my brain, but nothing very useful came up. Reproduction? Making more humans... Not that it really mattered for me right now. I was already feeling thirsty. What could I do? Lick the moisture off the cobblestones? I wondered if Conversant's residue coated them along with the damp, and shuddered.

I sat back in the darkness and patted my own arms. I wished I knew what genes looked like, or what they were used for, or even how big they were-- apparently small enough to fit on a crystal the size of my thumb. The word conjured up the idea of sickliness, which was definitely how I'd felt traveling through the wasteland, against health, which I'd felt... well... now, oddly enough. And when I'd first woken up, somewhere under all of the panic and confusion. My body hadn't started to ache everywhere yet, and I hadn't been hungry, thirsty or dirty. That all seemed a long time ago.

I stretched out my legs, scuffing my boot heels along the floor.

An answering scuff echoed out of the bleak black darkness of the room. I froze, even sucking in my breath and holding it. The rustle didn't happen again. I let out a long exhale. Was I imagining things? It had almost sounded like a footstep, or another person in the room. But why hadn't they answered my calls, then? Or had they come in now because they heard me?

"Uh, hello?" I tried again. I coughed after the greeting, had to clear my throat, and tried again. "Conversant? Can you hear me?"There was a definite rustle from the darkness this time. Was it Conversant? Was it... something else?

Was it the murderous doctor?!

I yanked myself upright, heart suddenly hammering against my chest. I felt cold now, or hot, a shivery energy animating the muscles of my body, ready to bolt. "Stay away, or show yourself!"
"Oh," a voice said, one I didn't recognize. It had a higher lilt to it, a younger tone than the Surgeon, and definitely a nicer pitch than Conversant's warped chorus. "I didn't know you couldn't see me, sorry. What spectrum do you usually tune in to?"

"Um..." that wasn't the answer I had expected at all. Even if it was a hideous monster, maybe it had a light? That would at least allow to me to locate my backpack, if it was here. Spectrum... light, to see, that was it... "Uh, the one I can see? The visible one?"

"The visible spectrum, hm...? You know, that's sort of an archaic name for it. I usually just call it 'light'." The voice laughed. It was a pleasant laugh, a bit airy, and not accusatory or mocking, but genuinely amused. I decided that if even if this were a horrific monster beyond comprehension, I would at least try to give it the benefit of the doubt behaviorally because it had a nice voice.
With that, a light flickered on.

The creature standing before me was a child. An ordinary, short, human child with bright hair, in a dark coat, watching me with a mildly puzzled look on their round face.


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