TO had been sent immediately not to the infirmary, but to the baths. The stench had been dizzying, and they didn’t know if they’d make it without throwing up or passing out, but they did. They threw themselves into the bathing room, stripped off their uniform and threw it into the laundry which -perhaps ironically- would be sent back down to maintenance for cleaning before they got it back. As soon as they were naked, they ran to the closest shower and turned on the water as hot as it would go. There was nobody else in the baths this late in the day, so they had a good deal of pressure in the water. They simply stood there for a long time under the gloriously hot spray of before they started scrubbing themselves raw with the rough, exfoliating soap they were provided.
It didn’t matter. They felt like they could scrub their skin off and they’d never feel properly clean again.
“TO!” they heard someone shout behind them after they had spent a good 20 minutes simply scrubbing. They turned and saw DH entering the communal showers with GiDi following them. They had already removed their uniforms out in the changing room just before the showers.
“DH?” TO tilted their head as DH ran up to them, “Why are you here?”
“I heard there was an accident! I heard you got covered in biohazardous materials!”
TO felt their ears flick down and flush, “Well… technically yes.” they said as they continued to scrub, “But... natural biohazardous wastes.”
DH and GiDi looked at TO, confused. TO sighed, “Sewage.” they said, “If I had known it was sewage I would have let the other synth get splattered.” In truth, they wouldn’t have done that. Even knowing what it was, 06T08 would have gotten a face-full of the stuff. TO had been far more able to protect themselves. “I’m fine; just nauseated.”
DH frowned and turned to GiDi, “fill the tub.” they said, “Use lots of salts.”
There were very few luxuries allowed to young synths, but there was a very large communal tub in each of the showers. Since the synths in training generally pushed themselves physically far more than the older synths, a tub and access to special salts and powders from across the galaxy was provided to help restore sore muscles.
“It’s too late for that.” TO said with a sigh. True, a hot bath would probably help them feel less like they had a layer of scum over themselves, but they needed to get some sleep soon.
“Nonsense.” DH said, “It’ll help relax your muscles-“
“-which don’t hurt.”
“And you’ll sleep better.” they nodded to GiDI, who smiled and ran off to prepare the tub. DH came forward and took one of the exfoliating cloths that were hung in the showers for the synths to use. They stood behind TO and said in a way that did not allow debate, “And I’ll scrub between your wings; you've missed some gunk there.”
“Fine.” TO said as they continued to focus on scrubbing their arms. They knew that they had gotten splattered badly on their exposed back, but because of their wings it was also difficult for them to scrub there. They allowed DH to gently wash away the grim from between their wings and shoulder blades. After a moment they simply closed their eyes and stopped their ceaseless scrubbing as they allowed themselves to enjoy the heat of the shower, the gentle scrubbing on their back, and the scent of the salts that GiDi was pouring into the large tub. Any protests they might have made about the unnecessary use of resources, or the lack of time didn’t seem to have the strength to bubble to the surface of TO’s mind.
“We were worried about you.” DH said after a few minutes of silence.
“We thought something really bad had happened. We went down to find you when you were late coming back, and they said there had been an accident and that you were in the showers.”
“And… You didn’t think that if I had been injured, I’d have been sent to the infirmary, and not the showers?”
DH gave a sheepish chuckle, “Honestly… No. We heard ‘accident’ and logic left us.”
TO couldn’t help but give a little laugh. They wanted to chide the two of them, to tell them that no matter what’s happened they needed to keep logic in the forefront of their mind at all times, but they felt oddly touched that DH and GiDi had been so worried about them.
“How hot do we want this?” GiDi called from the tub.
“As hot as we can stand!” DH called back, “And.. maybe put something nice-smelling in it too.” They lowered their voice and whispered, “You kinda still stink.”
“I know!” TO said, “Even before I got covered in sewage, I stank. I felt like the whole area down there was just… As soon as you walk in, you feel grimey, but all the tools are taken care of. All the important work places are taken care of. It’s just…” They shook their head, “I don’t know. It’s awful. I hate it.”
“At least you don’t have to do it anymore.” DH finished scrubbing TO’s back, and threw the cloth they had used into the laundry unit on the other side of the room. Their aim was excellent, and it went right into the small dark hole.
“Yes.” TO said as they turned and let the hot water pour over their wings and back. “I will never work down there again.”
“Unless you’re assigned.”
TO shook their head, “Oddly.” they said, “The only one down there who hadn’t been corrected was the officer. Everyone else had the scar on their foreheads, and none of them looked like they were seeing anything.” They sighed, “So, unless we get corrected, I don’t think I'll end up down there.”
“And... You think we’re out of danger for that?”
“Baths ready!” GiDi called over to them. TO made their way over to the bath with DH behind them.
“Hey, do you think we’re out of danger for that?”
“Out of danger for what?” GiDi asked as they slipped into the opaque, steamy water.
“Out of danger for getting corrected.” DH said.
TO eased themselves into the water between DH and GiDI, and were instantly glad that they had allowed DH to force them into this: the water felt so nice and they instantly felt their muscles start to relax. Their ears bent down as they sank into the water, their eyes closed and as the steam rose up around them. they could feel the heat sink into their bones.
They were almost perfectly relaxed when DH poked them in the ribs, drawing them out of that lovely moment of peace and pulling a yelp from their throat.
“TO!” they said, “Do you think-“
“I don’t know.” TO said with a sigh, “I have no idea. I’ve never done this before, obviously.” They watched the steam rising up off the water, lost in thought. “I don’t think we’re in danger.” They finally said, “What being corrected does to you... It’s not just that you’re different. You’re slower. Your reflexes aren’t as good. Your reasoning isn’t as strong. It seems like an awful waste to correct someone who is as advanced in their training as we are.” They sunk further into the water, “But I don’t know.”
“Well, if they were going to correct any of us, they’d have done it by now, right?” GiDi asked, “I mean, I’ve heard that combat training is far more intensive than what we're doing now. They wouldn’t waste the time on us if they were thinking of correcting us, right?”
“I don’t think so.” TO said, “But I really don’t know.”
They were silent then, listening to water dripping somewhere in the showers and the gentle lapping of the water against their skin.
“It’d be nice to have some music in here.” GiDi said after a moment. TO hummed in agreement, but they had their eyes closed again and they were leaning back against the wall of the tub. This was very nice. They’d refill their water bottle with fresh, cold water and lay in their pod when they got back. Sipping cold water and letting the heat dissipate off of them just seemed like a perfect way to end a not-quite perfect day. They’d have to use one of the simple, disposable robes to get back to the dormitory, but that didn’t really matter. They didn’t wear anything when they slept, and their uniform would be cleaned and ready in a panel in the wall of the bed by the time they woke up.
“Still.” DH said, “We made it to combat training. I think that’s good. For a bit... I wasn’t sure if I’d make it.”
TO sat up, their eyes suddenly open and wide, “What?”
“I feel the same.” GiDi said. “I mean, I’m still not sure I’m not going to be pulled aside tomorrow.”
“And I honestly tried to be like the other synths for the first few spans, but I just...” They glanced at TO, then looked away, “I hated it so much. I couldn’t do it. I thought I’d rather be corrected than go through the same awful feeling every day. But if I have a few others I can just be myself around, it’s not so bad.” They smiled, “So long as I have somewhere safe where I can be myself, I can make it!”
A pang of guilt went through TO as they remembered their urging to keep quiet around others. They only wanted to protect DH, they didn’t want to make them upset. At least when they were alone, DH could be themself. TO found DH’s hand under the water and gave it a quick, reassuring squeeze. DH looked up, smiled, then looked over to GiDi on TO’s other side.
“I doubt they’re going to take you tomorrow.” DH said. “And we’re going to stick together during combat training, and we’ll keep an eye on one another.” They smiled at TO, “And with TO’s ‘exceptional performance’ I’m certain we’ll be fine!”
GiDi didn’t respond. They seemed half asleep from the heat, and were leaning against TO’s side. After a moment their breathing turned into soft, gentle snoring. TO looked down at them in surprise - they had never had anyone sleep against them, not even DH.
“I think the heat makes them sleepy.” DH said with a laugh, “But they said they didn’t sleep well last night anyway.”
“Oh? Why not?”
DH shrugged, “They’re nervous about combat training.” they said, “They’re worried they won’t be any good at it, and they’ll get corrected.”
TO shook their head and put an arm over GiDi’s shoulders, “They won’t be.” they said, “I’ll make sure of it.”
“So long as we continue to do well, then I don’t see why they would take GiDi away.” TO said firmly. “And I’ll make sure that they do as well as we do!”
DH nodded, then leaned against TO as well, “Still.” they said, “There’s a problem.”
“Assignments once we pass training.”
TO felt their heart drop. Somehow, they hadn’t even thought of that. Assignments across the galaxy were set in pairs. DH and TO already knew that it would be a torment for them to be stuck with a normal synth for cycles on end; TO didn’t know how GiDi would manage if they had to stay with a synth they didn’t get along with.
“We have a while before that.” TO said, instinctively tightening their arm around GiDI, “We can think of something.”
“But what?” DH said, “Do you think we can find one more strange synth?”
TO nodded. “We’ll be in combat training for a good while.” they said, “So we can find someone, I’m sure.”
“And if we don’t?”
DH looked like they were about to say something, but nodded and fell silent. They at least understood what TO meant without them having to say it.
TO had no idea what they’d do if they didn’t find another strange synth. They didn’t have the answers, and they didn’t necessarily want to think about the what if in this case.
They relaxed in the large tub until the water started to cool. GiDi napped the entire time, and was quite drowsy when they finally woke them up. DH and GiDi both opted to throw their uniforms into the laundry as well and they made their way back to their dormitory in the light disposable robes.
When they got to the dormitory, it was far quieter than they were used to. Most every pod had the barrier up and the sound of their feet on the floor seemed to echo through the tall corridors. One or two synths still had their computers going and the multicolored, flickering light could be seen, blurred and indistinct.
“Right to sleep, both of you.” TO said, attempting to sound firm but they found themselves yawning as they spoke, “We have to be ready for tomorrow. We have no idea what combat training is going to be like, so we need to be ready for anything.”
“I’ll try…” GiDi said, but by the looks of them they wouldn’t need to try too hard to get a decent night of rest- they were nearly asleep on their feet. As GiDi made their way further down the hall to their own pod, TO felt almost relieved that they hadn’t yet convinced anyone near themselves and DH to move yet. GiDi seemed almost unsteady on their feet and TO was glad they didn’t have to climb a ladder to get to their pod.
DH and TO climbed up to their own pods and slipped onto their beds.
“You don’t think they’ll make us fight one another, do you?”
TO hadn’t even considered that. “Possibly?” They ventured, “For practice, I’m sure. I wouldn’t worry too much. They wouldn’t make us actually hurt one another.”
“I’m not sure about anything, but it seems counterproductive, doesn’t it?”
DH hummed thoughtfully. “I guess you’re right.” they said. “Sleep well. See you tomorrow.”
“Sleep well.” TO said before they closed their barrier.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell