After the body was dealt with, TO was allowed to leave the lab for the day. It was a little early, but TO hadn’t been able to hide how upset they were due to their ears and PQ03 seemed irritated by that.
At least they had managed to do their job.
TO threw the smock and gloves they had been given for the dissection into a disposal shaft in the wall as they practically fled the laboratory. They wanted to pretend that this day had never happened, that they hadn’t been involved. They wanted to pretend they hadn’t helped! All through the thing it had been hammered into TO that this was how things were done; that this was best, that this was efficient.
They didn’t care. They hated it. Did King Decon even know about all this? TO was certain that He had to, of course; they were even sure they had decreed this sort of action. But did they know how it was done?
“Are going to be ok?” PQ12 asked as they followed them out of the lab. Thankfully, PQ12 hadn’t seemed upset by how TO had reacted, and had even offered to do some of the harder jobs for them.
“No.” TO said, their voice shaking. They could still see the child; There were two images in their head; the adorable synth with the big ears floating in the tank, and then the lifeless body on the table. They looked around the main floor, looking at the other young synths in their tanks. Any one of them could be next. Any one of them, denied treatment and reprocessed–
– so that they didn’t waste more resources than absolutely necessary.
PQ12 was silent. “I don’t like that part of the job.” They said.
“I know.” TO said in a voice that was almost too soft to hear. PQ12’s reaction had been the only comfort that TO had had during the procedure. Their ears had been low as well, and their eyes seemed to stare off into nowhere, looking past what was actually happening.
TO wished that they could have done that. They supposed that was why PQ03 was only irritated by TO’s reaction, and not actually angry; they were used to it from PQ12.
Anyway, regardless of how they had felt, they had done as they were told. They had done their job. They’d be safe.
“It’s…” PQ12 took a deep breath, “If that hadn’t happened… They probably would have just suffered a lot until they died.” They said. “I saw the x-rays.”
“I know.” TO said. Yes, they didn’t like that the child had just been repossessed because of something that wasn’t even their fault! They didn’t like seeing the child killed so easily, and they wouldn’t have wanted to try something, but they could understand that.
They couldn’t understand how the body had been torn apart later. They couldn’t understand how PQ03 could be so cold as they picked over the organs. They couldn’t shake how they had helped. Cutting, sawing, picking, pulling-
“They’d never have passed training.” PQ12 said, pulling TO from their swirling thoughts. “The treatment would have caused an array of other problems, and -“
“It doesn’t matter.” TO said. They didn’t want to talk about this. They didn’t want to think about this. They just wanted to go.
“It’s bad luck that you found one like that.” they said. “It’s unlikely to happen again while you’re here.”
TO didn't respond. They clutched at their arms, holding themselves. They wanted to find DH and GiDi. Of course, when TO found them they’d want to know what was wrong, and that would mean retelling the whole thing.
“You did very good though.” PQ12 continued, “You managed to-”
“Please.” TO said. “Might I be dismissed.”
There was silence between them, and for a moment TO was worried that perhaps they had offended PQ12, but then they realized that they didn’t care. A small part of TO even tried to bully them into caring; You might get corrected. You might get repurposed.
That was bad, yes, but it was hard to care about it right now.
“Of course.” PQ12 said after a moment, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
TO nodded and hurried out of the lab as fast as they could without running.
The thought of food made them feel sick, so they didn’t bother to go to the cafeteria. They sent a quick message to GiDi and DH through their implant to tell them that they’d meet later on. They didn’t specify where or when as they didn’t know when they’d be able to see them. They needed to let their mind settle. They needed to be able to close their eyes and not see the young synth. They needed to be able to listen and not hear the sound of the scalpel cutting through skin.
They ran to the showers. Though their uniform was clean they still threw it into the laundry: it stank of the disinfectant they used in the labs and made TO feel sick. Even after their uniform was gone and they stood naked before the rows and rows of standing shower heads they could still smell disinfectant and plastic gloves. They went into the nearest shower, cranked on the hot water and stood under the spray scrubbing at their hands viciously with the exfoliating cloth until they had scraped away a layer of skin from the knuckles.
As they looked down at their raw, bleeding hands, It occurred to them that they had scrubbed too hard.
It was agonizing to try to slow down as they scrubbed the rest of themselves. They wished they could just peel a layer of skin off as easily as they had the smock or their uniform, and just throw that away. Instead, all they could do was throw their attention into slowly and meticulously scrubbing every inch of skin.
They heard the door to the showers open. With equal parts hope and dread they turned to see if it was DH, or GiDi, or maybe even both!
It was neither. They looked away quickly as 55H70 entered the showers.
TO hadn’t seen them since the combat simulation. To be fair, 55H70 hadn’t said much at the time; they had just followed along with Q10. Still, they had all avoided one another since that day as per their agreement. TO had been grateful for that.
Still, TO didn’t want to speak to 55H70. They didn't want to speak to anyone. Not today, not now.
“It is odd that you’re here alone.” They said as they approached one of the showers near TO.
Behind them, TO could hear other synths starting to file in for their shower. They hadn’t realized they had been in here so long. They had hoped to be showered and gone before most of the other synths finished their meal and came to the showers, but clearly they had wasted too much time. They frowned and quickly started to rinse off; They didn't want to be here anymore.
“I figured you’d spend all your time with the others.” They said when TO didn’t respond .
“I figured you’d leave me alone.” TO snapped, “That was supposed to be our prize for beating your team in that combat simulation.”
“I mean no harm; I am simply expressing surprise at your unexpected and solitary presence.” They said. “The three of you are hardly ever alone, so it is surprising. Though, it’s less surprising than if 45G70 was on their own.”
It took TO a moment to realize they were referring to GiDI. It had been so long since they had referred to them as anything but GiDI that the use of their designation had thrown them off.
“GiDi.” They muttered as they turned to rinse the soap off of their wings.
“I see.” They said, a light frown overcoming their features as they turned away “I am surprised– and in fact pleased– that you have not been corrected.”
“I consider your existence to potentially be a net boon for King Decon. Not so much the others” They said, “The small one –GiDi, you said?– Especially not them.”
“You’re to leave me alone!” TO snapped as they spun to face them. There was far more venom in their voice than they had wanted to, and their ears had pinned back against their head. The showers fell silent save for the sound of water rushing from the shower heads as the others turned to see what was happening.
They hadn’t realized how much they had raised their voice.
55H70 took a step away from TO, their ears pinning back, their hands tightening into fists. They took a defensive stance. They weren’t angry, they were simply defensive and prepared.
TO took a deep breath, and turned away from the other synth. They quickly turned off the shower and hurried to the exit; they didn’t want to fight, they didn’t want to interact. They wanted to be left alone.
“I am simply looking to help King Decon in the long term.” 55H70 said, “45G70 may simply not be physically suitable for service. They may be repurposed. You should be prepared for that. You appear to become emotional over small things. If that were to happen and you were unprepared, I hold concern that it might affect your future productivity, and ability to serve.” They tilted their head, “I am trying to help.
The image of GiDi, dead, laying on a table and being carefully dissected was too much. What was probably worse was the tone that 55H70 had as they spoke of this. They weren't taking joy in telling TO this, and there was no malice in them - that much it was easy to see. They spoke with indifference.
‘Emotional over small things,’ they had said. Did they consider that GiDi being repurposed was a small thing? They were ‘trying to help.’ Did they really think they were helping by saying that GiDi might get repurposed?
Arguments about sunk costs and long-term gains ran through their head. They could smell disinfectant. They could feel the gloves on their hands.
They turned, and took three long steps towards the other synth. They flexed their hands, extending out their sharp, pointed claws. They’d rip their tongue out of their mouth. 55H70 would never say such things - or anything- ever again.
They were only another step away when they felt someone pull on their arm and hold them back. They spun, lifting their hand to strike. They didn’t care- they felt so done, so finished with everything. They wanted to scream, they wanted to pull someone apart!
Their claws froze in mid-air: it was DH. They were still in their uniform which was growing slightly damp from the droplets of water from dozens of running showers. GiDi was behind them, watching wide-eyed.
Had Gidi heard what was said? TO didn’t know.
TO tried to pull their arm from DH’s grip, but DH held tight and pulled TO out of the shower room and into the changing room. There were still other synths there, changing out of their uniforms and preparing for their showers.
“Where's your uniform.” DH asked, looking around.
“I sent it to be cleaned.”
GiDi came over with a robe, draped it over TO’s shoulders, and helped get their wings through the slots in the back.
“No flight practice today?” DH asked.
“No.” TO said as they tied the robe around them and headed for the door, anxious to get away from all the eyes on them.
“Should we go back to our dormitory then?”
“You can if you want.” they said. They rushed out of the changing room and into the hallways, nearly knocking over another synth on the way.
The hallways were so cold in comparison to the showers that TO started to shiver. Even though the hallways were normally kept at a comfortable level of brightness, without the steam to soften the glare of the lights it all felt too bright, too sharp. The clean light-grey walls seemed almost sterile, and it made TO uncomfortable. The steam in the showers had been almost comforting and if it hadn’t been for the other synths in there, TO could have stayed there for hours.
At least the halls were empty. They tried to think of where they could go that wouldn't be any as many people around .
No. Not people. Tools. Synths. Disposable. To be discarded, even as children before they had done anything wrong if random chance affected their physical health.
The door to the shower room opened behind them, and heard DH and Gidi running to catch up. DH grabbed them by the arm and spun them around. “TO!” they snapped, their ears pinned back and their eyes narrowed, “What was that all… about…” they trailed off as they saw TO’s face; their ears sunk low as they leaned forward, putting a hand on TO’s arm. The anger and irritation in their expression melted away them as concern filled their eyes.
TO looked aside, their ears flushed. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing.” they said, “It’s-“
Before TO could make any excuses, DH pulled them into their chest and gave them a tight hug. GiDi came up next to them and rubbed their arms for a moment before they wrapped their arms around TO as well.
“You look… You look like you just…” They shook their head, unable to come up with a way to describe it.
“You look shattered.” GiDi said quietly. DH only nodded.
“That’s the only way to put it.” DH whispered. “What happened.”
“Please.” TO muttered as they allowed their friends to hold them, “I don’t… I really don't want to talk about it.”
“But if we don’t know-“
“Please! Please, I -“ they choked on their words, and unable to stop themselves they started sobbing into DH.
TO didn’t know where they were being taken; they didn’t pay attention as GiDi and DH pulled them away and into an empty room somewhere. They sat on the floor with TO who could only cry as their friends sat with them, holding them tight and sharing scared, confused looks.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell