Frantic knocking on the barrier finally woke TO the next morning, dragging them from the most comfortable, most restful sleep they had ever experienced. They were warm, and felt more peaceful than they ever had before. For the first time, they didn’t want to get up right away when they awoke; Normally they were anxious to get out of their pod in the morning, and to see GiDi and DH. Today, they wanted to lay there for a bit longer.
The knocking came again. TO groaned and pushed their face into what they thought was a pillow- it ended up being DH’s arm. DH shifted behind TO as they woke, their wings lifting up slightly as they looked about, confused for only a moment until they caught TO’s eyes.
“OH!” they said, their ears tilting back and flushing blue, “I didn’t mean to stay here, I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I just-“
“Thank you.” TO said.
“You’re sure?” They asked, detangling their wings from around TO, “I mean-“
Memories of the previous day flooded back to TO. They felt queasy thinking about what they had experienced in the lab, but somehow being around DH made them feel better.
Still, they felt awful at how they had acted, for worrying GiDi and DH, for being so stupid as to almost attack 55H70, not being able to manage their work like a normal synth.
“I.. Apologize once again for my…” They felt their ears flush with shame as they looked away, “My overreactions, I-“
The knocking came again. TO frowned and pressed the button. The barrier opened and revealed GiDi, looking slightly panicked as they looked in at them. As soon as they saw DH, they released a deep breath, their hand reaching up and resting on their chest. “I didn’t see DH.” They said, “I didn’t know where they were and -“ they looked over TO and DH, and noticed that neither of them had their uniforms on yet. “Did you both sleep in here?” They asked as their ears drooped. “I didn’t realize-“
“Entirely unexpected.” DH insisted as they climbed to the foot of the bed. They peeked out of the barrier and looked around. “Where is everyone?”
“At first meal.” GiDi said quickly, “You two slept in!”
TO and DH exchanged panicked glances, then immediately started moving. DH jumped back into their own pod as TO kicked off their blankets and started dressing.
“You’ve never slept in before.” GiDi said as they climbed into the pod and helped TO dress by keeping their wings out of the way as TO pulled on their backless uniform.
“It was a long night.” TO muttered, “I didn’t sleep well.” They were about to try to explain what they could to GiDi - They were so late, TO didn’t know if they had time- but as they caught GiDi’s sad expression and their limp ears, they fell silent.
They didn’t need to ask what was wrong. Somehow, TO understood immediately. They reached out and pulled GiDI into an embrace, wrapping their wings around them. Without a word, GiDi leaned into TO.
GiDi was so small, and they always felt so fragile in TO’s arms. They always felt so light when they fell asleep on them. TO thought of their dream; of the small synth on the table; of what 55H70 had said about GiDi- that they wouldn’t make it through physical training. They were smaller than the rest of them, shorter, and far more slender. They didn’t know what had caused that, but clearly it hadn’t been considered anything necessarily bad while they were developing; they hadn’t been reprocessed.
At least, not yet
No. They wouldn’t be reprocessed. Even if GiDi couldn’t quite keep up when they got further into their physical training, there was still lots they could do to be useful. They were smart, and though they tended to go off into dazes and let the world pass around them, they were very observant when it counted.
Besides that, wasn’t GiDi already being very useful in weapons production?
TO would do what they could to make sure they passed their physical training regardless. TO would not let GiDi or DH be reprocessed.
“TO?” GiDi asked as they held onto them. TO loosened their grip, worried that maybe they were hurting them.
“Long night.” TO said again, “DH was just underneath. It wasn’t planned.” They gave GiDi a smile, “If it was, I would have had you here too. I’m going to see that you have a pod next to one of us by the end of the day.” They leaned down, pressing their snout to the top of GiDi’s head. “I should have done so sooner. I apologize that I didn’t.”
“Will you tell me what happened?” GiDi asked.
“After our work today.” TO said, “I promise. I just...” They shook their head as they loosened their grip, “I can’t talk about it just before we go about our day.” Even now, allowing their mind to skim over the details made TO’s stomach clench, and made it feel like something was pressing down on their neck. They felt their ears drop even as they tried to pull their minds away from their memories. They tried to ignore the painful mix of confusion and shame at their actions, at how they felt.
What happened had been logical. It was at the directive of King Decon. A sick, weak synth had no place here so why not get rid of it before it was awake, and save the resources needed to treat it? Why make it suffer more than it needed to?
Why not salvage parts?
Why did TO feel so awful about it all? Why had they wept so much over it? Why couldn’t they stop thinking about the dissection? Even now, holding onto GiDi their mind couldn't help but slip back to the sound of a ribcage being cracked open. They felt GiDis bones under their muscle and skin and the fabric of their uniform; far more fragile than they ever imagined before.
DH popped their head up. “We have to go.” They said, “We’re late. We might have time to eat, but we have to go now!” They gave TO a hard look, “And no matter what, after you're done your training today, you find us.” They frowned. “We’ll bring our food right to the platform in the flight training room.”
“Alright.” TO said. They reached for the ladder but DH stopped them, gently clasping their hand around TOs wrist.
“Please don’t hide away from us.” They said, their voice more quiet this time, “Not when you need us.”
TO felt their ears flick down again. “I won’t.” They muttered as they started to climb down.
A troublesome thought filled their head as they made their way to the cafeteria; they knew and accepted that because they were different, some things were harder. Working with other, normal synths was an example. They also needed company or they got lonely and sad. With GiDi and DH around, these things weren’t a problem, and TO could survive; they could function and be productive.
They were useful, for now. But how many other jobs would prove difficult because they were strange? How many other jobs would they perform for the glory of King Decon that would make them feel this way? They had been so worried about GiDi and DH, they had been so confident in their ability to excel that they hadn't worried about themselves. Even if they forced themselves to do the jobs they didn't want to do, would they be repurposed if they couldn’t handle it?
Would they just break if they had to do things like that awful dissection over and over again?
If they couldn’t serve, then what was the point of them?
It was best to say that TO was having an ‘off’ day in Physical Training. They were getting into more advanced self defense, and TO often worked with DH or GiDI to practice with set sparring so they could practice specific moves as C12’s assistants paced the room. So far, it was just hand to hand; they used no weapons in sparring yet.
TO couldn’t focus. Their hits kept missing, their moves were slow and awkward, and their reflexes were sluggish. Their very poor night of sleep had left them shaken and tired. When they were able to get past sleepiness, they found their minds drifting to the day before; the memories they were trying to forget.
Why couldn’t they forget that as easily as they had the other life they supposedly had in the tanks?
They were thinking about that when they failed to stop a relatively slow swing from DH, and ended up getting punched in the cheek. They stumbled backwards, nearly falling over more from shock than pain– DH had clearly held back at the last minute when they realized they were going to hit TO.
“Are you alright?!” They asked, their ears twitching madly as they helped TO back up, “I didn’t mean to-“
“You will focus on me!” The synth next to them shouted at GiDi. Each day, they switched partners when they started sparring. Yesterday, TO had worked with one of the other synths that stood around them. Today, it was GiDi’s turn, and apparently, GiDi’s partner didn’t appreciate them being distracted. They turned back, taking up their stance once more.
“I’m fine.” TO insisted. They gave DH a quick smile, “I didn’t get hurt, I was just surprised.” They glanced around to see if any of the assistants had noticed that. Thankfully, none of them did. They glanced up to see if C12 was watching, but they were looking around the entire room and it was difficult to tell what they might have seen.
“You’re not hurt at all?”
“I’m not.” TO assured DH.
“...Then I’m sorry for this.” They said.
Confused, TO turned back to look at them just as DH struck them very hard with a well made fist on the snout. Pain went through their head as they yelped and stumbled backwards before falling to the floor. They reached their hand up to their now throbbing snout, and felt blood pouring from it. As they pulled their hand away the blue blood in their palm drew them back to the dissection. In confusion, they looked up at DH, who looked just as surprised and shocked at TO felt; Their ears were almost limp, and flicking with anxiety.
“I didn’t mean to hit that hard!”
“Oh, but you meant to hit me!” TO snapped. It hurt to talk, and now they could even taste the blood.
“I … well, I did, but I did it for a good reason, I promise, I-“
“What’s happened here.” One of the assistants said as they marched over. Maybe they wouldn’t have been interrupted if TO had gotten up faster, if they had pulled themselves out of their sudden daze of pain and memories.
“It was my fault!” DH said as they went to help TO up, “I hit their nose when I wasn’t supposed to!”
The assistant looked down at TO, “They should have blocked it properl-“
”We were not actually sparring at the moment. It was entirely my fault!” DH insisted. “Shall I take them to medical?” They asked, “I would hate to have you burdened with such a trivial task because of my mistake.”
“Go ahead.” The assistant said as they turned away, clearly grateful that it wasn’t their problem to deal with now. They watched GiDi and their partner in their sparring for a moment before moving on.
DH and GiDi exchanged quick glances, and GiDi gave them both a quick, almost imperceptible nod.
“Come on.” DH said as they helped TO out of the training room, “Let’s get you out of here.”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell