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“It doesn’t seem like there’s anything seriously damaged.” The Medical Officer said as they checked on TO later that day. It was just before the last meal of the day, and TO was hoping they’d be able to leave and find DH and GiDi.

 

The Medical Officer tapped a bump on the bridge of TO’s snout, drawing a stifled yelp of pain from them. “This should go away after a while.” They said, ignoring the sound, “Try not to get hit in the face again while it’s healing”

 

“Am I alright to leave then?” TO asked. They were anxious to get out of the medical bay. As glad as they were to have been able to skip their training, they found themselves bored in the medical bay. Time dragged on, and though the Medical Officer had been there they were not what TO would have called good company. They were too busy throughout the day, and clearly not interested in talking. At one point TO used their implant to try to read up on some bio-tech research that they had been interested in, but the Medical officer had chided them for straining their eyes.

 

TO nearly recoiled as the Medical Officer moved their hands from TO’s snout to around their eyes, taking a good look at the pupils and pulling the eyelids back to check around the edges. “So long as you’re wearing your goggles when you work in the lab.” They said, irritated. They turned around and went back to the counter, selecting a bottle filled with the same painkillers that they had given to TO earlier that day. They carefully took out two more of the small white pills, and placed them in a container.

 

“You are allotted two more painkillers.” They said. “One to have with your meal, and one before you sleep. It will ensure you get a better night of sleep, and promote healing.”

 

TO took the bottle and frowned as they stared at it. They knew that their injured snout wasn’t nearly as bad as Q10’s dislocated shoulder; why didn’t Q10 get painkillers? Why had TO been allowed to stay in the medical bay all day while Q10 had just been sent off to their duties?

 

Maybe it was just because TO had been here twice now in the last three days, and that was cause for concern? That was all they could think of.

 

“Is there a problem?” The Medical Officer asked.

 

“Oh! No no, sorry.” TO said, “Will these have any effect on my cognition?”

 

“They will not, so long as you take them as instructed.”

 

“Thank you.” They said as they got up from the examination table. They gratefully stretched their arms and wings; they had been sitting all day and they felt stiff all over.

 

“You’re thanking me?” The Officer asked, looking at TO with a clearly confused expression, their ears flicked outwards slightly. “Why?”

“Why? For treating me? Helping my nose and my eyes-“

 

The Officer turned away from TO. “It is my job, nothing more.” They said, “I require no thanks, I am simply doing the minimum that is expected of me.”

 

TO opened their mouth to argue that, but they stopped themselves, nodded, and then left the medical bay without another word. Maybe they would have pushed their thanks more if the Medical Officer had been a little more gentle.

 

======

 

The empty halls leading towards the cafeteria were quiet, and all TO could hear was the sound of their own feet against the cold grey floor. It was meal time, and everyone was in the Cafeteria, so the silence didn’t surprise them. They wondered if DH and GiDi would be waiting for them outside the cafeteria or not. Well, they’d find out when they got there.

 

They reached into the pocket of their uniform and pulled out the little pills; Painkillers. They didn’t really know if they needed painkillers or not; their nose hurt but it wasn’t unbearable. Taking one before they tried to go to sleep would be a good idea just so that the pain didn’t keep them awake, but they didn’t think it was necessary to have two.

 

They heard someone heading towards them from around a corner and quickly stashed the painkillers away. A moment later, they saw DH and GiDi turn the corner ahead, carrying their meals. As they saw TO their faces lit up and DH in particular suddenly seemed relieved.

 

“You’re out!” GiDi said, rushing towards them, “We were heading to see you!”

 

“We didn’t know if you’d be allowed to leave!” DH said, “So we got our meals and…” They trailed off. “Is your snout ok?” They asked.

 

“The Medical Officer gave me painkillers for tonight, and said I should be fine so long as I don’t get hit in the face again” TO said. DH’s ears sunk down in guilt as they looked away. “Why, how bad is it?”

 

GiDI pressed their lips together, but couldn’t stop the snort of laughter that threatened to escape them. “I’m sorry.” they said, “It looks like it really hurts but…”

 

“Your whole nose is blue.” DH said, not making eye contact, “Uh, it looks-“

 

“It looks bigger too!” GiDi insisted. “You don’t have a snout anymore, you have a beak.” DH nudged GiDi with their elbow, “I mean, I’m exaggerating, of course.” GiDi said quickly, their ears twitching quickly, “Just being dramatic. Obviously, your snout looks nothing like an actual beak.”

 

TO frowned and made their way to the nearest washroom, rushing to the mirror so that they could see the damage.

 

“Well.” TO said with a careful glance at DH, “I don’t need to worry about you getting through combat training; You have an excellent jab”

 

TO’s snout was in fact far bigger than it was normally, protruding outwards from their normally smooth snout; TO could see why GiDi had likened it to a beak. It was bright blue, the bruising spreading over their cheeks and almost up to their eyes. If the color wasn’t so vivid and strangely deep then TO would have looked like they were just constantly blushing. there were darker spots on their nose, clustered around the bridge of their snout that looked very painful - deep dark bruises that seemed to sink deep under the flesh like tiny pools of blood. At the very edge of the bruising there was almost a greenish tint under the pale, white-blue skin

 

“This is going to look a lot worse tomorrow.” TO muttered to themselves as they leaned in to better examine their snout. They could already tell that it would be one of those painful, deep bruises that would linger for days. ”No wonder the medical officer wanted to double check that nothing was broken.”

 

“I’m really sorry!” DH insisted as they took a step towards TO, their wings wrapped around them, their ears low “I was only trying to help, I-“

 

“I know.” TO said as they turned to DH and gave them a quick smile, “I know. Really, It’s ok.”

 

“You’re not angry?”

 

“I’m not angry. You were trying to help, and…” they shook their head, “And thanks. I shouldn’t have gotten angry at you. I mean, you did hit me!” They glared at DH, “You hit me very hard, actually, but I know you were just trying to help. Still...I should have been able to manage at the lab better than I did.”

 

“At least now there’s only three more days, right?” GiDi asked, “And then you’re done there?”

 

TO nodded. “Right.”

 

“And you said that one of your Officers there told you that what happened was uncommon, and that you were unlikely to see it again.”

 

TO nodded, but as they thought of it, they wrapped their wings around themselves tightly, “Right.” They said, “But… But if I see the kids in the tanks again, I’m going to see the one on the table. If I smell the disinfectant, I’m going to remember it all.” Even now they could see themselves cutting into dead flesh, and hear the crack of bones. Their ears fell limp as they held themselves, trying to pull their thoughts away from the dissection.

 

GiDi and DH gave one another a look; a look that told TO that they had been discussing the situation without them.

 

“What?” TO asked.

 

DH reached up and gently put a hand on TO’s shoulder “I…Look. I know it’s...” They trailed off, and looked to GiDi as though they were looking for help.

 

“What?” TO asked, suddenly confused, “What is it.”

 

“...I’m not saying it wasn’t awful.” DH said. “Not at all. I mean, I wouldn’t want to see that. But what you described… TO, that synth wouldn't have survived.”

 

“I know.” TO said “I know, I know. I know that! I’ve been told that! But we didn’t even try! They just looked at the kid, and decided that they weren’t worth trying to help!” They took a step away from DH, shrugging the hand off their shoulder as they did “And it’s not just that!…” They trailed off. They could still hear the sound the rib cage made as it cracked opened.

 

That sound would stay with them forever, they knew that.

 

“It wasn’t just that.” TO said again, their voice far softer now as they looked away from DH. DH still seemed shocked that TO had pushed them away; their arm was still up in the air, and it was only now that they lowered it. “It was the dissection. Do you know how to felt to-“ They stopped themselves, their eyes burning with tears. “Do you know what it’s like-” They finally managed to hiss, “To pull someone else apart, organ by organ?” They shook their head, “No… No you don’t. I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want either of you to have to do that.”

 

“I’m sorry.” DH said as their ears fell limp, “I just wanted to help.”

 

TO stared at the ground for a minute before looking up at DH and GiDi. “Do you think you could have done it?” They asked with a soft, tentative voice. They weren’t being rhetorical, they wanted to know. “One of the other officers there, they’re strange too. They’re a lot like me, I think.” They glanced away again, “They don’t like the dissections either, but they didn’t react like I did.”

 

“...TO, I-“ DH was suddenly interrupted by the ping of TO’s implant. TO took a deep breath, and pulled their hand up to see what it was. As they read the message, their breath stopped and their ears pinned back with fear.

 

“What is it?” GiDi asked as they took a step forward.

 

“.... My Overseer.” TO said, “They want to see me. Now.”





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TheWitchOfTheRock

Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell

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