The next day, TO was far more nervous that they had anticipated as they made their way to the Synth Production Lab. They hadn’t felt too bad when they woke up, squished between GiDi and TO in their pod, and they figured that maybe all they needed was a bit of a rest; a day away from the labs, followed by a very relaxing evening with GiDi and DH had provided that. Now, they felt absolutely fine, save for the pain in their deep blue, swollen nose.
They started feeling not so fine nearing the end of their second meal. A strange feeling of dread fell over them, and often through the meal they felt their mind drift to the labs as they wondered how bad it would be to go back there alone. It was only when they had parted ways with GiDi and DH that they realized that they had also been dreading leaving their company again. The moment GiDi and DH were out of sight it was as though TO’s mind wanted to mess with them, and started replaying that memory of the dissection, showing them the blood, playing the awful symphony of cracking bones.
They wanted that to stop. They wished their brain would stop replaying that over and over. It didn’t linger so much when they were around GiDi and DH, and if their brain didn’t want to cooperate and stop focusing so much on it, they wished that they could at least just stay with their friends until they forgot about it.
They got to the labs, and opened the doors with their implant. The main atrium was empty and deserted save for the tiny little Synths that were floating in their tanks.
Odd; one of the Officers normally greeted them when they arrived.
TO looked down at the ground, working hard not to let their eyes flick to the juvenile Synths in the tanks. Their first thought was to just head straight to the labs, and keep their head down, but then a thought entered their head: Shouldn’t they force themselves to look at the synths? If they were alone in the atrium, wasn’t this an ideal time to to force themselves to get used to being around them again?
They could do it. They had to do it. They wouldn’t get over this if they didn’t push themselves. It wasn’t like these were little synths that TO would have to dissect anyway. They were just normal synths, TO told themselves, just like DH and GiDi.
Provided they survive.
TO took a few steps towards the tanks, holding their breath as they slowly looked up, stopping just as their gaze touched on the tiny clawed toes. They had good claws; no iron deficiency here.
They took another deep, shuddering breath. They flicked their eyes up, observing the entire child. The child that floated passively in the tank, their ears flicking, their wings twitching. They looked asleep, and almost content. For a moment, TO was fine. For a moment, all they saw was the cute little synth, sleeping it’s tank.
They could be sick.
It was a sudden, unwanted thought that hit them and brought back the sounds of bones cracking, the sight of blood, the organs laid out on the table. They could be sick. It could be sick. TO felt sick. They felt like somehow they could feel their own organs inside them; foreign objects lodged under their flush, pulsing. Borrowed organs until the moment when the rest of TO was no longer useful.
They looked away, their arms wrapped around themselves, their wings tightening around them as they felt their ears droop down.
They couldn’t do this. They knew they had to, and they knew that this was just what was done, and that so many other synths could do this.
It didn’t matter; they couldn’t. They were just so damn weak! This was normal! Why couldn’t they take this!
Why couldn’t they just impassively slice up the synth, and sort out it’s organs as was necessary.
They took a long, deep breath, and turned to head to the laboratory in the back. They’d have to do their work, even though they didn’t know how they could manage it. They couldn’t run away; didn’t have a reason to avoid the lab today.
They wished DH or GiDi could be here with them. They felt like they might be able to manage if they were there. The idea made them feel suddenly worse; DH and GiDi were managing their work well without them. Why couldn’t TO be the same?
They got to the lab, opened the door, and stepped in. They could hear PQ12 and PQ03 speaking together much further in the back, and they quietly and slowly made their way towards them. They didn’t want to rush; they weren’t excited to get to work today. Because they were being so slow and so careful, they were able to make out their conversation as they drew closer.
“-and I think they’d be better served working with me in a more theoretical way.” It was PQ12, TO could tell. There was just a certain cadance to the way they spoke that TO recognized.
“It doesn’t matter how they’d be better served.”came PQ03’s voice, “They are not here to be served. They are here to serve King Decon.”
“Yes! I am well aware!” There was bitterness in PQ12’s voice that TO had never heard before, and it made them stop and freeze. “I am well aware of what their purpose is. Of what OUR purpose is. But I also know that in providing training we’re helping to find what 09T07 is best at!” They took several long breaths that TO could hear even from where they were standing, so far away and out of sight. A moment later, PQ12’s voice came a little softer, a little more controlled. “You saw them when we were doing that dissection-“
“- I did.”
“-They can’t do that again. You know that.”
“I do not agree!” PQ03’s snapped, “I know that if I don’t push them, they’ll never be able to work here.” There was a derisive snort, “I’ve raved about how observant they are. You’ve raved about how clever they are, and how fast they learn. If they can’t manage a simple dissection-“
“I’m not saying they can’t do it.” PQ12 said, “I’m saying that their skills are better used elsewhere. They’re better off finding where they properly fit than they are having you push them into a role that’s not right for them.”
“And yet you want them to help you with your precious research-“
“I could use the help, and we have them for two more days-“
“Well, I could use the help as well!” PQ03 snapped, “I have 4 surguries to do on some of the adolescent synths. And while your work isn’t necessarily time sensitive-“
“You always do those surgeries on your own.” PQ12 snapped back, “I hate them.”
“Yes! I know! But you can do them! 09T07 could do them too! They’d have to get used to it, that’s all. Thats training. That’s why they’re here!”
“I can do it. Yes.” PQ12 said, “But, surprisingly, 09T07 is not me!”
There was a long, drawn out silence in which TO started to slowly walk towards them. The Officers hadn’t been anywhere private, and the door hadn’t been locked, but TO knew that they perhaps weren’t supposed to be there listening.
“If they can’t do it,” PQ03 said, “then that should be reported.”
TO froze once more. PQ03 hadn’t reported them, but they hadn’t yet decided not to.
“...If you tell them to do the work.” PQ12 said after taking a long, deep breath, “Then I have no doubt that they’ll do it. They’ll hate every moment of it, but they’ll push themselves. They’re stubborn, and tend to excel. They’ll do it. Loyalty and obedience isn’t the problem here.”
“And any problems should be reported-“
“And you know what will happen if we report this. You know what we saw.“ There was a stifled curse which surprised TO– they had never heard an officer curse before. “You know how many there were.”
“Yes, too many.” PQ03 snapped. “We should have caught it earlier.”
“It’s our own fault.”
Another long moment of silence between them, but this time TO stayed very still and very silent. What they saw? What did they see? Did they see something when TO was doing the dissection? And how many what? TO was very confused.
“... you go ahead and report them if you feel you need to.” PQ12 said after a moment. “Or force them to do the dissection. If they break, there will be questions asked. And you know what will happen then.”
“Fine.” PQ03 finally hissed, “You can have them for your little research. Unless, they say they don’t want to help you. Maybe we read them wrong. Maybe they’re fine. Maybe they were just shocked.”
TO cleared their throat, letting the sound echo in the lab as they quickly walked the rest of the way towards them. They didn’t want them to know that they had been listening in. As TO turned a corner and came into view, they saw PQ12 sitting down and feeding nutrients into one of the tanks as PQ03 stood next to them with their arms crossed and their ears pinned back.
“You’re early.” PQ03 hissed.
“Apologies.” TO said, “I didn’t realize.”
“It’s fine.” PQ12 said. “You’ll be working with me today, so you can help me finish the feeding, and then you can help me with some research on enriching the nutrients that allow the synths to grow-“
“Unless of course you’d rather work with me.” PQ03 said, “I have 4 individuals who need routine surgical procedures.” Even though they looked angry, they softened their gaze, “It’s all done in the tanks, and it’s relatively simple; just the removal of organs that are no longer needed.”
TO felt their ears flick out in curiosity; There were organs that weren’t needed? What organ? What did they do? Why were they needed to begin with? They almost said yes, that they wanted to assist but as soon as they thought about that, they thought of blood and bones, and remembered all the synths in the tanks.
“I… I have already seen some of the surgical process.” They said, looking away, “I haven’t learned anything about the nutrients, or how they’re produced yet. I’d like to.”
“Good.” PQ12 said, “I could use the assistance. I think you’ll find it far more interesting than you might expect.”
PQ03 didn’t say anything, but their ears pinned back. They nodded, and turned to leave. “Very well.” They said, “You two do your research. I’ll go attend to my tasks.”
Despite everything, despite the dissection and the memories, and how grateful they were that they wouldn’t have to do any more dissections, they couldn't help but worry that PQ03 was angry with them– or worse; disappointed. It made their stomach churn as they watched the irate Officer leave the lab without another word.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell