TO flew until they were exhausted, their back and wings aching from the effort of keeping themselves aloft and soaring through the air. They had missed out on their flying in the last several days, and they had almost forgotten how free they felt as they flapped from place to place, diving from the topmost part of the training room and swooping up just before hitting the ground. DH and GiDi actually joined them in the air this time; they raced, diving down to the ground as they tested one another to see who could keep falling before pulling up and avoiding a collision.
It was a stupid, dangerous game.
TO always pulled up just a little after DH and GiDi did, not wanting to show off too much, but also not wanting to lose. For The first time in a long time they were just playing, just gliding through the air with no purpose or reason. For the first time in days TO was able to forget all their problems; was able to lose themselves in flight. They were almost without worry until one heart-stopping moment when DH, in a slight daze, didn’t seem to want to pull up from a dive to the ground. TO had been watching them, waiting for them to pull up like GiDi had seconds earlier but before they knew it DH was too close to the ground to pull up safely. TO swooped around, grabbed DH and was able to slow their descent, softening their landing on the ground so that neither of them were badly hurt.
GiDi made their way towards them, gliding from pole to pole as they got closer. They called out, and though TO wasn’t sure what they said, they waved to let GiDi know they were alright.
TO sat up, holding to DH who was relatively unharmed, save for getting the wind knocked out of them. They gasped and gagged as they tried to get the air back into their lungs.
“What were you doing?” TO exclaimed as they rubbed DH’s back to help calm their breathing; it was the only thing they could think of doing, “You know you can’t dive that close to the ground!”
“I know.” DH gasped as they caught their breath.
“Please tell me you weren’t actually trying to beat me.” TO said. If they were,TO would have to start letting DH win so that they didn’t end up hurting themselves.
“No! I mean, I know I can’t,” they shook their head and sat up as GiDi landed next to them. “Not yet anyway. I-” They looked away with their ears down, “I was just distracted. That’s all.”
“... and you forgot you were plummeting to the ground?”
“Sorry.” DH said again.
“They’re not themselves today.” GiDi said, “They’ve been worried all day.”
“Gidi.” DH hissed,
“Oh.” TO said, their own ears flicking down. They got up and helped DH to their feet, “Sorry.” They said, “I didn’t mean to worry you.” they gave a sheepish smile, “I should have sent word that it looked like I wouldn’t be at operations anymore, that way you wouldn’t have been worrying so much. Oh, and-” They reached up and gently touched the clotted cut on the back of their head, “This really doesn’t hurt. Not anymore. I think I was lucky, and I only scraped myself up a little.”
As they mentioned it, they thought of the blood on their hands again, and their stomach formed a tight knot, “Want to keep flying?” TO asked, “Though, maybe without the dives?”
“I’d like that.” DH said after a moment. They stood before TO for just a moment longer before they stepped back and took off, flapping from pole to pole, “But I will beat you to the top!”
TO grinned and took off after them, gaining speed quickly as GiDi followed behind, laughing gently.
They headed back to their dormitory earlier than they had been as of late so that TO could convince the synth sleeping in the next pod over to move to GiDi’s spot.
The other synth was laying back in their pod, reading something from their implant. They glanced up as TO leaned over to look at them. TO had never spoken to this particular synth before; they had intended to try to talk to them, but they had been scared off by the reactions that the other synths had towards them.
“Can I help you?” They asked. There was oddly no malice in their voice. There was also very little interest. Their ears were simply flicked out in curiosity.
“Would you change pods with 45G70?”
“I see.” They said as they looked back at their file, “That’s all you want?”
“I don’t wish to bother you.” TO said, their ears flicking down, “I just...I was hoping you’d switch.”
They frowned as they seemed to think about it. “They sleep closer to the floor.” They said, “Which will be less trouble for me to access. Very well. I will switch.”
It was easier than TO had thought it might be. Now they had DH just one pod below them, and GiDi just to the side. It occurred to them that, save for the little bit of time they spent every day in their vocational training, they’d never have to be apart from their friends again. Even if they wanted to stay in their own pods for the space, or so they could use their pod’s computer systems, they could do so and still be close enough to one another to talk.
And of course, if TO were to wake up in the middle of the night again from a horrific nightmare, they’d be able to reach out to both of them very easily. It felt very comforting as GiDi climbed up into the pod next to TO and logged into the computer with their own chip.
“I’m glad I finally did this.” TO said as GiDi settled into their bunk, “I’m just sorry I didn’t get it done earlier.”
“It’s not a problem.” GiDi insisted. “Things were a little hectic, and I know you didn’t want to draw attention. It’s fine! I understand…”
“But you were still sad the other morning.” TO insisted as they remembered how they had looked when they realized that DH and TO had shared a pod for the night, and GiDi had been left alone.
“.... I was sad, ” GiDi admitted. They looked distantly at the screen as it loaded up their own preferences, then looked up at TO with a smile, “But I stayed with you and DH last night, and now I have a pod next to you!” They looked away, the tips of their ears twitching with amusement, “Besides, I know that neither of you wanted to leave me alone, not really.”
TO lowered their voice as they saw another synth climbing up the ladders and approaching near them, “Well, I’m happy that you’re so close now.” They said. They leaned over the edge of their pod to look down at DH, who was watching something on their screen, “Aren’t you?”
“Hm? Oh! Yes. Yes I am!”
TO leaned down and looked inside DH’s pod, “What are you watching?” They asked, “Oh, one of those romances?”
“No! I mean, I am watching a show from the cultural archives, and it does have romantic parts in it, but-”
“I can watch with you, if you’d like.” TO said, “I’m not a huge fan, but I have no issue with it.” They looked up at GiDi, “You’ll watch too, right?”
GiDi grinned and shook their head, “No no, you two go ahead. I’m deep in a book I’ve been reading and-” They trailed off as their ears pinned back and their eyes narrowed as they looked past TO, “What do you want.”
TO looked behind them and saw that Q10 had managed to climb up the ladder with one arm in a sling, the other sliding up the railing as they pushed themselves up. They had their eyes narrowed as well, but their ears were flicked down, worried and nervous.
“I wish to speak to 09T07”
“You agreed that you wouldn’t bother us.” DH said from below, “We beat you in that simulation, and you agreed that you wouldn’t bother us anymore.” They narrowed their eyes as they looked at Q10’s hand holding onto the edge of the ladder, their knuckles almost white from their desperate grip. “Go away.”
“I don’t want to cause trou-”
“Oh, I’m sure you don’t.” DH hissed, “Just like I’m sure you had nothing to do with TO being reported to their overseer.”
“DH…” TO said quietly, “It’s fine.”
“It’s not!” DH insisted, “Nothing happened, nobody got hurt-”
“What are you talking about?” Q10 snapped as they glared at DH.
“You know very well what I’m talking about.” DH said, “Yes, TO pulled their claws on 55h75, but they didn’t hurt them. Nothing happened. Their overseer even accepts that.”
Q10’s eyes widened, their ears flicking outwards, “You pulled your claws on another synth?”
“You knew that.” DH hissed.
“I did not.” Q10 said simply, “I had no idea.”
“I’m certain. I’m sure 55h75 told you.”
Q10 frowned at DH, their ears pinning back once more, “Why would they?” They asked.
“Well, aren’t they your friend now?” There was such unmistakable bitterness to DH’s tone that TO couldn’t help but stare down at them with their ears out and their eyes wide in surprise; Just a moment ago DH had been flushed and flustered, now they were snapping, their teeth were just visible under their upturned lips, their ears were pinned back.
Of course DH was mad; after the way Q10 had hurt them, TO could understand. Somehow, DH being angry wasn’t as bad to TO as them being sad.
Still, it wasn’t good.
“55H75 doesn’t speak to me needlessly.” Q10 stated with their ears down, “They tell me what is necessary. That is all.”
They were sad. TO realized this suddenly as they watched their ears sink low. They weren’t lying about anything, and they honestly seemed sad when they spoke about 55H75.
“What do you want.” TO finally asked Q10, trying to keep their voice neutral.
“... Might I speak to you privately?”
“You may not.” DH said “If you have something to say to TO, you can say it in front of us.”
For a moment, Q10 looked like they might just leave without doing what they came here to do. They shifted their arm and winced at the pain. After a moment of silence they looked back at TO with their ears down.
“Do you have any more painkillers?” They asked, their voice so soft that even to TO’s keen ears they almost couldn’t hear what they said. DH and GiDi looked at TO with their eyes wide, and their ears out in confusion.
“I’m sorry, I don’t.” TO said, “I only had enough for yesterday.” They tilted their head at Q10, “Can’t you go to the medical bay and ask for some?”. TO remembered that the Medical Officer had their hand on the painkillers while Q10 was being treated in the medical bay, but hadn’t given them any.
“I did.” Q10 said as they looked away and glared at the ladder before then, “I went, and I asked for something to help me sleep through the pain. They said that I wasn’t allocated any painkillers.” They looked back at TO, “But you were, and for just a hurt snout. Why?”
“I don’t know.” TO said. “If I had some I’d give you more.”
Q10 nodded, then wordlessly started the slow, painful process of climbing back down the ladder. As TO watched them struggle, they wondered if they could go back to the medical bay themselves and ask for more painkillers. A good idea, but as soon as the medical officer asked any questions about why they needed the painkillers, TO knew that their ears would give away their lies.
“You gave them your painkillers?” DH said to TO in disbelief. “Why? Those were yours! You needed them to sleep-”
“I had a painkiller to help me sleep!” TO insisted, “I just… I was supposed to take one with my meal but given everything I completely forgot. I wasn’t in that much pain anyway and I had an extra, and they weren’t given any painkillers at all. I bumped into them at the water fountain and they were just in so much pain.” They trailed off, looking at DH with their ears down, “are you angry at me?”
“Just confused!” DH insisted, “Why would I be angry?”
“Because they hurt you!” TO insisted, “And you said you wanted them to hurt. And I gave them painkillers to keep them from hurting-”
“You just couldn’t stand to see them in pain, right?” GiDi asked in their calm, quiet voice. TO didn’t respond, they just nodded their head. “TO give them the painkiller in spite of who they are, not because of it.” GiDi said to DH, “Just because they hate seeing people in pain.”
DH sighed and looked back at their screen, “You should have kept them for yourself.” they muttered, “What if you’re in pain tonight?”
TO frowned, and glanced up at GiDi. GiDi gave them a quick smile, and gestured down to DH as they mouthed, “Go watch their show with them.”
“...I think I’ll be fine tonight.” TO insisted as they crawled out of their pod and maneuvered themselves into DH’s, “My nose doesn’t really hurt-”
“You hit your head.”
“That doesn’t really hurt either.”
TO sighed as they sat next to DH, “OK. It hurts a little.” They admitted, “But it’s easily ignored. Q10 was in so much pain they were throwing up. I couldn’t just let them be like that if I had a painkiller to give them, you know?”
DH sighed and looked with intense focus at their screen, reaching out to flick away the show they were watching. TO stopped them, putting their hand on the back of their wrist, and pushing their hand down, “They’re strange too, aren’t they?” TO asked.
DH shook their head, “I thought they were.” DH said, “But... no. I think they were just tolerating me until they thought that it would cause them trouble.” They gave TO a quick smile, meeting their eyes for only a second “Nothing like you.”
TO beamed, and then reached out and turned the show back on. “Start this from the beginning.” TO said as they settled in, leaning slightly against, DH, “I’ll watch this with you before I sleep.” They looked back up at GiDi, “Are you certain you don’t want to join us?”
“Positive.” GiDi said, and though TO couldn’t see their ears, they sounded amused, “I want to finish this book. You two have fun.”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell