Even though they were kept busy, they felt like the seconds were being pulled excruciatingly slowly as they worked. They couldn’t rush the job –they had to be careful as they fed the embryos– but they desperately wanted to leave. They wanted to find DH and GiDi.
Of course, even if they were to leave right now, GiDi and DH were still in their vocational training, and wouldn’t be done for hours. There was no point to them leaving early to find them yet. They wished they could find GiDi and DH, and take them out of the training, or even just sit with one of them while they finished their work. Being alone let their minds roll over the information over and over, much like it had replayed that horrible dissection so many times.
No matter what PQ03 said, They were sure that this wasn’t at least in part their fault. If they hadn’t gone back to get their goggles. If they hadn’t seen the microscope.
No. If they hadn’t let their curiosity get the better of them. If they hadn’t looked at what was in the microscope. They tried to tell themselves that it was natural for them to have poked at that–they were in a lab, and expected to learn, right? But PQ12 had warned them that same day to be careful of their curiosity.
Regardless of what PQ12 was doing, if they hadn’t looked at the microscope, then they’d still be here now. They’d still be PQ12, and not ‘N’ for nothing, nobody, and nameless.
It only took a couple of hours for them to finish their work, and by the time they did, they decided that they had to do something to fix this, or at least make it better. They had to find some way to discover where PQ12 was at least, and find some way to figure out their new designation. They didn’t know how they would do it, but they had to. If this was their fault, and they had to do something.
They put away the tools, cleaned up what they had used, and left the laboratory. When they entered the main lab they could see PQ03 several floors up, doing something to one of the older synths. They might have been curious about what they were doing, but TO had more important things to deal with. They were unbothered by the small children in their tanks nearby, and even waved away a notice that popped up on their implant. They weren’t concerned right now about any of that. Before GiDi and DH finished their work for the day, TO wanted to make things better. They wanted to do something right.
If they could even just give C12 PQ12’s new call number, things would be better right?
They left the labs, and stopped. Even though they had been dismissed, it still felt wrong to be leaving so early. They also didn’t know where they were supposed to go. They strained their minds, trying to imagine where they might go to find C12, or what they might do to find out where PQ12 - no, N now- would be.
Oddly, it was their time working in Maintenance that led them to the answer.
The laundry shafts and disposal units went to a single room in maintenance from all areas of the center. Stuff would be pulled down the shafts, and thrown from holes in the wall into bins below. Some of the bins were further out than the others, and TO noticed that anything that came from them seemed to be thrown with greater velocity than the others. When they asked, the synth who was working there at the time only said, “Officer's laundry; most of them live higher up.”
Officers were on the floors above the one that TO had spent their life on. If they were going to find C12 or PQ12, it would be in one of the floors higher up.
If this doesn’t work, I’ll stop. TO promised themself.
It had taken a while to find an elevator or stairway, but on the end of a hallway that TO never really explored before, they found it. The sign over the sliding door read ‘stairwell 202’ and it was locked.
TO figured that if they scanned their chip and it didn’t work, then they weren't supposed to go upstairs to the higher levels of the center and look around. If it did scan, then it was fine right? And if they got caught, well, was there any harm in looking around? They had a reason to be out of their vocational training anyway.
They held their hand to the scanner. If it worked, they’d go on; if it didn’t they’d give up and head to their pod to study before meal time.
The scanner hummed, the light turned green, and the door slid open. With only a moment of hesitation, TO went up the stairs to the next floor.
The problem was that the rooms higher up in the center were just like the ones below - the same clean, slightly blue, bright hallways with doors spaced equally apart along the walls. On their own floor, TO know which rooms led where, and the really important rooms had signs over them to let them know where to go. Up here, all the rooms had numbers over them- assignments most likely - that TO was unfamiliar with. There was nobody around, which they figured was most likely because all the synths who would be here were either working, or in training.
The next floor was mostly the same but It seemed to have offices, not room. TO could only tell this because the doors now had the designations, “office” along with a series of numbers. The hallways crossed so much, and everything looked so similar that they got lost on this floor, but soon they managed to find the stairwell leading up to the next.
They scanned their chip. The chip reader hummed, then the light turned red. The door stayed closed. TO felt their ears droop down as they stepped away.
This couldn’t be it. They hadn’t seen a single person around here! Where else could PQ12 be?
They reminded themselves that this wasn’t free time, and that they had been unlikely from the start to find what they were looking for.PQ12 was likely in an office somewhere being examined, or maybe they were already examined and shipped off. Maybe they kept Synths up on the higher floors when they were being considered for new placements. Maybe these floors were only open to TO now because synths had to come up here for vocational training.
Well, no matter. They were done looking now. They said that if they found a locked door, that was time to stop, right? They turned around, and headed back to where they had come from. They turned left, left, then right again, and then realized that they were lost.
Of course they were lost. This whole place looked too similar to them, and they weren’t used to the numbers yet. They were certain that the hallways on their own floor twisted around just as much, but at least they had gotten the chance to get used to where everything was when their overseers still led groups of synths from room to room.
Now they were alone, and they didn’t know where to go.
The first thought that came to their mind was that they’d be stuck here the whole day until someone came up to find them. Maybe they’d be stuck there through mealtime! They took a breath and tried to calm themselves. They had to think through this logically; there were only so many hallways on each floor, and if they worked through each one and paid close attention to where they were going then they were certain that they’d find their way to where they had to go.
TO started walking, reading every number over every every door, and paying attention to what they passed and the direction they were going in. To their surprise they were able to keep all the directions in their head in an orderly fashion, along with the numbers and movements.
They figured that it was part of the logic games they played, a part of the training they had been working on that made such memorization and mental organization so simple. Maybe this was just their training at work before their training was finished.
It wasn’t long until all that memorization and organization became pointless. TO was turning a corner when they heard the familiar whoosh as a door opened. They ducked behind a corner, and waited, scarcely breathing as they listened. TO didn’t know why they were hiding though, since as far as they knew there was no reason they shouldn’t be here.
...Of course, there was no reason they should be here either, and that was a bit of a problem.
“...And I know you say it’s fine, but I'm scared!”
TO froze, their ears pricking up as they listened. They had never heard any officer sound like that. They had never heard that tone of pleading, of worry in the voice of any other synth, save for GiDi, DH, or even themselves. They certainly didn’t expect to hear it from the former PQ12.
“Snout, It’s fine.” They heard C12 say, “You do what I told you, you remember everything I told you, and you’ll be fine. Once you get to the mining colony-“
“A mining colony. A MINING COLONY! A tiny little nowhere place on a nothing moon of Arkane.” There was another low laugh, broken by the hint of a sob, “I won't survive there.”
TO leaned around the corner, hoping not to be seen. They didn’t know if they should be watching this, but they also knew that they shouldn’t just come out and say they were there. They wanted to sneak away, taking just a quick look down the hall to see where they had come from. They caught a brief glance of stairs through an open door, but they soon forgot about that as they saw PQ12– the former PQ12 who C12 had called Snout- holding onto C12’s arm. Their ears were low, their wings wrapped around themself tightly as they looked up at C12 with desperation in their eyes.
“I don’t want to go.”
“You have to.” C12 said as they reached up and put their hand on Snout’s shoulder. C12’s ears were lower than they had ever seen them before; almost limp with sorrow. Their voice sounded raw, as though they had been crying, “I don’t have much sway when it comes to the greater running of things here, but I have some. I was able to get you this assignment, and if you do what I say, you’ll be fine.”
“Come with me.” They said, their ears perking up with slight hope as they took C12’s other hand in their own, “Come with me. You don’t need to be here. You don’t need this place! You’ve given enough. Just… please-“ Their voice grew quiet and soft, “Come with me.”
C12 reached up, put their hand on the back of Snout’s head, and pulled them into their chest. TO saw C12 press their lips tenderly to Snout’s forehead before wrapping their wings tightly around them. “I can’t.” they whispered after a moment, “You know I can’t. You know I have more to do.”
“Why.” Snout whispered as the tears welled up in their eyes and their ears pinned back with anger “Why do you have to stay.” They wrapped their arms around C12, clasping their hands at the small of C12’s back. “If what you told me works, you could come with me, and we’d be fine. If it’s not….” They shook their head, their ears fell limp as they pressed their face into C12’s chest, “Then at least we’d be together at the end.” The tears started to run down Snout’s cheeks, trailing down their jaw and trickling down their neck.
Tears on PQ12 -Snout- an Officer. TO had never seen an Officer cry before. They had never seen anyone cry before save for themself, DH, and GiDI.
C12 pulled Snout closer, their wings tightening around them as they lifted up Snout’s head before reaching their thumb up to their cheek to wipe away a fresh tear that escaped Snout’s eye, “It’s not your end.” They said, “I didn’t get this far to see you sent to the ass end of the galaxy, or into combat, or -“
“And I didn’t want to get this far without you!” They insisted, “Why do you think I care what happens to me if I’m not with you?”
TO felt their ears burn and flick down; They had a feeling that this wasn’t something they should be watching. They had a feeling that this was something intensely private. They didn’t think other synths acted like this. They hadn’t seen anyone act like this outside of the romantic shows that DH liked.
“You’ll know what to do.” C12 said, “And…” they nestled their head at the curve of Snout’s neck, “And you’ll go on because if I’ve managed to do something good for you, if I manage to protect you, then it's fine. Everything's fine.
“... Will you miss me?”
“Every day.” They promised. They lifted their head up and looked Snout in the eyes with their ears flushed deeply blue, “Every second.”
“We’ll never see each other again.” Snout said as they reached a hand up to caress C12’s ear, “We’ll never talk again. I’ll never know if you’re ok, or-“
“It’d be like this anyway.” C12 said.
“.... I’ll miss you so much, Flit.” Snout muttered as they gazed at C12, their own ears flushing blue, tilting and twitching in a way that TO had never really seen before. They recognized it though, as easily as they could see joy or sorrow in GiDi or DH; Want. Need. Desire.
C12 and Snout, the retiree and a former officer, were silent as they gazed at one another. C12 leaned forward with their ears down and blue, their eyes half closed as they hovered before Snout’s face for just a moment before Snout moved their face forward, and pressed their lips together. C12 held Snout gently by the back of the head, their thumb caressing their face. Snout took one of their hands from behind C12’s back, clasped C12’s free hand, clasping their fingers as they moved closer together. C12’s wings draped over Snout who seemed to melt against C12’s body.
With their ears low and burning, TO pulled themselves away from what they were seeing and snuck down the hallway. C12 and ‘Snout’ had come from the stairwell they needed to get to, and they wanted to give them a minute to move on. They didn’t want C12 and Snout to know that they had seen or heard anything. They didn’t want them to see the tears that burned in TO’s eyes as they realized what their meddling had actually done; what it had caused.
They were also pretty certain that of every synth in the center, TO was probably the last one either of them wanted to see.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell