“You know, I’m not actually hungry.” DH said, stopping in the middle of the hallway as they approached the Cafeteria, “You two go on without me.” TO and GiDi stopped in their tracks and turned to look at DH, “Really, I’m not hungry.” they insisted, though their ears were low and blue, “You two go on.”
“DH.” TO said as they crossed their arms, “I have never known you to be ‘not hungry’.”
DH gave a nervous laugh and took another step away, “Well, maybe it’s the drugs I’ve been on for the pain? Lots of drugs can cause a loss of appetite!” They suddenly beamed, “I've been learning a lot! MO-6 said I have a natural affinity for medical care, and-” they cut themself off with a gurgle from their stomach.
“Right.” TO said as their ears flattened out and a brow ridge raised in disbelief, “Yeah, sure. You’re not hungry.”
“...Can you get my food?” DH asked as their ears pinned back and down. “I don’t want to go in there.” They lifted their hand to the scars on their face and the eyepatch, “I don’t everyone to stare at this.”
“We can’t.” GiDi said, their tone apologetic as they took DH’s hand, “You know that, your food won’t come out unless your chip is scanned. Come on. It’ll be fine.”
“Yeah… You never worried about people staring at you before.” TO said, “Why does this bother you?”
DH looked aside, their ears still pinned down in fear, though now they were flushed blue. They wrapped their wings tightly around themself. “The scars are ugly.” they said, “I look hideous, and everyone is going to gawk at me.”
“They’re not ugly.” TO said, “They look interesting.” They remembered how they had stroked DH’s scars earlier, and flushed. They quickly composed themself and said, “And if anyone thinks they’re ugly, it doesn’t matter.”
“You have to eat.” GiDi insisted, “And if you don’t do this today, you’ll have to do it tomorrow. The sooner everyone sees your scars, the sooner they’ll get used to it, and the sooner they’ll even just stop noticing them.”
“Come on.” TO said as they caught the sound of others heading towards them from the other side of the hallway, “Let’s go in, get our food, and get out.”
DH looked like they wanted to run and hide. Their wings were wrapped so tightly around them that TO could see where DH was holding themself, their hands on their arms.
“Then we can go back to the dormitories?” TO offered, even though they really wanted to go fly, “We can watch anything you’d like. I’ll hold off my studies for the night.”
“...Alright.” DH said, a light pout coming over their face “But you don’t have to bribe me.”
TO gave DH a reassuring smile as they walked alongside DH and into the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was always silent, save for the sound of movement and chewing. The odd spoken word was given in a whisper, and always rang out over the silence. As DH entered the cafeteria today, the scant sounds that lingered like white noise faded off, and for a mere moment there was deafening silence. Then the whispering started; quiet and hushed, the words overlapping as several synths whispered to one another all at once.
“...lost their eye…”
“...got into a fight…”
“...surprised they haven’t been corrected…”
DH froze, and TO had to nudge them to get them to keep moving towards the food dispensers. They threw GiDi a quick, worried look- one that clearly said ‘I think messed up.’
“We’ll get our stuff quickly.” GiDi said softly, “There’s not much of a line before us. We won’t be long.”
The whispering died off, but didn’t quite disappear as they got into line, and waited to get their food. They were all so on edge, all so distracted that they didn’t realize who was in front of them, not until 55H75 turned to face them. They looked DH up and down with a critical, assessing gaze.
“I’m surprised you’re back.” They said in their flat, deadpan voice, “I assumed that the damage done was more than could be fixed. 01Q10 clearly caused some damage to your eye.” they let their gaze linger on DH’s eyepatch.
“You should have stopped them.” TO hissed under their breath as they stepped between DH and 55H75, “You might have been able to keep them from hurting anyone.”
“They weren’t my responsibility, not then or now.” they tilted their head, “I thought maybe they had some potential, but they clearly did not.”
“They’ve been corrected.” TO said, “Don’t you care?”
55H75 looked genuinely confused at the question and their ears flicked outwards, “No. Why should I? If they were corrected, then that was at the discretion of the Overseers. I can only assume they’re of more use to King Decon now than they were, even if they’re in maintenance.” they looked back to DH, “Which is where I suppose you’ll be positioned, since you have only one eye.”
“I have two.” DH snapped, “I’m just to keep this eyepatch on until the healing is complete; Medical Officers orders.”
55H75’s eyes flicked to DH’s ears to see if they were lying, then they looked back to the eyepatch, “It’s not functional though, is it?”
DH reached up and moved the eyepatch out of the way so they could look at 55H75 with both eyes, “Very.” They said, “I can see just fine.”
More whispers around them. TO had been so preoccupied with what was happening that they hadn’t realized that everyone was watching them again. DH’s ears burned, but they kept their glare steady with 55H75 as though they were trying to stare them down.
For the first time, TO saw actual surprise in 55H75; their brows arched, their ears perked up. They looked over the scars and the eye, then nodded, “Impressive.” they said, “I honestly did not think you would be considered worthy of a replacement eye, or even the work it would have taken to perform the needed surgery.” they tilted their head as though they were regarding DH for the first time, “It seems I’ve underestimated you.”
“TO made it happen.” DH said as inched towards TO, “They convinced the Overseers-”
“No matter what 09T07 said, if the Overseers didn’t think you were worth the effort and resources to perform the surgery, they would not have done it. No, you’ve clearly proven yourself worthy beyond my expectations at least.” They let their eyes flick to TO, “Clearly, my judgement has been poor.”
There was a moment of disdain in their look, a tone of contempt. TO was confused at first, then realized that of course, 55H75 was in their combat training class and would have seen, or at least heard about how TO had been castigated by C12. There was a good chance that those who had been in the same simulation had filled in others on what happened. TO felt their ears burn as they realized what 55H75 was saying.
They had said once that TO was exceptional. Now, they were suggesting that they had been wrong. The disdain that they seemed to once hold for DH was suddenly thrust onto TO.
“Come on.” GiDi said as they stepped forward, “Our food’s ready.”
TO glanced up, and saw their call numbers displayed on the dispensers. 55H75 stepped out of their way so that they could get their food. The three of them grabbed their meals, and did all they could to keep from running out of the cafeteria and away from the whispers behind them.
They didn’t go back to the dormitories right away. DH insisted that they go to the flight training room because they felt stiff from all their time in bed.
But also, they wanted to rant.
“I can’t believe that one!” They snarled as they flapped up to the platform that the three of them hid on, “Q10 was their friend, and they just don’t care that they’re gone?!”
“Not friends.” TO said as they landed on the platform, “They made that very clear to me.”
“Still! ‘my judgement has been poor.’ Who do they think they are to have a right to an opinion of me! Or you!” They turned to TO, “They were being absolutely rude to you! Did you see the way they looked at you!”
“I did.” TO muttered as they sat down next to the wall and started eating, “It doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter? It doesn’t matter?” DH stepped towards TO, “What do you mean it doesn’t matter? You’re better than they are!”
“...Not really.” TO said, “It really doesn’t matter, DH.”
GiDi landed next to DH and put a hand on their shoulder, guiding them to sit down and eat, “TO hasn’t had a good period.” They said, “It’s been rough, even if we discount your injury.”
“They said I was exceptional once.” TO muttered as they ate, “But I guess I’m not anymore.”
“Who are they to decide that?” DH snapped as they sat down, “They don’t know anything. They didn’t think I’d get a new eye. They were surprised by that.” They looked to GiDi, “It was good to see some emotion on their face for a change.” their eyes narrowed, “Still, there should have been something there when you mentioned Q10. They just didn’t care.”
GiDi sat on the other side of TO, and the three ate in silence for a while.
“I am surprised I got a new eye though.” DH said after a moment. They gave a half smile, “You know the first thing I thought when I felt Q10’s claws go through my eye; when I couldn’t see out of it? How can I fix it? How can I hide it?” They gave a low chuckle, but their ears didn’t move, “Stupid, isn’t it? I kept thinking I’d be repurposed because I was damaged beyond repair.”
“... They never mentioned that, or correction.” TO said, “But…” TO trailed off. They knew they should tell DH about their Overseer’s experiment, but they didn’t want to worry them. They didn’t want DH to think that they hadn’t been good enough, and that having a new eye was a fluke.
“But I told them I knew there were eyes waiting to be used.” TO said, “And the Overseers decided that you could have one of them.” There. That was true, even if it wasn’t everything. Even if GiDI was giving TO a very hard look. Still, it didn’t matter. DH suddenly seemed to relax.
“I suppose I’m doing better than I thought I was.” They said.
“You still have to work hard!” GiDi said quickly.
“Of course!” DH said, “But… I’m doing good! I’m excelling! Just like TO!”
“I’m not really excelling much.” TO muttered. “Not now”
DH’s ears flicked back with concern, “Why? What happened? What’s wrong?”
TO didn’t really want to discuss their failures- how badly they had messed up their combat training, and how they had been placed in an awful position for vocational training. They hadn’t yet told DH about Q10 and Snout.
“A lot’s happened.” GiDi said quickly, “TO… Maybe you should start from the day of the newscast?”
TO sighed, set their meal aside, and started telling DH about everything that had happened.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell