TO was half asleep when a knock on the barrier of their pod pulled them from their half sleep with a start. It took them a second to wake up, and for a few moments they wondered if they had actually heard anything. They were about to go back to sleep when the knock came again.
They reached out and opened the barrier to find DH on the other side, hanging off the ladder with their hand outreached.
“You ok?” TO asked through a yawn.
DH’s ears flicked down. “Yes, I’m fine. I just… I wanted to talk?”
TO nodded and pulled themselves into a sitting position to give DH space to climb in. DH crawled to the other end of the pod, and gestured for TO to close up the barrier. When they were alone, DH pulled their knees to their chest, their wings wrapped around themself as they stared at their toes. Their ears were pinned back, their hands were clutching at their naked legs.
“Are you certain you’re alright?” TO said as they crept towards them,”You look almost scared!” their mind raced back to when they started to have nightmares about the dissection. The nightmares still happened from time to time, and they still reached out to DH to stay with them when it did. “Did you have a nightmare?” They asked, “I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised, after what you went through-”
“No! No no. I mean…” DH looked away, “I had some nightmares when I was in the medical bay-”
“And if you have nightmares, you should reach out to me or GiDi, right?” TO gave them a reassuring smile, “If I had one, you’d want me to reach out to you.”
DH smiled back, their ears relaxing and their wings loosening up slightly, “I know.” They said, “And ...If I have a nightmare, I’m waking you up, trust me.” They chuckled, but then wrapped their arms around their legs, “I haven’t even gotten to sleep yet though.”
“Are you in pain? We could go to the medical bay-”
“No…I’m just thinking about stuff.” They put a hand to their forehead, “I can’t make my mind stop thinking, and I had to talk to you.” There was a sudden seriousness to their expression- focused and determined.
“Alright.” TO said, their voice softened by DH’s sudden change in demeanour. They were never this serious, and it made TO worried. The idea that maybe DH would tell TO that they shouldn’t be around one another crept into TO’s mind. 55H75’s words from earlier mixed with the first conversation they had back when TO first met DH; the warning away from a synth that might drag them down. Maybe DH thought that TO would drag them down now, since TO was struggling and DH just got approved for a new eye.
“I want to tell you-” they looked at TO, then looked away suddenly, “I just need to say…”
TO felt their own wings tighten around themself. Whatever it was DH was trying to say, it was a hard thing to communicate. The more they hesitated, the more anxious TO got and the more certain they were that DH was going to say that they didn’t want to be around them anymore.
DH glanced back to TO, saw their ears, saw the way their wings were wrapped around them, their hands clutching at their knees. They looked away once more and seemed to deflate.
“...C12 and Snout.” They finally said, their ears drooping down, “You…You think they’re actually a couple?”
There was a moment where TO almost laughed. They had been nervous over nothing! Of course DH wouldn’t want them to go away. That moment of relief disappeared immediately as they remembered Snout and C12, separated and alone. “Yeah.” TO said, “At least until they got separated-”
“Not because of you!” DH said firmly, “And if C12 thinks that it’s your fault, that’s on them!”
TO shook their head, “But yes, they were a couple.”
“Like I said-” TO said, their ears starting to flush blue, “I can’t see them acting like that and not being a couple. They were kissing! C12-” even though the pod was soundproof, TO lowered their voice, “C12 was stroking Snouts ear! I can’t see them doing that and not being a couple!” they looked aside, “Besides, they said they’d miss one another.”
“Did you think it was strange?”
TO frowned at DH’s question, “GiDi asked me the same thing.” they said, “No. I-I Mean, I knew I shouldn’t have been there, but no, I didn’t find them being -” They felt the very tips of their ears burn, “I didn’t find them being intimate to be strange. I just never considered that a synth could be like that.”
“Right.” DH said as they glanced away.
“...GiDi was really interested in it too.” TO said. They wanted to tell DH about what they had found out, how GiDI had kissed another synth at some point. They wanted DH’s help to make GiDi happy, but they also didn’t want to break GiDi’s trust. “From how they were talking, how interested they were, I think maybe they felt like that once. You know, I think maybe… GiDi might have romantic feelings?”
“...You think GiDi loves another synth?”
“Well, I know they do!” They gave a half smile, “They love us, right?” TO realized that when they told DH that they loved them the first time, there was a very good chance that DH hadn’t really understood what was said. “I… I guess I wanted you two to know that also. I told you when you were drugged, but you probably don’t remember. You two are my family, right? I love you both. I was worried that you’d die and that I’d never get to tell you…” They looked up, worried again that they had crossed a line.
DH looked confused. Their ears were flicked out, their eyes wide.
“I’m sorry!” TO said quickly, “I didn’t mean to say something weird, I just -”
“No no!” DH said as they leaned forward and put their hand on TO’s knee, “No. It’s fine. I was just surprised.”
“I needed to tell you. You and GiDi.” TO said again, “You’re my family, and I love you both. I can’t imagine life without you two.”
“...I know.” DH said, their voice soft and almost sad, “I love you too.”
TO relaxed and leaned against the inside of the pod, “I want to do something for GiDi though.” They said, “I mean… I was so worried about you, I didn’t even think about how scared they were. I left them alone…and that hurt them.” they looked up at DH, who honestly seemed like they were staring off into nothing, thinking deeply about something else.”DH?”
“Sorry. You just seemed distracted there.”
DH shook their head, “It’s nothing,” They said, though TO could see their ears twitching. They were lying.
Maybe the thought of GiDi being interested in someone made DH uncomfortable? TO realized that they hadn’t asked if DH found the whole thing with C12 and Snout weird.
“Anyway…” TO said slowly, “ I want to do something for them and… and if you’re ok with that, I’d like your help in doing it. I mean, if it wouldn’t make you uncomfortable-”
“You know I’d do anything for you.. And GiDi.”
TO beamed; at least if DH was uncomfortable, they were willing to put it aside to make GiDi happy.”
“Good.” TO said, “Because I think I know who GiDi might be interested in.”
“Oh?” DH kept their tone level, but their ears quirked up in panic, “Who?”
The three of them were early to their combat training the next day, since they had taken their food to the storage room right next to the simulation room. There was a sense of normalcy that comforted TO in this- the three of them relaxing and eating on their own before they had to be somewhere. It felt normal, even if the morning had started with the whispers and looks at DH.
Well, at least there weren't as many odd looks this time.
C12 was waiting just outside the simulation training room, looking as dazed and sad as they had the last few days. TO put their head down to walk past them, but C12 stopped the three of them as they were entering.
“70H67.” They said as they looked over DH, “I understand you’re healed enough to participate in virtual training, correct?”
“Yes.” They said, looking away as well as their ears flicked down.
“Excellent. I can assume that you’ve been updated as to what will be expected of you?”
“Good. Go in, take a seat.” The three of them started walking in again, but C12 put an arm down in front of TO and stopped them, “Not you.” they said, “Wait in the hallway for a little.”
Panic coursed through TO. DH and GiDi looked like they wanted to say something, but C12 gestured for them to go into the training room. TO nodded, and wordlessly went to wait, leaning against the opposite wall. They kept their head down, and refused to look at C12.
Maybe they were being taken out of this training. Maybe it had been determined that they weren’t suited for combat. Maybe what TO had worried would happen to GiDi would happen to them instead. Would they be corrected? They remembered what their Overseer had said about scores changing. Had their score changed? Had it lowered? Could they be corrected now?
The last of the synths arrived and entered the training room. C12 closed the door, and TO was alone with the Retiree in the hallway. TO knew they should say something, they wanted to say something! But their stomach was so queasy-”
C12 cleared their throat. “Today, I’m going to-”
“I’m so sorry!”
C12 blinked in surprise, their ears quirking forward in a confused expression that would have been comical to TO if they weren’t so scared.
“For Snout. I’m so sorry. I didn’t want them gone, I just- “
“Wait. Wait just one moment.” C12 said, their ears pinning back as they took a step towards them “Who exactly are you talking about?”
It took TO a moment to realize that they had called the former PQ12, Snout. The panic that had stayed in their stomach suddenly surged through their body. Of course, the moment they tried to make things a little better, they messed everything up.
“I… I overheard-” they really didn’t want to admit that they had seen how close, how intimate that C12 and Snout had been. “I overheard you talking to them, and you called them that name, and since they’re not around anymore, well, they don’t have any of the assignments they might have had, so that’s the only thing that seemed to make sense to call them, and I-”
“Stop.” C12 said, putting a hand to their head, massaging their temples with their thumb and forefinger, “You do tend to ramble at times.”
“When did you overhear me call them that?”
“Well, it was before they left. Obviously. But I-”
“None of this.” They snapped, “Answer me directly 09T07; TO.” There was an almost accusatory tone to how they said their nickname, “When did you overhear me call them that.”
C12’s fists were clenched, but their ears were pinned back. Their eyes were wider than they should have been, though the brows were narrowed down. Their lips curled up, but their wings tightened around them. TO looked down and felt their ears burning.
“...The day they were sent off?” They said carefully, “...In the upper levels?”
They glanced up to see how angry C12 was. At first, they seemed confused, but then their expression changed to horrified, then mortified as their ears fell limp and burned blue. TO couldn’t take their eyes away from C12’s ears at that point: they had never seen, and never thought to see, someone as advanced and intimidating as C12 look so flustered.
“You saw that.”
“I didn’t mean to! I left quickly, I-”
“What were you even doing up there?!”
TO looked away, “I wanted to help.” They said, “I... I figured you were close to them. I wanted to find them, to apologize to them, and see if I could do something… I know you said I should just stay quiet, but it’s my fault that they’re gone, and I wanted to do something - anything- that might-”
“Who in the galaxy said it was YOUR fault?”
“I… you.. You said that I needed to be more careful. That my curiosity-”
“Yes, but I didn’t say it was your fault!” Their stance relaxed, and though their ears were still a deep blue, they didn't seem angry anymore. “I warned you about your curiosity so you wouldn’t get in trouble!”
“You asked what I’d say-”
“Because I wanted to know what you’d say if anyone questioned you, which thankfully they didn’t!” They frowned, “I never said it was your fault.”
“But you were so-” They frowned, “You weren’t treating me the same.”
A shuffle, a readjustment of the wings as C12 looked aside, “Well, I wasn’t treating anyone the same.”
In the silence that followed, TO realized suddenly that although C12 was a retiree, well accomplished, and their teacher, they were also just another synth. They were a strange synth who lost someone important to them. TO wondered how they themself would act if they suddenly lost DH or GiDi. They very much doubted they could treat anyone normally for a long time.
“You were angry at me.” they said in a meek, quiet voice, “You yelled at me.”
“Yes. Because you lied to your commanding officer! Do you have any idea what would have happened if you had done that in a real situation? Do you know what would have happened if-” they stopped, and took a deep breath, “Yes. I was angry at that. You can’t lie to your commanding officers. If you’re not in charge, you have to just obey orders. Do you understand that?”
“And if you don’t do that, you’ll be considered useless. What happens if you’re useless?”
TO’s ears flicked down in fear, “If you’re useless, you get corrected. Or repurposed.”
“Yes. And you have far too much potential for that to happen to you. Do you understand?”
C12 stood back, and took a long deep breath. Slowly, their ears started to return to normal. “... I’d ask you not to tell anyone about what you saw.”
“... I’m so sorry.” They said, “I was upset. I was worried I ruined everything. I told GiDI and DH.”
C12 sighed and rubbed the bridge of their snout, “Nobody other than them, then,” they said, “And I’d appreciate it if they said nothing.”
“...Good.” C12 said after a moment, “Go in. You’ll be working with others again. I assume you’ve learned how to follow orders?”
They weren’t being taken away? They were being put back with the other synths? “Yes, Retiree.” TO said, “... But may I ask you a question?”
“I reserve the right not to answer.”
“...Did you have me put in Shipping and Receiving?”
To TO’s surprise, C12 winced. “You got put there?” They said, “Tedious work, and the officer there is -” They glanced up at TO, as though they had just forgotten who they were talking to, “The Commanding officer is someone you should obey, regardless of how inane their orders might be. And no, I had nothing to do with it. As far as I know, the assignments are random.”
There was almost a weakness and a dizziness to TO as their fears started to alleviate. They couldn't help themself when they asked, “You don’t hate me?” As soon as the words left their mouth, they felt their ears burn. That wasn’t the kind of question they were supposed to ask a Retiree! They looked up, about to apologize, but to their surprise, C12 chuckled.
“Not last I checked, no.” They said.
“I’m sorry about Snout. That they’re gone, I mean.”
C12 nodded, Their ears sinking down, “I appreciate that.” they said. “Now go in. There’s training to do.”
Feeling better than they had in days, TO went into the simulation room ready to do whatever was required of them.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell