I nearly died.
The thought finally ebbed through TO’s head as they were heading to the cafeteria after their vocational training. They hadn’t had a chance to really think about it before that moment; when they got the crate back to Shipping and Receiving, they were first questioned about what happened, and then questioned about the damage done to SR45’s suit.
Thankfully, it seemed that two synths and an intact shipping crate were at least worth the cost of the oxygen tank. TO was assured that they did good, and that the damaged equipment could be overlooked. Afterwards, even though TO and SR45 were busy trying to get caught up on unloading crates, SR45 seemed a little more amicable towards TO; they even taught them how to use the machinery to get the crates down to their work station.
TO had been worried about DH, and about GiDi. They worried about how they might have felt if something really bad had happened. It was only now that thought rose up, the idea of their own mortality, and how close they had been to death.
I nearly died.
More terrifying than that, SR45 nearly died and while they clearly didn’t want to die they had seemed resigned to it. They were ready to keep fixing the crate and die to the creatures. They had their orders, and they were going to follow them even if that meant their own death.
Another horrifying thought hit TO, causing them almost to stumble. It was a thought that could –if spoken aloud to the wrong person– get them corrected at best.
I would have run, duty or no.
“I still don’t know why we couldn’t go to the observation deck.” GiDi muttered, “It’s more comfortable there.”
“I’d just prefer to be here right now.” TO said. While that was true, they kept the reason as to why they didn’t want to be on the observation deck to themself; there was a pile of food hidden there that they wanted to keep hidden for a little while longer.
“That’s fine. Just… I’d like to go to the observation deck soon. It’s nice and quiet and cozy there.” GiDi said. They sighed and picked up a cube of food. “You know,” they said as they popped one of the cubes in their mouth, “I used to wonder if these cubes were reprocessed synths.”
TO nearly spat out the cube they had half chewed up, “WHAT?” they cried, their ears flicking down in horror, “Why would you think that?!”
“Well, look at them!” They held up one of the small grey cubes, “They don’t look like any other food I’ve ever heard of before. They don’t have a name, it’s just “nutrient cubes.” And it made sense as a use for otherwise unusable parts of repurposed synths.”
TO shook their head, “No.” They said, “There’s not enough synths being repurposed to feed all the synths in training. As well, such an act would cause a myriad of diseases. Furthermore, there're a lot of essential nutrients that would not survive a processing treatment, so we wouldn’t be able to survive on the bodies of others synths.” The more they spoke, the more their ears flicked down in horror at GiDi’s implication, “And even aside from that–”
“I know, I know!” GiDi said, almost amused as they tried to calm TO down, “I know that now. I mean… well, it was just something I thought.” they shook their head, “I've read horror fiction in the archives about people being tricked into cannibalism. I know it was a stupid thing to be worried about, but the thought crossed my mind.”
“... So, you’re working in the kitchens.” DH said, “What is it made of?”
“It’s a lab, not kitchens.” GiDi said as they ate another cube, “And it’s… just synthetic nutrients.” they shrugged, “Fungi, yeast, and a bunch of chemicals that are lab–grown. They’re all combined to have a neutral taste and a pleasant texture.” they gave a grin, “We’re relatively self–sufficient here in terms of food.”
“I suppose that’s why I don't see a lot of our food coming into shipping and receiving.” TO said as they started to calm down. Their stomach was churning, but they wanted to eat something so that DH wouldn’t worry. “I suppose that explains it. And it’s better anyway– this way we don’t worry about starving if something happens to the supply chain.”
“Right!” DH said, “How was your training today? Did you finally get to do something interesting?”
TO almost laughed, “I did.” they said, “I nearly died.”
DH dropped their food, staring at TO in disbelief. GiDi nearly choked on what they were eating, but managed to cough it up.
“Don’t joke like that.” GiDi managed to gasp, “At least not when I’m eating.”
“I’m not joking. I actually almost died.”
“How.” DH said with a sudden rage to their voice. TO had only heard a hint of it that day that Q10 had come to ask for more painkillers, but now they could hear it like it was a large animal deep within DH that was slowly waking up. “Did someone hurt you?”
“No. not really.” TO said, surprised. They quickly explained what had happened with the edacaeli. When they got to the part where SR45 said that they wouldn’t make it back to the Ship, TO started laughing. They didn’t know why, but they couldn’t seem to stop.
“A–And then.” TO said between laughter, “I took their oxygen tank, and I was just piercing it and –” They dissolved into giggling, “I was worried that I’d get in trouble for BREAKING THEIR OXYGEN TANK.”
“TO, this isn’t funny!” DH said as they put their hands on TO’s shoulders to try to stop their shaking, “You actually nearly died!”
“I know!” TO said, “I can’t stop! And–” they were starting to hurt, “And SR45 just... They just didn’t care that they were going to die! I mean, they didn’t want to die but they almost seemed just resigned to it!”
DH gently pushed TO down to lay on their back, taking the food away from them. “What are you doing?” GiDi asked as they watched DH.
“I’m not sure, but I think they’re in shock?” DH frowned, “I saw someone today who only had a graze on their head from a falling beam in the flight bay. They weren’t badly hurt, but if the beam had been any closer they might have died. They were… Erratic.” they sat down and watched TO carefully, “MO–6 said they were in shock.”
“But TO’s not hurt.”
“I’m really not.” TO said, “I”m fine. The edacaeli didn’t get near enough to cause any damage–”
“But you almost died.” DH said, “Apparently that can cause shock.”
TO didn’t feel like arguing. The situation wasn’t funny, but to an extent it was absurd! They had been so close to dying! They had been so worried! They had gone right back to work afterwards.
“The officer questioned us later about the loss of the oxygen tank!” TO said, a manic grin coming over their face, “Over the oxygen tank!”
“Should we bring them to medical?” GiDi asked DH, their ears flicking down with worry.
“I don’t think so.” DH said, “We just have to let them rest.”
“I’m fine.” TO said again, “I’m not hurt.”
“Well that’s good.” DH said. Their demeanor had changed though; they suddenly seemed more focused. They took TO’s hand in theirs and squeezed at the fingers. They set the back of their hand against TO’s face to check how their skin felt. They held open TO’s eye to check their pupils.
DH’s hand came against the edge of TO’s cheek, and just brushed the edge of their ears. TO hardly felt it –it was a very gentle graze of DH’s finger against the very edge of their earlobe– but they remembered how C12 had their hands on Snout’s ears. For a split second, they wondered how it felt. For a split second, they wanted DH to do the same to their ears. The image of DH stroking their ears flicked in their mind’s eye and left them in a state of sudden panic. Why would they want DH to do that? Why would DH do that? DH wouldn’t! Even when TO had told DH about Snout and C12, DH had acted so odd…
“I’m fine.” They said as they sat up, their stomach churning as they shook the image from their head. They didn’t know what it was about the ears, but they knew that DH would think it was weird if they just suddenly asked them to stroke their ears. Even they felt embarrassed just thinking about it.
“Are you certain?” DH asked, “You’re a bit flushed. If you want to go to medical–”
“No...I’m fine.” TO said, “I just... “ They sent their mind back to what they were doing before what they had been talking about? Oh, right. “Just...I’m a little thrown off by how SR45 was so…” they frowned, “I feel like they should have cared more, or they should have fought to survive more.”
“Was….was it like Q10?” GiDi asked. “Like when they seemed ready to be corrected?” TO shook their head.
“Not at all.” TO said, “Q10… They wanted to be corrected. SR45 didn’t want to die, and they were grateful when we were safe.” they felt their ears perk up, “They said I did a good job, and after they actually started to teach me things. But… they didn't do anything to save themself. I asked if we should go back, and they said we had to finish our job.” TO shook their head, “Which… I guess that’s right? We had a job. We were supposed to finish it. If we die doing our jobs, well–”
“That… that’s just how it goes, right?” DH said, but they didn’t sound convinced, “I mean... Every synth dies in service to King Decon, right?”
Something felt wrong. That was true. TO knew it was true. TO knew that it was right and just and proper that all synths die in service to King Decon. but there was that feeling again. That feeling deep inside that said that their logic was wrong. How could that be wrong? What was there to live for aside from serving King Decon?
The answer came to TO quickly, and it scared them; DH and GiDi. They remembered GiDi’s question from several days ago.
If you had to choose between being with us or working for King Decon, or even if you were able to make the choice... would you choose King Decon?
“We are made to serve King Decon. That’s our purpose in life.” TO said it, but it almost felt like they were saying it more to themselves, to remind themself. “There is no greater privilege than to be created to serve King Decon.”
“Right.” GiDi muttered as they looked away, “Right.”
“That’s right.” DH said slowly as they looked away from TO
Still, TO knew that if they had been SR45 in that moment, they would have run.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell