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A note from TheWitchOfTheRock

Thanks again to my patrons; Cannot Account, ColdAu, Cruelfeline, Sea Jay, and LivieLightYear.

Reminder that Patrons get access to the next two chapters ahead of what's published on Royal Road!

Another nightmare. This time it was different: TO floated in the void of space, seeing the bits and pieces of the juvenile synth floating around them. The pieces sizzled and cooked as one of the edacali rushed towards them, turning the unsaved organs into little cubes of food.

 

TO woke with a start, sweating all over as it took them a moment to remember where they were. They weren’t in a lab, or in space; they were in their pod trying to sleep. Trying, and failing.

 

They wanted DH near them. They reached out to open the door to the pod, but then stopped as their hand hung in the air next to the button.

 

Excessive fraternization; that phrase lingered in TO’s head. They were also worried because apparently it was noted that DH and TO sometimes shared a pod. TO had had a nightmare last night as well, and had woken DH for that. Would two nights in a row be considered excessive fraternization?

 

Was it fraternization? TO wasn’t entirely sure if C12 had meant that close friendship was bad, or that only romantic love between synths was bad. There was nothing romantic between TO and DH though. Just as they told themself that, they had the image of DH stroking their ears, of reaching up, pulling their head down gently and kissing them like people in romantic shows did. They thought of DH staying in their pod with them, holding them, their mouth close to their ears and their lips accidentally brushing against-

 

TO shook their head, feeling their ears burning. What was wrong with them? Why were they thinking like that?

 

Because they had seen C12 do it; that’s all.

 

Because they were worried about ‘excessive fraternization’; that’s all.

 

Because the idea was in their head now, and was popping up just as they started to worry; that’s all.

 

Because of all the romantic shows they watched with DH; that’s all.

 

Yes, that was right. They were just worrying themself for nothing. They got the idea in their head that there was something wrong and now they were just worrying about it, just stressing themself over random, meaningless thoughts. Not only that, they were sure that watching those shows with DH probably made them associate romance with DH in some way. It was just a coincidence, just random events linking up to form some kind of non-existent pattern.

 

They pulled their hand away from the button for the pod and turned over. They wouldn't wake DH. Besides, the nightmare didn’t even bother them anymore; they had other anxieties to keep them awake now.

 

And having DH in their pod wouldn’t help.

 

======

 

Yawning for what felt like the third time in a single minute, TO didn’t even notice that they had taken a wrong turn as they headed to the Combat Simulation Room. They would have kept going down the hallway for a while if DH hadn’t called to them.


“What’s wrong with you this morning.” They asked as they put their hands on TO’s shoulders and turned them down the hall.

 

“Nothing.” TO said, but as they said it they could feel their ears twitch with deceit, “I mean, nothing big. Nothing wrong really. I just had trouble sleeping.” They looked away as they headed down the hall, feeling DH’s hands leave their shoulders, “I was just worried about a bunch of things.”

 

“It’ll be fine.” GiDi assured TO, “I mean, the way that C12 tore apart at that other synth yesterday, nobody’s going to shoot you today. I mean, at least not your own teammates.” they gave TO a big smile, “You’re good. You’re smart, you’re a quick thinker! Once you’re given the chance you’ll prove that you’re good to have on a team and everyone will be happy to have you around!”

 

“Isn’t that what happened with SR45?” DH asked as they followed behind TO, “I mean, you saved them and now your training with them is better, right? They’re not being quite so short with you? They’re teaching you?”

 

“That is right.” TO said, “They’re… a little more forgiving of my questions. They even went out of their way to explain things.”

 

“Right!” GiDi said, “I’m sure the same will happen today.”


TO gave GiDI a quick smile and nodded. Maybe they were right; as long as TO proved that they were useful, they might be forgiven for their earlier deceit.

 

As for the other stuff… well, TO knew that they only had to control their mind, let those other anxieties settle and they’d be fine. They felt like they should talk to DH, or even GiDi about it and tell them what’s been bothering them, but GiDi would say they should talk to DH about it and even though TO knew that DH wouldn’t push them away, TO didn’t want to make DH uncomfortable. DH was clearly uncomfortable with the whole idea of synths and mates; they didn’t want to do anything that would make DH tense around them.

 

Nope. They’d keep this to themself; they knew these thoughts would eventually pass.

 

======

 

The simulation this time started in a storage room. There were boxes and boxes piled up all over the place, covered in dust and debris. TO could tell from the walls that they weren’t in the training center, but that was all they could tell. There were two other synths there who stiffened when they saw TO, but they said nothing.

 

The final synth came in. They scanned the room quickly, looked over the other synths, then looked at TO. Their ears pinned back as they saw the tag on TO’s uniform, but they said nothing. An awkward silence followed. TO turned away and looked around the room again, looking for any clues as to where they were. In truth, they just wanted to do something while they waited so they wouldn’t have to deal with the hostile glares of the others.

 

So far, it was better than yesterday at least. TO still wasn’t sure of everything that had been said, but GiDi and DH had told them that the words, “Wasteful idiot,” and “Traitorous wretch,” had been used.

 

Their uniforms synced- TO was now S09. They glanced back at the others; S79, S43, S32. A moment later their mission and their commander came up on their chips.

 

The commands were simple. Apparently, they were in a political HQ on a planet which was held by the insurgency. They were to liberate it by eliminating the tyrant who allowed the insurgency to thrive. The four of them were a special strike team and were supposed to get the job done without detection.

 

All they had were their basic weapons and a map. S79 was the commander this time.

 

“The assignment seems simple.” S79 said as they read over the file. They pulled up the map to look over it, “But there’s some issues. We’re supposed to get from this side of the building to the other. From the bottom floor, to the top. We’re to avoid detection.” They frowned as they let their eyes flick over the map, “But it’s a long way over, and there doesn’t seem to be any useful alternative routes.”

 

TO pulled up their own map to look. S79 was right; They had to go up several floors and through some seemingly high traffic areas. There wasn’t an obvious way around. TO glanced up at the vent, and frowned. That would be useful, but it was far too small for even a single synth to work though. TO tried to bring up more options on the map, but it appeared to be locked to them.

 

Probably because they weren’t the commander. They had an idea, and wanted to check something before they mentioned it.

 

TO turned to S79 “Does you map also show the-”

 

“Remove your helmet if you’re speaking to me.” S79 said. TO frowned, feeling their ears droop in their helmet. Fine. They still didn’t trust them. That was fine. At least they were allowing TO to work with them.

 

“We can take off our helmets?” TO asked as they reached up. Their fingertips touched their helmet, and it seemed to dissolve away. Their chip lit up briefly, and alongside their still visible map TO could see “IN INVENTORY: 1; Galactic Army Helmet.”

 

“Apparently you can.” S79 said, keeping their helmet on, “Now, you can speak.”

 

“Does that map show you exits?”

 

“To different rooms, yes-”

“But to outside?”

 

“It does. But that won’t help us.”

 

“It might.” TO said as they pointed to their own map. They gestured to a large circular room near the top of the building, “This is where we need to go, right? The top floor of this central tower.”

 

“Correct.”

 

“This tower is protected all the way up. There’s checkpoints and guards all the way up, doors that need key cards-”

 

“And armed security on every level, yes. What is your point?”

 

“Well. It’s protected inside. But look, outside, it’s got a glass dome on top. If we can get outside then it might be easier to just fly up and get in from the top, no?” They looked at the map again, “Even if the windows are all closed, doesn’t the multigun have a setting that can melt glass?”

 

S79 was silent and TO found themself wishing that they could see their ears and their face. They were far more aware of the way their own ears twitched with anxiety, and how everyone was watching them. They were far more aware of how they had been told their their ears flick too much.

 

“That may work.” S79 said slowly as they looked over their map, “If it doesn’t, it’s probably because of the programming rather than the logic.”

 

“If we can get outside, I’m sure we can do it!” TO insisted, “Why would we be allowed to go outside if we couldn’t?”

 

Silence again as S79 considered this. The longer they stood in silence, the more TO felt their ears twitch with worry.

 

“There is a nearby supply bay.” S79 said, “If this works, it’ll make the whole task a lot easier and a lot faster.”

 

“Exactly!” TO said, “These simulations are all similar to the logic puzzles and scenarios we can run through in our spare time, and there’s always a very easy way to do them!”

 

Another moment of silence that dragged out. TO was just glad at this point that nobody had shouted at them, nobody had said anything about them being deceitful. They wanted to know now exactly what C12 had said, their tone and actions in saying it which made the others chance so quickly.

 

“...I haven’t any better ideas. At least, I have none that can be achieved in two hours.” They nodded to TO, “Put your helmet back on. I’ll lead the way to the supply bay.”

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TheWitchOfTheRock

Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell

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