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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!

Sandwiched between DH and GiDi, TO tried very hard to keep their mind from drifting to awkward thoughts. They had missed this closeness with their friends, something they had realized as soon as they had curled up to go to sleep. DH was behind them, their wings wrapped around both TO and GiDi. GiDi was nuzzled into their chest.

 

Both of them were sleeping soundly.

 

As soon as DH started chirping in their sleep TO remembered what they had been thinking of the night they had their last nightmare; they had been imagining DH, holding them just like this and accidently breathing on their ears.

 

Thankfully, they weren’t breathing on their ears, and their lips were nowhere near TO’s ears. They had been given painkillers to dull the pain in their wings, and DH had made sure that they took them before going to sleep. They hoped that they would just fall asleep and stay asleep before their mind had any chance to drift to places it shouldn’t. Hopefully, the pills would prevent the dreaded moment where they started to think about things they shouldn’t; the moment the others were quiet and their own mind started to race.

 

Oddly, their mind seemed willing to behave this day. TO was too comfortable and their mind didn’t want to drift, it just wanted to relax. They didn’t think about DH’s hand on their ears; they were comfortable and satisfied having DH’s arms and wings around them, and having GiDi curled up before them.

 

Maybe it was nothing after all! Maybe everything TO had been worried about was just because they had been thinking about C12 and Snout too much. Because of that they had been trying to keep some distance between DH and themself since then, so maybe it was just that they wanted ...well, this! Simple affection.

 

Synths weren’t supposed to want or need that either, but DH wouldn’t be bothered by simple, platonic affection.

 

Oddly, TO found that they didn't much care what Synths were or were not supposed to do beyond that. A part of them recognized that thought as problematic just before the pills kicked in and TO fell asleep, content and comfortable.

 

======

 

TO desperately wanted to stretch their wings. By the time they were heading to their vocational training the next day they felt like the muscles in their wings and back were itchy from being bound up all day. They felt cold because they couldn’t wrap their wings around themself. Combat training had been fine, and they had gotten to stretch their virtual wings at any rate, but now they were facing several hours without any relief. At least DH had promised to help them with their wings later on.

 

They went into Shipping and Receiving, and found the Officer waiting for them.

 

“You- 09T07- correct?” They looked at TO’s badge, and the moment they the number they nodded and closed their files without waiting for a response from TO.

 

That hadn’t happened before.

 

“Follow me.” The Officer said as they stalked off towards a side door. TO followed after a moment to get over their surprise of the Officer actually closing up their files before they took off after them. They didn’t go far, the Officer took them to a room just off the main warehouse.

 

This was a small office just like TO’s Overseer had, but it seemed smaller since there were already two others synths inside.

 

SR45 was there, and they were missing their wings. Their back, still exposed in their uniform, was covered in bandages and stitches. Where the bones once protruded from the back there was now just a bump under the bandages. TO felt a chill run through their body and froze on the spot until the Officer nudged them forward. They slowly took their seat and cast a careful glance at SR45. TO expected them to look sad at least– if TO had lost their wings, they’d be devastated.

 

Of course, they nearly did lose their wings. MO-6 was right; they had been VERY lucky.

 

SR45 didn’t look sad, they looked scared. It was only in that moment that TO bothered to look at who was sitting on the other side of the table.

 

The Commander.

 

TO stiffened and sat straight in their chair immediately as they noticed that the Commander was watching them.

 

“I brought them both, Commander.” The Officer said as they stood behind TO and SR45. The commander spared them only a quick glance before they turned back to SR45 and TO, “Very good.” They said, “You can leave us now.”

 

“Understood, Commander.” The Officer said before they left.

 

“I understand you two were very lucky.” The Commander said as they looked over the two of them. “Of course…” They let their gaze linger on TO, “I suppose that’s to be expected. I saw the videos. If not for your quick thinking, not only would we be dealing with the damage done to the shipping bay, but we’d also be down two synths.”

 

Praise from the Commander? TO felt their ears twitch and burn, “I didn’t… I wouldn’t call it quick thinking.” they admitted, “I just... Well, I saw the wire and I just grabbed it, then I saw SR45, so I grabbed them-”

 

“And then you managed to pull SR45 in before the gates closed.”

“I couldn’t have left them out there.” TO insisted.

 

“Many would have. Many would have considered that their chances of getting back into the center was better if they weren’t worried about another synth.”

 

Was this an interrogation? Had TO done something wrong in helping SR45? “I… I didn’t really think about it.” TO said, “I didn’t think I should leave them out there.”

 

“Fascinating.” The Commander said, “Well, you did well regardless. You acted fast in an emergency, and survived. You did well. I suppose that one was right; you are exceptional.”

 

TO’s ears flicked as they caught the disdain in the Commander’s voice. Were they actually talking about C12 like that?

 

“Well, that’s not why I’m here.” the Commander said, “An attack of such magnitude requires a thorough investigation.” they turned to SR45, “However, there seems to be no saved files for this shipment; they have been removed.”


“The Officer gave me the file, They would have the files-”

 

“Potentially. You, however, can give me some information on the crate itself.” They tilted their head, their ears flicking forward slightly, “What can you tell me about it.”

 

“I am unsure what you mean.” They said.

 

“When you ran your diagnostics was there anything interesting that you noted about that particular crate?”

 

“Commander, I actually ran those diagnostics.” TO said in a quiet, cautious voice, “I did it.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yes, for vocational training.”

 

“I see. Well, what can you tell me?”

 

TO frowned as they closed their eyes, trying to remember that specific crate. If it had been any other crate they wouldn’t have remembered specifically. That one, however, was special; strange.

 

“The engine was overheated.” They said, “It was a bit worrying. We set it to have additional rest time between uses, and got a replacement ship.”

 

“I see.” The commander said, “What would cause such overheating.”

 

“Generally, it’s a result of longer than expected flight times.”

 

“I see. Anything else?”

 

“I think that they didn’t refuel at their last stop.” TO said, “The fuel tank was empty and the backup tank was mostly empty.”

 

“And that didn’t strike you as odd?”

 

“Well, it was a timed delivery, yes?” TO said, as they considered this, “So… I suppose it might make sense if someone untrained –a civilian– were rushing to get this shipment sent off then they might skip some checks.” they frowned, “Though, if the person who sent the ship off was rushing and being careless, there’s every chance that they might have missed something which could have caused the explosion, yes?”

 

“Is that what happened?”

 

The Commander leaned forward, watching TO very carefully. TO didn’t know why they were doing that, but it made them uneasy.

 

“I-I don’t know.” They said, “I am simply considering all this. It is a possibility.”

“But you don’t know for certain if the explosion was intentional or not.”

 

Why was the Commander asking them? And why were they watching them so closely? TO suddenly realized that the Commander was watching TO’s ears. Were they watching to see if TO was lying, or would lie? Why would they think they were lying?”

 

It made sense to TO only if this was an interrogation “...You think I had something to do with this.” TO said in disbelief. They put a hand to their mouth as soon as the words left them, “I’m so sorry, I-”

 

The commander waved them off, “You are exceptional indeed.” they said, “You are not entirely correct. I don’t think you had something to do with this. I don’t know if you did or not. When an incident like this happens I have to consider everyone involved.” They kept their eyes on TO, “So, since that’s out now, Did you have anything to do with this.”

 

“No commander!”

 

The commander watched their ears for a moment, then nodded and looked to SR45, “And you?”

 

“No Commander.”, I did not.” They said, their ears pinning back in indignation. “I would never do anything to cause harm to King Decon.”

 

“I see…” The Commander said,

 

“...Commander? Permission to ask a question?”

 

The commander turned to TO as they spoke, and though their face was mostly a mask, their expression frozen and stoic, there was the slightest twitch of surprise in their ears.

 

“Permission granted.”

 

“Why are you questioning us?” TO asked, “Not..not why are we being questioned; i understand that, and you’re right- anyone involved should be questioned… but why are you yourself questioning us?”

“It is my duty to maintain the peace and functionality of the entire training center.” the Commander said after a brief pause, “Things that affect only certain parts of the center are not my concern unless it cannot be resolved by the officers in charge. However, when an insurgent manages to take over one of our ships and use it to attack the center itself…” they frowned, “Well, in truth, that the attack did so little damage is a testament to all the safety precautions we have.”

 

“So little?” TO glanced at SR45, at their wingless back.

 

“Well, the loss of supplies is regrettable.” The Commander said, “The entire bay, several crates, and a good deal of vital supplies were damaged or lost. However, when you compare that to the damage that could have been done if it got to its destination…”

“But we don’t know the destination.” TO said. They felt their ears burn as they looked done, “Commander.” They had to be careful. They had to be respectful.

 

Another long silence as the Commander regarded TO. “No… we don’t. Not yet. But each ship has a blackbox. If we can locate that, then we’ll find out. It could have been a disguised bomb slated for the engine room, or to the fuel reserves.” they leaned back, “But that is nothing for you to be concerned about. All you need to keep in mind is that the system worked. The threat sent by the insurgents was stopped with minimal damage done, thanks to the various safety protocols put in place and your own quick thinking. Rest assured, your contribution has has been noted, and will be taken into account when it comes time for your placement… which is coming soon, is it not?”

 

“Yes Commander. Six more periods.”

 

“Halfway done. Soon you’ll have an opportunity to really serve King Decon.”

 

“I live to serve King Decon.” TO recited.

 

“Most excellent. Dismissed. Both of you.”

 

======

 


“Come along, 09T07.” SR45 said once they left the office, “We’re assigned to assist with cleanup today in the -”

 

“What happened to yoru wings?” TO asked. Their ears twitching frantically. “Mine were damaged, but the damage wasn’t so bad that they had to be removed.”

 

SR45 didn’t stop walking, “I was in the cold longer than you were.” they said, their voice flat and deadpan, “As such the damage done to the muscles and skin was far more intense. If they had stayed on it could very well have caused severe, deadly infection. They had to be removed for that reason alone.” They frowned, their ears twitching back, “There was considerable damage done as well; broken bones. Most of the membrane was torn.”

 

“Oh…” TO felt their own ears sink back; to think they had been complaining about not being able to fly for a few periods. “I suppose once it’s healed, they’ll attempt a transplant of some sort?”

 

SR45 stopped and turned to look at TO, “No. Why would they?”

 

“... because you need your wings?” TO said, but suddenly they were unsure, “I mean, you can’t fly without your wings-”

 

“I work in Shipping and Receiving. I don’t need to fly for that. I am unlikely to be promoted to a position when I must fly. As such, I am not eligible for a transplant.”

 

Their ears were slightly tilted back and down. When they caught TO’s eye starting at them, they looked away, “I will grow accustomed to their absence.” they said, “I do not need them to serve King Decon.”

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Why are you sorry?”

 

“I should have pulled you in faster, or figured out a better way to-”

“... 09T07.” SR45 said quietly, “This is twice in this period alone that you have saved my life. It is because of you that I continue to exist to serve King Decon. For that, I am grateful. You should feel no guilt for my loss of wings.” Their eyes narrowed, I blame the insurgents entirely for that. Ungrateful civilians who think they know better than King Decon. I hope they find that box, and I hope they discover who was responsible for such an attack on King Decon’s empire, and for such an insult on King Decon!” They stopped themself, took a breath to calm down, then said, “But… You have saved me from two horrible deaths. For that, I thank you.”

 

“I’m just happy to have helped…”



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TheWitchOfTheRock

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

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