Ryan jumped as a yellow hand reached through his chest. He shifted out of the room, and a ran an instant system inventory before he could calm down. He looked back through the door and saw her – another aspect, yellow this time. She fumbled with her drawer, opening yellow ghost-copies of the drawers that were there, and muttering to herself as she went.
He smiled for a moment, she was a lot closer to his Stef than the younger copy had been – this memory was recent, it had to be from the past few years. He wished Death was there – so far all of the aspects had been in sequential chronological order, starting from a very young child, to a teenager, up to a memory that was just shy of the inert girl lying five feet away. Either it was coincidence, or she was getting closer to waking up, and he hoped for the latter.
The sooner she woke up was the sooner she could go back to confusing him, and the sooner things could go back to what he had hoped was going to be normal. She turned from the desk, slipped something into the pocket of her loose shorts, then slammed the ghost copy of the drawer closed, then walked through him and out toward the living room.
Her expression confused him, the child aspect had been lonely, the teenager had been bored, this one was neutral, blank, as expressionless as a newborn agent. He tried to push the worry away – he’d seen similar expressions in the tech department from time to time, especially when, despite medical advise, Jones’ recruits had stayed up for multiple days at a time.
‘What were you hacking?’ he asked the aspect, hoping that this one would interact with him, that he could ask her to wake up.
The aspect walked into the kitchen, filled a tall glass with water from the tap, then walked back through to the living room. She sat on the couch for a moment, then slid down to the floor, leaving her back up against it. A ghostly copy of Alexandria appeared in her hands as she reached down and picked the previously-invisible doll up off the floor.
She lifted herself a bit, then extracted the box from her pocket.
He sat beside her and reached out to the aspect, idly trying to brush some of the hair back from her face, without really trying to make contact. There was nothing to worry about – this was just an insomniac hacker trying to get some sleep – the location didn’t bother him, so far he’d seen her fall asleep on a stool, on the edge of a building and in a crude pillow-fort, abnormal was normal for her.
She popped two of the pills, then took a slow drink from the glass.
After a moment, she popped another two and took another slow drink.
The same blank expression on her face, she lifted the strip of tablets and ejected two more. This time she seemed to hesitate for a moment before downing them with the prerequisite drink of water.
‘Stop it.’ The serene expression was gone from her face, replaced with something a great deal less calm. ‘Stop it, Spyder.’
Her hands shook for a moment, the thin strip of tablets rattling the only sound in the apartment. The aspect’s breaths didn’t make any noise, and he wasn’t bothering to breathe – there were more important things to do than breathe.
Like watch his recruit try and kill herself.
The serene expression returned to her face, her hands stopped shaking and she popped another pill – dry swallowing this one as some form of defiance. ‘No.’
‘You don’t have the conviction to get to exams on time, so how the hell can you have the conviction to-‘
Her face contorted for a moment, the serene expression returning before slipping into something manic. ‘You don’t think you’re helping with that?!’ She drummed her fingers against the glass. ‘You don’t think you’re helping?! You’re a fucking voice in my head, you’re a fucking voice in my head!’ She swooned for a moment, before catching throwing her hands at the coffee table in front of her and getting her balance back. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.’
He watched as her hands moved forward a little, a ghostly yellow laptop appearing as she came into contact. Curious, he angled his head to try and see what was one the screen – but instead of logically displayed information, it was as she was seeing it, as she was remembering it. NO and NEGATIVE and CRAZYCRAZYCRAZY were scrawling themselves across the screen, obscuring whatever was adding to her pain.
He reached forward and tried to pull the pills from her grip, but even the level of concentration that had allowed him to make contact with her previous aspects couldn’t breakthrough this time.
Another two pills were swallowed.
‘Stop it Spyder, stop it. You always listen to me, just stop it.’
‘No.’
CRAZY, WORTHLESS and INHUMAN populated the screen of the laptop, followed by an endless string of NO NO NO.
‘Spyder, you can’t-‘
‘No-one will notice until my corpse starts to stink.’
‘You’ve still got time to-‘
She swooned again, and her grip became less sure.
She yawned, and he felt himself start to cry.
Hands fumbling and unsure, she managed to take another pill.
She reached forward and closed the screen of the laptop, a strangely sure, practiced motion and gave a tired smile. ‘Logging out.’ She brought her knees up to her chest and sandwiched Alexandria there, staring at the doll through eyes straining to keep conscious.
‘Spyder, please-‘
‘Don’t beg,‘ she slurred, ‘it’s unbecoming.’
‘We’re dying, there’s no need to keep up appearances.’
She gave a lopsided shrug and stroked the doll’s cheek. ‘Lexandwa,‘ she whispered.
‘Hardball it is.’
Her hand twitched, its fingers slowly moving, unsure and unpracticed. They balled into a fist, then uncurled. In a movement far swifter than should have been possible, given her current state, her hand grabbed the doll’s head, lifted it and smashed it against the coffee table.
‘No!’
In a second swift movement, she brought her hand down on the mass of sharp ceramic. Almost instantly, the coffee table was covered in splatters of the aspect’s yellow blood She screamed, but even this seemed to exhaust her. She twisted her hand to look at it, and the large shards of ceramic sticking from her palm, when it turned away from her and was slammed onto the table again.
‘What are you doing?‘ she asked in a tired whisper, the pain obvious on her face.
‘Getting through to you.’
She blinked a few times, tears falling freely now, and reached forward for Alexandria. She pulled the doll close, holding it with her non-bleeding hand, then slipped to the floor. Once her head hit carpet, she made no effort to move, simply letting her hand bleed all over the carpet.
‘Didn’t work,’ she whispered. She lifted the doll and stared at its half-face and bloody dress. Her eyes drooped, staying closed for far too long this time, then shot open. With a grunt, she sat up and stared at he doll with crazy, tear-filled, rapidly blinking eyes.
‘What the? What the? No… What… Can’tbememorygottobedream… Can’t be mem-‘
‘Spyder, please, you’re losing yourself.’
‘What am I remembering?’
‘Your angel.’
‘Some…’ She swooned again. ‘Damnit, this was supposed to be easy…’
‘Killing yourself isn’t supposed to be easy. Come on, stop this, you can always try again later.’
She made no attempt to move.
‘Spyder…’
‘Some angel he is…shouldn’t I…I like pie…square root of pie is…why aren’t pies square…’
‘Getupgetupgetup!’
‘Can’t…tired…’
‘Don’t fall asleep!’
She gave no response.
‘Spyder!’
The serene expression returned.
‘You can’t let this happen.’
‘I want this.’
‘Liar.’
She closed her eyes and her grip loosened on the doll.
Had he had a heart, it would have skipped a beat.
After what seemed like a small portion of forever, her eyes flew open and she pushed herself up. Real fear flooded her expression as she stumbled toward the kitchen, falling over her own feet several times. With unsure hands she opened a low cupboard and pulled out an old bottle of vinegar – one whose label had peeled away with age and fumbled with the cap. After taking a long breath, she pressed the bottle to her lips and began to choke down the foul liquid.
Almost immediately she threw up, but she forced more of the liquid down her throat. She threw up again, and again, then she collapsed to the floor, crying and retching. For a moment, her eyes locked onto his, and she gave him the smallest of smiles before disappearing.
[Sir?]
[Yes, Jones?]
[Are you busy?]
He turned away from the body. [No. What can I do for you?]
[Could I see you in my lab?]
He shifted away from the apartment, and immediately sat in the spare chair near Jones’ desk.
‘Sir, I hate to-‘
‘There shouldn’t be a problem with the security clearance,’ he said to Clarke as he pushed the folders across the conference table. ‘Not since we started giving clearance to hackers, anyway,’ he added with a smile.
‘Hacker? Why Jonesy, you’ve gained weight,’ Clarke said with a grin. ‘Well, why isn’t it him making this request?’
‘High marks in field aptitude.’
‘As in, didn’t shoot the hob? Good, I’m sick of giving those buggers hazard pay.’ He flipped open the folder. ‘Anything else to note?’
‘-there’s this video that keeps popping up on YouTube-‘
‘No, not really.’
‘-killed it three times already, but I can’t find the original, or how it’s being distributed-‘
Clarke gave him a serious look. ‘Her psych results aren’t that sound.’
‘-then, after failing to create his own Hogwarts in the basement, Merlin decided that we needed our own mounted division-‘
‘She’ll make a good recruit.’
‘-so now we have a small herd of unicorns in the garage. They all conform to uniform colours-‘
Clarke shrugged. ‘Whatever, it’s your funeral.’ He lifted his hand and pulled an ID card from thin air, then waved his hand over the folders and “approved” was stamped on them. He pushed the card across the desk. ‘Godsspeed.’
‘-except for Magnolia’s, of course, she’s altered hers to look like the My Lil Goth Pony that Merlin gave her for Christmas last year-‘
He raised a hand to his face and rubbed his eyes. ‘Of course, Jones, I’ll look into it.’
‘You’ll, ah, look into the herd of unicorns that we don’t have?’
‘What?’ He looked up at Jones and focused on him.
‘You didn’t hear a word I said, did you sir?’
‘Not exactly, no.’
‘Sir, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘Ghosts don’t bother me this much,’ he muttered.
‘Pardon?’
‘Nothing.’ He sat up and drove his hands into his pockets. ‘You’ve got my attention now.’
‘Sir, was there any reason to Richard Kimble off the Story Bridge and not inform me that someone had filmed it?’
‘I didn’t know.’
‘There’s always the possibility, I-‘
‘I’m sorry, it slipped my mind.’
‘What were you doing chasing a howler anyway?’
He faltered for an answer.
‘Working off some Emma-related steam?’ Jones asked. He simply nodded and Jones turned to his computer. ‘It’s bad quality, so I didn’t see the need to call in Clarke, but it’s been driving the conspiracy nuts mad, especially when copies of get removed. If they get too riled up, I may just have to leave it there. You’ll be a permanent addition to- You don’t seem like yourself sir, are you all right?’
‘Not especially,’ he said honestly. ‘But it’s nothing anyone can do anything about.’
‘Emma won’t be here much longer, I’m not sure there’s much more she can report on.’