Experiment: Day #1
September 24th
It was dark.
Stef blinked to make sure her eyes were actually open, then stared into the blackness around her. Nothing was visible, no hint of bed, no outline of a light outside the door, nothing but blackness.
She let out a slow breath, and felt it curl back at her, then she giggled, and grabbed at the fabric covering her face. The fabric didn’t feel like blanket, it felt like-
It was Ryan’s coat.
She relaxed her hand before she pulled it away, trying to remember-
Her stomach lurched, and she pulled the coat away, then pressed her hands to her chest.
Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god-
She leant forward and retched, but brought up nothing but spit and bile. A hand grabbed her hair, and she screamed and pulled away, slamming herself into a very thick, very cold glass wall.
She forced herself to focus. She pressed her hands into her sides as she hugged herself, then slowly looked up, trying not to blink in the harsh light. Her gaze fell on the bed, the blanket, the shining pile of pseudo-puke, then across at a pair of suity legs. She forced herself to look up, and saw vest and coat and concern.
‘So-sorry,’ she mumbled, pulling her knees to her chest. She wrapped her arms around them, and tried to make herself as small as possible. Smaller meant less of a problem, less of a problem meant she was less annoying, less annoying meant there was a chance he would keep her around.
Her stomach turned again, but nothing came up.
Focus, focus, please let me focus.
‘Um, morning, I guess?’ she forced out.
‘It’s a little after ten,’ he said, then indicated to the bed, ‘may I sit?’
She tried to make a noise that sounded vaguely affirmative.
The mirror in her chest felt heavy, made it hard to breathe, refused to move.
Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!
You need it, Spyder.
‘Don’t tell me what I need!’
Ryan looked at her, shocked. ‘I didn’t-‘
Her cheeks burned. An explanation settled on her tongue, then died, and she buried her face in her knees, and cried.
It felt so wrong, so cold, like a swallowed ice-cube that refused to melt, and somehow seemed to stay stuck long after it should have slid down. A heart beat was something imperceptible, something she’d never even noticed, and now it was just gone, and it felt so wrong. It was wrong. It was wrong. It was wrong and so was she.
She was supposed to be dead. Twice. Three times. Four times. More. She was some sick little shadow that kept coming back even when it made no sense, even when no one wanted her. Ryan had rescued a baby, he hadn’t rescued her. The emergency crews had pulled a girl from the wreckage, not her, there’d been no imperative to save her, just to do their job. She hadn’t even made it to the hospital without flatlining, but then she’d just been a puzzle to solve, push that, pull that, shock here, make the body live. Ensure the body lived even when no one cared about the girl.
Sugery hadn’t been easy, and had only been a success in the respect that she could walk and talk. It hadn’t really saved her, it had made her less. Even the scars that were so good at scaring people, at disgusting people just proved that she wasn’t worth saving. If she’d been a good girl, if she’d mattered, they would have been gone, she would have been less of a freak. Looked like less of a freak, anyway, everything that made her a freak was on the inside.
And she deserved to die.
She’d almost done it, almost gotten rid of the problem, almost removed herself from the equation, but there’d been fear. Fear had stopped her. Fear had made her stick around.
And then Ryan-
She gasped for air, clawed at her throat and tried to force oxygen down into her lungs.
Ryan had saved her and he shouldn’t have. She didn’t deserve to be saved. She didn’t deserve his kindness. He shouldn’t have saved her. He shouldn’t have risked himself for her. She wasn’t worth it.
She pressed her forearms against the side of her head, and felt the wide, flat bracelet that Jones had locked around her wrist. It was a problem solver. It would get rid of her. She could hack it. Last hack. A good deed done.
She heard singing. She slowly let out a breath, and became conscious of her own body again. She wiped at the tears, stabbing herself in the eye with her pinkie finger, and wiped snot across the back of her hand, noticing the small scar the doctor had given her.
She wasn’t sitting on the bed anymore, Ryan had lifted her into his lap, and was rubbing her back while singing something soft that definitely wasn’t in English.
‘Are you cursing me?’
He stopped singing, and chuckled. ‘It’s a lullaby,’ he said, ‘hob or nymph in origin, it used to settle Alexander when he was crying.’
‘How could someone as awesome as you have a tool of a son that doesn’t even want to be a recruit?’
‘I’m far from perfect, Stef.’
‘You shouldn’t have done this.’
‘We went over this last night.’
‘Doesn’t matter.’
‘I wanted to save you,’ he said simply, ‘if you don’t want to be here, then-‘
‘You shouldn’t have wanted to save me, I’m just-‘
‘There’s three versions of the lullaby,’ he said, cutting her off. ‘The soil of home, the soil of what you know, and the soil of what you want to know, it covers the three spheres of including people in your life, the family and friends you have, and the people you find along the way.’
‘I’m not a baby in a basket! You can’t just go “oh hey, I’ll sorta kinda adopt you, then save you, then everything is ok!”, I’m not ok, none of this is ok.’ She slumped. ‘It’s heavy, and it hurts. It just feels so ed up, and why, why, why, why, why doesn’t it move? How am I even alive if it’s not beating? I should have died of oxygen deprivation and all my blood should be in my feet!’
A tablet appeared in his hand and he angled the screen towards her. ‘The Parkers have kept a scan running on you. Your blood flow is acting as per normal, it’s circulating and becoming oxygenated just as if your heart was beating.’
‘That’s so stupid and frippy.’
‘That’s magic,’ he said. He placed the tablet in her hands and swiped the screen to show a screen that made far more sense to her than medical scans. ‘And this is code.’
‘I lost my heart,’ she said, ‘not my eyes.’
It was paradoxically intricate and simple, it was- ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ She felt happy tears slide out. ‘Ok, ok, this is the face of god.’
‘That’s you, Stef.’
‘Wat.’ He slid his finger across the screen, and a small section highlighted, which included her name in the very sensible last-name-first format. She rubbed her eyes, clearing the tears. ‘It’s- This is what I’m going to be?’
He gently took her hand and turned it palm-up. For a moment, she stared at the tear-slicked skin, then it slowly became translucent and blue.
She stopped breathing, then slowly flexed her fingers, and saw the blue reacting and moving, brighter points moving within it. ‘That- That can’t be me…’
‘It’s only skin deep for now,’ Ryan said as she lifted her hand away. ‘And it’s not the final version, I just had Jones mock it up with the blue you’ve got in you right now. I thought-‘
She threw her arms around him before he could articulate his thought. ‘You thought right,’ she said, then pressed the heel of her hand to her eye. ‘Wow, this is kinda bright.’
He swiped on the tablet again, and the image of a blue hand print appeared. ‘Try it,’ he said.
Try what?
She tapped the end of the hand’s index finger, and the same spot flashed a brighter blue for a moment. ‘Oooh.’
She stared at her hand, then ran a finger down the tablet, this time, the blue dimmed, then became skin again.
‘It’s a test protocol,’ he said, ‘but used like this-‘
‘It’s awesome,’ she said, ‘thank you.’ She pressed her hand against the imprint, and the blue disappeared, showing normal skin once more.
‘There’s been a few developments since you fell asleep,’ he said.
‘Oh?’ She immediately felt her cheeks burning. ‘Wait. I want to apologise, I’m sorry about last night. You were trying to tell me important stuff and I just ran out of fucks to give-‘
‘Don’t apologise,’ he said, ‘it’s Taylor’s fault that I had to broach any of those topics in the first place. The past makes this situation far more complicated than it needs to be, but the present has its own complications.’
‘I know I’m a problem-‘
‘I was referring to Magnolia, actually. She took it upon herself to share some details of this experiment. I’ve since ensured that Jones has impressed upon her the consequences of breaching confidentiality again, though I’m not sure even that is a guarantee.’
‘Is bird brain even allowed to know? I mean, she does, but is she allowed?’
‘She is Taylor’s Aide, he is allowed to give her access,’ Ryan said. ‘Though authorised or not, he likely would have shared all the information.’ He folded his hands. ‘She knows everything, as does Taylor, Jones, and the Parkers – the agents at our various Outposts will know this morning. I also presume Jones will share the information with Merlin, if he hasn’t already?’
‘The weird little kid?’
Ryan gave a half-smile. ‘Yes.’
She looked up. ‘I’m looking for it.’
‘Looking for what?’
‘The other shoe that’s going to drop. You said Mags is a problem, so far you haven’t told me anything that I didn’t know, or couldn’t surmise.’
‘She told Curt.’
‘He came asking after you this morning, the answer I gave apparently did not suffice, Magnolia, however, shared what she knew.’
She grabbed for a pillow and pressed it protectively to her chest. ‘Douchebag ex-Solstice guy knows about the mirror-‘
Probably-ex-Solstice. Hopefully-ex-Solstice.
‘No,’ Ryan said. ‘He know you died, he knows we’re making you an augment. Magnolia, so wrong as this was, seems to have kept the germane information safe.’
She looked up at him. ‘Well, you think so, anyway.’
‘Magnolia has no respect for me, so she tries to sow dissent amongst my recruits. She perpetuates rumours and-‘ Ryan sighed. ‘Even so, we-‘
‘Are- Are you ok with him knowing?’
Ryan gave her a wry smile. ‘My first instinct was to shoot him,’ he said. ‘But that would hardly look good for the experiment.’
‘Nifty, but you avoided my question.’
Ryan sighed and looked up at the ceiling of the tank. ‘All he knows is that you’re an augment, that alone is not something that can be exploited.’ He paused. ‘If he does know about the mirror, there’s other measures that can be taken.’
‘Less pleasant options?’
‘If it comes to that. For now, if his intentions are as he states, it’s a nice balance to Magnolia knowing.’
She tapped on her knees. ‘Resurrection is kinda complicated, isn’t it?’
Ryan smiled, and nodded.
‘So, so what happens next?’
Ryan pressed the tablet into her hands. ‘For myself, I have no end of paperwork that needs to be done, so I thought I’d leave you with some code to look at – only the first section describes your work-in-progress code, then there’s the information about your hand, then a full generalised agent OS, so you can get an idea of what you’ll be seeing.’
‘What about what Taylor-‘
Ryan’s expression snapped into neutrality. ‘You don’t need to worry about him for at least the next two weeks, do your best to forget about him.’
She gave him an incredulous look, then looked down at the tablet. ‘Could I have Frankie instead?’
The tablet disappeared and her laptop bag appeared in his hands a moment later. ‘I’ve had to disable the internet access.’
An uncomfortable feeling settled in her brain. ‘But- But-‘ She closed her mouth. ‘I realise the severity of everything- But it’s going to be hard for me to stay disconnected from the net.’
‘I’m sure Jones can work something out. He’ll be by in a couple of hours to go over the schedule for the preliminary tests.’
She balled her hands into fists. ‘I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean for-‘
He ruffled her hair. ‘Stef, there’s nothing to forgive.’
But I need to hear you forgive me anyway!
She made a small noise of agreement. ‘Come back for lunch?’
‘Of course.’