If she saw that cat again, necks would be snapped. Amity’s mental state was such a mess that she didn’t think to put on her mask before stepping into the archives, focusing instead on keeping herself composed as she made her way in, only for her to completely fall apart the moment she shut the door behind her. At the same time she slammed the door, making dust fall around her, she let out a loud moan that nearly evolved into a full-on scream until Bailey rushed over to catch her in a tight embrace – at which point she then proceeded to let out muffled screams into his jacket.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he told her, running a hand through her hair as she shook where she stood. “Don’t even worry about it.”
She muttered something incoherent into his jacket. He nodded, most likely only pretending to understand.
For a moment they stood there in each other’s arms, almost entirely silent, Amity making the tiniest of whimpering sounds every time she shook.
After what felt like half an hour, Amity finally spoke something coherent. “I don’t get it…”
Bailey pulled back slightly as if to ask for her to clarify what she stated, and so she continued.
“I just blew up again.”
“Again?” He said it as if he was still not used to her having these tantrums.
She pulled back. “Yes, again!” She sniffed and wiped her eyes – and just when it seemed she was about to loosen herself out of his grasp and walk back out the door, she let out a long sigh, bumping her head against his shoulder as more tears threatened to drip out of her.
Her head spun and pounded in a rhythmic fashion, a metronome to the chaotic composition playing out in front of her, striking her with fortissimo in her most silent of moments, ramming her head into a crashing end so she could wander into her next crash before the cycle repeated again. The fiercer the pounding grew, the more cumbersome it became to speak full sentences, to think full thoughts. In enough time, the beating grew to such a level that performing the most basic of motor abilities did not come without some kind of struggle.
Amity took another shaky breath as Bailey, still masked, looked down to see he cheeks still decorated with tears. “Do you really feel that bad about it?” he finally asked, making her jump where she stood.
“Women aren’t supposed to throw tantrums,” she mumbled, pressing her cheek against his chest. “But if I don’t stop whining about why I’m not a good woman, then I’ll never be that person I want myself to be.”
“If you want to call it a tantrum, then go ahead,” Bailey offered, prompting no response from Amity. “I’m really sorry today’s sucked so bad.”
Shortly after he spoke, all the sobbing and sniffling stopped. “I’m sorry you have to give emotional support to someone who’s supposed to be older than you.”
“You’re not that much older,” Bailey reminded her. “And I’d probably be a huge hypocrite if I didn’t want to give emotional support, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is: who goes into a relationship with anyone and doesn’t expect to support them? Cause that’s not me.”
Not looking him in the eye, Amity nodded. “You don’t think it’s unrealistic for someone like you to take care of me?”
The way she spat in saying that one word almost made Bailey recoil, but he held firm, standing tall before her. “Not even a little.”
Again she rested her head on his body without thinking about it, unsure what to say. “And you want to take care of me?”
Still she remained silent, her eyes wandering to look anywhere except Bailey’s gaze. It wasn’t until she felt the skin of his hand touching her chin when she looked up, only for her eyes to immediately close as he reached in to kiss her.
It lasted only a moment and they split apart again. “Feel any better?” he offered, slipping his mask back over his face.
“Maybe,” she replied. “I’m still pissed about losing all my work. All those stories are just gone now.”
Bailey looked around them, laying witness to all the grime and paper still littering the place. “Well, hey,” he began. “At least you can rewrite all the stuff your uncle told you to write in here. None of the original documents got thrown away or anything, right?”
Again Amity nodded. “That’s right – they weren’t.” For once she finally smiled – not from elation, but from relief that at least there was something that this situation with Toni’s drive did not completely destroy.
By now she couldn’t even focus anger on Toni – unless she wanted her fury to boil up until it turned into full-on resentment toward the girl. But Amity knew that wasn’t fair at all. Still she didn’t understand what Toni thought she was doing when handling that MDA, or why she thought it was okay to touch it. Something like that almost seemed more like something Cynthia would do.
“I guess I should get back to copying things,” Amity said. “Again.” And just when it looked like she was about to step back, she pulled the mask off her boyfriend’s face and came in for another kiss, and then another.
The already-stuffy room seemed to grow hotter as the two of them enjoyed their first peaceful moment together in what felt like months. For a moment, none of the drama surrounding their meetup today didn’t matter; the fact that Amity had walked in screaming didn’t matter; the bumps they had had when speaking with the Director didn’t matter. And that was all it was: a moment.
In one quick motion, the two of them pulled away, Amity letting out a surprised shriek that vanished just as quickly as it had come.
Standing before them was an upright, bipedal, humanoid machine unlike anything the two of them had seen in motion. It held a wiry hand on the door, its twig-like legs somehow holding its metal body up with little problem. Its face was blank, safe for two round circles for eyes and a straight line for a mouth.
“I have been told to alert you to our presence,” the robot continued. “Some of us are walking and talking as we once did, thanks to the efforts of a group of boys within these tunnels.”
Before the robot could continue, one of the boys – whom Amity did not immediately recognize – stepped in. “Sorry about that,” he said, nudging the robot to return to the door through which it had come. “We just got some of these things running again and we lost this one.”
“Wait – seriously?” Bailey asked. “How many did you get done?”
“Just three, working on the fourth,” the scout replied. “They found some torches or something; you might wanna look at it, Bailey.” With that, the scout closed the door behind him, following the robot to wherever it was headed.
For the moment following, Amity and Bailey kept themselves quiet – the uncomfortable kind of quiet.
“Should we go?” Amity asked, looking at Bailey from the corner of her eye.
He didn’t initially respond. She was about to ask why when she screwed her face up, and then she and Bailey both sneezed. After a week of working in here, this room hadn’t become any easier to breathe in.
“Yeah,” he said, sniffling. “Let’s get out of here.”
Esther decided to take a moment to watch the fire near the middle of camp before she headed back. A few kids were gathered around it – but at this time of day, there was little reason for most to sit near a fire unless they were very susceptible to the slightly-chilly weather.
It came as a pleasant surprise when the kids at the fire recognized Esther and gave her a little wave, to which she waved back, they engaged in smalltalk, and Esther went on her way. It was nice to see that they were still completely unsuspecting. She began to wonder if any of them knew about her new level of authority in this place, and if that level of authority would have affected the way they thought of her.
Perhaps that didn’t matter. As long as the higher-ups in this place liked her, it ultimately didn’t matter what the girls thought. So would also be the case with Mira.
It had been awhile since Esther last took this route back home – but once she was within the vicinity of the tent she had come to call home, she was somewhat pleasantly surprised to see nobody else was nearby. With that, she turned toward her tent and walked inside.
“I’m back,” she said, opening the flap. “A lot just happened, so—”
If Mira were simply not here, that would have been fine. If she were simply not in her bed, that would have been better. Instead of either of those scenarios, Esther found her partner lying on the floor, eyes wide open and devoid of any activity as a scalpel laid on the floor, just out of her reach.
Immediately Esther wanted to send a signal to e4-f85. As she bent down to Mira’s side, she began to wonder if her partner has somehow managed to develop a cruel sense of humor from the people here – but eventually she realized the reason for Mira’s strange behavior was due to a drive sticking out of her neck.
“Oh, no,” Esther whispered, wondering if Mira could hear despite being completely inactive. “Okay,” she continued. “I’m going to pull this out, okay?”
Mira did not respond.
Esther grabbed a hold of the drive, noticing how the skin of Mira’s neck around the drive had healed completely by now, though this didn’t change the fact that Mira’s hands were covered in synthetic blood. Pulling against the newly-formed skin, Esther yanked the device out of Mira’s body, examining it to see that it looked identical to the very same drives Esther found in the passageways with Toni. She knew immediately that this was going to be something she needed to hold on to.
Stealing a look back at Mira, Esther put the drive in her pocket. She stood on her knees as she examined to see any signs of life – and received a sign when Mira blinked. In another second, some dim light radiated from her irises, only to fade away just as quickly, at which point she proceeded to start setting herself upright, looking here and there before landing her eyes on Esther – as if she couldn’t immediately tell where Esther was.
“Can you hear me?” Esther said.
Rather than respond, Mira stared in silence, blinking occasionally as Esther attempted to get an answer out of her. Perhaps out of desperation, Esther tried waving a hand at Mira.
Mira’s eyes widened, as if bewildered – as if she had never seen a human hand before. Speaking no words, she pulled out her own hand, looked down at it, paused, then grabbed a hold of Esther’s, intertwining her fingers as she did so.
Both women were silent for completely different reasons – and Mira’s reason made no sense to Esther. “What are you trying to do?” she asked.
Mira responded with the last answer Esther would have expected: “Yes!”
“Yes?” Esther said. “I didn’t ask you that kind of binary question.”
Like an excited child, Mira started moving her hand about as she gripped it tighter – almost to the point it would have hurt a normal person, almost like the recently-fallen gynoid didn’t know her own strength.
Esther attempted to slip her fingers out from Mira’s, and every time she thought she was successful, Mira would just grab onto her hand again just as tight as before. “Something is definitely wrong here,” she said. “Please tell me this is some kind of a joke.”
Mira tilted her head. “No?”
“No?” Esther echoed. “Well, at least you understand that.”
Mira shook her head. “No.”
“Can you say anything other than yes or no?”
For a moment, Mira thought on it. “No.”
“Interesting.” Knowing that the least she could do was clean up the mess Mira had left behind, Esther went into the nearby medical supplies and proceeded to place the scalpel back with the others and fetch a cloth that she then gave to Mira. Rather than use the cloth for its intended purpose, Mira looked up at Esther with a confused stare. “Yes?”
“Clean your hands,” Esther said.
Looking down at her hands, Mira blinked, then gasped. “No!” she shouted, scooting away as if she could escape from her own hands. She ended up scooting far enough back that she hit her head on the medical supply tray, nearly causing some of the sharp utensils to fall out of place.
It was enough to send Esther into a panic of her own. “What are you doing?” she shouted back. “What happened?”
By now the cloth was on the floor, on the other side of the tent as Mira had kicked it away in an attempt to escape from her dripping, bloodied hands.
“No!” Mira shouted again, practically hyperventilating as if she needed as much air as she was taking in.
At first Esther wanted to ask why Mira was acting the way she was or how she even could possibly think that the amount of fluid she had lost was as bad as she was making out, but she was more distracted by the fact that, for the first time ever, she had witnessed true fear from her partner.
Crouched down to Mira’s eye-level, Esther grabbed a hold of both Mira’s wrists, resisting as she attempted writhing about where she sat. “You understand that isn’t real blood, right?”
Mira squeezed her eyes shut, looking like she didn’t want any part of this situation – didn’t even want to be in the same space as Esther. She sniffed and opened her eyes to see Esther looking intently into her eyes with a stare so deep – yet so empty – that it almost burned to look back.
Realizing did not comprehend a word she had just said, Esther repeated herself: “You know that isn’t real blood. Right?”
The distressed gynoid hesitated to say what little she was able to, looking at her hands to see they were balled up into fists. She opened them up to see her palms were still bloodied – all the while Esther kept as tight a grip on Mira’s wrists as she could. Summoning the will to look back at Esther, Mira pointed at herself and said a new word: “Killer?”
If the weight of the situation hadn’t already dawned on Esther, it had now. Mira had forgotten much more than just her vocabulary. The fact that she had to ask if she was a killer was enough to prove to Esther that her partner had completely forgotten everything.
“No,” Esther said simply.
Mira sighed, then smiled and gave a quick nod, looking over at the cloth she had dropped. Esther proceeded to pick up and hand over the cloth, at which point Mira wiped her hands clean of the mess she had unknowingly caused.
“Do you know why you can only say yes and no?” Esther asked. “Or killer? Why were you able to say killer when the only things you’ve said so far are yes or no?”
To that, Mira had no answer – not even a shrug.
“But do you know why we’re here?” Esther asked.
Mira narrowed her eyes. “No?”
Esther was blunt. “This is not good. We can’t continue our mission if you don’t remember anything, so let me explain.” From there, Esther proceeded to look into her OS for the document they were both briefed with before they had left the Domain – and more-or-less read the document verbatim, as well as explain all the context surrounding it, what had happened since their arrival to this camp, why Mira’s leg was a bad as it was, and even the more recent things that Esther was just about to tell her before she found her partner practically dead on the floor.
“Do you understand all this?” Esther finally asked after her drawn-out explanation.
Mira seemed to struggle to respond, as if unsure what to say, as if not knowing what the truth of the situation really was. “No?” she said.
“Okay,” Esther began. “But do you at least understand most of it?”
Again Mira paused, bringing a finger to her lip, then giving in with a nod. “Yes.”
“Good,” Esther continued. “Now I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with these girls, but it’s best to be friendly w—”
“We got Oliver!”
Three girls barged into the tent, the sound of their giggles mixing with that of terrified yeowling from the kitten in their hands. While they came in laughing, they were surprised to see Esther and Mira on the ground, and not by the bed or even just standing up.
“What are you two doing?” “Is this what the nasty is?” “Should we tell Miss Macy?”
“No, it’s not that,” Esther explained. “Mira just fell down and I needed to explain a few things to her.”
“Look, we got the cat!” one of the girls exclaimed, holding it above her head as it squirmed for escape.
“You two should put that cat away,” Esther instructed.
“Yes!” Mira added.
“No one asked you!” the girls said in unison, prompting Mira to lean back where she was.
Holding a hand over her mouth, Mira struggled to say anything in response. She turned her head to Esther and asked again: “Killer?”
“What?!” the girls shouted. By now the cat in the middle of this was biting, scratching, doing anything it could to escape, and failing to so do.
Mira pointed at the cat. “No!” She pointed at the tent flap. “No, no, no!”
Two of the girls stuck their tongues out at Mira. Again Mira covered her mouth, flaring her nostrils and clenching her jaw as she caught herself in a loop of clear contemplation.
In a quick motion, Esther picked herself on her feet, standing nearly twice as tall as the three of them. “You three need to leave now!” she projected. “Never go into other people’s homes – especially if all you’re going to do is bother them.” When the three of them seemed to freeze, Esther stated: “Get out. I mean it.”
And for the first time as far as Mira was concerned, the girls showed a genuine spark of fear – and with that, they turned tail and left to carry the cat elsewhere.
As soon as she was sure she couldn’t hear them anymore, Esther gave a hand to pull Mira back on her own feet, which Mira accepted without a word.
“Anyway,” she said. “It seems your biggest problem right now is just an inability to communicate. But don’t worry; I’ll see if I can find some way to fix it. Just trust me.”
Mira nodded, smiling. Seeing Mira smiling was sure to throw some of the luocans off, considering how little she did it. It certainly didn’t look natural to Esther.
While Esther definitely wanted to help Mira communicate like normal again, there came the problem of amnesia and her cognition in general. If Mira were to come face-to-face with a luocan after her vocabulary was restored, the odds of her saying something detrimental to their mission was almost too high for Esther to risk. After she had finally made a major step in their infiltration, Mira’s step backwards was large enough to almost eradicate any progress they had made.
Despite knowing the dangers that would have arisen if they were to rebuild Mira’s library, Esther said nothing on the matter. “Do you trust me?” she said instead.
Another nod. “Yes.”
Been making some changes irl, but hey — that doesn’t mean production has to slow!