Endangered

Androids have all but won the war against humanity, and the remnants of the once-great human civilization are reduced to miles of wastelands and hidden communities struggling to survive. Dirk and his friends are sent out to scavenge for supplies, while AR is sent to hunt down and exterminate the dwindling human population. Their fated meeting is the beginning of a union between species that was once thought impossible.

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11. Chapter 11

-- tipsyGnostalgic [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

TG: rolal to distri do u copy?
TG: yo dirky
TT: I’m here.
TG: whats my eta this shits takin forEVERR
TT: The compiler says it’s just under halfway done.
TG: god fucking damnit my arms gettin tired
TG: why couldnt they build this thing with a port that actually fits wtf
TT: It’s old technology, and whoever developed it probably also had specialized cables made at the time.
TG: yeah well we dont have any of that shit
TG: cant i just tape this thing together? whytf do i have to stand here and hold it in??
TG: im getting a cramp
TT: Because if it falls out, we’ll have to start over.
TT: I mean, I’m cool with that, seeing as how I’m once again spending my entire shift sitting at this damn computer console, but if you really want to play the odds that bad, you can totally put some tape on it and hope for the best.
TG: nuh uh nope you are not guilt trippin me over having to keep your tight little ass put
TT: Wow.
TG: see this is how fucking serious i am, you though i was joking but now shits gettin real
TG: how much is left what does it say?
TT: 49%
TG: fuuuuccckkk
TT: Why don’t you just switch hands?
TG: cause i dont wanna mess with it too much just in case it decides to ruin the remainder of my entire day
TG: speakin of which did mr sunshine ever show up?
TT: Nope, and I’m hoping it stays that way.
TG: yeah well im hopin this fuckin thing finishes downloading soon before my arm falls off
TT: Do you want some cheese to go with that?
TG: wuuut are you talkin about
TT: Nothing, just something my Bro always says.
TG: heh very funny yeah right NOT
TT: How are you typing this fast with only one hand?
TG: dirky my boi u would be surprised at what i can do with one hand
TT: Nevermind, let’s talk about something else.
TT: Shit.
TG: what
TT: Guess who just showed up.
TG: and only two hours late dang that must be a record or something

 

You close Pesterchum and turn to face the approaching figure slowly making his way towards you in the low light of the maintenance lab’s entrance. Caliborn seems to have a permanent sneer on his face these days, especially when you’re around. He’s carrying something in his hand, and he practically drops it on the table near the entrance, already cluttered with half-broken equipment.

“You know, if it’s already not working, you probably shouldn’t drop it on the table like that,” you tell him offhandedly, and he lifts his middle finger at you.

“Fuck you, Strider.” It’s a favorite phrase of his now, and you raise an eyebrow at him when he turns to leave.

“Aren’t you supposed to hang around until it’s fixed? Your checkpoint needs it back ASAP, dude. They can’t really go on without it.”

He visibly seethes at you and crosses his arms, leaning against the entrance tunnel’s wall, as you slide out of the chair to retrieve the broken communication device from the intake table. The screen is on, but it’s displaying nothing but black lines on a gray background, and you’re hoping it’s something quick and easy, like a faulty connection. You don’t want Caliborn around any more than he wants to be here. His eyes follow you, glaring bitterly, as you find a relatively empty workbench and turn the device over, unscrewing the panel from the back.

It’s been almost a month since English’s attack on the compound. You were released from the infirmary after they replaced the part of your skull they had to remove, and the staples in your head are now a permanent reminder of the injury you sustained. Jane told you she didn’t even know it was possible to let someone’s brain expand out of their head like that, and she never wants to see anything like it again. Apparently no one had ever done that procedure before, and they weren’t even sure you’d make it through the surgery alive. You’ve never had so many different drugs in your body before- antibiotics, painkillers, anesthetics, everything they’ve been reserving for the life-threatening cases. It’s not something you want to relive ever again, if you can help it.

After another week of mandated inactivity in your living quarters, during which you were barred from doing literally anything except eating and sleeping, your Bro dropped your multitude of training requirements/punishments and finally let you go back to work, although you’re still not allowed to do anything too physical. Roxy was reassigned to maintenance with you after the attack, and Jane is now working full-time in the infirmary, while Jake was sent to one of the checkpoints in the tunnels as a guard-in-training. Caliborn was also reassigned to guard duty, but at a different checkpoint, to everyone’s relief.

Roxy was called out on a job today by one of the compound’s few remaining scavenging teams after they found an old military tent with a computer unit inside. She’s been transferring the large amount of data on the hard drive remotely, while you simultaneously compile it and store it in the compound’s systems for later. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with restricted physical activity, as an order from Jane and the rest of the infirmary, which means sitting in front of the maintenance lab’s main console and doing urgent repair jobs as needed. There were two others assigned to maintenance with you and Roxy, but one is out troubleshooting a malfunctioning generator (again), and the other is out sick, leaving you to take care of everything in their absence.

You’re still getting used to the compound’s drastically reduced population. There used to be someone around every corner in the tunnels, working and going about their daily business, but now it’s almost unreal how quiet things are.

It’s been hard on your friends. Jake was upset for a long time over his grandmother, but Roxy almost didn’t stop crying for an entire week. She visited you every day in the infirmary, and Jane told you over changing your bandages, that she was now sleeping with Roxy in her bedroom. By the time you were released, Jane was happy to switch places with you. Roxy still climbs into your bed at night sometimes, but she never wants to talk about the nightmares she’s been having.

You glance at the console’s screen across the room to see the progress indicator at 51%, as you remove the back of the communication device and pry the battery out of its holder. Caliborn is still brooding at the entrance, and you couldn’t care less how unhappy he is about it. He was always unpleasant to you and your friends, but ever since the attack that claimed the lives of over half the compound’s population, he’s been far nastier and openly belligerent. Even though there was no doubt in your mind that he was involved with the armed takeover, and probably killed his fair share of people, he later told everyone that his dad had threatened him, and that his sister was just as guilty of going along with it. For whatever reason, your brother allowed him to stay, while the few remaining gang members still alive in the tunnels were kicked out of the compound at gunpoint. Their dead comrades were incinerated, and their victims buried in a mass grave.

You remove the next layer of plating in the device, and carefully pick through the wires for any broken connections. Caliborn might have been allowed to stay, but you’d argued with your Bro against it, and he didn’t listen, no matter what you said. It wasn’t much of a surprise at the time. He’s been strangely distant with you since the incident with English, even though you’d risked everything to save his life, but your conversations with him have been even more brief and business-like than before. Part of you is worried about him, but you still haven’t forgotten the way he lied to you about AR.

There’s been no sign of the android ever since.

It doesn’t help that your shades were somehow completely wiped into a useless piece of eyewear. You want to fix them, but you have to finish repairing your laptop first so you can replace the custom operating system. After the infirmary finally released you back to your living quarters, you’d found that Bro had confiscated the flash drive from Roxy, and then later had the device destroyed. She’d also been ordered to purge the network again, and even though you’re left with no way of contacting AR like you did before, you haven’t giving up trying to figure out what happened.

You spot the broken wire tucked along the side of the receiver chip, and gently separate it out with the edge of your tool, before cutting and stripping it to twist it back together. Your hands work quickly and efficiently, but your mind wanders back to that first week after your release, when you started trying to uncover what your Bro wasn’t telling you. Calliope knew something about what happened, but you couldn’t get her to talk, no matter how much you asked and pleaded with her. It was obvious that someone had ordered her to stay silent, and your Bro wouldn’t respond when you accused him of it. Jake and the others hadn’t known anything useful about the aftermath, even though they apparently checked the command center after freeing the hostages in the maintenance lab. Apparently they hadn’t come across anyone in the tunnels, apart from the mutilated bodies of AR’s victims, and even if Bro tried to order them into silence, you’d know if they were lying to you.

It doesn’t add up.

Nothing on the face of this Earth could have prevented AR from taking you after the fighting was over. You’d angered him and inconvenienced him, ordered him around, restricted his killing instinct in the interest of saving your friends, and you were almost sure he was going to tear your head off by the end of it, but when the time came, something must have happened to stop him. Your brother won’t talk, and neither will Calliope, the only two people alive who were there when it happened.

You pinch the twisted wire between your fingers, reaching for the soldering gun while Caliborn lingers silently in the entryway, his expression dark. Even though it would have meant your death, you’re unsettled at how things didn’t go as planned. Your Bro’s behavior has been increasingly suspicious ever since, and these days, despite the new struggles of a reduced population and a lack of skilled members in the colony, there’s only one thing that keeps you awake at night, when the dull pain in your head returns after a long day of work.

You need to know what happened to AR.

Roxy agreed to help you, after you spent a long night awake with her in your room. You finally came clean to someone about everything, telling her that you haven’t stopped thinking about the android since he vanished, that you’ve been having dreams about him, that you were having similar dreams before. The others don’t know that you saved him from English’s EMP gun (he might not have been expecting an android attack, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t prepared for anything, and you can’t help but blame yourself for what happened). She listened silently, with a brooding frown, as you told her that his unexplained absence and the possibilities of what might have happened to him are practically driving you mad. You’ve been having nightmares yourself recently, ones that always end with his crumpled body on the floor. Sometimes English is holding the gun, and sometimes it’s your Bro. Once it was you, the device heavy in your hand, and you woke up shaking all over at the lingering image of his red eyes going dim as he died in front of you. There’s something terminally wrong with you, when it comes to him. You aren’t sure if Roxy thought your proposal through very well, but she did agree to help you in secret, even if it means she might get in serious trouble with your Bro.

The security footage was the first place you tried to look. AR had disrupted the live feed from the cameras to the command center, but the cameras themselves still should have recorded to a backup file in the network. When you finally got Roxy to hack Bro’s password and check the files, everything from the day English attacked the base was missing. The video footage had been deleted, and you were miserably disappointed, but not surprised.

Roxy said she might be able to recover them, given enough time, but you’ve both been swamped with repair work at the maintenance lab. Everyone’s working overtime to fix the damage done by the fighting and modify the base for a smaller population, and she’s had very little time to spare, but you already owe her just for being willing to help you. It hurts to admit that you can’t trust Jane and Jake enough to do the same without ratting you out to your Bro, but you know it’s only because they’re worried about you. That’s not to say that Roxy isn’t, but unlike them, she seems to understand exactly what this means to you. You aren’t sure how that makes you feel. You’re only beginning to admit to yourself that you might have fallen in love with a hostile, inhuman entity that tried to kill you multiple times, and it’s a concept that makes you feel more broken and damaged than any piece of nonfunctional machinery in this entire compound.

In the meantime, you try not to obsess over it too much. You aren’t always successful, but having a week’s worth of repair jobs backed up definitely keeps you busy. The fresh solder cools when you blow on it, and the plating fits easily back into place. Caliborn scowls when you approach him.

“Here. Try not to jostle it around too much.” You hold the communicator out to him, and he almost seems like he’s not going to take it from you, until he suddenly snatches it out of your hand after a long, awkward moment. “You’re welcome,” you mutter at his back as he stalks out of the tunnel. Good riddance.

You sigh, massaging the faint ache on the side of your head and feeling the bump of a surgical staple under your skin. When you return to the chair in front of the console, the progress indicator is at 53%. Roxy might complain, but she told you last week that she misses going out into the city with you and the others. You haven’t breathed the outside air, felt the wind on your face, or seen the stars in ages, and you know exactly how she feels.

You decide not to message her again, just in case she gets distracted and accidentally breaks the connection, because this transfer really does seem like it’s taking forever. Instead, you pass the time by working through a few of the broken devices on the intake desk. Almost four hours later, you’re halfway through reassembling a radio transceiver after fruitlessly digging around inside of it for the problem, when Roxy finally emerges from the entryway, looking tired, but satisfied. She grins and crosses the room to where you’re sitting, draping her arms over your shoulders as you abandon the project.

“Hey, my sweet honey bunny, you miss me?” she says with an exaggerated drawl. You smile back at her, because she knows you did.

“Yep. How’d it go?”

“Fine, I guess, although I dunno what they think they’re gonna get out of that old hard drive. That thing was ancient, and it took forever to boot up when I connected the battery.” She releases you and flops down in one of the nearby chairs at another workbench. “Ugh, this day can’t end fast enough. How much longer ‘til we can blow this joint?”

You make a hesitant sound, glancing over at the intake table, still piled high with broken equipment. “I don’t know, Rox. We should probably try to get through some of this, especially since we’re short-handed today.”

“Nah, screw that noise, I’ve got a better idea,” she leans towards you, her voice lowering to a conspiratorial whisper. “Guess what I managed to finish today while I was waitin’ for that hard drive to compile.” You blink at her, before shrugging, defeated. Her smile spreads into something almost feline. “No one can hide data from this top tier hacker fox. I’ve got a present for you when we get back to my room…a certain set of footage someone’s been tryin’ ta get their mits on.”

Your eyes widen, and she grins knowingly.

“Did you watch it?”

“Nope, I figured you’d want to do the honors.” She sits back in the chair with an air of satisfaction, and you resist the rising surge of adrenaline telling you to leave the maintenance labs immediately and watch the footage. There’s no way you’re going to be able to concentrate now, and she pretends that her attention is elsewhere while you contact the other member of your workforce, telling him that your head is hurting, and he agrees that you should probably cut it short today.

She follows you out of the maintenance lab and through the tunnels, walking alongside you amiably, while your stomach is busy doing somersaults and cartwheels.

“B-t-dubs, how’d your visit with Calli’s evil twin go?” she asks, waving to someone she recognizes as they walk past in the other direction.

“Same as always.” Your reply is distracted, but she clicks her tongue thoughtfully.

“Jakey said they all had to do some kinda firearm training yesterday, and the fucker actually glared at him the entire time. I still can’t believe your brother let him stay, the lying sack of shit.” The two of you turn the corner and ascend a flight of stairs to a long tunnel that leads towards the living area. Your mind plays over the memory of following AR through the compound, safely watching from behind him as he dispatched English’s gang one at a time. You can still remember the way his pointed claws felt against your face. “I get that we’re hard up for workers and all, but still.”

She goes on to talk about today’s mission into the city, detailing a particular member of the scavenging team that escorted her, who apparently had a nice pair of cheekbones. You try your hardest to listen politely and nod at the right moments, but she seems to understand when you’re too distracted to reply to her questions. When the door to your rooms appears around the last corner, you open it and immediately make a beeline for her bedroom. Your laptop is still too damaged to play videos, but she’s got an overabundance of computers stocked up from years of scavenging for parts.

You wait at the desk with her favorite laptop, the same one you used a month ago to contact AR. She ushers you aside and sits down, typing away at the keyboard while you try not to pace around the room.

“Ok, so the files are listed by the serial number on the camera they came from,” she says, bringing up a window that shows a list of numbers and letters. “I haven’t figured out which is which yet, but the command center has two of them. The footage rolls over at midnight, so you’ll wanna fast forward to when all that shit went down.” She stands up and gives you a reassuring smile at your visible anxiety, gently squeezing the side of your shoulder. “Let me know when you’re done so I can encrypt these puppies. I think your bro might skin us alive if he finds out.”

“Thanks, Rox,” you say, heartfelt, and she gives you one last grin before leaving you alone with her laptop and its open window.

Your fingers tremble as you sit down, facing the row of video files. The first one shows an empty hallway, the clock at the bottom reading ‘00:00:01’ as it begins playing. You go down the list, opening and closing videos as each one reveals an overhead view of a hallway, until you finally reach one that shows a familiar scene- the command center, with its metal door open and a small handful of figures going about their business during the night shift.

Carefully, you advance the slider at the bottom until you take it too far, and the door is gone, bent and warped on the floor in the tunnel beyond. You rewind it until you see the man with the scarf tied around his arm standing next to it, and English standing in front of the console on the other side of the room, while your Bro is noticeably absent. The time reads ‘05:48:14.’

You sit and watch the footage, counting the minutes along with the flashing indicator at the bottom. After a few minutes pass, the metal door suddenly warps in one spot, and you watch as everyone in the room appears startled at the sound. The metal warps again three more times, before it buckles inwards slowly, and the door is pulled away from its frame. The image is black and white, but you can still recognize AR, and your heart twists painfully when you see him. You can also barely make out yourself behind him, crouching down on the flight of steps. He rises up on his four appendages, looking around with a predatory stare at the group of doomed people inside, before vanishing at the bottom of the screen with a flurry of motion almost too fast to see. You watch yourself duck into the room a moment later, before losing sight of yourself under a table, and you can already tell from the angle of the footage that this isn’t the video file you need.

Impatiently, you rifle through the rest of them, opening and closing almost a dozen files before finding the one you want, showing a wide section of the command center, including the spot you know English was standing when he tried to kill AR. You fast-forward to the time you stopped the last video, and watch as one of English’s men is lifted into the air by his neck, before he’s thrown across the room. The desks are scattered, and the flash of gunfire flickers silently on the screen, as AR moves fluidly around the room, killing anyone unfortunate enough to catch his eye.

You advance the footage slowly, as your heart flutters nervously in your chest. The number of gang members on the screen decreases steadily, until only four figures remain. You watch yourself pulling on Bro’s arm as he shrugs you off, while Calliope lingers anxiously next to you, and AR approaches the last of English’s men, pinning him down with one appendage and puncturing his rib cage with the other. English is visible on the other side of the screen, still low to the ground. Bro says something to you, before Calliope takes your arm, trying to pull you away. You watch as English stands up with the EMP gun in his hand, and AR tosses aside the mutilated man’s body. Even through the grainy camera footage, you can see your own expression slowly warping into horror at the sight.

You watch yourself run across the room, jumping over one desk and shoving another out of your way, then grabbing the EMP gun and pulling it to the side as AR turns around. English pulls the gun out of your hands and hits you with it as the android advances on him, and your body falls to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut. There’s a metal claw around his throat a moment later, and the gun is snatched out of the air to be crushed and pulled apart into pieces by two more of AR’s appendages while English’s feet kick against the vice around his neck. Calliope lingers next to your Bro on the other side of the screen, watching as her father is quickly torn into pieces in front of her. All four of AR’s claws seem to dig away at him, until he’s nothing but a dangling torso, and even less of him is left by the time the android finally drops him. You can’t imagine how she must have felt. Her relationship with him always seemed far too complicated for you to understand, but you still feel bad for her.

AR seems to pause after throwing English’s remains aside, staring down at you still sprawled out on the floor where you fell. He approaches you slowly, leaning over you, reaching out a hand to your closed eyes. You think you see your Bro’s mouth move, as he takes a step forward, while Calliope lingers behind him, and she backs away when the android’s head lifts to stare at him. AR straightens up over you, and it takes you a moment to realize that his mouth is moving too, as the two of them seem to enter some kind of standoff. They’re talking to each other, and in this moment, you’d give up your left eye just to hear what they were saying. Suddenly, one of AR’s appendages slams hard into the ground, and both Calliope and your Bro jump at the sound. He’s still talking, but his limbs are twisting around in the air, like he’s agitated.

The android turns away, back to where you’re lying on the ground. He leans over you again and straightens up a moment later with you cradled in his arms, one of his black tentacles wrapped around you securely.

He tried to leave with you.

You knew it. Bro lied when he said AR had left immediately, and now you have the truth in front of you, as AR holds you in his arms, and a small, damaged voice in the back of your mind wishes desperately that you could remember it. He approaches your Bro standing between him and the door, and you hold your breath as your brother squares his shoulders at the android. Calliope backs away from the two of them to stand against the wall, as your Bro’s mouth starts to move again.

AR seems to pause in front of him, listening to whatever he’s saying. Then, the android moves around him, circling your brother as he stands in place, his posture stiff. When AR steps away, he suddenly lifts his hands from where they were held behind him, rubbing at his wrists.

“What the…?” you whisper, watching as your brother says something to AR again, before turning and walking towards the missing door. He gestures at Calliope, who nods and moves away from them, before he walks out of the command center, and you watch in confusion as AR follows him, still cradling you in his arms as his other appendages brace themselves against the floor while he walks. They leave together, and Calliope exits a moment later from the other side of the room, heading in a different direction. You stare at the screen for a long moment, unable to understand what you just saw.

The door in the living room opens, and you can hear Jake’s voice mingling with Roxy’s. She’s immediately engaging him in conversation, trying to distract him from asking about you, and you’ll have to do something especially nice to pay her back for everything she’s done for you lately. You start over at the top of the list and click through each file, advancing the footage to the right time and searching the hallways for any sign of your Bro and AR. You catch a glimpse of them from a different angle, walking past the end of a long corridor. AR still has you in his arms, and your Bro seems to be leading him away from the command center, but it’s hard to tell where they’re going. You open and close every video file almost six times before you’re able to track them, little by little, to a room with an old-fashioned door and a knob on the side. You watch from above as Bro opens it and leads him through, but the room is dark, and you can’t see past the narrow frame before the door closes.

Jane’s voice suddenly mixes in with the others as she returns from her shift. You hear your name as she asks about you like she always does, and Roxy’s reply is too muffled for you to make out. Whatever she told her, it must have worked, because she doesn’t try to look for you. It sounds like the three of them might be seated around the table, and you try to work quickly, before your luck runs out. You check almost every video file in the list before reaching the bottom, and one of the last few of them reveals an overhead view of a room you had ignored before, since the footage had been too dark. Now several rows of bright lights mounted in the ceiling wash out the top of the image, and below them is a metal table in the center of a large room. The walls are flanked by desks and shelves, filled with equipment you’ve never seen before, from tools to cloth, small bottles, and jars. Jane’s voice comes in through the door again, and the recognition clicks- it’s the infirmary. You can practically see the white walls and tiled floor every time you close your eyes now, but you’ve never seen this part of it before.

Bro steps away from the switch on the wall while AR carries you to the table in the center of the room and leans over it. When he straightens up again, you’re left lying on your back on the metal surface, with two of AR’s appendages draped over you almost possessively, their clawed tips latched onto the edges of the table. Your Bro’s mouth is moving now, and AR says something in reply as one of his black hands lifts to cover your forehead while he talks. The android seems agitated again, and your Bro shakes his head at him silently.

The metal appendages retract as AR suddenly turns and walks across the room to one of the desks. He lifts a hand to the back of his neck, then brings it to one of the system units next to a computer monitor and pauses as he waits for something. A few moments pass, before he removes it and turns to face your Bro, his mouth moving silently as his metal limbs twist in the air. Your brother says something back to him, and AR listens to whatever it is, before gesturing at him almost angrily, then at you. A moment later he turns away towards the door, and just like that, he exits the room. Your brother stands over you silently, and doesn’t watch the android leave. He stares down at you with a hand resting on the metal table, his head bowed.

You close the video file in a daze, struggling to comprehend what you just saw. You click through the other files, watching AR make his way through the compound until he finds a maintenance tunnel into the waterworks and descends into it, vanishing from sight. He must have left the compound the same way he came in, but none of this explains what your Bro was lying to you about.

The infirmary. AR did something to the computer there, and you need to know what, if you’re going to have any chance of figuring this out. You close the window on Roxy’s laptop and stand, making your way into the living room, where she’s sitting with Jane on one of the couches. Jake’s bedroom door is closed.

“Good afternoon, Dirk,” Jane says pleasantly. She looks tired too, like you all are after working enough shifts for multiple people. “How did you feel today? Any more headaches?”

“Nope, I’m good so far,” you smile casually, resting your arms on the back of the armchair. Jane hums softly.

“It must have been a slow day, if the two of you are back this early.”

“Yeah, well, what’re ya gonna do,” Roxy stretches her arms over her head and sighs, feigning nonchalance.

“I just remembered something I need to talk to Calliope about,” you tell them, although it’s more directed at Jane since she’s still in charge of your recovery. You’re not supposed to move around too much after work, but you need to check that computer in the infirmary before you do anything else. Jane frowns slightly, and you keep your expression carefully neutral.

“Oh, well I suppose that’s fine. I’ll come with you then. I’ve been so busy with work, I’ve hardly had any time to see her.” Shit, no you need her to stay here. You glance at Roxy, trying to catch her eye.

“Actually, Janey, I need your help with something,” she says quickly, standing up and taking Jane’s hand, then pulling her towards her bedroom. Roxy goes on to tell her in hushed tones about a “femi-nine” type medical problem she’s been having lately, but doesn’t want to talk about in front of “the boys.” Jane looks mildly confused at the abrupt change in topic, but the ploy seems to work, and you wait until they’re both in Roxy’s room before exiting through the front door.

You make your way down the tunnels, trying not to walk too fast in case someone gets curious about why you’re wandering around. It’s harder to blend in now, with so few people, and when word got around that you had single-handedly enlisted an android to fight English’s men, it got even harder to go anywhere without attracting a few stares. It’s easy to ignore them, but it makes your current situation especially difficult, as you slow your pace to peek around a corner at the hallway beyond, enduring the flashbacks to when you did this with AR at your side.

Now more than ever, you need to know what happened. Seeing the footage only left you with more questions, and as you get closer to the infirmary, your mind touches on every possibility you can come up with. AR looked angry when he spoke to your Bro, but that doesn’t tell you much, and Calliope must have heard at least some of it, but she was ordered to stay silent. The footage was deleted, your shades were wiped, the flash drive was destroyed, and your brother would never have lied to you without a reason.

The infirmary has several entrances, only one of which you’re familiar with. You pass the door that leads into the room with the row of beds, trying to remember the security footage from the hallway outside. There’s a muffled voice behind the second door, but it’s late in the afternoon, and there shouldn’t be more than a few people around, if at all. The door at the end of the tunnel is the one you’re looking for, and you stop to listen before carefully twisting the knob.

You’ve never been inside this room before, apart from when you were unconscious, and the tiled walls give it a strange, sterile feeling. Your feet echo as you let the door fall shut behind you, and you immediately spot the computer you’re looking for. The metal table in the center of the room is empty, and you pause as you walk past it, remembering yourself lying face-up on it, with AR’s black appendages coiled around your body, like you were something that belonged to him. It’s an image you don’t ever want to forget, even if your search uncovers something terrible.

You pull the chair out and sit down at the desk, careful to keep your movements quiet. The computer is in sleep mode, and you wake it up by tapping on the keyboard with one finger, then stare at the idle screen, at a loss for what exactly you were expecting to find. You click around the desktop and rifle through the utility programs, searching for anything out of the ordinary. The list of recently opened documents is blank, since it resets whenever the computer is shut down, and you don’t think it’s used very often in the first place, except to keep records on anyone who gets any kind of treatment.

You find your own file, buried in a folder of patients marked for this year, and skim the contents- lacerations, muscle damage, head injury, etc. It’s not a very thorough list, but your Bro likes everyone to keep records for some reason. You’ve never really understood why. Even the equipment that goes through the maintenance room gets logged.

You’re almost out of ideas when you finally decide to check the hard drive.

The computer’s files are organized by type into folders and subfolders, but you expand all of them into a single window that takes a few minutes to load due to the sheer volume. You click around, unsure of what you’re looking for, before the categories at the top of the screen catch your attention, one of them offering you the option to list them by ‘date modified.’

You execute the command and watch as the list reorganizes itself. When you scroll down to last month, a single file stands out, created just after six AM on the morning English attacked the compound. There’s no file extension at the end of the name, and it’s a random jumble of numbers. Your heart rate picks up again, and you take a deep breath, before moving the mouse across the screen to open it.

It’s a text document.

“Autograph Cranioplasty for the Treatment of Traumatic Cerebral Edema”

It’s a document filled with nothing but paragraphs of text, detailing a step-by-step surgical procedure. From what you can understand of the medical jargon, it’s the very same procedure that was performed to keep you alive, right down to the time frame for replacing the section of your skull they removed. This is what your brother was hiding? What he went to all that effort to keep from you? A text document on how to perform a surgery?

A life-saving surgery…

You trace the edges of the incision scar along your scalp, where your hair still hasn’t grown back. AR carried you here and put this file into the computer, then left the compound. There’s no reason why he would have done that, unless he was trying to keep you from dying, and that doesn’t make any sense.

None of it makes sense anymore.

You pull your knees up and wrap your arms around them, staring at the thick wall of text on the screen, while a miserable feeling settles over you. When you close your eyes, the image returns of AR leaning over your unconscious body and resting a hand on your forehead, and a vague memory surfaces, almost like a forgotten dream, of a warm, tingling sensation against your skin, like when you felt his chest with the palm of your hand. You remember the way his eyes stared down at you appraisingly when you dared to touch him. The color of them is permanently burned into your mind, like the scars he’s left on your body, and you wish you could have at least felt him carrying you, even if he had only taken you away from the compound to die.

You have to bite the inside of your lip to keep yourself from crying.

 
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