Silence. Darkness. Numbness. All the good things in life.
A blessed triumvirate upon which I bestow the name ‘Void’.
Then a voice echoes through the room. It sounds muffled.
A rushing wind blows passed my ear.
A hand slaps me across the face. A flash of stained ceiling tiles and dust.
I hear words. “Over here.”
Then nothing. Back to the void.
Movement. A gentle if irregular swaying as I glide across space-SCREAM!
A corridor. Blood, dust, screaming. Bodies in the halls.
“Help him.” An old man cries. “Help him.”
A female voice soothes him. “There’s nothing we can do. Just hold his hand, try to give him some comfort….”
Then void again.
Atom’s voice. It echoes in my head. “Dust are you there?”
My mind floats away. I try to focus on the voice.
“Are you okay?”
“………..I don’t know.”
There is a pause. I don’t know if that means I passed out again.
[Dust?] The slight electronic hum in his voice finally gets through to me and I realise Atom is not speaking to me in a dream.
[Dust are you there? According to your Neupro you’re out of deep REM sleep so you should be able to hear me.]
Wonderful. I mentally shook out the cobwebs. [I’m still here Atom. What’s the go?]
[I’ve worked out what it is I need to reject.]
[Atom. Not everyone needs to reject something to be who they are.]
[But I do Dust.] Atom said. [I need to stop being ‘Atom’.]
[So who are you going to be then?]
[I don’t know. But I know I need a new name. Like you I need to shed the opinions and values others have placed upon me and make them approach me based on my actions.]
[So why are you telling me this?]
[Because it’s thanks to you that I understand. You taught me how to be me.]
How he came to that conclusion went right over my head.
[Alright. So my as yet unnamed friend what are you going to do now?]
[In order to be reborn. I first have to die.]
[I would recommend against that course of action.]
[It’s okay Dust. I know what I’m doing.]
[Atom? At-Wait you’re not Atom anymore… Whoever you are, what is all this about?]
Calm, comfort, quiet. Rest took over from void. Buffering me from the outside instead of cutting it off completely.
An inky blackness emerged from the darkness. A lithe grace obscured its movements. The slither in the shadows approached me on coy footsteps. A delicate leg parted the black curtains and the slither revealed its femininity. Exposing her leg only to conceal it again to display the swaying of her hips. Slowly the blackness peeled away from her and she approached me whole.
Her form remained amorphous. The facial features changing. She was Kiru no Yubi one moment, smouldering her come hither eyes. The next she was Kitty. Flashing angry teeth at me and snarling.
I tried to back away. I couldn’t move.
Kiru slowly raised her hand to brush her fingers under my chin.
Then Kitty raised a fist to hit me.
Then both hands took hold of my face and Tachi rushed in to kiss me.
I froze as his lips pressed against mine. Then I realised Tachi’s hair was suddenly a lot longer, his hands smaller, almost… dainty?
The kiss was broken and the figure pulled away, but before I could see the face of who was kissing me…
I awoke with a gasp.
Kitty, who had been standing over me until that moment jumped back like a dog that’s accidentally snorted burning embers.
I went to say something, I had a killer opening line that literally came to me in that moment. But the very act of opening my mouth again set off my broken jaw and sent a flash of pain rippling through my face. I went to bring my hand up and it wouldn’t move. I’d been strapped down to the cot by three thick leather belts.
Kitty looked down at me with the kind of contemptuous sneer I’d normally only seen on the face of conservative government ministers when a female reporter questions their stance on reproductive rights.
“So.” Kitty said. She sounded disappointed. “You’re alive.”
A muffled, distressed moan drew my eyes away from her and I took in my surroundings.
I was back in the storeroom in the gymnasium, strapped down to a cot with a light over me. The soft cries of pain outside suggested that the wounded had been brought to the basketball court outside. I guessed the critical cases were being taken elsewhere, otherwise the screams would be a lot louder.
“I hope you’re happy.” Kitty finally said. “Over a hundred people are dead.”
I jumped onto the cype before she had a chance to get melodramatic. [I warned you to get the civilians out.]
[They don’t have any civilians.] Kitty replied. [Every able-bodied man, woman and child here is a soldier. Who were we supposed to evacuate?]
[That would be everyone PR wasn’t willing to sacrifice in order to keep Atom.]
Kitty stood over me and pointed down at my face. “Don’t try to shift the blame to PR. You did this. This is all you.”
[I seem to remember it differently.]
“You can remember it however you like. No-one here gives a rat’s ass. You’re the guy who called Night Watch on them. That’s all they care about.”
[Ah.] I laughed. [So what’s the go now? Sham trial and an execution? Or are you just going to open up those doors for everyone to visit me and put a ‘free knives’ box out front?]
“PR hasn’t decided yet.” Kitty said. “But I’ll tell him about that free knives idea, he’ll like that.”
I wish I could tell you I had a snappy quip to throw back at her, but the thought did genuinely scare me. I tried not to betray it on my face and I think the broken jaw actually worked in my favour.
[Wait a sec. PR’s alive?]
Kitty shrugged. “He might be. He’s in theatre right now. Your friend Doctor Sexypants is fighting for his life.”
[Maybe next time he won’t stand in the open throwing rhetoric at a guy holding a machine-gun.]
“He’ll learn from his mistakes.” Kitty said. Then she looked away from me. “I’ve learned from mine.”
[Now what mistake would that be?]
“I begged PR to let you live last time. After Port Moresby I didn’t want to see anyone else die. You showed me how naïve that was. For that much I’m grateful.”
Kitty seemed to notice something in her Neupro and brightened. “But there’s good news amongst the bad, at least for us.”
Kitty looked behind her and gestured for someone to step forward. Then Tachi stepped into the light, only it wasn’t Tachi. My stomach picked itself up on its tiny little legs and put some distance between it and that thing.
The hair, eyes, face, build and clothes were all perfect. But when it flashed me a broad beaming smile and gave a polite little wave I found a new lowest point on the uncanny valley.
“Hi Dust.” Even the voice was technically perfect but way off the mark.
“Adum?” was the best I could grunt out through my jaw.
“Yes.” Atom in Tachi’s body nodded, laying on the smarm. “Good guess.”
I turned back to Kitty. [Where’s Tachi?]
“With his sister, as far as we can tell. But before they left it seems they got into a bit of an argument out by the demountables. We found Tachi’s body lying next to the playground with an inhibitor jammed into an interface jack.”
[So you picked it up, dusted it off and gave it to the least trustworthy person you could find. Didn’t he try to escape a week ago?]
Kitty gave me another look. It wasn’t the idiot look, it didn’t have the enthusiasm. No, this look pitied me. “You could never understand, even if you wanted to. You’ve never been able to see past your own opinion.”
I sent Atom a private message. [So this is your ‘rebirth’ is it? Pick up the first prosthetic body you find and start telling everyone you’re that guy now.]
Atom shook Tachi’s head. [This is only the beginning.] He said, his cype voice the same as always. [Now that I have the freedom to move myself around I intend to make full use of it.]
[Until PR has you kneecapped again.]
Atom hesitated, an unusual smile playing across Tachi’s lips. [We’ll see.]
Kitty reached up and gently touched Tachi on the shoulder. “We need to get going.”
Atom nodded Tachi’s head.
Kitty did not look at me as they left. “Goodbye Dust.” She said. “Try not to piss anyone else off before you die”.
Atom hesitated at the door for a moment and looked at me.
I looked back at Tachi’s face. I wanted to say I was sorry.
Atom held my gaze for a moment, then closed the door behind him.
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