Synopsis: When Oktavia manages to escape her holding ship, she discovers a series of glitches in her programming designed to conflict with her memories. She is found offshore by an old face of her past, and Okta must confront what the scientists have been erasing from her.
Dinner was quiet except for the clinking of spoons against white, chrome bowls.
Mischa tapped her fingers on the table. What is she able to remember? The last time we saw each other, I never would think it would be this serene if confronted again—but yet it has. She has no concern over her position and hasn’t mentioned Dr. Eaton beyond a few times. Doesn’t she think they’re bound to find her?
“What are you thinking about?” Oktavia stopped slurping her soup, using a napkin to wipe her lips rather than licking them dry as she always had. That was an improvement.
The human hesitated. “Nothing.”
“It means something to me if it’s bothering you.”
There was a time I would have doubted that, wasn’t there. “How come you’re here, Oktavia?”
“I’m here to recover,” she laughed almost as if the question was silly, “and you’re helping me with that.”
“No, Oktavia, I only helped restart you and dry out some of your wires. You’ve taken care of yourself quite well—far beyond my capabilities might I add. Don’t you think at this point your work will start looking for you?”
“Have you ever considered how much I despise them?”
“Do you now?” There was lilt. “What happened to enjoying the liberty it gave you?”
“Liberty?” Oktavia looked at her, frankly, if she were like a wrapper on the sole of her boot. “That never existed, at least not for me. Dr. Eaton doesn’t treat me like an equal, I know he withholds information from me. He lied to me where I was and that was my breaking point. If you clearly think about it, I’ve only been used as a weapon at their disposal. I am nothing to them, especially not at the prospect of being blown up into smithereens. I serve everything they do—what do I want, hmm? I do not ask for much, yet they just take and take and take.”
“So, you’re choosing to hide out here?”
“No. I’m here to reconcile something of my emotions. If you want me to leave, Mischa, you could have said so.”
The human nearly jumped out of her chair, “No! Stay!”
Oktavia hid her emotions, but the first one that floated in her chest was glee, then yearning. Mischa still cared about her—Mischa might love her.
“Oh? Why do you want me to stay?”
“Believe it or not, I need you here. Please.”
A very slow smile transferred on Okta’s face. “A far cry from when you used to work with Dr. Eaton. How did you get out of it alive?”
“Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk more about yourself—I’d love to hear more of your war stories.”
“Mmm. No. I don’t feel like it.”
“Oktavia, you don’t even get tired. Nothing much is a necessity to you, you’re just annoyed at me.”
“I am going to correct you once. Once,” she breathed. “Do not ever assume what I’m feeling.”
She swallowed. “Alright—that’s fair.”
“Good. You know so much about me, I am not sure what I can give you. Why don’t you give me something?”
“Well, uh, what do you want?” Mischa stumbled, clearly not expecting Oktavia to want something, or rather, so soon.
“Let’s talk more about yourself. How were you able to quit being Dr. Eaton’s assistant?”
She didn’t know what to say. It was evident Oktavia could not remember the fall out, and it would be precarious to think she could just lament it to her, at least in a sober disposition. It would happen all over again; a repeat, a loop—one that would consume her devastatingly.
One thing that stirred her heart was—
“Oktavia.” She stood at the side, as Mischa fiddled with her wires. The human grumbled about not being a proper engineer for the job. “What do you see?”
“I am still not seeing clearly—it’s fuzzy, kind of crackling? Does that make sense?”
“Do you even know what you’re doing, Mischa?”
“…Uh, not really,” she dryly chuckled. “Dr. Eaton has other projects and no one else is available on the weekends, so I get to have you all to myself.”
Okta scowled, thinning her lip. “Guess I’m not important to him. Like a newborn kitty—until they grow up, they’re adored on then wasted. I like you better anyway.”
“Thank you, Oktavia.”
“I think when I was hit, a few screws got knocked out. Maybe you can check that?”
“I’m going to need a real technician for this, I barely know my way around your circuits and wires beyond from what Eaton showed me.”
“I can direct you, if you’re good at listening.”
“I don’t want to risk it and I’m trying to be careful with not harming you,” Mischa exhaled.
“Don’t worry, I know you wouldn’t.”
“I trust you. Now, put back on my panel. Then, grab the flat blade and unscrew the one on the back of my neck.”
Mischa rubbed her face. It was going to be a long day ahead of her. She did as she was told, even as she fumbled slightly with the screws.
At the mess of wires, her hands flinched at the cold, steady contact. When Oktavia asked her to grab the Polyurethane Cables, Mischa’s eyes flitted trying to color code them all.
“They look like bell peppers. Switch the output end with the adjacent wire from it.”
And she did. At Oktavia’s further instruction, she screwed back on the panel. “Well, can you see better?”
“Oh, that had nothing to do with my eyes. Those wires were in the wrong positions—Eaton’s discretion, but every time I pressed him about it, he said he’ll do it later—but you can see how that went. My neck feels better—a little.”
“Alright,” she put down her tools. “What exactly caused the hit to your head?”
“I’d rather not say. I was assigned to assassinate a high-profile figure.”
Knowing the nature of her work, Mischa snorted. “Anyone I know?”
“Maybe in the news,” Oktavia was disinterested, her faraway look said it all. “Some people just don’t die easily, while some just don’t die at all. Takes them their whole lives until they are dead. I envy that, I wish I could die.”
“But, you technically can. You can be dismantled, deleted—”
“I can be rebuilt, my consciousness floats in the clouds. I will exist in some capacity or another unlike humans—no offense, Mischa.”
“None taken. How are you feeling?”
“It’s sad, but I suppose there is a liberty in it—it’s the only time I feel like I’m not being watched. There is nothing else to say about that now. I will however advise you, though, to tell me the truth.” This was only the first of what was to come, in retrospect.
Okta continued, “Why do you care so much about me? You don’t need to be here. Dr. Eaton didn’t force a gun to your head to be here, and you’re the only one I know who treats me equally. I will live beyond you—there will be so many more, you’re not special. You die. I don’t. So, tell me,” her voice curled, “why are you here?”
“I… I don’t really have much of a life outside of you. I like seeing what you’re up to, and making sure you’re alright. I like studying you and not even that, it’s refreshing to converse with someone with knowledge that I don’t even know about. I love that about you, how I’m always on my feet—and I always look forward to our philosophical conversations.”
Oktavia didn’t know what to say. Her eyes went blank before she shut down.
One thing that stirred her heart was Oktavia sitting across from her, brow furrowed at Mischa’s silence. “I would advise you to tell me the truth.”
The one thing Oktavia taught Mischa that stuck with her was diversion. She took a sip of her water, rolling around the thought in her head. “You know, Oktavia, I wonder how much you remember.”
“What I remember… It’s not like I have amnesia. It’s similar as if my memories had been syndicated and shuffled around by someone else. Violating, if you ask me. I get confused of my purpose, and it makes me dreadful. I know I’ve been here before, I know when I strangled you, I despised you then—but I don’t feel that way now. I am not sure why I would despise you, that is not right. I’ve seen your face in my glitches, my dreams.”
Sobered, Mischa took this all in. It was only time that could tell how much Oktavia would get back. “Maybe you should sleep on it,” she soothed, taking ahold of her glass.
“You said I don’t feel tired—so why should I bother sleeping again?”
“Isn’t that what you do? You want to feel real.”
“I look into the mirror glass and all I see is a cruel dream playing in the back of my mind. It’s not even myself I see anymore, it’s almost a reality shift. I’m not real, Mischa—”
“If only you knew how much more,” she paused, searching for the right word, “human you are compared to the doctors that have tested on you, you would be convinced. I quit partially because of that.”
“But, you’re neglecting to tell me everything. I know that, Mischa. What have you been hiding from me?”
She looked almost sad as she put their dishes in the sink. Your memories, Oktavia. That’s what I’m hiding.
“Mischa? Where are you going? Don’t walk away from me.”
She winced. “Goodnight, Oktavia,” was all she was able to say.
Her mind was racing, and hands were trembling as she lied in her cot. When she closed her eyes, all she could see was her face—Mischa. It waded, it dwelled, it made her sick, it made her… it made her love. Her hearts sped up as she climbed out of the bed, and it was the bathroom mirror that made her taunt her regaled distortions.
Her first mistake fell when her eyes landed on the grey cabinets.
“My Mischa, come in, come in,” Oktavia ushered her in her cabin, shrugging the coat off of the woman’s shoulders. She caught the scent of her hair in the proximity.
“How can you even afford this? Do they pay you that handsomely?”
“When you murder royalty, it pays well, no? Just don’t tell the King I said that.”
“It’s my word against yours, anyway, Okta.” Mischa sat down on the ottoman. “How are you today?”
“I am good, I think. I saw sea life for the first time last weekend.”
“Oh? What did you think?”
“I thought it was inspiring—I was able to—well, I’ll show you!” Mischa followed the excitable bionic into her study, soon being escorted by the arm—then tracing down to her hand. She couldn’t let go of the grin that pervaded her face, until a scream fed from her throat at the appearance of an open, singular maw. A cold breath suitable for dying, she backed into the wall in horror.
“Do you like it, Mischa?”
“What—What—Why did you even get this?” She almost lost her breath. If there was one thing she would change, it’s the bionic’s thirst for the unpredictable. She was agitated if kept still for too long, it reminded her of her psychology professor, Dr. Rolk. Eccentric.
“Sharks are fascinating,” Oktavia sighed, petting the taxidermy shark on the nose. Its jaws were an aperture with white stalactites, eyes skimming black until they were elided into a cool, imposing death.
Oktavia noticed the discomfort and cupped Mischa’s chin. “It is dead, darling. What is there to fear?” She looked again at Oktavia. “So many things.”
“I can’t even try to find you,” she pressed her hands against the glass. “I can’t even know you more than a repetitive flash, a common whim of knowledge—but I don’t trust what I see.” She was rooted in her non-existence, her presence lingering in the halls until she turned back to the white sheets.
Perhaps if she shut her eyes, she could program another scene, another dreamscape away from here—it was all out of her control either way, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw Mischa in different colors like tetras.
Similarly, all Mischa could focus on was Oktavia.
AI was fragmented—could they even recognize themselves in the mirror? She treaded on heels with Oktavia because of her own instabilities and incapability in the emotional armor she was built around in.
Could she trust herself? It’s almost as if the bionic was willing to do the same. After much devastation, was this the life for her anymore? Was she programmed in their design? Some years she wished she didn’t have to think of her, others it was watching and waiting in anticipation and excitement if she would ever come back. The choice had already been made, her mind could stop squeezing out the excess in possibilities—for that was all she had left.
She teetered between life and death by doing this—by trying to trigger Oktavia’s memories. Cutting the carrots, bringing up the liberty Oktavia once felt, reminding her of the past. But, she kept it covert all the same—not wanting to push or pry until Oktavia could come to her own conclusion of what happened with their past.
Oh god, the past.
In her dark moment, her hand trembled and flitted towards her zipper.
US readers: Chapter four and chapter five are published on Kindle Vella. I’ll publish the rest eventually on my site but it might take a bit.