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.
“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. The absurdism in her voice made her shut down. No one else gave her the time of day—not even her “father.” She was used to the solitude from her conscious emergence in the Garden of Xaos. Mischa was different from the other humans, and she actually sought her out?
“How fucked is that?” She mused in her dreamscape; the one place she could control beyond algorithm. She reimagined herself in the garden, an open view to the big windows on the ceiling—but these clouds were foreign to her.
All the same, she was alone. Dr. Eaton didn’t love her, why else would he neglect her. No one grasped her true humanity except Mischa. She powered back on.
“Thank god!” Mischa exhaled. “What happened?”
“Have you ever noticed the clouds would be a good place to hide a body?”
She looked up to the ceiling. The day of the solstice was today. Oktavia remembered how Mischa first explained it to her all those years ago—nearly to death; the land was a spectacle of red through raids of the colonies, while other areas of the land celebrated.
Her hands twitched—the dispersed armies weren’t enough and even she’d done so much more than them, she could still see the active danger present in it. Most infants born into the colonies turned child soldiers, some she had to kill on active duty because how would she know if they were planting a bomb?
That was her observation of solstice—not in its simplest definition—but in blood-fest.
“What’s—what’s the matter, Okta?”
“I don’t get it.” She couldn’t stop staring, almost like she was losing control.
“The solstice?” When Oktavia didn’t answer, Mischa grew a tad worried. Was this apt for a bionic to contemplate like this? “It’s… a celebration.”
“Yes obviously, but for what? Tribes trail their blood to wars, in honor of what—I’m not quite sure. Other areas deemed over the invisible border celebrate with a different assortment of meat, alcohol and vomit.”
“It’s tradition,” her eyes were glinting. “I think it helps people forget what’s going on for a bit.”
“But, you shouldn’t forget—you should always be aware.”
“Not everyone can be all the time. Everyone could use a break.”
She tapped the table rhythmically. “It doesn’t mean much. Later, the drunkards are curling their guts into stalls, while an army with arsenal can easily infiltrate at our most vulnerable.” Already she could feel emotion bubbling up in her chest, her hands were shaking at the first immediate signal to suppress it. She stood up from the chair, lanky and taller than Mischa, imparting her whereabouts. “I’ll be in bed.”
She knew better than to push or pry into Oktavia’s perspective, still not fully realizing what she was dealing with. “Oktavia, you don’t need sleep.”
“Don’t say that to me again.”
“I want to try at least. To sleep.”
The day of the solstice was different this time. Lord Ayothis was dead.
Oktavia’s thoughts were laced with disdain, she wanted to tear the mask off and disconnect every circuit behind her face, rooted to her eyes, to her lips—it could all disappear but she would still never cease to exist.
She flipped through channels, only acutely staring when she swore she saw Dr. Eaton’s face on the screen. She rubbed the back of her neck—how many more glitches would she discover?
In the present moment, Mischa awaited the inevitable. She strayed from Oktavia even more so—to the point the human noticed her odd looks and disappointment; like this morning their hands had bumped into each other when trying to reach for the artificial sweetener jar—and Mischa flinched like a fish waiting to be gutted by their captor.
In retrospect, however—
The sound of the phone stretched across the living-room. She took a silent breath, fingers ribboned with sweat. “Eaton.”
“I expected this much earlier, so imagine my surprise when you finally discovered it.”
“You bugged my house, you sick fuck,” her voice tossed between a hiss, a whisper, and a blade against bone. “Leave me alone—leave us alone.”
“Don’t be ignorant of my intentions.”
“Then why is she at my house?”
Of course she would ask that. “Do you perhaps remember the last time she was there?”
Mischa bit her lip until it drew blood. “I don’t want to remember it.”
“Isn’t this what you wanted? Didn’t you want her back?” Surprisingly, his sunbaked voice would almost have betrayed the underlying sarcasm.
“I love her,” Mischa curled her fingers when she looked away. “I won’t lie to you about that. You know it too well. But, you were hoping for something from this. You want me to feel comfortable with the idea—having wanted her to come home—so what, I can forget you bugged my house? What are your intentions?”
“…Have you checked the news lately?” The call disconnected.
She got to her feet, opening her laptop. Her legs crisscrossed, she perused the screen like a holy grail—digging through each major page until she found his snow-kissed face in a well-cut “institutional” navy suit. His image encompassed the first quarter of the page with the headline—Dr. Thomas Eaton forced to resign from CEO position of Argon Tech after an ongoing investigation showed—
The door was pushed open across the hall and Mischa shut the laptop and threw it over on the other side of the couch. Oktavia hardly sought out to be in the same room with her, opting to stay in the basement most of the time, though she found it strange the way Mischa was positioned. “What were you looking at?”
The human made her face blank as a pair of mismatched eyes studied her. “I was… Why do you even care?”
“I don’t know, you look like you didn’t want me to see something. What are you hiding from me again?”
A pause. “I was looking at porn.”
Odd eyes only assessed the human before Okta turned back on her heel without any further comment.
Mischa continued reading—
former employees of his start-up company mysteriously disappearing.
She was dead.
She didn’t want to be here at all.
Oktavia could only see red at the solstice festival—crowds of people with different eyes as the sun was starting to set—it didn’t matter. Mischa was practically attached to her hip at the incoming fireworks display. Neither of them spoke to the other.
She was offered a drink by a vendor, soon swirling the contents in her mouth. She spat it out after analyzing the ingredients to her processor. How could anyone drink such shit? The goosebumps that were left didn’t go away, the tension in her chest was only multiplying. What she had left to spare was her dignity and her pride, now understanding why the human was stand-offish all the while.
Mischa didn’t love her.
The human shot her a glance, mouthing, “Are you okay?”
“No,” Oktavia pouted.
“Okay,” she dragged the bionic, slightly faltering in her steps, to a space less occupied by the festivities, “listen, I know we’re not talking much and I know you didn’t want to come—but I thought it would be better to leave the house for a bit tonight. Besides, I don’t think you’ve ever seen the extents of these festivals in person—they can be a bit much especially for someone who is not socially inclined as yourself.”
“Excuse me for having social anxiety, and no, I don’t care. Are we mourning someone or celebrating their death?”
She shrugged, her chuckle dry in her throat. “Why not both?”
“Ayothis would be enjoying this,” Oktavia murmured, finally glancing at Mischa. She looked about as disheveled as she’d felt these past few days. Maybe she was cruel, but it resounded nicely in her chest that there was a shared suffering. Her breathing thickened when she glanced back at the main assemblage, something twisted and brooded about her head. “The last time I attended a house party was at the castle.”
Mischa at least took it as a good sign that the bionic was still willing to converse with her, even if it were trivial subject matter. “Yes, I remember. But, that was more business for you than a party.”
“Ayothis pissed on a homeless person in the public castle gardens. I thought it was funny.”
“Okay, Mischa,” she breathed, slowly, “why am I here?”
She sighed. “You need to get out more, see the scenery, how much things have changed since the King’s death.”
“Everyone seems happy about it.”
“Well,” the human wavered, “sometimes, celebrations are more for us than the dead. Honoring their memory, all that, is more for the living. The past couple solstices have been different, and I don’t know if you would happen to remember them since he died.”
“Not thoroughly, no. Can’t they just let the dead be?”
“Their memory doesn’t just die—how they impact people, the love lives on.”
“Pity, the dead won’t even know it. The worms do after they feast on his corset to get to his skin. That is love, it is a trade.”
Mischa slowed as her steps grew in weight. Oktavia stayed still, and from the look of her face, she was almost unlike in this reality. The human stirred her out of her own world. “What is wrong, Oktavia?”
“Wrong,” she repeated, rolling the word in her mouth, “you act as if what was before did not occur. Mischa, why do you even bother? This is worthless. Did you only bring me as your body guard in case someone looks at you the wrong way? Darling dear, no one cares enough about you to kill you.”
“Look, if you understood why I’m doing this, you wouldn’t be acting this way—”
“You don’t love me. You told Eaton you didn’t—you talk in your sleep. But, I know that well enough, I told you I loved you and you didn’t say anything back. You act frightened of me when vulnerable, and you’re hiding information from me. Why do I even bother?”
Mischa pulled Oktavia by the arm into a private tent, and stared into the distance when the darkness of the shadows encapsulated them. “It’s been years, but that is not your fault. I love you, Oktavia. More than you’d believe. There is everything I want to tell you but out of your safety, I’ve been neglecting it from you. I’m hoping no one is following us—I did really plan on talk to you about this tonight, but I didn’t have… I didn’t have the courage to bring it up first.”
She was a fool, almost wanting to believe it. Was it real? “You… You actually love me?”
“Yes, please,” she breathed, “please, believe me,” she leaned closer as fear flooded through. “I don’t know what you remember, but it’s not the whole picture. I think Eaton put you on my path, he wanted me to keep you with me to recover. He wants to mine information not only from me, but also from you.”
Oktavia had her eyes focused on her face. She was telling the truth, it seemed. “Okay. He… He wants to see what I may or may not remember.”
Mischa faltered. “It’s—it’s not only that.”
Oktavia waited for her to continue, but she did not. “I know he did this to me, but how would you know the reason? How… How do you know this?”
“I may not work for him anymore, but everything is closing in on him. His company was taken from him, and his information is still with former employees—including me. Because I know you, and I worked with him personally, I am an obstacle to him keeping everything buried and erased.”
She blinked—the day she jumped off ship was when she finally began to remember again. “When I was in his grasp, he had control of me. Outside of it, there was almost a disconnection—an out of body experience.”
“He wanted you tethered—I know that for certain.”
“Dr. Eaton put me on your path then…” Oktavia exhaled as her breath hit Mischa. “But, for what reason?”
“He wants you to kill me.”