RvB Song Prompt: Braille (Regina Spektor) AU Part 2
Part 1 here.
‘Cause it’s been turpentine and patches
It’s been cold, cold Campbell’s from the can
They were just two jerks playing with matches
‘Cause that’s all they knew how to play
The first thing she heard about Project Freelancer was that their top agent had died. The information was years late, she knew, and it was secondhand and not meant for her at all. Information kept from her for years because she said she didn’t want anything else to do with them. That a child was a enough to handle from Project Freelancer.
But now at night she finds herself wondering if that means it was Carolina or Tex. She manages to make it three days before she dusts off her old infiltrator skills and has a sit down with the computer, digging up all of the files she can find on the freelancers.
The first few pages are all the data she brought over with her. It wasn’t until page seven that the information on the AI begins to get more specific. Which one was assigned to which agent. Sorted by importance, the first flagged file she found was a report of an agent who had two AIs at once, and it led to her death. Codename Carolina.
Not for the first time, CT was very glad that she’d never reached the top of that scoreboard.
A few pages more and she read about how York and Tex left the program. Both still with their AIs. Wyoming was not so lucky.
Her fingers typed a flurry of codes and letters and keywords until two articles popped up. Agent Washington receives the Epsilon AI. His resulting mental instability halts the project in its tracks. Committed to a hospital ward until further notice, AI removed.
And there was the other article, the one dated just a week ago. Agent Washington, cleared for duty. New code name: Recovery One.
She would check these archives monthly for new news. Any news. In a few months mentions of “the Meta” began to appear. At the same time there were reports of Agent Maine going rogue. It didn’t take a genius to put those two together.
What followed was a list of deaths. Agent Texas. Killed. Redacted. Wounded. Made a full recovery. AI still present.
Agent North Dakota. Killed. Presumably by the Meta. No news of South. AI missing, possibly recovered by the project, probably captured.
Agent Virginia. Killed on mission. AI never assigned.
Agent New York. Killed. Meta involvement unlikely. AI missing, probably recovered. CT began to check the news files weekly after that.
Wyoming. Texas again. South. AI status unknown. Assume recovered.
Agent Maine. AI destroyed. At least four units, maybe as many as seven. Presumed dead.
Recovery One/Agent Washington. Killed on mission. AI never reassigned.
That was the last time she hacked into the intelligence feed.
Elvis never could carry a tune
She thought about this irony as she stared back at the moon
She was tracing her years with her fingers on her skin
Saying why don’t I begin again
With turpentine and patches
With cold Campbell’s from the can
After all I’m still a jerk playing with matches
It’s just that he’s not around to play along
She could do it.
She could make this her last mission. She’d been in Sandtrap for so many months, years now, the only time she’d see Elvis were those few days of leave every quarter. He was old now, nine years of his mother leaving had taught him to not ask that question. The one she always lied about.
But she could do it. She could visit in a few weeks and say they’re close. They’re so close to opening the temple she can feel it, and that simulation trooper that stuck inside is the key. Somehow.
She could visit and tell Elvis this is the last mission, and mean it.
When she does, she blurts it out while hugging him before leaving. She chokes on the words between quiet sobs because he never asked her when she’s coming back, he never asked her if she could make this her last mission. He never asked, because he already knew the answer. And when she said it, his reaction was to bury his face into her even more.
She looked at the woman who cared for him. A suburban town with decent schools and a playground down the street, a woman who could never have kids but would care for and adopt so many, especially after the war. He learned to know his way around a book, not a gun, and the importance of rules. His own mother taught him to be distrustful of authority.
She supposed she should be proud of that somehow.
“I’ll come back soon, yeah,” she said, kneeling down to his eye level and pushing the overgrown curly hair out of his face. Sometimes, when she saw how perfectly it fell and how brightly it shone in the sun, she regretted not naming him David, like the statue. Like Wash. “I’ll come back and we can buy a house around here, so you won’t have to move again.”
“That’d be nice,” he said, hand over his mother’s as hers rested on his cheek. “I don’t want to move away from this school. “How much longer, mom?”
“Just a bit more, my darling,” she said, scooping him up in her arms and kissing his forehead lightly. She could do it. She was going to do it. She’d become a suburban housewife, single mom with a husband who was killed in the war. She’d have pictures in her house of his face, back when it was smiling and trusting. She’d have modest furniture and bright yellow plates on drab, gray tablecloths. She’d have one gun in her house, locked away where Elvis could never get to it. She’d never have to wake up to that low Southern drawl haunting her dreams again because she’d be safe. She’d be with her son, and she’d be home.
“Just as soon as I get that thing open,” she whispered. “I’ll come back. For good. You pick out a house you want, alright? Pick one out so I can buy it when I get back.”
“I love you, mom,” he said softly, and she squeezed him tighter.
I’m still an asshole playing with matches
Blowing out my wishes, blowing out my dreams
Just sitting here and trying to decipher
What’s written in braille upon my skin
“CT? What’s she doing out here?” Wash heard the words echo out and then he got distracted, and didn’t think anything more of them.
Not until that night.
That night he slid down to where her helmet was sticking out of the desert. He stared at it for a long time, his hands itching to take it off and his mind reeling from the possibility of a confirmation. Right now, it could still be someone else. Right now, it was just her armor. Nothing more.
His fingers reached around to release the helmet, and there was no hiss of a pressure seal. Whatever had killed her must have already broken it. He lifted, because whatever the truth was, he needed it.
Her face was pale, even more than he remembered in the moonlight. Her eyes were open and vacant, slowly turning opaque. But it was her.
“Hey Doc,” he called out. The medic walked over, still shaky from being blown out of a piece of wall earlier. “Give me a hand with this.”
He dug and pulled and pushed the rest of the body out of the shallow sand grave until she was lying, spread out on the ground and cause of death painfully obvious. He turned her over inelegantly and tore at the armor around her wound. He convinced him it was clinical. Ballistics. Weapon analysis of their enemy. What would make such a wound.
But then he noticed something. Some imperfection. Something new, white lines running around her abdomen. He pulled at the rest of her armor until her stomach was exposed, a web of white lines and veins and imperfections assaulting his vision.
He looked up at the medic, the best source of wisdom he had at the moment (as ridiculous as he knew that sounded) and pointed at the stretch marks. “What’re these?”
(She was lying on the floor counting stretch)
“Could it have been an operation?” Wash asked. Not that he cared. He wouldn’t have cared. It was just harmless curiosity. For old times’ sake.
“I guess,” the medic said reluctantly. “I mean, it’d have to be some really weird operation. Like a claw grabber in one of those carnival games? Man, I love those things, one time I got a tiny keychain out of one! I mean, it only took me three hours and I was aiming for the teddy bear-“
“Focus,” Wash said and Doc came back from his anecdote with a throat-clearing cough.
“They kinda look like stretch marks. You know. When people gain a bunch of weight or get pregnant and their skin stretches.” He pushed at the skin, still so impossibly soft. “Or claw-surgery.”
Wash stared at the body in front of him. Her head was turned, eyes eerily open and staring into blank space. He could see the small brown blemish behind her right ear. The one he never found, in all his time of exploration and conquest. “Pregnant?”
“Or claw-surgery,” Doc repeated.
He looked at her face, worn and aged. There were lines that matched his own etched into wrinkles, and it was the familiarity of recognizing them in the mirror that made him think, with certainty, they couldn’t be laugh lines. She didn’t have any big scars, just white roots traveling around her stomach. Even the bullet wound he left on her leg years ago was barely showing. She was still in shape, allowing for aging, and she still looked like she could give him a run for his money.
“She probably died from that,” Doc said helpfully, pointing at the area of her body Wash had been avoiding. A hole, right through her rib cage. Burned through until the only smell stronger than her death was the scorched flesh. Wash gave him a long look and the medic decided it’d be wise to shut up.
“She can’t have been pregnant,” he said convincingly. “She would have told me.”
“Maybe it wasn’t…I mean you guys knew each other really long ago, maybe…”
“She would have told me.” He took the time to reassemble her armor and push her back into the shallow grave, helmet-less, piling dirt on top of her until he could no longer see her face, eyes open, staring at nothing.
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