She knew something was wrong the minute she woke up. It wasn't the cold itch of bandages, or the steady hum of machinery, or even the slick feeling of liquid coursing through her veins. It was something more subtle; something… off. She knew she would never be able to explain it to someone who wasn't a Breaker like her. It was fundamental; it was part of her essence. And it was. She groped for the right meaning. Silence, that was it. Her core was silent. Not even a vague fragment of the churning Otherworlds spoke to her, and she probed the hollowness like a lost tooth, painful and bloodied.
She tried moving, but her body was limp and dead, cold. The fuckers had suspended her! She willed a mental catalogue of the damage and slowly reached an understanding in her anger-seething mind. They had done what they had to do. She was, in all senses of the word, only just there. But suspended for how long? The whiteness of the room and the soft hands were her last memory; she still couldn't recall the time she'd spent as the Other. She wished now that she'd taken a look at his face, just so she could hit him if she ever saw him again.
She wondered if they had Reamed her before suspending her, or if they intended to do it after. She had no real idea if the damage to her body was consistent with her first waking or if they had added to it. She gave a mental sigh and catalogued what she did know. One: she'd obviously taken on something big and dangerous, something that had beaten her very badly. Two: she had woken gods knows where and been brought summerwise. Three: she was now suspended, caught between life and death, while the machines healed her body. None of it was good.
It hadn't always been like this; she hadn't always been like this. But the blackness had slowly stolen her, and the Other had seemed like a way out… a way free from all the pain in her heart. The loneliness sucked at her, and she probed the hollowness of her core, where they should have been. Nothing. Had they abandoned her, or had they been forced out? If she'd been able to control her body in the slightest she would have wept. They'd taken away the one part of her she relied on the most.
It was just a light mental touch but it made her curl up inside herself in terror. She was sure she recognised the voice, and she resisted the urge to rage at him. Now wasn't the time; she needed information, she needed herself back again. And she needed to escape before they found out the truth. Still, the terror that he could reach her like that stayed her answer for several long moments. Finally, when she wondered if he'd given up, she heard him again.
~Are you ok?~
The urge to laugh hysterically overwhelmed her for a moment. Okay? He was asking her if she was ok? She was, for all intents and purposes, dead. She'd lost her core, and he was asking her if she was okay? She wasn't about to admit the truth, though; he was the reason she was here. Who knew what kind of manipulation he'd used to get inside her barriers?
~Fine, why do you ask?~, she responded. She was lying, but she made it as convincing as possible.
~Oh you know, being dead and all. But I guess if you're fine I can turn off the machines and let you get on~
The dry wit of his answer left her speechless for another long moment.
~What do you want with me?~
~I don't want anything, why do you think I would?~
She turned this over in her mind, looking for the taste of deception. The statement stood, clean, truth. He didn't want anything from her, then he must be working for someone who did.
~Why am I here?~
~You were hurt, this was the nearest clinic~
There were many things crashing at the edges of her mind begging for answers and she pondered before picking the one which was bugging her the most.
~How was I hurt?~
~You don't remember?~
~So you don't remember me?~
The silence was sticky with something she couldn't quite place. It wasn't fear, that was a familiar taste, this was something else, different. Disconcertion maybe? She drifted for a moment plucking at the edges of the feeling, trying to unravel it.
~Please stop that!~
She gave it another hard yank before stopping, enjoying his discomfort. So he didn't like her twisting around in his frontmind space. That was leverage, something she needed badly if she was going to escape.
~Did they Ream me yet?~
~Ream?! Dear Hollows, where do you think you are?~
He reeked surprise and revulsion in equal parts. So he didn't know, wasn't party to the fact. It made little difference, he was still her only way out. No time for empathy when you're on the slab.
~Summerside, somewhere in a clinic, controlled by The Coalition~
His shock and denial was like a slap, backed by another feeling, he was. Hurt? Why would he be hurt by her thinking that?
~No, not Summerside, and certainly not near the coalition. This is Elsespace. Despite what you obviously think of me you are safe here.~
She felt him withdraw, anger and hurt boiling off him. She drifted mulling it all over. Elsespace. She'd only heard of it once or twice, and only in passing, to actually be here was. Surreal. A place between the places. She'd always dismissed it as impossible. Well obviously it wasn't, there had been no hint of deception in his mindspeak. How long had she been other?
She had no concept of time. No way to know how long she'd been drifting, anchorless. Her body was still on the slab. The coldness would have been unbearable if she'd been anymore connected with herself. That was the thing with being suspended though. It was like being a ghost trapped in your own body. She could feel that she was cold, and hurt. But the sensations of cold and pain didn't touch her as anything more than intellectual abstracts. She could hear the timbre of the machines shift. The cold liquid inside her veins started to warm. He was bringing her out. She hoped he hadn't left her half healed, his anger had been acidic.
She hated this part of suspension, and braced herself for the overrush of sensation. Nothing. Had her neck been broken? She wriggled her toes and felt them move. No, not that. Where was the pain of cramped muscle, the stab of abused skin and bone, the weight of pressure from being in the same space too long? Nobody was that skilled they could do a suspension without the after-effects, were they?
She forced her body to sit, hearing the machines whine as they adjusted the rate of bloodpush. She sat waiting for the last of the thick red liquid to enter through the shunt, then ripped it out. She held her hand over the hole, she didn't have any skinheal, but there was no time to worry about the loss of a little blood now. Hurry, her mind rushed her unresponsive body.
The door slid open, and she stood, flatfooted and naked, caught. He didn't look at her, so she stared at him, assessing. Definitely nobody she knew. No hair trigger of recollection stirred in her mind, she had never seen him before. He was tall, lean, maybe handsome under the scowl. Dark eyebrows beetled together over pale eyes. His lips were pressed together and she had an impression of tight clenched jawline and straight nose before his back was towards her. His dark hair brushed the back of his hoodie, and his jeans were ripped and faded, like a well worn friend that couldn't be given up. She didn't try to cover herself, he must have had plenty of time to get an eyeful while she had been slabbound. Admitting her embarrassment was showing weakness. She couldn't afford that.
"There are clean clothes in the Cabinet." The anger echoed through his words.
She restrained the impulse to cringe. He was nobody to her, it didn't mater what he thought. So why did his anger unsettle her? She yanked the cabinet open and stuffed herself into the clothing. The jeans fit like a glove and she felt uncomfortably exposed. The teeshirt was no better, skinning against her so she could feel the fabric shift with each breath. Her jacket was at the bottom of the pile, and she slid into it gratefully. It had new scuffs, and had been patched in places. This time she did cringe. It had been very bad. Her shoes were there as well, ripped, with what looked suspiciously like bloodstains. She jammed her feet into them anyway, some protection for when she decided to run. Not every Sideways was safe, or easy.
She slid her hands in her pockets and came up empty. Bastard. He'd taken it, he'd taken everything. She ran her fingers over the leather. He'd even unpicked the hem and taken the wires and picks she'd stored there. It was a kind of treachery to take a Breakers' tools. They were part of her. Part of her identity. And without the medallion she couldn't get back in. For the first time since she'd woken up she felt truly afraid. Who the hell was he and why had he brought her here?
"You'll get them back when I get back what you took." He'd turned to pierce her with his pale eyes, sharp like shafts of ice peering into her soul.
"What I took. You know I have no idea who you are, or what happened. Or even what cycle it is now."
She stood defensively; her hands lose by her sides, her body tilted so she could feel the weight on the balls of her feet.
He didn't make any move towards her, his hand clenched by his side, still consumed with anger. She flipped a hand through her fringe, pushing it back.Trying to look unconcerned, but her heart was beating a tattoo behind her breastbone. Cold sweat prickled on the back of her neck. She needed her core, more than anything, she needed that back. And it was the one thing she couldn't ask for, the one thing she'd kept secret. She needed to know if he'd found out. Or if they had just left. Left her bereft. Empty. Alone. She could feel the loneliness eating at her, and it was an effort of will to push the feeling aside and concentrate on her escape.
"You really don't remember at all do you?" He didn't sound quite as angry, but his eyebrows were still pulled in an angry frown.
She spread her hands in front of her, and shrugged. She could feel her underskin aching, he'd brought her out just at the final edge of healing. Her mind itched to ask him. Who was he? Why did he seem to think she should know. What, oh dear Hollows. What had she done while she was Other? He stood glaring at her so she walked over and past him, heading for the door. His arm snaked out and stopped her before she'd managed to activate the open panel. His hand was a gentle vice, not hard enough to hurt, but she could feel the strength behind it. Augmented then. He pulled her shirt up with his other hand, frowning further, deep lines on his forehead.
"You shouldn't have done that."
He was staring at where she'd ripped the shunt from just above her hip, blood was oozing out. Slow dark wet, trailing down to the waistband of her jeans, staining the blue fabric. He pulled her back across the room, his strength undeniable. Her shoes slid on the slick vinyl, not that she was resisting, she just wasn't assisting either. His deepening frown told her what he thought of that. He had a patch of skin heal over the hole before she'd even stopped sliding. Her feet stumbled to a stop, and she felt the lack of core strongly as she swayed. She had no centre anymore. No anchor to set her equilibrium by.
"Wh, who are you?" She couldn't bluff it out anymore. She was disconnected, she had to be restored, and soon, or she would lose her mind. Maybe she already had.
"Darius. I still can't believe you don't remember!" His frown had solidified into a smouldering stare.
She shrugged again.
"I was other, I often don't remember."
"You said you might not, but… " He trailed off, rubbing his forehead. "This makes things,… difficult."
~You have no idea~ her thoughts dragged back to the Hollow and her lack of any kind of information.
"Before you collapsed you were on your way to get it back. I assumed if I restored you, you would finish what you started."
She gave another uncomfortable shrug.
"I don't remember a Hollow thing. I can't help you, not like this."
"Then change to Other, I need it back!"
He pushed the cabinet, sending it crashing across the room, the grey metal twisting into a crumpled heap. She held herself still as he turned on her, eyes blazing.
"Do it or I'll crush the medallion and you'll never get in."
"I can't. Not won't. Can't."
His fury was like standing to close to a fire, she felt her mind skin blistering under his assault. She sucked in a breath, willing her heart to stop trying to burst out of her chest. It hurt, it all hurt, and she wanted to curl up around her emptiness and cry. No time for weakness. She could still escape, even if she might get lost now.
She was no match for augmentation, Otherness didn't mix with it. She set her foot, twisted and ran, pulling her arm from his grip. Her sneakers slid on the floor and she crashed shoulder first into the open panel. The doors hissed open. He stopped her with a grip on the back of her jacket, her feet dangling off the floor.
"Not like that. August."
Her heart stopped. He has my truename. How could he have that? She wasn't even sure her Other knew it. She felt a sickness rising from her stomach.
"How?" it was a pale gasp, her fingers digging into her stomach as she twisted in his grip.
He turned her so his face was inches from hers, his breath hot on her face.
"I have ways."
"Nobody,.. nobody has that."
"Are you denying it? August," he said her name like a dark caress and she shuddered.
She shook her head, tears prickling at the edges of her eyes.
"You… you took them…"
His eyes opened wide, his eyebrows lifting into his dark fringe.
"You. Really. Don't. Get. It."
"Get what?" She felt a tear breach the corner of her eye and slide cheek ward.
~I haven't gone anywhere~
He was staring in her eyes, dark cosmos swimming through icy pale iris seas, boring into her soul, the core, her Hollow.
This work is protected under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Licence