Quatre finally dared to breach the silence, doing so with an utterly casual air. "So. What's this I hear about you passing out on the job, Yuy?"
I didn't sleep with any of them, so I didn't feel the need to cushion the blow nearly as much as I had with Duo. "I still have Zero on the brain."
"But how?" Sally asked, confirming my suspicion of what they had heard.
I ran a hand through my hair, as if putting the mess to rights could somehow restore order to my current situation. I probably had about as good a chance with one as I had with the other. "The machinery was all still in place. It just got rebooted, that's all."
"But... are you...?"
"I haven't killed anyone lately, have I?" I growled.
"That wasn't what I was trying to imply," she snapped back, though there was a hint of hesitance in her voice. No, obviously I hadn't killed anyone lately. The question was likely an interest in more insidious things.
"What's that like?" Quatre asked, again conversational. "Having Zero in your head all the time."
Certainly a valid question. "It's like... having a voice in my head." I shrugged.
He coughed gently. "No offense, Heero, but if it's just a voice in your head..."
"Yes, it's real, thank you very much. I wouldn't go pissing Duo off over something that wasn't real. Yes, I know I would if I didn't know it wasn't real, but I do."
::I wouldn't choose someone inadequate,:: Zero signaled indignantly.
::Thank you for your vote of confidence,:: I answered, though really, given his track record for the understanding of human behavior, that may have been just luck. He would easily have driven me mad if he hadn't been willing to play by my rules. "Admittedly... I thought I might be imagining it at first. Zero wasn't strong to begin with, and there were any number of people trying to tell me that I had just gone through a traumatic experience. Or I thought maybe what I 'heard' was just echoes from the fading system. But no, it stuck around and got stronger. And no, I didn't just get crazier." I turned to Sally. "I haven't been getting light-headed anymore. I haven't had any soft tissue problems. My heart hasn't skipped any beats. The nanos have repaired a bit of the damage over the years."
There was a moment of shock before she began assessing me professionally. I could see her running through my medical file in her head, considering the possibilities. "You've never let me do a check-up on you."
"I passed my entrance physical."
"Which you snuck by me by not notifying anyone of your application to Preventers."
"I didn't even let Une know I was applying at all." It had amused me at the time to start at the bottom like any other recruit. I knew it would change as soon as someone noticed me in the system, but until then, I could pretend it was just a job like any other job, and not my undeniable calling. It took four months for me to get that call to Une's office, and when she glared at me across her desk for thwarting her plans for me, I knew it was worth it. "I didn't avoid you on purpose."
"Then you're not going to avoid me on purpose now, are you?"
Ooh, tricky. "Go easy on me, doc," I answered, willing to compromise. "As you might imagine, I think I'll pass on the MRIs."
It took her a second to put two and two together. "You're susceptible to strong electromagnetic fields, then? Well, of course, you've already said as much."
I didn't require Zero's prompting to mitigate my 'weakness'. "It's not anything like the first time. The first time was combined with data loss from the damage done to the system at Olin base. We've taken steps since then to ensure system integrity, but that doesn't mean I want to go lounging in a strong EM field for fun. As I said, today was just a case of bad timing."
"Has Zero developed into full AI?" Trowa asked.
'Artificial'? Never. "Depends what you mean. He's never been 'just a computer' or 'just a neural network', yet we disagree regularly, so it's not like he's just a tool. You know how Zero works."
"No one knows how Zero works," Quatre cut in. "Not when it's been running continuously for five years. All we know is that, obviously, you're quite a different man than Zamora was, but he was plugged in for twenty-four hours, was it? And he went quite mad. And then he died."
I decided not to tell them that that hadn't been entirely an accident. "As you said, I'm no Zamora." Zero had every intention of helping me survive life. Could he fry me at any moment? Maybe. But any of the people I was working with could try to kill me at any time, too. I could fight them if I saw what was about to happen, as I could fight Zero within my own mind. I was not without my own resources. But it would not serve anyone's purpose to see me dead, so I didn't fear it.
Quatre hummed thoughtfully. "You once said Zamora burned out because he suffered from not having a directed goal. What does Zero do all day inside your head?"
"He bakes cookies all day. And they're quite yummy, too."
::That makes no sense at all.::
::I'm aware of that, thank you. I just...:: My eyes flickered in the direction of the door leading to the hall. I didn't want to be explaining this to them. I wanted to be explaining this to Duo. ::I just hope he comes back.::
But wishing wouldn't make it so. I shook my head impatiently and dealt with the blank and startled looks succinctly. "I'm no Zamora."
Perhaps sensing my frustration with the situation -- gee, was it the cookies that gave me away? -- Quatre also glanced at the door. "He didn't like what he heard, hm?"
I snorted, and left it at that.
"He'll be back, Heero. Wufei will calm him down and bring him back. He needs time to think, I'm sure."
He always needed time to think. It never seemed to get him anywhere, though. Biting down on the surge of bitterness, I smiled tightly. "You all need time, I'm sure."
Quatre looked at me with far too much perception and made decisions like the good leader he was. "Well, why don't you go down with Sally and let her check you out? I know you're fine, Heero, but just let us be sure, okay? I'm sure they'll be back before you are, and then we can get back to work. Sound like a plan?"
He smiled and stared me down. "Good. We'll see you in a bit then, yes?"
That was a clear dismissal. I was happy to get out of there, if not for that reason. I followed Sally mutely down the halls, fighting with myself to stop trying to look into every nook and cranny, trying to spot my wayward partner. Hmpf, he needed time? They needed time? Maybe I needed time, too. I'd thought for a second there that things had been going so well. I'd obviously been as blind to the signs as I had been to any other aspect of human behavior. Zero and I were a well-matched pair.
Sally interrupted my thoughts, keeping her voice low since we were still in transit. "Now, maybe I'm not a part of your super special users club, and maybe this answer is obvious to all of them, but I need to ask, Heero: why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Why would any of you care?"
"Heero!" she exclaimed softly. "How can you think that? How--"
I held my hand up for her to stop, and once she did, I rubbed at my temples and forced myself to focus. "I... didn't mean it that way. Sorry. It's been a long day."
She patted me gingerly on the shoulder and let me be.
I appreciated the gesture. And I was glad for the walk. I needed to clear my head, settle my emotions. ::You are not to be overly helpful right now, do you understand?:: I said firmly to the voice inside my head. ::I'm being stupidly human right now and I don't need you making things worse.::
::It is not within this system's parameters to make you more stupidly human.::
I suppressed a dark chuckle. ::I mean, I'm being irrational right now. I may think things that I don't really mean. So if I, say, start feeling the urge to blow something up, you are not to suggest a way for me to do so, or otherwise encourage me, unless specifically asked to. Is that clear?::
::Yes.:: But he thought I was being silly.
I was being silly. For all I knew, Duo was already back in the conference room with the others, waiting for me to come back so that everything could be alright again. It had about an infinitesimal chance of happening, but it was possible. And until I knew for sure that Duo wasn't going to be able to accept this news, then I had no reason to be mourning the loss of our relationship. I could fear it, but I would not mourn it. And if he was having trouble accepting it, then there were things that I could do to try to win him over. I emphasized that to myself several times, and asked Zero to remind me of it if I seemed to be straying too far from that path, and then with that in mind, I answered Sally. She deserved it.
"What I meant was... no matter what you all may think, this doesn't affect you. This is going on inside my head, not yours or anyone else's. I live with it, I deal with it, and I don't need any 'help' with it. The only way that Zero can impact your life is through my actions. Therefore, after the beginning, there was no reason to tell you anything. And no, I doubt the others find that answer obvious."
"Then why didn't anyone else ask you? Or were they all being typical guys, too afraid to be the first to ask?" she questioned wryly. Where would we be without the womenfolk, she seemed to be saying.
Where, indeed. "Duo certainly asked. That ice has already been broken."
"Did you tell him the same thing you told me?"
'Why would he care?' Thank goodness, no. That would have landed me in even more trouble than I was already in. "You didn't hear?"
She had the good grace to be open but apologetic about it. "We heard something about you not thinking it mattered?"
Ah, yes, that had been a rather loud part of the conversation. "Yeah, that's the gist of it."
Correctly interpreting my tone to mean that that was all she was getting out of me on that topic, she wisely switched to another. "So what can the system do?"
"Historically, or presently?"
"I'm familiar with the history of the system. At least, what we have on file, and what I've heard from the lot of you... but it doesn't mesh at all with what I know of you, if I'm to believe that it's been running all these years."
"That's because they aren't the same at all. And yet they are. It's just a computer: hardware, software, firmware. And like any computer, its application differs widely with the usage. A computer can be used for research, hacking, gaming, communicating, whatever, depending on the user and the data in its storage devices."
"So it's the same core system... but you're using it in an entirely different way?"
"Yes. Put me in a mobile suit, and maybe you'll see behavior more along the lines of what everyone seems to expect. But I'm far from a battlefield right now. And the system is nothing if not adaptable."
"I see." We finally reached her office and stepped inside for her to gather some materials before heading down to the infirmary. "That seems simple enough."
"You haven't used the system."
"So you don't think it's simple?"
Things were relatively simple to understand, but not in their interaction, each expression of our selves being influenced by a thousand and one tiny slices of our life's history, culminating in such incalculable complexity that even Zero had to appreciate the beauty of its deeply layered design, when he wasn't cursing its unpredictability. "I can see how one's experience with the system might color one's objectivity."
My careful answer hinted at things that had never been filed in any reports. "What kind of experience did Duo and the others have?"
"Trowa and Wufei had limited, voluntary exposure to the system. In both cases, they learned things about themselves that made them see things more clearly. Though Wufei is, as you might expect, more skeptical about what a mere machine can do for a man. Trowa keeps his own counsel. Duo, on the other hand... had a very negative experience with it. He was forced into using it, put through a meaningless training simulation, and he has a low compatibility with its data format. I don't know exactly what he saw while using the system, but he assures me it was bad."
"It couldn't have been worse than Quatre's experience with it, from what I hear. And yet Quatre didn't seem to have a problem with hearing that it was sitting in the same room as he was."
"In a sense, Quatre's experience with it was positive. Yes, he did terrible things while plugged in to the system, but... he actually did them. He was the one that went through with those things, and he understands that he can't blame that all on a computer program. Maybe the computer made it easier for him to do those things, but he was the one that did them in the end, and he's had to learn to deal with that and accept that about himself. Whereas with Duo, it was a simulation. As real as it could be, but still a simulation. It's easy to point to the system and blame whatever there is to blame on it. Quatre doesn't have the defense of, 'I know I would never do those things.' So if Quatre seems to be just fine sitting in the same room as it, I think that calm comes more from knowing the nature of the beast and not fearing it."
I'd forgotten that, really. Of course Duo and Zero had never gotten along. And now I had just told Duo that he'd been sleeping with Zero for the last three years. Which wasn't quite true, but was true enough to matter. I must have been lying to myself in the severest manner possible to have thought things could possibly turn out alright.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST