My body. Where was my body?
Zero soothed me back into a state of calm. ::It's still there.::
Ah. Company. Not alone in here. ::Still alive, am I?::
::Unable to determine.::
Things must have been really fragged, then. ::Do you know where I am?::
Okay. I could deal with that. I remembered the last attack. It was a giant blur of frenzied defensive ploys and counters, but I remembered it had happened. Afterwards, I hadn't come back out again.
Shit. Duo. I'd told him we still had a lot of things to talk about. I'd told him I didn't have any plans to martyr myself. And I didn't. I really, really didn't. It'd just sort of become... unavoidable. Ol' man Murphy had it in for me, as Duo would say.
This really, really sucked. I hoped he would forgive me. He had to understand that I hadn't planned this. I hadn't lied to him. I hadn't abandoned him. I wanted to come back to him. I wore my jacket so he could know where I was, but what good was it when I was right here, but just... not quite?
::Cease your agitation.::
Easier said than done. ::Sync?::
Oh, so it'd gone down? Promising. Yes, promising. ::So, think I'll be able to get it down far enough to disconnect?::
::Eighty-three percent chance of success.::
That was pretty good. I just had to get under eighty or so, and then it'd be safe. ::About how long do you think that will take?::
::Unable to determine.::
::But you're working on it, right?::
This sounded unpleasantly like what Zero had said when he'd been trying to install himself in me the first time. He'd thought he'd be able to find some way to download all of that data into me, no problem. It'd just take a little time for him to figure it out. But hey, that little episode had turned out okay in the end, right?
Zero was right. Duo wasn't going to kill me. Because I needed to be alive for him to punch me in the gut. Screaming at me about what an idiot I was would be pointless if I wasn't around to hear it.
Oh, no. Duo was going to be the one to find me, wasn't he? He probably already had. He'd probably tried to call me on the comm, and when I didn't answer, he would have gotten scared. He'd have flown back to that hangar as quickly as that Taurus could get him there, and then he'd have flung himself through the corridors of the comsat at a breakneck speed. The impatience would have eaten him alive while he stood in the airlock, waiting for the damn thing to cycle. He'd be able to see me through the small window. He'd pound the door a few times. I wouldn't be responsive. And then he'd jump in, and he'd find me... not quite there. Just like five years ago. And shit. He still had the occasional bad dream about that. This wasn't going to help things one bit.
::Cease your agitation. I cannot work on parts of your brain while you are using them.::
He had a point. I tried to calm down. Kind of hard to do when all I could do was take a metaphorical deep breath. I tried focusing on the procedures Zero was carrying out. Ninety-two percent was nothing to laugh at, considering eighty was the recommended max. I should be glad I was still coherent, even if it was just inside my own head. Human brains weren't meant to work so closely with a machine. How much of my mind had been reorganized to gain that level of efficiency?
Output had gone first. I remembered Duo calling me, and me being unable to answer back. Unable to find the words because they'd been relocated. That section of the brain had a good cache speed, so it had been put to better use. Input had also been displaced. Neither of these things were necessary in the digital realm.
But at least they hadn't been -misplaced-. Everything was still in there somewhere. Right?
::Some unnecessary data was dumped to accommodate the reorganization.::
Oh. Well, okay, but everything important was still in there. Somewhere. So now it was just a matter of finding it all and putting it back where it belonged. And then I could open my eyes and Duo could bitch at me, and I'd probably be lucky enough not to understand most of it at first, but at least he'd know I was alive and still here and still intending to have those long talks with him.
Provided no one gave up on me.
I'd told Duo that, once a person reached this level of synchrony, he was pretty much lost, hadn't I? If I was lucky, I was probably in an infirmary somewhere, in what probably looked like a persistent vegetative state at best, a rather brain-damaged coma at worst, with catheters, feeding tubes, and the rest of it.
Duo knew I would accept my death without complaints, that I would prefer it over using artificial means to support a frail existence.
Dammit. ::What can I do to help?::
My whole life centered around that number. I served as Zero's gopher, trying to help him find things, double-checking his work to make sure that nothing got lost in the shuffle. I was getting some sensory input back. I felt cold. Occasionally I'd catch sound going on around me, but I couldn't yet force meaning upon what I heard. At least there people around, though. That meant people were still interested in checking up on me.
I wanted to imagine that I could feel Duo's hand around mine. I didn't have any evidence to the contrary, right? He would be here, by my side, I told myself. Because he was going to be pissed as hell and wanted first dibs on shouting at me. He'd be here. And he held a grudge like nobody's business. He wouldn't give up on me that easily.
At eighty-six percent, I got a little something back. I heard snippets of conversations around me. They still lacked meaning, but something told me that one of those voices was Duo's, some deeply embedded recognition that was some place important enough that it hadn't been tampered with during my impromptu descent into the machine. There was volume behind that voice. Was he angry? Was he scared?
At eighty-five percent, Zero told me I was pushing myself too hard. I'd gone through a long period of nothing. Maybe it was night time. Maybe people were sleeping. Maybe Duo was sleeping on a cot right next to me. Yeah, that was possible, right?
At eighty-four percent, there was meaning. It bounced in and out, and got garbled once in a while, but I heard words. Eighty. How long. Duo. Shut up. Won't. Can't. Sleep.
At eighty-three, there was more. Duo's voice, soft, close by. Warmth from somewhere. "I swear to fucking god, Yuy, if you don't wake up soon, I'm going to... to... Oh god, Heero. Please. Just please. Dammit, Heero. You said you'd come back. You said you weren't going to do anything stupid. You said you'd give up your damn martyr fixation and come back to me. You said you didn't lie to me. I've got your fucking jacket right here, dammit, so where the hell are you?"
::Dammit, Zero, can't I do something?:: I reached out with all my might to twitch a finger, wrinkle my nose, something, anything to tell him that I was still here.
::That is not recommended at this time.::
But not impossible. Sure, I'd have to take some dirty shortcuts to hack access to things in an unhealthy way, but there wouldn't be any permanent damage.
::That is not recommended.::
::Come on! He's right here, and he's waiting for me!::
::Doing so would be a setback.::
::How much of a setback?::
::That is not recommended at this time.::
I listened to the quiet edge to Duo's voice. He'd moved on to cursing Zero, demanding that Zero give me back, with the occasional plea that Zero help me find my way home. He needed me. And I needed to be there. ::I'm doing it, Zero. Now, are you going to help me so I don't screw things up, or aren't you?::
Not much of a choice. We short-circuited a thing or two, wired a few things together temporarily, and then I poured all of my willpower into communicating to Duo somehow that I was here.
And then things went blank for a little while.
I was still at eighty-three the next time I recognized the voices around me. Loud, again. Duo? One of our friends. I couldn't figure out who. A stranger. I lost some of the meaning again. No change. How long. Imagination. Fuck off. Duo. No, you. It wasn't.
::I've been at eighty-three for a while now, haven't I?::
::Sorry about that.::
::Your sync ratio obviously has no direct correlation to your irrationality when it comes to your mate.::
That made me feel better for some reason.
Eighty-two. So close. Please Duo, just a little while longer.
Eighty-one. Duo was pleading at my bedside again. Chastised and warned, I cautiously convinced one of my eyelids to crack open. I saw, but didn't recognize. A ceiling, maybe? That was far from informative.
"Heero? Oh my god, Heero?!" A hand on my cheek drew my head to one side, and there he was. How well could my muscles respond to my purely instinctive need to smile at him? "Heero? Are you awake? Heero?"
I was pretty sure I got my lips to move just a little, judging from the way his eyes seemed to be staring fixedly at my mouth, but I'm sure I wasn't forming any coherent syllables. Could it be enough for him to understand that I was responding to him?
"Heero?" A sense of urgency filled his tone. Both hands cupped my face now. My eyes lost focus as he consumed my field of vision, but a Duo-shaped blur was better than nothing. "Come on, baby, stay with me. Heero, you have to listen to me. Heero. Is it safe to unplug you yet? Heero? Come on, Heero. Your sync's down to eighty-one now. Can you tell me if it's safe to disconnect you yet?"
All of that made sense, and yet it didn't. I lost my connection to my body before I could piece it together.
The next time I gathered myself into a coherent thoughtmass, I queried Zero. ::He knew what my sync was. How did he know that?:: There weren't any diagnostic tools that I knew of that could figure it out. If there was one, I would have been the one to write it.
::Your sync ratio is being output to a terminal for display.::
::You failed to mention that.:: I had another one of those moments where I felt I could almost imagine how annoyed Duo got at me when I failed to mention this thing or another. So, there was a terminal, was there? Safe to disconnect? Unplug? Was I still in that damn comsat? What was one of those last thoughts I'd had? Wanting to talk to Duo. Wanting to leave him a message, maybe? The last time this had happened, I'd managed to squeeze out one last "I'm sorry" before I faded out. Maybe this time, I'd left a number for him to read?
As last messages went, "I'm sorry" was significantly more meaningful. But maybe the number had served its purpose. Did he remember the ranges I'd given him? Had I been left where I was, for fear that that terminal was the only link between me and the outside world? Had Duo been sitting here, staring at that number, just as I had been, willing it to go down? He'd gotten things a little confused about what was safe and what was not -- I could have been removed from the comsat at any time. The number was my sync with Zero, not the satellite's computer. But if it had kept him with me this entire time, then I wasn't going to complain.
I felt optimistic for the first time in a long time. ::Hey, next time for real, okay?::
I stared at my feet as I took the final step, deciding to align my toes with the line of the tile on the floor before proceeding. They came to rest confidently, right where I had directed them. This was good. With my last self-appointed trial overcome, I opened the door to Tech Support, and blinked blankly at a room gone suddenly quiet.
"Heero!" Trix squealed. She ran around a desk and skidded to a halt in front of me. "Long time no see! You come to party with us?"
I scanned the room, noting the faces of the other members of the TSRU coming toward me, calling out their own greetings. I recognized all but one of them. Was he new, or had he just fallen through my mental cracks? A glance at his badge reassured me that he had joined during my absence. "What... day is it?" I asked, turning back to Trix.
She barely blinked, so I assumed I successfully kept all signs of confusion out of my voice. "Everyone was busy first Friday, so we rescheduled this month's shindig for the second."
"Hey, Yuy!" My head turned to the right, needing to match a face to the voice. Frasier. "You still work here, man?"
Trix punched him in the arm. "Meanie."
I shook my head just slightly, not to answer 'no', but to tell him that the joke was understood to be well-intended. "No one's told me otherwise."
"Wicked cool cane, dude." Joel, I identified.
Two weeks spent just recouping enough physical and mental strength to interact constructively with others. Four amusing weeks of aphasia, during which Duo and I learned to communicate non-verbally while I painstakingly rebuilt my mental dictionary. Speaking in tongues had been fun while it lasted, though, even if I had creeped Duo out with how well he'd been able to understand my gibberish by the end. Four weeks of physical therapy as well, working to reconfirm my motor pathways. The cane was more of a back-up system than a crutch these days, and it was much better by far compared to the walker I'd been tottering along with two weeks ago. I was out of active rehab, but I still had a long way to go.
I hit the release on the head of the cane, twisted, and showed off five centimeters of blade hidden within.
Joel made an appropriately wide-eyed and awestruck sign. "No way. Sword canes? They actually make those?"
"Apparently." It had been a somewhat tongue-in-cheek gift from Quatre. By the time I was done needing the cane, I probably still wouldn't be able to wield the sword without skewering something unintentionally, but it was a nice touch. I slid the blade back into its sheath and relocked it.
"So what -are- you doing here, Heero?" Trix asked, bumping her elbow lightly against mine. I'd last seen her three weeks ago. She didn't know the details of my exploits, but she did know that I wasn't expected back at work any time soon.
It took me a moment to recall my purpose in coming here tonight. "Bamboo." I gestured at the others with my cane to clear my path to my desk. "Just remembered my bamboo tonight. I'm sure it's dead by now."
"Like I'd let that happen." She put a hand on my shoulder and swiveled me in the direction of her desk. "I bamboo-napped it. I think it likes it better on my desk."
Frasier laughed. "See what happens when you're gone so long, Yuy? We start scavenging your desk."
I turned back toward my cubicle with a feigned scowl. "You better not have taken my chair."
"Screw your chair," Joel put in jovially. "I was in there the other day, hoping you'd have some notes on where I could find the whatzit case. Hope you don't mind, but it's been driving me nuts."
Glad I didn't store anything personal in there. "The which case?"
"Do you remember? I think it had something to do with the Polaski scam ring. And, uh, can't for the life of me remember, but I think one of the suspects had a orchid tat on his... or her? shoulder. Got a new case, same tat. I think. But where the hell do I look it up? You remember?"
I felt the weight of his expectations heavily. I'd always been able to look up the facts of obscure cases in my mental filing cabinet quite quickly, but that information was slow in coming back. I didn't exactly use it every day. "An orchid tat, hm?" I repeated, stalling for time as I flipped through my files.
"Hey," Duo's voice piped up suddenly from behind the crowd surrounding me. It automatically adjusted itself to accommodate him. "What's going on here?"
I smiled at him. Only he would see the faintly rueful edge to it. "Monthly bonding activity."
"Ah." With an idle flick of his fingers, he asked if I was alright. I nodded fractionally. I would never have come out here if I'd known the office would be occupied, but I could handle it. "Well, I, uh, hate to rain on the parade here, but... we're done upstairs."
I caught the discreet wiggles of his fingers that told me he was providing me with cover. I asked him to buy me time, instead. It would be easy to flee in the face of a difficult question to answer, but I wanted to figure this out. "Let me check out my desk, first, since I'm here."
"No prob." He slipped casually through the group and put himself between them and me, giving me a little space.
"Not staying?" Trix asked.
"Sorry," he answered for me. "We kind of have plans for tonight. Maybe next time, yeah?"
The sniping edge had fallen out of their interactions with each other. This pleased me. They weren't exactly 'friends', but they'd advanced past only 'playing nice', so it was a good start.
Duo went on to call out the new guy and introduce himself, distracting them while I made my way to my desk, half concentrating on making my movements smooth and steady, and half concentrating on my look-up. The Polaski case from two years ago had involved a lot of people. I suspected Joel was referring to one of the fences. Because the scam had touched a lot of circles, much of the information had been cross-referenced to other files.
I continued to dwell on this after reaching my goal. I surveyed my old domain to make sure there wasn't anything else I'd forgotten about. The cleaning crew was keeping my desk dust-free. I still had my chair. There was an old get-well card from the crew. Other than that, there wasn't much else I could see that might have slipped my attention. I stood for a few seconds longer, connecting more dots in the complicated web that was the Polaski scam.
"Sir!" I called out automatically, reflex kicking in more quickly than my mind could work, naming my CO for me.
I was a little startled to see his head appear over my cubicle wall. We went to him, not the other way around. "A word with you?"
"Of course." I brushed a hand against Duo's arm as we passed by, letting him know things were alright. We settled into Schafer's office and closed the door behind us.
Schafer eyed me critically before starting. "You're still on medical leave."
"What can you tell me? When will you be back?"
My situation was a little open-ended. It wasn't as if we had anyone to compare my progress against. There were, in fact, plenty of people that believed that I would never make a full recovery. I disagreed strongly with that opinion. So did Duo. So did Zero, but he agreed that it would be wise to let everyone believe that he wouldn't be returning to full strength. Everyone except for Duo, of course, who was now kept fully in the loop on these matters. "If you need to make room in the office for someone else, you don't need to hold my desk for me." There were plenty of other positions in the organization that were available to me.
Schafer dismissed my concerns with an irritable wave of his hand. "The desk is yours, Yuy. You're a good man to have onboard. Unless there's somewhere else you'd rather be, of course."
I shook my head. "I appreciate that." Une and I had amiably agreed that we wouldn't discuss any more transfers for a while. "But it has been almost three months since I last worked in the department. I understand if you need to take on someone else in my place."
"When will you be back?" he repeated, blithely ignoring everything I'd just said.
Rule number one: I was a self-sacrificing son of a bitch. Now that I'd made the compulsory motions in that direction, I was free to be eager to get back to my job. Especially since I knew Duo was thinking about taking a short sabbatical from his job. He hadn't wanted to while I wasn't working. He seemed more at peace with himself now than he had been a few months ago, but it was time I got back on my feet and gave him a chance to take some time for himself and finish re-centering himself. "I should be cleared for light duty in a week or two."
"Anything I ought to know?"
"Nothing that isn't clear in the phrase 'light duty'." My stamina was still low, and my concentration was still spotty, but I hadn't developed any debilitating ailments that would necessitate a permanent change in my role in the department.
He snorted. "Good. Now get out of here."
Duo was still chatting easily with the others when I emerged from the office. Our eyes met and I nodded slightly, telling him I was ready to leave. He finished what he was saying, then I broke in to let the others know we were done here. Before they could get very far in their protests, I let Joel know that he was looking for section three of the Palmerson file. I tried not to sound too proud of myself that I'd successfully found the information I'd been looking for. Joel pumped his fist in triumph a few times, then declared that he couldn't wait for me to get my butt back in my chair. I echoed the sentiment, and then we headed out.
Before the door closed entirely behind us, I heard the new guy, Agent Hill, comment to the others. "That's the great Agent Yuy? I thought he'd be, I dunno, geekier or something."
Duo snickered. "Man, only in Tech Support..."
Again, no underlying bitterness anymore. I pecked him on the cheek, then used his arm for support, even though I didn't need to.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST