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[x] Get out there and find somebody
A sudden overwhelming wave of regret, self-disgust, and nausea crashes through me like a pityfuck cocktail. Deal with it, somehow. Don’t fall over. Where’s the door?
Déjà vu don’t mean anything at all. Empty echoes in my brain, tall tales from a hollow memory; I throw them away without hesitation. The doorknob is cold, and heavy, and silent. Don’t hesitate.
I open the door and-
-there’s nothing. Nothing at all to see- nothing to smell, either. Cool air and inscrutable lights. Exactly the same as last time. Exactly the same as it’s ever been, exactly the same as it’ll ever be. What a crock of shit.
I savor the secondhand/hand-me-down air, the recycled/reused oxygen breeze that sweeps across my skin. She left me here alone, that witchdoctor (bitchdoctor) Eirin- only right that I try to find something to keep myself… What was it?
The luscious silk sheets caress my body like a cloud of pitch black butterflies – it’s kind of liberating. Dumb as hell, but liberating. Soak it all in, motherfuckers. I flex for the riveted audience of fuckin’ nobody watching me in the halls, relish the phantom freedoms to the very fullest.
The horizon is a fluorescent thundercloud, a fogbank of number plates and slick tiled floors (I KNOW they were hardwood before,) lost in a dizzying haze of lights and emptiness. The hallway hasn’t changed. The rooms stretch out forever, endless identical doors that stretch on for longer than my eyes can follow.
So I set out with swaggering steps, drowning in all the gumption of a Roman emperor. All I need to complete the ensemble? Cyberpunk laurels! I can’t contain the snide expression the goes slashing across my face, but it fades soon enough.
There’s a buzz of hustle and bustle trembling beneath my feet and dripping down the walls. Creepy.
How the hell does an empty hallway feel so crowded?
I let the feeling pass, let it slip away, but I can’t ignore that dismal electric thrill, the ozone-colored razor blade dancing across my nerves – my left hand curls (4 fingers/5 fingers, the numbers keep blurring together) into a fist, and I’m seized by a breakneck anxious tension.
I… let it go. Let the wave break clean, release it all in a single ceaseless exhale that clears my lungs (and clears my mind.)
It’s… gonna be fine. Has to be fine. What could I get up to that I couldn’t take back here? Here, inside what’s probably the best hospital in the – world?
The rooms aren't going to search themselves, after all.
It’s a dark, heavy sound- a roiling thundercloud of bass that rattles deep inside my bones before fading into a pitch-black background of noise. And for all the swiftness of its disappearance (filtered away, shut out, denied denied DENIED) I can’t keep myself from shaking.
My legs – won’t listen. Maybe it’s too loud. Maybe they just – can’t hear me. Deaf to electrical impulse- a distributed aural denial of service.
…It won’t stop me. Three steps, massive, long as my stride allows. I should have expected it, but somehow that impenetrable wall of sound worsens. A clangorous 3-D din, blaring with all the physicality of granite.
Rather than pushing through air, or water, or molasses- every advance is like cutting through stone. Every footstep is a sculpture of echoes. I can’t hear myself think, or feel, or be – but by some miracle I can see. Through the haze, my eyes are crystal clear.
(What… Is this…?)
Moonlight slashes across the room in seamless quicksilver beams, beautifully clean – beautifully cold, a stainless elegance at the very edge of absolute zero; scattered through glass, poured into veins of chromed mercury. Molten diamond circuitry angling endlessly away.
(what is this)
The sound – it’s. The pieces are coming together in active spite of all my mustered will. The overwhelming thrum ceases for just twenty frames of thought, long enough for a single breath, a single– H E A R T B E A T.
(WHAT IS THIS)
The weight of this sound, crushing me down out of existence; the weight of this power. I’ve heard it before. Songs from the sun, recorded- audible to humans through the benefits of compression, sped up tens of thousands of times. This noise isn’t nearly so kind.
I can only hear it because
They’ve plucked the stars from the night sky and crammed them inside jars. This is…
Her voice scythes through the audible cosmos, an incredulous whisper that cinches my throat shut. The crystalline clarity of assured violence rings bright in her voice, tempered only by a quiet, mystified awe. I’ve never felt so utterly naked – that soft, honeyed velvet flensing clean to the bone.
If I could make my arms respond, I’d probably be attempting to cover myself. The blood just dribbles out between my fingers in humming lukewarm trails, pearling dark and disappearing into the silk of my impromptu toga.
I can’t begin to imagine it- the effort of speaking. To overcome this was – unthinkable. Impossible. Suika felt positively light in comparison; as trivial as a shrug. The agony arcing crookedly across my face was long gone, an abstruse nothing smothered by the strain to remain standing. Unbowed, unbroken.
I obviously can’t hear the click of her heels on the floor. The roar of raw starblood pumping through iced glass channels, pressed into layers of laminate thunder, cannot be denied. An incarnadine certainty. A point-blank typhoon.
So how is her voice so clear?
She runs a single black-gloved finger up, navel to chest to collarbone, a deafening chill lingering behind and seeping down to the bone. My heartbeat slows to a crawl as we lock eyes. Blinding delphinium blue, burning with that same ephemeral intensity as before- searching with a completely alien desperation written plain across her beautiful face.
Did she always look so… tired?
It doesn’t suit her at all.
I brush a lock of alabaster hair aside; let my thumb smear a loving streak of red on her forehead with my blood. “Simba,” I whisper tenderly, shattering this moment into a hundred million disparate pieces that could never come together again.
Her expression implodes again, vicious exhaustion melting away into absolute, comical disbelief, incredulity morphing into barely restrained laughter. She sags forward slightly, forehead fever-hot against my chest as the giggles start spilling out of her mouth.
Slowly, at first. And then uncontrolled, a dam bursting, a tidal wave of breathless hilarity that she’d never once shown any sign of feeling. “Y-you stupid bastard. Shut up. Just-” her mirth is infectious; I can’t help myself at all. The chuckles are slow, but incredibly real.
“Just let me- I can’t BELIEVE you’d-” She seems to be having trouble supporting her own weight, now.
“Your own blood! What a stupid- stupid..!”
Shirt, pants, and brand new shoes. The gloves aren't nitrile; they feel more like supple black leather, even though I know they aren't. How many fingers on my gloves...?
...Fresh bandages, too. She's prepping a bag for me - like a field supply kit. So I won't have to come crawling back for help like a little lost lamb. "It'll be ready when you're ready," she says. I'll be damned if it wasn't equal parts relieving and infuriating.
Still so fucking cryptic. The closer I get, the less I understand.
“I don’t think I’m qualified to be the hired help in a normal hospital. Why the hell would she want me for hers?” There’s a fresh set of stitches worming around in my skin, scar just a bit more ragged, sawtooth tissue near as crooked as my nose; feels almost as good as it looks.
Fujiwara seems to give it some earnest consideration, mulling it over as she chews the butt of her cigarette (Lucky Strikes. I still can’t believe it.) A reply is on the tip of her tongue when I rip out the first spear, as big around as my humerus. Her teeth click together and send her smoke tumbling down onto the table, more out of surprise than any genuine pain response.
I dump the bamboo skewer into a bin labeled ‘sharps’ and share a thin, barely-there smile at the nonexistent humor. Ignore the slick sucking noise as the meat inside drops; the encore is harsher, a greasepan sizzle-pop. It doesn't matter.
“Chewing your cigarette? What a nasty habit.” She slugs me in the gut, but I was more than ready- it cracks all the knuckles on that hand. Never underestimate the value of good core strength.
“Probably because you’re both cunts.” She’s got the deathstick back in her mouth – and a whole lot of sass besides. Flecks of red and bitter vitriol; it almost reminds me of someone! But who? Who would ever act like that? Must be my imagination.
With a chortle I turn my head, finger pressing one nostril closed, and clear out all the blood at once in a fountain of clotted crimson. Little Miss Eirin decided to reset it (again) herself, on account of my ‘gross mishandling of my own body.’ It was fine.
“THAT’S a gross habit.” Not that she’d bothered looking away – just grimaced around her cig with a lopsided sneer. You ash-haired - don't think you can throw my own lines back at me and get away with it.
“Breaking my nose isn’t a habit.” I float the correction out there – but damn if her lips don’t just peel back, all too-white teeth and too-red tongue, hissing out smog like a shitty festival dragon. She doesn’t add anything else because she doesn’t have to; we both know the score.
…So I jab her in the tit, right through the tattered hole in that anachronistic shirt. Her skin’s as hot as sun-soaked asphalt, soft as velour, and inexplicably (predictably) whole.
She grunts. “So’s this your idea of a first date?”
“Dunno. That your idea of first base?” If life were just a little bit more whimsical, just a little bit more dramatic – there’d be sparks igniting in the air between us, sheer heat breaking into open flame as our disgruntled stares locked together. Like two stags racking antlers.
So this is what it feels like? An impasse. (She laughs twice and slugs me again. Bitch.)
…There’s this vague realization that I didn’t actually see her heal. She was just whole again. Less mended and more undone, an audacious outright rejection of injury. All evidence stricken from the record. How much information was Eirin holding back when she briefed me?
Well. At least I don’t have to worry about fucking this up.
That jabbing finger traces down to the next spear – deflected off her spine and managed to thread between her ribs; at the very least, it shish kebab’d her left lung something fierce. Whispery strands of smoke curling up out of the edges of the wound, dragging dark effluvia up with every gasping exodus. Smoking with a perforated lung; now here was a woman after my own heart.
Not that I smoke, anymore. What was it, again? The reason I stopped? The reason I haven’t picked it up again yet?
It isn’t coming to me now. Give it time, though; I’m sure I’ll think of something to justify it.
“There’s a saying, you know. Maybe you’ve heard of it.” She sits up a bit; the expression she’s wearing isn’t the most credulous, but I press on – in more than one way, bandaged (bandageless) hand set flush against her sternum as stealthy as can be. It’s time. Now or never!
“A spotted tiger boils twice.” The questions explode through her mind in a blinding, flash-fire cavalcade, so naked I can see them in her eyes – the cigarette’s on the floor again. An opening…! Seizing the momentum, that subtle palm presses down, and the spear comes out; up, up, up, an inverse waterfall of ash-white haze (and blood, more blood, black as night. So bitterly dark.)
Just call me the king of fucking England.
“You…! You…!” She’s spluttering, caught out, a loss for words sending her scrambling for something that can encapsulate her ire; no pithy one-liners to dance around saying ‘fuck you.’ So she settles for spitting her cigarette out in my face.
First of all, when the hell did she pick it back up? Second of all: f u c k. There’s hot ash in my wounds, my eyes closed reflexively, and so of course I miss whatever bullshit healing process sustains her. Again. Are you doing this on purpose you albino bint?
“I am trying to help you!” There’s tobacco in my stubble and a landmark of scorched red skin blossoming across my cheek. I heal like a normal human, thank you very much- a fact I don’t even need to voice, considering all the evidence on display. She has the decency to look contrite before I rip the last skewer out of her kidney.
No need to try and make a game of it this time.
The wound burns gold – no. Not the injury itself, but the space in-between. Empty air lights up with a blistering cadmium intensity, searing through the nothingness, giving way to unmarred flesh. Written whole in script of lambent mandala is a statement of casual fact, constellation letters wheeling away into the ether:
Her body is the absolute natural order of the volume it occupies. Disruptions of that body, of that order, are only that; brief and (ultimately) meaningless. Is this what it means? Being “immortal;” a self-contained set of operational constraints imposed over the universe at large. Elegant and terrifying.
I drop the spear into the bin with the rest and send it skittering into the far wall with a boot. The rattling scrape of metal across tile, ringing wet and hollow with its cargo.
“Right, you’re done. Want a lollipop?”
An ache of melancholy lingers heavily in the air, a quiet nostalgia full of incense and regret.
At the center of the room, basking in a shaft of quicksilver moonlight, is a bonsai in full bloom. Ash-white, paper-thin; I’ve never seen anything like it in the world.
It’s beautiful, in a tragic sort of way; transient and subdued – barely there at all.
The moon princess slumped casually beside it (listing at an oblique angle, drowning in elaborate ruffles and perfect ink-silk hair) is blinding. A strobing floodlight forever sustained; a piecewise thunderbolt unconstrained; staring directly at her causes me actual physical pain, paroxysms of longing that rattle in my brain.
I blink, and realize my eyes were actually watering. I don’t have any words to accurately describe her, describe this sensation – even if I throw it away, abandon it when I close my eyes, every exposure brings it screaming back. It’s kind of infuriating.
If I can’t throw this feeling away, then I can sure as hell bury it.
My countenance might as well be carved from stone for all the humanity in it. Marble expression and granite heart, I say the words wailing in my brain like vicious klaxons.
“I don’t know shit about gardening.”
She giggles from behind an overlong sleeve (angels, a chorus of perfect tinkling bells) and leans forward, lids heavy, eyes a pair of hooded (amber? Violet? Cerulean?) gemstones. She's less like a woman and more like a piece of art; surreal beauty completely divorced from reality. Aching tremors beneath my ribs, reminding me of nothing at all.
The bonsai reaches out towards her in anticipation when she lowers her arm and t a l k s? I can’t hear anything. But the night sky is distressingly gorgeous, clad in silk-drenched stars, close enough I could clutch it in my hands. I blink, and remember that I'm looking at a person.
“…Sorry. Didn’t catch that.”
She laughs again, face revealed, and her joy is an orchestra painting impressionist miracles. Perfection written in porcelain. I blink again. A person. She’s a person. There’s an ember searing cherry red behind my eyes – a molten tenpenny nail driven straight into my sinus cavity – and suddenly, the revulsion bubbles up. A jagged, electric misery that simmers in the back of my throat.
A – person. My engineered disgust is so potent I can almost look at her directly.
“Tending to the bonsai is hardly gardening, Clint.”
Every word is a battering ram to my resolve, every church bell crescendo dragging her further away from being real. The ember becomes a bonfire; the nail becomes a stake; the heat is unbearable, but I endure. Even as my perception melts away. Pain.
The urge to give in, give up, indulge the primal desire seething (roiling, frothing) at my core, is overpowering; deadens every sense and boils out through my veins in quiet, dolorous waves. My self-imposed nausea is... sickeningly false. The things I would do to her- I barely keep from retching.
My self-loathing is never disingenuous. Always plenty to go around.
Always, always, ALWAYS-
The tidal forces crushing me apart vanish without warning; leave me breathless and repulsive and- bleeding from the nose. Of course. The bonsai is also terribly close, terribly real; suddenly alive with a million mercuric hues. But it’s just background noise. Just a hiss of static on the airwaves.
The princess of the moon is an arm’s length away, and somehow I’ve managed to keep from losing my mind. Her eyes are half-open with lackadaisical exuberance, and her face is much too close. She smells of lily and moonflower and – something subtle and earthy, a barely-there whisper I recognize from experience.
“I wonder. What are you looking at?” She tilts her head in an affected expression of confusion. I never expected a princess to make fun of me. Or maybe it's some twisted form of praise?
…That hair of hers could blot out the sun.
The supernal radiance subsides- no. It dims, dials back far enough that I'm not (drowning) struggling to maintain my sense of (self) propriety- and the night-haired moon princess plops down onto her cushion with a yawn. "Boring. I was at least hoping for, I don't know, an embarrassing confession..."
...Run that by me again? She was-
"Or maybe something more risqué. Alas, to be swept off my feet and, ah, devoured-" she's giggling and it's NOTHING like the sound I heard before but that doesn't matter because
"WHOA. Hold up! I'm gonna have to stop you right there. You wanted me to what?!" Eirin, you speckled WHORE, is this why you sent me?! I thought it was going to be- some kind of trial of patience, or a lesson in (fuck, I don't know) HUMILITY, or maybe some obnoxious, lateral-minded cockamamie horseshit. Not - locking me in this cage with a starving lioness...!
(And it IS a cage. Automatic, double-layered rice-paper doors that hissed shut behind me with an unforgiving click. A facade painted gracefully over cold steel and transparent alumina. One more gaudy concession to the local aesthetic.)
She seems to come back down to Earth (IS THAT WHERE WE ARE? I DON'T KNOW ANYMORE) for a moment, and gives me a look. It's- strange. Another thing I can't find words for. It's not cryptic or amused or condescending; all I can call it is mysterious.
"Oh, anything for a change of pace. It gets so dull around here." Her eyes slide off my face and back towards the moon, hanging picture-perfect(/silent/still) in the sky.
"Every day, the same thing. The same thing, every day. Nothing ever really changes." She sinks further into her cushion, propped back on a single hand, and snaps open a fan so elaborate I can barely stand looking at it.
"One of the many benefits of eternity, I suppose." She manages to suffuse a distant sort of amusement into her voice, her expression - ringing so hollow that it sets my teeth on edge.
(You can't fool anyone if you can't even fool yourself.)
Tending to patients: check. (Testing my patience? Double-check. Quadruple-check. I shake the pack of Luckies I confiscated just to be sure- 7 left. No smoking on the premises, miss. Ha.)
Tending the garden with the Bamboo Princess: …check. Just- check.
All that's left is...
I slip through the door, casual as can be, cigarette dangling from my lips because I KNOW it's likely to get on her nerves. She asked me to come here after I'd taken care of everything else, and I'm sure as hell not up to tackling MORE. In the end, that basically amounts to the same thing, right?
Well, the gardens are thoroughly tended (Kaguya waved me off, carelessly sing-songing something about how I'd 'passed'. Definitely an alien, that one.) The patients are thoroughly mended (I wheeze a silent laugh through my stolen smoke. As if I contributed anything to that.)
There's a murmur of voices (or rather just the one,) a quiet murmuring that pricks my ears and leaves me aimless. It's terribly close, terribly familiar, but I don't understand a word. It's the most human she's ever sounded.
What language is that? Eirin.
I slip closer without a care in the world, cigarette drooping low, eyes searching for the source of the sound. All I need is a hint, a single fucking clue about this enigma of a woman.
So I stutter forward. With halting, silent steps - feet trailing whorls of frigid mist, transparent nitrogen aftermath carpeting the room - I bring the distance down.
A dim orange glow roils across the floor, barely illuminating the labyrinth of obsidian monoliths (blinking blue, with a quavering hum- are they servers?) surrounded on all sides by swept glass aquarium walls. Shimmering citrine barricades.
If there’s a ceiling, I can’t see it.
What Ido see is an elaborate throne of wires and winking lights, an electromechanical chrysalis entombing a woman I instantly recognize (how could I miss that bitter lavender hair?) What I do hear is… nothing at all (steady clicks and the weightless, whirring glide of servos, keeping time to a subtle pneumatic whisper.)
There’s a paper-thin cauldron of inscrutable metal bolted to her skull. I’ll be damned if I can suss out what for. Only thing I can tell for sure is that I can’t see her ears.
The sharp yellow glare dims to lucid amber – no, it was always that way, I just refused to see. Because it’s-
wrong? No. Fucked, maybe. I can’t count how many there are, but they’re all exactly the same, scattered reflections of a single mirror image refracted through burnt umber. Floating suspended in luminous fluid are a million naked somethings wearing one face.
They aren't human- even if the only indication is the ears on their heads. Expressions empty, hair undulant cocoons of spun white gold, they make for a somber congregation of alabaster skin and dead red eyes.
Like – albino rabbits.
Strange. It’s definitely strange. It isn’t alien or awesome or indescribable. It doesn’t spit in the face of everything I held true. Of all the shit I’ve seen today (even compared to the woman in the wireframe chandelier) it’s easily the most credible. I can almost make sense of it.
It’s just cloning, after all. Progress demands some kind of sacrifice, right?
For some strange reason-
-I can’t seem to find any words.
“…Fishtank seems like an odd place to keep rabbits, Eirin.”
Ah. There they are.
No nickname. No trill or nuance. I don’t think I’ve ever said it so plainly before, that name of hers.
Eirin with her cold iron hair. Eirin with her delphinium eyes. Eirin with her dark clothes draped in constellations. Eirin, Eirin, Eirin. Every step of the way she’s somehow been at the heart of things. It makes me wonder if-
She lifts her gaze from some display (hard light, cobalt crystalline geometry trapped inside a wire-thin frame) and the look on her face is worth more than gold. A strained reluctance; sheer, violent placidity boiling up behind her tight-lipped smile; it’s exquisite.
She speaks, and this time I can actually understand it.
I can't exactly inspect my fingernails through these gloves, but I make a decent show of trying. Supple, fitted, and not a hint of blood to be found. Top-notch stuff.
“...That's it? No?"
I'm gnawing the butt off of my first cigarette in years. What a nasty habit.
What's she even denying? Her hands are shaking, but her expression is still managing to hold up. Deep breaths, huh? Seems I'll need to act quickly.
"No. Don't trivialize this. Not rabbits, not a fishtank, and certainly not a-"
"-joke god damn you-" she clicks her teeth shut.
She just takes a moment to simmer, pinching the bridge of her nose, space tablet warping in her grip (not that it affects the display at all. why would it)
It’s a complex situation, ethically speaking – definitely muddy enough to leave everyone involved filthy if I just dove right in. More than that… I can’t throw stones from my shotglass houses, and I’m sure as hell not on some moralistic crusade. The dismissive act is mostly just that – a joke tempered with the slightest dose of real hesitation (fear in actual).
A joke; as usual. But even I know it’s not the right time. So… I relent. Just this once.
The match ignites with a pop and no warning, lashing cherry-bright behind my cupped fingers. It scythes with cadmium clarity through the fog, lingering hazily as smoke and ash. That nicotine surety settles down over my nerves, a frayed hollow where reason used to be.
Then the match is gone and, not for the first time, I savor the sleight of hand. Lucky strikes, huh? A taste nearly as anachronistic as I feel right now.
Eirin looks almost perplexed by my silence, more collected, less assured. Delphinium suspicion writ plain in the face of my assiduous stoicism. It’s been a long time since I had a – cigarette.
In, and out. Tobacco thunderclouds.
“Fine.” A beat, a breath, deathstick dripping cinders through the mist. “…fine. If it’s that important… No jokes.” With a casual roll of the shoulders I let the tension drain (in,) slumping back and out and down in an uneasy, indifferent slouch.
“I’m all ears.”
And then a smile blooms across her face, the most genuine I’ve ever seen, pearly white and absolutely terrifying. A sincerity of purpose so complete it feels indecipherable – alien.
“…I suppose I’ll take what I can get.”
“And that’s the gist of it.”
Four left. Relapse attempt #3 smolders in my fingers, held limp at my side. I didn’t even hear half of that, and I understood even less; was that supposed to prove something, Eirin? A point?
That’s too much. I’ve held my peace admirably, but- I can’t possibly hold back any more. I breathe deep and a delicate hand brushes over mine. It snatches my cigarette away, but how could I possibly bring myself to care?
Then, a ghost of sensation consumes me from the inside out. A carnivorous malaise spread with ink-splatter spontaneity. Familiar. Different. Too [different] by far. A thunderbolt of crooked razors searing down my spine.
The quip dies in my throat. My eyes swivel down, to the right, and-
Looking at her was worse than looking at the sun. She felt like poison, like other. She was anathema. A deeply personal annihilation.
It pulled something out of me, looking at her. Something vile, bubbling up from the bottom of my soul; a secret sickness rotting in my bones like tar. For all that I thought I knew about loathing, I’ve never felt anything like this- this pitch black hatred.
It feels like- if I don’t do something. something to stop it, to end it-
-I might lose my mind.
-I find myself on the floor, more numbness than sensation. Slats of terra rossa glaring through wild black bangs, giving me a look that's two parts disbelief and one part (???) and all parts way too close to my face.
There's a rabbit that could pass for human sitting on my chest staring daggers. Her ears are incredibly soft.
"What are you?"
[ ] write-in
BEEN A WHILE HUH KIDS
I NEED TO DO ACTUAL ART FOR THIS, BUT HERE HAVE SOMETHING OLD INSTEAD