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One more ride I can’t explain

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He doesn't mean to cut his hand deep enough to need stitches, but when the blood comes out red he can’t stop. He doesn’t stop staring at it until D'avin and Dutch come out of the vault, D'avin stopping only long enough to haul him up and along with them; Khlyen isn't there, which must mean that he’s dead, and Fancy is briefly furious that he's died before Fancy’s been able to kill him. Then it doesn’t matter because he’s back on the ship, too busy trying not to be sick until he can at least get the autopilot on.

There’s a ringing in his ears. He feels much, much too hot. Everything he’s been able to ignore for weeks hits him like a shock from a dreadnaught. He ends up retching black fluid the whole journey back to Westerly. It must be the plasma, and it's disgusting to say the least. For a while he's sure he's going to die from it before they even get to Westerly. He’d almost welcome it, because he’s sure he’s looking at imprisonment, or worse.

When they land D'avin looks at him and - with what sounds like genuine concern in his voice - tells him to get to a doctor. He's not sure what a doctor is actually going to be able to do about the plasma, but if he does make it through this his hand's going to need sewing up, so he takes the advice and heads to Old Town.

--

The first doctor he finds looks so young Fancy's not convinced he’s even left school, let alone qualified, but the room looks clean and it's only stitches. Besides, it's not like there are plenty of options right now.

"Can I help you?"

"The woman on the hake stall downstairs said you were a doctor."

"What do you need?" He asks, not confirming one way or the other.

"Just stitches," Fancy says, showing his hand.

"Oh, that I can do. Sit down. I’m Edson Dent."

“Fancy Lee.”

Edson gestures to a chair while he's getting his equipment ready and Fancy sits down, struggling to not slump over. He’s relatively sure that if he gives in to tiredness now he’ll just never move again.

“It’s a pretty deep cut. How did it happen?”

“I did it.”

"Why?" He asks, and Fancy doesn't answer. "You're the third person I’ve seen today with an injury like this. Do you think this is a Company thing? Are they drugging people again?"

"It's not the Company."

"So you did have a reason?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Up until it happened, I wouldn't have believed the Company would put a wall around Old Town, turn us all into happy little drones and then try to kill us, so try me."

Fancy considers it; he doesn’t want to bring trouble to anyone’s door, but Old Town is still such a mess, what harm can it do?

"There's been a secret program within the RAC, taking Killjoys and turning them into functionally immortal killing machines. We had this plasma inside us that meant we could heal from almost anything. It's gone now, so we're not immortal anymore. I suppose I was just trying to make sure."

"That... is not the answer I was expecting."

"I told you that you wouldn't believe me."

"Oh, no, I do believe you, I just thought it might be people hallucinating that something was under their skin and trying to get it out. I think I'm getting a bit paranoid."

He applies a numbing agent to Fancy’s hand.

"Well, they haven't thought of that yet. Sorry, that's not very reassuring. I'm out of practice."

Edson shrugs and cleans the wound, then starts sewing the edges together. Fancy can’t feel it thanks to the numbing agent, but he ends up staring at the needle moving back and forth.

"What's it like, then, being a functionally immortal killing machine?" Edson asks.

"Easy," Fancy says, "the plasma stopped you feeling things, it made you controllable. I didn't care about what I was doing. I killed a lot of people and I don't know who they were."

Edson looks nervous, and Fancy realises he should have thought this through a bit more, kept his mouth shut. He’s normally more careful than this.

"Do you normally know who the people you kill are?"

Fancy nodded. "I've normally got a warrant."

"Oh, right, I always forget that part.” He finishes sewing and bandages Fancy's hand. "Should be fine now. Probably. Just keep it clean and dry."

"I’m not trying to be rude, but are you actually a doctor?"

"I'm in my final year," Edson protests. "I was visiting my parents when the wall went up. What else was I supposed to do? Just sit around while Old Town fell to pieces?"

"Better that than what I was doing."

"I don't think my university will take 'at least I wasn't being mind controlled and killing people' as a defence; they expect a bit more from us. Look, you should eat something. And get something to drink. Preferably not alcohol. And get some rest."

"I'll consider it. What do I owe you?"

"No charge. If I do get in trouble for practising without a licence, at least I'll be able to say I wasn't profiteering."

"Smart, but I don't think you'll have any trouble. The Company is most likely to want to pretend all of this never happened," Fancy says, trying to convince himself as much as Edson.

"Can't say I blame them. I'd like to forget it all myself."

Fancy doesn't say anything. It feels like anything he says will be admitting too much.

"Thank you for the stitches. Take care."

"You too," Edson says. "Be careful out there."

--

He can't stop thinking about what he did, turning it over and over in his mind. Maybe it makes him a hypocrite, but it’s different this time. Whenever he'd killed before he'd had a warrant. He knew who they were. Working for Khlyen, he doesn't even remember how many he killed, let alone who they were. The shame of it is twisting him up inside. While the plasma was inside him, he didn't care. He barely even noticed. He just did whatever Khlyen wanted him to do and there wasn't anything else.

Khlyen had liked to talk, and Fancy had had no option but to listen to him. He talked about Red 17, he talked about the RAC, he talked about Dutch. He was an expert at saying things that sound good but gave nothing away, so it's not even as if what he was saying was interesting. The more he talked about Red 17, the more Fancy suspected it didn't work quite as well as Khlyen thought it did. He said that Level Sixes don't have emotions, for one thing, but if that's true, why did Fancy still want to punch D'avin in the face? If Khlyen wanted to turn D'avin into a Level Six to protect Dutch, surely any animosity Fancy had towards D'avin should have vanished?

He did not express this opinion to Khlyen; Khlyen never asked for his opinion - he suspects Khlyen never asked for anyone's opinion - so Fancy just let him talk and tried to tune him out.

He’d be a liar if he said he wasn’t thinking about leaving. He still has contacts who'll talk to him (after Khlyen, he knows he has some who won't), and he has enough money to hide himself away for a while - presuming he can still get into his accounts. He also knows that if he does run there will be a competitive warrant on his head within hours, and everyone will want it. He knows he can outthink any one Killjoy that comes after him, but all of them at the same time? Unlikely.

And besides, he doesn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

He heads to the Royale because he's not sure where else to go right now. He does actually listen to Edson, and he doesn't drink any alcohol; Pree serves him this fruit juice mixer that tastes wrong, metallic, but Pree tries it and tells him it’s fine, so maybe there's something wrong with his tastebuds. He'll be amazed if there aren't any lasting effects on his health, but a change in his sense of taste wasn't something he even considered.

Dutch is determined to chase a fight he's not sure they can win. Sometimes it's hard not to get carried along by people like her when they're full of righteous fire and vigour, but anger like that can only get you so far. He gives Dutch non-committal responses to every question until she gives up on him, and after that he takes a table in a corner where he can nurse a drink and not have to try to make conversation. He ignores everyone else in the Royale, and they ignore him. Everything's normal, nothing to see here.

“Are you okay?” D'avin asks late on in the night, making Fancy look up at him. He's so tired even his eyeballs hurt. All of his muscles ache.

“Is that a genuine question?”

“Well, yeah. You seem a bit… not Fancy.”

“Such a talented wordsmith,” Fancy says, but prolonged exposure to each other must be affecting both of them because D'avin ignores him and sits down, and Fancy doesn’t even mind.

"You're off your game if that's the best you can do," D'avin says, and Fancy just acknowledges that with a nod.

"You'll have to forgive me for not being at my best. It’s been a difficult day."

"I need to ask. Did you mean it earlier, when you said that being better off that way was a matter of opinion?" D'avin asks.

He has to think about his answer for a long time; did he say that?

"Probably not. It didn't hurt then and it does now, that might have affected my thinking. And I was immortal. I like living. I liked knowing there wasn’t much that could hurt me. But I knew I didn't want to follow Khlyen's orders. I couldn't do anything about it, I could think for myself but if the thoughts ran counter to what he wanted then I just couldn't act on them. He'd talk like we were working together but he was in control the whole time. So better off now, I suppose. I'm no-one's puppet."

"I knew another Six who said the same thing."

"I'm not surprised. You get to keep your mind but only to a point. It would almost be better to be completely unaware of what was going on."

"But sooner or later you'd wake up and have to face it anyway," D'avin says, like he knows what he's talking about, and something clicks into place in Fancy’s head.

"Oh, it was you that stabbed Johnny," he says, and D'avin glares at him.

"How do you even do that? Do you just sit up at night and read over every record that comes in to the RAC?"

"I just pay attention, Jaqobis. Simple as that."

--

By the time they leave the Royale he's so exhausted he might as well be drunk, and his head is thumping. They get back to where Khlyen's ship is supposed to be docked; he hates it, but he can't remember what happened to his own ship right now, and it's a bed for the night.

Or it would be, if it was still there. Maybe he's in the wrong place. He's finding it hard to think.

"Did I dock somewhere else?" He asks, and Dutch checks the records.

"No, it should be here."

He tries to work out what's happened, and gives up. He just wants to sleep.

"I'm too tired to deal with this," he says.

"You'd better come with us," Dutch says, and it sounds like genuine concern from her as well; will wonders never cease? "You look like you're about to fall over."

He follows them back to their ship, because he thinks Dutch's assessment is correct and he doesn’t have the energy to even pretend it isn’t.

They're expecting Johnny to be there, but the ship is empty.

"Lucy? Where's Johnny?"

"Johnny's gone," Lucy says, and Fancy hadn't realised a ship could sound so despondent. "He said he'd done something unforgivable and he had to go."

"Like what?"

"I don't know, Dutch, he wouldn't say."

"Shooting Delle Seyah would probably do it," Fancy says, remembering a headline he saw on the news feed earlier.

"What? Is she dead?"

"Injured," Fancy says, once he's found the news article. "It was a cowardly attack on a member of the Nine who has been a stalwart friend of Westerly, apparently. Whoever wrote this article wishes Delle Seyah a quick recovery and hopes that Westerlyns will be vigilant in finding the culprit and bringing them to justice."

Dutch makes a disgusted noise.

“She must think she’s got it all sewn up.”

"Johnny's not a sniper, though,” D’avin says, “he wouldn't have shot from afar. She must have known it was him, why isn't she talking? She could just put it out there that it was him and he'd be caught just like that."

"It doesn't suit her yet. I don't know what her game is, but she'll use it against us eventually."

"You should find out if there's any security footage and get rid of it," Fancy says, "don't wait around for her to release it."

"That kind of thing was Johnny's area," Dutch says, "and she'll just have it all locked down anyway."

"She'll think she has it all locked down," Fancy corrects. "I'll do it."

“Why? Why would you put yourself at risk like that for us?" She asks, clearly sceptical. He can’t really blame her tonight.

"First, it's not going to be a risk. Second, if the choice is helping the Nine or helping Johnny, why would I choose the Nine?"

"Fair point,” she concedes. “Lucy, is he still on Westerly? Can we find him?"

"He took Fancy's ship," Lucy says.

"Good," Fancy says, and they both look surprised, "I hope when he's done with it he sets it on fire. It was Khlyen's ship anyway."

"It means you're grounded, though."

"Only until I work out what's happened to mine. I'll be able to track it down. Just not tonight."

And anyway, it’s not going to matter once Turin gets hold of him.

“I don’t understand why he thought it was better to run off on his own. We could have helped him,” Dutch says, and Fancy really doesn’t have the energy for a fight, but she can’t actually be that blinkered, can she?

“He’s not on his own,” the ship says, and Dutch stops moving.

“What?”

“I called Clara so that he wouldn’t be on his own.”

“You called Clara and not me?”

“He told me not to call you.”

“He can’t do this. I won’t let him. Lucy, we have to find him.”

“You should let him go for now,” Fancy says.

“Did I ask you?” She asks, turning on him.

“Dutch, he tried to kill a member of the Nine. He’s implicated in the death of another. You go and find him and bring him back and all that’s going to happen is he gets shipped straight off to a prison camp and you never see him again.”

He can feel Dutch wanting to argue with him again, and he doesn’t think he’s got the energy to explain something so obvious to her more than once. Thankfully, D’avin’s thinking clearly even if she isn’t.

“He’s right,” D’avin says, “I know it sucks, but right now Johnny’s safer if he stays away.”

He’s so, so tired but this simply can’t wait. Behind him Dutch is pacing back and forth again while he accesses the Company network and sets about finding the footage of Johnny, starting his search on the camera feeds near the Royale. He ignores her.

He finds the footage within a few minutes and it clearly shows Johnny shooting Delle Seyah at close range. There’s no possible doubt she knows it was him.

“You found it?” Dutch asks, standing behind his chair and Fancy nods, replaying the footage so she can see. She curses and walks away. Fancy glances over at D’avin, hoping he’ll do something.

“Get rid of it,” he says tightly, and goes after Dutch. Fancy deletes the footage from that camera and a couple of others in the same area, trying to make it look like there’s been a batch malfunction in case anyone does go looking. If Delle Seyah’s got any sense she’ll already have pulled this footage, but if they’re lucky the gunshot wound might have kept her busy.

--

He falls asleep at the console and doesn’t stir until Dutch touches his shoulder. He wakes up with a start.

“Wow, you look worse than you did last night.”

Fancy blinks at her, head fuzzy, “I feel it. The footage is gone.”

“Thank you,” she says sincerely.

“It’s not safe to bring him back until she’s made her next move,” Fancy says, although he doubts she’s going to listen to him.

“D’avin thought I should leave you alone this morning,” she says.

“So you ignored him?”

“Well, yes,” Dutch shrugs, “I can’t listen to him all the time. He might get ideas.”

He has no idea where this is going, but he doesn’t feel like talking so he waits.

“You haven’t called anyone,” Dutch says after a few seconds.

“No.”

“You must have someone you want to call. There must be someone who wants to know you’re alive.”

He tries not to roll his eyes. “Of course there is.”

“So why haven’t you?”

“Best case scenario, I’ve been incommunicado for weeks. Months, maybe. Worst case - I haven’t, and they already know what I’ve done. Either way, there’s no point calling anyone if I’m about to get carted off to a prison planet.”

“You really think that’s going to happen?”

“I killed people,” he says, frustrated, “I killed a lot of people, and I don’t know who they were. I didn’t have a warrant, and I was working against the RAC. What else is going to happen?”

She sighs, “Well, you’ll find out soon. Turin wants us to come in, and he wanted to know if we knew where you were. You should get cleaned up.”

Fancy nods and drags himself to the shower, running it as hot as he can stand. He doesn’t have any clean clothes here so he borrows some that Johnny left behind. They don’t really fit and he doesn’t like the fabric, but he keeps a bag of spare clothes at the RAC so he figures he can put up with it for a while. The bag was supposed to be for emergencies, in case there was a big enough natural disaster to prevent him getting to his ship. He thought he’d been planning for an electrical storm or a tsunami. Not this.

He’s still sure none of this is really going to matter anyway, because once he walks into the RAC they’re not going to let him walk out. There has to be a reckoning for what he did, and the Company and the Nine might have been complicit but none of them are going to pay for it, so the next logical choice is the Sixes. And he’s likely the only one who hasn’t gone to ground already.

He’d rather be executed than sent to one of the prison planets out in the J. He’s known people who’ve served out their sentences and they’ve come back hollow inside, barely even people. They don’t tend to survive very long beyond it.

It takes a lot of effort to act normal when they get to the RAC, but Fancy’s determined to face up to what he’s done and take whatever sentence is handed to him.

Turin looks at him suspiciously.

“Back to normal?”

“Mostly,” Fancy says.

“Good, because you’re going to be busy. All of you.”

“What?”

“I’ve got work for you.”

Fancy stares at Turin, unable to believe what he’s hearing.

“Sorry, would you say that again?”

“Company don’t want to answer any awkward questions, and I need you, so you’re in the clear.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Fancy says before he can stop himself, “you know what I -”

Dutch jabs him with her elbow and glares.

“He’s still recovering,” she says. “What he meant to say was yes, that makes perfect sense, what do you want us to do?”

He tries to focus on what they’re saying but it’s hard, because he’s not going to be executed, he’s not going to be imprisoned, and they’re just going to let him walk away.

Sometimes, he doubts Turin’s rationality.

He manages to listen again; Turin wants them to find whatever Sixes they can and bring them in.

“So it’s a rolling warrant?” Dutch asks.

“Level 3,” Turin confirms, “you find them, you bring them back here. Don’t kill them unless you have to, or unless it looks like the plasma is making a comeback. That goes for him too.”

He gestures towards Fancy and that makes him feel better, in some strange way. At least someone will be there to stop him if it happens again.

“That sounded a lot like you saying we have to keep him with us,” D’avin says.

“Best way to keep an eye on him,” Turin agrees cheerfully.

“Do we get any kind of say in this? At all?”

“Are you going to give us access to the Six database?” Dutch asks, ignoring D’avin.

“Already done,” Turin says. “Are you still here?”

--

They leave the RAC and Fancy’s still too surprised that Turin let him go to care that’s he’s effectively forced them into working together for the foreseeable future.

“Worst personnel meeting ever,” D’avin complains.

“Seemed pretty good from where I was standing,” Fancy says.

“Of course it did,” Dutch says, rolling her eyes, “but don’t get too comfortable.

You step out of line even a little bit and we can shoot you. Turin said so.”

“D’avin already did,” Fancy points out, “and yet, I’m still here.”