South isn’t sure why Washington wasn’t chosen for an A.I.
It’s a last minute thing, she knows. He was on the list above her, but just before he was due for implantation, she was bumped up. The whole thing was fairly hush-hush, and she’s heard some bullshit about hidden incompatibility, but the person who had told that to her didn’t really believe it himself, and neither does she.
It doesn’t matter, though. She’s finally getting an A.I, finally getting to go on missions with the rest of Alpha team, maybe even rise above her brother on the leaderboard. Sure, A.I aren’t much more than glorified light bulbs, but they get the job done, and that’s what counts. She just hopes it isn’t an asshole like Gamma. Knock knock jokes get fucking annoying after half an hour in a Pelican dropship.
She lies on the cold metal table, all of her armor except for her chestplate and head on. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but North’s assured her it won’t take that long. Her brain scan glows bright blue on the wall, and she glances at where the chip is going to be inserted, morbidly curious. The Director and Counselor stand near her, supervising the surgery. Doctors rush around, finalizing last minute preparations.
“She’s ready,” the Counselor notes, glancing sharply at South.
“Hand me the Epsilon unit, please.”
There’s a pause, and she watches the Counselor hand the unit to someone out of her field of vision. She lies on her stomach, heart racing in anticipation of the implantation.
“Sir, Agent South Dakota is prepped for Epsilon A.I.”
She felt a sharp pinprick of pain in the back of her neck, and she closes her eyes, wincing at the unexpected pain. There’s a moment of silence, and for a moment, before everything goes to hell, South feels relatively the same. Later, she will look back on this moment, search for a hint of recognition of what was to come. She won’t find any.
After a moment, South hears the A.I whisper a name, tentative and quiet, spoken into the empty husk of her thoughts.
She starts. Who-
She jolts upright as Epsilon explodes into her brain , burning the name into the deepest recesses of her mind , the contours and edges of the letters tracing a searing path through her memories.
“Agent South Dakota’s vitals are spiking,” someone says, but their voice is muffled and distant, like they’re underwater, and South ignores them.
The woman’s face flashes in front of South's eyes like an afterimage from staring at the sun for too long, and she falls to the floor, the pain in her head spiking . The A.I's raw, tortured screams mingle with her own, and she lashes out, adrenaline and fear surging through her veins. Her hands claw at the ground, armor scratching the floor, and pain surges through her like water from a broken dam.
There is a yell, and she feels the thin, cold prick of a needle in her neck, sending waves of fatigue through her. She slumps to the ground, her thoughts coming foggy and slow. The doctors lift her up and place her back on the table and she is helpless to do anything but lie there. The world goes dark, and she sinks into sleep.
Her hair is tied back in a ponytail, and her eyes are a bright blue, like the shimmering glow of a holographic projection. She smiles when she sees that he’s filming, waving her hand in front of the lens.
“Stop it. Put that thing down.”
Her laugh is contagious, warm and happy, and he can’t help but grin as she winks at the video camera. She continues putting on her gear, and fits her cap onto her head.
He zooms in on her face, and she frowns, gently pushing the camera away.
“Stop it, you’re going to make me late. They’re waiting for me.”
He grabs her hand, unwilling to let go. Her fingers curl around his, grip loose, and she sighs, turning back.
“Leonard, come on. I have to go.”
She narrows her eyes.
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
He sighs as she grins and walks back towards the door, fitting on her last piece of military regulation armor and picking up her duffel bag.
She turns towards him, smiling confidently.
“And don’t worry. You’ll see me again.”
South drifts in and out of consciousness for days, North the only constant in her world. He takes care of her, even though she protests, even though he has much better things to do than keep watch over his baby (by seventeen minutes) sister. He keeps checking up on her to make sure she’s okay, even though he knows it annoys the doctors to no end.
She isn’t okay, of course. She had been wanting an A.I for months, jealously keeping her afloat, and as soon as she gets one, it tries to fucking commit suicide inside her mind. How the hell would she be okay after something like that? But she tells him she is, keeps up the act like nothing ever happened, like there isn’t someone else’s memories in her mind and a persistent voice twisting and digging its way into her thoughts, even after the A.I has been removed.
Once, she wakes up to find North staring down at her, his helmet by his side, eyebrows furrowed in concern. She glares at him.
“I’m trying to sleep.” She’s annoyed, but not explosively so, and her voice is hoarse from disuse. North sighs.
“The doctors say you’ve been talking to yourself in your sleep.”
South stares at her hands, tracing the lines on her palms as she avoids his eyes. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s clearly something, South. Have you been having nightmares?”
<You’re going to make me late. They’re waiting for me.>
His voice is gentle and slow, like he’s talking to Theta, and she whips her head up, eyes burning. “Stop fucking patronizing me! I’m not your stupid fucking A.I, North! I don’t need someone to care for me!”
<Leonard, come on. I have to go.>
His eyes widen, and he backs away, hands up. “Woah, okay, I’m sorry.” He frowns, clearly hurt. “I was just trying to help.”
<Don’t make me hurt you.>
He picks his helmet up and fits it onto his head, lock mechanisms clicking it into place. He begins to head for the med bay door, armored boots clicking on the metal floor. Before North leaves, he pauses and turns around, his hand on the door’s handle. His gold visor stares back at South, and she grimaces, looking away.
“Sis?” he begins.
<And don’t worry. You’ll see me again.>
“What?” she snarls, gripping the sheets on her bed with white knuckles. She hasn’t been allowed back in armor for days now, and the vulnerability of her situation is getting to her, North can tell.
“If you ever need someone to talk to, I’ll be here.”
<I hate goodbyes.>
He walks out the door and shuts it behind him with a clang.
That’s the last time she sees her brother for months.
She drifts back into unconsciousness , a woman she’s never met filling her dreams.
The Mother Of Invention is crashing, and everything around Agent North Dakota is falling apart at the seams.
South is still in medical, recovering from Epsilon, and he rushes through the corridors of the MoI, desperate to get there as fast as he can. He reaches it with relative ease, as most of the soldiers are off trying to secure the ship before it hits the planet’s atmosphere.
Dark red blood stains his armor mulberry, and he has a large gash on his arm from fighting off a few guards earlier. His gun is cocked and he is crystal-sharp alert, Theta scanning for hostiles.
There’s a prone form, lying a table turned makeshift hospital bed, and North’s eyes widen.
Her pale blonde hair is splayed out on the clinical white sheet, and she looks tired and faded in her sleep, so unlike the ball of fury she had been the last time he’d seen her. Her orchid purple armor is scratched and dented, and the bright green highlights are worn and faded.
He rushes over as the ship hurdles planetside, fire cascading from the hull. He wraps his arms around her, shielding her prone form as the ship hits a cliff, the boom echoing throughout the corridors. Theta is a murmur in the back of his mind, calculating percentages and possibilities, buzzing with the fear of things to come.
They hit the ground with a thud, tumbling off the bed and onto the floor. He quickly picks himself up, trying to ignore the many superficial bruises and cuts he sustained in the crash.
I'm glad you're okay, Theta whispers softly, still humming with nervous energy.
South is crumpled in a heap on the ground next to the bed, and North bends down to check her pulse, relieved to find she hasn't suffered serious injuries in the crash. Despite that, her breathing comes slow and shallow, and there's a trickle of blood running down her forehead. Theta reassures him that it's minor, not a cause for concern, his tone uncharacteristically unworried. North supposed it's due to South's harsh treatment of all the A.I, despite her longing for one of her own.
He touches her shoulder, a gentle shake.
North, Theta hisses. We have to go. Guards are on their way.
"South," he whispers. "Wake up." She doesn't stir, and his heart sinks. The alarms have already been sounded, and even now, guards might be coming to scout out this area of the ship.
Theta doesn't say a word, still frantically calculating risks in the back of North’s mind.
North leans down and kisses her lightly on the cheek, ruffling her hair.
"See ya, sis," he says to her, before turning away with a bittersweet smile. He sighs, fitting his helmet back on his head with a click, and readjusting his grip on his sniper rifle.
It's for the best, he tells himself as he exits the medical bay, carefully stepping over debris from the crash, jagged pieces of glass and scattered medical equipment. I can't let them have Theta, and it'll only cause more trouble if I stay here.
That's the last time he'll ever see his sister, although neither of them know it yet, and one of them never will.