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what's in a name?

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She isn’t jealous. South doesn’t have to be jealous for this to be complete bullshit.

The AI are being handed out like fucking toys now, and even if they get down to eight, South wouldn’t put it past the Director to never give her one, despite her clinging fiercely to that last spot on the leaderboard like it’s her last fucking breath. North is so scattered now, always breaking off mid-sentence to respond to something she and the others can’t even hear—that is, when the stupid computer chip he’s been arbitrarily assigned isn’t materialized as a hologram beside his head, following him around like some kind of stupid sprite in a video game.

It would be less annoying if the damn thing weren’t so social. South might have figured out a way to ignore it by now if it would stop popping up to speak to her—well, at her—every chance it fucking gets. Today she’s in the mess hall, gritting her teeth at yet another meal with CT and Wash. Don’t get her wrong, Connie’s great (Wash is… tolerable), but you would think North could pull his AI for one fucking afternoon to sit down with the sister he’s had his entire life.

Apparently, it’ll be a cold day in hell before his eyes cling to her the way they used to for even a second, much less long enough to have a real conversation.

But she isn’t jealous. That would just be stupid.

South’s making her way past the table where her brother is seated when it starts up again. She knows its name is Theta, but just because it has a name doesn’t mean it isn’t a stupid one. It isn’t even eighth.

“Oh, oh, it’s her! Can she—South! South!”

She ignores it and keeps walking. This has mostly worked so far, but it’s getting to be increasingly aggravating something that’s supposed to be so smart doesn’t know how to take a goddamned hint.

“Nadir!”

She stops in her tracks, head turning slowly, grip tight on her tray.

What the fuck did you just call me?”

And this thing must really be stupid, because it doesn’t even have the sense to correct itself, apologize, nothing. ”Uh,” it says instead, like she’s the one with the fucking issue, “Your name?“

South wishes it was corporeal, so she could hit it. She looks at North instead. "If you think you and this little shit—”

“South, please.” North rubs at his forehead. “He’s just excited.”

“About what?”

The AI pipes up yet again. ”About you!

And the weirdest fucking thing is it doesn’t even seem like there’s a joke at hand. It isn’t playing with that stupid holographic skateboard it’s so fond of, or even watching the other AI with their freelancers in the mess hall. It’s just… staring right at her. Like South’s the most interesting thing it’s ever seen.

She scowls. “Why?

The AI tilts its stupid, fake head, in a show of what appears to be genuine confusion. “Because you’re you?”

She looks at North again. “What the fuck?”

North shrugs. He looks tired. She almost feels bad about that for a second, then she very much doesn’t.

“Whatever,” she snarls, turning away. “Tell that stupid thing to stay the fuck away from me.”

“You think I’m stupid?”

The voice is small, hurt in a way that roots her in place, and that pisses her off so much, because it isn’t real. This thing doesn’t get to elicit real feelings of guilt in her—it’s fucking pixels. Math and a shitty hologram. That’s all.

Her jaw is protesting the force she’s gnashing her teeth with. She should leave. Take her gradually warping tray to Connie, throw it in the trash altogether—whatever. Anything other than continue to give this piece of junk the time of day.

But nothing about this makes sense, and she wants to know why.

She wants to understand.

“Why,” she grits, “Do you. Care?”

But instead of answering the question, the little thing finally does some fucking thinking of its own, and comes to a brilliant conclusion: “You don’t like me.” Ding ding ding! But there goes that stupid, hurt tone again. She hates this. If North was going to pour all of his time into this fucking thing, she could have at least been left out of it.

“No,” she sneers. “I don’t.”

The AI hangs its head. “I like you,” it says quietly.

A couple of things hit South at the same time: the first, that people are fucking watching this take place—the second, that North has yet to say a damn thing.

She slams her tray on the table, both out of outrage that this is even fucking happening, and just because she’s sick of holding it. “You don’t even know me.”

It doesn’t flinch, but it doesn’t get any louder, either. “You’re good in the field,” it shrugs. “You’re strong, and fast.“

As if she’s been allowed to be either of those things lately.

South’s glare is so persistent, it’s starting to hurt her face. “You don’t know any of that.”

“North does.”

South looks at her brother again, and feels her discomfort rise when he just shrugs. These two are already all too fucking alike, and it’s not like him to be so fucking quiet. Not with her.

She realizes then, why she’s still standing here—why she ends so pissed off every time she shies from this curious little shit. She hates walking away from North. It feels wrong, and as pissed off as she is, she’s tired of doing it, doesn’t want to even consider how long she may have to continue if she doesn’t figure out a way to cope.

It’s not like these AI have rolled out on a test drive.

They’re here to stay.

She sighs. It is a very long sigh. She draws it out, hissed between her teeth, makes sure North hears every single ounce of her frustration.

“Well, if all you’ve heard about me is what my brother’s told you, we gotta make sure you get your shit straight.”

She sits down.

North better understand she’s doing this for him.

Ten minutes later, South is poking at the remnants of her food that didn’t escape her tray, and watching Theta light up the space above him with holographic fireworks. What a colossal waste of energy. If he even has any.

“Do you like it?” Theta asks.

“Not bad,” she says. “Bet you can’t spell ‘fuck’.”

South,” North warns, and only the fact that he’s actually been talking since she sat down spares him from her royally dragging his ass.

York walks by, and, sensing South is no longer on the verge of violence, decides to try his luck at being nosy. “So, your name’s really—“

“Zenith and Nadir,” Theta tosses in, and at the sound of it again, South wants to scream, but at least North has been dragged into this, too.

“Go fuck a pencil sharpener,” she says to York, not even bothering to look up, but a bark of laughter escapes her at the visible discomfort on North’s face.

“And here I thought ‘Matt’ was boring,” York mutters as he ambles off.

“It is,” South calls after him. “So,” she says, arching a brow at Theta, “Are you gonna do it, or not?”

Theta fucks it up royally, but he does manage a firework that erupts into a dick, to North’s great horror, and that’s totally enough.

That’s plenty.