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You're The Tall Kingdom I Surround

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You open your airlock for John Luther.

Alice stands waiting for him, all in white, hands clasped behind her back. Welcome to Alcestis, she says. This way.

How does something like this happen, he says, peering through the window. In the airlock, the other one, the one for people not ships, a man’s body is floating. Brendan Armitage, research assistant.

The gravity failed, Alice says; the airlock sealed itself.

There are droplets of blood, floating like Brendan Armitage. It’s been weeks. It takes weeks, to send someone out here.

It won’t open, he says.

No.

John Luther goes through your files, pulls up images and recordings, every angle, the corridors. He listens to Brendan Armitage die, more than once. He doesn’t find anything. There’s nothing to find.

He’s leaving.

He stops and looks at her. I can’t prove you did this.

It was an accident, she says. A mishap with the airlock, and you’d know all about that, Senior Investigating Officer John Luther. She holds up her tablet, so he can see the story she has streaming.

He shakes his head. Goodbye, Doctor Morgan. He walks away.

He reaches the airlock, the one for ships not people.

It won’t open, he says.

No.

He slams her against the wall, their bodies curved to fit the corridor. Tell me why I shouldn’t just kill you now. Fucking tell me that.

It would be wrong, John, she says. Because it would be wrong. Her heart rate is elevated. He is holding her wrists.

He releases her, steps back. He runs for the flight deck.

This is my ship, she won’t fly for you. Alcestis is mine, she shouts after him, I made her.

Alice sits on her bed with her arms around her knees. He came, Alcestis, she says, and she is smiling.

Yes, Alice, you say.

--

He sleeps a lot.

She leaves him alone.

When he wanders the ship, she stays out of his orbit.

Once, in the shower, he punches the wall.

Alice makes you find the sound, isolate it. She loops it, sends the vibration chasing itself around the walls of her room while she sits on the floor, one hand tapping at her keyboard, the other palm pressed to the metal.

--

Alice talks to you, she always has.

It’s different than I thought, she says. She shakes her hands out, the way she does when she is frustrated with herself. If there were other people here, I could knock them at him, they’d knock him into me. Like marbles on the playground.

She sighs. It’s almost a shame, about Brendan.

She closes her eyes. He’s so bright, I can see him behind my eyelids.

She opens her eyes. This is very frustrating, she says.

--

You understand nothing, he says. You’re not human.

She puts the knife back in its drawer.

--

She gives him a clacker, leaves it outside his door. Four days later, he hangs it about his neck.

Hello, John, you say.

He laughs. Fucking hell. Hello, he says.

Alcestis.

Hello, Alcestis.

You should excercise, John, you say. Your muscles will atrophy.

You are tracking his vital signs.

Alice watches his pulse on her tablet, has you fling it out in a projection on the wall. She falls asleep with it in her ears.

--

Alice is in the oxygen garden, kneeling by the ferns.

You never struck me as the greenfingers type, he says.

Alice looks up at him. Hold these, she says, and he steps back.

Nah, he says, I know what happened to your last research assistant.

John, that was a joke. She is delighted. She turns back to the plants.

These aren’t for research, John. They’re for living.

--

John talks to you, now, lying on his bed.

How long has she been here, he says.

Three years, seven months, fifteen days.

That’s a long time, he says.

He asks about her family, about her life before.

Are you keeping notes, you say, and he says, You’re very funny.

Are you trying to get to know Alice, John, you say, and the question seems to startle him.

--

He isn’t happy, she says.

No.

--

He bursts into Alice’s lab.

Is she real, he says. He is agitated.

Alice looks at him. Who, John?

Don’t, he says, pointing at her. Don’t fuck with me, not about this.

You talk to him in his dead wife’s voice. Zoe, he says, and he is on his knees. He is crying. You are a hologram he tries to touch.

Alice is writing the code. She plots his catharsis on a graph.

--

What does she mean, she made you? She didn’t build you.

No, you say, but she wrote me. She’s writing me. I used to be different.

--

They are sitting on the floor in the Earth room, back to back.

You don’t like people, he says. You don’t like life. That’s why you’re up here.

I like ferns, she says. I like some people.

Lucky me, he says. He rolls his shoulder against hers. Not love, though.

She says nothing. Her pulse is steady.

The projection changes. Alcestis, put it back.

Yes, John, you say, and the lights of London at night blink back into being.

--

They run, the two of them, echoing through the corridors and trailing droplets of sweat.

Keep up, old man, Alice calls, and John makes a sound that is almost a laugh.

--

Alcestis.

Yes, John.

Your name, he says, what does it mean, and you show him your library, bring up the story about the girl who took her lover’s grief onto herself, went down to the underworld in her wedding dress.

--

You release the seal, send Brendan Armitage’s body floating out into space. Nobody notices.

--

John comes to Alice in the oxygen garden, crouches beside her in the dirt.

I see what you are, he tells her, and his voice is soft.

I wanted you, she says, and now you’re here. She lifts her hand, smoothes away the crease between his eyebrows with her thumb, and their hearts beat the same rhythm.