He has trouble sleeping. There are monsters under the bed, and he's just so afraid.
The army is not poetic, it is not symbolic, it is nothing but itself, or maybe life is symbolic of the army.
He grips the side of the seat the first time the ship blasts off; the recruits next to him don't notice.
The Mother of Invention is the largest ship he's ever been on, and the way he can walk for ten minutes and not see the stars disorients and amazes him.
They give him a name. "Aw man, I wanted a cool state."
"Names don't matter, man."
"What did you get?"
(seize the day)
Washington hates improvising, so he folds his clothes at the foot of his bed even when no one ever comes in to check and Maine leaves sweatshirts strewn around like bodies in a warzone.
He can tell, just by the way she chooses to put three seats between them like a shy middle-schooler at a dance, that Connie likes him. What he's supposed to do with that information is beyond him, so he starts telling her about states. That's what you do when you don't know what to talk about in Project Freelancer. It's 2800 miles from Connecticut to Washington.
"Look at these masks, man, what's this, the radio's around the side here - we're going to be space marines!"
Connie's curious about their equipment too, in her quiet way, and he feels her joy when she works the helmet off him and then looks inside at the padded edges.
He becomes brash around her, and then nervous: York observes this all with a knowing smile.
Her mask has the same small ridges on the crown that his does but they're higher up, and she bows her head so he can see them.
The operation to receive the neural port is quick and subject to lots of trepidation and jokes.
(turpentine kisses and mistaken blows)
When CT leaves without saying goodbye he is oddly calm about it at first, lying awake at night but not thinking of her: it would have been harder if she had said good bye, had given him some word or phrase of love to hold on to. Since she did not he wonders if that love ever existed.
But then as they learn more about her new team he finds himself thinking of the man in charge of the Insurrection and whether she cared for him, and Wash is sure that his own feelings of violent despair and impotent, jealous rage must be the flip side of love.
Then he starts to forget.
He rubs at the empty AI slot, wishing the enflamed skin would heal faster.
He's so eager for his own AI that sitting there and listening to North and York talk about the Alpha Wash can barely think of any unusual or glitchy programming as potentially dangerous. It's just part of the adventure.
For a few nights Wash thinks he can feel Sigma watching him from the other bunk, and he curls tighter into his blankets and presses them against his face. Then Maine is taken to a solitary room like Tex supposedly has, and Wash doesn't worry about that any more.
(comedy of errors)
"Finally I'm getting mine," Wash whines when the implantation is announced, and York gives a sarcastic slow clap.
"Be prepared, man, it might be pretty small."
"Hey there little guy."
"Hey, what's up." Epsilon isn't very talkative; not as shy as Theta but just not seeming to have a lot to say. When he retires and Wash feels the odd sensation of Epsilon's cold body curling up in the back of his head, though, things get loud.
(lull and storm)
Pain, thrashing against chains, I have to get to - get to - I'm LOST
Wash stays still and tries to breathe, slowly, coughing through the phlegm of a tired voice. He's been screaming too much lately. Epsilon thrashes against the restraints.
(every you, every me)
Hello, Agent Washington. Here is an image of every car wreck along the East Coast of the United States in 2012. Here are the separated fingers and shoes and blood. Did Allison die in a car wreck? I don't remember.
(hope is the thing with feathers)
Sometimes Epsilon is normal, almost cute like Delta and Theta, sitting on Wash's shoulder: but it's during one of those calm times, when Epsilon starts muttering to himself, that Wash realizes he's beginning to mix up their memories.
Wash can't quite hear the Director speak, since Epsilon is not processing audible words well right now. Wash covers his face with his arms and curls against the gurney, retreating.
The Director says, "Of sound mind and disposing memory. That's the phrase. You'll live. You have to. You're my last will and testament, Agent Washington."
must find her haven't lost her yet all loses are lies if she can be found again Allison Allison Allison
They take Epsilon out of him in one electric tug, and Wash feels his hands slap against a rough metal floor and his stomach start to cough up his last allotted rations.
They give him a bed somewhere and he lays there for a while wondering why the room is so big and white and unlike his own.
(we all float on)
The doctors try, but a tactic that works one day entirely fails the next as Wash's thoughts slide over and around one another like tectonic plates, no solid surface there to receive an impression.
The simple games help him, but then one day a patient starts asking about the thing stuck to the back of Wash's neck and the plastic knight piece ends up jammed between the patient's teeth somehow and Wash's stay is extended.
He learns, then: follow the rules.
People don't usually ask "Where am I?" when they wake up from something. Wash has heard a lot of kinds of groan, insult, and "Did we win?" coming from half-dead soldiers on the battlefield. When he wakes up from Epsilon he doesn't know what to say, all questions and confusions sounding too trivial, so for a while, he doesn't talk at all.
Some philosophers say that happiness is found in the world and in excess; others say that it is found within oneself, and Wash comes to the conclusion that although everything is found, made, or broken by the way one's mind reacts to it the world is ultimately more important. The world is in control.
They give him a team, or half of one, or less - like Project Freelancer was missing states, the Recovery team is missing numbers. Wash didn't ask then, and he doesn't ask now.
The armor that once felt like all power had been given to him now feels like handcuffs around his wrists.
The ex-pilot tries to joke with him sometimes, and he with her, but they never seem to be in the same sense of humor at the same time, so they eventually drop it.
York's body is timed to explode: Wash doesn't have to touch the remains to know: all of the Freelancers are rigged to die this way. He doesn't reach out even to touch York's visor and mime the movement of closing his eyelids, though later he thinks about it. This is a Recovery, not a funeral.
He thinks that he saw this coming, South clutching her gun and facing the Meta even as she sat in the classroom with her arms folded, Sigma burning behind her.
The Counselor hasn't changed over the years, that round face and automated voice droning on as usual, but Wash pays more attention now that he has points to argue back.
Killing South isn't the worst thing he's ever done; or at least, it doesn't feel like it. That's what makes it easy. The fact that it's quick and she's armored doesn't hurt: even when he's pushing barrels up the slope and seeing black oil leak out there's relatively little blood.
He's fuming inside, mad at Church and Caboose and even little orphaned Delta, but the anger stops rising and freezes inside his head when he realizes that Church, that familiar name found in a new place, is in fact a robot like Tex. And that the Director hid the Alpha in a place that someone expecting an AI to be in a containment unit (according to the rules) would never find.
Wash leans back against the kick of the turret gun as the Meta turns from Red to white and blooms of blood burst open on its chest.
"What's your rank?" The Red sergeant growls, and Wash laughs because for the last three years in the military and no one has ever asked him that. It wasn't important. He thinks he was a second lieutenant at one point, but can't quite remember.
(the beginning is the end is the beginning)
"You're the Alpha." And as he explains, he wonders whether this could all be yet another scenario designed to break him.
Lying on the floor with blood bubbling around his mouth and the Director hanging above him in that machine body (distant, really, but now there's just that one blue eye) Wash hears the recovery beacon start in his comm and in the terminal behind him, echoing.
It's a maximum security prison for Freelancer washouts alone, and that means that he sees few people and little evidence of them. Scratched onto one wall he sees a messy, barely legible word that may have been Nevada.
He starts to think that he adhered to the rules so closely only because of a mistaken belief that if he did so then he would be more eligible for exceptions. His relationship with Connie would be never-ending, whether they were in the same room or ship or great black space, because she believed this too. She just looked at it from the opposite direction that he did.
When they let him out almost the first thing they do is introduce him to the Meta, to prove that they still have the power, but then they hand him Maine's chain and he realizes that he still doesn't have any. Looking at Maine takes Wash back to thoughts of what had been, what they all had lost, and that weighs him down heavier than any manacles.
Doc leans down and taps the pile of the Meta's armor plates with his glowing diagnostic gun. The Meta looks more like Maine with the arm and shoulder plates off, but still the same amount of metal sneaks from his throat and temples to his arms. Maybe Doc will find some skin eventually but Wash doesn't want to see any more of what Maine has become, so he leaves Doc to try to work out that puzzle.
Follow the rules.
He practices feeling pity for the people around him sometimes, but it's like a man with no legs trying to walk with crutches.
Wash feels the armor bend around his stomach as the Warthog slams into him.
He's not very good at taking hostages because Epsilon did it with such natural talent that no first-time student could follow.
On the first night with the three of them the Meta is silent except for ticking noises coming from inside his gut, and Doc babbles on until he falls asleep inside the rock wall, mumbling as he wonders how he's going to eat.
He sees CT's mask in the desert, notes the cream-colored plates where there were none before, and feels very little.
Of course Tex would have known how to trap a Freelancer, after living with them for so long, but it's only when Wash is rocked by the first explosion and is sure that there will be many, many more after does he realize the enormous error of even trying to fight her.
When the Pelican arrives in a crush of snow, Wash is already aching from the fight with two heavy-hitters and just feels like peering out from behind the trees, assessing the situation, and going home. He's not sure where home is, though.
Follow the rules.
Snow smacks against Wash's shoulders and explodes in puffs of white as he climbs the thick cable toward the Warthog.
"For what it's worth, thank you."
Wash knew that the Reds and Blues hoarded some weird stuff but he didn't expect Caboose's near-limitless supply of crayons, rainbow rings in olive green army cases. Caboose sits next to him and hums tunelessly as he colors Wash's shoulders yellow.
For a while he thinks that he has become the monster under his own bed.
Then he realizes that, no, that's not it. Roles have not been switched. He was never the monster, not even with Epsilon in him or when he put a bullet through South's forehead. He's not a child any more. The metaphor is not valid.