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Loneliness Coefficient

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Wake up. Shove the pizza boxes and empty bottles out of your blanket nest and look out the door of your base to see that the sun hasn't even hit its apogee yet.

Go back to sleep.

Wake up again and hinge your decision whether or not to clean the base today on the number of flies you can count whizzing around your head.

According to your HUD, it's Monday (and according to the calendar you scratched into the wall, day 2986 post-exodus), which means you're still shaking off those weekend blues, making it reasonable to put off your chores until after breakfast. Lunch, even.

You make yourself meatloaf, reconstituted mashed potatoes, and a chocolate trifle, and eat it on the roof with the Red flag as a picnic blanket. Big bro's dumb old sergeant had told the gray guy to hide it before he took off, but you'd found it on your second day alone and kept it as sign of your victory. Because you have won, after all. Dex always said that as long as you made it out alive, you were a winner, and there's nothing you're better at than staying alive. Well, mud-wrestling and drinking frat boys under the table, maybe.

You're alive, eating chocolate pudding from your brother's hidden stash because he's not around to grumble about it. You're wearing nothing but your sports bra and leg armor because he's not here to screech about embarrassing the family. You sit, day in and day out, watching the dry canyon winds blow prairie dust into your brother's abandoned base, and you wonder if he's out there somewhere, in the furthest reaches of the universe, bickering with his nerd friend and eating spam in his helmet.

And then you wonder if things have finally taken that last turn for the worse, and his bones are eroding away under the mists of an alien moon. Grifs don't die easy, but big bro's been putting up with ridiculous space bullshit for over a decade now, and that tends to wear people down. You choose to believe his self-preservation skills have evolved enough to counter balance his awful luck, because if you don't, it means that you've been waiting all these years for nothing.

It means that you're alone. 

Again.

But Dex wouldn't do that to you – wouldn't tell you to stay here and keep safe if he weren't coming home. So you will wait, and you will live, and you will defend your stupid shitty base from cops and aliens and asshole scientists until the day your brother decides to stop being dead and come home. Maybe he'll even bring the rest of your teams back with him, and you can finally learn what the fuck a girly lap is.

You lick the last remnant of whipped cream from your bowl, before leaping off the roof to the ground.

Today's day 2986 of being the sole surviving soldier in Blood Gulch. Day 2986 of being a fucking winner. Let's do this.

--

You don't think about North anymore. Not with Delta in your head, dissecting your every fucking decision. Making everything a calculation, bringing everything down to its odds, its probability, as if that's enough to make sense of a situation. As if he's the pinnacle of objectivity, and not the byproduct of a megalomaniac's idiotic science fair project that you both know he is.

You don't think about North, because you don't need Delta confirming what you already know to be true. You killed your brother. You used Maine as the weapon, but you killed him nonetheless, because you were too weak. Not special enough for an AI, not heroic enough to die defending your friends, not strong enough to protect the only person who ever loved you.

They say that twins watch each other's backs. They say that twins grow up with an instant best friend. They say that twins have a secret language, a hidden code that only the two of them understand, because of their magical fucking special snowflake twin connection.

But they don't know shit about what it means to know that one of you isn't going to make it out alive. When you're trapped between the edge of a cliff and the hulled out remains of a puppet you used to call a teammate, which twin gets to escape? Which twin gets to throw their life away so the other one can survive?

The one with the AI, or the one without?

The one who everyone likes, or the one who needs an attitude adjustment?

The one who would rather fight his sister than explain why the fuck he's siding with the enemy, or the one too stupid to realize that the system will never reward her because she will never be good enough?

Which twin gets to die without knowing his sacrifice was in vain, and which twin gets to live out her remaining days with his blood on her hands?

You look down at your gloves, and they're clean. Not a speck of blood to be seen, but you can taste it on the back of your teeth, and you can feel it dripping like sweat into your eyes. When you run, you imagine his voice talking through the comm channel. When you shoot, you feel the weight of his back against yours, watching your six. Everything you do is overcast by your brother's ghost, so you stop thinking about him.

You put him in the past with everyone else: Carolina, C.T., York. Wash might've made it out alive, but you're sure as hell not going to look to him for any help. You'll both be better off never seeing another Freelancer again.

There's no one with you now but Delta, and every minute you can sense the Meta drawing nearer. Another minute closer to giving Delta up.

In the entirety of your existence, you've never been alone, and look how well that's worked out for you.

It's about time you changed that.

--

"No goodbyes, right, C?"

You're an only child.

No siblings. Dead mom. As for dad...let's just say you learned how loneliness felt at an early age, but you trained to harden yourself to it. You couldn't afford to have such a weakness.

Even after you plummeted to your near-death, with your team in ruins, you were too furious to feel anything else. Revenge was an excellent distraction. All the pinprick holes and thread-worn gaps in your shell caused by the loss of your family were protected by your rage. By the time the anger drained from your exhausted body, you were too busy piecing yourself back together to remember to be lonely. Coming to terms with the understanding that you weren't a failure, or second-best, or a defective soldier living in the eclipse of your mother's ghost. You're just Carolina, and maybe someday you'll even be okay with that.

In the wake of your rampage you accidentally adopted a band of cast-offs and agreed to share a space in your mind with the incarnation of your father's splintered memories' memories. It wasn't as fucked up as it should've been, even when he slipped up and called you 'sis'. 

"Look after those idiots for me, would you? And take care of yourself."

And for a time, things worked. You and Epsilon found a way to fit together without driving each other up the wall. You were fast; he made you faster. You got caught in a tight spot; he put up the shields. You allowed yourself to rely on someone else's help again, and even though he was a smartass AI who spent more time exchanging sarcastic jabs with you than running your armor enhancements, you couldn't bring yourself to mind.

Epsilon called you his sister, and on the good days, you might've even believed him.

But your old mistakes catch up with you, as they always will, and the last thing you ever tell your brother is an empty promise. You all board the Pelican as fast as you can, but when you arrive, Epsilon is already gone.

For the first time in decades, you let loneliness creep in past your defenses.

It isn't until after the victory, after Chorus has cleared out a space for the living to sleep and lain its fallen to rest, that you find his message for you. It's a quiet shock, hearing the resignation in Epsilon's voice. But it doesn't start to ache until he says your name.

"Carolina, you don't have to carry it all on your own. You've got a team now."

You're nothing like your father. But, just this once, you can admit you understand him.  You know why he spent so long watching the same grainy twenty-three seconds of video, over and over again. The Church family never quite knew how to let go; it's taken you years to learn how to move forward.

"I'll see you on the other side, sis."

You play the recording one more time.