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They drug him when he tries to escape, but apart from that they leave him alone, making him wait. D’avin doesn’t understand that part. Why not just start the process now, if that’s what he’s here for?

He has nothing to do but wait for Fancy Lee to wake up - if he’s even going to be Fancy Lee when he does; D’avin’s really not sure about that. It seems like Level Six takes away as much as it adds.

It occurs to him that he might be here for Fancy, here as some sort of test or reward, a first kill as a Level Six, and then he decides that’s just the kind of bullshit that would be a subplot in one of Johnny’s comics, and anyway, Khlyen wants him alive so he can use him as bait for Dutch. Probably.

As far as he can tell, he’s in the room for four days before Fancy comes round, and even then his eyes are still black. It’s just about the creepiest thing D’avin’s ever seen.

D’avin watches him carefully, trying to work out if there’s anything different beyond the obvious. They look at each other for a long time before Fancy speaks.

“They’re letting Level Fours into the program now?” Fancy says, and D’avin thanks whatever’s out there that this is still the same, that he can still hate Fancy for being arrogant and petty.

“Sorry to gatecrash your secret club, asshole. It’s not like I signed up for this.”

“You didn’t?” Fancy says, and D’avin can’t read his expression at all when his eyes are like this.

“Khlyen brought me here. He’s got a creepy, murderous thing for Dutch, so I’m pretty sure he just wants me as bait. Nobody’s told me anything.”

“Maybe they haven’t actually decided what to do with you yet.”

“Maybe,” D’avin says, although he’s not sure if that would make the situation better or worse.

“You just going to lie there all day?”

“I can’t move.”

“You can’t move? At all?”

“That’s what I just said,” Fancy says, irritated.

“Does that happen because of the treatment, or to make sure you can’t change your mind?”

“It’s the treatment.”

“Sounds like fun,” D’avin says, and Fancy doesn’t answer, so after a minute he shrugs and turns away.

 


 

There’s nothing to do, so D’avin does endless push-ups and sit-ups to try to keep active. Fancy’s immobile and he doesn’t start any conversations, so unless D’avin’s in the mood to talk it’s pretty quiet. He has no idea what’s going through Fancy’s mind, which is probably a good thing.

There are doctors who come in every day to check on Fancy, but D’avin doesn’t think they’re coming in at set times, and they never acknowledge him. They barely even acknowledge Fancy. The guards bring food, and it’s the same thing: they act like he’s not even there. He doesn’t want to talk to Fancy as much as he wants to talk to someone , and it’s just the two of them so he doesn’t have much choice.

“Why did you choose this?” He asks one day, after the red-haired male doctor has been in. If the rota’s steady that means tomorrow will be the female doctor with the limp, and then the day after that the other male doctor, and the day after that the other female doctor. And then the cycle will start again.

“To be better.”

Better? That’s it?”

“What else is there?” Fancy asks, and D’avin realises he’s completely serious.

“Plenty, you freak.”

“Not for me.”

“So is it worth it?”

“Ask me when this part is over,” Fancy says quietly.

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts.”

“You think your eyes are going to go back to normal?"

“What’s wrong with my eyes?”

 “Oh,” D’avin says, feeling vaguely guilty; he’d thought that Fancy must have some idea. “They’re all black. You can’t tell?”

Fancy looks up at the ceiling, then manages to tilt his head to look at D’avin.

“No.”

“Huh.”

“They’ll go back to normal. You can’t tell a Level Six just by looking; they’d stand out too much if their eyes were different.”

D’avin wonders if Fancy’s aware he’s saying ‘they’ instead of ‘we’; if it’s just because he hasn’t finished the process yet or if he’s starting to regret things.

“Good point. How much does it hurt?” He asks, and there’s a long pause before Fancy answers.

“It’s...it’s the worst thing I’ve ever felt. Like someone’s scraping my out the inside of my bones,” he says. “Like I’d tear my skin off if I could move, just so I couldn’t feel it anymore.”

That is the opposite of what D’avin wanted to hear, but hey, extra motivation to get out of here as soon as possible.

“Well, now I understand why they immobilised you. Before now, what was the most painful thing you’d ever experienced?” D’avin asks, hoping that Fancy just doesn’t have much to compare it to.

“I got stung by a cablefish when I was a child.”

“What’s a cablefish?”

“They’re about the length of your arm, sort of flat, blue, and they just float about in the sea where I grew up. They have an incredibly powerful sting that locks all your muscles up. I was in agony for three weeks. Couldn’t move, couldn’t even speak.”

“Why would you ever go in the sea if you knew they were there?”

“They’d never come up that close to the shore before. It was a school trip, I think three of us got stung that one time. One of the others died. Something happened that year that made their numbers get out of control. After that nobody really went in the sea anymore.”

“I’m not surprised. So you’re not from the Quad?”

Fancy shook his head. “I’m from Maktan. It’s in the United Republic. You won’t have heard of it, nobody knows it. You either leave at the first opportunity or you spend your whole life there.”

“What do you do if you spend your whole life there?”

“Farming. Just...farming of one sort or another.”

 “Doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.”  

Fancy’s lips quirk, briefly. “Definitely not. I got on a transport two days after I was legally allowed to make my own decisions. It took us a year just to get to the Quad.”

 


 

Two days later, female-doctor-with-a-limp comes in (against the rota D’avin’s been used to; he’s not sure what that means) to detach one set of tubes and attach another. D’avin watches, trying to work out what’s going on, what makes today different, and whether it has anything to do with Fancy being able to move more each day. Fancy catches him looking.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be your turn soon,” he says.

“Oh no,” the doctor says before D’avin can respond. “We’ve only got the resources for one of you at a time.”

“Quiet,” one of the guards snaps, and the doctor flushes.

They don’t speak until the doctor and the guards have left the room, until D’avin’s made sure they’re not going to be overheard. 

“Any chance you know how long this is supposed to take?”

“I’d have said if I did.”

“Figured,” D’avin sighed.

“At least you know there’s a window now. As long as I’m like this, you’ve got a chance.”

“That’s not going to do me any good if I haven’t got a way off this moon.”

Fancy’s quiet for a moment.

“What if you could get a message out to Dutch and Johnny?” He asks.

“It’d be great. How am I supposed to manage that?”

“If you got hold of a comm unit. From one of the doctors, say.”

“None of them are going to be dumb enough to let me take it, though,” D’avin said. 

“What if they were distracted by something?”

“Like what?”

“Like their Level Six candidate having a seizure. It must happen all the time with what they’re putting into us.”

“You’re going to give yourself a seizure?”

“No,” Fancy says slowly, like D’avin’s being an idiot again, “I’m going to fake one.”

“How do you know how to fake a seizure?”

“My sister taught me. She used to do it when she wanted to get out of school,” Fancy said, smiling.

“You’ve got a sister?”

 “Had,” Fancy said, “she was dead before I left Maktan.”

“Sorry.”

Fancy shrugs. “It was a long time ago. Although--”

“What?”

“It doesn’t matter. You can’t change the past.”

“Isn’t that the truth?”

Fancy was quiet for a long moment.

“I’d have brought her with me,” he said eventually. “If she’d still been alive. She’d have liked Westerly a lot more than she ever liked Maktan.”

 


 

Fancy fakes a good seizure, good enough that D’avin worries for a second that it might not be fake. He calls for the guards. Their response - calling for the doctor like this is all routine - confirms Fancy’s suspicion that this is a known side effect.

Female-doctor-with-a-limp comes rushing back in, and she checks Fancy over before sending the guards to get a scanner.

“This would be easier if I could see his pupils, but the scanner will tell us if there’s anything to be worried about,” she says, apparently happy to talk to D’avin, if not Fancy, now the guards aren’t there.

“Does this happen a lot?” D’avin asks.

“Oh, sure,” she says cheerfully. “Of course it’s a very small sample size, but we’ve recorded seizures in 58% of Level Six candidates. He’ll probably be fine, though, they’re only fatal 10% of the time.”

“That little?” D’avin deadpans, but she doesn’t notice his tone and just nods.

“That’s not a bad rate, considering what we’re doing.”

She shuts off a couple of the machines that are pumping things into Fancy.

“You know,” she says with a sigh, “if this had happened in a couple of hours’ time, I would have been back home and Win would have had to deal with this. I’m not even supposed to be on shift today.”

“Sorry for the trouble,” Fancy says, voice hoarse, and she jumps a little, almost like she’d forgotten that there was actually a person in the bed.

“Oh, sorry, that sounded rude. I don’t mean - I’m just tired. We have to do such long shifts to keep the staff numbers down.”

At least you’re not the ones being altered, D’avin thinks.

The guards come back carrying the scanner between them, and she fixes it to the bed somehow so it’s above Fancy’s head, and it comes to life with a muted hum. She empties out her pockets onto the bed beside D’avin, probably because the scanner would interfere with her gear somehow, and she carries around a lot of crap for a doctor but it’s her comm unit that D’avin’s really interested in.

“You can go outside now,” she tells the guards. “I’ll tell you when we’re done.”

”What about him?” One of them says, pointing at D’avin.

“He’ll be fine,” she shrugs. “I understood that confined to the ward meant confined to the ward, but call your supervisor if you want. Go ahead, waste everyone’s time.”

They glare at each other for a moment, making D’avin wonder how deep the animosity goes, and if they could use it, and then they shrug and step outside.

“Yeah, jog on,” she mutters under her breath, and then she’s concentrating on Fancy. “I should really get some more scans of this brain before the process is finished.”

“How long’s he got left?”

“Hm?” she says without looking round, and D’avin’s starting to get the feeling she doesn’t think they’re worth noticing even when they’re right in front of her.

“How long until all the tubes come out?”

“Oh, another ten days or so. It looks like his system is processing everything very well, so it might even be less.”

She’s turned away from him, intent on the scanner and D’avin knows he’s not going to get another chance like this so he grabs her comm and taps out a short message to Johnny - RED 17 LEVEL 6 FACILITY ARKYN GUARDS DOCTORS 10 DAYS LEFT NEED HELP CAPTAIN APEX. He adds the comic name so that - hopefully - they’ll know it’s him but no-one else will, and sets it to send in six hours’ time, hoping that’ll give more than enough time for the doctor to get home so that the transmission won’t go out from this facility.

He puts the comm back in exactly the place he got it, and waits for the doctor to finish scanning Fancy’s brain.

“Hm,” she mutters.

“Everything alright?”

“Fine,” she says. “Better than fine, actually. His brain’s in almost perfect condition. Nothing here to suggest the seizure was anything serious. The process can continue.”

D’avin waits for her to challenge them, to wonder if Fancy was faking it, but she doesn’t seem suspicious. She just goes to the door and gets the guards to come back and take the scanner, and then she picks up all her stuff and walks out without saying anything else or even looking in their direction. If she’s typical of the doctors in the facility, there’s going to be no point trying to get them to help, so it’s all resting on the message.

“Well?” Fancy asks.

“It worked.”

Fancy gives him a smug smile. “Of course it did.”

 


 

D’avin can’t settle the next day, and after watching him pace around the room for three hours Fancy finally loses patience.

“If you don’t calm down, they’re going to notice something’s wrong and Johnny and Dutch will walk into a trap. Sit down, Jaqobis.”

“Easy for you to say,” D’avin responds, but he does what Fancy says because he knows he’s right.

“Ask me something.”

“What?”

“If it’ll calm you down, ask me something. Whatever you want.”

D’avin tries to think of something worth asking. “What was your sister’s name?”

“Dinithi.”

“If she’d been alive and you’d brought her with you, what would she have done on Westerly?”

“I’d have taken a Company job as soon as I could get one, and I’d have got her one too, once she was old enough,” Fancy says, and D’avin realises that he’d thought about it, that this was an actual plan.

“How long before you got on the transport did she die?”

Fancy makes a noise that could almost be a laugh, and D’avin knows he’s got it right.

“You said to ask whatever I want.”

“I suppose I did. A month before.”

That explains a lot, actually.

“Rough.”

“That’s one word for it. There didn’t seem much point in looking for a Company job when there wasn’t anyone else to consider, so I didn’t.”

“What did you do?”

“I did lessons in Standard on the transport - some of the planets in the UR don’t use Standard, they’ve still got their own languages - but I’d learnt it at school and it was something to do on the journey. By the time we got to Westerly I had enough money to start me off. And then I just did whatever job was going so I could afford to stay. I hoped that if I just kept going for long enough things would start to make sense again.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling,” D’avin said with a sigh. Suddenly he doesn’t want to ask questions anymore, so he slumps back on the bed.

 


 

They haven’t talked about it, but D’avin knows that if Dutch and Johnny got the message, and if they’re on the way, and if they manage to get to him, then he’s going to have to leave Fancy behind. The worst of the pain seems to be over, and he can move enough to sit up and they’re giving him actual food now, but he can’t walk yet. His eyes are still black.

“What if there was a way we could get you out too?” He asks one morning, although he’s not got a plan yet.

“There isn’t.”

“But--”

“I appreciate the concern, but there isn’t. You’ll need to be able to move fast, and I’ll just slow you down. Besides, all of this isn’t the kind of thing you can just drop halfway. Leaving in the middle of it would probably kill me. I’d rather live.”

“You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you?” D’avin says grumpily, because he knows Fancy’s right but he doesn’t want to accept it.

“Every time,” Fancy says. “You should know that by now.”

 


 

Five days after D’avin sends the message there’s a power surge in the facility. Fancy watches the lights dim and then light back up three times in quick succession, and says, “That’ll be your brother.”

“You think?” D’avin says. “It could just be a surge.”

“I doubt it,” says Fancy. “Be ready.”

Ten minutes later the lights go off and stay off, and D’avin hopes that it is Johnny, because if it really is the power going out they’re all going to be in trouble.  

The door opens with a small hiss, and D’avin waits but no guards appear. He and Fancy look warily at each other, and then D’avin goes to the door, stepping out into the corridor. It’s the first time he’s been outside the room since the day he got here.

He doesn’t want to sit around waiting for them to come and get him, but he has no idea of the layout of the facility or of where they’re going to come in. If he tears off now they might not be able to find him.

He sighs and steps back inside.

“They’ll be here,” Fancy says.

“There’s no-one out there.”

“So they’re probably creating a distraction. Dutch will be getting the guards to chase her all over the place while Johnny comes for you.”

“You seem very sure.”

“I’ve known the two of them as a pair longer than you have. You wait and see if I’m wrong.”

A few minutes later, Johnny comes into the room. D’avin doesn’t think he’s ever been so glad to see him.

“Captain Apex to the rescue!”

“Hey, Johnny.”

“I hope you’re all packed, because we need to-- ” Johnny notices Fancy as he’s speaking, and he trails off, staring at Fancy in shock. Fancy looks back calmly and doesn’t say anything.

“Long story,” D’avin says.

“Looks like it. You don’t look like you’re ready to go,” Johnny says to Fancy. Fancy still doesn’t say anything, and D’avin gets it, because there’s no way to explain this to someone like Johnny.

“He’s not coming.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not. Stop wasting time and go. Your brother can explain later.”

“We can’t leave you!”

“If you don’t, you’ll get caught. You and Dutch.”

“Johnny,” D’avin says urgently, “he’s right, we have to go.”

Johnny looks like he still wants to argue, and right now it’s a good thing that Fancy knows where to hit.

“How long did you tell Dutch she’d need to hold the guards off?” He asks.

Johnny sighs. “Fine. Fine. But I’m not happy about this.”

“No-one’s asking you to be,” Fancy says, “now go.”

“Let us know when you’re back on Westerly,” D’avin says, and Fancy nods, and that’s it, they’re out of the door, no goodbyes, and D’avin doesn’t look back.