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sins of a cybernetic empire

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Waver had been given about a day to himself to process everything. No one had come and bothered him; he just found trays of food with beverages outside his room every few hours. He had appreciated the quiet, yet at the same time he had hated it. He’d been left alone with his thoughts, which had just led to him really wanting to go home. Libby had talked him through several panicky, upset moments. He was glad of it.

He was finally starting to feel more like himself again.

He almost felt brave enough to venture out of the room he’d been set up in. There was still lingering apprehension about everything. The idea that a group had come and rescued him and used so many resources to get him…somehow Waver didn’t think that everyone was going to be happy to see him. Maybe that was lingering anxiety from everything that had happened at Gate, especially with what Paracelsus had said to him.

While Waver knew that Paracelsus had only said that to keep from getting in trouble with Gilgamesh, it still didn’t sit well with him. He’d thought that he’d managed to bond with the other scientists, at least a little. He didn’t really like that he’d been wrong in that respect.

His thoughts were interrupted when his stomach rumbled and he realized how dry his throat was. Waver opened the door slowly and found that there was no tray this time. He frowned and looked down the hallway in both directions. Nothing.

Perhaps this is their way of letting you know that they’d like you to join them for a meal, Waver.

He snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. Of course Libby was probably right. He just didn’t want to admit that. “Yeah yeah.”

Waver felt what he assumed was the AI equivalent of laughter in his mind and was relieved that Libby understood he was just being stubborn. He sighed and took a step out into the hallway. He guessed it was time to be brave. Or at least pretend to be brave. He could do that. Or at least he hoped he could.

He made his way through the hallways with minimal assistance from Libby. So far, everything was pretty well deserted. Waver assumed that the people of Oceanus were busy with various jobs. No time to linger around when there was work to be done. Maybe that would make getting a meal easier – less of a chance of him running into people he didn’t know.

Eventually he came upon the kitchen. Unlike every other area he’d moved through that day, there were people in there. Thankfully, they were people that Waver had already met – Rider and Lancer. His shoulders sagged with relief for a split second, but he pulled them back and walked in with his head held high a moment later.

“Ah! It’s good to see you out and about, boy!” Rider had a tiny mug of coffee in one of his large, meaty hands.

Waver wasn’t sure Rider should ever really be allowed coffee. It seemed like a good way to make the boisterous man loud to the point of pain. But he wouldn’t be voicing that. “Yeah…good to see you as well.” He knew his voice didn’t sound particularly convincing, but he tried to smile as well.

“Figured we’d give you some time to yourself.” Lancer sipped from his mug as he leaned back against the counter. “Processing is important.”

Honestly, Waver wasn’t entirely sure he’d ever be done processing everything. But he’d managed to accept things to some point, so he’d take that as a victory. “It is. Thanks for uh…giving me that time.”

“Not a problem.” Lancer sighed as he moved to go and rummage through the refrigerator. “Hungry, kid?”

Waver’s stomach rumbled in response and he felt heat creep up his cheeks. “Yeah…I think the last time I ate was whenever a tray was last outside my room.”

Lancer snickered at that and shot Rider a look that Waver couldn’t read. “Well, sounds like it’s been awhile then.” Leftovers were gathered from the fridge and Lancer started carefully preparing. “I’ve got some info to share with you, probably best that we eat while we go over it.”

Maybe it was his tendency to overthink everything, but Waver’s mind immediately went toward the negative when Lancer spoke. His mind supplied that they were eating now because afterwards Waver wouldn’t want to eat. He shoved the thoughts away – it would do no good to jump to conclusions. For all he knew, Lancer was going to share information that would lead to Waver being allowed to go home.

Apparently his thoughts were either far too negative or naively hopeful and there was no in between.

There is nothing wrong with hope, Waver.

While Libby was technically right, sometimes it felt like it was wrong to be hopeful. At least to Waver. Sometimes hope just built everything up and made bad things feel even worse.

“Come, let us sit down while Lancer gets everything ready.” Rider put his other enormous hand between Waver’s shoulder blades and urged him forward. A moment later, Waver found himself sitting in a chair next to Rider.

He folded his hands in his lap and watched as Lancer shuffled around the kitchen and started putting things together. Waver wasn’t entirely sure what he was supposed to say, or if he had to say anything at all. So he just stayed silent and kept wringing his folded hands.

Soon enough, there was a delectable scent wafting through the kitchen and Waver felt his stomach grumble again. It smelled better than most of what he’d had when he was at Gate and that was saying something. Though maybe it was because he was away from Gate that the food smelled better. Even if he was nervous while at Oceanus, he at least knew he was safe here.

“Waver, Lancer asked you a question.” Rider hummed as he toyed with the mug in his hand.

“Huh?” Waver looked between the other two men and felt heat creep up his cheeks. He hadn’t been paying attention at all. He hadn’t even realized that Lancer had spoken in the first place.

“Just wonderin’ if you need anything to drink.” Lancer was plating up the food already which had Waver curious as to how long he had managed to space out.

“Oh, sure. Um…whatever you have.” Waver stared down at the table and cleared his throat. He needed to stay in the here and now, not in his head.

A few moments later, a plate and a glass of water were placed in front of him. Lancer joined them at the table and started in on his food with gusto. Waver hesitated only for a moment before taking a bite of what looked like rice, chicken, cheese, and a few other things. His eyes closed and he bit back a groan of happiness. It was delicious.

Their meal continued in silence until Lancer finished off his and shoved his plate to the side. Waver chanced a look at him between bites of food and saw that his expression had clouded over and was almost unreadable. Rider, on the other hand, just looked worried. Again, those facts didn’t really help Waver’s nerves.

“Might as well get started.” Lancer sighed as he tugged out a data-pad and set it on the table between the three of them. “I had hoped I wouldn’t have to wind up showing this kind of thing to you…but I guess Gate is pretty damn desperate for what you’ve made.”

Yeah, this really didn’t help the whole ‘stay calm’ thing that Waver was trying to do. He watched as Lancer tapped a few things on the data-pad and pulled up a series of pictures. It took Waver a moment to realize where the photos had been taken – the area didn’t look the way it had the last time he had seen it. No, not at all. The first photo showed a store with items that were in various states of wholeness littering the floor. There was a shelf tipped over onto the register and broken glass was everywhere.

“I’m sorry, boy.” Rider’s voice was gentle and almost soothing. But it did nothing to help Waver’s state of mind.

Waver felt his throat tighten and his eyes start burning – he’d never seen his shop look that bad. Ever. He had prided himself on keeping everything together and professional even when he was swamped with classes and homework. Seeing his hard work smashed all over the ground hurt more than he had thought it would, almost like someone was stabbing him between the ribs.

Lancer and Rider were silent. There was nothing to say, the photos spoke for themselves. The image of the wrecked shop was replaced with one of Waver's apartment. The carnage was just as bad, if not worse. Furniture was tipped over, books were strewn across the ground, and his small workstation had been torn apart. Waver could make out shards of glass in the carpet and his mind supplied that it was going to take forever to clean that up – until he remembered that he couldn’t go home. And now it was plainly obvious as to why. Gate had absolutely no qualms taking him again. Waver knew they weren’t going to be as nice as they were the first time.

But what really caught his attention was what was missing from his workstation. The prototypes for the implant were gone. Waver knew that he’d left them out on his desk the night he’d been kidnapped. And he knew that Medea and Paracelsus would easily be able to direct a search party in the right direction. If not them, then Professor Archibald would have been able to do so.

“They’re going to keep looking for you, Waver.” Lancer’s voice was filled with apology and a little bit of pity. “The prototypes are gone, so they’re continuing production without you…but they’ll try and find you so they can fine tune everything.”

The unspoken part of that sentence was that Gate was going to continue to hunt Waver because he’d dared to escape. It was partially because of revenge. He’d held up their production for as long as he could, to the point that other scientists had threatened him. And then he’d gotten away. Waver doubted that was sitting well with Gilgamesh.

“I’m sorry that I had to show this to you.” Lancer sighed. “But I thought you should see what they’re willing to do.”

Waver understood, he really did. He hadn’t really gotten it before – what Gate was willing to do in order to get what they want. Sure, he knew they were willing to stoop to kidnapping and ignore the fact that implants like what Waver had designed weren’t meant for mass production. But somehow he’d still been naïve about what all they might do if he escaped. He had been aware of it, but he hadn’t actually comprehended it.

“I…understand. I just need a little time…” Waver was to his feet an instant later as his stomach churned unhappily. He hadn’t finished his meal, but now he felt a bit too nauseous to try and finish. “I…”

He didn’t wait for a response from Lancer or Rider, he just walked away. Waver broke into a jog once he was out of the kitchen and into a sprint a few moments later. It felt like something was sitting on his chest, he couldn’t get a full lung of air. Everything felt too tight for his lungs to expand.

He opened a door and burst out onto a balcony or porch of some sort. Fresh air flooded his lungs and his face felt cold. Waver stumbled to the railing and rested his hands there as he gasped for breath. His shoulders bucked and he hiccupped back tears he didn’t realize were streaming down his face.

Everything was changing so fast and he didn’t know if he could keep up anymore.

Waver jolted when he felt a heavy hand rest against his shoulder. “…keep breathing. In through your nose, out through your mouth.” Rider’s voice issued from behind him and was far softer than Waver had heard from the other man. “There you go, just like that.”

Waver let Rider guide him through breathing. Each breath felt like it was grating in his throat, but it slowly became easier to fill his lungs. Rider guided him into a more upright position and arranged his arms so they were over his head – and again – it became easier and easier to really breathe.

“Hunching over constricts everything…standing up straight makes it easier to breathe.”

He nodded and kept focusing on his breathing in the way that Rider had instructed. “Th…thanks.”

“Not a problem.” Rider was leaning against the railing with his arms crossed over his chest. “Sorry you had to hear and see all that.”

Waver’s shoulders drooped slightly but he sighed. “…I needed to. I just…” He shook his head and shoved away the panic and fear that had bubbled up at the mere thought of what he was supposed to do with his life now. “Just overwhelmed.”

“Can’t blame you.” Rider sighed and shrugged his shoulders slightly. “But I can assure you that you’re safe here. And that we’re working toward a world where Gate can no longer to this to people.”

Those words had Waver pausing to think things through a bit more thoroughly. The implication was that Waver was not Gate’s first victim. That made his stomach twist again and Waver found himself hugging his torso in an effort to hide how much he was shaking. He didn’t want to know how many people Gate had done this to, how many lives they’d interrupted and irreparably changed. Waver had a feeling that the number was far higher than he wanted to know.

“This just isn’t how I pictured everything going.” Waver hugged tighter and let his head hang. “And now I don’t know what to even consider picturing…”

Because if he couldn’t go home, all the plans that he’d carefully put into place for the future had been shattered. Waver would have to find new goals and hopes.

“Take it one day at a time.” Rider gave him a bittersweet smile, one that seemed more on the knowing side rather than just empathetic. “It’s all we can really do.”

One day at a time was a sensible response and technically it was what Waver needed to hear. But it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear that everything was going to magically be okay again.

“Guess that’s true…” Waver leaned against the railing and sighed heavily. His whole body felt like it was weighed down and dragging toward the center of the earth. “Thanks for this…I really appreciate it.”

Rider’s smile shifted away from wistful and toward something more cheerful. Waver thought that the wide, bright grin suited the man’s face far more than the previous one. Maybe it was just hard to comprehend someone so boisterous being upset like that.

“I mean it, not a problem. Let’s get inside before Lancer eats all the desserts.”

Waver’s stomach was still protesting the idea of food, but his mind was drawn away from nausea and his unpleasant thoughts when Rider reached out and took one of Waver’s hands. The man’s hand was large and fully wrapped around Waver’s smaller one. He seemed to radiate warmth, or maybe that was just because Waver could feel his cheeks heating up from the contact. He let Rider lead him back into the building. At least I’m alive…at least I’m away…at least…at least…at least…