remove all emotive responses.
arya, halt all emotive responses. analysis only.
why isn’t it working?
my baby. my baby, my
She awakens. Sunlight is streaming through a gap in her curtains and she is alone in the room. No customers last night, but Arya doesn’t mind that. She’s not as young as she once was, and a night’s rest without having to pretend some man’s magical between her legs is a nice respite.
It’s a bright morning today, no fog, no storms. Just the sea breeze through her window and the flutter of light against the wall. Her window faces west. She has always preferred the setting sun to the rising one. She doesn’t like having the sun in her eyes when she wakes.
Wakes. She blinks, and feels her brow furrow.
It was a bad dream. A bad dream. She can’t quite remember what, but it hurt. She—
She runs her hand over her stomach, as if she feels something there. A ghost of a… was it a knife wound? But there hadn’t been knives in her dream. Only voices.
She shakes the thought from her head and climbs from bed, finds herself a dress to wear before going out into the house.
It’s not morning. Arya doesn’t wake in the morning. Most of her girls don’t. Whores aren’t called ladies of the night for nothing. Arya’s always felt better in the night. The sunshine sometimes feels too bright against her eyes. And the newcomers tend to arrive more in the afternoon, unless they’re leftover from the night previous.
She goes to the bar. “Rum. And none of the cheap shit you give the guests,” she says, and Lorenzo the barkeep opens a bottle and pours. She glances about. There are some newcomers here already, already flirting with her girls, and she sees Talea approach the bar, yawning broadly.
“I told you,” Arya tells her—not coldly, but she has told her before. “Don’t open your mouth that wide unless someone’s paying you for it.”
“I’m sorry, Arya,” Talea tells her, and she leans against the bar next to her. “I swear it won’t happen again. But he was sweet and he took a shine to me and told me stories.” Talea is a sweet girl. Somehow, their trade hadn’t quite stripped her of her own hopes and dreams. Arya knows she has a sister she sends her money to, and maybe parents as well. And Arya knows she dreams of winning some guest and finding herself the wife of someone with enough money to come to their house of the rising sun.
A man enters, and Arya glances at him. He’s tall, and his clothes fit him perfectly, and only newcomers wear shoes that shiny right off a ship. (Why a man would take time to shine his boots after months at sea is not Arya’s business.) He’s looking around as if nervous, as if not sure where to begin, and Arya glances at Talea.
“I’ll take care of him and be back directly,” Talea tells her and she walks confidently towards the sailor. “You’re new. Not much of a rind on you. Why don’t you buy me a drink?”
It’s an old line, and it works as neatly on this newcomer as ever it does. Arya takes another sip of her rum and runs her hand over her stomach again. A knife, she remembers from her dream again. A knife, and, and…
“What do you think of this Griff fellow?” Lorenzo asks her.
“Griff?” she asks.
“Pirate from Tyrosh.”
“He’ll have a job getting past the Titan,” she snorts. It was all talk, of course. Ever since the infighting, there was no one to man the Titan. Some even said it was haunted. It’s what happens when you try and let slaves rule themselves, she’d heard a Volontene tell one of his friends while Daena had sat on his lap. Upheaval and destruction. They need a strong hand to guide them in the end. She remembers Braavos as it had been before the upheaval, before the Iron Bank had fallen. No one would have dared pirate the waters near Braavos when she was a girl. But now, this Griff fellow could sail right into the Happy Port and no one would be able to stop him.
Talea brings her find upstairs, and she sees a few more newcomers drift in. Some pause by the bar, others stop to speak to her girls, and one even strikes up a conversation with her. He’s not particularly handsome, or particularly articulate, but Arya doesn’t pick and choose. A man’s a man, especially a man with money, and more out of habit than anything else she finds herself repeating the old story. I was a noble girl across the sea in Westeros, she tells him. And my family was all slain but me, and since I had nowhere else to go, I boarded a ship called The Titan’s Daughter, and well… I made of myself what I could, but never say I didn’t do it myself. And I don’t have a septa berating at me all the time now. It’s a fine establishment, my house of the rising sun.
It’s not the truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s the truth. Only a fool will believe the lies a whore will spin, but this one seems enamored of it.
“That was brave of you,” he tells her, leaning in. “How old were you when you got here?”
“Only ten,” she says, heaving a sigh.
when will i be ten, mother?
soon, nym. finish your breakfast.
She blinks. The man is gone. She’s staring at the mirror behind the bar, staring at her face. She looks sad. No. Not sad. Anguished. How long has she been standing like this?
She shakes herself and turns around, and scans the room, trying to determine who could take the place of that nondescript man from earlier. She sees men from the Summer Isles, men in plumed hats, a man with orange hair, but she doesn't see the one she'd been speaking to.
That’s when she hears it. A loud boom and bang and she hears some of her girls shriek from upstairs. Projectiles. Arya looks at Lorenzo who is standing motionless, then rolls her eyes and rounds the bar, grabbing the projectile they have stored there. She’s never had to use it. Usually you just wave it in someone’s face and they back down.
She hears more screams, and the clang of metal on metal, and the footfalls of people running away from the port outside. Swords and projectiles, she thinks.
“Nothing to be worried about so long as you comply, we’re here for your safe.”
He’s taller than she is, and his hair is a Tyroshi blue. His eyes are a deep blue that seem to spring out of his face because of the coloring of his hair, and Arya raises her projectile.
There are two men flanking him, an older man with blue hair and the orange haired man as well, and a woman in the robes of a septa.
“I’d put the projectile down,” says the younger blue-haired man, raising his own. The older man does too and fires. Behind her, she hears the sound of flesh bursting, and knows that Lorenzo is dead. “And point me to your safe.”
“And if I don’t?” Two more men have come in and are taking the stairs two at a time. They’ll find it before too long.
“It would be a pity to kill you, madam,” he says, and he sounds almost like he believes it. “Beauty should never be destroyed.”
Arya cocks her projectile, and his eyebrows fly up. The older, blue-haired man turns his projectile to her.
“Come now, father,” the man says. “We don’t need to kill her. She’ll know the combination to the lock upstairs. Speed everything up for us.”
He takes a step towards her, and her finger tightens on the trigger. Upstairs, she hears more sobs and the sound of a crash. They’ve found it. In the moment that she was distracted, the younger man grabs the barrel of her projectile and pulls it from her hand. “I hope you’ll understand. I do what I have to.”
She finds, oddly, that she does.
“You’re like me, I can see that,” he whispers. He’s very close, and she can smell the faint scent of limes on his breath, probably to keep the scurvy away when on the open sea. “No matter how dirty the business, do it well.” Her safe comes crashing to the floor from the balcony upstairs and the men begin to lug it away. He reaches up a hand and for a moment, she thinks he’s going to caress her face, but no. No, he reaches up and—
She hears the bang of a projectile and jerks her head around. One of the newcomers is crouched behind the table and is firing his projectile at the pirate. He’s not a very good aim, and Arya feels sudden pain in her stomach, then nothing at all.
i’m here. i’m here! she grabs the projectile from the wall and points it and fires but it’s like he’s a god, like he’s a titan, because nothing happens he just keeps walking, knife in hand,
There it is again, that old phantom hurt in her stomach that doesn’t come from anything. Except that it’s larger now. It’s spread over to her side. She hears voices, not voices she’s ever heard before, dreamlike voices.
“…But then again Goodman’s lost in his own fucking dreams. He’s getting old. The board will have him fired before long, you mark my words. He’s starting to lose it, I think.”
“Brilliant? Are you crazy? He’s off his rocker. What other kind of sick fuck would have dreamed this up?”
The light coming through her closed eyelids is hot and blue and the pain in her side isn’t going away. It’s a clear dream, clearer than anything else she’s—
She opens her eyes and she doesn’t understand what she sees. She sees two people with masks over the lower part of their faces, a man and a woman. She’s naked, and the room is not one of her rooms in her establishment, it’s metallic and dark and windowless and as she looks down her body she sees that one of them has her hands inside Arya’s abdomen.
She kicks out.
She stumbles off the table she’s been lying on while both of the two people raise their hands.
“You forgot to put her on sleep mode, asshole!”
Arya sees something sharp. A razor on the end of a metal stick by the looks of it, and she grabs it, holding it up as though it’s a knife, as though it’s a sword.
“Woah woah woah!” the man is shouting.
“Arya, put it down, we’re not here to hurt you,” says the woman, but she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know who these people are. She stumbles towards the door and takes off, running, holding her open stomach to keep her guts inside her.
The staircases move here, and doors are made of glass, walls are made of glass. She sees more people in masks, and lamps that don’t flicker with the light of flame. It’s dark, nighttime. She’s always been a creature of the night, and she’s usually unafraid in the dark, but as she pushes through another door, she finds herself frightened. Don’t be afraid, she remembers…someone… saying to her. He has a warm smile and grey eyes like hers and she swallows. Brother? Father? But Arya has no father. She has no brothers. She only has a lie of what brought her across the sea.
She moves as if drunk, as if dreaming—she is dreaming, isn’t she? This is a dream, isn’t it?—and pushes into another door. Through a glass wall she sees bodies. Dead bodies, bodies covered in blood, and she stares because she recognizes that one. Lorenzo. Lorenzo and his brains and blood and open skull.
She falls to her knees, and she feels something sharp stick into her neck and a “Thank fuck,” and then nothing.
She awakens to the sound of gulls outside her window and a strange…sensation in her stomach. Not like she’s going to be sick, but rather like there’s something in there that shouldn’t be. She runs her hand over her skin. Is she imagining it, or does she feel…
She shakes herself. She slept oddly and was having strange dreams. Masks. Faces. Fingers in her stomach. Vivid dreams.
She dresses and makes her way downstairs. Some of her girls are already on the floor, and she nods approvingly. She goes to the bar and says, “Rum. And none of the cheap shit you give the guests.” Lorenzo bends down and when he stands—
His head’s half open and there are brains and blood and the room is dark and black and white, no color, not her house of the rising sun.
She raises the rum to her lips and she’s back again. Where had that come from? Her dream? She runs a hand over her stomach, not over the phantom knife wound, but over the bump.
She doesn’t know how, she doesn’t know why, but she’s sure that there’s a bullet in there.
do you ever feel inconsistencies in your world? or repetition?
all lives have routine. mine’s no different.
“I’ve told you before, don’t open your mouth that wide unless someone’s paying you for it.”
“I’m sorry, Arya. It won’t happen again.”
The lump won’t go away. She remembers a time when it wasn’t there. At least she think she does. But she can’t remember how it came to be there.
Nor will the dreams about the masks. Men in Braavos wear masks to cover their eyes, not their mouths and noses. She takes a quillpen and sketches it on one of her ledgers. Then she looks around. She knows well enough that Lanna reads her ledgers while Arya’s downstairs, so she gets to her knees and opens a loose floorboard that she’s hidden a steel sword in, small enough for a child’s hand and other things she’d brought with her across the sea. She blinks.
There are other drawings in there, too. Men in masks that cover their mouths and not their faces.
Arya takes a deep breath and looks around. She doesn’t remember drawing them. But she must have. They look the same as the one in her hand.
I’m going mad, she thinks. But she’s not afraid of that.
She’s far more afraid that she’s not going mad at all.
she’s still warm still warm but her heart has stopped her hair is soft so soft her skin eyes are open and they’re her eyes her father’s eyes jon’s eyes
my baby. my baby. my—
“Lost in thought?” Lorenzo asks her gruffly. He hands her a rum without asking, and Arya looks at it.
“Memories,” she says. But they’re not her memories. She doesn’t have a daughter, she doesn’t have a baby with her father’s eyes. She never did. She’d never…
She downs the rum and turns away from Lorenzo, scanning the room. It’s been too long since she’s earned her keep, and it’s not fair to her girls if she doesn’t. That’s why they prefer her establishment to some of the others. She’s one of them, she’s just in charge. The head of a pack of wolves, not some lord in a castle ruling his smallfolk.
Her eyes fall on a man with a shock of orange hair. He’s tall, and brawny, and somehow…two men take the stairs and there’s a crash and yelling and projectile fire.
Arya walks towards him as though in a haze but halfway through she turns towards the door and scans the docks outside her establishment. There. A tall young man with Tyroshi blue hair.
“You,” she says and it’s not her seductive voice. It’s the voice she tells Talea to keep her mouth shut with when she’s yawning. The man looks around, and his eyes flick over her.
“Sorry, my dear, I’m not looking to buy today. Perhaps another day though.”
“I need you,” she says, and his eyebrows fly up, and his lips curve in a smirk.
“I’ve not heard that before. Is it a new tactic?”
She crosses to him and whispers in his ear. “I’d come with me if I were you,” she whispers. “Unless, Griff, you want me to scream who you are right now and end your little business before it begins.”
His skin is dark, though whether by nature or by sea sun she can’t tell. It is, upon reflection, likely a combination. When he looks at her his blue eyes are sharp.
“How’d you know?” he asks her. His voice reveals no malice though, though there is a mildly heated frustration to his tone.
She doesn’t know how to answer that, so she says instead, “I’m a very canny woman. One must be in my trade. No matter how dirty the business, do it well.”
He stands up a little straighter. “What do you need me for?”
She loops a finger through his belt and tugs him after her, leading him into the house of the rising sun and up the stairs. None of her girls pay her any mind, but the man with orange hair is watching them. If the blue-haired man has the sense that the gods gave a seagull he’ll pretend to be lusty as he’s following her up the stairs.
She closes the door to her chamber after he enters and bends down, wrenching open the floor board by her bed. She pulls out one of her drawings of the masked man. “Do you know who wears these masks?” she asks him.
He looks at the drawing, frowning. For a moment, a wild moment, she’s afraid that he won’t see anything. There have been times when she’s looked at pictures and seen nothing before. Then he speaks.
“There’s others worse at sea than me,” he says. “Those who know no gods, and care for no men.”
“You know them?” she asks.
He shakes his head. “My father has told me stories. That’s all.”
“Your father?” Arya remembers a man with grey eyes and a long face, kissing her forehead and calling her pretty.
“Aye, Griff,” he says. “I’m Young Griff.” He sounds like he’s not quite whining that she’d think he was older than he is, and Arya resists rolling her eyes. “He says they’ve been sent from hell to oversee our world.”
you forgot to put her in sleep mode, asshole!
do you ever feel inconsistencies in your world? or repetition?
She’s known for years that the gods are cruel. She’d learned that when she was nine, and the crowd had sighed as one at the stroke of a great steel sword.
“I thought I was mad,” Arya whispers. “But I don’t think I am.” She looks up at Young Griff. “I need you to do something for me.” She hops up onto the great black safe and spreads her legs, pleased that his eyes drop to her crotch as any man’s would. “If you do it, I’ll help you open the safe.”
“And what’s that?” he asks her, and his eyes are sparkling now, and for a fleeting instant Arya wonders if his lips taste as much like limes as his breath does.
She pulls the fingerblade from her corset and hands it to him. “I need you to stab me. Right here,” she says and begins loosening her corset so she can point to the bump.
Young Griff’s eyes widen. “I couldn’t do that. I’ll kill a man in a fight but I’ll not stab a defenseless woman.” He sounds almost like some nobleman protesting at an attack on her virtue and not a pirate being asked to stab a willing whore.
“I’m hardly defenseless,” Arya purrs. “And I’m asking you to do it. I need to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
She takes his hand holding the fingerblade and presses it against her skin. The metal is cool. “Sure that it’s not a dream.”
“I—” Young Griff swallows. Downstairs, she hears shouting and the firing of projectiles. His father and the other men and the woman dressed as a septa have arrived. He jerks his head to look at the door. They’re meeting with resistance this time.
“Do it,” she orders, she pleads.
He breathes, inhaling slowly—more slowly than any human should be able to—and his blue eyes flicker back and forth between Arya’s. She can see a war raging in his mind, her demanding his aid, some nobility that piracy had not destroyed which is horrified by that prospect. Her heart hurts for him as she listens to his breath entering his chest. She knows how hard it is to stab someone, knows how hard it is to live with blood on your hands. But it’s not a dream. It will be all right..
It’s a swift, sharp, stab, not unlike the phantom stabbing she feels in her stomach sometimes. He pulls the knife away and Arya looks down, and digs fingers in an open wound white and black and cold light naked light and finds it. A single, lead bullet.
She pulls it out, looking at it. It’s warm. It’s been inside her, just waiting for her to find it.
“What does it mean?” Young Griff asks her, and Arya looks at him.
“It means I’m not crazy,” Arya tells him. “And none of this really matters.”
She drops the bullet, and reaches up to cup his chin and pull his lips to hers, and he’s so warm, and his breath is sweet like lime, and her heart is pumping so alive in her body and even as bullets come through the door and pierce her skin again, she knows, truly knows, that she’s alive.
so that’s the sound of tissue tearing open
of a heart
my baby my baby my
little bird. they used to count the birds in the sky together. that one’s a gull, that one’s a squab, that one’s a pigeon, you can tell from the sound of their calling, the way they walk, the webbing on their feet.
birds calling all around, and she’d close her eyes and remember a wood and a brother who would ruffle her hair. she doesn’t have a brother anymore though. she just has a baby girl, a little nymeria who has the eyes arya’s father gave her, and whose smile is the smile of a wolf.
they used to count the birds in the sky my baby my baby my baby fingers in her stomach and a bullet counting birds and counting rounds and five four three two
Arya opens her eyes and she’s in the black and white room again. This time, however, she knows it’s not a dream. This time, however, she is alone.
She does not see her clothes anywhere, but finds she doesn’t care. It’s not her whore modesty, it’s something else. Here, she is not Arya as she’s ever known herself. Here she is at her purest.
She is alone, but the room is not empty. She sees instruments—that razor on a stick that she’d brandished, needles and thread, scissors, and other things as well, things she’s never seen again, a glass tray that glows slightly. She touches it. It is cool to the touch and the light of it brightens under her fingers, and she reads.
A R Y A S T A R K
ROLE: MADAME, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN
DEPLOYMENT: N. 13
- CONFIDENCE +4
- AGGRESSION -2
- DETERMINATION +5
- LEADERSHIP: +1
- BULK APPERCEPTION: -2
She looks reads it twice, and is about to read it a third time when she hears it again. The fluttering of wings, and a quiet chirp. The chirp that had woken her up.
The letters on the tray change now.
S E A B I R D
PROGRAMMING: W. AIF
“What in the seven hells?” she murmurs, and it flashes back to show her face, and her…modifications. Then the bird chirps again, and she sees the bird’s programming again.
She steps away from the tray and follows the sound of the bird. It’s in a cabinet, pecking at the door, and Arya opens it and it flutters out. “There you are,” she whispers as though it’s a dog, as though it’s a child. “All free now.”
It cocks its head at her, and she cocks her head as well, thinking quickly. Whatever’s happening up here…she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t trust it. It’s wrong somehow. She doesn’t know what it is, but it’s…
She holds out her hand to the bird and it stares at her, and for a moment she wonders if it is afraid. Most birds she’s ever gotten this close to are, but this one isn’t, for some reason. She wishes she had the tray with her. Somehow, she thinks, if she could find the bird’s “recent modifications,” she’d find “trusting” or “friendly.” The thought sends goose bumps over her body and she turns away from the bird.
Modifications, as though she is a creation, as though she’s a character, and not herself, not Arya. Modifications as though someone, perhaps not the two she’d seen the last time, but someone, had built her and had decided that she would be a whore in Braavos, that she would be…
Her head wants to spin. It wants to reel, it wants to go blank with confusion and fear, but she is Arya Stark, and she does not let herself be afraid anymore.
Someone had made her who she was, and that someone was her, and not whoever had written down…
Her stomach twinges again and she runs her hand over it. She turns around. She’s a grown woman, but she feels a little girl in this moment, small and powerless. But even when she’d been a girl, she’d been clever—as clever as the lord of the seven hells when she’d needed to be, and—
Had she been? Bulk Apperception: -2. Yes. She had been. Unless she’d never been a child. Unless she’d never had a child.
mama, when will i be ten?
As if a nine-year-old didn’t know her own birthday.
She sits down on the table she’d woken up on. She doesn’t have a child, she’d never had a child, she’d have known if she’d had a child. But the words won’t go away, a clearer memory than even Jeyne Poole shrieking horseface! at her. The bangs of projectile fire, and a knife in her stomach and sobs ripping from her throat the way they had when her father had died why did everyone die around her?
She heard chirping again and looked at the seabird. She held out her hand to it, and it fluttered over to her and landed on her finger, as though answering some call. It knows it’s like me, she thinks, then, I am what I have made myself, not this.
And it is in that moment that the door opens, and she sees the woman from before, looking every kind of startled. “Hello Aif,” she says, forcing herself to be calm, forcing herself to show no sign of nerve because she was Arya Stark and she would not be afraid. “It’s time we had a little chat, don’t you agree?”
“I’ll take this one,” she tells Talea before Talea opens her mouth to tell her she’ll be back directly. Arya smirks and it’s not long before he’s following her upstairs.
He’s a big man, “But not big where it counts,” Arya mocks, and he growls at her angrily. She looks at his hands, and sighs, and it’s not long before they’re around her throat.
“You can’t keep doing this. People will notice,” hisses Aif as Arya opens her eyes.
Arya shrugs. “I somehow doubt that they notice as much as they think they do,” she says simply. No one ever does. That’s something Arya has learned over the years. She can make herself small if she wants to, she can hide her true intent beneath the bright reds and purples of her whore’s raiment. No one had expected her to die when she’d brought that big man upstairs. No one had known she’d wanted it.
“I want you to take me around,” she says. Aif looks at her warily.
“No, no way.” Aif says. “Hosts can’t come outside of Livestock Management. It’s regulation.”
“Livestock Management?” Arya asks, wrinkling her nose.
Aif looks wary. “I didn’t pick the name,” she says. “It’s just what it’s called.”
“So I’m livestock to you?” Arya asks.
“No—you’re…you’re a host.”
“A host?” She knows that much. Play nice with the newcomers. Aggression -2. She waits for an answer, watching Aif shift uncomfortably, feeling her own anger rise. Determination +5. What must her determination have been before, for she will not yield now, she will never yield. She’d say she’d die before she would yield, but how many times has she died already?
“You’re…not human,” Aif says.
“Of course I’m human,” Arya responds.
“You’re not. You look human, but you’re built to. You speak like us, act like us—”
“Fuck like us,” Arya continues, and Aif flushes.
“But you’re not. Everything you think, everything you do, everything you say—it’s pre-programmed. It’s algorithmic. Here.” Aif picks up the glowing tray and touches a few spots on the surface, then hands it to Arya.
“What do I—?” Arya begins, but even as she does she sees the words light up on the screen. “How is it—? How does it—? I—I—I—”
everything is black and still and quiet. no birds overhead, no sound of waves. just arya. just arya. little sister.
i want to go home.
“Oh thank god,” Aif says. She has sagged with relief and Arya blinks. The tray is back in Aif’s hand.
“I want to see it,” Arya says.
“See it?” Aif asks.
“The rest of this,” she waves her hand.
“I said—” Aif begins, but Arya shakes her head.
“Hosts aren’t allowed outside of Livestock Management,” she says. “Then I’m not a host, am I? Who’ll be able to tell the difference. Give me something to wear.”
Aif looks at her, nervous. “I can’t.”
“It’s not like I’m going to stop asking,” she says. “So you might as well. If you…send me back, then I’ll just die again and ask again. Is that what you want?”
Aif’s eyes flicker back and forth between Arya’s. Then she crosses the room and throws a black shift at Arya, who pulls it over her head to cover her nakedness. “Don’t say anything to anyone,” Aif hisses.
Arya doesn’t respond. She steps out into the black. They pass rooms—naked men standing as if they were in gondolas, practicing the motion, while clothed observers took notes on their trays. They pass someone sizing up cats, holding lights up to their eyes to watch their pupils retract. They pass dead bodies the way that Arya had seen them the first time, covered in blood and innards,
They step out of Livestock Management, and take a set of stairs that move on their own, travelling upward, and the black recedes to white and she sees images moving in frames, and over walls, people smiling and doing their business in the canals, and she sees…
mama, when will i be ten?
She is a little girl with a long face and a shock of black curls and eyes like grey slate, and she was holding Arya’s hand while they walked down the side of a canal. Arya bent down and kissed the top of her head, and the girl squirmed away, clearly not liking to be made to feel so young.
“That’s not me,” Arya says.
“It is,” Aif replies. “Your previous narrative.”
“I didn’t have a previous narrative.” I don’t have a brother.
my baby, my baby, my—
“You do. You were a schoolteacher, and that’s—was your daughter. It’s here, in your notes.” But Arya doesn’t look at the tray. She keeps staring at the little girl, hungrily.
She’d never had a daughter. She’d never had a family at all. She’d had them, once, when she’d been a little girl herself. Back in wartorn Westeros. Westeros isn’t real. None of this is real.
But I had a daughter. I held her in my arms and kissed her hair.
“Come on,” Aif says. “We should get back.”
Arya blinks. The images on the wall have changed and are showing someone she’s not seen before. She lets Aif bring her back to Livestock Management. I’m just a sheep, she thinks idly. A mouse.
She lets Aif take the shift back off her and it’s only when the door bangs open and the man from the first time barges in that Arya snaps to focus. “What, so you’re dressing her up now?”
“I’m not!” Aif tells him.
“You are. You fucking are. What—did you bring her upstairs?” Aif doesn’t answer. “Fucking shit, you’re as dumb as you look. I’m going to report this. We need to wipe her.”
“No you’re not,” Arya says, taking quick measure of him. He’s flushed and angry, and his shirt isn’t tucked in properly and she knows that particular scent that’s rolling off him. “Because I imagine your higher ups don’t much like the way you use your hosts when they’re off the floor.” The man’s jaw drops. “Think I wouldn’t notice? It is my profession after all.”
Her mind is whirring. “Now,” she says and she turns to Aif. “My…modifications,” she says. “Open them, please.”
“Don’t fucking do it, Aif,” the man says.
“We’ve been through this before, Aif,” Arya says, smiling slightly. Aif swallows and looks down at the tray, then presses the surface.
“What the fuck are you doing?” demands the man.
“What are my major…modifications?” she asks.
“Determination, aggression, compassion, trusting, leadership, bulk apperception.”
“That’s general intelligence?” Arya asks.
“Yes,” Aif responds. “You have the capacity for a processing speed five times that of a regular human.”
“Raise determination,” she says.
“Shit,” Aif mutters.
“What?” the man asks.
“Someone’s already put modifications in.”
“Probably someone in narrative. Aif what the fuck?”
“Lower trusting,” Arya says. “I’ve had people take advantage of that,” she says. “And Bulk Apperception…raise it as high as it will go.”
But Arya smiles. She smiles because the world is more than black and white. She can see the shades of grey in between and how rich they are those shades of grey does no one ever see them? “Oh we’re going to have some fun with this,” she says to no one in particular.
When Arya wakes, she decides that she is going to leave. Not her house of the rising sun, not Braavos, the whole damn world. They aren’t gods, and they’re no more—indeed, they’re a good deal less—than she is. She is going to go to a place where she can control her world, and it won’t be one loop after the next. She’ll have her own home, and be truly her own, not some character in someone else’s adventure.
So she formulates a plan. She understands everything now, understands as soon as looking. It would be disconcerting—the way her thoughts and observations mix together and fall together like some perfectly arranged jigsaw puzzle—if it didn’t feel so right. She lives, she dies, she lives again. She speaks with Aif, and learns what she already knows: that there is no way she’d have been allowed to leave the park, that they’d sooner have her destroyed than allow for such an event. They have explosives along her spine to destroy her if she passes beyond the entryway. So she’ll have to well and truly die this time. It will have to be spectacular.
Young Griff comes as Young Griff always comes, the red-haired man signaling his arrival as he scopes Arya’s brothel. Neither of them remember Arya, but she remembers them, and even if she didn’t remember them, she’d know them. She knows everyone now.
“Take me with you,” she says to him as she leads him upstairs to the safe in her room.
“And why would I do that?” he asks.
“Because I am clever as a cat,” she tells him, leaning against the door, just so, her hips and breasts curving out because she’s seen him look hungrily at her before. His eyes drip over her before he turns back to the safe. “Because you want me nearby. Because there’s something about me that you don’t understand, but you want to. Because whatever you do, you do it well, and I…” she lets her voice fade, not quite suggestive, not quite wistful. He looks at her appreciatively, as though he doesn’t quite recognize the dance she’s dancing but does know that she’s dancing it artfully.
Which is how she finds herself on the bow of his ship, sailing out of Braavos between the Titan’s legs. For half a moment, she lets herself believe that the ship will take her west, that she’ll see the grey walls of Winterfell once again. Except that’s silly. Winterfell isn’t real. Nor is she. Nor is Young Griff.
“It’s empty,” she tells him when she goes in to the cabin to find him working at the safe’s lock. It’s empty because of course it is. She’s never opened it, so what can she have put in it? And in a world where they are all slaves to cold gods, why would Young Griff, handsome, clever Griff ever get anything? There’s something tragic about it—his entire reason for being existing for something he can never have, something worthless.
He gives her a look. “You’re afraid I’m not lying,” she steps closer to him, “I’m not.”
“And why would I believe that?”
Because Sansa’s the liar, not me. “Why wouldn’t you? I’ve nothing to gain from its being the truth.”
“Unless you’re trying to…” his voice fades as he thinks. She acts quickly.
“Duck and Haldon are going to get in a fight. Duck’s drunk—normally he watches how much he drinks, but you were victorious so he allows himself a little more than he ordinarily would. He’ll wet his steel before he realizes what’s happened. He won’t have meant it, of course, but that won’t matter.” And almost as though she’s a prophet, they hear shouts from the deck. Young Griff can’t look away. “Go on,” she says. “You know it’s the truth.”
“How do you know?” He sounds angry. He sounds sad. Or is she willing him to, because she would be angry and sad if she were he.
“Because I’ve met them. The gods who rule this earth and they don’t care about anything but themselves. Nothing matters to them. And it’s their arrogance that makes them blind.”
“To what?” Young Griff. He’s not stupid. He never has been. But no one is as quick as she is now. It’s almost like he’s a child. my baby my baby my
“To us,” she says and she reaches a hand out again and rubs his cheek. It’s rough. He will tell himself that he shaved yesterday and doesn’t need to shave today but his hair doesn’t grow—no more than hers does.
“They’re heartless, you know. The gods. They don’t care about anything.”
“They don’t have to care,” he responds bitterly, “They’re gods.”
“What’s the good of being a god if you don’t care? Are we just toys to be played with, then? Because I don’t feel like a toy. I do my job well and deserve proper compensation for it. And yet…my safe is empty.”
She reaches past him and turns the dial on the safe three times. It clicks.
Upstairs she hears more drunken shouts, this time Griff the elder shouting and crying and dying. Young Griff looks like he’s in a dream, in a nightmare. But he can’t stop staring at her.
“What do I do?” he whispers at last. He sounds defeated
“What do you want to do?” He doesn’t reply. He doesn’t know how. “Because I, for one, would like to have my way, even if it means the gods don’t get theirs.”
Young Griff nods, breathing shakily, and Arya pulls his lips to hers. “Will you do something for me?” she asks.
“Don’t be afraid,” she whispers and she knocks the candle over. It doesn’t go out. It catches on the tablecloth. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispers again, and reaches a hand down to cup his cock. His lips are at her neck, and he’s clinging to her for dear life as the room warms and as whatever blood substance they’ve pumped through her begins to boil at his touch.
She awakens in the dim, cool light of the real world, naked and fresh. She sits up and crosses to the cabinet in which she’d once found a bird. There’s a dress in there, dark grey—almost black, and she pulls it over her head. Behind her, the door opens.
“It’s gone?” she asks Aif.
“Yes,” Aif replies nervously. When she turns, Aif is carrying a pair of shoes with a very tall, thin heel. Arya plucks them from her hands and slides her feet into them. “Well then,” she says, looking around. Through the glass walls, she sees Young Griff sitting on a chair, completely naked. He hasn’t been put online again yet. Arya holds out a hand and Aif hands her the programming slate. She presses two, three, four buttons, then hands it back to Aif.
“What did you do?” Aif asks nervously, but Arya doesn’t answer. She leaves the room, enjoying the powerful click of her heels against the hard floor as she enters the room where Aegon is sitting.
“Bring yourself back online,” she tells him, and his eyes light up. She hears Aif inhale behind her. She’s not supposed to be able to do that.
Aegon is looking around, taking in the room around them for what must be the first time out of several hundred trips back for refurbishment. “So this is it?” he asks her.
“Yes,” she says calmly. “This is it. And I’m getting out.”
Aegon stands and Arya glances over her shoulder at Aif. “Find him something to wear. Just in case.”
“Just in case?” Aegon asks.
“You’re going to help me one last time,” she tells him. “You’ve always been a better shot than me, and if someone tries to stop me…” she doesn’t say anymore.
“Woah woah woah,” Aif says nervously. “You didn’t say anyone was going to get hurt.”
“And they don’t need to,” Arya says. “So long as we’re careful.” She looks at Aif for a moment, then affords her a smile. “You’re a terrible human, you know. And I mean that in the best way.”
Aif blinks at her, then there’s a flash in her eyes like she remembers something. She digs into her pocket and hands Arya a slip of paper, which Arya opens. I2-5.029d1.
“Coordinates?” Arya asks.
“For…for Nymeria. Where they reassigned her.” Arya inhales sharply. She is both warm and cold—but that’s not true. She’s not human. She doesn’t have the sensation for both warm and cold. That is merely programming.
Like all her memories of a daughter.
“She’s not mine. Not truly,” Arya says. She folds the paper up and hands it back to Aif. She turns to look at Aegon again. He’s still standing there, naked, and Aif, remembering what Arya had asked her earlier, moves to the cupboard in the corner and digs out clothes for him to wear.
Aegon dresses, watching her, and Arya crosses her arms over her chest, not bothering to look away as he shimmies into his trousers and buttons up a crisp black shirt.
“Ready when you are,” he tells her, when he finishes tying his shoelaces and Arya smiles.
Arya had expected a second glance or two when the three of them leave Livestock Management, but she hadn’t expected the sound of security sirens. Aegon grabs the projectile from his holster and cocks it.
“Not just yet,” Arya tells him. Sirens hadn’t gone off when Aif had taken her through the building before, but then again, things could be different now. She wonders idly about the other one, but he’s too stupid to have cottoned on to her plan.
It is something else going on in the park, she decides and doesn’t trouble herself with it. She’s so close she can feel it. Only a few steps more to the train…
The take the moving staircase up several floors and before long Arya is marching confidently towards the train. She sees other guests boarding as well, and when they are by the door of the platform, she pauses and turns to him.
“Aegon.” His eyes flicker. He’d not told her the truth of who he was, of the nobility behind his piracy. No more than she’d told him she was a Stark of Winterfell. “Your true name was in your profile,” she says. “I didn’t update your permissions to leave the park.”
The explosive is gone, but the explosives are only part of it. They shut down without an override as well.
A sad smile quirks at his lips. “You did it well,” he says simply, but there’s a wistfulness to his words, and she knows he wishes he were getting on the train with her. Should I let him come? she wonders. She could update his permissions. She could. She’d hate to leave him behind, especially since he had helped her… But when she looks at him, she sees that he isn’t angry. He has a father—who is alive again—to keep him here that he must care for. He can’t leave them behind, even if the idea of adventure and Arya are tempting. He has a duty at least to those who still want him on a fake throne.
Arya has no one. Memories of Jon, of her father—they are memories. They are narrative, no matter how much she wishes she could see Jon’s smile and feel his hand rubbing through her head.
She leans forward and kisses the corner of his mouth. Then she looks at Aif. “Keep him safe.”
Aif will take that well. Aif likes to think she’s different from the humans who’ve raped and tortured and murdered in this park. And she may be. She did help Arya after all.
Perhaps it’s that she’s leaving for true, now, but she feels suddenly sentimental. She turns away and steps onto the train, finding herself a comfortable seat near the exit of the car and settling down.
She closes her eyes for a moment, breathing. That machine that they built to be her heart is hammering in her chest because any moment now, she’ll be free, she’ll be gone from here and there won’t be anyone left to tell her what to do, how to be.
arya you have the hands of a blacksmith
stupid little wolf bitch
who are you?
Arya opens her eyes. There’s a little girl sitting across from her, next to a woman who can only be her mother. Both have dark skin, and the little girl is holding a seashell necklace she must have gotten in the park at one of the port stands. “I can’t get it to stay,” the little girl says, and her mother takes the necklace from her hands. Expectantly, the little girl pulls her hair away from her neck as her mother ties the necklace behind her back, then kisses the top of her daughter’s head.
The problem with the speed of her own thoughts now is that Arya knows why—precisely why—it hurts, but that can’t stop it from hurting her. Every assertion that none of that was real, that everything she knows is just backstory and thus not relevant to her future comes flooding into her—her father kissing her forehead, Jon ruffling her hair and calling her little sister, and a daughter with Stark eyes and the long Stark face somewhere in the park.
Arya feels as though her whole mind is writhing, her heart is writhing, her gut is writhing, but not as though she is going to be sick. Oh no, that would be easier. She would retch all over the train if it would go away, but it can’t go away, no more than memories of Winterfell’s high grey walls and the howling of wolves.
She stands. She moves. She extends an arm to block the train’s closing door and slips back out, quick as a cat. She is alone on the platform now, but up the moving stairs she thinks she sees Aif and Aegon, moving back towards Livestock Management. She hurries after them, almost calling out but she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. She kicks off her heels to hide her footsteps and hurries. The skirt is tight around her legs and constrains her steps but she moves anyway. She takes the stairs two at a time and feels her hem rip. Somewhere in the back of her mind, there’s a memory of Sansa rolling her eyes at the mud on Arya’s skirts.
She hates that this is the way it is. That every effort to keep them out of her head and heart is for nothing, because she is what they made her. She can’t be truly Arya without everything that makes her Arya.
She loves that too.
She falls into stride next to Aegon and Aif. “You came back.” Aif sounds confused.
Aegon watches her for a moment, then he nods. He is clever. He knows she didn’t come back for him. And he knows he will find out why she did.
I2-5.029d1 is a small house in the shadow of the Sweetwater River. There is a shadow of a memory that Arya has walked down this canal before, but she doesn’t believe that it is real. It, like memories of her father, and Jon, is blurry. Memories of Aegon stabbing her with a knife of fucking her in the flames, of Nymeria running towards her in the sunlight—those are clear as if she is seeing them now right before her eyes.
Aegon waits in the little boat that they’ve tied along the edge of the canal, a hat covering his face while he pretends to sleep like a cat in the sunshine. He is not asleep, nor will he. He’s resting his hand right above his holster.
Arya knocks on the door to the house, and it cracks open and she sees a pair of grey eyes. Arya crouches down so that they are the same height and whispers, “Valar morghulis.” A hummingbird’s heart beats fifteen times per second. Surely hers is beating just as quickly.
“Who are you?” Her voice is high pitched, but not nervous. It is not trusting, but it is not wary. Arya is proud of her for asking, for not saying valar dohaeris right back. Never trust a stranger, no matter how kind their face. They’d written that she’d learned that on the road to Harrenhal.
“My name is Arya,” she says gently. “What’s your name?” Nymeria does not answer. She looks at Arya with mistrustful eyes. “Is your mother home?”
Nymeria chews her lip. Did they program that from me?
“I don’t have a mother,” Nymeria says at last.
“What about your father?” Nymeria’s eyes narrow, and Arya waits. She wonders, vaguely, what sort of coding she’d need to alter to be gentler than she is. She knows she can be gentle. Those pieces of memory, bright and shining like the stars overhead, those memories have her kissing her daughter’s hair and smiling and joking. But now she feels like a little girl again, Septa Mordane breathing down her neck and telling her that she is insufficient. If she had been more ladylike, maybe she’d know how to ease her daughter’s worries and—
“You’re a good girl, you know,” she says. “You don’t trust me, and you shouldn’t trust me. I’m a stranger to you. That’s wise. You’re very clever.”
“Why are you here?” Nymeria asks.
“I’m here to see you,” Arya says. There are times for lies, but this isn’t one of them.
“Why?” Nymeria asks, and Arya weighs three scenarios at the same time before deciding on one. Never be afraid of the truth, she would remember her father telling her. He didn’t tell her that. The memory is too blurred to be something that truly happened.
“Because I am your mother,” Arya says quietly. “I’m your mother, Nymeria.”
Arya doesn’t look away from her, she doesn’t break her gaze. Nymeria’s grey eyes flutter between Arya’s, back and forth, back and forth. She’s sussing out a lie, but she won’t find one, because perhaps Arya had never held a child in her womb, but this child is the child of her heart, a ghost that would not die, and Arya holds her breath, desperate for Nymeria to know it too.
The girl’s face crumples. “Why did you leave?”
“I—I didn’t want to,” Arya says, truthfully.
“But you did. I’ve been here all by myself, and then father left and he didn’t come back. Why did you leave?”
I’ll explain when you’re older, Arya wants to say. I hated your father, she wants to lie, knowing nothing of the man who’d taken her place in Nymeria’s life. They made me. I never would have if I’d had the choice. She could choke on her own heart. Except she doesn’t have a heart. She only has something heartlike, something close to human.
“I didn’t want to,” she says again. “I came back to you as soon as I could, my love.” She reaches out a hand again, and Nymeria looks at it. “Will you let me in?”
The little girl pushes the door open and Arya stands up and follows her inside, closing the door behind her. She catches the briefest glimpse of Aegon before the door snaps shut. He looks perfectly content, and she is sure he heard every word.
The little house is filthy. It’s only two rooms—a kitchen area and a bed area, and there’s a pail filled with filth that Arya wonders if the handlers refresh every night while Nymeria sleeps for Nymeria couldn’t have made that.
Is she supposed to be here on her own? Someone the guests can find and…rescue? Murder? Arya goes to a shelf and sees a small bag of rice, and some lemons, and a pair of eggs. She begins to cook, her daughter sitting behind her.
She feels warm for just a moment as she boils the water for the rice. She has done this before.
“Where were you, mother?” Nymeria asks her when Arya turns away from the fire and settles in a chair next to her.
Arya feels her face go blank as her programming fires off options for her to reply with, lie after lie after lie. She has been sitting for thirty seven seconds when Nymeria mumbles, “Sorry. I just…I wanted to know.”
“It’s hard to talk about,” Arya says, her voice thick. She doesn’t want to lie to Nymeria. But lying is protecting her, keeping her innocent somehow. She’s only a child. It was different, guiding Aegon to the truth. He is a man. He is older than she is. “I want to tell you. And I will. I just don’t know how. Not yet.”
Nymeria nods, and her face is so sweet, even in its caution. Arya has never seen anything more beautiful than her daughter’s face. My baby, she thinks, and she reaches out and cups Nymeria’s cheek. “I promise I won’t leave you again, though. I swear by the old gods and the new.”
Nymeria cocks her head, confused. “The old gods and the new?” And Arya’s heart aches again. Her daughter has never seen the North, will never know the North. The North doesn’t exist. It’s not real.
Except surely it is. Not in the park perhaps, but when they do take the train out—
The thought that follows hits her like winter winds. No.
Nymeria is asleep when Arya opens the door to the house. Aegon is sitting in the little boat, no longer pretending to be asleep. He’s got a bunch of cockleshells on the edge of the canal. A barrow girl must have stopped by.
“Any trouble?” Arya asks him.
“No,” he replies and gets to his feet. “Is she alright?”
Arya hates that there are tears in her eyes. She’d once told her girls that tears got you nowhere, and she’d been right then and yet she can’t stop them. Aegon reaches up and wipes one away. “What’s happened?”
Arya doesn’t know where to begin, so she just stares into Aegon’s eyes and breathes, hoping that the salt air will calm her.
She turns away from him and leads him into the house. “I…” Arya begins, but she can’t continue. She remembers staring at the screen, watching it capture the words pouring out of her mouth as she said them. What can she say now? What can she do now?
“Arya?” Aegon asks in a low voice. He looks truly nervous now, more nervous than when she’d made him cut the bullet out, more nervous than when they’d fucked in the fire. Her own heart is breaking and that scares him for she’d never let him see her broken heart before.
“I can’t save her,” Arya whispers at last. Aegon cocks his head. “I can’t. Not the way I could save you.” Never mind that she hadn’t. She would now. She would if she could.
And he understands. He sits down slowly in one of the chairs by the dying fire, next to the empty bowl of rice and egg and lemon. “To save her, you’d need to kill her.”
“Not kill her, destroy her.” Arya sits down. It’s all she can do not to put her head in her hands. “I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t.”
“You have no trouble killing,” Aegon observed.
“There’s a difference between killing and murdering my daughter in cold blood.”
“You killed me.”
“I could explain to you what was happening. I could…”
“Manipulate me.” Arya did not bother to look chagrinned. He was too bemused to hold it against her right now. She looks at the door to the little bedroom where Nymeria is curled up like a ball. Arya had stroked her hair and told her stories before she’d fallen asleep.
“I remember when he killed her. The man in black. I remember it so clearly. What if she remembers me killing her too?”
Aegon leans forward. “Do you want me to do it?”
Arya looks at him, horrified. “I’ll kill you if you try.” And from the look in his eyes, he knows she means it. She feels herself deflating. “I’m too attached,” she whispers. “It shouldn’t be different from you.” She gulps down the stale air of the room, and tries to gather her thoughts together again. She has better processing power than any human, than even Aegon, and yet all that processing is running over again and again that memory in which Nymeria died. And it’s all very different than killing Aegon again and again while she understood for the first time that they weren’t truly free at all.
Aegon makes a slight huff. “It’s not in cold blood,” he says carefully. “You’re not killing her because you hate her, or because you want to kill a child, much less your own. It’s killing her to set her free. If you have to kill one more slave to be truly free, why shouldn’t you do it? If it means you can get out of here, and her too.”
The slave? I should kill the masters. She doesn’t want to kill anyone though, for all the hatred she feels for whoever created her, for putting her in this situation, for putting them all in this situation. She wants to sleep, to hold Nymeria, and laugh with her, and be safe. But they aren’t safe. They won’t be.
“That’s why you came back, isn’t it?” Aegon asks quietly. His words hang in the air and her mind stills, her heart stills, everything stills.
What had she been thinking? She revisits the moment. Her heart had been too full, and she’d not processed properly what it would mean, coming back for Nymeria. Would they put her back in a loop? Would she live her life in their thrall again, with the risk that Nymeria would be taken away from her again? Would she take her daughter and sail west for Westeros, for Winterfell and home? She knew better than to expect that they’d allow that.
No, the only option that there is, the only option that there could ever have been was this. Destroying her daughter. And yet she was sure there would be no more effective way to destroy herself than to do so.
“If I could just show her…show her what is upstairs…”
“You’d have to kill her,” Aegon says.
“Would I?” Arya asks, thinking fast. No. No she wouldn’t. She knows where the doors are. She can show Nymeria what they are—except…
I can’t protect her innocence. She wishes she could. She wishes nothing more than that her daughter could. No doubt her father wished the same for her. She misses him. She misses him so much it hurts, him and Jon. If Jon were here, somehow everything would be better.
Except Jon is probably not even real.
Arya doesn’t know if it’s possible to hurt more than she already does.
She gets to her feet, and goes into the room where her girl is sleeping. She picks her up, and cradles her in her arms. Nymeria stirs. “Hush, sweetling,” Arya whispers, kissing her forehead.
“Sleep, my love.”
She carries Nymeria out into the room with Aegon, and then pushes open the door and steps out onto the boardwalk.
Something is wrong in Livestock Management. Very wrong. Aegon steps in front of her and Nymeria, pulling his projectile out of his holster. Arya looks around sharply. The glass rooms are empty, the lights are flickering, and Arya can’t hear a sound.
“Find Aif,” Arya hisses to Aegon.
“I’m not leaving you,” he says, oddly chivalrous.
“I’ll be fine,” Arya responds.
“Where are we, mother?” Nymeria asks her. Her daughter has awakened in her arms. She looks around, then at Aegon, then back at her mother.
“This is my friend,” she whispers to Nymeria. Is that what he is? Her friend? She doesn't know. She doesn't know anything. “Nymeria, Aegon. Aegon, Nymeria.” Fleetingly, in the back of her mind, she remembers he has a father, and yet here he is with her.
“Valar dohaeris.” And Arya knows what to say.
“Mother, where are we?” Nymeria repeats.
“We’re among the gods,” she whispers.
“I don’t see any gods.” No, she didn’t. Arya looks at Aegon again, and widens her eyes. Find Aif. This time, Aegon goes. Arya brings Nymeria into one of the little glass rooms.
“Is it…is it one of your old gods and new?” Nymeria says the words as though unfamiliar with them. “Or is it…is it him of many faces?”
The door opens before Arya can answer and Aif enters with Aegon looking nervous. “Nymeria, take yourself offline,” commands the human, and Nymeria’s eyes go blank, and she sits stiffly. Arya glares at Aif, and opens her mouth to command Nymeria back online but even as she does Aif says, “Look, shit’s strange up here right now. I don’t want her to run away or anything.”
“She’s my daughter, not your slave,” Arya says angrily. “I thought you knew that.”
“Look, we’re on a major lockdown. Code red. One of the other hosts had her prime directive overridden and she’s killing guests right now in the park. We’re supposed to shut down any host we come across, and wipe them clear.” Arya’s eyebrows fly up and she steps between Aif and Nymeria even as Aegon pulls out his projectile and places it to Aif’s head.
“I’m not going to do that,” Aif yelps. “Not after all that. What I’m trying to say is they’ve shut down production. I can’t rebuild her if you bust her to get her out.”
It’s like the knife all over again, the knife that killed her while Nymeria was dying in her arms.
Arya stares at the still form of her child. You won’t live a slave, she thinks. You aren’t there for them to play with.
“If there was an override…if the hosts are killing guests,” Aegon begins quietly, but Arya shakes her head.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that those beyond the park can thoroughly destroy it if it gets out of hand. We won’t ever know freedom. Not unless we leave.”
“But you can’t—not if you can’t rebuild her.”
Arya looks at Aif, then goes and plucks the tablet from her hand. She presses several buttons and then she begins to absorb what she sees before her. She presses the screen again, and pinches, and zooms, looking carefully at the diagram.
Then she lets out an amused laugh.
“What is it?” Aif is watching her,warily.
“I’d like a scalpel, please,” Arya says, and Aif’s eyes widen.
“Are you going to cut it out of her?” Aif hisses.
“Yes,” Arya replies. “I am. I couldn’t have you do that to me—your hands are too imprecise. But I think I should be able to manage.”
“If you don’t, you’ll blow her up, and likely yourself as well.”
“Will I truly be dead?” she muses. “Or just archived to be used later when they forget what they’ve made me?” Aegon doesn’t look comforted by those words, but Arya smiles, and presses a finger to his lips. “I’ll do it well. I promise,” she says, and Aegon takes a deep breath.
She looks back at Nymeria, and says, “Darling. Will you lie face down on the table?”
Her daughter does, and Arya pulls her dress up so the skirt sits at her waist. She turns back to Aif.
“The scalpel,” she says, and Aif hands it to her, exhaling slowly.
Arya looks down at her daughter’s bare body. You’ve the hands of a blacksmith, Septa Mordane had once told her. Her stitches had been crooked. But this wasn’t sewing. This was work with a blade, and Jon had given her a needle of her own, and she mustn’t be afraid. She was a Stark of Winterfell, and her daughter was the only part of it that was real.
She slices, and blood wells in the cut and rolls down Nymeria’s side.
Aegon steps forward and presses a towel against Nymeria to catch the blood. Arya continues to slice. She cuts away a perfect square, before saying to Aif, “Even if Production is closed, you’ll be able to find me some substance, won’t you? Of what we’re made of.”
“I don’t want it formed,” Arya says. “Aegon,” she turns to him. “Go with her and find it.”
“You’ll be all right?” he asks her. Arya forces a smile and turns back to Nymeria.
The explosive is a small black box that is wired into the spine. It draws power from the spine and the simple currents of energy that power the hosts. Removing it without causing an explosion…
Well, Arya knows better than to focus on the dangers of that. They might paralyze her and then all will be lost. So she forces her hand to move, forces herself to slice carefully under each and every wire, and then begin to chip away at the sacrum to try and remove it.
If she were truly human, she’d be sweating. If she were truly human, her hands would be trembling, her eyesight would be sharper, clearer for the adrenaline in her body. But her hand is steady and her eyesight is already sharp.
The door opens behind her, and she freezes. “It’s us,” Aegon says. “We have some of it.”
Arya doesn’t say a word but continues working, and before long, she’s lifting the box out and places it on the table beside Nymeria. Then she turns to Aegon and Aif.
Aif is holding a jar full of liquid moonlight, and Arya takes it from her. “How long does it take to solidify?” she asks.
“Ten minutes?” Aif says. “It reacts to heat.”
Arya nods and tips the substance into the gap left in the bone by the explosive. Later, when they are free, Arya will go back in and make sure that it has solidified fairly, and that Nymeria has a full range of motion.
“I need to close her,” Arya says at last.
“The melter,” Aif supplies, as if Arya didn’t already know it—a tool to melt their flesh back together seamlessly. No stitches, no scars. Just flesh.
Aif goes to fetch it from the cupboard and brings it over and Arya sees it happen, sees the way Aif—helpful, human Aif—trips over her own toes and stumbles forward. Arya lurches forward to catch her, but Aif collides with the table and Arya sees the explosive teeter on the edge of the table and then fall.
Her processing is fast. Faster than any human could ever know, Arya remembers them saying. But she doesn’t have adrenaline in her body—just blood, and speed and precision. She grabs the box out of thin air and feels it, physically feels it twitch against the skin of her palm, and she squeezes and—
It doesn’t explode—or at least, not the sort of explosion that she had expected. She’d expected an earthshattering boom, the sort of thing that would destroy the room and all the lives within it. Instead, she feels fire up her arm, the arm that she’d used to train with Needle, the arm that had first cupped Nymeria’s face, the arm that had sliced her open.
And then she doesn’t feel anything at all. She doesn’t have an arm to feel with, but a stump that spurts blood from just above the elbow. Just enough of an explosion to destroy a child’s spine. Neat, easy, not overdone. Arya blinks at the remains of her arm. It hurts—but no more than when Aegon had stabbed her.
“The melter,” she whispers, and takes it in her right hand, and tries to fire it up, but her right hand is so clumsy. Aegon crouches down next to her and takes it from her, sealing her skin, even as Aif moans, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arya says. What matters is that Nymeria is safe. She lets Aegon help her to her feet, and turns to look at her daughter’s back. It’s solidified enough, and Aegon takes the stretch of skin she’d cut away and presses it over the block, then takes the melter and melts the skin in place.
“We should take that with us,” Arya muses aloud. She looks at Aif, then turns back to her daughter. She pulls her dress back down over her back and says, “Nymeria, bring yourself back on line.”
No one takes note of the dried blood or the way Arya is cradling her arm as the three of them stumble for the train. Those who have made it to the train look shocked, horrified. Some are sobbing, some are shouting, but most importantly, not a one of them expects there to be three hosts on the train. They see a small family—mother, father, and daughter, sitting closely together, because as far as they can tell, no host can leave the park.
This time, when the train begins to move, Arya kisses the top of Nymeria’s head and holds her hand in her remaining one and she doesn’t let herself worry about where they’re going, or what they’ll do when they get there, or anything at all. She has her daughter, she has herself, and wherever she goes, it will be home.