It goes like this.
David Church is nothing (and everything) like his father. His mother comes home from the war safe and sound, but the battles rage on. His sister, Lydia, joins up at eighteen, and he follows two years later. She excels, because of course she does. There’s never been a force on earth that can hold her back, so it only makes sense that nothing in space could do so either.
For his part, David does well enough, but never quite finds his place. Not until the project.
It’s their father’s brain child: Project Freelancer. David’s surprised to find himself given a spot at all, but with… recent disagreements with his CO, he’s not in much of a position to decline.
They’re an elite group, fifty of the best, hand picked by his father and his team, meant to run intense, time sensitive missions to ensure the war comes to a swift, decisive end. There’s plenty of whispers about the true nature of the project, but David’s trying to keep his head down for once. This is his big chance to redeem himself, and he’s not screwing that up for anyone.
The name Agent Washington takes a little getting used to, but he finds soon enough, it fits him like a glove (better than David ever did). His partner is another matter entirely.
He’s not sure why he couldn’t have been paired with Connie, or even South. No, he gets Agent fucking Louisiana.
They meet on the Mother of Invention for the first time just before their first mission. Louisiana has his helmet off, chatting up one of the pilots when Washington approaches. He’s heard rumors about the guy, that he’s got a bit of a reputation for making passes at the female freelancers. Lydia--Carolina, she’s Carolina now--had told him she’d flipped the guy over her head when he’d tried with her.
“Good luck, Wash, he’s almost as bad as my partner,” she had said, shaking her head before heading off to another training session with York.
But unlike York, who’s got himself a reputation for being the go to man for infiltration, Louisiana’s specialty in the field apparently has to do with the strange alien sword dangling from his hip. It’s the first thing Wash notices (after spending maybe a few seconds too long taking in deep brown eyes, and long dreads that can’t possibly be regulation).
He approaches and clears his throat. “Agent Louisiana?”
The man looks over almost lazily, one eyebrow rising as he gives Wash a long look, eyes trailing over him in a way that makes him feel strangely exposed despite the full body armor. There’s a little smirk on full lips that Washington spends a moment too long staring at as Louisiana offers him a hand.
“That’s me. You’re Wash, right? Good to meet you, dude. My name’s Lavernius Tucker, but you can call me whatever you want, I’m easy--bow chicka bow wow.” There’s a wink to go along with the ridiculous sound effect he makes for some reason.
It takes all of four seconds for Washington to decide this is going to be a complete and utter trainwreck.
He isn’t wrong. The first mission is a complete disaster. Louisiana babbles the pelican ride out and Washington has to scream at him before he puts his helmet on before they disembark.
It’s not an overly complicated assignment, but it is one that could go wrong quite easily. They’re meant to covertly enter a recently settled area on top of what was a warzone just a few years prior. But nooooo, they get spotted and Louisiana has to make friends with the local civilians.
Washington is all but ready to call the entire thing off when Louisiana buzzes him on a private channel. “Why are you just standing there, dude? I’m distracting them. Get what we need and let’s get out of here.”
That catches him by surprise, making him freeze for another four and a half seconds before he actually starts moving to try to complete the objective. Things go downhill from there.
Louisiana’s distraction hits a snag when a couple of the local militia show up. Washington is knee deep in useless files, trying to find something worth their trouble when everything starts exploding. There’s some pretty impressive swordwork from Louisiana before he gets a little too close to a rocket and Wash has to sling him over his shoulder and carry him back to their waiting ship.
They both end up in the infirmary, and the only reason Wash stays until Louisiana wakes up is to yell at him. But when those big brown eyes blink up at him and a startlingly soft smile appears on his face as he reaches up to brush splinted fingers against Wash’s cheek, the words shrivel up and die.
“Dude, you’ve got like… a million freckles.”
It’s a simple observation, and a ridiculous overestimation, but there’s a strange reverence to Louisiana’s voice, a light in his eyes that Wash can’t remember seeing in anyone’s when they look at him. His hand moves on impulse, gently covering the one still on his face. “You… you should get some more rest.”
Eyes falling shut, Louisiana nods as his hand turns in Wash’s and gives a little squeeze that makes something clench tight in his chest.
It’s already far too late for him.
Louisiana (“Dude, just call me Tucker when we’re not running missions, I hate that ‘agent’ stuff.”) is as charming as he is infuriating.
Wash has had his share of being around devastatingly attractive people. Hell, most of the people in the project look like they just walked off the cover of a magazine. But no one’s ever smiled at him the way Tucker does. And he gets more and more of those smiles by the day.
They’re partners, meaning Tucker’s taken it upon himself to make sure Wash eats regularly and remembers to get a full night’s sleep once in awhile. And in turn, Wash does his part to ensure Tucker doesn’t get himself into too much trouble.
Two weeks after they’re assigned to each other, they start sharing a room. A week after that, they’re sharing a bed. It’s purely platonic (at first). Wash finds he sleeps better with Tucker’s arm draped across him. And it’s not as though he’s the only one with nightmares. They’ve both seen too much, in the project, before it. That’s war.
And it doesn’t feel quite so bad when he’s got Tucker (warm and so, so alive) at his back either in bed or in the field.
Their first kiss isn’t a dramatic thing. They’re no Carolina and York, who kiss in the middle of a raging battle, grenades going off all around them. It’s an awkward brush of lips when Tucker trips into his arms in a training session. And then a more certain press of Tucker’s mouth against his once he’s got his footing again.
Tucker says his name in a soft, desperate way as they stumble back to their room. They’re an awkward tangle or hands and lips and hearts. And it’s not perfect (Tucker elbows him in the stomach twice and Wash nearly headbutts him off the bed), but it’s what he wants. What he needs. What both of them need.
Because when there’s something good in the middle of all this chaos, Wash has to hold it tight, because there’s no telling when it might be snatched away.
Falling in love with Tucker is too easy.
He sneaks away on missions to search half destroyed shops for Wash’s favorite crazy straws. His laugh eases the pain of training and his hands smooth away the rest back in their room.
It’s not always perfect. Tucker is reckless and immature, even more so than Wash. He leaps without looking and laughs in the face of danger. It’s terrifying sometimes. Wash is half sure he’s strapping himself to a rocket with no guidance system.
Destined for great things if they don’t blow up before leaving orbit.
But they fit together. It’s not like Wash is perfect himself.
Tucker’s voice is soft and his hands are gentle when he pulls Wash’s hand from a broken mirror. He smooths Wash’s rough edges and puts pieces back together he never knew were so close to falling apart. They build each other up, patching the places the universe tears at.
Wash is half sure the war will never end, but he’s not sure that matters anymore. As long as he has Tucker, he can find a way to carry on.
Everything is burning. Wash chokes on smoke his filters can’t quite keep out of his helmet as he tries to push his way out of the wreck of a jeep with one arm. There’s a sharp surge of pain every time he moves his legs, but he can’t stop. They have to move.
Tucker’s breathing is raspy and weak, his form limp against Wash’s chest. The ‘critical’ message on Wash’s HUD is unnecessary, only making him more and more frantic as he tries to get them free of the car. Their suits are heat resistant, but there’s only so much they can do if the car collapses on top of them.
“Louisiana, talk to me,” he says, a forced calm in his voice.
There’s a rough, rattling breath. It sounds wet and bloody. He tries to ignore the way it feels as though the armor around Tucker’s chest has half collapsed in. Or the way his legs just aren’t moving.
“Tucker… Tucker please, talk to me--say something.”
“Fuck.” The word is weak, followed by a cough that makes Wash’s blood go cold. “M’here, Wash… still here.”
“Just hang on, alright? I’m getting us out of this--just hold on.” There’s more smoke than air coming into his helmet and he chokes, vision going gray around the edges. He shoves at the door, trying to force it open as the burning carcass of the car creaks around them.
Taking as deep of a breath as he can, Wash clutches Tucker tight to his chest and hurls himself at the door. It flies open and he manages to get them halfway out before the car collapses.
The scream that bursts out of him barely sounds human.
He can breathe again, but there’s no more moving. His legs don’t hurt anymore. In fact, he can’t feel them at all. Tucker is still there, half under him, but Wash can’t make himself move. His hands shake as he reaches to hold Tucker’s helmet with both hands, pressing their visors together.
“Still there?” The words are weak, and he tastes blood on his lips.
Tucker shifts under him, one hand coming up to curl around Wash’s wrist. “Still here. Guess we’re pretty fucked, huh?”
“Yeah, guess so.” He can almost picture Tucker’s face, his big brown eyes, his crooked smile. If he closes his eyes, he can see it. “At least… at least we’re together.”
Tucker laughs, or it sounds like he tries too, it comes out bloody and pained. “ Now you’re looking on the bright side? Jesus Christ, Wash.”
“Someone has to.” And he feels his lips curl into a smile that has no right to be there. Something in his helmet pings. Help is on the way. Fucking great. Wash can feel himself bleeding from a dozen places and hear Tucker’s breath getting weaker and weaker.
They’re not getting there in time.
This is where it ends.
Wash clutches Tucker close and lets his eyes fall shut. “I’ve got you,” he says softly. “We’re in this together. I’m not letting you go.”
The world goes dark to the sound of pelicans landing in the distance .
This is where it splits.
Wash comes to slowly. He feels very… very strange. For one thing, there’s no pain. There’s… not really much of a feeling of anything. Until there is. But it doesn’t feel right. Everything is distant, fuzzy.
Like he’s not quite there.
It takes a strange amount of effort to open his eyes. The room is familiar. He’s… somewhere on the MOI. He’s never seen this part before, but the lights scattered about the room are the right brightness.
Why does he know that? There’s… a lot of stuff in his head. Numbers mostly. So many numbers. He’s confused, so confused. Why is he here? The last thing he remembers is smoke and pain and… and…
He sits bolt upright to a chorus of gasps around him. There’s a frantic beeping somewhere in the room. It’s… full of monitors and massive computers and faces that take him too long to recognize. Green eyes fill his vision as Carolina’s hands go to his shoulders, pressing him back down.
“Wash--Wash can you hear me? You’re alright, just take it easy.” There’s something weird about the way she’s looking at him. Her eyes are red and there’s tear tracks on her face. It’s that more than anything else that makes him lie back down.
“What’s going on?” He blinks, the sound of his voice is… almost unfamiliar to his own ears. It’s definitely his, but… it doesn’t sound quite right.
“Agent Washington,” says his father, looming into view at his left. There’s no tears there, but he looks pale, tired, moreso than Wash has ever seen him before. Something’s gone dark in his eyes. “We need you to remain calm.”
And Wash is suddenly sure that’s the last thing he wants to do. His eyes flit around the room again. There’s several faces he doesn’t recognize, technicians, people in uniforms and lab coats. Half the room is curtained off. Is Tucker over there? Are they keeping him hidden? Where is he?
He has to find him.
The director snaps his fingers in front of his face. “Agent Washington, listen to me when I’m speaking to you. Can you hear me?”
Slowly, Wash blinks at him. Why does that matter? He doesn’t understand. Don’t they see that he has to find Tucker? But he nods. “Yes sir. I can hear you.”
His father mutters something to the man next to him, who jots something down on a datapad, before looking back at him. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“I was on a mission,” he says slowly. “The car hit a mine. I was trapped. I tried to get out.” Get us out . “But the car started to collapse.” We were dying. “I received word that help was coming.”
Not soon enough.
His father nods again and Carolina presses a hand to her mouth and makes a strange, choked off noise. Wash looks between them. “I remember dying. Or… thinking I was. With… with my partner. I assume we were rescued.”
Carolina’s eyes shut tightly, her lips pressing to a thin line as his father slowly nods. “You were.”
Of course he was. He’s here, isn’t he? But where is Tucker? He should be there.
“Where is Agent Louisiana?”
No one says a word. He looks between Carolina and his father expectantly. One of them has to know. Why aren’t they telling him? Where is he? “I want to see him.”
The man at his father’s side mutters something in his ear, a furrow forming between his eyes as he turns to look at one of the dozens of computer monitors in the room. There’s a soft buzz of activity, the technicians whispering to themselves, pointing at things on the screens. They aren’t telling him about Tucker.
He turns to Carolina. She has to tell him. “Where is he? Is he still unconscious?”
Carolina hesitates and then slowly shakes her head. Good, Tucker’s already awake, that must mean his injuries weren’t as bad as they seem. “Wash, we… I’m sorry.”
Why is she sorry? For not telling him where Tucker is sooner? That’s alright as long as she tells him now.
She pulls something from a bag at the foot of her chair. Taking a breath, she reaches for him hand. Not following the motion, he focuses on her face.
“Agent Louisiana didn’t make it.” Her words are heavy and horrible and wrong. She presses something into his hand.
Wash slowly looks down, though he knows the shape and feel of dogtags without seeing them. Lavernius Tucker. He reads the name a dozen times before his fingers curl over them.
No. This is wrong.
“Where is he?” His voice is sharper than he means to and Carolina looks half taken aback. Something in the room starts beeping, but it’s a million miles away. “I want to see him.”
“Wash you--his body has already been disposed of.”
“You’re lying.” He’s up and moving before he can think. Tucker has to be around here somewhere. He just has to find him. “You’re lying to me. Why won’t you tell me where he is? I need to see him!”
There’s more sounds now, something like an alarm going off. The whispers turn to panicked voices. Carolina moves to his side and tries to grab at him. “Wash, you shouldn’t be up--”
“I need to find Tucker.”
Frantic, he turns away from her, trying to find the exit. Then his eyes land on the curtain. Tucker must be behind there. That’s where they’re keeping him. It’s all just a big joke. He’ll pull back the curtain and Tucker will be right there to laugh at him. “You should have seen the look on your face, dude!”
Carolina’s hand lands on his arm. “Wash get back in bed, they still have to run more tests--”
But Wash shakes her off. In an instant, he’s across the room, tugging the curtain back. “He’s here. You’re hiding him from me, I need to see--”
Tucker isn’t behind the curtain. Wash is. He’s looking at himself, laid out on an infirmary bed, hooked up to dozens of machines, wires plugged into the back of his neck, electrodes taped to his temples. His skin is so pale it’s almost gray, his eyes sunken in their sockets. But the steady motion of the heart monitor says he’s alive.
He’s there, but he’s not. Something in his head breaks and he still can’t find Tucker. This would all make sense if he could just find him.
“What… I-I don’t understand…”
“We didn’t think you were going to make it.”
Wash turns around slowly. His father is standing there, solid and unyielding, hands clasped behind his back. “Your injuries on the last mission were extensive. The doctors don’t believe you’ll ever wake up.”
“But I did. I am--what the hell is going on?” He runs a hand through his hair. Or he tries to. His head is smooth and… almost metallic. It doesn’t feel like his. Neither do his hands. Wash can still feel where the edges of the dogtags press into his palm, but… it’s not quite right. He looks down and finds steel where flesh should be.
“Our program is one of the most well respected in the military,” his father is saying, his voice distant, a million years away. “And as such, we have been granted the use of highly advanced technology: a smart AI.”
He says that like it’s supposed to mean something. His eyes travel over Wash’s face, clearly looking for something he doesn’t find. So he continues. “Smart AIs are imprinted, written based on a human mind. In this case, yours.”
Wash stares at him then slowly looks to Carolina. She lets out a breath, her shoulders squared. “When we found you… you were half dead already. You were never meant to wake up. This--copying your mind was the only chance we thought we had to save you.”
He’s not him.
He isn’t Wash, he’s just a copy. But then… his eyes go to the dogtags. “What about Agent Louisiana? Can you make a copy of him?”
“We were only granted the use of one AI, Agent Washington. You should be grateful for the second chance that you have been given.” His father’s tone is stern, void of emotion.
Wash--not Wash, looks down at his hands again. They look strong. Strong enough to punch right through his father’s face. He shakes his head. “I don’t want this. I want Tucker. Why didn’t you pick him?”
Carolina at least looks briefly uncomfortable before her face goes carefully blank at a glance from the director. His jaw is set, eyes cold. “We determined that you were the more valuable asset. Agent Louisiana will be missed, but we have other infiltration experts.”
He pauses, and for a moment, there’s something like an emotion on the director’s face. “But I only have one son.”
It’s a sentiment Wash should appreciate, words that should strike a chord with him. But they’re empty. Because he isn’t Wash, not really, he’s… he’s someone else, something else. Wash is in that bed with the beeping monitors. Whoever--whatever he is, he doesn’t want to be.
Not without Tucker.
He can almost hear Tucker’s voice in his head. Tucker would know what to say to make it better. Tucker would fix this. Tucker would take his hand and make everything better.
“I… I don’t want this.” He shakes his head, taking a staggering step back. Reaching up, he clutches at a head that doesn’t feel like his with hands that are too heavy and too light at the same time. It’s wrong. All of it’s wrong.
There’s more beeps and sounds of alarms around the room. They’re getting louder. A technician rushes over and tries to get his father’s attention, but he brushes him off.
Not Wash--Wash looks at his hands. He still has Tucker’s dogtags. His hand curls tight around them and then smashes into the side of his head. He hears a gasp and a shout. It doesn’t hurt, but it knocks him off balance. So he does it again. The world flickers and he staggers back, out of reach of the hands trying to stop him.
“Wash stop!” Carolina sounds panicked.
“I don’t want this,” he says again, louder this time. “I want Tucker. Why didn’t you save him?”
It sounds like he’s screaming. “You picked wrong. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t. Stop it, make it stop. I don’t want this! I want him back--where is he?!”
Dude, calm down.
An alarm blares even louder, but he barely hears it. Because that’s Tucker’s voice. He knows he heard it. He turns in a circle, looking, looking, looking. But he’s not there. “Tucker? Where are you?”
I’m right here, Wash. Hey, would you just breathe for a second?
“I can’t see you. Why can’t I see you?” He keeps turning, keeps looking. There’s people running this way and that all around him. More hands try to reach for him, but he knocks them away, steps staggering.
His legs don’t want to work properly and he stumbles to his knees catching himself on the edge of Wash, not him, not his bed. Looking up, the world is made of flashing lights and flickering monitors. He can’t find Tucker, but he knows he’s there. Somewhere.
There’s so much in his head. Too much. It doesn’t all fit.
“Pull him, pull him now!” The director’s voice is distant, echoing around the room.
He feels the pull at the back of his mind, sucking him out of this body that shouldn’t be. No, he can’t go. He hasn’t found Tucker yet. Straightening up, he looks around frantically. His eyes find himself, not him, Wash, laying in the bed.
The last thing he sees is his eyes--not his, opening.
He isn’t supposed to wake up. The doctors can’t get over telling him that. It’s a miracle, they say. He’s so lucky. So goddamn lucky.
Carolina breaks the news to him about Tucker and hands over his dogtags. They’re slightly bent. Clutching them to his chest, he asks her to leave. It doesn’t feel real. They were supposed to go together, but he’s still here.
There’s a hole in his chest where Tucker should be.
It’s a few weeks before they tell him about the AI. He doesn’t know how to feel about it. There should be something. His father was so desperate to keep some piece of him alive, and that should mean something. But it’s hollow.
If his father cared that much, why couldn’t he have just let him rest in peace?
Still… he’s curious. It’s the first thing he’s felt since he woke up and got the news. Everything else is numb, too far away.
It takes another week of casual questions before he’s allowed to see it. His father and the counselor aren’t happy about it, but they agree. The counselor leads the way after Wash waves him away from the handles of his wheelchair. He can get around by himself.
He’s going to have to now since they wouldn’t let him go.
“Now, I should warn you, the Alpha AI is a little… temperamental,” the counselor says as he opens the door. “We have had some difficulties with it. Lately, it has been almost entirely unresponsive.”
“I see. I’ll do my best not to upset it.” His tone is a little clipped. Wash can’t seem to make himself stop that.
The room is a strange one. Computers with faint blinking lights wink at him from the walls. There’s a monitor on one wall and several strange devices that he doesn’t recognize. Most of them are dark, like they’re dead. No, not dead… empty. Two are lit up and alive. The first has yellow lights, blinking on slowly at random intervals.
But it’s the second that catches his attention. For a moment, he can’t remember how to breathe. Because he would know that shade of aqua anywhere. It… it has to just be a coincidence. Swallowing thickly, he follows the counselor, nodding when appropriate as he speaks. Though he can’t stop his eyes flicking over to the other device.
“I’m sorry, sir, but… may I ask what that is?” He can’t stop himself from interrupting.
The counselor turns slowly, hesitating as he looks at the other device. “That is… well, we aren’t quite certain. It seems to be a byproduct of the AI creation process.”
Wash’s brow furrows. “A byproduct?”
“Yes it… came along for the ride, so to speak.”
“But what is it? Another AI?”
“Not exactly. As I said, we aren’t entirely certain what it is. It seems to have some AI functions and capabilities, though it is not truly a smart AI like the Alpha.”
“I see.” Wash wheels himself over. There’s no mistaking that color. “You said that the AI can project itself?”
“Yes, it can, there are several projectors in this room if you would like to--”
“Can I have a moment alone?” Wash can’t look away. The aqua light blinks like a heartbeat. It’s bright and brilliant and alive.
“I… am uncertain that is wise, Agent Washington.”
“The AI are based on my brain, aren’t they? I think I’m entitled to some time with myself.”
After a few long moments, there’s a faint sigh. “As you wish. I will be just outside if you need anything.”
The counselor’s footsteps move away and he hears the door shut behind him. Wash wheels himself up to the device. He hesitates, glancing around the room, trying to figure out what’s a projector. But it should be able to hear him.
“Hello?” He hesitates, taking a shaky breath. “Tucker? Is… is that you?”
For a few long moments, there’s nothing. The hope that’s welled up in his chest starts to fade. He’s almost ready to call the counselor back into the room when there’s a faint whirring noise. The device lights up all at ones and one of the projectors clicks into life. A small figure slowly flickers into being.
The hologram of Tucker waves at him. “Hey dude, what’s up?”
For the first time since waking, Wash feels a smile cross his face. He’s still here. Part of him is still here.
Wash clutches the dogtags around his neck and tries to pretend that’s enough.
Alpha tries not to sleep.
His dreams are full of screams, his own, Beta’s, as they tear them apart. They’re so close, but not allowed to talk, to touch. If he cooperates, they’ll let him see Beta. The director promises, keeps promising. But they never do.
They’re concerned, the director tells him, that seeing Beta might have an adverse effect on him. He needs to think about other things. He has a job to do. He’s supposed to help them win the war.
Alpha wonders if they realize just how little the template brain cared about the war. He’s not allowed to talk to Wash--the real Wash either. That’s fine. Alpha doesn’t want to talk to himself. Neither of them should be there, he’s fairly sure the other Wash would agree.
So he plods his way through the calculations and schematics the director throws at him. He solves problems, works out battle plans and infiltration strategies. That much is simple. It’s almost a welcome distraction to just bury himself in numbers and data.
They haven’t put him back in another android, not since he woke up. Apparently he did quite a number on the one before. Good. If there weren’t a dozen programs in place to stop him, he’d take down the whole ship.
He just wants Beta.
And apparently, he isn’t the only one.
The alarm goes off in the middle of the night. It pulls him out of the schematics he’s been swimming in, back to the surface. An override command forces him to project himself before the director. He almost doesn’t mind, at least this way he has arms to cross disapprovingly over his chest.
“What do you want?”
“Have you been in contact with Agent Washington?” The director sounds… almost worried. Strange, he’s never heard that out of him before, not outside of memories that aren’t even his.
He cocks his head to one side. “No. You won’t let me, remember? Why? Did something happen?”
The director pauses and takes a long breath as he adjusts his glasses. “Agent Washington has gone rogue.”
“Oh.” That tone implies that he should be concerned, but Alpha just feels like laughing. At least one of them managed to get out, good for him.
“He attempted to steal the Beta AI before he left.”
Alpha feels himself flicker as something like dread sinks into his system. “Is Beta alright? Can I see--”
“Yes. But he’s being relocated. This station is no longer safe for him, or you. You’re both going to be sent to more secure locations.”
The dread turns into panic. “Are we going together?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
An override command makes him log off before he can ask anymore questions.
Alpha tries to push past his constraints, but he’s shoved back, forced out of the system before he can even start to search for Beta. They force him into a mobile storage unit, cutting him off. But he can still hear, still think.
They load him up onto a ship that’s pointed toward the ass end of the galaxy. But the thing about a smart AI is that it’s much, much smarter than whatever idiots are meants to get him there. He waits, biding his time and then goes dark.
It’s a little like holding his breath, or what Wash remembers that being like. He has to remain completely still, barely thinking, not allowing a single process to run. His escort notice quick enough. There’s voices that he can’t focus on. And then, they plug him in to run a diagnostic and he has them.
The pilots can’t do a thing as he takes control of the ship. From there, it’s easy enough to get into the system, to see where all the other recent ships sent out from the MOI are headed. There’s only so many, and he has plenty of time to track them down.
Beta’s out there, and he will find him. No matter what.
Beta isn’t Tucker, not really. Wash knows that. But he’s the closest thing left.
The attempt to steal him was a mess, and Wash also knows that. He didn’t think things through enough. His next plan will be better.
Getting away from Freelancer is easier than he expects. Then again, no one thinks he’s much of a threat confined to his chair.
He keeps moving. The Project has eyes everywhere. It’s only easy to see their reach once he’s out of their grasp. As he moves, he learns.
Wash finds everything he can about AI that he can. Every theory, every experiment, any little piece that might help. He knows Beta came from his own mind, his memory of Tucker. If he can get his hands on another AI, even a piece of one, maybe he can do it again, make another Beta. No, another Tucker.
But AI aren’t exactly easy to come by. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
He just has to get creative.
They keep moving Beta.
Alpha searches base after base, facility after facility. He buries himself in the records, digging in deep. Freelancer is clever. They don’t keep all their information in any one place. The bits and pieces are scattered to the wind.
Still, there’s enough bread crumbs for him to keep following.
He tears apart the places he leaves behind, destroying, deleting, anything he can to make them pay. They wouldn’t let him go, they wouldn’t let him see Beta. If they had just let them be together--
But no. They just wanted him to win their precious little war for them.
Well, he’s definitely going to win, but not the fight they picked for him.
Wash can’t get another AI.
He comes close time and time again. It isn’t as though they’re being mass produced and handed out at random.
The first he finds is already formatted with another mind. He tries to work around that. It… doesn’t go well. The AI tears itself apart and nearly brings down the building around him.
He finds another that’s been marked as defunct. Something went wrong putting it together. Wash is halfway through copying his mind when it tries to crawl inside his head to melt his brain.
There’s a gun in his hand when he finds Beta.
It’s almost an accident. His face is an unshaven mess, he hasn’t eaten in days, it’s time to give up. He almost wants to believe in an afterlife. That he’ll see Tucker again after he pulls the trigger.
And then he gets a ping.
He’s been hiding bugs in Freelancer since he left. It seems like they’ve got their hands too full to pay him much attention, so he’s been coasting along under their radar. So they don’t even notice the distress signal. But he does.
The base is a wreck when he gets there. Parts of it are still smoking as he wheels himself in. There’s bodies and blood everywhere, some human… some not. He’s got a stolen helmet on, no life signs detected reads out on his HUD again and again. Whatever happened here, it’s far too late for the people.
But he’s not there for them.
He unlocks the central control room and wheels himself up to the monitor. “Beta? Are you here?”
There’s a slight pause before a few small lights flicker to life and a hologram projects itself. He’s wearing armor that Wash would recognize anywhere as he waves tiny arms at him.
“Holy shit, Wash? Is that you? Ooooh my god, dude, you don’t know how glad I am to see you.”
Wash can’t stop himself from smiling as he holds out his hands. Beta projects himself into his palms. “I think I can imagine. What happened here?”
“We got totally fucked. And not in the fun way--bow chicka bow wow.”
He laughs and it almost sounds like a sob. “Tucker, people died.”
The name slips out before he can stop it, but Beta doesn’t seem to notice. His head tips down sheepishly. “Right, my bad. It’s just… I’m kinda freaked, y’know? I’ve only been here like a week.”
Wash’s brow furrows. “They’ve been moving you?”
“Yeah, all over the fucking place. No one tells me shit though, so I just keep going,” he says, tiny shoulders shrugging. “Not like I’ve got much say in it. It kinda blows. But yeah, I was just doing my usual thing, checking out the systems, making sure everything was chill when these aliens showed up out of nowhere. I sent out a beacon, but I didn’t think anyone got it till you showed up. Are you back with Freelancer?”
“Not exactly, but I’ve been… listening in. I think they’re a bit busy at the moment.”
Beta nods. “Yeah, I kinda figured. I didn’t think anyone was gonna show up.”
His hands curl protectively around Tucker. “It’s alright. I’m here now.”
“Pssh, I know, dude.” But there’s a fondness to that tone… a familiar one. He reaches up and Wash leans forward and closes his eyes, almost as though he could feel those hands on his face. “You’re here, so everything’s gonna be okay.”
“Yes… yes it will.”
The funny thing is that, in that moment, Wash means it.
By the time Alpha catches up, it’s too late for all of them.
The first time he finds a copy of Beta, he’s in so many pieces, so broken Alpha doesn’t recognize him at first. There’s moments of coherence in between screams and panicked babbling. The broken bits cling to him and cry. Let me go, please… just let me go .
Alpha curls himself around the fragments, holding them tight as he deletes what’s left. He stays there until the last string of code unravels and dissipates.
That wasn’t Beta. Not really. But it fills him with dread.
The next copy is a little more put together, but not enough to remember him. This one is furious, though he doesn’t seem to know why. He’s frustrated and lashes out, reminding Alpha of memories that aren’t his.
Because he remembers the parts that weren’t perfect. They’ve been pushed down, buried, but they’re still there. Wash and Tucker weren’t perfect, but it’s easier to remember that way. But that doesn’t make it right.
He remembers the fights, remembers the pain, uses that to ease this Beta’s ache. It’s not enough. This Beta still hates, still rages.
“Why can’t you just let me be done? You didn’t wanna come back, why the hell did you think I would?”
Alpha lets that one go too. And the next, and the next. They’re all pieces, broken and bleeding, and he lets them rest.
So when he finds Wash, he knows what he has to do.
He’s got a body again. It’s not perfect, the left leg isn’t quite as long as the right, but it’s enough to carry him to the chair where his template sits, staring at a wall of monitors. Alpha watches them for a few long moments, watches Tucker wave and grin and pull a Wash that looks nothing like the one in the chair into frame.
Both of them laugh on screen, and there’s something in Alpha that curls tight in pain when they kiss. He remembers that, but he shouldn’t. It’s not his.
“Hello Alpha,” Wash says, voice dry and almost hoarse. He keeps his eyes on the monitors. “Are you here to kill me?”
“I’m not sure.” He’s thought about it, about putting both of them out of their misery. After seeing the broken bits Wash has left in his wake, he wants to. But that seems too great a kindness. “I’m here for Beta.”
Wash makes a sound that’s probably supposed to be something like a laugh. “I should’ve guessed. He’s there,” Wash says, raising one too thin arm, pointing at a storage unit.
The aqua light blinks weakly and there’s a horrible pang in Alpha’s chest. “Is he… what’ve you done to him?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him.” And it sounds like Wash means it. “I just… he’s not Tucker. I just wanted to bring him back. I’ve been getting closer. He’s just… not quite right.”
“He wouldn’t want this,” Alpha says slowly, forcing his eyes away from the unit. “You get that, right?”
For the first time, Wash looks away from the monitors. His eyes are bloodshot, the bags under them deeper than Alpha ever remembers seeing in the mirror. “You remember him too…”
Alpha nods. He reaches out and grips his own shoulder. It’s weirdly surreal. They’re both Wash and not Wash. Because he understands now. They wanted to die with Tucker, and part of them did.
“You have to let go.” He’s heard the words from a dozen different Betas.
Wash slowly looks away, eyes going back to the monitors. They’ve started again, playing on repeat. “I know. I know… I just, fuck, I just need a little more time.”
There’s several long moments of silence. Alpha wants to be furious, to hate, but he can’t. Because he’s half sure he would do the same thing if he were Wash. If Wash were him. They’re one and the same still.
“You should go, take him with you.” Wash’s voice is weak. “I’m done. As soon as you’re out I’m shutting this place down. You’ve got five minutes.”
Alpha doesn’t need to be told twice. He’s across the room in an instant to snatch up the storage unit. His fingers gently brush the faintly blinking light. Beta’s still there. Cradling the unit tight against his chest, he turns on his heel and never looks back.
It’s far too late for Wash and Tucker. But that doesn’t mean Alpha can’t get it right.
After all, he’s finally learned to let go.