She’s clawed her way through the landscape long enough to begin to understand it even less than before.
After how many days - or months? Or years? - the only parallel Sarah can think of is between ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis and the carpenter ant. A bastardization of a doppleganger, sent out into the world to colonize it.
And she’s been in Area X long enough, searching for Felix, that she rises one morning, breaks camp, and finds herself sitting in the grass.
“Who are you?”
The other version of herself smiles, but it’s almost human, lacks the heartlessness of Area X. The other version of her is younger, though - a glitch.
She does not like it here. In fact, she wonders why she even followed Ghost Bird here at all.
Beacuse, Cosima reminds herself. Beacuse Area X was collapsing in on you anyway. Might as well volunteer for it, right?
She follows Ghost Bird, through scenery that never seems to move and under a sky that reflects the sunlight like a broken mirror, in a boat that’s placed like a trap and to a lighthouse that shouldn’t be, and feels her heart skip a beat at the sight of Delphine curled up at the base of it, gaze harsh and untrusting.
She thinks of what Sarah told her, of Rachel’s hypnotic manipulation of them all, and doesn’t know who to trust. It’s fucked up, to have someone in your head like that, makes you doubt everyone and everything. Especially here. But is Sarah any better? Is this all a ploy of Rachel’s?
But Rachel smiles a smile Beth’s seen too many times on too many other people before, and so Beth decides to trust Sarah, because Alison’s gone now and Beth remembers Alison was there, at some point.
The Southern Reach is a fucking mess.
Delphine likes this English phrase. It’s entered her vocabulary particularly because of this job, and it perfectly encapsulates the precariousness of the run-down facilities, the missing people and disturbing breadcrumbs, the lack of respect for the enormity of the problem.
She redirects Helena as a way to ignore her, lets the jumpy, wide-eyed woman sit and write her theses and discuss them to air and one well-groomed pet mouse, and waits for Rachel to return.
Area X is something to study. This is her job. She can do her job.
Alison tells herself this, doesn’t let the the rotten homes and discarded camp gear get to her. But what does is the moaning thing, the thing in the reeds, the thing that Sarah teases and that gets closer and howls and shuts them all up, paralyzed with fear.
It’s how she spends the night, too scared to close her eyes, until the moaning dies away in the darkness - thank you, Lord in heaven - and in the stillness she hears someone moving.
“Alison,” she hears Rachel say, just outside her tent, and Alison slips out of her sleeping bag.
She is washing her mouse in the scummy swamp's water when Cosima appears by her side, and Helena hums, ignores her, gently cleans the mouse. Is it a here mouse or a there mouse? She can’t remember.
Cosima speaks to her like a simpleton, and Helena snaps, becuase she can remember this, knows this, no matter which Helena she is, and Cosima goes silent for a moment before speaking to her again like a normal person.
“Take your mouse home. I don’t want to see it again.”
Cosima walks away, and Helena cleans her mouse and wonders if she should offer to show the thing to Cosima again.
Katja is a shade of her former self and she hasn’t even been to Area X yet. Rachel watches her with a mixture of pity and clinical disappointment - sorry to see such a brilliant woman reduced to this, and also irritated with Duncan, to have meddled with one of her variables.
Of course, if you want something done right, you do it yourself. She dismisses Katja and leads her team into Area X.
In the end, it’s no surprise at all that Sarah is the one to have hounded her at every step.
Ira runs his hands over his sides and down to his waist, smooths his sweater just so, and breathes deeply. Soon enough, he’ll have weeds to pull and fences to mend and the shore to clear of debris, have to try to think of something to keep Aldous out of his hair as much as possible. And there is his date, later. Ira smiles.
But for now, dawn just breaking, he leans against the window of the lighthouse, looks out to sea, and appreciates how beautiful it all looks.
She remembers staring at a vacant lot, overgrown, damp, fecund.
There are flashes here and there, shadows of memories Charlotte chases around corners but that elude her each time. But the only thing she can say for certain was that there was a lot, and then the Southern Reach, and now Area X which she and Cosima and Delphine are alone in.
Cosima looks at her expectantly, like someone with amnesia who will one day shout aha! and remember. But that’s not what she has, and she is not Sarah.
And then Cosima is gone in kiss and a patter of footsteps, and it is just Ghost Bird and Delphine, walking for a very long time.