When the world ends, so does Tex.
And, much to her dismay, she doesn’t even get to go out the cool way. She doesn’t get to see the sky split open and rain down fire, or whatever the hell. She doesn’t even get to watch the shit go down with her once-before-and-maybe-once-again boyfriend. One second the ground is shaking under her feet as she listens to Church ramble on like the nerd he is, and the next second is just―
That’s how Beta feels when the EMP goes off. That’s how Alison feels when Church says “You just rest now.” They don’t even really get to die, they just ― stop existing. No longer are. Cease to be.
It doesn’t suit her at all, she thinks, but she almost-maybe-kinda doesn’t really mind. After all, she’s died before. She’s died in a blaze of glory; in a hail of bullets; in a huge explosion. She’s died a hero; a martyr; an enemy. She’s died plenty. It’s almost refreshing to get a break from that, even as the endless cycle of die, come back, die, come back continues. It’s almost nice to be able to just… close her eyes and rest.
Yes, Beta decides, letting the wave of electromagnetism wash over her; yes, Tex decides, letting the ground rumble and the sky shake; yes, Alison decides, letting the world fade and her many bodies fall limp to the ground. Yes, this isn’t so bad.
Maybe she’ll just close her eyes and rest for a little bit.
Maybe she won’t even have to wake up this time.
She wakes up.
The wave of emotions that crashes over her is instantaneous and overwhelming. There’s surprise ― that last death (those last deaths) had felt so final ― and panic ― she doesn’t want to do this again; she had already lived and died and then lived and died again; she had already been put to rest three times; was that not enough? ― and anger ― God fucking damn it, this was supposed to be it; that last death was supposed to be the end; how many times did she have to fucking do this?
Then there’s confusion. By the time she stops and thinks, wait, I only fell asleep once, it’s far too late; a maelstrom of memories suddenly explodes within her head. She’s Tex, but she’s Beta, but she’s Alison, but she’s dead, but she doesn’t know what she is, much less who, and there’s blood and sinew under her skin where there should be chips and wires; veins instead of circuitry; a heart instead of a generator; bones instead of metal beams and neurons instead of code.
None of it makes sense, and she doesn’t want any of it to make sense, because she just wants to fucking sleep, so Tex clumsily rolls onto her stomach, jams her fingers into her ears, and bangs her head against the floor. After a few solid hits, her head is scrambled enough that the memories start to subside, and then she just lies there, dazed, watching the room pitch violently in the darkness.
Mercifully, when she stops seeing double, she stops remembering double, too, and it’s much easier to assess the situation without a thousand frantic thoughts scrambling desperately for her attention. It’s easier to remember, now, what exactly has become of her. Beta, wiped out by Washington’s EMP. Alison, revived again and again before finally being put to sleep. Tex, watching the world end and then just ― gone.
It was supposed to be over, she thinks dully, blearily taking in the room around her. It’s some kind of cheap-ass apartment with peeling blue paint and a carpet so threadbare she can barely tell it’s supposed to be a carpet. It doesn’t look like anything she’s seen in Freelancer; not in any sim trooper outposts, not on the Mother of Invention, and certainly not anywhere near the facility she’d been made in.
That doesn’t mean she’s safe, though, and her new body is armorless and startlingly human, so Tex shakily pushes herself up, struggling to remember how to pilot a body like this.
Immediately, her vision begins swimming again, but she resolutely ignores it, stumbling against the wall and leaning heavily against it. Her head pounds, still smarting from earlier and still swirling with garbled thoughts, but she ignores that, too, eyes unfocused as they sweep over the room.
Sparse personal effects, an unmade bed, a nightstand, a dresser ― she spots an open doorway in the corner, the source of the faint light illuminating the room, and automatically staggers towards it, tripping over a lone leather boot along the way. That door leads to another, slightly larger room, and Tex is just barely lucid enough to identify a mini-fridge, a dilapidated couch, and an old, low-tech TV.
She hasn’t seen any weapons or pieces of armor yet, which is alarming, but she can’t quite figure out why it bothers her so much. All her thoughts and memories are choppy and garbled, like sentences put through Google Translate twenty times and then back again; strings of 1s and 0s that refuse to combine into something coherent in the human mind. Possessing a human body has never given her this much trouble before, she doesn’t think, but it doesn’t feel like she’s just implanted in a human; it feels like she is the human, and that can’t possibly be right.
There’s another door in the opposite corner of this room, and Tex pushes through it into a small bathroom, thank God. Fumbling with the lightswitch, she winces away from the sudden fluorescence, but refuses to let that slow her down. There’s a large mirror mounted above the sink, and she practically collapses against it, palms flat against its smudged surface.
Her first thought is that she looks like herself. Not like Alison Church, not like her old body from Freelancer, and not like the body Sarge had built for her, but somewhere in the middle; like a bizarre genetic hybrid of the three.
Her second thought is that she looks human. Far, far more human than the body the Director had made for her, using the most expensive technology and the most elite roboticists that money could buy. Her forehead is covered in bruises, and her eyes look glossy and disoriented; scars, freckles, and bumps cover her skin, which is warm and soft, so unlike the sterile smoothness of artificial skin.
Swallowing thickly, she allows her hand to drift up, running fingers through her tangled blonde hair before slowly, ever so slowly, sliding them down; down the back of her skull; down the nape of her neck; down to where there should be a hard plastic ridge and a tiny, innocuous computer chip.
Her neck is completely smooth.
‘It was supposed to be over,’ Tex thinks again, watching her face go pale in the mirror.
Not yet, Agent Texas, drawls a voice that sounds suspiciously like the Director.
When she first sees Church, she’s relieved.
Not that she would ever, in a million years, admit that out loud. She has a reputation to uphold, after all, and she knows Church; he would never, ever let her live it down if she admitted to actually experiencing emotions. Not emotions of the mushy-gushy variety, anyway.
But, after her Reincarnation or Some Shit, Tex’s new life has her trapped on a tiny, peaceful planet covered in tiny, peaceful colonies, none of which have immediate access to anything she needs ― no spare ships, no power armor, no heavy-artillery weapons ― and, to put it bluntly, she’s going to go crazy if she doesn’t get the chance to beat the shit out of someone real soon. And there might possibly be a chance that she may have missed Church a little bit, but only because he’s fun to rile up.
So, when she first spots him walking towards her on the street one day, his face somewhere in the uncanny valley between familiar and alien ― like some weird cross between the body he’d had back in Blood Gulch and a younger, marginally less pretentious-looking Director ― she’s relieved. Oh, thank fuck, she thinks; I’m not the only one stuck in this hellhole.
Church doesn’t notice her, because of course he doesn’t; he’s about as observant as a newborn goldfish, with the terrible vision to match (it doesn’t escape her notice that, even after Reincarnation Or Some Shit, Church still needs glasses). He just strolls right past her, eyes fixed on the datapad in his hands ― as if that isn’t just a disaster waiting to happen ― and continues down the street completely undisturbed.
“Church,” Tex calls to his retreating back, but he doesn’t show any signs of having heard. And, because this is Church and they’ve known each other for literally multiple lifetimes, she doesn’t think twice before rolling her eyes and taking off after him, shouldering her way through the crowd.
As soon as she reaches him, she grabs his shoulders and casually yanks him towards her, ignoring his indignant yelp. “Well, hello to you too, asshole,” she says in her driest voice, shooting him an amused glare (and “amused” is all she’s willing to admit; it’s absolutely not “fond” or “indulgent” or anything schmaltzy like that).
She isn’t particularly surprised that Church immediately wriggles out of her grasp and whirls around to level her with a glare. She’s equally unsurprised when he immediately recoils, clearly intimidated, and then hastily pretends that he hadn’t. “The fuck is your problem?!” he demands in his trademark banshee screech, inching away from her under the guise of smoothing down his shirt. He doesn’t drop the glare, which is… slightly more unexpected ― she’d imagined he would be too shellshocked to stay angry ― but, then again, this is Church she’s talking about. Prioritizing anger over everything else was just in his nature. His bitchy, bitchy nature.
Ignoring his question, Tex looks him over curiously; he’s a few inches shorter than her, about as scrawny and bedraggled as she remembers him, and overall he looks like a wet stray cat, complete with disgruntled expression and patchy facial hair. “Wow,” she drawls, “you look even more like shit than usual. I mean, back then, you just vaguely resembled shit, but now you’re pretty much indistinguishable.”
Predictable as ever, Church sputters in protest, eyes comically wide behind his glasses. “Like I care what you think!” he snaps, even as he reaches up to pat down his disheveled hair. “I don’t take advice from someone who looks like she gets into bar fights for fun!” Then, almost as an afterthought ― “Who the hell are you, anyway?!”
At that, Tex pauses for a split second, then lets out her signature laugh: exactly one “Ha!”, loud and mocking, with a teeth-bared grin and an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “God, are you blind?” she says, although there’s something odd about the way he’s looking at her that puts her on edge. “Your glasses prescription out of date, maybe, old man?”
“Wh ― I’m twenty-nine!” Church shrieks. “That’s not even middle-aged! And why the fuck does it matter when I’ve never even seen you before, you presumptuous bitch?!”
And… okay, that can’t be right. She doesn’t look that different than the last time they met, and she sounds exactly like she always has; she should at least look vaguely familiar to him. If nothing else, the tattoo on her exposed left shoulder ― the silhouette of a pouncing tiger; nearly identical to the tattoo Alison had gotten during basic ― should’ve tipped him off. “It’s me, dumbass,” she says flatly with a roll of her eyes, but her brow furrows in confusion. “Tex.”
Church’s glare doesn’t falter. He squints at her for a second, scrutinizing her from head to toe. When he looks back up, there’s no recognition in his eyes.
“…Who?” he says.
For a split-second, Tex stops thinking altogether, like some melodramatic love interest from a shitty Spanish soap opera. It’s only a split-second, because Texas isn’t some melodramatic love interest from a shitty Spanish soap opera, but she still stops short, staring at Church uncomprehendingly with a sort of shocked incredulity.
“...Tex,” she repeats tersely after a brief, pregnant silence. “What ― Texas. Texas; Agent Texas. Tex.”
It’s probably the least composed she’s ever been, at least in his presence, and she expects him to jump on that immediately ― “Wow. Smooth, Tex. Real eloquent. You talk to all the boys like that?” ― but he just shoots her the exact same disgruntled look he’s been shooting her for the past minute. “Uh, yeah, I think I would’ve remembered knowing a girl named fucking Texas. What the hell kinda name is ‘Texas’?”
Tex’s eyes narrow, surprise giving way to irritated suspicion. The probability of this not being Church is miniscule, but… “What the hell kinda name is ‘Church’?” she retorts, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.
She half expects him to get that hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar look on his face and begrudgingly drop the ruse, but he just looks startled. “Wh ― how do you know my name?” he asks uneasily, brows knitting together and voice finally dropping back to a reasonable pitch.
Okay, but if this is Church, then why the hell doesn’t he recognize her? There’s no way he’s fucking with her ― he’s not a good enough actor to fake the aggravated confusion that’s all over his face right now ― so then why...?
“Alison,” she tries, her narrowed eyes fixed firmly on his face, scrutinizing him intently for any sign of recognition.
She almost doesn’t want him to recognize the name. On one hand, she is sick and fucking tired of being remembered as Alison; Texas may have just been a shadow, but it sure as hell feels more real than the distant, disjointed memories she’s got second-hand (third-hand? fourth-hand?) of Alison. But, then again, she would rather be remembered as Alison than not remembered at all.
She isn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed when he just stares right back at her, no less baffled than before. She settles for irritation.
Okay, fine, then how about…
Not even a flinch. Tex sighs. That one had been a long-shot anyway ― she barely remembered that codename herself; it had only come about when she started to sign her name as ‘Beta’, caught herself, and hastily changed the last letter.
Speaking of which ―
“Beta?” She hates that it comes out as a question, but her focus doesn’t waver.
Still no reaction. Not very surprising, she supposes. Had he ever even called her that? Still, she huffs irritably, her glare deepening. Church groans in response, shoulders slumping and head falling back. “Look, lady,” he begins―
Immediately, she knows she’s hit the jackpot. Church’s head snaps back upright, his entire body visibly tensing up. “What?” he hisses, eyes sharp and panicked, and Tex can see the gears in his head spinning rapidly. “How did you…”
For a moment, Tex thinks that he’s finally remembered her; she can almost hear the pieces clicking into place in his brain. Then he glares wildly, his expression practically radiating hostility and mistrust, and Tex’s heart doesn’t sink because she isn’t a fucking lovestruck teenager getting rejected by her first crush, but maybe, maybe, she’s a little disappointed.
“Who ― what the fuck is an alpha, and why are you asking me?” Church snaps. He’s clearly trying to make his voice sound cold and impassive, but he can’t quite hide the hint of hysteria, and he’s already starting to back away slowly. Before she can respond, he takes a big step away from her and starts to turn around. “Look, Texas―” It sounds foreign and unwieldy on his tongue; he’s saying it wrong; he never says it like that― “I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to pull, but you can go find someone else to scam.” Then, under his breath, so quiet that she doubts she’s meant to hear it― “Fucking Freelancers.”
Well, as if it wasn’t already obvious, that confirms his identity, but if he remembers that, then why doesn’t he― “Hold on,” Tex says, her voice less commanding than she’d intended and more frantic than she’s willing to acknowledge, and she lunges forward, locking a hand around his wrist. He recoils, trying to jerk away, but her grip holds firm. “Church, just look at me―”
“Fucking ― let go of me!” Church snarls with impressive bravado, even as his eyes desperately dart around for an escape route and he completely fails to extract himself from Tex’s grasp.
Heads are starting to turn, people pausing in their daily commute to see what all the commotion is about, and Tex can feel her adrenaline starting to rise. “Just look at me!” she shouts, although she doubts that will divert any attention from them. “Just think about it for five seconds, Church; there’s no fucking way you don’t recognize me at all ― we’ve known each other for literally lifetimes―”
“That’s fucking news to me!” he yells right back, straining to pull his wrist free. “Maybe we met, but there’s no god damn way we knew each other, because I sure as hell don’t remember you―”
Tex grits her teeth. “We weren’t fucking acquaintances, Church, we were―” Married; dating; friends; lovers; strangers; enemies; everything and nothing― “We were close!”
Finally giving up on getting free, Church surges forward and shoves his red face as close to Tex’s as possible without touching her, eyes wide, teeth bared, glare fierce.
“If we were so fucking close,” he snarls, panic and rage and fear knitting together into an emotion with no real name, “then why would I fucking FORGET YOU?!”
the ground is shaking and the reds are yelling and there’s something i need to tell you, i think it’s important that i say this, and the sky is shattering and the wind is blowing and don’t say goodbye, i hate goodbyes, and her heart is pounding and her code is pulsing and no, that’s not it, tex, i think i just figured out what the director couldn’t, and―
Church rips his wrist out of her hand and runs, vanishing into the crowd; Tex is too disoriented to give chase, so she just clutches her pounding head and staggers back, only her decades of military training keeping her on her feet―
church is talking and she is listening and i just had to tell you three words, three words i wasn’t capable of telling you before, and her head is tilting and her mouth is opening and wait, you aren’t gonna say you love me, are you? and―
A swirl of confused memories overtakes her, and she closes her eyes to compose herself, fists clenching in her hair; this hasn’t happened since the first time she woke up and she isn’t sure how to deal with it―
the world is ending and her body is fading and no, tex, i’m not gonna say i love you.
i’m gonna say
01001001 00100000 01100110 01101111 01110010 01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00101110
The memory ends in a burst of static, and Tex is left staring blankly at the sidewalk, still and silent, her fingers still tangled in her too short too dark not mine hair.
Oh, she thinks, and she’s too dazed to deny the way her heart sinks in her chest.
Around her, various passersby shake their heads and carry on, the entertainment over. One man whistles and shakes his head, muttering something under his breath that sounds like “Crazy bitch.”
Tex is too dazed to deny that, either, so she just breaks his arm on principle and then wanders back to her apartment, neither remembering nor caring why she’d left in the first place.
It’s only when she gets back home that she stops to sift through the memories.
They’re hard to separate from each other, but it doesn’t take very long to piece it together.
The capture unit pierces her visor with a sickening sizzle, and her body seizes on instinct alone ― is it called instinct when it’s a mixture of memory and coding? ― as the unit does what it’s programmed to do, reaching into her with frigid code; ripping her out of herself and condensing her into 1s and 0s, but she was already 1s and 0s anyway.
The EMP erupts like a physical explosion and sears through her circuits, razing her and the others to the ground like a forest fire through dead leaves; the others panic and scream and scramble for action in the eternity of a split second between the jolt of static and the sudden, sudden nothingness, but she just watches, almost curious; ‘Oh, is this how it feels to be turned off like a fucking light-switch?’
Too many bodies, too many times, too much, too much, too many, she doesn’t remember who or what she is, but she knows she isn’t supposed to be this, it’s not right, she isn’t right, he just can’t get it right, god she’s so fucking tired, it’s far too much, “You just rest, okay?”, and that would be amazing, that would be heaven, yes, please, let’s do that, I’m just gonna rest now, just don’t say goodbye, I hate goodbyes, goodbye.
the ground is shaking and they’re standing and talking, you aren’t supposed to remember this, no one is supposed to remember, no tex i’m not gonna say i love you i’m gonna say
It’s hilarious, Tex decides, although she has never felt less inclined to laugh. It’s hilarious that Church’s saving throw would end up being a complete crapshoot.
He always had horrible fucking aim.
I forget you.