"Fuck, that was close," Lenny says. "Hey, maybe we should bring Syd into the mainframe. She can help us figure this shit out."
Ptonomy doesn’t deign to answer that. "It was close. Syd’s smart and she understands how Farouk thinks. That’s why Farouk keeps targeting her. We need to keep her focused on helping David and herself so that she doesn’t think about the bigger picture. We need to keep her attention on their pain, just like we’re keeping Farouk’s attention on their pain."
"I wish she could help us," Amy says. They’ve been trying to figure out how to save David so he can save them, but it’s not easy.
"She is helping us," Ptonomy says. "She’s helping David accept his diagnoses. She's helping him stay with us and work through his trauma. David can’t get better without her."
"It still hurts him every time he looks at her," Amy points out.
"Everything hurts him right now. But Syd— I think Syd and Lenny are the only way we’re going to get him through what’s waiting for him."
"What do I have to do with it?" Lenny asks.
"Everything. You were the face Farouk wore when David learned about the monster. You were inside him when Farouk possessed him. He used David’s love and trust for you to abuse and control him."
"Hey, I didn’t do any of that," Lenny protests. "I got killed and snatched and then I got raped, over and over."
"And every time Farouk raped you, he raped David using you," Ptonomy replies. "He violated both of you and he used you to make you hurt each other. That’s what he does. If you can’t accept that, you’re going to keep hurting David and you’re going to keep hurting yourself. You’ll be playing right into his hands."
Lenny groans in frustration. "I’m not gonna let you torture me."
"You’re already being tortured," Ptonomy says. "Farouk’s already torturing all of us because we care about David, and we’re torturing David because that’s the only way to help him survive a lifetime of Farouk’s torture."
"It’s not a therapy gangbang, it’s a torture gangbang," Lenny mutters.
"It is," Ptonomy admits. "But it’s working. David is getting better. So what are you gonna do?"
Lenny glares at him, baring her teeth. "Fuck you," she spits, and stalks off.
Ptonomy sighs and rubs his head. He sits down on a bench-sized transistor and slumps. Amy watches Lenny go, then sits down next to Ptonomy.
"You’re carrying so much with all of this," Amy soothes. "You need to rest."
"We don’t sleep anymore," Ptonomy says. "We don’t have bodies that get tired."
"Minds get tired, too," Amy says. "You’ve been going non-stop for days, working so hard to save everyone. You need to rest. It— It’s always helped me, to put my mind somewhere else for a while."
"Dissociation runs in families," Ptonomy says, automatically, then he looks at her. "Sorry, I know David was adopted."
"See?" Amy says. "You do need to rest. And David— I think he needs to rest, too. Today was—" She looks at the screen, at David holding tight to Cary’s hand. "He’s still working so hard to stay. We can’t push him any further without setting him back."
"Maybe you’re right," Ptonomy admits. "I still need to prepare for Syd’s session but— David needs a day off. Maybe we all do." He rubs his face and sits up. "But we need Lenny. If we’re going to save David, we need Lenny. I have to talk to her, get her to understand—"
"I’ll talk to her," Amy says.
Ptonomy gives her a look. He’s obviously trying not to seem skeptical, but she sees it anyway. She’s spent her life trying to understand David so she could help him. She failed, but—
Being dead has changed her. She feels calmer here in the mainframe, without her body. She can see things that were hard to see before, because her body made them hard to see. It got in the way, it made her anxious and afraid.
It’s still hard, being in this place. She’s never been any good with pain and even if her second death wasn’t physically painful, it still hurt. Watching David suffer hurts, even worse now than it did before because now she knows the truth. She was tortured by Division 3 a year ago but that was a paper cut compared to this. A few leeches are nothing compared to what she did to her baby brother, her Davey.
Six years. She left him in that place for six years so she could pretend to have a normal life with Ben. David accused her of wanting him to be normal, and it's true, she did. She wanted him to be normal because he insisted that he couldn't be happy as long as he was sick.
She didn't want to believe that, but she believed it anyway because David believed it, and-- She's always tried to play along with the things David believes. Whether that meant carrying around an empty leash or throwing a stick that an imaginary dog could never bring back. She tries to see the world as David sees it so she can help him survive, so she can reach through his fear and hold his hand and help him carry his pain.
But it was too much for her, helping him alone. It's too much for anyone to carry all that pain. It's too much for David and that's why she has three little brothers instead of just one. It's too much for Ptonomy to save them all by himself, but that's why he has her now, her and Lenny.
Lenny hasn't had anyone. That's what she said, that she's been alone. She doesn't even have David anymore because David can't stand the pain she gives him. It's so bad he can't bear to exist if he thinks about that pain.
Amy knows what that feels like. She knows what it's like to lose the person you love most because he can't bear to think about you. Syd understands it, too, but-- Syd needs to stay focused on the work she has laid out for her. And Lenny's already been horrifically used by Farouk. If anyone deserves to have their most private thoughts protected from the monster, it's her.
So Lenny needs help and that help has to come from inside the mainframe. Ptonomy has to focus on the work he's laid out for himself. So that means Amy has to be the one to step up and help. Even if Lenny hates her for what she did to David by putting him in Clockworks and leaving him there for six years. Lenny needs her like David needs her. Amy might not be a therapist, she might have made mistakes with David, but she wants to learn from those mistakes so she doesn't make them again. Maybe helping Lenny will help her, too. And then they can both help David, and David can finally stop the monster so it will never hurt any of them ever again.
Everyone always knew something was wrong. Like Syd, she wishes David had just told them. But-- He did try to tell them. He tried to tell Syd what he was feeling, what he'd been through. He tried to tell Amy and their parents that there was a monster inside him, hurting him. He tried to tell them that King was scaring him, that the imaginary, ever-present dog had changed from adoring to menacing. He tried to tell Amy that he was unhappy at Clockworks, because every time she saw him he asked if he could please, please leave.
David tried to tell everyone a lot of things. He blames himself for not saying more, but-- They didn't want to hear the things that he did say. They had their own ideas about him and if the things he said disagreed with them, well-- He was sick. He was unstable. He kept secrets and that made him a liar. And he knew. He heard their thoughts about him and all that did was make him blame himself more. Because he trusted them more than he trusted himself, so obviously they were right. Obviously he-- He deserved whatever he got because that was what everyone believed about him.
She only knows any of that because she heard it. She's been so close to David all his life, and she only understands him now because she was finally forced to listen in a way she couldn't deny. The mainframe and Oliver's relay make it impossible not to listen. She hears all of David's thoughts and she's watched all the recordings and--
She's thought a lot about her mistakes, and the biggest one of all was that she just didn't listen. She didn't hear him, she only heard-- Her version of him. Her David was her sick baby brother who couldn't take care of himself. He needed her to take care of him, to support him, to decide what was best for him. But she could never have made the right decisions for him because she didn't know what he needed because she didn't know anything about what was actually going on inside his head. It was all-- Invisible. Private. Unknowable, even, because without telepathy, how could she understand what he was experiencing when it was so beyond anything she'd experienced herself?
He tried to tell them, but he was too sick to explain his sickness. He was too afraid to explain his fear. It trapped him the same way she was trapped inside her own head, unable to reach the world, unable to tell anyone what she was going through.
She couldn't save herself from what Farouk did to her. David can't save himself either. He never could, even though he tried so hard he split himself in three. They'll get him out, she believes that, she has faith in him and in what they're doing. And when he's not trapped anymore, he'll save them and finish saving himself.
But they can't save him without Lenny.
It's easy for her to find Lenny. She just has to follow the music. Navigating the mainframe isn't easy for her, but Ptonomy helped her practice enough that she can get around. She reaches into the data streams and concentrates, searching the local signals, tuning through the channels bands.
Lenny listens to a lot of music. Her tastes are-- Eclectic. Sometimes it's frothy pop, sometimes it's harsh, ear-splitting metal. There doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it, except that she never listens to anything sung in English. She only likes music in other languages. It could be anything from anywhere and Lenny will listen to it, as long as she can't understand the words.
Lenny was in Clockworks even longer than David was. Maybe music was how she travelled the world when she couldn't even go outside.
That's the thing about Lenny. Whatever David went through in Clockworks, Lenny went through it, too. But she didn't have mutant alters who could protect her. She didn't have a sister visiting her every month. She was there before David got there, and she only got out because she died and had her soul taken by the monster.
Amy doesn't know if Lenny blames herself the way David does. She doesn't know if Lenny thinks she's a broken plate that was thrown away. She can't hear Lenny's thoughts. She only knows the little she does about Lenny because she knows it about David.
So she's going to have to ask to learn the rest. And more importantly, she's going to have to listen.
Assuming she can get Lenny to talk to her at all.
She finds Lenny lounging in one of the mainframe's countless, nearly identical rooms. Memory blocks, Ptonomy called them. They exist in the computer's virtual space where processes and data are copied so they can be used. This particular memory block is almost vibrating from the sound of a driving rock beat and what sounds like young girls singing intensely in Japanese. Lenny is lying on the floor with her legs propped up against a wall. She has her eyes closed and she's slapping the floor with the beat.
"Hey," Amy says, leaning over Lenny.
Lenny opens her eyes and glares at her. She lifts one hand and raises her middle finger, then goes back to listening to the music.
Yeah, this is not going to be easy. Lenny might have gone through a lot of the same things David did, but they're almost nothing alike. Amy understands why Ptonomy was skeptical. But she still has to try to get through to Lenny. David needs her to try.
Amy sits down on the floor next to Lenny. She listens to the music. It's-- It's not the kind of thing Amy would ever voluntarily listen to. Amy's always liked soothing music: classical pieces, folk music, people singing quietly about their feelings. This is-- loud and grating and dissonant. It's the opposite of relaxing, but Lenny's enjoying it. Lenny's using it to feel better.
The song ends and something else starts playing. She can't even pin down where it's from, but it sounds-- French? And German? It's dance music, with a heavy bass that goes right into her. It's less grating than the Japanese song, at least. She can kinda get into it. Not that she's ever been much for dance music.
The next track comes on. Another shift, this time to-- something Spanish? No, Latin American. Male voices and drums and acoustic guitars. It's pleasant and easy. She closes her eyes and sways with the beat.
The music stops. She opens her eyes and Lenny is sitting up and staring at her. Amy looks back, calmly.
"I know what you're doing," Lenny says, annoyed. "I heard you talking to Ptonomy."
Of course she did. The mainframe isn't built for privacy. "I want to help, if I can."
"You can't," Lenny says. "Not unless you can get me out."
"I want to get out, too," Amy admits. She doesn't bother to say the rest. They both know that even if they find a way to download them into new bodies, that will only put them right back in harm's way with everyone else. They both know that until Farouk is dead, no one will be safe, that even the mainframe isn't really safe. And they can't wait for Division 3 to build a weapon, even assuming Farouk would let that happen now that he's back in his body and not trapped in David's head. He might be distracted by David's suffering, but he's not stupid.
There's only one way they'll ever get out. There's only one person who can save them. He's the last person who should have to fight the monster. And Lenny's the last person who should have to save him so he can do it.
Amy reaches out and touches the wall, brings up the feed of David sleeping in the lab. Syd's sitting with him now, holding his hand while Cary and Kerry sleep, and David's holding on like he'll die if he lets go. Syd looks tired, worried, determined.
Lenny looks at the feed and then turns away. Amy reaches out to turn off the feed, but then decides to leave it up.
"It's not fair, what happened to you," Amy says. "None of this is your fault. You were killed, and-- And you shouldn't have to bear any responsibility for what happened after that."
"No shit," Lenny says. She glances at the screen, then looks back at Amy, challenging, wary.
"Do you want to--" Amy begins.
"No," Lenny says. "I am done talking about anything. I did my time. You wanna use me as some kind of prop? Get in line."
Lenny's angry. Amy makes herself listen to her anger and not react to it. Of course Lenny's angry, she has every right to be angry. Farouk used her as a prop to hurt David and everyone else. She doesn't want to be used that way again, even if it's to save herself and the world.
The mainframe isn't built for privacy. They both heard what Syd said about the other timeline, they had no choice but to hear it. Farouk used them both as props, and if Ptonomy hadn't killed them, David would have had to choose. Syd thinks he would have chosen Amy.
She's right. He would have chosen her. He would have killed Lenny. He didn't, but he would have, if he had to choose.
Farouk wasn't even alive in that timeline, and he still found ways to hurt all of them so much. That timeline doesn't even exist anymore, that never happened and never will, and it's still hurting them.
"He should have chosen you," Amy says.
Lenny narrows her eyes.
"In the other timeline. David should have let you keep my body. He should have put me out of my misery and let you live."
"None of that happened," Lenny says, dismissive.
"No, but Ptonomy and Syd still killed you to save me," Amy says. "To save both of us, but-- They wouldn't have put you here if it wasn't for me. It's my fault they killed you, that David would have killed you. I'm sorry."
Lenny looks at David. "It's his fault," Lenny says. "The shit beetle."
"And it's mine," Amy says. "And it's David's and Ptonomy's and-- Farouk used all of us to do terrible things we didn't want to do. I thought I was doing the right thing by putting David into Clockworks. And it was and it wasn't and-- I know that in that timeline, David didn't want to make that choice. But he felt he had to. Whatever happened-- He couldn't let me suffer the way he suffered. He had to get me out, he had to try to save me. But it must have been too late to save me. I'm-- I'm not good at prisons. I can't-- If I had to go through any of what you have gone through, what David's gone through, I-- I wouldn't have survived. Not the way you and David survived."
She wouldn't have. She would have been--
"I helped end the world," Amy realizes, her throat tight. "David saved me and I made him end the world." She doesn't have any proof and she doesn't want any, but she knows it. She knows how much it hurts him to see her upset. She knows he can't bear it. He couldn't tell her any of the awful things that happened to him because he didn't want her to cry. He blames himself for so much. If all of those terrible things happened, if he killed Lenny to save her and then she was-- Broken and mad and--
It would have destroyed him. He would have been-- He would have lost control in his grief and pain, just like he did when Farouk killed her, but it would have been so much worse. He would have wanted to make everything go away, to dissociate the entire world from himself, and that's what he did.
"Shit," Lenny curses. "Don't cry all over me."
"Sorry," Amy sniffs. She tries to remember how to make a tissue box, the way Ptonomy showed her. She can't remember.
Lenny sighs and makes one for her and hands it over.
"Thank you," Amy says, and wipes her eyes, blows her nose.
"This is all so fucked up," Lenny says, frustrated. "I'm tired of being his doll. That's all we are to him. We're not real. We don't exist. If he doesn't need us, we're just-- Things in drawers he can take out and use and put away. He doesn't even care about David. He's obsessed with him but David's just another doll. I'm not gonna let him use me again."
"Then don't," Amy says. "Help us save David."
Lenny gives a bitter laugh. "That's what he wants us to do. David's right, what's the point? You think this time is different? I know that monster better than anyone and trust me, sister, this ain't different."
"It has to be," Amy insists. "If it's not-- Then what should we do? Let David kill himself, and kill ourselves too so Farouk can't torture us for the rest of our lives?"
"We're already dead."
"That didn't stop him before."
That makes Lenny go still. "Shit. Shit. Goddamn it." She kicks the wall and presses her palm against her forehead. "Fuck!"
"Yeah," Amy agrees.
Lenny kicks the wall again. She stands up and kicks it and kicks it. But it doesn't so much as scuff the virtual walls of the mainframe. Nothing in this place is real. They're not really in a room, they're not really alive. They're--
"We're dead," Amy says. She stands up and Lenny stops kicking the wall to look at her. "But we're real, we exist, we-- We're not going to let him use us to end the world. You're right, Farouk hasn't changed. He'll never change. But we can. And if we change, we're the ones who make this different."
"Don't ever pep talk me again," Lenny says, crossing her arms. But she's wavering. She just needs a little push, like she did with the blue octopus and the desert.
"Don't do this for David," Amy says, realizing the words as she says them. "Do this for yourself. Make sure you'll never be his doll again."
Lenny doesn't answer that. She still has her arms crossed defiantly. But-- Amy lived inside of her head, just for a while. She knows a little bit about how Lenny works that doesn't have anything to do with David. And she knows what it looks like when Lenny changes her mind. She's glad she can see it from the outside this time, instead of the inside.