Syd drifts from a dream and opens her eyes to the bright morning sun. When she winces and turns away, something falls from her lap and slides to the floor. Syd cracks open one eye and sees— The transcripts.
She stayed up late last night, first watching the surveillance footage, then reading and re-reading the transcripts of the day's therapy and conversations. She must have fallen asleep when she was reading on the sofa. She sits up and stretches, gathers the fallen papers and puts them on the coffee table, then tries to get her bearings.
David is still asleep and the inducer is still on him, so presumably Divad and Dvd are out, too. But the other beds are empty and there's no sign of Oliver, Kerry, or the others.
It's blissfully quiet. Syd hasn't had much quiet since David came back. She leans back and listens to the faint murmur of morning traffic through the thick window glass. They're only a few stories off the ground, but it reminds her of quiet mornings on the thirty-first floor. The pencil-scratch of her mom's writing, the whisper of a turned page, the traffic murmuring far below.
She dreamed of David, unsurprisingly. She would have been surprised to dream about anything else. She thought about David so much last night, about their relationship and what they've meant to each other. About Divad and Dvd and what they endured, what they felt, what they feel now. And in the face of all that—
God, she wishes they could go back. She wants it to be the two of them on her cartoon island again. She accepts that it can't be, that the complexity of David's life makes that absolutely impossible. But in her heart it's what she wants and she doesn't know how to reconcile that. There's no way for her to just— Have David again, for him to only be hers. She has to share him with so many people, and it hurts her. She knows it's wrong to feel that way but she does.
In the dream, David was— The way he used to be. The way they used to think he was. Powerless, human, with only a single mind. She was the one who was making him whole, and she knew that— Once she did, it would be impossible for him to ever leave her. And it felt so good.
She grabs her notebook from the coffee table and walks over to where David is sleeping, takes one of the chairs beside his bed.
She didn't just watch David in the surveillance footage. He was usually with her when he wasn't sneaking off to help Farouk or her future self, so she saw a lot of herself. She saw herself having sex with a man who wasn't there.
He's here now, all flesh and bone. She wants to reach out to him as he sleeps, like she used to. She wants to touch his body again, to run her gloved hand down his chest and feel the needles pricking under her skin. She wants to lie against him and see how much she can take before the needles are too much.
Every night she did that, she would imagine— His astonishment and joy when she finally held his hand, when she hugged him. His gratitude and praise for all her hard work. But instead, when she told him— First he couldn't process it, and then— He looked at her with such shocked betrayal.
She should have asked him, she knows that now. She should have told him what she needed and of course he would have helped her. He would have done anything for her. But she was angry at him for not being there to help her before. He was gone for a year, he wouldn't tell her what happened to him. If he wasn't going to share, why should she? Why shouldn't she just take what she needed? If he would really do anything for her, he'd let her use him. He owed her.
It all made perfect sense at the time. But that's the same logic that her future self used. It's the same logic Syd has always used. The world owes her and she's going to take what she's owed, whether the world wants to give it or not. Especially if it doesn't want to because she's always relished a fight, the chance to give back some of her pain. The bullies and those big game hunters— She was eager to hurt them back with interest. She never imagined herself joining the military, but it turned out to be just what she needed.
What was it Ptonomy said about her? She has a history of aggression and disregard for the rights of others. Even though Melanie helped her work on those things— They couldn't make those parts of herself go away. All she did was learn how to manage them, to recognize when it was okay to hurt people and when it wasn't. To channel her aggression into the appropriate parts of her work and keep it out of her personal life.
But she forgot all those lessons when David returned. It was a shock for her, of course. Looking back she sees that, and how that shock made her revert, just like shocks make David and Dvd and Divad revert. Farouk uses shocks the same way he uses memory and love: as powerful weapons, as sculpting tools for his sunrises.
It worries her to know that. When Farouk goes after David again, when he unleashes whatever awful shock he has planned for them— Will a few words be enough to save them?
Syd has her doubts. She opens her notebook and looks at her own words. Are they enough to save her? Ptonomy seems to be betting everything on this foundation work, but what other choice do they have? Farouk is too powerful to be stopped with anything but David, that's why Division 3 needed him in the first place. And David is the one thing Farouk wants. Everything comes down to David and if he can heal enough to withstand shocks and memories and love.
It seems like an impossible demand, and yet— Watching that surveillance footage again— The pain she felt that day in the courtroom, her heart ripped open as she begged David to let them help him— It's like the hole in her hand from the hook. It twinges, aches sometimes, but the ragged wound is just a memory.
It's strange. She's always held on to her pain, used it as a weapon and as armor. Despite all the work she did with Melanie, that never changed. She was so certain it was the only way to survive, so absolutely certain. But if it's possible to let the pain go, to let healing happen— If healing is what the mind and body want to do and the trick is getting out of the way of that, and giving some kind of— Structure to the healing— A solid base and a scaffolding to make it strong—
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, lets it out. She is survival but she can't survive alone. She will accept help, she will give and receive love. Because love makes her strong and pain makes her weak, and if she lets go of her pain, love will help her heal.
She looks at her therapy list. She's making good progress but she knows this is only the start. She has to push herself harder, the way David pushes himself. She has to face her past, not just the last few weeks of it. And she needs to figure out how to be with David without hurting him. They need their own healthy multiplicity if they don't want everything to go wrong again.
And there are things she needs to accept. David's shame, his neediness and passive acceptance— She’s afraid of them — that’s why she tried to force David to change — but they're as much a part of David as his love. They're who he's always been, and she doubts they'll entirely go away no matter how much he heals. If they did— Would he even be himself anymore? Would she be herself without her aggression and disregard? Who are they if not the stories they tell ourselves?
David is trying to rewrite his story. What story does she want to be?
She doesn't know. And what if she never figures it out? What if she's incapable of ever being anything other than who she's always been? Her mom never changed. People tried to change her, to drag her down so they could put themselves above her, and she never let them. She never compromised for anyone. Not for the men who claimed to love her, and not for her daughter.
Syd never wants to compromise. She's just like her mom in so many ways, and she hates that about herself even though she clings to it. To give even an inch to someone else always feels like defeat. That's served her well when negotiating against heads of state, but— It's so much of what made things go wrong with David. What was it Ptonomy said? In a healthy relationship, both partners should be able to make the right decisions for themselves. David didn't know how to say no, and she wouldn't let him try.
She has to let him say no. But what if he says no to her? Will he still love her if she stops hurting him? If she doesn’t?
She writes out her foundation work, revising her foundation, adding to the therapy list. Then she sits and watches David's chest rise and fall. He looks so vulnerable when he's asleep, he always has. He's sleeping peacefully, no nightmares or mountain climbing. She sees a little furrow in his brow and she wants so much to reach out and smooth it away. But she can't.
The door to the lab opens. It's Ptonomy and Lenny. Syd closes her notebook and stands.
"Is everything okay?" she asks.
"Yeah, it's all good," Lenny says.
"Cary's awake," Ptonomy explains. "He's working through the backlog in the other lab. Oliver's had his turn, so you're up."
"Oh, right," Syd says, remembering the tests and scans they're meant to have. She looks down at herself. "Is it okay if I get cleaned up first?"
"Sure," Ptonomy says. "How about we stop by your room?"
"I've got the sleeping beauties," Lenny says, and takes the seat Syd was in. She has her notebook with her, too. Syd wonders if she made any changes to her foundation work since last night, but now doesn't seem to be the time to ask.
Syd takes one last look back at David, and then follows Ptonomy out of the lab. It's always something of a relief to get out of there, but leaving David behind— She's still afraid that she'll come back and he'll be gone. It should matter that he was right in front of her when the orb took him, but it doesn't.
"How's Cary?" Syd asks, when they reach the elevator.
"A little shaken up," Ptonomy admits. "He's still having trouble being inside of Kerry. Going in is easy, but not getting out."
Syd suppresses a shudder. "I've had nightmares about getting stuck in someone else. But I don't have to swap to survive."
"It's a problem," Ptonomy says, and sighs. "I'll have a session with them today. And they want your help, too. To figure out if they're two souls or one, twins or a system."
"Which do they want it to be?" Syd asks, curious. She's never used her powers diagnostically before.
"I honestly don't think they know," Ptonomy says.
"How are you doing?" Syd asks.
"Better if I could sleep," Ptonomy says. "But we should be fine today. Lenny's better now, I think yesterday really helped her. And Amy's holding on."
"I'm glad," Syd says. "Um. Did Oliver—"
"We got everything," Ptonomy says. "Last night and this morning. Thank you, that was helpful."
"No point in having telepathic therapy if I don't think about what's wrong," Syd says. "I know we don't have a lot of time."
"We don't," Ptonomy agrees, quietly.
They reach Syd's room and Ptonomy waits while she showers and changes. Syd looks at her reflection and touches the cool surface of the mirror. Is her mind her own again? Was that ever the truth or just another story? She sees so much of her mom, looking at herself. Especially in her eyes.
"Will we have my session before breakfast again?" Syd asks, as she and Ptonomy head to the other lab.
"You gave me a lot of material," Ptonomy says. "I need time to prepare. But we'll get to you before we start on the Davids. I want you to work on your relationship before David works on his possession trauma."
"Think you can get him through it?" Syd asks. David's struggled with that so much, and she knows she made it worse.
"We don't have a choice," Ptonomy says. "But the odds are improving. That's all we can ask."
Syd's curious about those odds, about the models the Admiral is using to generate them. But she knows that's the kind of information that Ptonomy needs to keep to the mainframe. Telling her would be telling Farouk, and he knows too much already.
The secondary lab is bustling, with Cary directing Kerry, Amy, and the full research team. It's as unusual to see them as it was to have a few moments of quiet. It reminds her how carefully David's environment is managed, how David is still as much a prisoner as a patient despite their reassurances to him. She wonders if the crown stays on more for that than any worries about David's instability.
"Morning," Amy greets, and pulls Syd into a hug. Syd's breath catches at the contact, and then— She breathes out, holds Amy back. It still amazes her to be able to comfortably touch another person.
"Did Ptonomy give you a hug this morning?" Amy asks.
Syd shakes her head. Amy gives Ptonomy a pointed look.
"Sorry," Ptonomy says, and comes over. He opens his arms, and Syd hesitates, then accepts the hug. "I'm not really used to this either," he admits.
"I wake up in the morning with a dream in my eyes," Oliver says. He's sitting in the exam chair, and Kerry is removing electrodes from his head. "Hello, Syd."
"Um, hey," Syd says. She still never quite knows what to make of Oliver. Sometimes he seems to lose himself in the relay, and sometimes he seems very present, if not entirely coherent. "How are you? Did you sleep well?"
"How many years awake or sleepy? How many mornings to be or not to be?" Oliver recites. "And now I feel restored."
"Okay, all done," Kerry says. "Syd, you're up."
Oliver gets up and Syd takes his seat. Kerry puts fresh electrodes on a tray and gives the tray to Syd. "Put these here, here, and here," she says, pointing at spots on her own head. Syd complies.
"We'll do your security scans first," Cary says. "And then—" He hesitates.
"We want to do soul tests," Kerry says, obviously excited. "Is that okay?"
"Sure," Syd says. "Ah, what do you need?"
"We understand the body, and mostly understand the mind," Cary says, as he types on his keyboard. "But the soul is— Quite honestly we know very little except that it exists. Your powers are our best hope for analyzing its properties."
"And then we want you to swap with us," Kerry says, eagerly.
"Kerry," Cary cautions.
"Cary, we need to know," Kerry insists. "Either we have one soul or two. I need to understand us and I can't do that until we figure this out."
Cary makes a displeased noise, but doesn't argue. "We have to get everyone’s tests done first. We don't know how the swap will affects us. It made David feel strange for weeks and we don't understand why. Quite honestly, Syd, we should have studied your powers much sooner. But David and Oliver and— Well. A lot of things fell by the wayside." He turns to Ptonomy. “Could you ask Lenny to wake the Davids up and bring them here?”
They run her through the scans, then she gets a trip through the MRI. By the time that’s done, Lenny and David have arrived. Dvd and Divad are with them, and once again Syd is stuck listening to a fraction of the conversation. Her next set of transcripts can’t come soon enough.
David gets scanned next, and then the same tests are run with Dvd and then Divad in their body. One of the research team brings in snacks during all this, and Syd nibbles at her food as she watches.
Finally it's her turn again. She sits in the exam chair for the soul tests. Divad stays embodied and sits with Cary, eager to help.
Amy brings Matilda over, and Kerry gives her a scritch. "Such a good kitty," Kerry coos. "Now hold still." She slides some kind of netting over Matilda's head. It has wires attached to it, leading to the the same kind of machine that Syd is hooked up to.
"We thought we'd start with Matilda," Cary explains. "You said the process is identical with her as it is with humans?"
"With humans," Syd says. "With mutants, it's— It can be more powerful."
Cary gives a thoughtful hum. "Your interactions with David. Quite explosive, as I recall."
That's an understatement. Touching him sent them both flying, shattered glass, knocked bystanders off their feet. That's the main reason she's avoided swapping with mutants ever since. "It wasn't so bad with Walter, but— Kerry, I know you're eager to figure this out, but I don't want to hurt you."
"I can handle a little explosion," Kerry says, confidently.
"At what proximity do you start to feel the needles?" Cary asks.
"It has to be pretty close," Syd says. "Almost touching. But I keep a bigger distance for safety. Sudden movements, accidental bumps—"
"Sensible," Cary says, and types some more. "Okay. Let's start with Matilda. Keep the glove on and hold out your hand."
Syd holds out her hand as Amy slowly brings Matilda closer, pausing so Cary can collect his data. And then finally she's almost close enough to touch. "The needles started," she reports.
"Gradual or instant?" Cary asks.
"Gradual," Syd says. "It's stronger as we get closer."
Amy closes the last distance, and Matilda is flush against Syd's hand. Syd's palm prickles as her powers ready for the swap such closeness should trigger. But the lack of skin contact prevents that. She pets Matilda, and Matilda sniffs at her, curious but calm.
"Okay," Cary says, after some extensive typing. "Let's try it with the glove off."
They repeat the same test, then trigger the swap. Syd feels the familiar pull, the disorientation, and then— She's in Amy's arms and sees her body looking around in confusion.
"Kerry, give Matilda a treat," Cary says, and Kerry holds out a tray with a piece of chicken breast. Matilda sniffs it, then eats it, face first and open-mouthed.
"You don't feel the needles while your powers are activated, yes?" Cary asks.
"Mmyes," Syd meows. It took practice to simulate human speech with a cat's mouth and tongue, but she can do a passable job. Amy pets her back and Syd involuntarily purrs. It always takes effort to resist the instincts in the bodies she enters. Kerry pets Matilda's head, and Matilda rubs against her hand, trying to mark it.
"Very interesting," Cary murmurs, and peers at his screen, types some more. "Kerry, step away. Syd, go ahead and switch back."
Amy puts Syd down. Syd stops fighting the pull to return to her body, and in a blink— She tastes chicken.
"Good girl," Amy coos. She picks Matilda up from the chair and feeds her a much smaller piece of chicken.
They repeat the tests a few times, then it's time for the next step.
"Doctor Orwell," Syd greets.
"Syd," Doctor Orwell greets back. "Holding up okay?"
"I'm used to practicing with Matilda," Syd says. "Are you ready?"
"Extremely," Doctor Orwell says, grinning. She's Cary's second-in-command, not counting Kerry, and has always been very enthusiastic about studying mutants. Syd tries not to find that slightly alarming, given Division 3's history. Cary wouldn't trust her if she was looking to exploit and kill mutants instead of helping them.
When they touch, the switch is as effortless as it is with Matilda. Syd sees her own body staring in astonishment.
"How does it feel, Doctor Orwell?" Cary prompts.
"So strange," Doctor Orwell says. She touches her body, Syd's body, and then realizes. "Oh, excuse me," she tells Syd. "I didn't mean to—"
"It's all right," Syd says, hearing the different timbre of her voice. "It's what everybody does. It's not really my body."
"Do you feel like Syd?" Kerry asks Doctor Orwell.
"I don't know," Doctor Orwell says. "I've never experienced a different body before. It's very— Subjective."
"How long can you hold this?" Cary asks.
"I can hold a swap for hours," Syd offers. "I think the longest I've done was— Six?"
"I don't think we can spare that long right now," Cary says, sounding disappointed. "What happens if you touch your original body?"
They try. Nothing happens. "No needles," Syd reports.
"Fascinating," Cary says, peering at his screen. "Your brainwave patterns follow the swap, as expected. But the other readings stay the same." He types. "We need to do an MRI with this later to be sure, but it seems like— Your powers somehow isolate the occupying mind so that it doesn't integrate into the host body as a parasitic mind would. Your feeling that your body isn't entirely yours— Is that something you feel all the time, or only during swaps?"
"It's strongest when I'm using my powers," Syd says. "But it never completely goes away."
"That must be very difficult," Ptonomy says.
Syd shrugs and feels the pull of someone else's muscles. "I don't know how I'd feel without it." She thinks— It probably helped her survive the complete lack of touch she had growing up. She read that the absence of touch can actually kill infants. Even though her powers caused that problem, they must have also protected her.
When they finish with Doctor Orwell, Kerry asks her, "Do you feel like Syd now? David felt like Syd for weeks."
Doctor Orwell closes her eyes, concentrating on her body. "I just feel like myself."
"Good," Kerry says, relieved. "I mean, no offense, but— Things are already confusing enough," she tells Syd.
"I wonder why David felt differently," Cary ponders. "Perhaps because he's a mutant? It could still be an issue for us."
"We don't have to do this now," Syd offers again.
"We'll be all right," Cary assures her. "It's time we figured this out. And it will give me some very useful data." He turns to Divad. "Can you take over?"
“Got it," Divad says, and takes his seat.
Cary and Kerry put on their own sensors now, and any equipment that isn't needed is moved to a safe distance. Everyone else moves back, too.
"I'll go first," Cary insists, over Kerry's objection. "Same process as before."
Cary holds out his hand, and Syd slowly brings her own up to it. When she pauses at the point where the needles should start, she frowns, disconcerted.
"What's wrong?" Cary asks.
"I'm not—" Syd starts, then— She brings her gloved hand to Cary's. She grips it. "I don't feel any needles."
Cary and Kerry stare at each other. Cary stares at Syd. "Last year," he asks, disturbed. "When you touched Kerry—"
"I wasn't conscious," Syd says. "Farouk took control. No one swapped bodies, he just— Hopped through us."
"Take off your glove," Cary demands. "Swap with me."
Syd takes off her glove and— Touches Cary's hand. Nothing happens. "Jesus," she whispers. He's not an android, how is this—
"Dear god," Cary murmurs. He's gone pale. He reaches up and touches Syd's bare upper arm. He touches her face. Nothing happens. "What does this mean?" he asks, desperate.
"Let me try," Kerry insists.
"Glove first," Cary says, but Kerry's already reaching out. Syd feels the needles the moment before Kerry's hand touches her arm, and then—
It's like David. The contact shock knocks them all off their feet, and Syd ends up on her back, dazed. She feels— A female body. Kerry's. She sits up and sees Cary and her own body are both unconscious. She crawls over to her body and shakes it. "Kerry?" she calls.
Kerry stirs and moans. "Whoa," she says, opening her eyes. "That was wild. Cary, are you okay?"
"Cary," Divad calls, concerned. He's kneeling beside Cary. "He's not breathing!"
The research team rushes over, emergency equipment in hand. Ptonomy pulls Divad back, and Divad stares, distraught.
"What's going on?" Kerry asks, worried. She tries to force her way into the huddle but Syd pulls her back. Kerry's body is remarkably strong. "Let me go!" Kerry demands, struggling.
"Let them help him," Syd says.
"You don't understand!" Kerry says. "If he's hurt, I have to heal him! That's what he always did for me!"
"Let her," Ptonomy says, and Syd reverses the swap.
Kerry rushes to Cary's side. She lays down over him, but— Nothing happens. Kerry tries to force him into her, but nothing happens. She stares at Syd, betrayed. "You broke us! You killed him!"
"No," Syd breathes, horrified. She looks to the others for help. Amy pulls Kerry back and the research team starts resuscitation.
"Cary!" Kerry sobs, inconsolable as Amy holds her tight.
Agonizing minutes pass. And then the researchers step back. One of them shakes his head.
Kerry howls in agony, and Oliver cries out and grabs his head in pain.
Syd steps back, shaking her head, denying. Cary can't be dead. Cary can't be dead because of her.
"Cary," Oliver says, and Syd looks to see— He's crying. He wipes the tears away, but they keep coming. And then— "Cary?"
Kerry goes still. "Cary?"
"What's happening?" Divad asks.
"I hear him!" Kerry says, grinning through her tears. "Cary, I hear you! You're inside me again!" Her smile fades, and she reaches into herself. She searches around, looking for something, then stares at Cary's body on the floor. "Cary, we have to get your body back inside me. You got— You got pulled apart."
"Can we put him on life support?" Ptonomy asks.
"He'll be brain dead," Doctor Orwell says, distraught.
"His mind is safe," Ptonomy says. "We have to save his body. Do whatever it takes."
Doctor Orwell nods, and the research team gets back to work.