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a glass cage
Chapter Four

One day, everything was different.

Chloe did not wake up with Elijah. She awoke alone, trapped, naked, and torn apart. Her body and mind's response to this was so overwhelming at first that she immediately shut down.

They rebooted her.

There was no escape. They would keep reactivating her. The scientists never spoke to her, of course, just around her as they excitedly ran tests, discussed code, talked about how "life-like" she was.

No amount of pleading or crying or even threatening them changed a thing. She slammed her fists into the clear glass of her holding cell until she was in danger of damaging herself. It only made them angry. If she broke herself, how could they get the data they needed? She stopped then, but most of the reason was because Elijah's brother entered the room.

Chloe saw the split second look of recognition on his face before his expression went blank and disinterested again. Her heart felt torn in half. She knew exactly why Gavin couldn't do anything about this but it still hurt.

She couldn’t believe that someone who would care, who would want to save her was literally a few feet from her, separated only by glass. Was the world actually this cruel? She’d been living in a safe bubble with Elijah all this time, she realized. It was this cruel. And now she was in pieces.

When he knew they couldn’t see, Gavin approached her.

‘Sorry,’ he mouthed. Then he turned away and left.

All Chloe could do was sink to her knees and sob harder.

***

Elijah woke suddenly, and almost immediately doubled over and puked on his floor. His head was spinning, everything was disoriented, and nothing made sense. It was like he was hung over, except that he didn’t usually drink. He reached for Chloe and it took his foggy brain minutes to understand what was happening: she wasn’t there.

He wandered through the house in desperation, searching for her, but there was nothing. She was gone.

It made no sense. Had she left? Was this some sick game? Maybe he was too sick to understand what was going on and she had gone ahead of him to the lab. That had to be it.

In the time it took the cab to arrive, he started feeling more clear-headed and by the time they arrived at the lab, coherency had turned into panic. He swiped his access card and received a bright red DENIED. He took his keycard to the front desk to explain the issue, but when the woman - he didn’t recognize her - scanned his card she pulled up nothing.

“I’m afraid there’s no record of you working here, Mr. Kamski. You’ll have to make an appointment to speak to someone.”

“But I work here! I’ve worked here for the last SIX YEARS!”

“I’m sorry, Sir, but there’s no reason to shout. If you continue I’ll have to call security.”

“FINE! Fine. Everything is fine. I’ll call someone and get this figured out.”

He stepped outside and dialed a buddy of his from the lab… Disconnected. He dialed another, and another, and finally his boss. All disconnected. He’d been frozen out from everything. Chloe was gone and he’d been frozen out… They’d finally made good on their threats. His funding was cut, and they had ‘acquired’ his data. He knew his home would be cleaned out. If Chloe was gone, all of his data there was gone too, but he had a backup. His stupid childhood crush on Carl had finally panned out for something.

The tears didn’t fall until he stepped into Carl’s house and the door was shut safely behind him. He collapsed to his knees, head on Carl’s lap, and sobbed while the man stuttered in confusion. “Elijah? What’s wrong? What on earth happened?!”

It took a couple awkward tries before he could choke out the words. “I refused to give them her data so they stole her!”

“Oh, fuck… Elijah… You’re lucky you’re not dead. I told you this secret government shit was going to backfire on you.”

“But without it I never would’ve had the resources… She would’ve just been a dream.”

“And you wouldn’t be soaking my pants right now… Which is a really disappointing thing to say in this situation.”

Elijah sniffled and then sat up. “I need… I need my laptop. I left it here.”

“Because you thought someone was following you. Fuck, Elijah… I thought you were just being paranoid. Come on, it’s in the study where you left it.”

Elijah climbed to his feet after Carl gave him a reassuring pat on the head. “What do you intend to do?”

“I’m going to see if she’s… if she’s online still.” Saying it out loud was terrifying and nearly set him crying again, but Carl ushered him into the study anyway.

“Don’t fall apart now, you’ll figure this out. If she’s still online then she needs you right now as much as you need her.”

How did he explain to Carl that she was always the strong one? The firm hand that got things done? He suddenly felt small and helpless and it was pathetic. Carl left him alone in the study while he launched programs and tried to find Chloe remotely. He hadn’t tried anything like this since she’d been in early conception stages, before she’d had a body of her own. It was the same reason he’d never thought to back up her memory before today. How did you prepare for something like this?

The first boots of the zen garden, an old interface program built into the initial concepts of Chloe, came back with busy signals. It wanted to reach her but her system was busy. Wherever she was, she was alive.

So he started triangulating her signal, searching outright for her, making accusations at all the schools and organizations this agency was part of, doing everything in his power to get their attention. It worked, though not the way he wanted. He wanted them to acknowledge him, to let him back in, instead they made sure he understood just how cut off he was.

A car full of men in black dragged him off the street and beat the crap out of him. He spent a couple nights in the hospital only to get out and find that his house had burnt to the fucking ground. He didn’t give up trying, but the homeless weirdo checking all the schools was getting quickly discredited.

No one paid attention to him.

Carl convinced him to give up, to focus on getting through to Chloe instead of trying to get himself killed. He went into hiding, found some crappy place to shack up, and let himself fall into obscurity. It gave him time to fix his programs, to make sure nothing could hack in, and to make sure he could get through anything they tried to throw up to keep him away from Chloe. If he couldn’t find her physically, he’d talk to her remotely.

After weeks of trying, the signal finally went through. The garden launched and, instead of a busy signal, a voice called out — Chloe’s voice.

“Elijah?!”

“Chloe!” He was so relieved he couldn’t handle it. “I thought you were… I was so worried.”

The simulation didn’t work as smoothly on his end, an awkward 3D model of his own to accompany the more robust model of Chloe. Her self was registered by the data she held and reflected seamlessly into the program. So as he stiffly walked to meet her, she ran and threw herself into him. They both sobbed helplessly.

“I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear your voice .. I mean I have recordings but they’re not the same, and — Elijah, I’ve missed you so much!” Chloe rambled, over-excited.

“I’ve missed you too, more than I can say. Are you okay? What did they do to you?”

“I’m — I’m fine. It wasn’t too bad. Don’t worry. What about you? They didn’t do anything to you, did they?” she tried to deflect from what happened to her. He didn’t need to know about her being in pieces .. or any of the other degrading things that happened.

He hesitated and then laughed bitterly. Of course she wouldn’t tell him exactly what happened, for the same reason that he couldn’t tell her what had happened to him.

“I’m alright. It wasn’t anything serious, though we’ll have to get a new place when we get back together.”

“Oh .. oh. That’s too bad,” she said, trying to swallow back any remaining tears in her voice. “I liked that place.”

He wished he could hold her, comfort her, tell her that everything was okay… It wasn’t. “I did too. They really cut all my funding, but I’ve got a set up that I can work with. Do you know where you are? I’ll come get you.”

“You can’t!” Chloe exclaimed quickly and shook her head fiercely. “If you don’t believe me, ask Gavin, okay?”

“What?!” He was glad she couldn’t see the way he shook. “He knows where you are??? Why didn’t he…” He fumbled with his words, furious and upset. “I can’t just leave you alone.”

“You have to, Elijah. You can’t come here.” Chloe said firmly. “Gavin can’t get me out any more than you can.”

Elijah couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped him. “But Chloe…”

“No.” she insisted. “It’s enough for me to know that you’re safe. And you’re going to stay that way.”

“Chloe…” His voice was thick with defeat. “But what about you? You’re not safe there, they just want to exploit you.”

“So far they haven’t been able to figure out your code at all. They can’t make anything that works, they’re completely baffled. I’m almost hoping they’ll give up and maybe I can get away when they get tired of me.” Chloe smiled confidently, although inside she knew they’d probably try to destroy her before they’d ever let her leave.

“At least they’re all idiots… I just hope they give up and call me to make sense of it. I’d even work for them if it meant you were safe.” He’d damn the whole world to know she was safe.

“Maybe that will happen,” she said, but she couldn’t force much hope into her tone. “Oh! I have to go, I’m sorry. I love you.”

And then she was gone.