The voices. The voices echoed inside his head, a cacophony of stray thoughts and ideas clouded and threw off his own in disordered mayhem.
His thoughts. Huh, he no longer even knew which of those thoughts were truly his anymore. They were all just a mix of alien consciences flying across and around his head with no definition, no seams to really tell them apart. They were all him and none of them were him.
Him. Who was he, anyway? He no longer knew, couldn't tell when was the last time he had an answer to the question either. Sometimes he worried if he ever had the answer, but it was hard to hold onto that thought anymore. What he did know was that he was no longer the man he once was. Clay. That name no longer called to him. It wasn’t his anymore. It wasn’t him anymore.
Whoever or whatever he was now, it was broken. Shattered, wrecked, ruined. Dead.
Clay was dead.
He looked at the man reflected in the mirror, and couldn’t recognize him. He looked so much like Clay, but it still wasn’t him. Clay didn’t have that sickly pale, hollow face, nor those dark bags under his eyes. Nor were those eyes heavy and hazy by muted exhaustion and defeat, the grayish-blue that used to glint with life was empty and without emotion.
Clay was dead.
Lost forever inside that dreadful machine, trapped between the dizzying lines of programming, only hoping for a second chance. He - and them – were glad he had the sense to hack into the Black Room and copy his conscience there before he had sunk as low as he – they? – had. He had the sense to lock himself and the Truth away before it was too late. Like right now. It was too late for him, for them all. He was a hollow thing now, carved open until every bit of him fell off and was lost, with a multitude of ghosts having made a home in the gaps and cracks. And now, he waited for one of the ghosts crashing and fluttering inside his tired mind to win and take control. Though he wasn’t sure if he’d last long enough to know which would win that battle. If he had any luck, he wouldn’t.
He stared at the man staring back at him with hazy eyes, fluttering from sanity and insanity, in and out of focus. Who was that man again? Not Clay. Clay was dead.
Not Clay. Not. Clay.
He frowned at the man, the frown shifting into a snarl as he stared. Not Clay.
The voices raced faster in and out of his conscience, rising, louder and louder. His ears rang and flashes of white and black blurred his vision. He squeezed his eyes shut, hands balling into fists against the sink, knuckles going white with the strength. No. Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupSHUT UP!
Before he could realize, one of his fists flew up and punched the mirror, breaking the glass, larger pieces falling to the dark counter and shards flying out. The sudden action sent him reeling back to the present, the gentle clinking of the smaller pieces tumbling to the ground and in the sink rang louder than his labored breaths. And then there it was, the pain, the blood beading and dripping from the stinging cuts.
The dead, empty expression came back to his face, and he took one of the larger shards still clinging to the wall, twisting it around in his hand with a morbid awe at the uneven edges of it. He tightened his grip on it, testing, and watched as the glass cut through his palm from the pressure. His reflection on it was coated in red, making all the harsh shadows the artificial lights cast on him stand out. The more pressure he put over the glass, the bigger the pain, and it helped to push the voices back to the quieter corners of his brain, as if the sensation forced him to focus on him, and this body, this moment. Not what the voices told him he was, now or before. Just him.
He released the unneeded pressure over the piece of glass and tentatively slid it across his palm, slowly, watching with mild interest as the sharp edge tore through skin and veins, blood dripping from the fresh wound, so warm and so alive, dropping down to the sink and floor. The pain was nothing. He had had worse pains than that. A whole eternity worth of pain and suffering, multiple possibilities of real and unreal horror through the ages. No human mind should have been put through the Calculations, and yet here he was. Here they all were. As the pain dulled away from the initial shock, the flashes came back. He sliced his arm, the desperate movement making an uneven cut. They faded away with the pain, and started once again. False memories of pains worse than those cuts burned in the back of his mind, most of them resulting in death.
Cut. An axe dug through his greaves, leather boots, skin, muscle, and sank into his bone, as if to cut down a tree. Cut. A hammer fell over his shoulder, dislocating the joint and splintering his shoulder blade and collarbone. Cut. A spear tip in his back impaling him, traveling between his ribs, through his lung and coming out from his chest. Pieces of wood springing and pinning him down to the wall, the cannonball responsible by the splinters crashing its way through the ship. A dagger sank into his belly, once, twice, thrice… eight times before a ninth slice graced his neck, bleeding him out. Multiple bullets rushed in and out of his body, even after he was long gone.
Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.
His knees failed and he dropped to the ground, wet with his own cooling blood. He eyed his forearms, to see the pale skin in bloody tethers.
He laughed a tired laugh.
They had bled him from all hope of rescue, made him Bleed through memories that weren’t his own, and now, he was bleeding to stop him from Bleeding. Almost poetic, if not utterly tragic.
With shaky limbs and glass shard still in hand, they picked themselves up, tripping their way to their room. It was so clean and sterile, it made them sick. The blank walls and protuding pipes on the ceiling reminded them of something Clay wanted to do. Leave a message. Yes, The Message, capital M. The poor guy didn’t have time to do it, though. It was up to them to do it, it seemed. At least this they could do. Right?
It wasn’t hard to remember the message. Actually, it was probably the clearest, easiest thing to remember, complex as it was. The hard part was to keep their hands steady enough to scribble over the walls. The hardest part was to keep their arms up to draw on the highest parts of the room, to balance themselves over the hard mattress without tripping on the messy sheets. Their hands were cold, blueish in the tips like a corpse's, all blood drained from them.
The room was full, red staining every wall available, but there was no more space for the glyphs. He wasn’t done yet. With shaking, frozen fingers, he typed the password and opened the door to the office space. He was never more happy to be here, just to fuck up that flawlessly white room. And he had a very good reason to do it, too.
He crumbled down to his knees, dragging himself forward, drawing away with his full palms like a small child playing with paint whenever he stopped to regain his breath. The voices were slurry and muddy, just like his mind. He could barely keep his eyes open. No. No, not yet, he had to finish this. For Clay. Clay couldn’t do it anymore.
Clay was dead.
They had to finish this, for his sake. Clay had given up of too much, had died to find the Truth, to help Subject 17. They had to finish what Clay couldn’t.
Even if he was not Clay.
His body was cold all over, shivering and barely with strength to blink away the fogginess from his eyes. He felt so hollow, so dead. The voices were but a tiny noise, most of them dead, some still dying and clawign at his mind begging for mercy. Whichever one was his own was also vanishing, floating away from his own grasp. His mind had never been so blessedly quiet.
He crumbled down at the Animus table, cold steel almost warm in comparison to his frigid body. A last look at the window, red and orange sunrise seeping into the room, the light mixing with the maroon of his drying blood all over the walls and floor. Wouldn’t be long now.
For those two to come. To force him back into the Animus. To bleed him off whatever life he still had. But not this time. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. He still had a choice, even if they had stolen most of his choices away, and he was done with this. Just a little longer.
He struggled to stay in a sitting position, staring with blurred eyes at the stained glass, with new cracks at the edges from the brutal use. Hang on there, one last thing to do now. Just a little longer.
He heard steps on the corridor, approaching in a slow pace. It reminded him of ringing bells, calling the mobs to watch the public execution, and he didn't have to wonder why that was the first impression that came to his failing mind.
With what little strength he had left, he lifted the improvised blade against his neck and swallowed, his breaths shallow and rapid, barely even there anymore. The door slid open, the doctor and his assistance walking just a step in before taking in the scene of him, a bloodied, maimed mess, blood splattered everywhere in the room.
Blue eyes met blue eyes, one pair startled and pained, the other tired and relieved. A soft smile tugged at his lips before he swiped the shard as deep as he could, slicing wind pipes and jugular veins, his shallow, weak pulse forcing out whatever blood was left inside him.
The voices were gone. All of them, just gone. He feel forward, body limp and empty. Dead.
The only voice he heard before it all was beyond his grasp and darkness consumed him was a broken, desperate cry from the blonde woman, sounding so, so far away.
That was him. That was his name. But not anymore.
He was dead.