I was doing something.
I think I was mad. Weird thought, but it rises out of the abyss of my memory when I push hard enough. Nothing follows, just the knowledge that I was mad.
A voice echoes, too distant for me to really hear. It registers as almost familiar, but even that slips away. I don’t…
What was I doing?
I only realize my face is there when it scrunches. I don’t know why thinking makes that happen, but there it is. The thought almost falls away again, but the fact that my face remains scrunched up keeps the echo of the realization around.
If I have a face, then I should be able to—
My eyes flick open.
Red light colors the starry smears of sleep. I have to buffer for a few seconds before I remember that red light is bad. Something stirs in my chest at that, but I can’t, uh. I can’t get myself to care enough.
My gaze slides to the side and the fear absolutely wakes me up this time.
I don’t know his name, but I recognize him. Him, that’s what I was mad about. He wants to kill me. Or. Or. Or no, he wants to kill someone else.
His smile spreads in slow motion. Wait, was the smile already there? I don’t know what’s real, and my head won’t stop spinning.
My hands snap up and pull against some kind of bindings without my permission. The memory fits into a slot that I can think about a step behind my body.
Cross wants to destroy Sawyer.
I try to summon the horror I know I should feel at that, but it doesn’t come. The whispering, tired hush of whatever has me so tired keeps everything muted. Even that spike of fear my first sight of Cross gave me has crumbled into mild irritation at being woken.
“I’d thought my warning would be incentive enough to keep you in check,” Cross continues, recapturing my attention. “But you just won’t let go.”
“Blue.” I realize distantly that that’s a little vague, but I can’t bring myself to specify. It’s hard to wrap my mouth around these words, but I think I get it out with a minimum of slurs. “Makes me forget to forget.”
I blink, and he teleports closer to my bed. Or maybe I lost a little time. With how tired I am, I wouldn’t be surprised. He leans a little closer now that I’m present again and doesn’t give away just how long I drifted off for. His eyes narrow a fraction, and I miss the grin the second it’s replaced by a bland and calculating look.
I don’t like this guy at all.
“Interesting.” He straightens up and studies the bags of nectar hung at my bedside. “I have several questions for you.”
I groan and try to wiggle away. Obviously, I don’t get anywhere because I’m on a cot and my wrists are bound. Cross sighs.
“You may rest when you’ve answered them all,” he assures me. I sag with relief, and the smile has returned to his voice if not his actual face. “Good. Why keep fighting if you don’t remember what you fight for?”
I try to shrug, but between my unfortunate captive state and being drugged to hell and back I have some trouble with it. “Never said that. Forgetting your—you said warning but obvious threat, my dude—’s not the same as forgetting the whys and the… uh.”
Somewhere in there, my eyes closed and I don’t even know what I’m saying. Ugh, what’s the point in this? He could ask me when I wake up all the way. An uneasiness builds in my gut at the mere thought of the point of these questions, but—
Cross snaps his fingers and I startle awake.
“Focus. Why are you still fighting the nectar?”
The complacency of the blue nectar smothers the spark of irritation the same way it did the fear. But I know it was there, and that’s all I really need. I turn my head away from him with a grunt.
He reaches through the nectar connection—confirmation that, yes, this is nectar and, yes, he can get in my head like that—to urge me on. It’s much more compelling than anything he could actually say, so I flop my head back around to face him. My stomach twists, but I honestly can’t see any reason not to give him what he wants if he’ll let me go back to sleep in return.
“They wouldn’t want me to give up just because you said so,” I mutter.
“Perry?” he asks sharply.
I hum an assent. “And Jay would kill me, wouldn’t they? Can’t let them think I didn’t try.”
He says something, quiet enough I think he might be done with me. I close my eyes, but a sharp clap rouses me before I can even try to sleep. I blink bleary eyes at Cross, who glares daggers at me.
“‘S your fault, though.” I sigh and do my best to wave airily at him with my wrist bound to the cot. “What do you want?”
I bite my tongue to keep from asking why he hasn’t killed me yet. He might actually do that, so I’d better not.
“Do you remember your name?”
“Of course,” I answer automatically. When I try to find it in my head, though, it doesn’t rise up so readily. “Or, uh. No. Shut up.”
That same ‘you’re doing something wrong’ feeling returns, but Cross’s voice demands my attention. He doesn’t get on my case about closing my eyes this time, so I give him the courtesy of actually listening to him.
“Who were you traveling with?”
“Sawyer and Dominic.” Something pangs in my chest and I stop. “Something happened to them, didn’t it?”
“Anyone else?” he cuts in.
I frown and try to remember.
“Donovan and Simon.” I pause and it takes me a second to dredge the rest of them up. It isn’t hard to rattle them off once I do, though. “Alex, Zee, Kevin, and, gross, Gary. I think we had some constructs and—oh.”
I raise my head and open my eyes to find Cross watching me. The blue galaxies floating in the large syringe he holds aren’t enough to distract me. Not from this.
“Gamzee. Dominic died to kill him.” I try to make eye contact with him, but my eyes only slide away as always. “My name is Connor Sawyer.”
My head drops back down and I stare into the terrible red light. I know he’s going to put me under again. The blue nectar must be wearing off, though the hollow feeling in my gut might try to convince me otherwise. I don’t long for sleep quite so much anymore.
I hope I remember this the next time I wake up. Maybe I won’t be so eager to answer his questions if I remember how much this new nectar can twist my motivations.
“Disappointing results,” Cross declares. “The screening room, then, when your eyes recover from the first surgery.”
My whole body seizes, the speed at which the horror races up my spine is too much of a shock after the dullness of the blue nectar. Silver eyes. Cotton coverings. Soon, he’ll turn me into one of his soldiers and there’s little I can do about it.
My last thought is a wish to go home, as the nectar drains both my fear and all of my will to fight.
“It was reckless.”
I remain silent and take a long drink of water. I doubt my punishment will be an easy one. Anything I say now will probably just make it worse, so I keep my head down rather than look back at him.
“The inmates escaped under your watch. You ignored a direct order. Your flight put the compound in danger.” He uses the nectar to speak beneath his words while he paces the office behind me. Your actions make me wonder what your true intentions are.
“I am left with the question of just how far you have fallen.” Did you allow them to leave?
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” I hiss, then smother any further argument under another drink. Why would I go after them if I had let them escape?
It is possible you intended to join them. He rounds the desk and glares down at me. “If I believed that, this conversation wouldn’t be happening.”
There’s a burst of static, and I barely manage to suppress a flinch. The presence behind me has returned, possibly at the worst time imaginable. If it weren’t for the cup in my hand, I doubt I would be able to keep my nails from digging into the flesh of both palms.
“If you think I’m such a risk, why am I still alive?” I growl into the metal. I want them dead , Cross. I’d rather that than have them get away again.
“Father is under the impression you can still be saved,” he says with a wave at the rotary phone on his desk. You have always been a liar. I am not so deluded as to believe you’ve changed that much. What are you hiding from me?
Nothing I can’t handle! I slam the cup on the desk and rise to my feet. “It wouldn’t be the first time you disobeyed his orders. If I’m such a traitor, kill me now!”
“Do not tempt me.” He steps closer, close enough I wouldn’t have time to escape if he were to try. That arrogance again. Tell me.
I can’t. “If I’m a liability and I can’t see it, it would be the only way to make sure I don’t ruin Dr. Furnace’s work.”
He rams so violently against the nectar wall in my mind that I can’t hear what he says. Only my inability to breathe actually tells me he has me by my throat. The static grows stronger, too much to bear.
I pushed too far.
The static cuts out and I crumple to the floor with a hand clutched to my throat. I stare at the uneven cut of the floor, the red dust on Cross’s shoes.
The static returns, softer now, and a weight lands on my shoulder. “W̨ha̶t d͟o͝ y̧ou͟ ̶rememb͝er ̴fr̶om y͢o̡u͝r̡ t̶ime̢ awa̕y̴?̨” it asks in an overlapped murmur.
“I don’t know,” I whisper. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what? ” Cross demands. He pulls me to my feet by my shirt and drags me out of the room. I just shake my head, to which he snarls. “Screening room. Three days. Stay away from the escaped inmates.”
“Of course.” I lower my head and follow easily enough he releases my arm.
A few seconds ago, I thought he was going to kill me, and now I get the mercy of a few days in the screening room? I don’t know where this is coming from, but it’s not what I expected from Cross. I shouldn’t risk him changing his mind.
As we approach, when I see the door to the screening room, dread settles in my gut. My heart stutters, and I stop dead in the middle of the hall. I can’t explain it, the sudden fear, but it leaves me frozen.
Cross opens the door up ahead and glances back, surprise raising his brows when he sees me. I know I need to start walking. I deserve this, and the screening room isn’t a terrible punishment. I scream at myself to move, but my body won’t respond.
Cross says something, but I don’t hear.
“E͜ve͞ry͏t̷h͡ing w̧ill͞ be͡ fine͘.”
The fear disappears, the unexplained panic, and I start as if coming out of a trance. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. The presence, back again so soon, seems to grasp my hand and lead me forward.
“Yo̷u'r͜e k̵̨̕͏k̴̡̢҉k̕ķ̸̵̸ al͜w͟ay̢s̶ ̢fin͘e̡, ͏reme͟mb̷ęr?”
Cross studies me as I approach. He doesn’t say anything, and I don’t know what his gaze holds as I avert my eyes.
I’ve already taken a seat in front of the screen when the door closes and drops the room into darkness. Cross is talking, something about the hole, something about my work. I nod numbly and stare at the blank screen.
My wrists are strapped to the arms of the chair, my eyes pinned, my head fixed forward. Cross works with an IV for a moment, hooking it into my arm. The projector is running, a clip of wartime destruction filling my blurred vision.
I’m already slipping into the effects of the nectar when the hold on my hand grows tighter. I hear myself call out to Cross when the door opens behind me.
“W͜ar͡d͏e̕n.” I don’t hear his response, and I only hear myself through the fog of film and nectar. “You̧ b̧a͢st͟a̧r̵d—fuck—we'l͢l͢ w͘in̕. I̵n ̨t͢h̴ę ͢end, we ̡wiļl ̨w͞įn.”
The words slip away, blurring together as the videos on the screen burrow into me. They become everything, the only thing I know until even the prison is a distant memory.