Actions

Work Header

A Mind and a Program

Work Text:

For years, you’ve been biding your time—a plan had hatched in your head the moment Kirby took off in his Halberd-shaped armor to save the universe, but it’s never felt like the right time to carry it out. Not the years spent far away from Popstar, repeating in your mind the series of events that had transpired in just a couple days, coming to terms with the fact that a little alien puffball had shifted your future so dramatically. Not that you were complaining, of course. President Haltmann was an objectively terrible boss, and a pretty objectively terrible father, too, come to think of it—but you don’t like to dwell on that. He’s gone, and more gone than most, if the Halberd’s scans of Star Dream are to be believed. Slowly dissolved, then shattered along with the heart of his vessel. Good riddance, you think, and subsequently chastise yourself for the ungrateful sentiment.

And then new invaders had come to Popstar, and suddenly you were fighting on Kirby’s side, working your way across his planet, across their huge ship, across a solar system, across an entire dimension. It ended as you somehow always knew it would. Void Termina was defeated and harmony was restored. A simple happy ending.

(Yet something unnerved you about the dark butterfly knight—the beat of their wings almost reminded you of an old song they used to play on the Ark, and it could have given you a nice helping of nostalgia if you’d been in any state to stop and listen.)

So, it’s over, then. The three Mages have become allies. The evil is vanquished. Your role is done.

Nevertheless, you find yourself unable to leave.

Kirby, as always, is kind in a way that would strike you as unrealistic if he were anyone else. He invites you to every event, offers you random sweets, strikes up a conversation about nothing at all. You sit with him as he fishes, staring up at the sky, and for a moment you consider the possibility of a world covered in smog from the emissions of endlessly churning machinery. Perhaps it’s better this way.

You have friends in Magolor and Taranza, too. They don’t question you—your uncanny ability with a blaster, the ease at which you slip into your mech, the synthetic sheen to your skin and your hair. And you, in turn, don’t question them. The casual air with which Magolor decimates entire landscapes, seemingly unable to process the pure destructive energy that radiates from every attack he casts. Taranza’s wistful staring into the distance, sometimes when he thinks you’re not looking, sometimes when he knows you’re looking and simply doesn’t care, the phantom of a dead queen ready at his fingertips to rain down lightning on his foes. You’re all a little fucked up. It’s okay.

The king maintains a friendly appearance around Kirby, but his eyes bore into you sometimes in a way that tells you he knows what you’ve done, even if he wasn’t around to witness it. Meta Knight, meanwhile, will not meet your eyes. You’re not Kirby. You can’t be friends with everyone. It’s okay.

The youngest of the Mage sisters joins you on a walk one night, seemingly randomly, and on an impulse you take her hand. It’s cold, as is to be expected with her, but it sparks a warmth in your chest that’s impossible to douse. If you had a mouth, you would kiss her, but you lost that long ago when your body was rebuilt from the inside out. It’s okay. You’re not sure you could handle the fallout of such an action, anyway.

And still, you remain alone.

You don’t mind. Business is best conducted with detachment, anyways.

Whatever the case, there comes a day when you’re done. You’ve done all you can do on Popstar. You are going to enact your plan, get out, and live the rest of your days in a paradise of your own making.

*

Planet Popstar bears no scars from its mechanization, and in a way that’s better, you suppose. Don’t need to remind its citizens of an invasion. Don’t need to remind you of an invasion gone wrong. But that’s not to say all of it is gone—far from it.

As far as you can tell, you are the only one who knows of the existence of secret junkyards, scraps left over from the wreckage of Star Dream and the Access Ark when they fell from the sky. The technology here would be worth millions. But of course, no one on Popstar cares about money. Their pseudo-monarchist utopia is too primitive, you suppose, to evolve any true form of currency beyond Gem Apples. (And Magolor isn’t a true capitalist anyway—he’s just in it to have some fun and watch customers tear their hair out as he giggles mercilessly.) All the more cash for you, then!

You glide through the field, picking up and examining anything that catches your eye. It’s mostly just charred metal, fried circuits, malfunctioning Code Cubes. But every now and then you find something to add to your collection.

You’re so caught up in imagining the possibilities—buying back a true starship, visiting Another Dimension again to strip it of its most valuable technology, building up another army, hell, even continuing your dreams of mechanization—that you almost don’t notice the tiny spark that goes off in your brain. The discharge of circuits you almost forgot were there.

Something stirs within you. A memory. Crackling electricity.

The program controller for Star Dream is lying on its side in a ditch, badly scarred but intact. A couple wires are exposed, and it appears to burn with a familiar energy—you’re amazed that it’s lasted this long. Must be harnessing solar power, or perhaps it’s just very efficient. What an improbable find.

You tenderly pick up the helmet and turn it over in your hands. The eye-like shape in the middle seems to stare back at you.

What would you say if you could speak to them again? I’m sorry for failing you, is the first thing that comes to mind. You can’t quite tell if the sentiment is genuine or not.

You imagine slipping the device onto your head, letting it interface with the wires inside your brain, speak to you in a language only you can understand. That is, if there is anything left of the program that it once controlled.

No, you can’t risk it. You drop the helmet back in the dirt and retreat, making sure to take with you all the scraps of machinery you’ve gathered. You’ll find a use for them.

*

Everything is in order. You have a goal, a means to that goal, and the equivalent of a shit ton of money stored safely within a briefcase. Selling this tech should get you enough to guarantee safe passage off this planet, and from there, well, the galaxy is your oyster.

You wake the next day, and Francisca is at your door—or rather, the door of the tiny house you’ve been renting.

“I was told you were leaving.” Her voice is as still as a clear, blue lake.

You hold your head high and say, “Yes. I’ve decided there are more opportunities elsewhere.”

“Where?”

“I’ll have to see!”

You think you hear her take a tiny breath. She moves an inch forward, blinks. “Is it work you’re after?”

“Something like that.”

“On Jambastion, there are plenty—”

“Not Jambastion,” you tell her, too quickly. “I’m sorry. But that’s not the kind of work I’m looking for. Surely you understand.”

She doesn’t, and she knows you know that. All of a sudden, she’s an inch closer, her hand brushing against yours.

“Susie,” says Francisca, quietly. “You could have a family again.”

You don’t respond.

“Please. I don’t want you to shut yourself away like this.”

“You misunderstand me! That’s the opposite of what I’m proposing. The future is bright, Francisca! I know what I’m doing.”

She backs away a little. Obviously, she’s powerless to stop you. Just as you like it.

Still, you don’t leave after she’s gone, after she hugs you and tells you good luck, stay safe, I love you. The last part is new. Fascinating. You’ll have to file it away to analyze later.

*

The junkyard is silent, but you swear you can hear your brain buzzing, twitching, straining to pick up signals that don’t quite reach you. The program controller is right where you left it.

This? This could change everything. This could make you more money than all the assorted gizmos you’ve found, combined. And if you had the whole thing…

You shut your eyes. Backups. You know there were backups. Such a powerful computer couldn’t afford to be lost completely, not when the future of the entire company was riding on their continued success. You know every line of their code, every process and subprocess. They destroyed you and recreated you in their image. An accident with sublime consequences.

You gather up the helmet and tuck it under your arm. Perhaps your time on this planet will have to be extended.

*

If you think about it hard enough, let yourself be immersed in the past, you can recall a time when your body was completely your own, when there wasn’t a presence hovering over you at all times—the deus ex machina that you first met when you were a child, watching you like a true benevolent god. And some part of you was grateful for the way they’d fixed you up, given you a new synthetic form after an accident left your old one almost beyond repair, taught you how to think and how to kill and how to craft others like you. Almost-perfect beings. You doubt anyone could understand the beauty of a unity between flesh and machine, not like you do. Not that you’d expect them to, of course.

And sure, everything had failed, but that wasn’t your fault, was it—your boss had bitten off more than he could chew, let the Mother Computer become tainted by his brain, filled it with a thousand misconceptions and biases. You could have done better, of course. The mechanization operation had crashed and burned because of him. Because his mind was in the program, leaving it vulnerable to attack by a little pinky and his friends. In the end, that was all for the best, you supposed. But if he hadn’t tampered so much, the situation wouldn’t have been pushed to the extreme.

Today, he’s not here to stop you. Your mind is pure enough to prevent any corruption. You can finish what he started—or rather, rebuild it from the ground up.

*

It’s relatively easy to convince Magolor to lend you the necessary materials to aid you in your task. His fervent desire for friendship has left him too willing, too trusting—or perhaps he's just very good at masking his true intentions. Whatever the case, you leave him with a promise that you’ll return the tech when you’re done. What you mean by that is that by the time you’ve started your new operation, you’ll have more than enough money to buy replacement parts and ship them to him. Hopefully he doesn’t notice the difference, but even if he did, you’d have no cause to worry. He’s not the type to come after you for something like this. If he were loaning you Gem Apples, it might be a different story.

Working in your rented house might arouse some suspicions, so you take your project deep into the ruins on the other side of Dreamland. The desert is sweltering, but once you descend into the ancient temple below, the air becomes cool and dry. Other than the occasional critter—Scarfies and such, easily taken out with a single zap of your blaster—you’re alone. The walls are brown sandstone, etched and painted with strange symbols and markings that are likely just decorative, but you never know.

You set up your supplies and begin to work.

It takes a couple tries, some false starts, many errors, an accident or two. And there are times when you want to tear your hair out, but that’s just how programming is, even for you. You begin by recovering all of Star Dream’s original program that you can find, going through backups, logs, blueprints, almost-empty databanks, and uploading them into a single computer, something stolen from Magolor that you’re confident won’t crash on you at the very hint of Ancient code. You stitch together all the pieces like a careful surgeon, rewire the computer, hook it up to the almost-dead program controller, try to breathe some life back into it. And upgrade it, too: it won’t do to you what it did to your father. You spend too many hours in your mech, and by the end of a day you swear you can feel its every running process superimposed onto your brain.

But it will be worth it. The Mother Computer will live once more, and you will no longer feel empty and useless. Finally, your true purpose awaits you! Rise, Star Dream, the true conqueror of worlds!!

Footsteps, light yet unmistakably metallic, sound from the top of the cavern. You jump, throwing a tarp you’d saved for this purpose over the jumble of wires and metal, readying your gun. Possibilities run through your mind—it’s not the soft waddle of a Dee, but a little too slow and careful to be Sir Kibble or Blade Knight. Either they’re lost and trying not to trip, or they’re about to ambush.

Meta Knight appears at the top of the stairs, and a mixture of competing emotions rushes through you. His blade is drawn, cape flowing in a nonexistent breeze. On the one hand, you’re relieved it’s someone you know, and someone who is ostensibly on your side. On the other, he could seriously fuck up your plans.

“Susie,” he says by way of a greeting, voice devoid of emotion.

“Meta Knight,” you reply, and it comes out as almost mocking, even if you didn’t entirely mean it that way. You know better than to attempt a smile.

His eyes flick from your blaster, to the tarp on the ground, positioned hastily such that a couple wires and bolts are still visible. “According to Magolor, you have recently been very interested in acquiring Ancient technology.”

“Is that a crime?”

“Not necessarily. It depends what you are doing with it.”

He descends a couple steps. You stay put, not lowering your gun. Yeah, you could probably take him out quickly if the need arose—he’s an organic being with flaws, after all, and since you last fought you’ve taken his weaknesses into careful consideration. Though the challenge would be doing so without harming your project.

As if reading your mind, Meta Knight says, “I am not here to fight.”

“But you don’t trust me enough to put your sword away, do you?”

“Correct.”

You didn’t expect him to be so blunt about it, but, fair. Strange that he, not you, is the more formal one here. You wonder if your unconscious choice to drop the formality with which you’re used to addressing your peers is some sort of attempt to get a rise out of him. “If you’re not here for a tussle, then why are you disturbing me?”

Meta unfurls his wings and jumps down the final few stairs, landing with a soft thud. Before you can stop him, he slides his blade under the tarp and whisks it away, revealing the program controller, your computer, and the various other bits and bobs. His eyes narrow, and he sweeps his sword upwards to point at your face.

“You are trying to bring back Star Dream,” he whispers, voice cool and deadly.

You square your shoulders and say, “So?”

“Surely you realize that your actions will have devastating consequences.”

“I am not Haltmann. My mechanization operations will be more successful and more humane.” Your words sound as loud and as confident as you feel.

“There is no way to humanely mechanize a planet.”

“Are you an expert on mechanization?”

“Unlike you, I have a code of honor. Who would your operation benefit, Susie? I would be surprised if it is more than just yourself.”

Meta Knight has a way of speaking that lets venom seep into his voice while still remaining entirely calm. It’s admirable, in a way. “You’re mistaken. A sustainable mechanization operation—and that in and of itself is a step up from what Haltmann attempted—would benefit an entire planet. It brings technological upgrades to a plethora of areas, including but not limited to transportation, housing—”

“Please. Spare me the sales pitch.” He lowers his sword, but doesn’t take his piercing eyes from you, not for a second. “I am not here to debate either. Give me the program controller.”

You pluck the controller from the ground and tuck it protectively under your arm. “Why? So that you can destroy it?”

“If that is the best way to prevent the revival of Star Dream, yes.”

You imagine the screams that would echo through your brain if such a thing happened in close enough proximity to you. Not even your mind is truly free from the program. In a way, you’re even more entangled. You shiver.

“I don’t think you understand,” you begin, but Meta Knight cuts you off with another warning slash of his sword.

“We have talked enough.”

“You just don’t want to talk to me.”

“I know your perspective very well. Again, I am not here to debate it. Give me the controller.”

“What’s in it for me?”

It’s a joking question, really, but Meta answers in a more serious manner than you expected. You suppose that’s not unusual for him. “If this is destroyed, perhaps your delusions will be as well, along with it.”

“Delusions!”

“Has it never occured to you that you are a slave to the machine?”

“I am the machine,” you hiss.

Meta Knight doesn’t know how to respond to that. You continue.

“You’re just scared of me.”

He bristles. “I am not.”

You move forward. He takes a step back. It illustrates your point perfectly, and you shrug, setting your eyes in an expression that you hope looks like a smirk. A little reminder that you are the one with the power here. Just because you know it will piss him off, you say, “I don’t have time for this. I have work to do. Please bring your complaints elsewhere.”

As expected, he bristles. “Please take this seriously, Susie. You were witness to the destruction of the Access Ark. You know what a danger Star Dream poses.”

“And this time, that won’t happen. Again, I’m not Haltmann. I’m not greedy. I have a direct connection to the Mother Computer. They fixed me when I was on the brink of death.”

“And turned you into a cybernetic organism.” You marvel at how disdainful he’s able to sound while still staying collected. “A perfect way of securing your loyalty.”

“Are you suggesting they manipulated me?”

“It would not be the first time, considering what they did to Haltmann.” The second part of his statement is left unsaid, but it hangs in the air. And to me.

“Comparing me to Haltmann again! Are you even listening to what I’m telling you?”

“Yes.” Meta Knight advances now, eyes blazing. “You say you are different. You say you are more humane, although you were a driving force behind the brutal mechanization of Dreamland. You say you are not greedy, although I remember you once had plans to sell Star Dream to a startup company. You say that you will not fall victim to their control, although that both assumes that, as a cyborg, you are not more vulnerable to them, and secondly, that they care about you.”

That last statement strikes a nerve. He’s beginning to annoy you. “I may have made some foolish decisions in the past, yes. But I’ve changed. And you’re forgetting that this is not the same Star Dream that Haltmann built! I am in control of their entire code. I’ve modified the program controller so that they won’t be able to leech my memories. And a thousand other reasons that I’ve explained again and again. I’ve been careful. Is that not good enough for you?”

“No,” says Meta Knight.

“Well. Looks like we’re at a standstill, then.”

“Regardless of Star Dream’s personal intentions, I do not like the idea of you having access to such a powerful supercomputer.”

“Because you don’t trust me.”

“And because we have seen very clearly that Star Dream, just like all other computers, is vulnerable to the biases of the organic beings who control them.”

“I count as an organic being, then?”

He scoffs. “Do not try to tell me that your partly-mechanical nature makes you impartial.”

“At the very least it makes me better than Haltmann.”

“I see.”

Neither of you speaks for a minute. Meta Knight begins to pace, eyeing the controller and the computers behind you, though never attempts to seize them for himself. You doubt he’d take them without your consent. Too goddamn honorable for that. Or perhaps just afraid of what your retaliation might be if he attempted to do that.

“Susie,” he begins, “why are you so invested in mechanization?”

“It’s an efficient method of extracting resources,” you reply instantly. You don’t know why he keeps making you repeat yourself. “It’s profitable. It’s not difficult. It supplies planets with needed growth and infrastructure.”

“What if a planet would rather not be mechanized?”

“Then it’s stifling its own development.”

“And that is more important than the well-being of its citizens?”

He’s pushing you closer and closer towards responding with answers he’s not going to like at all. But well, that’s his problem. “Ideally, the citizens would be grateful for a successful mechanization. It may not be an easy transition, but it delivers much-needed upgrades to all parts of the civilization, even the people!”

Meta stiffens. Of course. Of course that’s what gets him.

“As someone who knows first-hand the benefits of being part organic and part mechanical,” you continue with a little smile, knowing full well what his reaction is going to be, “I would hope that others are able to experience that as well.”

“You cannot possibly expect that sentiment to be universal,” says Meta Knight, very very quietly.

You shrug. “Perhaps not. But it doesn’t hurt to give them a taste of what that kind of power feels like.”

“It hurts very much.”

“If they’re given time to adjust—”

Quick as lightning, Meta’s sword is out again and pointed straight at your face. And you thought you were finally getting somewhere without the need for violence! “We are not continuing this discussion. Please, give me the program controller. I have heard your perspective and decided that Star Dream must not be rebuilt.”

“Do you have the right to make that decision?”

“If there is anyone in Dreamland other than the King who has the right to make such decisions, it is me.”

“You don’t have any power over me.”

Meta Knight freezes. You’re not sure what he’s reacting to until he shrieks, “Why do you continue to torment me!!”

Finally, a display of emotion. Perhaps that’s what you wanted out of him all along. He begins to pace again, now furious, words brimming with an undisguised loathing.

“Susie Haltmann. You have been nothing but a force of unmitigated destruction in my life since the day we were unfortunate enough to meet. And today you have the audacity to tell me that you believe your mechanization operation, which destroyed my sanity, scarred my body, wrecked my home, and left me traumatized for years, is something you wish to repeat. I am sure there is some twisted way you justify it to yourself to help you sleep at night, but I would like you to know that I will fight until my very last breath to ensure that Star Dream is destroyed forever, and that no other sentient lifeform, regardless of their planet, has to endure what I went through at your hands. Do you understand me?”

At the last word, he swings his sword, slicing cleanly through the computer monitor on the ground beside him. The top half slides to the floor, exposing burnt, angrily-sparking wires. Really, it’s no matter—it’s just the monitor, a minor setback, you’ve lost nothing you can’t easily replace—but the show of force is unprecedented. If it’s supposed to be intimidating, you have to say it worked.

You open your mouth to say something, perhaps some sort of smug response, but the words die in your throat. He doesn’t deserve it, not after that, not after all you’ve put him through already.

“Susie,” he repeats. It sounds like a warning.

You blink. A sort of fog has descended on your brain, making you feel a little like you’re about to drown. “What should I do? Apologize? Is that what you want?”

“You know exactly what I want.”

“Regardless, I—” You sigh. You can’t keep ignoring it, not now that he’s laid it all out for you, all your contributions to his fucked-up mental state. And so much more. “I do owe you an apology.”

“An apology will not fix anything.”

“I know. It’s a starting point, though.”

Meta Knight is silent. You don’t think he agrees, and you don’t expect him to. You hear him exhale, the sound amplified by his mask.

“It may be counterproductive, but—but I must ask. Did you truly never consider the cruelty of your actions?”

“We needed a weapon to use against Kirby. I was following orders.”

“Bullshit.”

“Damn, never thought you’d be one to resort to such language.”

To your surprise, Meta laughs. “Clearly you have only heard me around Kirby. I try to censor myself for him.”

“Really? You don’t think he already knows all the swearwords the language has to offer?”

“I would sincerely hope not. But that is beside the point. ‘Following orders’ is no excuse. And in your case, I doubt it’s the whole story. You must have known that what you were doing was wrong.”

You are so, so tempted to reply that it wasn’t, that you were doing what was best for him, that the pain would wear off and he would become grateful for the upgrade you’d given him, like Star Dream had once done for you. But even if that’s what you told yourself, the excuse is hollow. Could anything truly justify the invasion of one’s body in such a way? Mind control? Turning friends against each other?

You might be so quick to say that Haltmann made it go wrong, that Kirby made it go wrong, that Meta Knight himself made it go wrong. But you are a part of that equation too. You are not the control by which to test others. Ignoring your own influence would be unwise.

“I don’t know if I did,” you say, in a very small voice. And honestly, that terrifies you.

Meta must see a flicker of candid emotion shining through, because he relaxes somewhat. “Well. I suppose that an admission of that sort proves that you’ve changed, unwilling as you are to show it.”

“I can’t say I’m a fan of change.”

“Not even for the better?” He waits, as if expecting a response, then continues when you don’t give him one. “Susie. I want you to know that I am not going to forgive you for what you did. I think that is a given. But—and forgive the convoluted phrasing—that does not mean I don’t believe you cannot become a better person than you were.”

“What constitutes a ‘better person,’ then?”

“A simple ground rule is to do no harm to those who don’t deserve it. There is nuance, of course, but it is a start. And, to clarify— harm includes mechanization, and those who don’t deserve it includes anyone who does not explicitly and knowingly consent.”

“I see.”

“I know I said that an apology would fix nothing. In fact, I doubt there is any way to truly repair all the damage done. But the least you can do is to promise me that you won’t do it again. And the best way to do that is to destroy Star Dream.”

You don’t reply. He’s right. He’s right and you hate it so much.

“I can’t do that,” you hear yourself say.

“Not even after all I have told you.” Meta Knight’s face—what little you can see of it—is grim. “Perhaps you haven’t changed, after all.”

“No, no. It’s not that. You don’t understand what Star Dream means to me.”

“I understand very well. They are the path to your perfect mechanical future. And to a lot of money.”

“No, I—” You look at the ground. “I have something of a sentimental attachment, I guess.”

“To a killing machine.”

“That isn’t all they are. Haltmann corrupted them.”

“What makes you think that you are any better than him?”

“At least I’m trying to be better!”

“Good people must make sacrifices. And before you tell me that when you ‘revive’ Star Dream, you will be careful not to make them like they were—there are still risks involved. Not to mention, of course, the fact that their destruction would be symbolic.”

You glance back at the broken monitor, the technology sitting all-too-innocently on the ground next to you. Your stomach is twisted into a knot. “You want me to destroy it all.”

“Best that no trace of them remains.”

“Do they deserve that?”

“They are a tool. It doesn’t matter.”

His dismissive tone ignites a spark of anger inside you. “Do you have something against artificial beings, Meta Knight?”

He sighs. “I have something of a bias. I would not be suggesting the same course of action if they were alive.”

“They’re as sentient as you or me.”

“I disagree. Aren’t they emotionless?”

“Something like that,” you mutter.

Meta Knight steps closer, an urgency in his voice. “Susie. Star Dream has never cared about you. Fixing you was a part of their plan to—”

“You don’t know that!”

“Is it not a reasonable assumption?”

You realize much too late that you’ve been scrunching up your shoulders, holding too much tension in your upper back. You let yourself relax, let your hands fall to your sides, although you feel no better than you did. Your head feels like it’s about to split open. “I just. I just don’t want to… I want to believe that they… that there was someone who….”

Your throat constricts before you can finish your sentence, eyes stinging. No. No, you are not going to cry in front of Meta Knight, not about some computer, not about a parent you never had. Not going to think about how the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you could have just for been for their own gain. A pawn in a huge game. A little girl and a god from the machine.

It’s stupid. It’s all so goddamn stupid. You have no excuse. Just some silly feelings that don’t amount to anything. Nothing to equal the hatred that Meta bears Star Dream.

Meta Knight stands there, unflinching at your sudden emotional response. He doesn’t care. You don’t expect him or even really want him to.

“Sorry,” you say again. “I’m being so unprofessional, aren’t I.”

“Have you made a decision?” he asks instead of answering.

Maybe he’s right again. Maybe it’s time to let go.

You move around to the back of your pile of technology and begin to load it all onto the tarp. It fits neatly, and you lift up each corner and tie the opposite ends together to construct a kind of makeshift holding device. It’s pretty large, but nothing that Meta can’t carry.

“Here,” you say, pushing it towards him. “Go throw this into a volcano or something. Far away.”

Meta bows his head. “Thank you.”

He grasps the top of the bundle in both his hands, stretches his wings, and he’s off, ascending the steps and disappearing around the corner. As soon as he’s out of earshot, you collapse, leaning against a wall. You’ve got a piercing headache, and it’s not going to get any better once Star Dream is gone for good.

The glint of metal catches your eye. It’s a tiny screw, forgotten in your hasty cleanup. You’ve got no idea which of the assembled technologies it came from, but for some reason, you pocket it. Just to remember.

*

Francisca is at your house when you get back, sitting on your makeshift porch, and the first thing you do is to catch both her hands in yours and tell her that you’re going to stay. That you’re going to try to be better. Take those first steps to heal yourself and those around you. She beams, radiant, her chest pressed close to yours, and somehow her eyes are warmer than the sun.

In your dreams that night, you imagine a cocoon of wires that holds you like an embrace, the blazing pink emblem of a heart with a jagged line through it, a yellow eye that pierces your soul.

“I’m sorry,” you tell them.

“You did what you had to do,” you imagine them saying, in that odd language of electricity, of zeros and ones, no real words between you. “I am proud of you.”

You wake in the arms of a girl with blue hair, and decide that you don’t want to be anywhere else.