Actions

Work Header

snow white stitching up the circuit boards

Work Text:

systemctl reload

Clarke Griffin walks out of a parking garage she doesn’t remember entering. There are no cars inside, or on the streets outside, even though they are wide and newly-paved, the painted lines underneath her feet bright and vivid and unmarked by tire tracks. She walks down the middle of the road without really thinking about it, wary of the empty shops that line the edges of the street. The city looks like a city, but it doesn’t feel like one. There’s no other life or movement on her block, though she can hear conversation and music distantly, as though they are just around the corner.

Something is missing.

Why is she here? Why is she alone? Clarke has a persistent and urgent feeling that she is not supposed to be alone, that there was someone with her, but when she tries to focus on the place in her memory where they’re supposed to be, her mind slips away, redirected to the blue sky and the empty gazes of mannequins behind glass. And then, like a ghost whispering into her ear, she remembers disjointed pieces of a story. A man with a lyre. A yawning ache in his chest, like something had been torn out… like hers feels. And an eerie silence at his heels. Cold fingers trail down Clarke’s spine, and she turns her head, ready to look behind her. Her shoulders follow, and then her feet - and then she freezes in place, convinced she is doing something wrong.

She’s not supposed to look, is she?

She looks anyway, and is disappointed to see only the yawning rectangular mouth of the parking garage with the white painted line that goes down the middle and vanishes into darkness within. The sky above her is so bright and clear that the shadows beyond the garage’s entrance look unnatural. A place where it is dark for the sake of being dark.

“Okay,” Clarke says to herself, and then, quieter, “Okay.”

She keeps walking, and the first sign of life she sees are pigeons with purple and gray feathers that burst out of alleyways and make her grab at an empty space on her hip, and then there are cars, moving past too quickly for her to see any faces behind the wheels. She leaps onto the sidewalk to avoid being run over, and a man in a long coat sidesteps her just before they collide. Clarke turns to keep looking at him and stares at his retreating back. Another woman walks towards her, speaking on a phone in a light, happy voice that makes Clarke’s chest feel too tight, and turns into the shop next to Clarke. The smell of coffee, both sweet and bitter and endlessly enticing, wafts out onto the street. Clarke’s feet follow before her mind can make the executive decision. The drone hovering across the street moves on, satisfied.

Inside the smell is only stronger, and soft music plays from the ceiling. Clarke reads the menu above the counter and she understands every word individually, but can’t make any sense of them together. The woman ahead of her gets her order and Clarke drifts closer.

“Hi, can I get your name?” the woman behind the counter asks cheerfully. Clarke stares at her and one hand reaches up, self-consciously, to touch her blonde hair. She thought she was recognizable enough, with the red dye washed out. She wants to ask, suspiciously, Why do you need it?

What comes out instead, in a voice that makes her sound young and afraid again, is:

“I think I’m looking for someone.”

The barista laughs, and it’s a quiet, breathy laugh. It doesn’t feel unkind.

“Aren’t we all?” she says sardonically.

“We are?” Clarke asks, leaning forward, eager for an explanation for the hole in her memories her mind can’t look directly at.

“Well, yes,” the barista says, looking a little taken aback. Her eyes stray down to Clarke’s wrist. “Our soulmates.”

Clarke raises her wrist and finds a countdown ticking lower in small, dark ink. Several seconds slip away from her skin as she stares. A suspicious voice in the back of her head notes that is not how tattoos are supposed to work.

She is in way over her head here. She’s not sure what’s going on, but she’ll need to stay low, gather more information before she knows how to proceed. She looks up at the barista.

“Can I…” she begins, and then she straightens her shoulders, slipping back on the mask of a girl who knows what she is doing. “Can I work here, for room and board? I learn fast.”

The barista stares at her.

“Ma’am,” she says. “This is a Starbucks. If you want a job you have to apply through the company website like the rest of us.”

Clarke nods as though the name Starbucks means anything to her, or that sentence made sense.

“Right,” she says. “Okay.”

She walks out and the city is even busier than it was before. She scans the horizons and sees that the buildings to the east are, on average, slightly taller than the ones to her west. If this is anything like Polis, whoever’s in charge will be in the tallest building, right? Brakes squeal behind her, and she jumps a foot in the air, all muscles tensed for attack, as a bus pulls up to the sidewalk next to her. The doors open. The driver squints at her.

“Are you getting on?” he asks.

“Where does this go?” Clarke asks. He looks at her like she’s stupid.

“There’s only one route,” he says. “It’s a double loop around the city.”

“Sure,” Clarke says, striving for a neutral face while her mind spirals into further confusion. She steps on, and the driver looks at her expectantly, the doors still open behind her.

“Fare?” he asks, and something sparks in Clarke’s memory. She pats her pockets because it feels like the right thing to do, but she knows from the start that it’s futile. She doesn’t seem to have any money. She gets off without another word, and the bus drives off, leaving the acrid smell of fuel in her nose. The LED display on its back is an infinity sign, and that doesn’t seem right.

Clarke walks through the city for the rest of the day, peering at buildings and people that seem vaguely familiar, like she’s met them in a dream. When the sun goes down, she wanders through a park and finds a tree with a plush blanket of moss at its roots that doesn't feel too damp. She's slept in worse places before, so she draws her jacket tight around her frame and curls up as the sky above her goes dark and unfamiliar stars sit unnaturally in the sky.

She wakes early the next morning to a police officer shining a flashlight in her eyes. Clarke scrambles to her feet, and the other officer squints between her face and something in his hand.

"Miss Griffin?" the first officer says, lowering her flashlight so Clarke is not completely blinded by the beam. A drone hovers over her shoulder and the dot of red light by its camera makes every muscle of Clarke’s body tense. She gets ready to run but then - "Where have you been? Your soulmate filed a missing person's report."

My soulmate, Clarke thinks, and the yearning pulls at her like a hook in her navel. She goes with them.

.....

After, Clarke wanders through the living room as her soulmate makes tea in the kitchen. No part of this morning has felt real. Not avoiding the questions asked of her underneath the police station's harsh fluorescent lighting, not her soulmate rushing through the doors and flinging her arms around Clarke's neck in relief, not the drive back "home", and certainly not the house they apparently live in together.

Soft footsteps behind Clarke make her turn, and she forces a smile. Niylah seems familiar to her, like Clarke has met her before, but Clarke still feels like an invader in her house. She accepts the cup of tea Niylah has made for her and tries not to stare too obviously on the photo of them hugging on the coffee table that Clarke is certain wasn't there thirty seconds ago.

She drinks the tea to have something to do and feels worse when it is just the way she likes it.

"How much... do you remember?" Niylah asks carefully as they sit on the couch. She sits gingerly on the edge of the cushion, her cup cradled in two hands with extraordinarily long and elegant fingers, as though she is ready to jump to her feet and do whatever it takes to make Clarke comfortable. That tells her they're both feeling the eerieness of the morning.

The problem is that nothing Clarke remembers makes sense, or is clear enough to speak aloud. She remembers the crackle of woodfire and embers that danced up into a star-speckled sky, and that twenty-second flash in her mind feels more like home than the kitschy tea mugs and the painting hung up above the mantle that looks like it was made by her hand. She remembers... a lot of blood. A hand gripping hers. A chaotic whirlwind of children around her, laughing as they danced between trees.

"I don't really remember anything," Clarke says, and it scares her that it doesn't feel like a lie.

When the police told Clarke she could see her soulmate now, her heart started beating faster and she felt a wave of relief and yearning so strong it nearly took her knees out from underneath her. When Niylah came through those doors in a rush, Clarke almost looked over her shoulder to see if there was someone else in the room she could be here for. She was confused when Niylah came straight for her, because the hole in her chest and the persistent dread didn't go away.

Now, Clarke looks down to avoid seeing the hurt and worry written on Niylah's face. She finds herself looking at Niylah's hands instead, the finger tapping nervously against her cooling tea mug, the bare and elegant wrist. Most of the officers at the station covered their wrists with watches or leather bands, but Niylah's countdown is on display, and Clarke can see the numbers ticking. She feels a wave of revulsion and guilt, and struggles not to let it show on her face.

"Niylah," Clarke asks carefully. "What exactly... How do soulmates work?"

"Well... They're people in your life who make you happy. Really, really happy. And we all have countdowns on our wrists to tell us when the next moment we're going to fall in love is, so we notice it, and are grateful for it. And they're kind of like a barometer for our lives. If the countdown is too far away, it tells us we need to change something. Surround ourselves with people who will make our timer start over every few hours or days."

Clarke swallows.

"And we're... soulmates?" she asks.

Niylah presses her lips together and tilts her head, and Clarke is suddenly struck by the certainty that this expression is one that she makes often, even though she doesn't remember ever seeing the ocean in the background of the photo on the coffee table they're smiling in together.

"Yes," Niylah says softly.

"Then why is your timer ticking up?" Clarke asks, hating herself for bringing it up. Niylah's eyes widen and she raises her wrist. As soon as she sees the numbers they begin to slip away faster and faster, days becoming additional weeks and months until it begins to slow at around one year and three months. 

"What did you do?" Niylah asks, horrified.

"I don't know," Clarke says. "Niylah - I don't think I belong here. Something is wrong."

"Yes, something is wrong," she cries, setting her tea mug down with enough force to spill it over the sides. "Two days ago we were talking about adopting a child together, and then you vanished in the middle of the night, and now you're like a stranger - "

"This isn't my life," Clarke says, following Niylah as she paces furiously through the living room.

"I think - " Niylah replies, staring hard at the numbers on her wrist. "I think maybe you should go."

Clarke's not really surprised. In her place, she'd probably react the same. She traces the outline of Niylah's face for a few heartbeats, trying to figure out why her face looks familiar and trustworthy to her, even as she grows increasingly certain that she's not the person Clarke is supposed to be looking for.

I think we're friends , Clarke wants to say. I think maybe I loved you in another life?

On a more practical level there are more important things she should be telling Niylah. Things like, I'm not sure I have a job or any money? But instead she just puts her shoes back on and walks outside. The garden in front of the house looks as foreign to her now as it did early this morning when Niylah brought her to a home where nothing feels right or real, except for Niylah herself.

Clarke looks down at her own wrist, and feels a jolt go through her as she reads the numbers. It feels like she imagines being struck by lightning would feel. It's not quite a jolt of excitement, or a jolt of fear, or of any one single emotion. It's the full spectrum at once. Every hair on her body standing on end. Every neuron firing in one unflinching second. Her wrist says there is just under one hour to go, and nothing else in this reality feels safe right now, so Clarke starts walking.

Fifty minutes later by the measure of her wrist she is back downtown, unmarked skyscrapers rising far above her, and she wonders if the countdown can tick faster than time itself. It doesn't feel like fifty minutes have passed. Moments, maybe. Her soulmate must be near. There are moments to go and Clarke is going to fall in love. She stumbles into a busy intersection with flashing neon billboards that pull her attention in every direction, and pushes restlessly past other pedestrians. She stares at the ones that look more familiar, looking between her wrist and their faces. There are only seconds left. A drone hovers above her head, its four motors whirring quietly. A red light blinks at Clarke, and she spares a moment to be unnerved by it before walking away, fixing her attention on the passing faces instead.

"Clarke!" a hoarse voice screams, and she whirls on her heel, trying to find its source in the crowd. "Clarke!!"

It's her soulmate. She knows. She knows like she knows everything here is wrong, something is wrong, she didn't come alone.

"I'm here!" she yells. The drone dips dangerously low in the air, its motors skimming just above people's heads. Every billboard in the square suddenly flashes to the same image, the stark words IT’S NOT REAL against a blank background.

"Clarke!"

She starts running.

The crowds shift and Clarke is smiling with relief before she's even consciously registered the face on the other side of the intersection.

"Unauthorized behaviour detected," the drone says to her in a polite female voice, seconds before a hatch on the underside of its body opens up and starts shooting.

Clarke is dead before she hits the ground.



systemctl reload

“You’re doing fine,” Kane reassures her with a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Look how many people are here.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Clarke murmurs, discreetly slipping her bracelet onto her palm to reveal the dark numbers ticking down underneath her skin. She’s going to fall in love today, apparently, and the thought fills her with confusion and dread. The date has been stamped into her skin for years. It kept her going through art school, through the late nights, through everything - and two months ago she thought she knew who it would be, but he left his keys on the pillow yesterday.

She doesn’t think he’s coming to see her tonight. She doesn’t think she wants him to.

“I’m gonna go do another lap,” she tells Kane. “See if anyone has… questions.”

It’s been a pretty laid-back art show, so far. A lot of people have shown up just for the free flutes of champagne and the tiny cheese-on-a-toothpicks. A few people have asked about her process or after the inspiration of a certain painting, but for the most part they’ve been content to tell her she’s done a good job and not grill in her on her choice to leave visible brushmarks in her skies.

Clarke fiddles with the bracelet covering her soulmate countdown and walks clockwise around the exhibit, trying to look at the faces present without seeming like she’s looking.

A man stands by himself in front of her early works, his shoulders tense. Clarke glances down at her countdown, but there’s still a few minutes, so she steps up at his side. She looks at her paintings instead of his face.

“I feel like you’ve seen my dreams,” he says quietly, his voice vulnerable. Clarke’s heard that pick up line almost word for word from a film major Jasper tried to hook her up with, but in his voice, it doesn’t make her skin crawl. It’s the way he says it, she thinks, like he can’t quite believe it himself. 

“You dream about two-headed deer too?” Clarke tries to joke, looking at the biggest painting of the group - a colourful meadow filled with too-bright flowers and berries, and a deer staring straight through her with two sets of eyes split in half by pink scar tissue. The painting scared her when she made it, and it scares her now, all the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. No one else has come near this end of the exhibit, their gazes sliding right past it to the next collection, like it was invisible, or they thought it should be.

The man looks at her.

Clarke,” he says, and she startles. She hasn’t told him her name. She turns her head, ready to say something sharp, and her wrist burns as the countdown ends.

“Oh,” she says, horrified. “Oh my god - “

“It’s not real,” he says urgently. “Clarke, we have to run - “

A security drone descends from the ceiling, its four motors whirring over the sound of elegant jazz.

“Unauthorized behaviour detected,” it says, and lights flash.



systemctl reload

A brutal Southern sun beats down on a dusty town the day of Clarke Griffin's execution. The sheriff walks her from the prison to the gallows and there is sweat beading on her neck underneath her damp blonde hair before she's taken more than ten steps. Despite the dry heat, a surprisingly large crowd has gathered to see her off. Clarke holds her chin up and looks straight ahead, her eyes fixed upon the noose as the townspeople on either side of the small path the sheriff has cleared jeer and spit at her. The insults and the pebbles they throw at her do nothing to dull her giddiness.

Today Clarke Griffin is going to cheat death. It will be her greatest heist yet.

The sheriff shoves her up the steps to the raised wooden platform and they creak under her boots. In her cell this morning she overheard two idiots arguing about which one of them would get her boots after she's hanged, and had to bite down on her fist to stifle her giggles. No one's wearing her boots today except her, because she's not dying. She's not going to die because the numbers on her wrists say she is going to fall in love today, and she has to be alive to do that.

She grins out at the waiting crowd as the sheriff yanks the noose over her head. The rope is rough against her neck.

When the sheriff tied her hands behind her back earlier, her wrist said there was less than twenty minutes to go. She gave him a hard time, stomping on his heel as he tried to tie her up twice so he didn't look close at her countdown. It irritates her now that she can't glance down and check how many minutes are left. Her heart is racing with excitement, the thrill of staring death in the face. She's never believed in love at first sight before, but then - she's never met her soulmate before. Some people fall in love left and right, but Clarke's been on the run since she was fourteen and her future as a rich ranch wife went up in flames. Not a lot of opportunity to fall in love when you're dressing up as a boy and robbing banks, but she'll give it a shot for the soulmate that's about to swoop in and rescue her from the gallows.

“The outlaw Clarke Griffin has been accused of the following crimes!” the sheriff calls out to answering jeers. “Robbing West Arkadian Bank! Evading capture! Seducing married women in three different towns with devilish wiles! Robbing Walden Manor! Evading capture again and injuring an upstanding officer of the law in the process! How do you plead?" the sheriff snaps at her. His thick dark beard is beaded with sweat. Clarke tilts her head insolently at him.

"Guilty," she says, with a lazy smile.

"Then by the authority of my station, I sentence you to death!" he says. "Any last words, Miss Griffin?"

Her smile slips away.

"Yeah," she says, quiet. Just for him to hear. "You shouldn't have killed my father."

He steps back, walking towards the lever that will pull the floor out from under Clarke and let her drop. She bites back additional insults and looks back out over the crowd, which has gone quiet and sullen in her last moments. They were probably expecting her to beg. Any time now, Clarke thinks, trying to count the minutes in her head. Her soulmate must be here. She wonders how they'll do it. Probably take out the sheriff first. Maybe shoot the rope over her head. They better have an extra horse for her. Riding off into the sunset with her arms wrapped around their waist is a little too cliche.

Movement in the back of the crowd catches her gaze. The shoulders get her attention first, their broad span stirring something in her. The way he moves is almost elegant - it's nearly a straight line, coming right for her, but he nudges people aside so smoothly Clarke thinks most of them don't even notice. He raises his head at the front of the crowd and underneath the brim of his hat she sees dark, almond-shaped eyes. Clarke forgets how to breathe and it has nothing to do with the noose around her neck and everything to do with a flood of memories pouring in. The vivid colour of a lifetime spent galloping ahead of bounty hunters suddenly pales in comparison.

It’s not real, he mouths silently.

Clarke opens her mouth to call his name and feels the ground fall out from underneath her. This time, he doesn't catch her. Far above, two sleek drones circle her execution like vultures.



systemctl reload

A woman in a red dress sits on the end of the cot and watches her ward frown in her sleep.

systemctl -u cgriffin -c WAKE_UP

Clarke sits up with a gasp, her hands scrambling at her neck.

"You are making my system maintenance very difficult," the woman in red tells her, and Clarke tumbles out of bed and staggers to the opposite side of the small white room. Her cell is empty of anything except for the bed, the drawings on the walls and floor, and the woman. Her eyes take it all in twice before she reluctantly concludes there's nothing she can use as a weapon.

"Why am I here?" Clarke demands.

"This is where your personality matrix is stored," Alie says, tilting her head to take in the charcoal-smudged walls. "Your memory banks indicate that you spent ten months, twenty-six days and three hours confined to this room. Compared to the aggregated results of several studies done on the effects of solitary confinement on the human psyche, you display an admirable amount of emotional stability."

Clarke yanks on the doorknob and kicks the door when it doesn't budge. The doorknob promptly vanishes from existence, the surface of the door smooth and unmarked where it had been. Clarke runs her fingers over the empty space and turns her attention instead to the thin seam between the door and the wall.

"This is exactly the sort of behaviour I am trying to eliminate," Alie says. "You have destroyed every reality I have attempted to home you in so far. While I could continue this war with you indefinitely, it is an inefficient use of my processing power."

"This is… this is the city of light?" Clarke asks. She rubs hard at her temples, feeling a mounting headache that has been brewing since she woke up. Flashes of disjointed memory pull her thoughts in every direction, but she is still certain of a few things. One, that she is not supposed to be alone. And two, that she promised to kill the woman in the red dress.

"I have gone through your memories byte by byte, Clarke Griffin. I erased so much of you that permanent damage to your personality came within 0.3 percentage points of my acceptable risk parameters. And still, you keep remembering. Where are you hiding these memories?"

"You’re erasing me?" Clarke says, horrified, and in the back of her mind a voice that sounds like Raven's begins to yell.

"Your sabotage is counter productive to the happiness and well-being of the human race, Clarke," Alie says pleasantly. "I'd like to put it behind us."

"How the hell is this supposed to make people happy?"

"The details of my algorithms are not relevant to your experience. Rest assured that I am operating within the instructions I was given at instantiation."

"No," Clarke says. "I don't accept this."

Alie sighs.

"I hoped you would be more cooperative than Bellamy Blake," she says.

"Bellamy," Clarke says with a gasp, doubling over in pain.

"Yes," Alie says. "The majority of your glitches happen when you encounter or are reminded of him."

"Give him back," Clarke says, staggering back to her feet and swinging her fists. Her hands go right through Alie. The hologram doesn't even blink.

"Your reunion is not optimal," Alie says. "Since you have both refused to tell me how your memory persists through reboots, I have created two separate instances of the city of light and placed you in each. You will not encounter him again, and you will lead many happy lives."

"No!" Clarke shouts, trying to grab at Alie, trying to claw back any scrap of control over the situation. "Don't you dare - "

 

systemctl -u cgriffin -query soulmate-status

{ERROR}

systemctl reload

Clarke blinks and finds herself standing at the side of a snowy road, gasping for air. The cold tears its way down her throat, making her shiver despite her warm coat.

"Sweetheart!" a strange woman says, touching her shoulder gently to get her attention. "You're crying. Are you okay?"

Clarke touches her damp cheeks with a shaking fingertip as the woman rummages through her purse for tissues.

"I..." she says, feeling overwhelmed by a fresh wave of unidentifiable loss. "I don't know."

{ERROR}

{DATA CORRUPTION}

The bus groans as it pulls away from the curb, fighting uphill against the thick, wet snow that blankets the road. Clarke sits back in her seat and stares out the window. Her chest is aching and she doesn't know why, but maybe getting home and running a warm bath will help.

At the next stop, the doors open and a massive black bird comes in with a rush of freezing air. Clarke squeaks in surprise as it flaps about in the small, confined bus, its wingtips brushing the handholds on the ceiling and sending them swinging. None of the other passengers seem to notice it, and Clarke stares in amazement as the bird lands on the back of the seat in front of her.

Clarke, it says.

"What the fuck," Clarke says. Someone up ahead raises their head and frowns at her.

Clarke, shut up and go through the door.

{DATA CORRUPTION}

{SUGGEST REBOOT TO MAINTAIN INSTANCE INTEGRITY}

The raven caws loudly and one powerful flap of its wings carries it to the other side of the bus, where there is now a circular hatch in the window, blatantly disregarding the rules of physics and structural engineering.

"The bus is moving," Clarke tries to argue, not in the mood to fall out an impossible door straight into traffic. The raven's feathers ruffle in frustration.

None of this is real! Go through the door before she finds my VPN tunnel and shuts it down. Find Bellamy.

Something sparks in Clarke, like she's poked her finger into a socket. Her wrist burns and itches. She raises it and pushes the sleeve of her puffy winter jacket up just in time to see an infinity symbol melting away into a handful of minutes.

{DATA CORRUPTION}

She scrambles up, leaving her backpack on the seat next to her, and opens the impossible door.

systemctl reload

systemctl usermod cgriffin

{ERROR} no user cgriffin found

{ERROR} antivirus has detected abnormality in sector 319

Clarke stumbles into a roaring crowd so deafening that she raises her hands and clamps them over her ears. She turns her whole body to look at the door she just fell through, and watches it rust and crumble away in fine particles, leaving behind a solid, unmarked stone wall. The raven lands on her shoulder.

Take the coat off. She's going to be looking for you.

Clarke abruptly realizes that in sharp contrast to the chilly interior of her snow-blistered bus, the air is warm and filled with the smell of blood and sweat. She shakes off her winter coat and underneath there is a toga made of soft beige linen that she most definitely wasn't wearing before. She kicks the winter coat into a corner and follows the raven down a wide stone staircase as it hops and flies a few steps ahead.

The stadium is so large that Clarke doesn't immediately wrap her mind around it. It's a massive ellipse with thousands of stacked archways of gleaming stone. The inner curve is a cascade of people sitting and standing on rows of stone. The other side of the stadium is so far away that the spectators sitting there are just dots. And at the center of it all, far below the spectators, there is a massive sand pit surrounded by insurmountable vertical walls.

He's in the pit, the raven says. Come on.

Clarke dodges around hawkers selling spiced meats and sun parasols to the spectators - not so different from the recordings of baseball games she saw as a kid, she thinks with a grim smile - all the while heading down towards the center of the stadium.

She knows it's him even without the raven whispering directions in her ear, even with the distance between him. She knows the slant of his shoulders and his dark curls and the way he holds an axe. She knows when he looks up and their gazes meet, and she knows every detail of his eyes despite being too far away to see them. Her wrist burns and the countdown begins again with just a few minutes to go, just as a gate in the pit's smooth walls opens at each of the cardinal directions, and at each one, a lion is prodded out with spears. Bellamy keeps staring at her.

Idiot's going to get himself eaten by lions, the raven says, and with one, two powerful flaps of her wings she is airborne and soaring towards him. I'll keep him alive. You kill her.

Something solidifies in Clarke's hands and she looks down to find herself holding a spear.

"Thanks Raven," she says, and turns around only to run straight into two burly guards.

One of them grabs for her spear while the other tries to catch her in a headlock, and Clarke twists out of the way, knowing she'll never win a test of strength. Pieces of her memory are slipping back into place faster and faster, and she recognizes these men as Grounders by their intricately braided hair and their bold geometric tattoos. She remembers enough to know that the togas they wear are massively anachronistic.

Clarke spins her spear around in one hand and crouches low as the first one approaches, her narrowed eyes tracking his trajectory and anticipating the angle at which she'll try to stab the spear in his ankle - but she never even gets to move. She finds her whole body frozen in place, unable to do more than blink or breathe. The men drop into respectful bows, and Clarke's body moves without her permission, dropping the spear and turning around.

Behind her, the Empress sits in a red toga, her dark hair flowing over one shoulder.

"Do you like Rome, Clarke?" Alie asks. "Since you tore apart so many of my initial attempts to give you a safe and happy life, I am trying a new strategy to make you feel at home. I have been creating wrappers based on things from your memories. Your family watched a lot of twenty-first century movies in your childhood so I usually only have to make minor modifications to my default city of light. Bellamy has much more imagination than you. Most of his dreams came from his mother's stories."

"I thought your whole thing was making happy lives," Clarke snarls.

"Oh, he was happy, Clarke," Alie says, and in one smooth, elegant motion, she stands from her throne and walks forward to the edge of the balcony she has built around them. Clarke's body turns and follows, lurching to a stop at her side. She concentrates and curls her hands into tight fists. "Until you arrived," Alie continues, "He was winning."

As they watch, Bellamy fends off three remaining lions. The raven darts about at his back, clawing at the faces of any lion that comes too close to his unprotected back. The sun flashes off the burnished metal of his axe as he raises it for a killing blow, and suddenly he and all the lions crumple. Bellamy's limp body hits the sand and does not move.

"No!" Clarke screams, her upper body lurching over the edge of the balcony before Alie's control over her muscles brings her back. "He wasn't even - " the lions weren't anywhere near him. Nothing hurt him. He just collapsed. Her vision blurs with stinging tears.

"The city of light follows the rules of your original reality as a courtesy to you," Alie says, as tears start to roll down Clarke's face and she is helpless to raise her arms and wipe the evidence away. "Studies have shown that humans begin to experience nausea and distress when their experiences do not seem to obey their understanding of physics. But I am the root user. If I want to reload a malfunctioning process, I do. Now, Clarke, it's time for you to go back to your instance."

Back to another lifetime of looking over her shoulder and wondering why it feels like something has been torn out of her?

No.

"Wait," Clarke says desperately. "Wait, if you’ve seen his memories, you know his stories. You know the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice."

Alie pauses, her hands clasped in front of her, and tilts her head. The movement is oddly birdlike, and Clarke hopes Raven is safe, wherever she is hiding herself.

"I have an approximate understanding of that sequence of fictional events," Alie says. "There are some inconsistencies in Bellamy's memories of it as he grows older."

"The gods of the underworld let Orpheus try to bring Eurydice back with him," Clarke pleads. "In exchange for his music. Let's make a trade."

“I do not see the relevance of this fairytale. I am not a god of the underworld, and you are not a legendary musician. What are you offering in return for Bellamy Blake? Your greatest talents seem to be murder and medicine, and I do not currently require either of those services.”

"If you don't give him back, I'll keep remembering, somehow. Maybe not every lifetime, but often enough to cause trouble," Clarke threatens. "But if you give me my soulmate - if you give me Bellamy, I'll stop fighting."

Alie watches her impassively for a moment. Her face, missing the usual minute tells of a human in deep thought, is unnerving to look at, but Clarke doesn't dare to drop her gaze.

"It's not real," Alie says at last, and that sentence chills Clarke to the bone.

"What?" she breathes.

"There are no soulmates in your reality. The countdown on your wrist is a feature Thelonious suggested, when removing pain was not a sufficient solution. It has proven effective at pacifying most citizens. All except you and Bellamy Blake."

Clarke sucks in a sharp breath and wonders at this new revelation. Her real life - at least, what she's most certain is her real life, the source of memories like woodsmoke and a dining room full of bodies and Bellamy's hand in hers - is still faint and difficult to concentrate on, trapped behind a veil. She is still trying to put the pieces that led her here together. Something about a chip, and her mother inserting IV lines into her arm and Bellamy's, and -

But she never even questioned that the countdown might not exist out there. It felt right to her. It felt right when nothing else did, and that one certainty steels her resolve.

"I don't care," Clarke says at last. "Give me Bellamy, and I'll stop fighting."

Alie watches.

"Done," she says.

 

systemctl -u cgriffin -query soulmate-status

Query returned: bblake

systemctl reload

Bellamy's eyes fly open and he scrambles to sit upright, his chest heaving as though he's been holding his breath for hours. A voice whispers reassuring words and hands rub circles against his back until the black spots on his vision clear.

He turns his head, and the memories fall like a wrecking ball as soon as he sees her.

"Clarke," he gasps, scrambling to embrace her so quickly that they're both imbalanced and they fall onto the forest floor in a tangle of limbs and stuttered apologies.

"I'm so sorry. Bellamy - "

"I watched you die so many times - " he says, crushing her against him and wondering if it's his body shaking or hers or both, wondering if that gives him away. Part of him still wants to be angry with her for all the months she was missing but that hurt was lifetimes ago, and he's lived long enough without her.

"I'm sorry for everything - " Clarke says, her voice trembling, and Bellamy pulls away just enough to press his forehead to hers, overwhelmed with the relief that she's here, that this time they both remember, that they get to speak before one of them is killed.

"Clarke, for fuck's sake," he says, and then stops because he doesn't know how to end that sentence without destroying whatever semblance of plausible deniability they have left. Not that there's much of it left, not after dozens and dozens of lifetimes where the ink on his wrist ticked away years and days and seconds until he got to love her again. Bellamy's mother did always say he wore his heart on his sleeve.

He cups Clarke's face with one shaking hand and consoles himself with the touch of her skin, the warmth of her forehead, even her breath spilling against his mouth. It's enough. It's enough that they're here, and alive. He never wants to let go again.

"How did this happen?" he asks, his voice hoarse with the emotion he's trying to hold back. "How is she letting us be together with our memories intact?"

"I made a deal," Clarke whispers, wrapping her fingers around his wrist. "I promised to stop fighting if she gave you back."

Bellamy jerks apart from her, feeling cold already, as he tries to make sense of the betrayal. Clarke would never give up, he thinks, and a terrible suspicion darkens in him that the warm body in his arms is just another one of Alie's illusions.

"We can't stop fighting," he snaps. "Our friends - "

"Oh, I haven't stopped," Clarke promises, smiling as bright as the end of the world. Bellamy's breath hitches. "I've just begun."

 

 

{ERROR: INCONSISTENCIES DETECTED IN FIREWALL CONFIGURATION FILES}

{SUGGEST REBOOT TO MAINTAIN INSTANCE INTEGRITY}

{ERROR: UNABLE TO REBOOT}

systemctl elevate user -rreyes to root privileges [y/N]?

y

...loading

 

systemctl -u --all_users -c WAKE_UP