Actions

Work Header

Where You Come From Is Gone

Work Text:

Careless dipshit. It’s not until she’s locked the washroom stall that she realizes she walked all the way from her desk, secret pink phone in hand. No one noticed, no one noticed. No one will broach why she rushed off to the washroom—she and Art only got back from Fung’s ten minutes ago.

Mika isn’t picking up. 

She picks up, after five or six rings, and Beth doesn’t wait for a greeting: “Did you get the picture I sent?”

Mika’s lips part loudly as if tightly pursed, and she replies, “Yes. You never called me from the station before. That was smart.”

“Yeah, and this isn’t, thank you. Look at the picture. Tell me, what’s the smart thing to do about this?” A cracked and battered doll’s head, face smudged and redrawn in a plaintive wail. Smudged again. Half its hair gone.

“Where did it come from?”

“It was in with the mail. But no address,” Beth says, fetching that leftover pill from her pants pocket. “Manila envelope, right on my desk.”

“Where is it now? Did anyone see?”

Serotronax... that one’s a stimulant. “Back in its envelope, bottom of my drawer, and no. Of course not.” She slept like shit last night. Week, month. Six.

Mika’s tuneless humming, the sound of her worry. Beth pops the pill in her mouth, curls her tongue around it, wets it, guides it down. It’s automatic.

Lips parting. “A threat makes no sense.”

Beth massages the hollow of her neck to dissuade the pill from catching there. “Depends who it’s from.” Her fingers trace downward and loose the topmost shirt button, and she balls a fist that rests flat on her chest. “We agree it’s a threat, at least.”

“Are you... okay?”

“Hey, not even worried about it. You know how hard I’ve worked at not taking things so personally... Think there was a mix-up in the mailroom?”

(Mika never laughs. Once would be enough. She doesn’t have to mean it.)

Hushed half-foreign mutterings. A sip of something irrepressibly sweet. “Katja would’ve told us if the others were sent heads,” she concludes.

Meaning, Katja would’ve told Beth.

“It’s pertinent, you’re damn right.” If she had a pen or something sharp she’d draw something awful on these walls. “Although, she might not know.” Foot slams the toilet lid shut. “Too much we don’t know...

“Humor me, am I reaching?” She steps up top for an assuring peek over the stall door. “This might not even be clone business, could be mundane cop business.”

Mika huffs. “Get real. This isn’t about parking tickets.”

For a second Beth smiles despite herself, and hops back to the floor. Her hair coming loose from its bun. She leaves it. “A threat makes no sense, right? They can’t know we’re digging, so why give themselves away?”

“If they know we’re digging.”

“How? No. We need suspects.” Her fingers count them off. “Someone inside the station, a mole; whoever’s killing off the Europeans; uh... those face carvers you mentioned.”

“Cheek choppers,” Mika says, “unlikely. But, I may have found information on another chopping. I’ll know for sure tonight. I’ll call you.”

Beth presses the back of her hand to her forehead, which is hot, and clammy, as expected. “Cannot wait. I just hope I’m not dead by then.”

Dead air. The whine of fluorescent light finally seizes her ear, prompting a shrieking burst of feedback. She winces, goddamn tinnitus. To go the rest of her life, never firing a gun again. Wrong job. Wrong face. And too late already.

Mika‘s soft voice carries over the wall of noise. “I hope so too, Beth.” Breathy. She means it. Starts humming.

Beth rubs her eyes and mouth, and cuts her off: “Don’t worry about this... I’ll keep things under wraps here. Look, I’ve been in this stall a while, I gotta get back out there. Uh...” She turns the latch, avoids her reflection in the mirror as she comes out. “I would completely lose my shit without you, Mika. You’ve—”

“What did you call me?”

Great, Childs.

She stares up into the light fixture directly above her, and the corresponding noise from her inner ear rises in pitch—sometimes it gets so loud she hopes her eardrum doesn’t rupture; other times she wants it to, for a little quiet. (She can stare at light so long she forgets her eyes are even open. But they’re still burning.)

“I just thought, ‘MK’, that’s a little... dehumanizing. You’re—We’re still people... Mika.”

And she hears, “Oh.” Then only noise. Then, “Okay.” And she swears she hears Mika smiling. She blinks from the light. Her eyes water.

 


 

Helena’s memoirs, page 26 (translated from the Ukrainian)

Before Sarah was Beth, Beth shot Maggie. I will explain.

Maggie gave no goodbye when she left for Canada. No part of me, head nor heart, would admit that I took this personally. But I did. She left by airplane. German Katja’s calls to Beth were compromised, and Maggie was to find Beth and the rest of her flock. I remained, with Tomas, staining my soul with our terrible work.

Danielle. Aryanna. Janika. Their names must be remembered always.

After months of daily reports came silence. Maggie, undoubtedly dead. Tomas told me of this in his great, bright anger. We partook in the old customs—but we did not mourn. She had stolen one of my dolls.

Soon Katja fled to Canada, by airplane also. But Tomas had the fear of flying, so we made our voyage on a large boat. He disregarded my own fear of sinking, and treated me like an outlaw stowaway, never to leave our quarters. 

Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.

Once we docked, I spent as many days and nights as I could away from Tomas, in Maggie’s locker, in prayer and preparation. Beth was police. A copy-cop. She held the keys to the cages. Like Sister Olga, like Tomas.

My hatred of Beth grew. Never before had I hated one of them (us)—was trained not to, any feeling swiftly beaten out of me. Or carved out by my own hand. The copies were not real. 

But I hated her. Not for Maggie, but for the cages. Not yet ready to hate Tomas.

Maggie’s murder was a love tap. Beth’s badge and gun, a broken jaw. Maggie’s murder came with a question: “Are you willing to die for this, as I have, Helena?”

I had seen death in enough of my own faces to know it was no great reward. The thought of it began to frighten me, the promise of paradise no condolence. Not when my outcast selves were said to belong elsewhere.

One Sunday morning I prayed that I was not consigning them to damnation. Then added feathers to my wings, to ward off anymore such sympathies. For those were naught but the devil’s trickery.

 


 

It hits Beth another few dozen times that afternoon, in that barren field with Alison. With each ruthless bullet and the odd exploding bottle: She’ll never know why a woman named Maggie came into that alley—only that it wasn’t to be shot to death.

Alison had tried to back out, even claiming her son was coming down with something nasty, but Beth insisted. She needs to learn how to shoot, the sooner the better.

They don’t talk about it, but it’s all over Alison’s face. So Beth tends to stand behind her, tapping her on the shoulder to give tips, corrections, encouragements. One time, Ali places her hand over Beth’s and squeezes, and Beth knows she’s gonna start fucking talking about it. But she doesn’t.

At Ali’s back, Beth drops her earmuffs around her neck and lets her ears ring freely. (Exposure therapy, self-abuse, she doesn’t care.) They go through four small boxes of 9mm rounds before it starts to rain. Ali hugs her tight, they don’t talk about it, and they go home. To try to forget each other, like it’s ever worked before.

As Beth gets out of her car, a bottle of helpers falls from her coat pocket onto the seat. She snatches it up gratefully.

There’s a slim cardboard package on her doorstep that she assumes is for Paul; fuck Paul. She’d punt it for the hell of it, but there’s that sticker on the side. That funky button-eyed bear. She smiles—first time in, what, a week—then gets pissed, then worried.

Mika knows better. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be here. Either way, she takes it inside and kicks off her mud-caked shoes. The left one scuffs the wall. She rolls her eyes, lets her wet coat drop to the floor.

Goes and sits on the couch and sets the package down on the coffee table. There the bear’s in good company, with the last of Ali’s dying flowers (in an inexplicable vase of Paul’s that’d never been used) and a bowlful of near-ripe nectarines brought over by Art a couple days ago. (He said they’re from Maya; Beth didn’t let him in.)

And of course Dr. Aldous Leekie’s brilliant bullshit book. She gets up and puts that on the shelf right away, out of sight. Where is she in her investigation, anyway? Project Leda; two dead scientists named Duncan; and whatever Mika entrusted with the bear. Save it.

She takes one of the brittle fallen petals off the table, gently so it doesn’t crumble, and sinks back into the couch, looking it over: sees confusion, and hurt, in the way those dirt-colored edges curl inward, groping for the frosted green splotch of life at their center... it won’t be long. She brings the petal to her nose

...

When she wakes up, the light hits different through the windows. The rain’s hitting harder. A sun shower at sunset, she almost missed it. For a second she’s a child again.

“Damn it!”

Petal got crushed. She gathers the flakes off her chest and neck, into her palm.

“Paul?” 

Not here. Helpers, helpers... wedged between the cushions. She makes for the bathroom, to flush the flakes, and do some lines. When that’s done, the sun has slipped away, but the rain won’t let up. She closes the blinds and flicks on the lamp in the corner. And lights a few candles, too. After all, it’s Sunday.

“What’s in the box, Mr. Bear?”

A laptop, and a note: Can’t trust your electronic devices... instructions to join a private network... a whole treatise on the Linux operating system... and more on the back. Beth cracks her knuckles and follows it all to the letter, in the calming grace of her downer buzz. It’s Mika, what did she expect?

Easy peasy, and a full battery, too. It must’ve worked, because there’s an unconvincing sheep onscreen, broadcasting live from the techno-funhouse. (Nothing in her note about how she makes those backgrounds.) Beth rests the laptop on the table, and her elbows on her knees, leaning in with her chin in her hands.

“Hello, Beth.”

This is her life now. “The ‘talking sheep’ gag only works once, Mika. I know it’s you.”

Mika looks down, and hesitantly lifts the mask off her face—no big fuss. She leaves the mask up top, like a hat, and looks straight into the webcam. Cute. 

Beth doesn’t know what to do with that.

Beth asks, “If this isn’t private enough, then why bother?”

She traces every step of the answer’s formation along Mika’s face. It feels invasive. Art would rob her blind on poker night.

“Maybe it wasn’t you.”

“Miss me?”

“I... was worried.” She sucks her lips. “It’s been a week since—“

“I missed you too.” Since she murdered a woman, and ran scared to Mika’s trailer. “Thank you. For the tea, that night.”

Mika’s brow furrows under her choppy bangs. “You didn’t drink it.”

“It’s not about that.” She sniffles, wipes with the back of her hand. Checks for blood. Mika blatantly picks up on it.

“Katja... She arrived on Tuesday.”

“Yeah, her timing’s great.”

“Are you symptomatic?” She’s way close to the screen now.

“No. Shit,” shaking her head vigorously. “No, I am not symptomatic. And no, I know, I haven’t met with Katja.” Beth hugs her shoulders and shudders. “I’m a junky, Mika. What do you want from me?”

Mika pulls back. Brushes hair away from her mouth. “Because of that scrip-happy copshrink.” God, she sounds like Alison.

(Does Beth, sometimes? Troubling.)

“She cut me off, since the suspension. Before that, actually. They were testing my piss.”

Mika studies Beth’s image on the screen. It feels invasive. “So you’re withdrawing?”

“A little. Yeah,” rubbing the back of her neck.

“Liar.”

A peal of thunder explodes just overhead, rattling Beth as much as the windows. God hates a liar; a muted orange petal falls onto the keyboard.

“You like thunderstorms?”

“Not really.”

“Oh, right... delicate equipment, huh?”

Mika shoots her a wounded look. (Because she’s deflecting? Belittling? What?) She sucks at this. It’s why she’s stuck with prying Paul.

“Dad used to come into my room during storms.” 

She plucks the petal from the keys, holds it for Mika to see, and brings it to her nose: doesn’t really smell like anything anymore. Mika’s eyeing her curiously.

But when Beth closes her eyes she can pick up on something faint, almost fragrant: what Alison’s house must smell like. She blows the petal away—it only hits the screen and lands right back where it was.

“Every time, I told him I wasn’t afraid. But that’s just... a little girl talking tough.” She sniffles and smiles, for Mika, whose face softens like she might smile back. (Doesn’t follow through.) “You know, I cut my own bangs back then, too.”

More thunder. Not her fault. Unless it’s for smiling. 

The wind’s picking up, she hears it in the shifting patter of the rain against her windows. Wants it on her skin; wants a tornado to come—she’s wanted that a long time. Watching The Wizard of Oz over and over growing up. To be blown away, no ruby slippers, no coming back.

She’ll probably die without seeing a real tornado. Thought they would be more common.

“I taught myself computers in order to learn how video games were made.”

She waits for it... no thunder. Beth smiles wide this time. “I love that. Could you teach me? In terms I could understand?”

“About computers?” She fidgets with her hoody strings, and moistens her lips. “They’re a bunch of ones and zeroes.”

“And that’s all? What if you added twos?” Beth blinks innocently.

“No. You—you wouldn’t do that. Are you mocking me?”

“I just wanna listen to your voice, Mika.”

Mika pulls a befuddled look, raking her fingers through the thick tangles that hide half her face; lets a breath in and out through her mouth. Cute. Outside, a car alarm goes off. In the driveway. With tinnitus on top.

“God,” Beth mutters, tugging her earlobe. (Mika’s already pulling down the mask.) “It’s nothing... Strong winds can do that. Uh, I’ll call you right back. Don’t worry. Should only take a sec.”

 


 

Helena’s memoirs, page 27 (translated from the Ukrainian)

That evening there was rain, and sun, together. God had heard my prayer: knew the conflict within my soul. And placed it in the sky. From that evening, I knew God. It was time to know Beth also.

Maggie had written down her address, and with that scrap of paper and my knife, I rode there on my motorbike as the sun set. Reaching her street, I found a dark, quiet spot to strip off my outer clothing. To know Beth, I would wear hers—and the rain on my skin was cleansing. His gift to me.

I left my clothes in the bushes below her bedroom window, and climbed inside. Light, and voices, came from another room, but I was alone to get dressed, and I made it quick. She had such fancy clean clothes, proud, professional.

Pants, shirt, jacket, cap. My reflection, dim in the closet mirror. Another life. On the other side of the cages.

Over the thunder and rain, I heard Beth tell a simple story about her father. I also heard what she could not say—for it was not so simple. But who was she telling this to?

I peered out into the living space to find Beth, alone, seated in front of a laptop computer. Its screen, angled away from me. Tantalizing. Then, spoken with a tenderness I resented, a name: Mika.

An outside noise soon drew Beth’s attention away from her love on the screen. And so, the dutiful detective went investigating. But she left the laptop open. From this I supposed Beth unfocused, always somewhere else, buried under many burdens.

And why not, I thought. She was a doll, playing at life. But still capable of ending Maggie’s.

For all her damning faults, Maggie was intelligent, and savvy. She taught me computing, and for this I am grateful.

Astounding colors filled the screen. And Beth’s love wore the face of a sheep. “Hello, little sheep,” I said. “Mika the Sheep, where is your shepherd?” But she gave no answer. She stared through me with hollow black eyes. I bleated in frustration. 

But my sheep sounds soon drowned in thunder, and the colors vanished. The connection was lost, all electricity was out.

Beth had lit candles, which I liked.

 


 

The car’s fine. The rain feels nice. Still no Paul. And that last big clap took out the entire block. No lights. (Someone’s inside.)

It’s just a chill; this violent wind. Still, she can’t shake it: Someone’s inside. Who, then?

Her first thought is Duko, back again. Her second is Maggie. Fuck this. She came out here unarmed, certain there was nothing. And that’s all she found. And all she’ll find inside. It’s just a chill, or the pills. 

What, exactly, are these helpers, anyway? And how far gone is she, that she never asked? Would it really have offended Alison?

Inside. In the sparse light of a few candles, someone’s closing the laptop, and rising calmly from the couch. A woman, Beth’s height and build—which is the most distressing relief she can imagine.

“Katja?” She slams the door and locks it. She’s dripping on the floor again.

Her clone turns away to the opposite wall, lingering on the painting with the imperceptible hole drilled through it. Finally faces her. “Katja... yes. You may call me this, Detective Beth.”

Katja isn’t Slavic, but that’s fine. Beth’s met enough of them already. Spoken the damn riddle enough already. “Just one, I’m a few, no family, too. Who am I?”

Whoever this one is, she snorts, giggles. Bites her lip as she smiles, cocks her head. “I’m you.”

Correct.

Correct face, correct code. But no name. (What’s Mika’s?) And bare feet. Beth asks, “Where are your shoes?” Kicks off her own, again.

“Outside with mud.”

“Oh? That’s courteous. Thank you.” Coat on the rack, this time. “Otherwise I’d have some mixed feelings about this whole... break and enter.”

Beth steps into the candles’ light for a closer look at the fake Katja. Her clothes are all dry. And they aren’t hers. “Those mine?”

She shrugs, her expression unrepentant. “You would have offered them, yes, to one so wet and cold?”

Beth sniffles. “Sure. They fit okay?”

They exchange grins. This one’s is wicked. She fastens the jacket’s top button, to demonstrate its perfect fit.

“Look,” Beth says, “if you’re here to take over my life, please reconsider. You really don’t want it.”

She answers, hushed, with a lover’s tenderness: “Your life is meaningless. I hate you.”

Beth glances over the fake’s shoulder, at the painting. The power’s out. It’s not recording any of this.

Shit. “I thought we had something good here, Katja.”

The red splotches around her eyes are really there—Beth had dismissed them as a trick of the light. But they’re no shadows, they don’t slide from her face as she steps forward; Beth takes an equivalent step back.

The fake puts her hands up playfully, and slinks back where she was, staring like an owl. She lowers her hands, holds them behind her back.

Beth enjoys the extra space. “You caught me at a bad time, so cut the shit. Are you sick?”

“You’re wrong. This night is meant for us,” her voice shaking with fervor. “Only for us.”

“For us to what?”

This one never seems to blink, except in short bursts whenever she hears a stupid question. There’s the latest peal of thunder. She points meekly to the ceiling as her face contorts in ecstasy.

“To heed His message, in the sky.”

She’s sick. The real Katja never mentioned any red eyes, but Beth’s sure of it. “Where did you come from?”

“You don’t know, Detective?” Picking at her lip.

Beth moves to the far chair and slumps down in it, eyes fixed on the freak across the room. Groans softly. “My job’s up in the air right now.”

“Why did you become police?” She returns to the couch, where Beth first found her. Her gaze is unnerving. Blink, damn it.

A wrong answer could have consequences. But there’s no right answer, only the embarrassing truth: “I wanted to stop bad guys.”

She’s unimpressed. Rebukes it with one raised eyebrow. She unbuttons the jacket, and slides her butt to the edge of the couch cushion, head dipping low, to rest at an angle on the throw pillow. Her knees opening wide, closing, opening; Alison would be horrified.

Lets her hands fall to her stomach, where the shirt rides up. “Are they born bad?”

(Maybe Ali managed to forget her this time. No hard feelings.)

“No. No one’s born bad.” Beth pauses. “Life just happens to us. Circumstances... Mistakes.”

“Yet you punish them. Cage them.”

What a night this is turning out to be. “Well, I don’t believe in the death penalty. Any ideas?”

She perks up, leans forward. Grins—still wicked. “Let God decide.”

“Yeah?” Beth sniffles. “I guess I don’t believe in God, either.”

No thunder. The freak looks puzzled for a moment. Then she scoots over, one couch cushion closer to Beth’s chair. Like she has a secret to tell. “But do you know God, Detective?”

Did she ask the Europeans the same thing?

This could have been avoided. Somehow. Months ago, before she’d made any terrible mistakes. But not now.

Beth tilts her head back, and closes her eyes. Prays this creep will make it quick. Taps her heels together, three times, for the hell of it. Nothing happens.

She opens her eyes. The creep hasn’t lifted a finger. (Hasn’t vanished, either.) Hasn’t blinked, if she had to guess. This is her life now.

Does she know God? “If you mean those lab geeks at Project Leda... God’s dead, man. They burned up.”

The creep blinks. Looks at Beth with pure, unsettling fascination. Puts her elbows on her knees, and her chin in her hands. Beth’s jaw clenches.

“Swan Man is not God,” the creep says sweetly.

That’s the secret. 

But what the fuck does it mean?

“I would love to hear more about that.” With a small nod in its direction, Beth draws her attention to the bowl on the table. “Nectarine?”

She stares at the bowl in front of her, like she stares at everything else, and picks out a nectarine. Passes it between her hands, rubs it, sniffs it. Takes a bite. 

The juice that runs down her chin she wipes up, with her middle three fingers. Sucks them clean, loudly, down to their second knuckles. Ali would be horrified; Beth is horrified—but transfixed.

The nectarine goes back in the bowl, which the creep lifts from the table, and tucks under her arm. She stands up, and while she’s at it, plucks a muted orange petal from Ali’s flower. Sniffs it, and shoves it in her jacket pocket. Beth’s jacket pocket. (Her)

Thunder, off in the distance now. She walks halfway to the bedroom, turns to Beth. “My name is Helena. Yours, Elizabeth Childs. We know each other, yes?”

Beth nods.

She walks the rest of the way. Turns to her again, at the threshold. “There is no light in you. I will be back one day, to tell you good riddance.”

Beth nods.

She vanishes in the dark, beyond the candles’ reach. She’s going to climb through the window with a bowl of nectarines.

Helena. 

Swan Man. Is Duncan alive? 

Is his wife?

...

The rattling doorknob wakes her up. It can’t have been long this time; nothing has changed, from where she’s sitting. Still no power, candles still burning bright.

Someone throwing their weight against the door now. Helena would use the window. Paul, his key. Fists pounding on the door now, making Beth’s ears pop. “Stop!”

Finally. Nothing.

“Beth?”

She hadn’t let herself think about Mika—whatever her name is. Up from the chair. Stumble. Open the door.

“Hey. Uh, no animals allowed. It’s in the lease.” She gingerly reaches for Mika’s jaw, and nudges the mask up from her face, over her head. The haunted expression she finds beneath tells her everything. 

“That was Helena. She got in while I was outside. She’s gone.”

Beth steps aside for Mika to pass, locks the door. Still holding onto the mask. Mika doesn’t seem to care.

“She got in before that,” Mika replies, peeking into all the dark corners. “She was listening. She called me Mika.” Comes back around to Beth. “She asked for my shepherd.”

Beth tries not to, but she laughs a little at that. She drops the mask on the table, where the nectarines used to be. A petal falls on it, frosted green.

“You’re fucked up, Beth. I was a teenage pill popper... I see it.”

“Too many helpers. I’m just really, really drowsy.”

“She was so pale. And her eyes.” Mika sits in front of the laptop, opens it and is lit up by the screen. Starts typing.

Beth sits next to her on the couch. “What are you doing?”

“She managed to contact me,” she says, typing away. “I’m seeing if she managed anything else.”

It doesn’t matter. Beth’s trashing the laptop as soon as Mika leaves. But she lets her do it, so she can sit there listening to Mika hum for a few minutes, as she stares off into the flickering light.

When Mika closes the laptop, Beth says, “She killed the Europeans.” And Mika’s full attention is on her, but she can’t pull away from the goddamn candles. “And I’m pretty sure she sent the head.”

There’s no panic. They don’t talk for a while. The rain is dying down outside. There’s been no thunder.

“One of us?” Mika whispers.

Her eyes water. “There’s no us, Mika. We’re... all just running scared.” She feels Mika’s eyes on her. On her bike scar. Feels Mika’s breath on it, when she sighs.

“That’s not true.”

Beth doesn’t say anything. She watches the light.

It takes Mika some time to ask, “Why didn’t she kill you?”

She laughs a little, and when she blinks, tears fall. “She let God decide.” And he decided she deserves this shit a little longer.

A hand on her knee.

Mika leans in and gives her a kiss on the cheek.

Beth rests her head on Mika’s shoulder—it isn’t too damp. Gives her eyes a break. “What’s your name?”