Puru Two was awake.
The last thing she remembered was the battle that killed Glemmy and Haman and would have killed Judau Ashta as well if she and the crew of the Nahel Argama hadn’t intervened. Aggravating her wounds and straining her newtype abilities had taken its toll, and as soon as she knew Judau was going to make it, she had given up fighting the inevitable and let the darkness close in.
And then... she woke up. And as if that wasn’t strange enough in and of itself, the first thing that greeted her when she opened her bleary eyes was a pink and yellow blur going “Yo! Long time no see.”
It was enough to make Puru’s head spin. She almost expected it to be a hallucination, but when her vision finally cleared, the blonde girl was still there, smiling at her crookedly through a dark, swollen bruise on her cheek and with an icepack pressed to her temple. Puru knew she had seen this person before...
“Elle Viano.” the girl said. “A friend of Judau’s. You remember, right?”
Oh, she remembered, alright. But it was strange...
“Where am I? How long was I asleep?”
“Nahel Argama’s sickbay. You’ve been out for little over a week.” She cocked a painfully discoloured grin. “You missed all the action.”
“The battle is over?”
“Yup. The Federation forces finally got their act together. Who knows how long that’ll last, but they got everything quieted down in no time. Oh, this?” She noticed what Puru was looking at and motioned with her icepack. “Just a little accident in the hangar. We’re salvaging some of the stuff that’s floating around for supplies, and the hatch of this one escape pod turned out to have had its counterspring mechanism banged out of commission. I’m going to kick Mondo’s ass for being so careless, but it looks more painful than it is.”
“You’re only saying that because the painkillers I gave you are kicking in, Miss Elle.” a man Puru could only assume was the doctor said as he emerged from a little office. “I really wish you’d lie down for a while.”
“What for? I’m floating here, what difference would it make?”
“The doctor pushed off towards the two girls with a sigh. “And you, Miss Puru. How are you feeling?”
All throughout his questions and examination, Elle kept a curious eye on Puru. After he left them alone again, Puru met her gaze. “Is there something you want from me?”
Elle’s eyebrows shot up, but her embarrassment quickly dissolved into a soft smile. “Sorry, sorry. I keep expecting you to act like the other Puru, but I guess the similarities are only skin deep.”
A sudden pang in her chest made Puru Two shiver, but there were so many drugs in her system, and so much of her energy was going into healing her wounds, that her emotional response died away before she had to worry about quenching it.
“I never knew her.” was her honest response. It wouldn’t hurt to tell her something so simple. It wouldn’t hurt to tell her any of it, not anymore. “I do know about her, but we never really met. We lived very different lives.”
Elle bit her lip and seemed to be considering something, but then shook her head. “No, I guess I should hold off on the questionnaire until you’re feeling better. Doc did say you’re supposed to take it easy.”
“Yes,” Puru said, turning her gaze to the ceiling. “it’s important that I recover quickly.”
But then something hit her, and suddenly she wondered - was it, really? Neo-Zeon and Axis had fallen, this time for good, and Glemmy was dead. As were Elpeo Puru and Puru Two’s sisters. There was nothing left for her to do, no-one left to report back to.
“Will you guys put me to sleep again? Does Nahel Argama have the facilities to do so?” She tried to keep in mind that since she had spent most of her life that way, it was only logical for her new masters to return her to that state until she could be of use to them again, but with the sudden clenching of her throat she wasn’t quite able to. But Elle didn’t seem to understand either way.
“Put you to sleep? Why, are you an insomniac? Do your injuries hurt? If you’re having trouble sleeping, I’m sure Doc can help.”
“No, I meant...”
But Puru couldn’t bring herself to say it. This girl was so open and friendly with her. She acted like they’d never been enemies at all.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” she blurted out. “And why did that guy care so much about what happened to me?”
I killed Elpeo Puru and I can’t replace her no matter how much I look like her. Won’t I only keep reminding you of her? Shouldn’t I be punished?
Suddenly, defecting seemed like a very impulsive, ill-thought-out move. Her eyes stung, and she knew her feelings were all over her face. She didn’t berate herself for it - her physical state was making her mind weak and unstable - but the rush of emotion made her so very tired. She wished she could curl up and cry without aggravating her wounds.
“Just put me back into hibernation, or send me to one of the newtype institutes. I’ll make myself useful when my abilities are needed and won’t burden you in the mean time.”
I’m just so tired.
Puru’s eyes were clenched, so she didn’t see how Elle extended her hand; the little jolt of surprise that went through her when Elle stroked her hair hurt all over.
“Don’t be an idiot, we’re not gonna do anything of the sort. You’re just a kid of - what, ten?”
Depends on how you measure age. Physical development? Mental development? Time spent conscious? Time since my body was created?
“How you were raised and what you were made to do aren’t your fault, and none of us are blaming you for it.” Elle went on, her hand never stopping its soothing rhythm. Her touch was so gentle... “As a matter of fact, Judau and I were talking about it just the other day, and I think you’d fit right in with our gang. I’m an orphan, you know, and back home I scraped together a living for myself any way I could, often illegally. But did that stop me from becoming a big hero in this war? Nope. And Judau’s parents left him and his sister to fend for themselves while they went looking for work on another colony, but Judau always worked his ass off to bring in enough money to keep Leina healthy and get her into proper schools, so she’d be better off in the future. And Ino... well, you get the picture.
Whether you like it or not, you became one of us the moment we brought you aboard, and we’re not letting you spend your whole life piloting those rotten machines and fighting stinking wars.
If you’re really lucky, Captain Bright might even take you in. He can be a stiff sometimes, but he’s a really nice guy, and he’s got experience being a dad. Though to be honest, I’ve always wanted a little sister. Or two. Or three...”
Her voice turned wistful by the end, but Puru could finally bring herself to look at her, eyes bright with tears. She could hardly imagine all the things Elle was talking about, but they made her feel so warm inside. It was as if her newtype senses were filling all the holes left by her lack of conscious understanding.
“Do you mean that?”
Elle grinned, all teeth and bruises. “Of course I do, dummy. Why else would I be saying it?”
“Thank you,” Puru said, pouring all of her sincerity into the words. “Thank you, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me just yet. We’re all heading for a lot of changes once we leave Nahel Argama. It won’t suddenly be all sunshine and daisies without a lot of hard work.”
“I can work hard, I promise, I will.”
“Of course you will.” With a last ruffle of Puru’s hair, Elle leaned back in her seat and brought the icepack to her head again. “We’ll manage. I know you’ve got the right spirit, Puru. Just get plenty of rest for now. You’ll feel stronger and more cheerful every day, you’ll see.”
With those words in mind and Elle’s comforting presence by her side, Puru drifted off to sleep. And just like she’d said, it was a healing sleep.