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Winter holidays

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‘And the Word was made Flesh,’ said A-01, voice the restless monotone of profound boredom. Despite this, his words carried so that all the younger clones heard him. The Great Hall was designed for this and A-01, if nothing else, was a performer. Perhaps the boredom was likewise only a performance.

D-10 felt the delicious frisson of horror at A-01’s words. Made Flesh, how sinful it sounded with all the trappings of mortality that came with the cage of rotting meat. Forget that they were all bags of rotting meat, in the end. The flesh wasn’t what interested Free the Soul.

‘And dwelt amongst us,’ A-01 was still talking. ‘Like him, we are trapped within our bodies, along with millions of people who do not realise this and seek all the pleasures and sins of the flesh. But like him, we are meant to rise above that.’

D-10 applauded with everyone else. Rising above the flesh: that was their goal.

*

They weren’t allowed to leave the compound until they were of age, and even then they could only go when they’re on a sanctioned mission: for the cause of their beliefs.

That Dio was here, in a pub nursing a Johnnie Walker, was as far from a sanctioned mission as he could get without setting up with a circus troupe and a dancing bear.

It was 25 December and he had been expecting the pub to be empty, what with all the family gatherings and Christmas dinners. But the place was packed: couples having drinks before going home and fornicating, singles looking to hook up, friends getting shit-faced and shouting loudly at each other. You’d think after the Apocalypse there’d be less people gadding about, or that the survivors would be making less noise. It was overwhelming, so very human and crass.

Dio loved the fuck out of it.

He was well on his own way to getting shit-faced himself when someone sat on the stool next to him and said, ‘Pretty thing sitting all alone here, imagine that.’

‘Are you,’ said Dio, waving his hand when the words failed his alcohol-befuddled brain. ‘Hitting on me?’

‘Oh my god,’ said the girl. A girl, Dio realised, had just come on to him. What was the world coming to? He had to admit that she was rather pretty, with a small and gentle face framed by a ragged fringe. But that wasn’t the point. The point was—

‘I thought you were a girl and you looked lonely, so I went to ask if you wanted to hang out with me and my friends,’ girl said, in a rush. She was blushing, covering her mouth with her hands. ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry. It was a joke, and I just.’

‘You’re nice,’ said Dio, surprised into honesty.

She lowered her hands so he could see her smile. ‘Everyone’s nice if you give them a chance.’

Dio stood up; hand resting on the back of his chair for balance when it seemed like the world was turning upside down on him. Before the girl could ask him if he’s all right (she was just like that, she had the sort of face that worried over other people too much, Dio could tell), he left some bills to cover his tab on the counter and left.

‘I honestly don’t think so,’ said Dio, as the door of the pub tinkled closed behind him.

*

His last Christmas—that is, Dio was fairly sure it was his last, knowing what he did about his upcoming mission and how Free the Soul felt about him—was spent going through the plans, making sure he had the blueprints for Rhizome 9 memorised, and praying.

It was a dangerous and risky mission, only something Dio could accomplish; he understood that. He also understood that his standing with Free the Soul was tenuous, and that he might not get out of the moon base alive. They had nothing to lose, sending him in: if he survived, the mission was secure and they would have won. If he didn’t, well—he would have to ensure that they would still win. Getting rid of the problematic leader of the Myrmidons and putting a stop to the AB Project, it was practically a coup de grace.

And Dio? He’ll just have to make sure he survived. That was all. He could still earn back his Brother’s trust. He couldn’t give himself room for doubts.

He checked the bombs he’d hidden in the secret pockets of his coat and tucked the detonator under his hat. He’d like to think he didn’t hesitate before slipping the pills into his pocket as well. They were insurance, something he hoped he wouldn’t have to use, but knowing he had them made him feel at ease. If he had to go, he’d like to do so on his own terms.

He could feel the weight of them in his pocket, heavier than the bombs can ever be.

He wondered who the fuck he was supposed to pray to.

Dio sighed and left his rooms. He had a Project to fuck up.

*

B.

They had a couple hours to kill. Funny choice of words, after what Dio had done to that old woman. She hadn’t even had the time to resist.

He chose a bottle from the bar at random. Planet, it said on the label. There were glasses along the counter, something Sigma and his group must have used to solve the puzzles in the lounge, and Dio took one as well.

‘Mind if I join you?’

Dio turned around and saw the old man standing by the door. He hadn’t heard it open, and Dio gritted his teeth.

‘I would,’ he said. ‘But something tells me you’ll come in anyway.’

Tenmyouji just laughed and shouldered past him. He took more care in choosing his beverage, bringing out a squat bottle of whiskey from the back of the bar and making appreciative old man noises.

Dio fought the urge to whack him on the back of the head with it.

'Are you old enough to drink?’ said Tenmyouji. He was grinning, but there was a flintiness to his eyes. The old man didn’t like Dio; Dio was aware of that. He hadn’t made an effort to be likeable; that wasn’t part of the plan.

'I dare you to fucking stop me,’ said Dio, taking a sip from his glass and raising his eyebrow at Tenmyouji, 'even if I weren’t.’

'Fucking ray of sunshine.’

'I try.’ Dio snorted. 'You’ll survive. Or maybe not.’

'You’re sure of yourself.’ Tenmyouji drank his whiskey and frowned, as if something was wrong with it. Dio knew that wasn’t the case; the whiskey was pretty good shit, judging from the label.

'Wouldn’t be here if I weren’t.’

To his surprise, Tenmyouji laughed. 'You remind me of someone I knew once,’ he said, in answer to Dio’s glare.

Dio didn’t doubt it. The years on the old man: he’d probably known all sorts. 'And?’

'Didn’t like him much either,’ said Tenmyouji. 'But him, I understood. You? Thank fuck I don’t.’

Dio tried to let this go. He wasn’t terribly interested in the old man’s memories. But there was something about Tenmyouji—the expression on his face maybe, or the dismissive way he talked of Dio. So he said, 'Remind you how?’

'Dead eyes,’ said Tenmyouji, promptly. 'Like I’m looking at the shadow of a man.’

*

A.

When Dio opened his eyes, Luna was crouching in front of him.

'How do you feel?’ she said, eyeing the hand that was cuffed to the sink. She was frowning, looking more distracted than scared, as if she wasn’t alone in a room with a murderer.

Sure, Dio hadn’t actually killed anyone in the moon base, but not for any lack of trying.

'I feel fucking great,’ said Dio. What the fuck do you think? he wanted to add, but she wasn’t scared of him and he held his tongue.

'Ms Kurashiki will be here soon,’ said Luna.

'Gonna take care of me, is she?’ said Dio, trying to keep the fear from his voice.

'She’ll decide what to do with you.’ Luna stood up. 'Would you like something to drink?’

Dio thought of the pills in his pocket and his free hand moved to take one out. Luna sat back down again and grabbed his hand. She was quicker than he expected, and stronger than she looked.

'Please don’t do anything rash.’

Fuck that. He’d already failed. What else was there for him? He didn’t even need to die. Free the Soul or Akane Kurashiki would take care of that.

'Leave me alone,’ said Dio, knowing that he sounded like a little boy. A brat, like Quark. (Quark wasn’t too bad, if Dio was going to be honest, but he was safe somewhere and Dio wasn’t. Quark was a brat.)

Luna nodded. Before Dio could react, she reached inside his pocket and took the pills away. As if in exchange, she gave him a smile before buttoning the door closed.

Dio started to cry.

*

They hadn’t killed him yet. He was out of their reach, so long as Kurashiki kept him close. She wanted him to break, even knowing the secrets he could spill were meagre drops from the fount of Free the Soul. She probably knew all his secrets. And still.

She also knew she wouldn’t have to lift a finger: Dio was perfectly capable of breaking himself.

*

'What’s this?’ said Dio, looking at the tray of food Luna had placed on the table. They had him locked up in the Crew’s Quarters; his freedom comprising the run of four cabins and his only company the lewd poster Sigma and Tenmyouji had been so sweet on.

And sometimes, occasionally, Luna.

She was the only one in Rhizome 9 who bothered. Dio thought she must bored.

'Christmas dinner,’ said Luna, proud as if she’d made it herself. Dio was pretty sure all she did was heat the dishes up. There weren’t any fresh produce in the moon base, just a year’s supply of pre-packaged slop. There was turkey and pie and some pudding. They haven’t been starving him, but the fare hadn’t been too good either. This was definitely a step up.

'I don’t do Christmas.’

'Then it’s a normal dinner,’ said Luna, stoutly. 'But with better food.’

He couldn’t argue with that logic.

'Merry Christmas, Dio,’ said Luna, before leaving.

Sated with the not-Christmas dinner, Dio found himself saying, 'Merry Christmas’ to the closed door.

*